I love reading. Every year my goal is to read at least 24 books, but my secret (real) goal is 48. (That way I have an achievable goal I can feel good about completing even if I don’t hit my secret goal.) I’ve managed to hit that 48-book goal every year for the last three years just by reading as often as I can, only reading what I know I’ll like, and dropping books I don’t like. (Luckily I only had to drop three books this year.)

I thought it would be fun to list my favourite books that I read in 2023 and why I think they’re great.

 

1. 52ヘルツクジラたち (52 Hertz Whales) by Sonoko Machida

More like 52 Hurts Whales T-T Oh man this novel was so good. Hands down my favourite book of this year.

It’s about a woman who moves away from Tokyo to a tiny coastal town. There she finds a mute child who’s being neglected and takes him in. The story focuses on her, her life, why she’s in this town, and why she helps this child.

Stories about abuse aren’t normally my thing so was surprised that I liked this one so much. There are heavy themes but the descriptions aren’t graphic. It’s a sad story but heart-warming at the same time.

I love it so much I started translating it myself! Although I suspect it will probably be picked up by a publisher and released in English soon.

CW: child neglect, abuse, domestic abuse, suicide.

52ヘルツクジラたち (52 Hertz Whales) by Sonoko Machida

 

2. A Deadly Education (and the entire Scholomance trilogy) by Naomi Novik

I was not expecting to like these books (I was not a fan of Novik’s novel Spinning Silver) but loved every single moment of them. I literally couldn’t put them down and finished all three within two weeks. Which never happens for me.

The trilogy is about a girl named El who’s trying to survive a magic school that wants to kill her (and all the other students) while also not turning into the evil wizard her grandma prophesized her to be.

The thing I loved about these books was El’s voice. She’s angry at everything and everyone and has every right to be! She’s a teenager who just wants to live a normal life but everything is trying to kill her. The first chapter is one long annoyed rant and it worked so well.

You know you can’t go wrong when a book starts with “I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life.”

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

 

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

This sci-fi novel felt like the TV show Firefly but with hot chocolate. I suppose it’s what many people would call cozy sci-fi, but it felt like so much more than most cozy sci-fi/fantasy novels.

The story follows the diverse crew of a ship as they travel the long way around to a new section of space to punch a wormhole. Each chapter felt like new different episode of a TV show, focusing on a small, contained vignette of the life of this crew. Each vignette was distinct and equally wonderful.

What I liked most about this novel is that things aren’t easy. There’s danger, and bad things happen, but everyone tries their best and works together and grows from their experiences. I also really liked how LGBTQ+ positive it is and how every alien species has such distinct cultures.

The second book, A Closed and Common Orbit, doesn’t follow the same crew but was also fantastic.

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

 

4. Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

I love Brandon Sanderson novels. I’m not complete obsessed like some, but I have read a lot of his stuff. So, when he announced a Kickstarter where you get 4 random books I signed up! One of those novels was Tress of the Emerald Sea, a fun adventure that starts with the idea “what if Princess Buttercup hadn’t waited for Westley to come back but went out to find him?”

Now, Tress is completely different from The Princess Bride. It has a very unique world feel with oceans made from beads or sand that reacts in mysterious ways when mixed with water. It feels dangerous and otherworldly, and I really enjoyed following Tress as she moved out of her shell and ventured head-first into adventure.

This novel honestly felt like something I would have read as a child. Just a fun adventure.

Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

 

5. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

This was another cozy fantasy about found families. A case worker who inspects orphanages for magical youths who’s given the job of looking into one very peculiar orphanage with even more peculiar children.

The whole novel felt like it was directed by Tim Burton with stark contrasts between the gray, rainy city, and the pastel, bright seaside town. The characters are all whimsical and events are very saccharine. I felt the book was an almost by the numbers breakdown of the perfect character arc (see Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland), but even so it was a really good character arc.

This whole story had a certain charm that had me absolutely hooked.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

 

6. Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

I love queer romance and Red, White, and Royal Blue is a big slice of cheesy, gay, cuteness.

The story follows the romance of the first son of the President of the USA falling in love with the Prince of England. All characters are fictional (obviously) and the setting is very much a pie-in-the-sky “what if” (it’ll never happen), but it was still a lot of fun.

I particularly liked the US/UK cultural clashes similar to Ted Lasso (minus the football).

The story got a little saccharine towards the end to the point where my back teeth ached, but still, a lot of fun.

Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

 

7. Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

Another cozy novel, only high fantasy instead of sci-fi.

Legends and Lattes follows an ogre as she gives up her life as an adventurer to open a café in a town that has no idea what coffee is.

There are a few things that happen which are a little too convenient, but overall, the story was like drinking a hot café latte with a warm cinnamon roll. It was exactly what everyone promised—low-stakes and cozy.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree

 

8. The House Witch by Delemhach

My mother-in-law recommended this cozy fantasy novel to me. (Yes, it’s the third cozy sci-fi/fantasy novel on my list, but I was in need of cozy goodness this year!)

The story follows the new cook of the castle as he tries to navigate his new surroundings while also hiding the fact that he’s a witch.

It felt like a Japanese light novel in the sense that there isn’t a clear goal or villain, but thankfully with much better writing than most light novels. I wasn’t expecting to like this as much as I did but the characters slowly grew on my and by the end I was in love with everyone.

The story doesn’t resolve itself and I know there are a few other novels out there. Fingers crossed they’re as charming as the first.

The House Witch by Delemhach

 

9. The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

I don’t read much non-fiction but picked this up because the sample made me laugh.

This book is a diet book without being a diet book. The author lays out the research she’s taken into dieting culture and the industry of dieting and how most of it is rubbish. She shares a lot of personal stories, from her own experience as well as people she’s helped, and weaves a lot of good information and points together in an amusing way.

I don’t think it changed my life drastically (although I did notice I had been accidentally restricting…) but it was an entertaining and interesting book.

The F*ck It Diet by Caroline Dooner

 

10. medium by Sako Aizawa

This is a murder mystery novel where an author teams up with a medium to solve murders. Each chapter focuses on a different murder and how the two work together to solve the case. Pretty standard Japanese murder mystery set-up, but with a twist at the end that made it very popular in Japan.

I admit I found this story really annoying when I first started. The main character is a bit of a misogynist and the number of times the female lead’s eyes were mentioned is waaay too high. But I’m glad I stuck with it because the big twist is worth it and I found the ending satisfying.

medium by Sako Aizawa

 

Those’re my top ten novels from 2023! I read less translated works and more books that I knew I would enjoy, which made this a really great year for me.

 

Other Articles You Might Like

Translated Books I Read in 2022

Translation Reviews

 

by Jennifer O’Donnell, edited by Wesley O’Donnell

My Favourite Books of 2023
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