2023 Reading Round-Up: My Best Picks!


The end of 2023 brings me to almost two years of reading wonderful (usually!) books and writing about most of them at TrishTalksBooks.com or on my Instagram page @trishtalksbooks. This pastime has brought such value to my life: the books, the authors, the publishers and all of the folks that make up the book community have given me so much to be thankful for. And it’s just plain fun!

The year marked several highlights:
I read a lot of books this year, so choosing any "Best Of" list seems somehow unfair. What about the book that almost made it onto a list but missed out by a hair? Also, let's all take these lists with a grain of salt. Especially mine. I scanned my titles from the year with no particular method except for a subjective "Ah, yes, that was a favourite!" as my benchmark. In the end, you can see that my favourite fiction is a little...dark? I'm clearly drawn to the macabre and weird. In fairness, I read a lot of great happy books too, and some that even made me laugh out loud. I've also made up some unusual categories this year just because I wanted to! 

(For next year, I'm inspired to post more of my recommendations by specific category, like "Best Books That Will Make You Laugh Out Loud," or "Best Solid Three Star Reads For When You Just Need Something Uncomplicated" and such, to diversify. If you have some ideas for me, please do drop a comment at the end of the post and I'll do my best in 2024.)

Without further ado, here are my picks of the books I read. They're not necessarily published in 2023. Below each graphic I've linked to my review on Instagram. 

This is a collection of deliciously macabre stories that will leave your appetite for the bizarre sated! A vaudevillian carnival of horror, with strange imagery and oddities presented with absolute absurdity that gradually offers up more substantial fare and food for thought.
If you’re ready to be engaged both intellectually and emotionally by a riveting, complex novel that addresses trauma in a unique way, you need to read this right now.

All's Well by Mona Awad 
All’s Well was an intelligent, thoughtful and provocative piece of writing that didn’t fail to challenge me at every turn, wit some truly enthralling passages. It's a novel that explores the nuances of female pain: who gets to comment on it, who gets to treat it, who gets to believe it? There are so many ways you can read this book: Is it real or fantasy? Is it an allegory for each of us wrestling with our life choices? Perhaps it doesn’t matter: you can take from it whatever resonates with you.

Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez
A fever dream of a book, it was odd and grotesque…and well worth a read. Set in Argentina, it’s mostly the story of Gaspar and his father Juan, spanning from the 1960s to 1997 when Gaspar is in his mid-twenties. The horror here is The Order, a cult that worships the Darkness; it pulls at Gaspar and his parents, haunting them and permeating everyone they know. It is rife with metaphor for colonialism and exploitation. *This book is not for the easily triggered: there are some pretty awful scenes of child abuse, so do be aware.*

Chlorine by Jade Song
What a small, disturbing, incisive powerhouse of a book. This debut novel has sharp edges that work to define a girl, Ren Yu, who is made to conform to exacting standards by multiple people in her life. This is a pointed, lean narrative that doesn’t let up. 

And Then She Fell by Alicia Elliot
I was amazed by the richness of this beautiful, sad, strange and ultimately hopeful novel that blended Alice in Wonderland vibes with Indigenous spirituality, against the background of postpartum illness.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
On audiobook, this was perfection. I was wholly absorbed by this spare story of a father, a son and a road. In the face of bleakness, I found this to be a paradoxically hopeful book, and profound in its examination of what it means to choose to keep living every day.

Love Songs of W.E.B. duBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
This book is amazing. It deserves all of the accolades. It spoke to me on so many levels. First, the simple storytelling. It’s sweeping and generational, yet each character’s story on a granular level is beautifully crafted. Everything is meaningful, each character is necessary, and their stories are interesting. There are stories within stories, to make a greater whole.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
A small, quiet novel that packs a potent punch. It is a violent lament for a world that has been lost, a treatise on the stark reality of constant change, and a seed of hope for the future.
Rarely do I feel a book changes me in one go, but I won’t look at addiction the same way. I knew all of the facts, but he moved me towards compassion. Trying to put into words the richness of this book made me feel overwhelmed, in a very good way. It should be required reading.

How to be Perfect by Michael Schur
Wow, do I have a book for you! I am happy to report that I am now a perfect person after having listened to it. (Just kidding. But I’ve edged a tiny bit closer to being a smidgen better at making somewhat more ethical choices, some of the time. All good.) Schur is a comedy writer who created The Good Place, a series I loved! He’s interested in moral philosophy, the idea behind the show. In order to write it he did tons of research, and has compiled it for all us folks who would likely not pick up a heavy philosophy tome.

Sure I'll Join Your Cult by Maria Bamford
So funny, so awful, so honest. It’s a memoir about mental health and somehow it just makes me feel less alone.

