Hi, all! There are only two more days and a handful of hours left of the year (crazy, yeah?) It’s been a doozy full of leaps forward and falling behind, joys, sorrows, and lessons learned that we might not even grasp until we look back. None of us are the same today as we were a year ago. We’ve grown, kept moving forward even when it was hard, and I’m glad to have been able to share it with y’all.
To close out this year’s discussions, I’d like to fangirl a bit about some of my absolute favorite books this year! It is super fun to look back over all the adventures and awesome characters! The Reading Challenge on Goodreads is a favorite sorta-game I like to do every year, allowing me to keep track of what I’ve read—and even providing some stats! Let’s look at those, shall we?
Books read: 99 (as of this moment. I originally set my goal at 100, and there are still 2 days left, so there’s still time! Of course, this doesn’t count all the flash fiction or Patreon books, so if we want to get technical about it, I’ve already exceeded my goal👍)
Pages read: according to the record on Goodreads, it’s a whopping 22,455!
Shortest book: THE SENNET BOX by Jill Williamson, coming in at 27 pages
Longest book: SABER’S PRIDE by C.M. Banschbach, coming in at 570 pages
I’ve also set a personal record for ebooks and audiobooks! Even though the audio consisted primarily of flash fiction from the Havok Story Podcast (which is a blast and y’all should totally give it a listen), I also read 4 other books that way. Ebooks came in at a total of 9 (which is impressive for me, since I don’t particularly enjoy the digital format. And all but 1 of them were Advance Reader Copies—so I got to read them before they were officially released! Super cool.)
And now, without further ado, and discounting rereads, let’s dig in to the top 15(?)! (Amazon links are attached to the cover photos, in case you wanted to check them out. They are not affiliates. I would highly suggest purchasing directly from the authors wherever possible, however👍)
Because I can, and because I’m not sure how it fits elsewhere.
DELICIOUS IN DUNGEON by Ryoko Kui
I started this series late last year and binged what was available into January. The final volume was just recently published, but not in English yet, so I haven’t finished the story, which makes me hesitate to give it any rating (because I like to rate/review a series as a whole, no individual volumes, when it comes to manga). But what I’ve read of this wildly whimsical but also strangely deep story has been an absolute blast! This dungeon-crawling party don’t just kill monsters—they eat them! Much of the story centers around how to cook the various fiends the adventurers come across on their way through, even including ‘recipes’! But along the way the plot becomes a little less silly and the character development becomes a little more prominent, so I’m hoping that this coming year I’ll be able to find out what happens to Falin and Laios!
Okay, now we really can get on to the list, promise!
THIS CURSED LINE by Morgan Hubbard
Alexander Pike VI is the slave of the devil himself, paying the debt of his grandad generations ago, getting his hands dirty and desperately trying to look away, to not care, to do whatever he has to in order to protect his mom and end the cycle. What follows is the story of a man desperate for rescue and unconvinced there could ever be redemption, ever be peace, ever be love, for a soul so blackened as his. It’s a poignant and gritty tale of the power of the Gospel, of sacrificial love undeserved but freely given. I appreciated its rawness in emotion, not shying away from the depths of darkness so that the light shines all the brighter.
ENHANCED by Candace Kade
Futuristic dystopian biopunk where the genetic code has been cracked and parents with enough money can alter embryos to produce some pretty interesting people. Beastmen aren’t for fantasy anymore, folks! This story centers around the adopted daughter of a prestigious family with a secret more dangerous than any genetically enhanced Super: she’s what they call a Natural—and in this day and age, people born without enhancements are rejected by society. Daunted but undefeated, our young hero, Urban, enrolls in college and gets mixed up in motorcycle races (exciting!), social parties (hair raising!), and nigh-gladitorial games (thrilling!) in an effort to gain a high social standing and be accepted. To be acceptable. But somebody is onto her, and some secrets are too obvious to stay hidden, and she ends up in a flight for her life that will determine who her real friends and family are. This book features themes of identity, self-worth, and trust, paving the way to what promises to be a thrilling sequel. And y’all, if Ash is present, I will be there 100%.
LOST BITS by Kerry Nietz
It’s official that I can no longer say that I haven’t met a robot I liked, because I absolutely loved K-404, cracked up at Sam’s sass, and thoroughly appreciated Wes. This story is a fun and sometimes spooky adventure that made me think of the movie Homeward Bound, but with robots instead of house pets. Throughout is this theme of design and purpose versus selfish desires and misguided ideas, set in a post apocalyptic world where AI went to war against humans (no surprises there, am I right?), thinking itself the solution to the problem. It’s beautifully contrasted by this service bot doing everything in his power to get back to the family that supposedly got rid of him. It’s heartwarming and strangely cute. I think it’d make a fun kid’s TV show, actually.
