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  • Writer's pictureDonovan Bergin

Best Reads of 2023

As I reviewed my favorite reads of 2023, they fell into three categories. Mainstream fiction, nonfiction, and what I’ll call indie fiction. Is it actually indie fiction? Is indie music actually indie music? Do any of us ever know what we’re talking about?


Probably not.


Whatever the case, I read a lot last year. I enjoyed some fantastic reads, had my share of regrettable reading decisions, and a few DNFs. Hopefully, this list will lead you to some good reads in 2024, in case you haven’t picked any of these up yet.

Oh, and I'm sorry for not finishing the nonfiction category. I have several irons in the fire, and if I don’t finish this post tonight, you might not get recommendations until 2025.


Happy Reading!


Indie Fiction



John W. Otte

Drawn in Ash was easily my favorite surprise of the year. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one, but it did win best Science Fiction novel in the 2023 Realm Awards. “Slow-burn romance” doesn’t exactly engender interest for me. Quite the opposite, actually. But the back cover also promised magic and technology, so I was in.


Now, if you haven’t been introduced to good world-building that weaves magic and science fiction together… You probably aren’t alone. I remember picking up a tabletop role-playing game called Shadowrun back in college because my friends promised it was better than D&D. The only problem? It mixed Tolkien-esque magic and races with cyberpunk. Ridiculous, right?


Wrong.


It’s freakin’ awesome when done well. And John W. Otte does it quite well in this novel. We’ve got a great magic system based on symbols, ink, and blood - if you’re feeling blasphemous, that is. Oh, and magic is outlawed in the Dynasty, so maybe skip spellcasting entirely. And why would anyone restrict something as cool as magic? Simple. Mages have a terrible historical reputation for being super powerful and super murdery.


Readers dive into this beautifully crafted world with Everys, who does her best to hide her mystical heritage from a society that’s sworn off magic for four hundred years. Which is why we also get cool tech. If you can’t just magic your way through life, you’ve got to invent things like TVs, hovercrafts, guns, and USB drives. Okay, there are no USB drives, but you get the idea.


Pretty soon, Everys is forced to marry King Narius, whose ancestors steamrolled Everys’ people and homeland. I honestly thought this would make for a super uncomfortable read, but it’s done well, in my opinion. What begins as a marriage of convenience eventually, and believably, develops into something more meaningful as the novel progresses.

I’d love to say more about this book, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. I strongly recommend picking up this book if you’re a fan of fantasy or science fiction and well-written books that aren’t plastered on every TOP 10 BOOKS OF 2023 THAT TOTALLY WEREN’T COPY PASTED FROM THAT OTHER REVIEW SITE!





Max Moyer

Technically, this is a 2024 read, but I started it in December 2023, so I’m going to say it counts for the list. Look, the end of the year was a bit rough for reading. I DNF’d almost every book I picked up during that season and struggled to find something that was fun to read and well-written.


I tried supposedly sci-fi books that turned out to be a thin veneer for fantasy. Yes, that’s different from mixing sci-fi and fantasy, and yes, it’s incredibly aggravating.


I tried some fantasy books in which the F-bomb was the most common in-world word. If your fantasy characters speak like Storming eleventh graders from my own world, I am not finishing your book.


By the end of 2023, I was ready to surrender my reading time to something that never lets me down: F-ZERO 99. But then some guy asked me to check out his newsletter or something, and it came with a free novella, which was… an excellent read!


Look, it’s not perfect. There’s a reveal I didn’t need and some pretty predictable events, but the writing is solid, the characters consistent, and even when you know what’s coming, it’s still not annoying. In fact, it usually heightens the emotions you feel during the scene because you know how a character’s feeling about their situation is so perfectly at odds with what the outcome must be that your stomach twists just enough to keep you turning the pages - not to see what happens but how it affects the character. And that’s pretty cool.


This quick read has a nice dash of not-over-the-top magic, a good amount of political intrigue, and even character growth. I’m looking forward to the author’s first full-length novel, Zodak: The Last Shielder. Thorn Borne can be bought on Amazon, but it’s also free if you visit the author’s site and sign up for his mailing list. I definitely recommend giving it a go.




Paul Regnier

Does anyone have that friend who always takes everything seriously and never catches onto your sarcasm? That was me when I started this book. It had a beautiful cover, and I never judge a book strictly by its cover, so don’t judge me for not bothering to read the back matter, which does an excellent job of framing this book as a fun mix of action and comedy.


Anyway, I was about fifty pages in and couldn’t figure out why the protagonist was always making wisecracks in the face of certain death, why the bad guy was so caricatured, and why the dragon spoke like a character from a Monty Python skit.


