Last here I decided to write a few words about all the books I had read in the previous 12 months. It was fun to write and was well-received so I decided to take notes about the books I read in 2023 as the year went by to ease writing this year edition.
I’m very glad I did so because I read 85 books in 2023 and it would have taken me a while to write every review from scratch.
A few notes about my reading in 2023 before the reviews.
While I was writing the 2022 edition of this article I had the depressing realization my list contained way too many men. So, in 2023, I decided to actively default to women in my selection process which lead me to read 62 books written by women. The take away here is that paying attention to this felt effortless. I didn’t struggle one second which makes me feel guilty for not paying any attention to this so far. Also, curious to see what I’ll write her next year about this.
A few books are marked as “top books” and I thought I’d explain what I mean by this since it’s clearly a personal definition. Top books are those books that alter my conscious view of the wold. The way I often describe any of these books (using one I read years ago): there’s a before you read “salt fat acid heat” and after you read it. Meaning I can tell I’m a different person after I read said book, often even a better person.
Final note is that this article word count is obscene so I don’t expect anyone to read it all. If you actually do so, please tell me. I’ll make me go 🤯
The space between words #
A slow start but the book kept getting better and better. Two things really stand out for me:
- It’s an original story despite the well-known multiverse plot device.
- The writing is very good, clear, and simple. A few descriptions shocked me for their efficacy and brevity.
OK, I lied. One more thing: it made me want to write in the multiverse setup. Pretty sure I have enough unfinished writing projects though 🙃
Station eleven #
This book is perfect to me.
In the first pages, the writing is very good but feels a little stiff, maybe a tad too formal. Then it just keeps getting better and everything flows. The pace is perfect throughout the whole book.
Mandel develops the plot masterfully. She gives you almost enough to connect the dots but leaves out just enough to still surprise you when you do connect them.
I will think about this book for a very long time.
The TV series is also very worthy of your time. It makes two structural changes to the plot development. I loved one, I hated the other. All in all a great adaptation.
The glass hotel #
I impulse-bought this book because of Station eleven (👆). I loved the first 200 pages but got a little bored with the plot development toward the end. I felt that Mandel spent too much time on an aspect of the story I had only considered tangential. Basically, the rest of plot was much more interesting.
Lovely touch that characters overlap with Station eleven. It’s not forced. It’s not in your face. A testament of how delicate and elegant Mandel’s writing is.
The time traveler’s wife #
This was a strange read. I enjoyed the writing very much. There are two narrators in the book (the time traveler and his wife) and the execution is fantastic. So this had everything to be a perfect book.
But I found myself not engaged with the story at all. Maybe I just need too much of “what happens” next? I can’t tell if it’s my expectations or the book really didn’t have enough plot.
Black sun #
Every now and then I try a fantasy book. I can’t say I’m fond of the genre but that says more about me than about this book. In fact, this is well written.
I enjoyed the unfolding of the story and the character development. If you’re into fantasy, I would assume you’d like this.
Too like the lightning #
First person singular #
(Read in italian)
Murakami is one of my favourite novelists. I say novelist because I mean to underline that’s what I like about him. I love his novels but I can’t stand his short stories. I read this one because it was really short (I read it in two sittings in the same day). As expected, it disappointed me.
There may be the wrong expectations at play here. I blame Dino Buzzati and his magnificent Sessanta racconti. Ever since I read that, I expect short stories to be memorable. This collection has none of that.
Ancillary justice #
40 pages into the first book of the series, I could already tell why Ancillary Justice won all the awards.
In general awards are not a signal for me (I’m looking at you academy awards) but winning all major sci-fi awards (never happened before or after) with a debut had to mean something good.
In fact, this book has everything. Plot development is perfectly executed. The writing is masterful and the characters are interesting. Highly recommended.
Ancillary sword #
So different from the first book (👆) and yet almost as good.
The plot didn’t feel as interesting as Ancillary Justice but I think this says more about Justice than Sword.
Ann Leckie writing is way too good!
Ancillary mercy #
A perfect ending to an amazing series. The alien character is exquisitely… alien.
I look forward to more books in the same universe.
All systems red #
I’ve been meaning to read this series for a while since lots of people rave about it. So maybe I had the wrong expectations going in.
It’s fun but there’s not enough context around the story to keep me engaged. Easy read anyway since it’s pretty short. I’m sure I would have abandoned it if it had the avg sci-fi book word count.
Artificial condition #
I loved the pace of Artificial Condition.
The plot also felt much more interesting than All systems red. It convinced me to keep going!
Rogue protocol #
Exit strategy #
I got tired of the series. I constantly had questions about the context in which the plot itself developed so I couldn’t connect with it.
