Reading Recap: Best & Worst Books, Fanfics & More

The past year has given me a good mix of excellent and terrible books to read. I liked some books I thought I would hate, and hated some books I thought I would like.

Overall, I can’t say it was a bad reading year, but I definitely hope for better in the future. 

The year is not over yet, but I decided to do this recap now because I have some bigger reading projects (e.g. finishing The Bee Sting by Paul Murray and attempting to finish Count of Monte Cristo for the umpteenth time) which might take me a while.

I also decided to put all categories in one article, and list five books for each category for a few reasons. One, I would be hard-pressed to find more per category, and I think the five looks neat. And because fanfics take up such a large portion of my reading experience, I decided to list my favorites as well. 

So, without further ado, here is my year in books: 

Best Books I Read in 2023

While I did like an additional few books, like Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer, this is probably the most accurate and in-order list of my favorite reads of 2023. It only includes books that are new to me.

1. Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

reading recap: sorrow and bliss

This is definitely my favorite book of the year. I found it accidentally, through Jack in The Books, and didn’t expect to like it that much, but it was truly a wonderful book. And I’m kind of sad it’s so underrated. 

This story follows Martha as she struggles with an unnamed mental illness throughout her life. The mental illness affects all of her relationship and her life in ways that she can’t always control. 

While the theme may seem dark, and the book itself really is, in parts, I found that it also had beautiful themes of finding help, family always being there for you, finding the right people, falling in love and the giddiness of it, finding purpose in life, and so much more. 

There are many side characters in this book, and all of them are nuanced — for example, her aunt Winsome comes off as stiff and posh, but turns out to be kind and helpful in ways you wouldn’t expect.

Definitely give it a go if you have a chance — it’s well written and you won’t regret it. 

2. Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro

reading recap: elena knows

Elena Knows is a very short book, but so important and so powerful. I like to compare it somewhat to Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These because I both of them are short but Elena Knows manages to tell a whole life’s worth of stories and messages in such a short format, while Small Things feels claustrophobic, and doesn’t quite relay its message well (see my full review here). 

This book follows an elderly woman who struggles with Parkinson’s. Her daughter and only caretaker committed suicide a while ago, but no one believes Elena when she says that there is no way her daughter killed herself. So she goes on a very difficult journey across the city to reach one person who she believes is indebted to her and has to help. 

It’s a quiet book up until the very end, when it turns into an explosion of emotions and regrets. You really get to understand how it is struggling with such a terrible illness, and how it is to take care of someone who’s struggling with it. It also has themes of religion and how it polices everything women do, how the society treats sick and elderly, and so much more. 

I read it in one sitting but it stayed with me for a very long time after. 

3. If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

reading recaps: if we were villains

I wasn’t intending to read this book (probably ever) because it just didn’t seem that interesting. But just before Book Depository closed down, it had a really good deal on the special, illustrated edition of this book and so I decided to get it. 

And boy, am I glad that I did. 

The story follows a theater group at a university as they live and breathe Shakespeare. The relationships seem relatively simple at first, but then turn more complicated and when one of them dies, the whole group unravels. 

It sounds a bit like The Secret History and some comparisons have been drawn, but I feel like there aren’t that many similarities. It’s not as good as The Secret History, obviously, but it has its own merit and I really enjoyed reading it. 

4. Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson

reading recap: open water

This is another very short book (can you tell I love them?) that will take your breath away and leave you thinking about it for ages. 

Open Water is written almost like a poem, it’s so lyrical and poetic. It’s told in second POV which is incredibly hard to do well, but it worked wonderfully here. It follows a man as he forms a relationship with a woman and the two of them fall in love. It’s also about masculinity and race, vulnerability, finding safety in another person, and so much more. 

5. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

reading recap: tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

I expected to like this, unlike many other books on this list, and my wish came true. It’s a story that follows three friends as they create games together, struggle in their relationships, with disability, heartbreak, abuse, and more. 

What really stands out in this book is how it talks about creativity and the act of creation. If you’re in a creative field or ever wanted to be, you’ll definitely relate. 

It will also break your heart, so be warned. But definitely give it a go because it’s amazing. 

