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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Year In Review: Most Surprising Books of 2023

It’s become one of my most treasured bookish traditions by now: my fiveparter Year In Review series. Not only do I love putting these lists together to reflect on my own reading, I love seeing other people’s lists to get a feel for their reading-year and to gather inspiration for new books to add to my TBR.

When it comes to my own reading, there’s been a rough pattern of on-again-off-again years. Every incredible reading-year is followed by a more mellow one, and 2023 fit that pattern perfectly. 2022 was one of my best reading-years ever, so it made sense that 2023 would be a little less exciting in comparison. There were a few more disappointments, and a few less all-time-favourites, but regardless I enjoyed my reading-year overall.

Quick Stats:

Number of Books Read: 133

Average rating: 3.7 stars

Master-TBR update: Finished 28 out of the 30 books pledged, the remaining two will migrate to my 2024-Master-TBR. Mirrored Heavens had its release pushed back to 2024, and I simply didn’t get around to City of Saints and Madman in time to complete it.

Longest Book: The Deluge – Stephen Markley (896 pages)

Shortest Book: What Willow Says – Lynn Buckle (118 pages)

Favourite Adaptations: when it comes to adaptations, this has to be the year of the Fall of the House of Usher. Not only did I love the modern book-adaptationWhat Moves the Dead by T. Kingfisher last year, this year I had a lot of fun watching Mike Flanagan’s take on the story in his Netflix Original series by the same name. I don’t talk much about media besides books, but Mike Flanagan has been an all-time-favourite for me ever since The Haunting of Hill House introduced me to his work. I’m happy that his latest adaptation didn’t disappoint. Perhaps a little controversial, but my favourite game-adaptation has to go to Hogwarts Legacy. Regardless of my opinion of the author, the Harry Potter series and their subsequent PS2 games have a lot of nostalgia linked to them, and Hogwarts Legacy without a doubt as the game Potter-fans always wanted but never got. It’s clearly a labor of love from the developers and they don’t deserve to be cancelled for the sins of an author that had no hand in the creation of their final project, other than providing the source-world.

Most Surprising Reads

With those out of the way, let’s get into my first list of the bunch; my most surprising reads of 2023. I have 6 books to talk about, many of which I’ve already reviewed in full. I will link those, as well as their respective Goodreads-pages for navigational ease.

I picked up The Center, knowing fairly little about it, other than it being about a language-learning institute with possible cultish vibes. I expected a standard “cult-thriller”, and although the book certainly delivered on that aspect: it gave me so much more. It’s focus on academia, privilege, and the aspects of your identity that become entangled in attempting to enter an elitist group that you don’t necessarily feel privy to, elevates this novel into something far more than its backflap suggests. I also really loved its exploration of the learning of language, and how the act of translations affects the stories we tell. Completely up my alley, and far more fascinating than I’d ever gleaned from what I knew about it going in.

I don’t pick up books that I don’t expect to enjoy, but every now and then, I dó pick up a book that is completely outside of my comfort zone when it comes to genre. That was the case with Emily Wildes Encyclopedia of Faeries. As a general rule, there are a few tropes I avoid like the plague, and Faeries happen to be one of them. Without hyperbole, I can say that I’ve never loved a book containing them. Imagine my shock when I actually really enjoyed this one. Heather Fawcett put her own cottage-core spin on the genre, which in combination with the likable scholarly protagonist, made this the first faerie-novel I can actually recommend to fellow-fae-haters like myself. Full review

This one makes the list for similar reasons Emily Wilde did: I’m not big on romance or “romantasy”, and I’ve hit a bit of a genre-fatigue with fairytale-retellings. A sci-fi-romance retelling of Pinocchio, therefore didn’t sound like my kind of book. But leave it up to T.J. Klune to somehow make this into something adorable that was just an overall joy to read. I’m beginning to trust this author to deliver when it comes to feel-good pick-me-up-books. Full review

Michael McDowell’s multigenerational horror saga, centering the inhabitants of the deep-south town of Perdido, is quickly on its way to modern-classic status. It wasn’t so much of a surprised that I loved this, but I hadn’t expected the level of immersion and investment I’d feel in it. From the town to its inhabitants, and their decades spanning conflicts; everything about Perdido felt so vivid and alive that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Similar to the next entry, it just missed a spot on my Favourites-list, but exceeded expectations to such an extent that it deserves a shout-out here.

Mapping the Interior is a 130 page horror-novella that managed to take up more time and space in my brain than any 500+ page book did this year. It follows a young Diné boy, wandering his own house in the depth of night, and encountering his years-dead father standing in the doorway. What follows haunted me with its imagery, but especially its emotional gutpunch that far exceeded what any novella had the right to. An absolutely incredibly written book, that had me excited to explore the rest of the authors backlist.

The title of most-surprising read of 2023 goes to Leech, by Hiron Ennes, for the simple reason that I had no way to predict what was coming my way upon first picking up this book. Leech is a wholly unique and original piece of sci-fi-horror that explores themes of horror, medical science, identity and individuality, and class. It does so through a point of view, and a world that truly unlike anything I’ve read before in the genre. This had all the potential to be a new favourite, but unfortunately had its flaws when it comes to pacing and the ending, that kept it from making that list. That being said, it’s still a book I highly recommend you check out, if any of its themes interest you as much as they do me. Full review


With that, we come to the end of my first Year in Review-list. Check back in tomorrow, as there will be a daily list, leading up to New Years Day. These will include my Most Underrated Books of 2023, Worst/Disappointing Reads, Favourites of 2023 and Most Anticipated 2024 Releases.


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