Books I Loved in 2023

A mix of horror, fantasy, poetry, and books on creativity and writing

It’s always a good year for reading, whenever I’m reading consistently and pursuing the genres and works that I’m passionate about — and as a result, I delved into some phenomenal reads in 2023. I completed a total of 40 books in a variety of genres, with a mix of horror, fantasy, poetry, and books on creativity (mostly game writing) rounding out some of my favorite reads of the year.

For those interested, my lists of games and movies and TV that I loved over the past year are also up on my blog, Once Upon the Weird.


Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin is my personal Book of the Year. Sam Masur and Sadie Green are two friends who bonded over playing video games as kids before having a falling out. When find each other again as adults in college, they renew their friendship and love for games by entering into a wild adventure — making their own video game. The novel weaves through their game development and looks at their successes and failures (both personal and in business). The story beautifully explores the nature of creative endeavors, how money changes things, and the ups and downs of close friendships — along with love, ego, grief, and so much more.

Zevin’s writing style is delicious, causing me to often pause and go, woah. The omniscient third person perspective allows the author to float between the inner worlds of each of the characters, offering insights that they may not even recognize themselves. This is a genuinely gorgeous book,and one that I will be returning to again and again.

The Salt Grows Heavy by Cassandra Khaw is a dark and gory retelling of The Little Mermaid. In this story, the mermaid is a creature of scales and teeth. Captured by a prince who attempts to tame her through marriage and the removal of her teeth and tongue, the mermaid gives birth to daughters who consume the kingdom and set it aflame. Leaving the burning kingdom behind, the mermaid chooses to wander the world with a mysterious plague doctor, traveling down roads that lead them to a forrest full of blood-thirsty, immortal children and devastating secrets.

The Salt Grows Heavy is my favorite kind of fairy tale retelling, one that holds to the fantastical and bloody nature of the originals while spinning new perspectives. Khaw writes her characters with passion and teeth and hunger, making it a wonderfully dark and satisfying read.

Eric LaRocca’s Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes is a small, disturbing collecting, including a novella and two short stories. In the titular novella, two women meet online and begin a deeply intimate relationship that unveils their darkest desires. Written through emails and chat transcripts, the story shows just how far people are willing to go to obtain the love of others. It’s a captivating and disturbing exploration of human desire.

The following two stories further explore the depths people are willing to go to achieve approval and acceptance from the people around them. “The Enchantment” is the story of a couple who agree to be caretakers on a remote island, until a stranger suddenly appears by boat, shattering their solitude. In “You’ll Find It’s Like That All Over,” a man attempts to return a lost item to a neighbor only to find himself caught in an increasingly harrowing series of wagers.

In Gideon the Ninth Gideon is an orphan and a skilled sword fighter determined to leave the bleak shadows of the Ninth House (as part of an interplanetary empire). But her nemesis Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter and bone witch, refuses to release Gideon until she completes one final task. Invited to compete in a deadly game of wits and skill to become a powerful servant of the Emperror, Harrowhark demands that Gideon become her cavalier (companion, sword master, and guard) for the extent of the trial.

Gideon the Ninth is gorgeously written, presenting a rich world full of secret chambers, walking skeleton servants, and the whispers of the dead. Gideon is a wonderfully snarky character, with a mixture of determination and skill that makes me want to root for her all the way through — and most of the enemies and companions she meets are equally interesting in their own ways. I love her journey, and I love this world, and I absolutely want more of it.

T. Kingfisher never fails to craft books with darkly beautiful horrors that terrify me, while simultaneously presenting wonderfully wrought characters with solid, supportive relationships. A House with Good Bones is no exception.

After her archeological dig site temporarily closes down, Sam returns to her family home while she waits for work to start up again. Her mom greets her with warmth and joy, but there’s something off. Her mom has repainted the house from its previously bright colore to a bland neutral white that she would normally hate. She refuses to curse and is generally twitchy, anxious, and cagey — to such a degree that Sam begins to worry about her mom’s mental health.

But there are signs of other kinds of strangeness — such as vultures keeping watch and ladybugs swarming the house — that hint at something more ghostly and sinister going on.

How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix is a fast-pasted and thrilling horror novel that also made me cry. When Louise learns that her parents have suddenly died, she quickly finds herself overwhelmed with the prospect of returning home and clearing out the collection of dolls, puppets, art, and other objects that her parents had amassed over the years. But dealing with her estranged brother, who is known for drinking and bouncing from job to job, might be an even more overwhelming task.

Aside from the horrors of a haunted house involving both dolls and puppets (shudder), this book is also a moving story about family trauma and grief. Louise and her brother Mark each face their personal grief in unique ways, and both are also holding onto secrets about their childhood that they would rather forget. In the end, it’s the coming together that helps them survive the hauntings from past and present.

Don’t Fear the Reaper by Stephen Graham Jones is the second book of the Indian Lake Trilogy. Four years after the deadly events of the Independence Day Massacre, Jennifer “Jade” Daniels is released from prison when her murder conviction is overturned. She returns home to the rural lake town of Proofrock as a different person. After the trauma of surviving the massacre and the years being ground down by the prison system, Jade has reverted to her birth name, Jennifer, and is more reserved. She has let go of her obsession with slasher movies and attempts to forget the past.

But fate does not allow her to go free — and just as she is released, convicted serial killer Dark Mill South escapes from a prison transport near the town and begins to kill off Proofrock teenagers using methods that replicate classic horror movies.

Don’t Fear the Reaper is another fantastic novel from Jones, and I particularly love Jade’s journey in this book, as she regains her courage, anger, and forthrightness. But instead of allow it to isolate her, she instead grows connected to the people around her and finds strength in their support.

