My Top Books of 2023

This is the third year in a row where I’m writing a top ten list for 2023. This year I read/listened to 70 books (full list available on my Goodreads challenge page). This year, I couldn't limit myself to only 10. Each of these books kept demanding to be included, so I relented. Looking over the list, it strikes me what a variety they are, spanning philosophy, memoir, horror, mystery, sci-fi. A few themes carried through for me this year, grief, loss, strife, and hope. It's been a long, complex year for me in my personal and professional life, and I think that is reflected in this list.

As usual, I have not listed them in a countdown format, but have chosen to list them in chronological order based on when I read them this year.

Melody's Top Thirteen Books of 2023:

Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee

As a martial artist, I’m almost forced to admire Bruce Lee to some extent. However, despite being only a few steps removed from training with him, I haven’t really learned much about him, so I decided to pick up this book. I listened to the audio as read by his daughter, Shannon. Shannon lost her father when she was four years old, but his legacy impacted her entire life and this book is a tribute to her father and his philosophical teachings, the key one of course is to “be water”. Water flows and adapts to whatever shape it needs to be - cup, bowl, river. Using this as a philosophy means learning to adapt to life and situations, not only as a martial artist, but as a person. Since reading this book, I have worked to incorporate this into my life with mixed results. Instead of raging against difficulties, I work to adapt to the situations and navigate through them.

The book itself is, admittedly, a little dull in parts and Shannon spends a lot of time discussing her personal life along with her father’s teachings, but I included it because of all the books I read this year, it’s impacted me the most. It also underlined the tragedy of Bruce Lee dying so young for me and I wonder what more he could have brought to the world had he lived past his 30s.

And Then She Vanished by Nick Jones

Anyone who knows my tastes knows I’m a sucker for time travel stories. Nick Jones’ version of time travel is based around objects and comes with time and distance limits. How he depicts this time travel, maintains the logic of it, and works around its limitations is expertly done, but what really hit me about this book is the emotions in it. The main character lost his sister at a young age and it destroyed his family. The pain and grief filling these pages is poignant and raw. The character’s plight really moved me. It is the first in a series, but I think it works better as a stand alone. I tried the sequel, but the tone and method of time travel are different and didn’t work for me as much.


The Crane Husband by Kelly Barnhill

This was a difficult one for me. In 2022, I lost my father after many years of declining health and the main character of this book loses her father in a similar manner, albeit at a much younger age. I think I would have felt this at any time, but it hit even harder with my own grief. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story. Full Review at The Horror Tree.



The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V. E. Schwab

A bit of a departure for me in some ways, I was surprised how much I enjoyed this one. It’s mostly a dark fantasy romance where the relationships are passionate, but deeply problematic and that usually bothers me. However, the writing carries it, and I never got the sense that the author was trying to depict the messed up relationships as “okay”.
Addie Larue, while chafing at an arranged marriage, prays to a dark god for escape. A foolish young girl, she makes a terrible deal, but instead of surrendering to death and despair, she makes the most of what she has and learns to love life. Yearning for ultimate freedom, what she ended up with is nothing. Once she leaves someone’s sight, they forget her. This forces her to exist in the margins of humanity, until one day, someone DOES remember her, and that changes everything. Addie is a brave, complex, resourceful character and yes, she is foolish and naive at first, but she grows and adapts (like water) to her pseudo-life and proves to be quite clever in the end.

Schrader’s Chord by Scott Leeds

I loved this one. Such a fun horror book. You can read my full review on The Horror Tree (and my interview with the author), but I will just say again that this was a delight to read. It’s dark, full of mythology and people summoning things they shouldn’t. I just enjoyed it. It’s Scott Leeds’ debut, and it immediately put him on my “to watch for” list.

The Final Architecture Series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

A bit of a cheat, perhaps, in that it’s 3 books in one, but this is my list. Before Tchaikovsky, I wasn’t into bog, epic, sweeping sci-fi. I read The Martian, and the Spin trilogy by Robert Charles Wilson, but the type of hard sci-fi in this trilogy is not usually my taste. I first came to Tchaikovsky’s work through his Children of Time series (Reviews here: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3) and when this trilogy came out, I eagerly grabbed it. If you are into epic sci-fi or are willing to be converted, check these out. Full reviews are here: Book 1, Book 2, Book 3.

The Devil’s Pocketbook by Ross Jeffrey

A number of the books on my list this year are emotional and full of grief. This one is the most grief-heavy. A couple have lost their daughter through stillbirth and their pain is strong. The book is hard to read and probably very triggering if you’ve lost a child of your own (I am childless by choice, but can appreciate loss). The story is dark, heavy, and beautifully written. Full Review Here.

The Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang

Not every book on my list is heavy and heart breaking. Water Outlaws is a fun action-adventure martial arts fantasy romp, although it, too, has some dark elements. You can find my full review on The Horror Tree.

Winter Harvest by Ioanna Papadopoulou

Along with my love of time travel, I also love mythological retellings, particularly Greek ones. This one also brings in the added element of being written by an actual Greek author. Winter Harvest is the tale of Persephone’s abduction by Hades from her mother’s point of view and follows the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, a piece I read/translated in graduate school. This is an excellent retelling and, I feel, captures the nature of the Greek gods well. Full review on The Horror Tree.

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

Back to heartbreaking with this one. I came to Friends a bit late in that it aired on Thursdays when I was a kid/teen and that was my bowling night, but I definitely heard about it. I caught up later and was surprised by the Chandler-Monica relationship that really is the heart of the second half of the show. All I had ever heard about was Ross and Rachel, but they really date only a part of the show.
I don’t typically read memoirs/biographies, but then Matthew Perry tragically died and I picked this one up. It was very eye-opening about his life, the nature of addiction, and life. I listened to the audio, read by Matthew himself, which made it even more impactful. I can’t recommend it enough.

Holly by Stephen King

Easily my new favourite King book. I’ve been reading his work most of my life and it’s nice that he can still surprise me with the depth of his characters, richness of story and plot. Sometimes his quality has varied, I’ll be honest, but Holly is excellent.




Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I know I wasn’t going to rate these, but this one might be my favourite all year. As soon as I was done, I wanted to pick it right back up again and keep reading. Piranesi is a man trapped in a labyrinth that erodes your memory and identity. Reading this story is an experience that I definitely recommend. It’s clever, whimsical, hopeful and sad.



Black River Orchard by Chuck Wendig

I grabbed this one after watching the celebration of it all over my social media and it lived up to the hype. I listened to the audio version over the last few weeks (it’s long - 22h!) and loved it. Not only is a well-written horror tale, but it’s about apples! And a farmer’s market! I spent many summers through university and beyond working at farmer’s markets selling vegetables, breakfast, and apples. It was fun reading those scenes, only I wish there were more market scenes in the book. On top of that, Wendig’s characters are all interesting, and it involves a theme I enjoy, but rarely seen done well, the descent of a decent man into evil/madness.


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