Looking Back On 2023

Happy New Year, friends and readers! I decided to start this year with a recap post on my very first day back at work, instead of struggle bugging with it for a few days like I have in years past, lol.

Part of this may be due to how eager I am for 2024 to get into gear. 2023 was HARD, y’all. The founder of The Frumious Consortium unexpectedly died, leaving me and Doug to muddle through as best we could in taking over and carrying on her legacy. My non-blood-relative aunt died, my dog died and, to top it all off, my best friend metaphorically self-immolated in a spectacular trash fire that broke my heart and left me crying almost every day for nine weeks. My mom and aunt from Malaysia have been living with me since August, which has been both surprisingly great and the expected trial. And then there are all the daily challenges of being a woman and mother of three in this 21st century — tho let me tell you, I am far more grateful to live in the today than in the past!

Anyway, 2023 has been A Lot — and occasionally Too Much — and I am glad to see the back of it. I did not at all manage my stated desire of taking on less work, and read 304 books this year according to Goodreads (as always, feel free to be my friend there!) I did, however, enjoy more of the books I read than I did last year, ending up with 34 favorites, a distinct improvement on 2022’s 24. As usual, one of my first favorites was a book that was published in a previous year, Micaiah Johnson’s stunning sci-fi debut The Space Between Worlds. However, my list of the year’s best will be limited solely to 12 books that actually came out in 2023, in order of publication.

One note: I did not bother to sign up for 2023’s Hugo voting because the process was too tortuous, but am hopeful of being able to participate in Glasgow 2024’s WorldCon. Definitely check out the details at that link if you’re interested in participating, too.

Now to the list, presented in calendar order!

1. Liar Dreamer Thief by Maria Dong. An exquisite puzzle box of a novel that reads as fantasy until it unfolds into a compelling crime thriller that should 100% not be spoilered! I very much sympathized with the hot mess protagonist as she struggled to make sense of her complicated, anxiety-ridden world, as her fixation on a co-worker turns into a waking nightmare.

2. Delicious Monsters by Liselle Sambury. This book starts out as a haunted house mystery that a plucky vlogger with secret motivations is trying to unravel, before turning into a cathartic examination of mothers and daughters that had me sobbing like a baby.

3. Philanthropists by Rozlan Mohd Noor. I only discovered that my mom actually knows this author some months after I reviewed this novel, when she came across my hard copy in the clutter of my work desk. I was unsurprised by her glowing opinion of him as a person, which matches my opinion of this smart, unapologetically realistic police procedural investigating the gangland-style execution of two Rohingyan refugees during Malaysia’s COVID-19 lockdowns.

4. Love And Other Scams by Philip Ellis. I did not expect a work assignment crime novel to turn into one of the most charming rom-coms of the year! I’ve already fancast Florence Pugh and Rege-Jean Page in the movie version as the two incredibly endearing leads who hatch a plan to steal a diamond ring. Even gave a member of my extended family a copy for Christmas, as she loves romance novels: she loved this book, too! It also satisfies as a crime caper, if that’s more your speed.

5. The Couscous Chronicles by Azzedine T Downes. A hilarious, often blunt, always entertaining memoir of the globe-trotting life of a Boston Muslim over the decades of his storied career with the Peace Corps and onward. I got to meet him and his wonderful wife at a book signing in DC and the experience almost made me cry: they were so warm and generous with their time and presence, a strength and kindness of personality that absolutely comes through the pages of this wonderful book.

6. The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqi. I’m still kicking myself for not finishing this in time to go to her DC book talk and signing. This debut novel revolving around a language-learning center is a searing examination of power and fluency that plays with storytelling in a way that made my stomach flip-flop with both horror and sympathy. There’s a lot of cross-cultural specificity that absolutely made me feel seen. Amazing stuff.

7. Art Brut Vol 1: The Winking Woman by W. Maxwell Prince & Martín Morazzo. I’ve gotten more into art this year — I’ve even been contacted by art galleries to cover their stuff: feel free to offer to fly me in any time, art worlders! — so this collision of fine art, fantasy and crime was the pinnacle convergence of some of my favorites. This fever dream of a graphic novel was the perfect, perhaps only, way to present the creators’ philosophical examination of murder and art theory. Unmissable.

8. Just SNOW Already! by Howard McWilliam. The most charming children’s book of the year was also one of the smartest, as Mr McWilliam slyly teaches a lesson about not overlooking what you already have while waiting for something outside of your control. The prose is good, but the illustrations are flat-out spectacular, as a young boy in a multiracial family learns how to cope with anticipation.

9. Dreambound by Dan Frey. This crime thriller unfolds into an astounding urban fantasy that repudiates currently popular tropes and advances what parents ought to do to reconnect with wayward children. Fresh, fierce and vital, it’s the perfect contemporary novel for speculative fiction fans who’ve grown up and discovered, to our discomfort, that as parents we’ve been put into the default position of villain in the genre we love.

10. Midnight Is The Darkest Hour by Ashley Winstead. This unapologetic defense of the reading habits of teenage girls made me sob hysterically with grief, even as that stunning ending reminded me of the power of the written word to engage readers in deeper philosophical questions that have practical applications to our everyday lives. Absolutely astonishing, especially for a Southern Gothic with anti-hero leads.

11. The Woman In Me by Britney Spears. As a member of the #FreeBritney movement, I lapped up all the gossip surrounding this memoir before actually buying it for a book club. And holy shirtballs, y’all. This book is utterly harrowing, as Britney and her (extraordinary) ghost writer lay out, among other topics, what led to her being placed in a conservatorship and her fight to be allowed to be a normal human being. Spoiler alert: her father’s family has a history of institutionalizing “difficult” women. Readers might pick this up for the salacious details of her prior romances, but I fervently hope that the main lesson they take away is how important it continues to be to fight for women’s rights.

12. Last Night At The Hollywood Canteen by Sarah James. While the whodunnit in this book might be the most obvious of all the mysteries on this list, Ms James’ embrace of diversity in 1940s Hollywood is a breath of fresh air, especially in the way she points out both the similarities and differences with the modern day. The effervescent banter between the members of the Ambassador’s Club had me bursting into loud laughter, when I wasn’t sobbing along with the narrator’s own heartbreak.

And that was my Best 12 of 2023! You can check out my other favorite books at the Bookshop link below. Here’s to more great reading, and hopefully less grief and more joy for all of us, in 2024!

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2024/01/02/looking-back-on-2023/


  1. Neat list! Here’s hoping that 2024 turns out to be Just Right.

    Your 12 choices left me idly wondering what my favorites from each month. So without further ado —
    Jan: We Never Talk About My Brother by Peter S. Beagle (January was an exceptionally strong month)
    Feb: The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi (Just the fun parts)
    Mar: The Red Prince by Timothy Snyder
    Apr: Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh
    May: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch
    Jun: Der Verrückte des Zaren by Jaan Kross
    Jul: The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power
    Aug: Der Zauberberg by Thomas Mann (only two books finished that month, I wonder why)
    Sep: Lost Time by Jozef Czapski
    Oct: Mitsou by Colette
    Nov: Eve’s Hollywood by Eve Babitz
    Dec: The Iliad trans. by Emily Wilson

    1. Oh, hmm, Idk about by month, tho my list does seem to trend towards that, too! Tbh, I was more surprised by how well-spread my selections this year were across genre and representation. Still very heavily leaning into crime fiction, tho it’s refreshing how speculative fiction has firmly sunk its hooks into the “mainstream” mystery genre.

      1. Yes to all of those points!

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