Bjørn's Top 10 Favorites of 2023

Bjørn’s Top 10 Favorites of 2023

Keeping with traditions, we will post our separate top 10 reads of 2023 lists throughout January. This year we’ll have 3 such posts for you: Jen’s, Bjørn’s, and Timy’s.

Our only rule was that any book on these lists has to be read during 2023, regardless of when they were published and by whom. And we had to love them, obviously. Maybe. I mean, when you keep shouting at the author in private for things they did, it’s surely a sign of love, right? Even if you call said author names… *ahem* Anyway. Second up is Bjørn’s Top 10 Favorites of 2023!

Bjorn's Picks

I struggled with reading in 2023. I have a Very Interesting brain that sometimes won’t read because nope (this is why my best non-fiction book took me eight months – there was a five-month break between starting and finishing). As a result, I only managed 67 books in 2023, which you will agree is pitiful, and I hang my head down in shame. [This is a lie – Ed.] I don’t have a top 10 – how do you compare Britney Spears’ memoir with The Things They Carried? – but I have ten picks. And almost all of them are actually books!

Best historical fiction book of 2023 – The Ring Breaker by Jean Gill

The Ring Breaker by Jean Gill is my pick. I have written a very long review that seems to be composed solely of complaints – because I enjoyed the book so much. It borders on perfection… just doesn’t reach it. I have an ARC of the sequel and will be digging into it excitedly once I am finished with the many, many books I have to read first. (Spare a thought for someone who keeps getting free books that threaten to be absolutely fantastic.)

The Ring Breaker by Jean Gill

Loyalty has a price the children pay.
In the twilight of the old gods, when the last Vikings rule the seas, two cursed orphans meet on an Orkney beach and their fates collide.

Stripped of honour, facing bleak loneliness ahead, Skarfr and Hlif forge an unbreakable bond as they come of age in the savage Viking culture of blood debts and vengeance. To be accepted as adults, Skarfr must prove himself a warrior and Hlif must learn to use women’s weapons. Can they clear their names and choose their destiny? Or are they doomed by their fathers’ acts?

The award-winning author of The Troubadours Quartet returns to the 12th century, with skalds instead of troubadours and Viking warriors instead of crusaders. Get ready for authentic medieval adventures steeped in poetry, politics and passion. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell Matthew Harffy and Madeline Miller.

“My nitpicking aside, The Ring Breaker is this all-too-rare example of historical fiction where I know exactly what’s going to happen, because I know the actual history, but I want to keep reading.”


Best murder of 2023 – Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is, obviously, a mega-classic everybody knows. But it was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd that sent me into the Christie spiral. I can’t say anything about it that won’t spoil it. Just read it. Martin Amis who?

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Just after midnight, a snowdrift stops the famous Orient Express in its tracks as it travels through the mountainous Balkans. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for the time of the year but, by the morning, it is one passenger fewer. An American tycoon lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside.

One of the passengers is none other than detective Hercule Poirot. On vacation.

Isolated and with a killer on board, Poirot must identify the murderer—in case he or she decides to strike again.

“I recommend Murder on the Orient Express to absolutely everyone who likes books. Unless you want bloodbaths, grimdark, and require swords. There’s only one off-page bloodbath, a very dark crime committed many years earlier involving a child, and a knife. If you can deal with that, make your life better by reading this book.”


Best classic book of 2023 – The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien was not an easy read for me. Or, I suspect, most people who had this book in their school curriculum. The Things They Carried really falls into fiction novel category, but since I have read one book in this genre (this one) I would be cheating by pretending I had to think for a long time.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

A classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, The Things They Carried is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and the character Tim O’Brien, who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three.

Taught everywhere—from high school classrooms to graduate seminars in creative writing—it has become required reading for any American and continues to challenge readers in their perceptions of fact and fiction, war and peace, courage and fear and longing. The Things They Carried won France’s prestigious Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize; it was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The Things They Carried is the sort of book that makes some students write petitions demanding its removal from the curriculum, because it makes them uncomfortable. This fiction is too real to be real, we can’t live with truth, so we don’t.”


Best memoir of 2023 – The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

I can’t say that Britney Spears’s The Woman in Me is my ‘favourite memoir’ when a good half of it is horror – a real-life horror unveiling in the lights and in front of the cameras. Apparently, Britney is thinking of reconciling with her father, who blackmailed her into performing by threatening that she will never see her children again, and sent her into a closed facility when she finally said no. Mommy Dearest has nothing on Jamie Spears.

