The Best Books of the Year: 2023

Best Books 2023

With Christmas less than a week away, at the AU we’ve got to the task of agonising and arguing over our end of year lists – best albums, best films, best games, and of course best books.

The Books team have taken a look over the year’s releases and compiled a list of some of our favourite reads; the books we think are the best. It’s by no means an exhaustive list – I for one, still have a to read pile that is overflowing with 2023 releases – but, these are the books that caught our eye, gripped us, excited us and stuck with us across 2023.

From rural Queensland to apocalyptic England, from essay collections to photobooks, from romantasy to gothic folklore these are the AU Books Team’s best books of 2023:

Borderland – Graham Akhurst

Simon: Borderland is the debut novel from Aboriginal writer and academic Graham Akhurst. Billed as speculative YA fiction and an eco-horror gothic Borderland follows the First Nation protagonist Jono on his quest of self-discovery. He’s a city born teenager, freshly graduated from a private school, and feeling disconnected from Country and his community. After getting into an Aboriginal Performing Arts college, he scores a gig interning on a documentary about mining in rural Queensland. All the while he’s being haunted by an eerie omen of death, thinks he’s losing his mind, and is being stalked by a malevolent spirit from the Dreaming.

Borderland is a gripping and enjoyable read that balances its green message with plenty of thrills and chills — and whilst some of the language choices and dialogue reflect its target audience, it proved to be often delightfully creepy, eerie and atmospheric. I’d argue it’s also crying out to be adapted for television or film (think Cleverman or Firebite); and without giving too much away Akhurst has set himself up nicely for a sequel or two. (UWA Publishing)

Buy a copy HERE

Snapshots from Home – Sasha Wasley

Emily: I read this one earlier in the year and it’s been pretty hard to beat. An immersive, smart, historical fiction about the Snapshots from Home League with a cast of memorable characters. Reading this one, it’s easy to see that a lot of research and passion has gone into it. I can’t wait to interview Sasha as part of the Leading Ladies panel at the 2024 Perth Writers Weekend. (Pantera Press)

Buy a copy HERE | Tickets are available for the PWF24: Leading Ladies panel HERE

Threads That Bind – Kika Hatzopoulou

Jemimah: A highly imaginative romantasy set in a world where descendants of the gods live alongside each other in a city roiling with inequality. This story is a gritty noir fantasy murder mystery, with complex and flawed characters, exploring themes of betrayal and forgiveness, family and loyalty, and revolutionary upheaval.

Jess: This book has cemented fantasy crime thrillers as one of my favourite genres. The creativity of this book seamlessly weaves the mythology and lore into the crime while simultaneously reflecting real-world politics. (Penguin)

Read our full review HERE | Buy a copy HERE

Never a Hero – Vanessa Len

Jess: Never a Hero was one of my most anticipated reads of this year and it did not disappoint! A solid follow-up from the first book in the trilogy, this book has plenty of thrills, jumps to some very interesting points in time, and leaves on a killer cliffhanger that has me dying for the final instalment. Spoilers for Book 1 in the blurb below – you have been warned!!

Joan is coming to grips with the events of Only a Monster, alone and grieving for things that no one else remembers. But when the timeline brings her and Nick back together again, they end up on the run, this time from Aaron Oliver. Terrified that the truth of the monster world will remind Nick of who he once was and set him on the path to being a hero again, Joan treads a fine line of secrecy while trying to keep him safe. But the architect of his rise to hero is at work again and Joan still hasn’t figured out what the end game is. With the monster court closing in on them and Joan still in the dark about why her power is forbidden, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is revealed. (Allen & Unwin)

Read our full review HERE | Buy a copy HERE

The Grief Nurse – Angie Spoto

Jodie: Only the wealthiest and most influential families can boast of having their own Grief Nurse. Tasked with removing their negative emotions and replacing them with Bright, Lynx belongs to the Asters, and she has known no other life. But as the family gathers for the wake of eldest son Sculptor, old rivalries, petty jealousies, and new tensions look set to make Lynx’s job harder than usual. Sculptor Aster, it seems, had his secrets, and Lynx and the Asters may already be out of their depth.

