My Favorite Books of 2023

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library,
Collage of favorite books

Season’s Readings everyone! As is generally true, there have been some marvelous books published in 2023, and I’m thrilled to share my favorites with you. As I’ve done the last few years, I’ve listed these books in alphabetical order by title until the last entry, which is, in my opinion, the best book I’ve read in 2023. Also, as in previous years, you will find interviews with the authors of many of these titles on the LAPL Blog and more in-depth reviews on LAPL Reads.

Like last year, there is also a bit of a twist at the end of this year’s list. I read a book earlier this year that would easily have made the list and may have ultimately been my favorite book of 2023. However, there was a problem: it was published in 2022, and I didn’t hear about it until this year. However, I still think you should know about it, so I’m adding it on to the end of the list.

I hope to be able to continue to provide these interviews for the LAPL Blog and reviews on LAPL Reads in 2024!

Happy Holidays, and Happy Reading!

Book cover for The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country
The Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country
Ruff, Matt

In Destroyer of Worlds, Matt Ruff continues the story he began in Lovecraft Country. He continues the stories of the various members of the Berry, Dandridge, and Turner families in 1950s Chicago, expanding locations to include New England, Las Vegas, and locations spanning the galaxy. The structure of Lovecraft Country was almost episodic, telling one story and then moving on to the next. In The Destroyer of Worlds, Ruff tells several alternating storylines that are interwoven into a gripping, sometimes horrifying, adventure that is every bit as exhilarating as the pulps that inspired it.


Book cover of Final Cut
Final Cut
McCown, Marjorie

In Final Cut, former costumer turned author Marjorie McCown takes readers "behind the scenes" on the closed set of a big-budget Hollywood production. On the first day of principle photography, Joey Jessup, the key costumer, discovers the body of the 2nd assistant director. The death is declared a homicide, which means that there is a murderer on the closed set and, as the person who discovered the body, Joey is considered a person of interest in the investigation. Can she figure out who killed the 2nd AD, and why, before someone else, possibly herself, gets hurt?

McCown deftly walks a literary tightrope, providing a primer of motion picture production for those who need it while simultaneously sprinkling the novel with references that only insiders will understand. All of this with a marvelous "whodunnit," and wonderful cast of characters, along with an insider’s perspective on what it is like for women working in entertainment. 
Final Cut is listed as being the first in a new mystery series. Let’s all hope that we’re able to join Joey Jessup on set again soon for her next adventure!



Book cover of The fragile threads of power
The Fragile Threads of Power
Schwab, Victoria

It has been almost nine years since V.E. Schwab introduced readers to Kell Maresh and the incomparable Lila Bard in A Darker Shade of Magic. Now Schwab has returned with a new story: The Fragile Threads of Power. It introduces new characters, Kosika and Tes, but also includes our favorite magician, Kell, and privateer, Lila Bard. The wait for this new story has been well worth it, and this new trilogy is off to a marvelous start!

Book cover for Going Zero
Going Zero
McCarten, Anthony

In Going Zero, Anthony McCarten illustrates just how little of our lives, personal, professional, online or off, are actually in any way private in today’s world. The novel is centered around the test of a new surveillance software called Fusion. Fusion is supposed to be able to find anyone, anywhere, whether they want to be found or not, and the CIA is very interested in this claim. The test is simple: select ten individuals, give them a two-hour "head start," and then locate them within a 30-day window. If anyone is able to elude Fusion for 30 days, they will be given $3 million dollars. If Fusion is able to track down all of the participants in 30 days or less, Baxter will receive a $90 million contract with the Federal Government.

As the test progresses, one participant becomes a standout: Kaitlyn Day, a middle-aged librarian from Boston. When the test begins, Day is thought to be one of the first to fail the test. However, no one knows Day’s reasons for joining the test and how they are the driving force behind every action she takes. Her motivations are just as strong, if not stronger than Fusion’s incentive to find her and win the defense contract.

Going Zero is a thrilling and terrifying look at a world frighteningly like, and only a step or two away, from our own.



Book cover of Kill show : an oral history of the dead girl and the reality TV series that changed true crime forev
Kill Show
Sweren-Becker, Daniel



Book cover of The Legend of Charlie Fish
The Legend of Charlie Fish
Rountree, Josh

Josh Rountree’s debut novel, The Legend of Charlie Fish, is a bit difficult to describe briefly. It is definitely a Western, given the time period and some of the story elements. It is also a love letter to early 20th century Galveston, a city for which Rountree admits a fondness in his afterword. There is a dash of fantasy and a healthy dose of Creature Feature influence in the titular character of Charlie Fish. Rountree expertly weaves these seemingly disparate story threads together into a gripping Tall Tale which is anchored by a historic storm, the largest to hit the US before or since, and a group of marvelous characters.