Holden After and Before by Tara McGuire
McGuire is a local former broadcaster, now writer who has penned a book about her son Holden, who died of an accidental opioid overdose in Vancouver in 2015 at the age of 21. This book felt like a privilege to read and something entirely unto itself. A moving meditation on loss, and a celebration of a life in all its complexities.

Mercy Gene by J.D. Derbyshire
I was riveted. This book took me alongside the author on their tumultuous journey of life and learning and didn’t let me leave until I’d learned a bit about myself too. The book is framed around Derbyshire’s experience of mental health in their life: the origin story of their multiple, fluctuating diagnoses; and the birth of their inner voices which seem to constantly berate. Ever so gradually, Derbyshire shows us healing. I found this book impossible to read without questioning my own deeply held tenets of what mental health is.

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
This is a book I’d love to read for the first time over and over because it is such a discovery. What a beautiful experience hearing Kimmerer read her own words, then coming back to the book, rereading and appreciating the phrases.

I wanted to hug this book of art and poetry tight and never let it go. It’s got really vibrant colours, and the art is joyful even when it's sad. And the poetry! It was amazing and I loved reading it. It’s about random people and happenings.

Moorings by Christopher Levinson
A thoughtful collection of poetry that brings a sharp lens to the ways we see the world through a filter of art, loss and ageing.

How to be Perfect by Michael Schur
See above!

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This novel of internalized racism, struggle in the face of dominant culture, and the consequences of unaddressed trauma is a masterful work of art. Her prose is concise and poetic. I listened on audiobook, and was moved by hearing Morrison narrate her own words. It was released in 2011, and she died in 2019 at the age of 88, so this audiobook feels like an important piece of literary history. I never really thought of what a beautiful gift it is to be able to hear a writer read their novel even after their passing. Her voice held the sorrow and the tragedy in the lives of her characters, as well as the stubborn will to survive that they embodied.

Dandelion Daughter by Gabrielle Boulienne-Trembley
This is a meditation on becoming oneself, painfully and beautifully. "Yes, I am pregnant with myself."
An emotional and deeply satisfying collection of short stories that transforms grief for a dying planet into a resilient hope. I had to descend into the Grief and disconnection with nature before I could emerge into Cade’s audaciously hopeful future. Her writing is strong and assured, so I could take this journey with her and feel every part of it. It was beautiful.

The Boulevard by Jerrod Edson
Satan and Ernest Hemingway are on a train ride through Hell to tell Vincent van Gogh that all his artwork that decorates Hell’s Capital City will have to be destroyed because God is coming to visit for the first time in thousands of years. In terms of pop culture it’s somewhat like a mix of the Dr. Who episode featuring van Gogh (which I loved) and the TV show Good Omens (not in plot, but in tone). And there’s a ton of 19th century art talk. If all this appeals, I suspect you’ll love this inventive book.

Mindful of Murder by Susan Juby
How cool is it to have a new amateur sleuth in Helen Thorpe, a former Buddhist nun who is a newly trained butler? I was able to contemplate the nature of impermanence and be entertained by this lovely, quirky murder mystery.


Clockwork Empire by Lucan J.W. Johnson
What a delight! This steampunk, alternate future novel that has a diverse rag-tag group fighting authoritarianism marries adventure and anti-fascism. I found this book by a local Vancouver author in my Little Free Library with a handwritten note. It's 100% independently published on Amazon.

Dungeon Crawler Carl by Matt Dinniman
Chalk up a new genre for me: LitRPG. Basically, it's a Role Playing Game (RPG) in book form with a sci-fi fantasy element. On the first page, the whole earth is basically destroyed, and only people outside buildings survive, and can choose to go into a tunnel into the earth to be a part of an elaborate dungeon fighting game with 18 levels. Carl is our hero, along with his cat. Let the games begin.

Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris
"Swampcore” with a climate change element, this is a dreamy meditation on grief, with horror elements.

The Fireman by Joe Hill
It’s got a plague, the end of the world, really bad people and spontaneous combustion. One section gave me such dread when witnessing mob-mentality and such fanatical bliss in hate, because it hit close to home with the rise of populism and fascism.

The Brickworks by Lucy E.M. Black
I felt transported to the early 1900s while reading this novel. It made learning about brick-making interesting!

The Fires of Tanam Alkin by Sadi Noni
An enchanting tale of environmental activism in a fantasy novel for middle-grade readers. This is a great literary introduction to some serious environmental issues. Another independently published book available on Amazon. 


And that's a wrap for 2023 reading. If you've got any favourites you want to share, feel free to leave a comment. Happy 2024 and I hope it brings lots of literary joy!