There’s nothing like finding a new favourite book, is there? Inventive, beautifully written, and with a touch of the Gothic, The Grief Nurse by Angie Spoto absolutely blew me away. (Sandstone Press)

Read our full review HERE | Buy a copy HERE

A Real Piece of Work – Erin Riley

Lyndon: A Real Piece of Work, Erin Riley’s debut release, is a collection of essays sharing personal stories about growing up with mental health challenges, their experiences with sexuality, gender, and relationships, as well as sharing the experiences of their clients from working as a social worker in Sydney.

Through Riley’s collection of twenty essays, themes of disadvantaged and marginalised communities are explored, as well as what it is like combating and dealing with a struggling system that continues to oppress them. Analysis of justice, family, love, intimacy, and power structures are also examined through the communities eyes. A Real Piece of Work is not a self-help book, but Riley’s experiences and research invites you to reflect upon your own. (Penguin Books Australia)

Read our full review HERE | Buy a copy HERE

Monument – Trent Parke

Branden: Photography books don’t get a lot of attention from end-of-year roundups, probably because their focus isn’t on writing. And if that is the case then Trent Parke’s Monument is a perfectly terrible pick for my best book of the year. The only writing it holds is a page of braille which I cannot read. Aside from that it is an epic book of double-page, black and white photos bound in leather. The collection is framed by the theme of the play of light in cosmic phenomena– solar flares, seas of stars, glowing bodies– but they are not astronomical photos. They’re a blur of city life, a city at night, or a man on the street. Just as a photobook asks you to read in a new mode, Monument asks you to see city life in a new mode too– a cosmic one. (Stanley Barker)

Buy a copy HERE

Perilous Times – Thomas D. Lee

Simon: There’s no shortage of contemporary retellings of myths and legends at the moment. It seems like every couple of months there’s a new one dropping. But, rarely are they as infused with humour and wit as Thomas D Lee‘s Perilous Times.

A fresh take on the Arthurian myth, Perilous Times features all the characters you would expect, but often not as you would expect them. Merlin, for example, is holed up somewhere crafting the perfect strain of mushroom; and Lancelot is, well, frankly a bit of a dick! But, the world’s ending and after a while you don’t get to pick who you spend your immorality with. Perilous Times is a lot of fun, with a strong eco message, and is one for the fans of Pratchett, Gaiman and Aaronovitch.(Orbit/Hachette Australia)

Buy a copy HERE

The Shadow Cabinet – Juno Dawson

Emily: I can’t tell you much about what happened in this one because it’s a sequel but suffice to say that I found myself screaming “OMG!” more than once. This powerful, sassy, nostalgic series is a modern take on witchcraft and wizardry that also touts the importance of female friendship in all its forms. I love this series and I absolutely cannot wait for the prequel novel about Anne Boleyn, due out next year. Literally cannot wait. As in, gimme! (HarperCollins)

Buy a copy HERE

Eta Draconis – Brendan Ritchie

Jemimah: An apocalyptic road trip story of two sisters trying to reach their future in a world that feels like it has none. This book is highly original, and examines themes of coming of age, environmental catastrophe, family relationships, and what it means to find hope and passion when it seems like there is none left to be found. (UWA Publishing)

Read our full review HERE | Buy a copy HERE

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries – Heather Fawcett

Jess: Cute, whimsical and cosy, this book follows Emily Wilde who is an expert on faeries and composing the world’s first comprehensive encyclopaedia of them. To complete it though, she needs to travel to the frozen Ljosland and document the mysterious Hidden Ones found there. But while Emily knows all the tricks to communicating with the Fae, she’s not so good when it comes to people which causes problems in the very small village she’s to stay in while she does her research. Enter the infuriatingly handsome and charismatic Wendel Bambleby, her academic rival and, Emily suspects though she has no proof, an exiled Fae disguised as a human, who seems to adore her. Together, Emily and Wendel soon discover that a faerie expert is just what the Ljoslanders need…

If cosy fantasy is your jam, you’re sure to enjoy this. The characters’ strong personalities and personal problems give the book momentum even when the narrative doesn’t have an obvious path forward. Highly recommend if you like a mysterious story and quirky characters. (Hachette)

Buy a copy HERE

The Monsters in our Shadows – Edward J Cembal

Jodie: Anthem is an Exilist, trapping and banishing the city’s Shivers – ravenous shapeless parasites that cling to their human hosts, tormenting them until they consume them completely. Offered an opportunity to head into the Deadlands in search of a way to tame them, Atlas has no choice but to accept – even as his own Shiver grows in strength.