I suppose you either undefined context or don’t. I definitely don’t.
Looking forward to the TV adaptation though.
The Martian #
I’ve been meaning to read this for a while because I like the movie adaptation. As always, the book is better.
Andy Weir creates good stories and his writing is engaging and entertaining.
Too bad The Martian is littered with bro jokes. It didn’t ruin it but it was a close call.
Going in, I thought I knew how though a read Kindred would be but it still caught me off guard.
An absolute masterpiece.
The writing is so crude, so real. I felt I was there with Dana the whole time seeing the actual madness of slavery through the eyes of a modern day person. Life changing book.
Termination shock #
Mixed feelings. I don’t mind long books as long as there’s enough plot development. Termination shock is hit and miss.
On one side, I got through 400 pages in a short time, on the other the remaining 300 felt slow.
Having said that, a must-read for cli-fi aficionado.
The power #
I liked the first third, found the second third slow and “stitched together” and loved most of the last third.
The core idea is very intriguing but the writing didn’t work for me.
I enjoyed the TV adaptation.
Another masterpiece by Butler.
The stories are so interesting! The writing is perfect (I’m getting the feeling that’s a standard with Butler).
I love the edition I got (linked in the cover here) since it has a short afterword for each story by the author herself. This edition has two fantastic writing essays at the end. Wonderful.
Bloodchild doesn’t feel like a collection of short stories. They feel more like “mini-novels”. What I’m trying to say is that these short tales are so rich of ideas their scope is not as small as their word count.
Intricate, beautifully developed plot in the same universe as the ancillary series (often referred as Imperial Radch series).
Ann Leckie is way too good at making aliens speak to humans.
Donguri shimai #
(Read in Italian)
There’s something about the way Banana Yoshimoto writes I can’t resist.
The main character in “Le sorelle Donguri” is talking to the reader but it’s not so obvious. It’s a delicate, slow conversation. Love this style despite there’s not much plot development.
Americanah is in a genre I call “about love but not really. But yes, love”. And speaking of love, I loved everything about it: Ifemelu… what a character, the slow but always moving plot, the deliberate non-linear story telling.
Adichie is an incredible writer and I’m grateful impulse-bought this book when I came across it.
China in ten words #
(Read it in Italian)
I love the way You Hua writes. No matter the subject I enjoy his way. So it’s not surprising I loved China in ten words as well.
My favourite word, also unsurprising, is “writing”. Among the most beautiful “writing about writing” I have ever read.
10000 light-years from home #
The vanishing half #
The long way to a small angry planet #
A closed and common orbit #
Again a very fun read. I liked it even more than The long way to a small, angry planet.
Same universe, very little overlap. I Loved how Chambers developed two storylines, really creative approach.
Record of a spaceborn few #
This is the weakest of the series so far.
I liked the structure: lots of characters, not much overlap. But the stories didn’t pull me in, they were just not interesting enough.
Sea of tranquility #
An incredibly well-crafted time travel story.
Mandel’s writing style is superb. She’s the writer I wish I was.
I read Sea of tranquility in two sittings only over the span of a single day. Now I’m trying to forget as much as possible so I can just read it again. And again.
Half of a yellow sun #
“War is very ugly”.
What an incredible journey, what a writer!
Adichie, much as Dostoevsky and Ferrante, doesn’t write characters. The depth of her writing creates people. They’re real to you when you’re reading Half of a yellow sun.
To be taught, if fortunate #
Africa is not a country #
The city & the city #
Very original and intriguing story. The writing didn’t pull me in though.
I often find “detective stories” not engaging. I think it’s a matter of pace and can’t tell if it’s the writers’ fault. Probably not. I blame Conan Doyle.
To kill a mockingbird #
The memory librarian #
I liked two stories out of five. There’s nothing wrong with the rest but the writing didn’t do it for me.
It felt like standing in front of a great picture that is slightly out of focus. You can tell it’s great but you’re also disappointed it could have been much better!
A very intriguing take on “first contact” and alien life forms. I also enjoyed the way Semiosis is structured: every chapter has a different narrator and there’s always a time jump between chapters. I had to adjust to this approach but, after a couple of chapters, I really liked the idea I had small things to put together myself.
I’ve had a similar experience with a different plot device in World war Z. It feels nice to have to put together things on your own. I guess there’s a risk you can overdo it and tire the reader though.
The follow up to Semiosis and I liked Interference even more.
The flow here is smoother. Maybe it’s just that the time jumps are shorter, I can’t tell.
The terraformers #
Purple hibiscus #
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is an incredible writer so it makes sense her debut is magnificent.