To quote Kirk Douglas from Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Legend of Charlie Fish is "a whale of a tale." But it is also grounded enough in human desires and experiences, in human frailties and strengths, in the shared experiences of longing for a home, and how we often create the families that we sometimes lack by birth. Readers will find more than merely a sense of spectacle and wonder within Rountree’s yarn.



Book cover of Midnight at the Houdini
Midnight at the Houdini
Dawson, Delilah S.

In Midnight at the Houdini, award-winning author Delilah S. Dawson takes readers on a marvelous adventure clearly inspired by fantasy epics ranging from The Wizard of Oz, to Alice in Wonderland to Jim Henson’s Labyrinth. There is a plucky heroine, a romantic interest, and a villain that could stand toe-to-toe with any of Disney’s most notorious villains. In Dawson’s hands, these characters are more than fantasy tropes, but real people readers will recognize and like, love, or hate.

The true star of Midnight at the Houdini is the hotel. Dawson has created a sumptuous vision of a magic-themed hotel complete with a secret speakeasy, a dream dessert shop, a museum of magic, and a ballroom complete with an orchestra and dancing ghosts representing generations of fashions and dancing styles. Everything in the Houdini is named for a famous magician or is a magic-related reference.
Dawson has struck just the right balance between the marvelous and the menacing. As with any fantasy quest, there is an object that must be found, a limited amount of time in which to secure it, and a terrible price to be paid if it isn’t located. So, as much as Anna and readers want to spend time in The Houdini, exploring every nook and cranny, she must solve the riddle of what has trapped her in the hotel and why before she becomes a permanent guest.

The result is a wonderful and wonder-full novel that will have readers torn between wanting to read as quickly as they can to find out how the novel ends and reading as slowly as possible so they can savor every delicious moment.



Book cover for The motion picture teller
The Motion Picture Teller
Cotterill, Colin

In The Motion Picture Teller, Colin Cotterill tells a tale of dreams. Dreams that are not only inspired by movies but also, sometimes, fulfilled by them as well. The novel is centered on the mystery of Bangkok 2010, an enigmatic videotape that the book’s protagonists feel is the best Thai film they have ever seen. But where did it come from, and how, as avid film fans, have they never heard of it? One of the characters muses at one point that they are attempting to solve a mystery that has no crime.

The Motion Picture Teller is a charming novel about hopes, dreams, and having the courage to find the place you’re truly meant to be.



Book cover of The road to Roswell : a novel
The Road to Roswell
Willis, Connie

In The Road to Roswell, award winning author Connie Willis puts her own unique spin on the alien abduction story. This is not a gritty alien abduction story where abductees are terrorized, probed, and traumatized. Instead, in Willis’ more than capable hands, it becomes a bit of a road-trip adventure with a growing cast of quirky and interesting characters who grow to become a type of found family. And, just like any family, there are plenty of snarky comments, sly and insightful observations, and maybe, just maybe a bit of romance. The alien abductor is unlike anything seen in any other UFO themed novel or motion picture.

The Road to Roswell if filled with Willis’ humor along with keen observations and a challenging of genre norms. Willis also highlights the importance of relationships, new or established, and our responsibilities to help each other when we can.



Book cover of Unnatural ends : a novel
Unnatural Ends
Huang, Christopher

In Unnatural Ends, Christopher Huang uses elements from the golden age of mystery, pitting siblings against each other for the family estate, as the foundation of his story. Sir Lawrence Linwood, the Lord of Linwood Hollow and a tyrant of a father, always pushing his adopted children to meet unreasonable demands. When Sir Lawrence dies, his children return home, as expected, to find not only that their father was murdered but that the latest version of his will declares that the child who solves their father’s murder will inherit his estate.

Huang takes a Shakespearean style family drama, weaves in the mystery surrounding Sir Lawrence’s death, and then adds elements from the works of H.G. Wells or Robert Louis Stevenson cautioning the potential abuse of science and knowledge, all of which tie directly into the novel’s surprising, and in some ways horrifying, conclusion.