5 Worst Books I Read in 2023

I hate putting up this disclaimer, but it has to be done: just because I didn’t like a book, doesn’t mean you won’t or that I am in any way judging you for liking it. It’s not a personal attack on the fans or the authors. It’s simply my taste.

Now, that said, these are some of the books I really disliked in 2023. You’ll notice a common theme of being really excited to read them, and ending up sorely disappointed — in fact, all of these could be on my “Most Dissapointing Reads” list. 

1. Writers and Lovers by Lily King

One thing to know about me: I’m a sucker for books about writers. And if it’s a romance book about two writers falling in love, that’s my personal catnip. So you can see how this one caught my eye. And I really, really tried to love it. 

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. This book is so disjointed, with so many different themes that the core story gets lost. So, the book is meant to be about a woman who is working on her debut novel as she falls in love with two very different men who are also writers. Great so far, right? 

Wrong. In this story, there are more scenes of her working at a restaurant and unnecessary explanations of how it is than there are of her working on her book. There are also weird sequences about her health, the main character being unreasonably naive about her debt (she thought that leaving would make it go away), a weird sequence of her brother cheating on his husband, etc. 

It’s also pretty clear who she will end up with. I expected something more nuanced, but one of the men is constantly painted as the bad guy, even though that isn’t always the case. And the ending is horrible — the main character gets the job she always wanted, and gets to do it in a way she wants, she gets a six figure book deal within two weeks, gets the guy, and basically everything she ever wanted. All that after being incredibly stupid and incompetent for the entirety of the novel. 

So, definitely one of the most disappointing and annoying reading experiences I had ever. But the worst I had this year.  

2. Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

It’s no secret I don’t like this book. But the truth is, I read it before it took off on TikTok because again, Book Depository had a really good deal on it and it looked so pretty. The premise sounded interesting and I wanted to love it. 

As you can probably tell, that didn’t happen. 

The gist of it is that it’s really boring. It feels like a bunch of things thrown together with no rhyme or reason — I put it down so many times without feeling the need to continue. It’s a vapid, nothing, meh sort of book in my opinion. 

I give a more detailed description of what didn’t work here, but overall, the pacing was bad, the world half-baked, the characters just copies of what works in the genre, the romance nonsensical, with zero chemistry. 

Everyone and their mother is talking about this, but I recommend checking out Marines’ video on YouTube, since I completely agree with all of her points (and she delivers it much better than me). 

3. Twisted Games by Ana Huang

Social media badgered me into this one. I kept seeing videos and reels of scenes and vibes from this book, and, well — I love bodyguard romances. Like, if you read A Curse so Dark and Lonely, I was rooting for the main character to end up with her/the prince’s bodyguard. So, of course, I went into it fully expecting to love it. 

Again, it didn’t happen. My main issue with it is that it’s insta-love or insta-lust. But bodyguard romances are supposed to be slow, to develop over time of shared trust and friendship. There’s supposed to be tons of yearning and longing. None of it happened here. 

The other big issue I had is that their relationship is based solely on the physical aspect. They wanted to sleep together, but there was little else to the relationship. 

And the sex scenes were… questionable, let’s say. The MMC seemed to really like degrading the FMC for being a princess, and it felt more like some unresolved issues and disrespect rather than genuine kink. 

So, I probably won’t be reading much else from this author or any other books in this series. 

4. The Caraval Series by Stephanie Garber

reading recap

I read this so I could have a better base for reading Once Upon a Broken Heart and it went about as well as can be expected. This is YA, but in the worst sense possible — the characters are vapid, make stupid decisions, and the plot overall loses all meaning by the end of the first book. 

I didn’t even like the world or the vibes, which most people seem to like. It was supposed to be fantastical and quirky, but the way it was described was just so meh. 

I don’t have a lot to say about this to be honest. There are much better YA fantasies out there. 

5. Assistant to The Villain by Hannah Nicole Maehrer

reading recap

So, this book seemed like it would be a ton of fun, and it ended up being not fun at all. It’s a parody of the genre that tried really hard not to be.

If you don’t know, Assistant to The Villain is based on a series of TikTok skits in which we see the titular assistant live a daily life of working for the villain. She’s bubbly and beautiful and he’s broody, evil (but not really) and handsome. Also, hopelessly in love with her. 