OURAN HIGH SCHOOL HOST CLUB by Bisco Hatori
Okay, so maybe it’s a little embarrassing to admit that a high school RomCom even made it onto my TBR, let alone onto the top # list, but I do have to be honest. The fact that a ‘pretty much everything I don’t care to read’ series (high school, romance, drama, city life, etc.) caught my attention and kept it and even made me like it is a testament to its quality.
This series as a whole is how it made it onto this list, and its an amazingly hilarious and heartwarming story about a blue collar girl getting a scholarship to a rich-kid school and promptly getting herself in debt to one of the clubs there by breaking an incredibly expensive vase. Just so happens that club is the notorious Host Club, manned by a handful of handsome boys who spend their free time entertaining the ladies with tea parties and costumery. It’s a pretty clean YA with an hysterical contrast between the practical-minded female lead and the rich-norance of the others, but it also deals with coming-of-age struggles, family, compassion, indelible friendship, and what it means to love. The characters and their individual journeys are increasingly deep and thought-provoking. And, of course, there are twins. You will always get me with twins.
STEAL THE MORROW by Jenelle Leanne Scmidt
This book is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’s OLIVER TWIST, but full of hope! It’s also got flavors of Robin Hood and Lost Boys, telling the tale of an orphaned boy growing up in the woods and then going to the city to find work and pay for a doctor to heal his ill benefactor. It’s clever, vivid, and chock full of great worldbuilding and character development, bearing themes of honesty, the power of perseverance and compassion, and justice and mercy. Olifur is a great kid and an excellent example of moving forward through hardship toward a brighter, better end. (P.S. The audiobook is splendid.)
THE ORB AND THE AIRSHIP by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt
This was such a highly anticipated read, and it did not disappoint! Full of classic adventure with a gaslamp flare, this book takes us from the meek countryside to a grand city, then through the air on a flying ship—only to be captured by pirates! The mishaps and wild adventure never seems to end through every page of this rollicking story, accompanied by a mysterious and rather grouchy wizard who is terribly behind on the times. I hardly put this book down start to finish, and I am so excited for the second instalment to release next month! (keep you eyes peeled around these parts for a feature!)
RUN ON YOUR NEW LEGS by Wataru Midori
Manga has proven time and time again that it can make me enjoy genres I never thought I would. Like sports. This first volume alone would have made it up here because of its interesting premise, great characterization, and humor, but the series as a whole (even though the middle two volumes lagged kind of a lot, I’ll admit) was triumphant, following the journey of a young, up-and-coming soccer player who loses a leg in an accident. It tackles loss, frustration, and fear with new beginnings, restoration of broken relationships, and courage. I had a blast buddy reading this with the awesome Laura @laura.meets.manga, who has given me no end of great recommendations, and this short series is definitely a fun, wholesome story I’d recommend you pick up!
THE ETERNITY GATE by Katherine Briggs
I knew I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the cover back in March, and what a fun, interesting story it turned out to be! In this fantastical world with a flare of historical Kdramas, the peoples have different giftings based on their heritage—and our MC has an errant ability she considers a curse. This book takes us through abandoned tunnels, across countries, and down wild rivers on a journey of ancient prophecies, tainted magic, and forgotten truths, highlighting themes of identity, personal worth, and unlikely friendships. Geras is the sweetest bean and he needs to be protected; his story of hurt and healing is heartachingly beautiful, and I am stoked for the second act!
RECORDER by Cathy McCrumb
Sci-fi is never my first choice, take that as you will, but so many people told me how amazing this book was that I had to give it a shot—and of course they were right! I became so thoroughly engrossed in Recorder’s journey of mistaken identity and value that I couldn’t stay out of the pages for long. She is a highly relatable character, and the other members of the team (especially Max, my most favorite space doctor) are a gloriously motley collection of rounded individuals who carry the story along with humor and drama. And throughout Recorder’s personal struggles is the tangled mystery of what happened on the moon that started it all and the ticking time bomb of what the government will do to her now that she’s gone ‘rogue’. Well paced and well told, this story of identity, true worth, sacrifice, and love will leave you eager for the next book (I sure am).
SABER’S PRIDE by C.M. Banschbach
The wholesome goodness, witty banter, and graceful handling of hard topics blend with themes of brotherhood, trust, and honor to make this marriage of convenience story so, so much more than a cart-before-the-horse romance. It’s the story of a broken and hurting man taking a stand against the patterns of violence to bring change, healing, and a better future to his people, struggling with doubt, fear, and severe pushback along the way. It’s also the story of a homebody stepping out in courage to do what she can to protect and provide justice for her family. Watching these two face the challenges of long-neglected change and slowly come together in heart as well as hand was beautiful, heartaching, and triumphant to watch, and if you can’t stand Emil . . . just wait. Friends, just wait. He doesn’t get enough credit.