Unnatural Ends is a Gordian knot of a novel that moves beyond simple issues of innocence or guilt for his suspects and into unsettling revelations about the society in which they, and we, live. Christopher Huang is a writer to watch in Mystery fiction.


Book cover for Weyward: A Novel
Weyward: A Novel
Hart, Emilia

In Weyward, Emilia Hart tells the stories of three women, separated by centuries and generations, who share experiences, intuitions, and, above all, a desire to be free. Hart illustrates not only how women of every generation have been subjected to the will and ire of men, but also how those men have knowingly and willfully made themselves obstacles for women to overcome. While there may be male allies in the women’s lives, they are often few and far between. The result is women learning, sometimes subtly, and sometimes overtly, how to retaliate and fight for the freedom to live their lives as they choose. All of this, with just a touch of magic realism, makes for a powerful debut novel from an author whom readers will definitely want to read in the future.



Book cover of The Wishing Game
The Wishing Game
Shaffer, Meg

In The Wishing Game, debut author Meg Shaffer creates a marvelous story that is a blend of just a touch of the fantastic and harsh reality. She allows readers to join Lucy on an adventure that takes her to the setting of a series books that she has loved since she was a child. It is there that she is challenged by the author of those book to be part of a competition that will be life altering in many, many ways.

The Wishing Game is a novel about the power of storytelling, about love of all sorts, about the importance family, biological or found, and the need to do the best we can with the time and resources we have at our disposal.



Book cover of Our Hideous Progeny
Our Hideous Progeny
Mcgill, C. E.

In Our Hideous Progeny, debut author C.E. McGill follows Henry & Mary Sutherland, two burgeoning paleontologists in the Victorian era, as they attempt to recreate one of the most famous literary science experiments gone wrong with fascinating and horrifying results. Our Hideous Progeny is both a Gothic fever dream and an articulate indictment of how science has been, and in many ways continues to be, a club catering to the privileged, white male.

McGill has populated their novel with a marvelous cast of characters. This is especially true of Mary. Intelligent, focused, compassionate, and occasionally brilliant, Mary is as driven and capable as any of her male counterparts. While she constantly chafes at the restrictions Victorian culture places upon her, she never gives up or gives in to play the part others would have her play. In addition, she never loses sight of the question that has been the foundation of countless science fiction stories: just because we can do something, should we?

Our Hideous Progeny is a marvelously Gothic, moody exploration of what science can, and should do. And it has dinosaurs! It is also my favorite book of 2023 and I can’t wait to see where C.E. McGill takes us next!



But wait!! There’s more. . .

Earlier this year, I read about an, at the time, an upcoming title called Burn the Negative by Josh Winning. I was intrigued and requested a review copy from the publisher. I also looked to see what else the author had written and if we had it at the Library. It turned out that the author had published another novel, The Shadow Glass last year and it sounded marvelous. So, I checked it out, read it, and Loved it! If I had read this book last year (I wish that I had! I still don’t know how I missed it!) The Shadow Glass would have been on my list of favorites for 2022. So, here is a bonus entry on my list because I Know this book will appeal to readers, and if you’re reading my list for reading suggestions, this book may be right up your alley. . .

Book cover of The shadow glass
The Shadow Glass
Winning, Joshua

When Bob Corman, the maker of The Shadow Glass, dies, his estranged son Jack returns home to settle the estate. Jack finds that his childhood home is now a shrine to The Shadow Glass, filled with props, artwork, and memorabilia related to the film, none of which interest Jack in the slightest. He wants nothing more than to get past the formalities, deal with the funeral and put all of this behind him. That is, until The Shadow Glass puppets start talking to him. . .

In his debut novel, The Shadow Glass, Josh Winning excels at several very different things. Primarily, The Shadow Glass is an homage to Jim Henson, his creature shop, and the groundbreaking work they did in the mid-80s. Winning doesn’t just use Henson’s previous works to round out his narrative, instead he uses them as inspiration to create his own fantasy world, named Iri, populated with creatures, characters, and quests of his own devising that are simultaneously new and familiar.

Wisely, Winning structures The Shadow Glass as a fantasy quest. Jack learns that what he attributed to Bob as madness may have had a basis in reality. And he is seemingly the only person who can set things right. Winning uses many familiar fantasy tropes to tell his story while populating it with characters who, like the elements of Iri, seem both new and familiar. It can’t be a coincidence that one of the main characters is named Toby, which seems clearly to be a nod to Henson’s Labyrinth.

The result is a layered novel that is exciting, touching, a bit scary, and a lot of Fun!