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

The Woman in Me is a brave and astonishingly moving story about freedom, fame, motherhood, survival, faith, and hope.

In June 2021, the whole world was listening as Britney Spears spoke in open court. The impact of sharing her voice—her truth—was undeniable, and it changed the course of her life and the lives of countless others. The Woman in Me reveals for the first time her incredible journey—and the strength at the core of one of the greatest performers in pop music history.

Written with remarkable candor and humor, Spears’s groundbreaking book illuminates the enduring power of music and love—and the importance of a woman telling her own story, on her own terms, at last.

“I recommend this book to everyone interested in human nature, whether you are a fan of Spears, pop music in general, or not. Just ignore the song titles and the albums and the tour names. What remains is a lot of joy, followed by a lot of grimdark – except real.”


Best non-fiction book of 2023 – Not So Black and White by Kenan Malik

Not So Black and White by Kenan Malik. I still haven’t reviewed it. I don’t know whether it’s possible. At the time of Hot Takes (TM) and (RIP) Twitter, this book was the response to “you have committed A Racism at me but I won’t tell you how” and over its 486 pages – okay, more like 370, the rest is the index and bibliography – Malik presents the answer to those 280-character outrage eruptions. Every sentence punched me in the throat – even though this book is long, it’s edited incredibly well. You might have guessed that it’s not a fun beach read.

Not So Black and White by Kenan Malik

Is white privilege real? How racist is the working class? Why has left-wing antisemitism grown? Who benefits most when anti-racists speak in racial terms? The ‘culture wars’ have generated ferocious argument, but little clarity. This book takes the long view, explaining the real origins of ‘race’ in Western thought, and tracing its path from those beginnings in the Enlightenment all the way to our own fractious world. In doing so, leading thinker Kenan Malik upends many assumptions underpinning today’s heated debates around race, culture, whiteness and privilege. Malik interweaves this history of ideas with a parallel the story of the modern West’s long, failed struggle to escape ideas of race, leaving us with a world riven by identity politics. Through these accounts, he challenges received wisdom, revealing the forgotten history of a racialised working class, and questioning fashionable concepts like cultural appropriation. Not So Black and White  is both a lucid history rewriting the story of race, and an elegant polemic making an anti-racist case against the politics of identity.


Best hilarious Norse lore book of 2023 –  The Impudent Edda by Rowdy Geirsson

Rowdy Geirsson and I are friends, which is partly caused by me nagging him non-stop to rewrite Norse Mythology for Bostonians in English, and his endless patience. The Impudent Edda is not a Norse lore retelling. It’s a whole new Edda! (Snorri Sturluson wasn’t all that good at research, apparently.) While the ‘Bostonian’ version is difficult to read for a non-Bostonian, and a few stories, such as ‘Thor Renewing His Driver’s Licence’ lose a bit in translation, any self-respecting Norse expert (looking at you and your cigar box, Jackson Crawford) needs to study this body of art thoroughly.

The Impudent Edda by Rowdy Geirsson

After 800 years, the final installment of The Edda Trilogy has at long last arrived! Picking up where its medieval forebears, The Poetic Edda and The Prose Edda, left off, The Impudent Edda not only introduces readers to a fresh, new perspective on both familiar and previously unknown narratives of Norse mythology, but also brings the world’s foremost epic fantasy trilogy to its inevitable and fateful conclusion: in a dank alleyway behind a dive bar in Boston.

This special Puffin Carcass Deluxe Edition presents the complete text of The Impudent Edda in English for the first time ever. Masterfully translated from the original Bostonian by esteemed Impudent Eddic scholar, Rowdy Geirsson, this volume offers readers a deeply poetic yet highly accessible version of fun and classic tales ranging from Odin’s unprovoked murder of an ancient witch to Freyja’s voluntary experiment as a prostitute among lecherous dwarves to Thor’s drunken and petty act of larceny on the eve of Ragnarok, the final world-shattering battle of the gods.

“Humour aside, Geirsson does his best to explain the inconsistencies and pure absurdity of some of the events and their participants. (“Mímir’s head guards a special well of interplanetary cosmic radiation that is located less than a single parsec away from the asymptotic giant branch of the space-time continuum nearest to Giant Land. The free neutrons found inside this well are unherently unstable…”) And those explanations make perverse sense. They’re fun as hell, but also the only way in which the lore could possibly be… well. Semi-coherent.”