And in the skit form, it works. It’s a parody of the genre, yes, but also a fun way to relive your favorite scenes from your favorite books. However, as a novel, this just doesn’t work. It appears confused and unsure of what lane to take. 

The villain (who is literally called The Villain), tortures people and kills people, but he’s handsome so it’s fine? There’s not much reasoning behind it — and again, in comedy it works, but not in an actual book where you really have to pick between being a serious fantasy novel where the villain has motives and desires that make him evil (or good, in the end) or a parody where he kills people but it’s cute. 

5 Most Surprising Books I Read in 2023 

This list features some of the books I either didn’t expect to like or wasn’t excited about reading but that I ended up loving.

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

reading recap

Gone Girl is probably one of the biggest surprises for me this year. It was on a really big sale at my local bookstore and so I decided to get it because it was so cheap and I recently watched a video about the main female character that intrigued me. 

I ended up absolutely loving it. Obviously, I was spoiled for what happens, but it didn’t matter — the journey there was fantastic. None of the characters are likeable and yet it was so fun following them around. 

2. Boy Parts by Eliza Clark

reading recap

I had this in my e-library for the longest time before I decided to read it. It was a lazy Saturday and I needed something to read, so after browsing the first chapters of several books, I ended up being hooked by this one’s. 

Just like with Gone Girl, the main character is reprehensible, horrible, awful — but oh-so-fun to read about. Be warned, this book is full of gore and disgusting stuff, it features some really dark themes and all of that from the point of view of a really messed up woman. However, it’s really well done and if you can stomach it, it will stay with you for a while. 

3. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab

reading recap

I bought this book, again (this is probably the third time on this list), because a beautiful, illustrated edition was on sale at Book Depository and I just couldn’t resist. Ages ago, I tried reading it but I was in my ACOTAR phase then and was not interested in reading a book where romance with the villain was not at the centre. I had no patience for it. 

But on my second read, it was incredible. So soft and quiet and tender and poignant. I loved the messages about creativity, and leaving something behind. It made me cry, especially the scenes about her father. It’s well worth reading and I highly recommend it. 

4. Half a Soul by Olivia Attwater

reading recap

I bought this book on a recommendation from the Cozy Fantasy reddit forum, and didn’t expect much of it. However, it was really a fun read. 

Sure, it gets a bit iffy with preaching about helping the poor (it’s quite on the nose), but it’s a fantastic romance with very interesting main characters and a love interest you can root for. Plus, the regency vibes were great and it led me to India Holton whose books are just delightful. 

5. Belladonna by Adalyn Grace

reading recap

With the many bad experiences with fantasy romance, and especially YA fantasy romance I had in the past year, Belladonna seemed like just another definite miss. But I gave it a chance and ended up really enjoying it. 

It’s a gothic mystery with a main character that can see ghosts. It’s not overly complex or heavy, so it’s easy to just turn off your brain and let it entertain you. It also doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is another reason why I loved it. 

5 Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2023

I had many high hopes for books this year, and some of them ended up being not much like I expected them to be. So, here’s my list of books that I wanted to love, but ended up hating. 

1. Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton

reading recap

I read this one based on some quotes I saw on social media. The book itself seemed like a really good essay collection, but I just couldn’t get into it, and I really wanted to. 

Most of the essays follow our main character recounting her drunken nights. Which is fun, I guess, if you’re with her on those drunken nights. However, I really don’t think there’s anything worthwhile in them, especially not anything that you can put into a book. 

I did like a few essays — the ones about therapy and her friend’s sister dying and the grief that comes with it, but everything else just seemed vapid and empty. 

2. Slow Days, Fast Company by Eve Babitz

reading recap

Another essay collection I was really excited about because it seemed everyone loves it so much on social media. But similarly to Alderton’s collection, these essays are more anecdotes of fun adventures that our main character had, which I’m sure are fun if you’re her friend, but not really when you don’t know or care about any of those people. 

And I’m not saying it’s bad — it’s just that it wasn’t what I expected. But it’s a short read, so definitely give it a go and form your own opinion on in. 