As soon as I realized what I had stepped into, I could fully embrace it and enjoy this book. I enjoyed the characters, their interactions, quips, and adventures. Jonas, a bard, and his best friend Elrick find themselves in hot water with the evil king of… whatever kingdom they live in. Elrick’s sister (and Jonas’ crush) soon joins them on their misadventures, along with my absolute favorite character, who I won’t spoil for you.


The book moves quickly and never leaves you bored or stuck for too long. The band of buddies picks up magical artifacts to aid them on their quest, which I won’t spoil for you. But they are fun. The group makes friends and enemies with different factions throughout the book, who all influence the direction and end of the novel, which is an excellent reward for the reader.


The story isn’t without its faults, but it did make me chuckle and kept me turning pages. I found Jonas’ infatuation with Bree a bit much at times, but not enough to make me put the book down. I’m looking forward to reading more from Regnier and hope we get more stories featuring Jonas in the future.



Mainstream Fiction



Michael Ende

When I started reading this book to my children, I never thought I’d be tearing through page after page, chapter after chapter, as they slept silently in their bunk beds. Someday, they’ll finish the book, and boy (or girl), can I tell you. They are in for a treat. So are you if you pick up this book.


I watched the movie as a kid, a few times as an adult, and a few more times with my kids. It’s an American standard. But the book is so much better! The movie cuts out about halfway through the book, and then the sequel tries to pick up where the first left off, but… 90s kids all know how that movie went. They even made a third movie with Jack Black, but you can’t purchase it on Prime Video. One day, I’ll satisfy my morbid curiosity and find a way to watch that flick, but that’s not what this review is about.


This book has a great main character, Atreyu is freakin’ green-skinned, and there’s a counterpart to the… Nope, those are spoilers. There’s this super exciting… And then you won’t believe what happens when… And the ending is SO meta with an outstanding payoff when you find out that…


LOOK, THIS BOOK IS REALLY HARD TO SPOILER-FREE REVIEW, OKAY?


Just buy it and read it already.




Brandon Sanderson

Brando Sando strikes again. The hits keep coming. I read the entire Stormlight Archive as a continuous arc, having never read any of his books before. I honestly don’t know where each one begins and ends, but I’m glad there’s so much left in this series. The final book of this arc comes out this year, but at some point, we’re getting five more fabulous books in this setting. I’d say I can’t wait, but you can’t hurry love.


I’d write a more thorough review, but it’s Brando Sando. It’s great. There are better reviews out there, and if they haven’t convinced you to pick up his books, I certainly can’t.




Andy Weir

This was a challenging year for Sci-Fi. Maybe. I’ve read a lot, mostly DNFs, but one stuck out among the rest: Andy Weir's astronaut book. No, the other one!


For the life of me, I couldn’t recall the title of this book. It ties in perfectly with the story, but it's an all-too-common phrase from my past. I attended every football game my high school ever played, and we might have lost a few games. Plus, my grandparents are Catholic. They even had a rosary fit for a giant mounted on the wall above the stairs in their two-story house back in Texas.


Now that I’ve gotten sufficiently off-topic, I suppose you’ll want to hear more about the book. Fine. You win.


The story follows an intelligent and loveable science teacher who’s conscripted by an extra-governmental agency to save the planet from our quickly dying sun. It seems an alien microorganism has the munchies for our favorite star, and the brightest minds in the world are set to work figuring out how to vaccinate the sun against this new peril.


There’s a whole lot more that happens after that, but discovering how the plot evolves is so rewarding, and I don’t want to take that from you. Go read this book. It’s good. A few curse words, but that’s about it for content warnings.



Non-Fiction



Timothy J. Keller

This is hands down the best book I read this year. The late Timothy Keller is a competent theologian and writer. So many nonfiction books throw sound bites at you, surrounded by paragraphs of filler, all leading up to generalized proclamations lacking substance or support of any kind.


Not Mr. Keller.


Do you remember when your college professor required you to supply references, footnotes, and stuff like that for your papers? Me neither, but this guy remembers.

Timothy takes his research and presentation of his beliefs very seriously but writes in an approachable style. This isn’t an overly dense, boring read by an ivory-tower theologian discussing spiritual matters you may or may not believe in.


This pastor has led a diverse congregation at his church in New York, walked alongside real people with real struggles, and approaches the subject of belief in God with compassion and understanding.


This is a great read for those wondering why Christians believe what they believe. It’s also a great read for those who already believe and want to strengthen their faith. Or for those who are doubting. I can’t recommend this book enough. But I do need to stop writing reviews because it’s super late, and I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet. So… I’m going to do that.



I hope you've enjoyed this list of recommendations, and wish you entertaining and enlightening reading in 2024!

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