Best romance of 2023 – The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater

To my shocked surprise, I don’t have one. Apparently out of the 67 books I have read this year exactly zero were romances. So, I’m going to go with The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater, which technically isn’t a romance, but when you read it, you’ll see why I picked it.

The Witchwood Knot by Olivia Atwater

The faeries of Witchwood Manor have stolen its young lord. His governess intends to steal him back.

Victorian governess Winifred Hall knows a con when she sees one. When her bratty young charge transforms overnight into a perfectly behaved block of wood, she soon realises that the real boy has been abducted by the Fair Folk. Unfortunately, the lord of Witchwood Manor is the only man in England who doesn’t believe in faeries—which leaves Winnie in the unenviable position of rescuing the young lord-to-be all by herself.

Witchwood Manor is bigger than its inhabitants realise, however, and full of otherworldly dangers. As Winnie delves deeper into the other side of the house, she enlists the aid of its dark and dubious faerie butler, Mr Quincy, who hides several awful secrets behind his charming smile. Winnie hopes to make her way to the centre of the Witchwood Knot through wit and cleverness… but when all of her usual tricks fail, who will she dare to trust?


Best book about music of 2023 – Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski kept my interest even when she was writing about bands I didn’t know. She even made me skim, rather than skip, chapters about the bands I actively dislike. I was upset when the book ended. I wasn’t done with it. Will re-read.

Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s by Lori Majewski

Mad World is a highly entertaining oral history that celebrates the New Wave music phenomenon of the 1980s via new interviews with 35 of the most notable artists of the period. Each chapter begins with a discussion of their most popular song but leads to stories of their history and place in the scene, ultimately painting a vivid picture of this colorful, idiosyncratic time. Mixtape suggestions, fashion sidebars, and quotes from famous contemporary admirers help fill out the fun. Participants include members of Duran Duran, New Order, The Smiths, Tears for Fears, Adam Ant, Echo and the Bunnymen, Devo, ABC, Spandau Ballet, A Flock of Seagulls, Thompson Twins, and INXS.


Best actual music of 2023 – The Girl is Crying in Her Latte by Sparks

Oh dear, there are many picks. I’ll go with SparksThe Girl is Crying in Her Latte. It’s their 25th studio album. They’ve been going for 52 years. Ron Mael and his mustache are 78 years old. Russell, the singer, is a 75 year old whippersnapper. But they can’t stop themselves from sounding simultaneously fresh and like Sparks at their best. Those two, plus Peter Gabriel, make 70s look like the best decade for creativity.


Best fantasy book of 2023 – and the best book of 2023 overall – A Quiet Vengeance by Tim Hardie

*hides face in hands* This is so wrong. Tim Hardie is my friend. I don’t rate my reviews of friends’ books for a reason. But if I picked any other book, I’d be cheating, because A Quiet Vengeance would be my book of the year no matter who wrote it. With the double POV switching from one MC to the other at the exact right spots, fantastic worldbuilding, no unnecessary violence/bloodshed/rapes, and an absolutely amazing female lead, A Quiet Vengeance ticks all the boxes. My integrity is groaning.

The sequel is not coming my way until 2026. This is extremely rude and I am starting a petition to *checks location* the UK Parliament… or government… whoever can get Hardie to stop whatever he is doing and write my sequel, I mean – his sequel, immediately.

A Quiet Vengeance by Tim Hardie

Nimsah is an abandoned child living on the streets of Bengarath, surviving on her wits as part of a criminal gang in the City of Tents, home to the dispossessed. Dojan is the Crown Prince of the Emirate of Fujareen, enjoying a life of luxury in Bengarath Palace. Their lives are brought together as the threat of war looms in the neighbouring city state of Kandarah. However, Dojan and Nimsah share a secret, one that will set in motion a chain of events leading to vengeance.

“It’s simultaneously dark, escapist, fascinating, elegant, visceral, and entertaining. I read wide, to put it mildly. A Quiet Vengeance was a delightfully satisfying dish I dreaded finishing. Indie fantasy at its finest. Now guess how I would have rated it.”


And that concludes Bjørn’s Top 10 Favorites of 2023.

Let us know which of these books you’ve read or would like to read and what you think about them!

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