3. Blueberries by Ellena Savage

You’ll notice a pattern with these essay collections — they rarely work for me. Blueberries has a few that are okay (the first one, for example), but all of the others seem to focus on this version of white feminism and performative care for the world around our main character that I was very underwhelmed by it. I really don’t have a lot to say about it except that it feels written for the “sad girl lit” hashtag on Instagram more than for anything else. 

4. Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

reading recap

On surface, this is an okay book — but if you look a bit deeper, it’s a bit strange. Our main character is seen by the world as strange and made fun of constantly, but it’s pretty clear she has some form of autism. Our love interest constantly says horrible things to her and acts like a literal child, but we’re meant to root for him. 

The diary format doesn’t work because it’s not written like a diary aside from a few sentences at the beginning and end — plus it takes all the suspense away because all entries are written after events already happen. 

So, it was a pretty dry and meh read. 

5. Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross

reading recap

I wrote a full review of this book where I explain in detail why I didn’t like it, but I’ll share my quick thoughts here as well. 

I wanted to love it and I wanted it to be this enchanting, timeless love story. It ended up having a weak romance, weak character and a nonsensical world, not to mention prose and dialogue that felt dry and robotic. 

5 Books I DNF’d in 2023

There are books that I read that don’t fit into any category on this list. I can’t say I have extremely strong feelings on them (ergo the DNF), but they deserve a mention at least

1. The Idiot by Elif Batuman

reading recap

I believe this was just a case of right book, wrong time. I would have loved it when I was in uni and in my early twenties, but now, at 28, it was just boring and I couldn’t relate to much in it. It’s not bad or badly written (in fact, I recommend it in a list here) but it was just not for me. 

2. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

This is a cozy sci-fi, which I picked up because it was recommended to me as that, but it was not my cup of tea. I have nothing bad to say about it, to be honest. But I’m just not a science fiction girlie, it’s never been my genre. 

3. One for My Enemy by Olivie Blake

review of one for my enemy

I wrote a review about this book here, but in general: the writing was pretentious and tried too hard to be poetic, the characters were not fleshed out, the plot was all over the place and the romances had no chemistry despite both being a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. 

4. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

reading recap

This book is an ongoing DNF for me. I try to read it a few times every year but I just end up leaving it and forgetting about it. Or ignoring it (forgetting about it is a feat because it’s quite a big book). I know I will love it once I manage to get through it, but it will take a while. 

5. The Hurricane Wars by Thea Guanzon

reading recap

This is the book that inspired my recent discussion on whether or not fanfiction should be published as original work. In the beginning, it was a bit info-dumpy but fine overall — and then it just unraveled from there. The plot was all over the place, and the sole focus of the book became getting our two main characters to kiss and love each other. Which is fine, but it doesn’t deliver on the premise or make for a good book, especially in the way this was done. 

Reading Recap: 5 Best Fanfics I Read in 2023

I read fanfiction so much that I would be remiss not to add my favorites to this list. There are some fanfics that are honestly much better than some published, original work. I was mostly reading Dramione fanfics until sometime this year when I ended up reading Turn and was, funnily enough, turned. 

I find that Drarry as a fandom has much more variety in its stories. Our main two characters were both horrible to each other, both saved each other’s lives, and don’t have as complicated a history as Dramione, so the focus of these stories is rarely redemption or apologizing, but more growing up, finding what you love to do, finding yourself. 

With that said, here are my favorites. 

1. Turn by Saras_Girl

This fanfic is completely canon epilogue-compliant. Harry goes off to marry Ginny, Draco marries Astoria, and they live their quiet, if dissatisfied lives for a while. Harry and Ginny are not really happy together, but they make do, and Harry keeps thinking about Draco for some reason (after seeing him at the train station). 

Then one night, when he can’t sleep and goes to a pub for a drink, he meets a man who ends up sending him into an alternate dimension where Harry wakes up married to Draco, with his own wood shop and a generally very calm and happy life. He’s weirded out but goes with it, and ends up really falling in love with both Draco and his life there. But then he has to come back to his own reality. 

This fic is really long, and feels almost like two books but it’s well worth reading. It’s beautifully written and while the romance is important, the book focuses more on finding yourself. This is the book that got me to create this blog — I wanted to do something that I love, something that means something to me. 