Technically, I read Brom’s Slewfoot at the end of 2022, so it was left off last year’s list — a huge oversight, as far as I’m concerned, so I’m including it here.

Abitha is a spirited young Englishwoman balking against the constraints of Puritan society, where she is expected to be a demure wife and do as she is told. When her husband suddenly dies under uncanny circumstances, she is left alone and without his protection. However, something else lurks in the woods, something dangerous and unsettling and beautiful — and it may be the key to either her freedom or her damnation.

Slewfoot explores the constraints and hard-fought freedoms of a woman living in puritanical America. Abitha fights hard for what is rightly hers, while navigating the limitations of society. This is a beautiful book — not only in terms of its dark fantasy tale, but also due to the artwork (also created by the author).

Graphic Novels

In Something is Killing the Children, a graphic novel by James Tynion IV (writer), Werther Dell’Edera (illustrator), and Miquel Muerto (colorist), a group of kids slip out to play truth and dare in the woods — but only one comes back alive. Something is killing children in this small town, and a mysterious young woman (with intense eyes that have clearly seen too much) arrives to hunt down and kill the monsters in the dark. But with families desperate for answers and revenge, the town begins to spiral into paranoia and desperation, causing events quickly grow out of control.

This graphic novel is beautifully illustrated and brutally gory, with the horror being as much about the aftermath of such violence as it is about the monsters themselves. This initial volume hints at a wider world of monsters and those who hunt them, and I’m very interested in reading more.


M Archive: After the End of the World by Alexis Pauline Gumbs is a stunning collection of poetry. Inspired by M. Jacqui Alexander’s Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred, a transnational black feminist text, Gumbs envisions humanity at the end of the world. While there is struggle, this is not the typical depiction of humanity as viciously and violently struggling for survival, but a vision of humanity as transformational. As the environment and world shifts (due to human causes), humanity takes to the dirt, sky, fire, and sea, creating new communities and ways of being. It’s a beautiful, compelling and hopeful depiction.

there was never rain. but she waited for lighting to find her. the mercury of her veins aligning with the shock of being here after everything and before whatever. her heart was accelerated coal, growing deep dark and sharp. she kept on breathing, prostrate, burning, knowing soon it would be clear and unbreakable. her beautiful blackening heart.

— from “Archive of Fire”

she had a self sharpening spirit. that’s how she would describe it afterward. everything that happened rubbed against her right in the middle until you could see her glint when she smiled.

— from “Memory Drive”

Andrea Gibson’s Lord of the Butterflies is a lovely collection of poetry that explores gender, mental health, American culture, love, and relationships, with a sense of wisdom and compassion. Her work is lyrical and moving, and this will likely be a collection that I’ll return to again and again when I need something uplifting.

The heartbeat is actually the sound made
by the heart valves closing.
If you, my love, ever hold a stethoscope to my chest,
I will tell you to listen for the silence in between.
What is and what will always be yours
is the sound of my heart
finally opening.

— from “Letter to the Editor

Algorithmic Shapeshifting is a collection of speculative poetry by Bogi Takács. Including poems from the past decade along with previously unpublished work, the collection includes pieces that extend  “from the present and past of Jewish life in Hungary and the United States to the far-future, outer-space reaches of the speculative — always with a sense of curiosity and wonder.”

There are many layers of beauty, pain, and compassion in this collection, which are perhaps best expressed through the words of the author themself —

Why do you love me, I wonder
as I lie back on my cot
and listen to the nighttime sounds
of the dormitory, the sneezes
rustles and coughs.
Our recycled air is always dry.
Why do you need me?
Do you see all the gray?


If you’re looking to put a little magic into your days, Lisa Marie Basile’s City Witchery is an excellent read. Cities are often seen as sleek, bustling, overstimulating, and soulless, not a place to find connection with the earth or magic — but Basile’s book offers a different perspective. Her words encourage readers to find ways to tap into the unique energy of a city by wandering its streets and crossroads and connecting with its history, art, and culture. In addition, she offers ideas for bringing rituals and the sacred into your life, especially when dealing with tight spaces, like apartments, or limited privacy, like roommate situations. Whether you are witchy or not, Basile’s book is a wonderful read.

Writing for Games: Theory & Practice by Hannah Nicklin is a fantastic book for anyone interested in delving into writing stories and developing narratives for games. She provides a solid theory for storytelling and story structure and explains how these basic elements fit into the development of games. Taking into account the various ways in which people learn best, Nicklin presents this information in a variety of ways, including case studies and a practical workbook with exercises designed to allow the reader to apply the knowledge they gleaned.

The Game Writing Guide: Get Your Dream Job and Keep It by Anna Megill is a wonderfully practical guide to understanding how to build and maintain a career as a writer in the games industry. Her advice — which is based off interviews that she conducted with dozens of writer mentors, as well as her own experience of writing for games such as Fable, Control, and Dishonored, among others — runs the full gamut, from job hunting, writing resumes and cover letters, building a portfolio, and interviews to moving up within the company once you have the job and leadership roles. All of this advice is delivered in simple, well-organized, and straightforward manner — with little dashes of humor sprinkled in — making the book easy to ready and follow. For those interested, I wrote up a few of the insights I learned from the book.

Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop is an excellent read for anyone looking into understanding the full scope of the game design process. The book carries the reader through every step of the process, from ideation and prototyping through to development and iteration, QA testing, and publishing. In addition, she provides exercises at the end of most sections, encouraging the reader to explore the concepts in a practical way, which simultaneously helps to build out a portfolio of work.

Another great aspect of the book is that it is peppered with personal perspectives and anecdotes from various game designers, producers, writers, and creatives who make games. They expand on some of the information that Fullerton provides and also share their journey into games, what inspires them, and how they approach problems during the development process.


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