SUSPENDED IN THE STARS by E.A. Hendryx
Hey! Would you look at that—another space story. Although this one falls more under space opera. I mean, there’s a circus. And muffins . . . Yes, it’s also a romance. Does this mean I’m turning to the dark side? No. Even if they do have muffins. This slow-burn relationship flickers and flares amidst hidden pasts, secret agendas, galactic headhunts, space port shootouts, multiple kidnappings, questionable allies, and one adrenaline junkie robot. The wit and banter keeps the shadow hanging over these characters at bay, and the warp-speed pacing keeps you barreling onward toward that entirely unfairly suspenseful end. (Seriously, Emily. Why must you do this to us?) Good thing book 2 is scheduled to release next year. Oh, if only it were tomorrow . . .
MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION by Chica Umino
Y’all. Y’all! I can’t get over this story. I freely admit that I picked this book for the story as a whole, even though this first volume is, so far, the only one available in English. I am so thrilled to finally be able to start collecting the manga, because the story is bittersweet and just lovely. You’ve probably heard me gushing about this story before, but in a nutshell it’s about a 17-year-old professional shogi player who learns about friendship and healthy love through the family across the bridge who low-key adopts him. It’s interesting for the subject of shogi (which may or may not have inspired a game in my WIP), but it’s the journey of the heart, the brokenness and road to healing, that makes me cherish these characters and their story.
BARAKAMON by Satsuki Yoshino
Y’all have DEFINITELY heard me yammer on about this one! I’ve loved the anime for years, but it wasn’t until this past fall that I picked up the manga . . . and couldn’t stop reading until all 18 volumes were gone! For an easygoing, slowish paced contemporary island comedy, I sure tore through it like a riptide. Maybe it’s because Handa is so relatable as a creative writer, maybe it’s Naru’s unflappable nature, maybe it’s the townsfolks’ antics, maybe it’s all of it blended together, but I just can’t get enough of it. It tackles self discovery, identity, humility, navigating relationships, and a lot of growing up between adults and kids alike. I absolutely delighted in it, and now I want to go back and read it all over again!
THE LONG MARCH HOME by Marcus Brotherton and Tosca Lee
Once upon a time I thought the only historical fiction I really liked was of the Middle Grade variety, but it turns out I like split- time adult historical fiction, too. But maybe it’s because this is about a brotherhood of three Alabama boys in WWII. And we all know how I cannot resist a story of brotherhood. This book’s landscape is the Bataan Death March and experience of those POWs during those six years. It’s awful, really, but the way Brotherton and Lee tell this story, and the determination of the brothers-by-bond to make it home, the fierce hope they cling to, is also so beautiful. I listened to this one in audio, and that was an EXPERIENCE. I don’t suggest listening to it at work, because people will look at you funny when you flip out and cry at certain points that I will not mention here, for various reasons. It’s a great, moving, bittersweet story, and even though it hurts, I still love it. This one absolutely calls for a reread.
OF SEA AND SMOKE by Gillian Bronte Adams
Is it fair to say that this book was going to be the highlight of my literary year even before I read it? Maybe not, but I was so anticipating this book that it felt like waaaayyyy more than a year since the first in the series, OF FIRE AND ASH, came out. It was everything I hoped it would be and more and I don’t know how not to just gush over this story without spoiling all my favorite parts. So go read it so I can talk about it, ‘kay? 😂 Right off the first page we’re plunged into this epic world of magical warhorses, ancient creatures, tapestry puzzles, and revolutionary enterprises. It was so cool getting to see the three POV characters interact with each other as they pursued different aspects of the war raging in Soldinia and brewing in the Que territories. The courage, friendship, sacrifice, and growth of the characters, the increasing direness of their situations, and the crispiness of Saffa’s saga crisps culminate into the epitome of the genre (in my humble opinion) and there is very little not to love. Except maybe Sahak. There’s quite a bit not to love about him, but we won’t go there. I literally could not put this book down, laughed, cried, flipped, danced, and generally made a fool of myself enjoying every bit of this story. I don’t know if I can contain myself, so let’s leave it at that.
And there we have it! That’s my top 15-ish reads of 2023. I’m eager to hear about yours! Have you read any of these? What did you think? Did you tackle a reading challenge this year or keep track of what you read? How many did you read, or what was your favorite one? What books are you excited to dig into this coming year?