The writing is not as potent as her later work but you can tell she’s going to get there.
The plot of Purple hibiscus develops so softly that I must believe it’s an intentional opposition to the trauma and violence you are reading. Imagine pulling that off with a debut!
Parable of the sower #
The thing about post-apocalyptic worlds is that they always feel pretty far so the detachment makes reading them somewhat entertaining.
Parable of the sower doesn’t work like that. Two reasons:
- Octavia E. Butler is in a league of her own. Her writing is so potent, crude, real.
- The world she describes feels close, way too close to our world. How short the distance between this hell and our world is so small, it’s really fucking scary.
Parable of the talents #
If possible, this is even better than Parable of the sower.
Same reasons as the first book: it’s really really scary how close this hell feels to our day to day reality. We’re one step away from hell and she knew it 30 years ago.
The way I talk about the parable series is this:
Octavia E. Butler isn’t writing sci-fi. She’s documenting the future.
This is how you lose the time war #
Every now and then I come across a book that I don’t understand at all and I can’t connect to it in any way. This is how you lose the time war was one such book.
I managed to read it in one day because it’s very short but I found it painful nonetheless.
Translation state #
Ann Leckie doesn’t know how to write bad books.
Translation state has three main characters. Each chapter follows a different character and uses a different POV. I loved every page.
It’s entertaining and weird. That’s a compliment: a great gook about aliens must be weird!
The thing around your neck #
Chimamanda Ngoci Adichie is a master of the craft.
As a fan, I was a little worried about a a collection of short stories. I very rarely like those. But Adichie isn’t your average writer.
Each story has a unique voice. All of them are intriguing. I loved all of them and will re-read for sure.
Great pace. A real page-turner. Kuang makes it all look easy to deal with.
Yellowface flows at incredible speed and I just wanted to know where it was going page after page.
She is such a good writer you’re going to sympathise with the villain of the story.
The shadow king #
I could not connect with the writing at all. I had trouble finishing it to be honest.
A real bummer as the first pages were so captivating (which is why I bought it in the first place).
Tomorrow tomorrow and tomorrow #
What an incredible journey. The first few pages felt a little strange. Too many big words, I was afraid I was going to hate the writing style. But it was just an impression.
The quality of the writing quickly improved to the highest standard. I loved the plot development. The author is a master at that. I also loved the main characters, the way they’re so different from each other but obviously connected. I enjoyed my own nostalgia for the early days of gaming.
How high we go in the dark #
The secret history #
The secret history found me. I was in a bookshop with a close friend (👋 Sam!), he picked it up and said “I read this some 20 years ago and I still remember it”. His statement intrigued me because he’s an avid reader. Two days after that, I was listening to Emily St. John Mandel talking about her writing process and she mentioned Donna Tartt. I love these little signs. I had to read it!
I appreciate these signs even more when the book turns out to be a masterpiece. Make no mistake: the secret history is an absolute masterpiece.
Donna Tartt has this magical ability to keep you busy reading while describing incredibly detailed scenes.
The level of detail is just unreal. The plot is very very intense and the writing sustains that intensity with its quality.
I loved every page.
A bigger picture #
This was quite an incredible journey spanning almost a 100 years.
I loved this story. It surprised me, it pained me, it had me interested every single page.
It also thought me a piece of history I was completely unaware of. What can you ask more of a book?
Lock in #
Head on #
Breast and eggs #
(Read in Italian)
I had very high expectations for Breast and eggs since Ferrante recommends it and everyone loves it.
I couldn’t even finish it. It was excruciatingly boring 🙃
Children of time #
(Read in Italian)
Jhumpa Lahiri has been an incredible discovery. She wrote “Dove mi trovo” in Italian and then translated it to English with the title “Whereabouts”.
There’s something very special about her writing. I can’t wait to read more from here.
“Dove mi trovo” is hard to describe. In the words of a perfect Goodreads review, it’s a book about everything and nothing. It’s a thing of great beauty. I’m sure I’ll go back to it many times.
Velocity weapon #
Chaos vector #
Catalyst gate #
Beautiful world, where are you #
A bit of a strange read. I really can’t stand the way Rooney writes dialogs. But someone I grew to like how real the characters are.
I suppose I have to read “normal people” soon because, despite the annoying writing style, I enjoyed this book quite a bit.
I’m glad my mom died #
This was a very though read for obvious reasons. But I’m happy I went through it. The author is very courageous and a very talented writer.
I hear she is writing a novel now and can’t wait to read that too.