2. Cut From The Sky by mallstars

This is another Drarry fanfic that features Harry working as an Unspeakable (Wizarding secret agent, you could say). He’s constantly sent on boring missions all over the world and is really unhappy with his life. And most of his missions are him living the same day over and over again many times, of which he only remembers a single day (which his supervisor chooses). 

After a disaster threatens the wizarding world, he is sent to Strasbourg to Confound a bunch of combinations of people for 119 variations of the same day. Bored and tired, he decides to take a stroll through the rainy city, and there he runs into Draco’s boutique. 

In it, Draco is sewing and selling beautiful robes that can make you experience what he felt on a certain day, so initially Harry only wants a robe that would make him warm and happy and nothing else. But he gets intrigued by Draco, and keeps coming back. Some days, he manages to get Draco to talk to him, some he doesn’t. But he slowly falls in love. 

This is a beautiful, tender story about love, about finding what you love to do. It has some of the most wonderful writing I have ever read (including original works) and I highly recommend it, you will fall in love with it. 

3. Running on Air by eleventy

I already talked about this fic here, but it deserves a mention because it’s truly so good. In it, Harry works for an Investigative Division with the Aurors and works mostly on cold cases. He’s engaged to Ginny whom he rarely sees and has an estranged relationship with, he lives in an apartment he hates and generally doesn’t like his life but pretends that he does. 

Then he gets another cold case to work on, and it’s Draco’s. He went missing three years ago and no one can find him. As Harry starts looking through memories given to him by Draco’s family and friends, he slowly starts to get to know him, to care about him, and also to realize that his own life hasn’t belonged to him in a very long time. 

This is probably one of the best Drarry fics ever. The romance is so good because you can feel it developing without it ever being shoved in your face or talked about extensively. There’s no smut and it’s a quiet sort of love where two people find a safe space with each other. 

4. Nice Things by aideomai

Nice Things is a short fic, but so worth reading. It’s mostly fluff with very little angst and follows Harry and his friends as they return for eight year in Hogwarts. Harry is struggling, his relationship with Ginny is over, and all he wants is peace and quiet. 

Draco is also back, and he’s different, also very quiet. They mostly ignore each other, then end up accidentally hanging out one night and casually touching. Harry likes this so much that he continues to do it the next day and the next, and soon enough he’s hanging off Draco like he’s his personal teddy bear. 

This fic is really sweet and told from many perspectives. The way Draco and Harry fall in love is so tender and soft that it will melt your heart. 

5. Grounds for Divorce by Tepre

While I did love this one, it’s a bit harder to recommend because it has a bit of non-con at the beginning and some complicated dynamics. Draco invites Harry to his house because he found some of Harry’s family belongings (photos, wedding invitations, letters, etc.). Draco wants to repay Harry for saving his life, so this is why he does it. 

However, when Harry gets there and they start reading the letters, a powerful bonding curse hits them. The curse means they can’t spend almost any time apart and they constantly feel the need to sleep together (this is what I mean by non-con, they’re not willingly doing it). So, they start living together and Draco tries very hard to make it work (he cooks for Harry, tries to make the house a home, becomes friendly with his friends, etc.). But Harry, disgusted by the curse, doesn’t want any of it. 

So Draco (because he’s very nerdy in this one), develops a system where they don’t have to live together or even see each other much. He moves out and all they have to do is hold hands for twenty minutes every week. 

Harry finds boyfriends, girlfriends, has the time of his life while Draco builds his own potions business. At one point, Harry wants to travel, and Draco makes a sort of talisman that would allow them to be apart for more than a week. But it doesn’t work and almost kills Draco, which is the catalyst for Harry finally getting to know him and falling in love with him. 

Of course, nothing is simple, and things unravel from here — they’re both desperately in love with each other, but believe the other one is better of without the other, and so on. It has a happy ending, so no worries. 

Reading Recap: Final Thoughts

So, that was the reading recap of my year in books. Overall, I had a decent time, and found some all time favorites as well. What was your own year in books like? Feel free to tell me in the comments (or leave links to your own reading recaps) — I’d love to know!

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