Scary monsters, dystopian landscapes, powerful allegories – The Monsters in our Shadows has it all. I read this earlier in the year and, much like its parasitic Shivers, it’s stuck with me ever since. A gripping tale of loss, fear, and the demons that lurk in the corner of our eye. (Tempus Press)

Buy a copy HERE

Roseghetto – Kristy Jagger

Lyndon: RoseghettoKristy Jagger’s powerful debut novel, that takes a hard look at trauma and low-socioeconomic hardships. The book begins with the main character Shayla at just a three-years-old, before following her perspectives and experiences as she grows up in public housing and the abuse that she and her mum endure. The book concludes when Shayla turns eighteen and about to break out of the cycle. Jagger’s prose is both strong and all encapsulating. However, some readers may find some moments triggering, so reader discretion is advised. (UQP Books)

Read our full review HERE | Buy a copy HERE

Bad Cree – Jessica Johns

Simon: Jessica Johns‘ debut novel Bad Cree was one of the first books I read this year (apparently I like to start of the year with a spooky read) and it has stuck with me throughout the year and become one of my go to recommendations. There are some similarities with my earlier pick Borderland too.

Bad Cree tells the story of Mackenzie, a young Cree woman, who has never quite recovered from the death of her sister. The novel opens with Mackenzie waking from a dream holding a severed crow’s head in her hands; and frankly it doesn’t quite chill out from there. It’s a wonderfully haunting and often visceral read that explores ideas of family, intergenerational trauma, and community. Johns’ plays with the genre conventions perfectly to tell a story that is steeped in culture and chills. Arguably, another one that’s screaming out for a good film adaptation. (Scribe Publications)

Buy a copy HERE

Everything Under the Moon – ed. Michael Earp

Jemimah: This is a gorgeous collection of fairytale stories and poetry told through a queer lens. The stories are both original and recognisable, continuing the tradition of re-telling them for new purposes and new audiences, expressing the lives and experiences of an underrepresented community. (Affirm Press)

Buy a copy HERE

Verge – Nadia Attia

Jodie: Rowena was marked by Death on the day she was born. Plagued by visions, death follows where she goes, taking first her boyfriend and then her father. But she might yet be saved. Her grandmother in Culcrith may be able to break the curse, so, with her mother’s farmhand Halim at the wheel, Rowena must head North.

A post-Brexit dystopia meets with cunning-folk traditions in this beautifully written debut. Read this if you like: Folklore/folk horror, family curses, an absolute banger of a first kiss. (Profile Books)

Buy a copy HERE

Bookshops and Bonedust – Travis Baldree

Jess: It’s the prequel the entire cosy fantasy community was waiting for and boy did it deliver. The stakes are a little higher in Travis Baldree’s follow up to the hit Legends and Lattes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of time to sit back and soak in the joys of a dusty second hand bookshop and an endless desire for freshly baked goods.

Long before Viv was ready to settle down and build her coffee shop, she was at the very beginning of her adventures. Headstrong and more than a little proud, Viv gets injured while ignoring orders from the leader of renowned mercenary group Rackham’s Ravens who are on the hunt for a powerful necromancer.

Packed off to the cosy seaside town of Murk to recuperate while the rest of the company finish their hunt, Viv finds herself spending time in a small rundown bookshop with its foul-mouthed proprietor, enjoying a summer fling with the baker, and trading blows with a stubborn gnome. But with each passing day, Viv’s fears that Rackham’s Ravens has abandoned her grow, and then a mysterious figure in grey appears who smells an awful lot like the creatures Viv was fighting when she was injured. (Pan Macmillan)

Buy a copy HERE

Thanks to Branden Zavaleta, Emily Paull, Jemimah Brewster, Jess Gately, Jodie Sloan and Lyndon Bower for their contributions to this list. 

Simon Clark

Books Editor. An admirer of songs and reader of books. Simon has a PhD in English and Comparative Literature. All errant apostrophes are his own.