Girl, woman, other #
I had some troubles getting into Girl, woman, other because the writing technique is very original: there are almost no periods in the book, sentences just end and on to the next line with a new sentence. Once I got used to it, I found it very poetic. It gave the book a rhythm that I can’t quite explain with words. Ah! The irony of not having words about something made out entirely of words.
I loved how loosely connected the chapters are (each chapter is about a different woman). It’s not in your face but it also felt somewhat relevant. Some of these stories will be in my head for a long time.
I had not expected to identify with Queenie as much as I did for obvious reasons. But I’ve had a very similar experience as the one depicted here. When I was 28 the world stopped for me for a year or so. I did tons of therapy and slowly got better. Queenie hit way too close to home in that regard.
The writing is funny and engaging. Surely I’ll read everything else Carty-Williams wrote shorty. Highly recommended.
I can’t wait to watch the TV adaptation (the author is involved!).
A brief history of seven killings #
A difficult read. A brief history of seven killings is very long and some parts felt a bit of a drag.
Having said that, I had never read a book like this. Every chapter is a different narrator and they’re all written in first person. The quality of the writing is so high that it genuinely felt like chapters were written by totally different people. That’s what kept me reading it.
People person #
I was very curious about People Person going in because I love Queenie. “People Person” is a very different book though. For starters, It’s written in third person. It’s also about five people instead of one. They have the same, completely absent, father in common and they get connected in a pretty morbid way.
The pace is fantastic. It’s tragicomic in the best sense possible.
Well, I get why it’s so famous. The world building is incredible.
Dune is also long but doesn’t feel like that. The writing feels light on the page, and it has a good pace.
I loved that Herbert describes the thoughts of the characters as they talk to each other. It’s a very intriguing approach.
In altre parole #
(Read in Italian)
I can’t wrap my head around how good Jhumpa Lahiri is. I absolutely love her writing style. Her Italian is fantastic!
This book is her personal, delicate but intense journey with Italian. Since I can read at native level both in Italian and in English, “In altre parole” was a wonderful trip into the experience of being a writer in both languages.
I also identify with some of her experience very deeply as I mostly write in English these days and it’s both liberating and frustrating.
Highly recommended. I will re-read soon in English.
Racconti Romani #
(Read in Italian)
A good collection. It’s hard for me to love short story collections, not really sure why. One of the stories will stay for me for a long time and that’s more than enough.
L’eco della pioggia #
(Read in Italian)
Normally I love You Hua’s voice. His writing is so gripping that I often welcome his excursions in the past.
In “L’eco della poggia” though, it felt messy. I often lost contact with the main narrative, it just didn’t work for me.
It’s an early book so maybe he hadn’t found yet that incredible strength so typical of his later books.
Lost in time #
An American marriage #
A friend lent me An american marriage. I had never heard of it before so I was a little cautious going in without researching the book myself.
It was a pleasant surprise. The writing is honest and powerful. The dialogs felt very real me, so did the main characters. The topic is difficult so this was no easy read though. I loved how the author approached the plot, I will definitely read more from her.
The goldfinch #
What can I possibly say about Donna Tartt that will actually convey how good she is?
The thing is that The secret history is so good I didn’t think she could match it. In way, I think that’s true but not for the reasons you’d expect. The secret history is a perfect book: every page is 10/10.
The goldfinch is different. There are lots of 11/10 pages, especially in the first 400 pages. But there are also some 9/10 pages: less power, less detail, slower flow.
With that out of the way, another absolute masterpiece. Theo, the main character, isn’t a character. It’s a person you get to know very well, someone you end up caring for, someone you’ll find yourself asking how they’re doing in the middle of your day.
The internet con #
I enjoyed The internet con very much. It was very interesting to me because I know almost nothing about the topics covered.
The writing felt a little rushed in some parts but nothing major. Worthy of your time if the topic is of interest.
Starter villain #
Average John Scalzi book: extremely entertaining, highly recommended.
Honestly, I don’t get how he does this with every single book? What a pro!
Klara and the sun #
Kuang is a master of the craft.
Her writing is so good it pulled me into an alternate historical fiction where magic is real. In theory, I shouldn’t like a book about magic. In practice, I loved every page.
The plot is fantastic and, while I understand some may not like this, I enjoyed that magic is real but it’s also not central.
The worlds I see #
The pitch of The worlds I see is: chinese immigrant coming of age story mixed with forefront of AI scientist life from struggle to success. Well, count me in!
But there’s more than that to it. The writing has that strength and clarity you come across very rarely. It’s well-educated, rich language without any hint of elitism. Now that I think about it, last I had this exact feeling was also a “non-pro” writer. “When breathe becomes air”, unrelated but magnificent read (definitely a top book. Thank you Anjali for landing it to me. Miss talking to you!).