Joyfully Jay Best of 2023 badgeIt’s fun to have dedicated time to look back at all the books I’ve read for 2023. I am privileged to be given access to so many great books. These are the books I couldn’t put down or the books that stayed with me long after I finished reading. It’s amazing to see favorite authors are still writing books that make the list, as well as new-to-me authors that I have gotten to experience for the first time.



the toymaker's son coverThe Toymaker’s Son by Ariana Nash
Nash is a favorite author year after year and I look forward to her books even before I barely know what they are about. The Toymaker’s Son is best gone into with as little knowledge as possible. It’s filled with twists and turns, the world building here is its own character, and the book has tones of a retelling of a well-known fairy tale. I kept thinking about and circling back to the ending for a long time after I finished, as nothing in this book is what it seems, and the extra fun is piecing it all together at the end.

Like You Hate Me by Bethany Winters
This book shows the darker, more obsessive, more hurtful side of relationships. Xavi and Nate are enemies, although neither of them truly wants to be. The author does a great job of getting us into the minds of both Xavi and Nate. Not everything is clearly laid out as the story unfolds and there are pieces that need to come together throughout the entire book to get the full picture. This is not a “traditional” romance, but it is a great choice for a story that hurts so good.

tragedy of felix and jakeThe Tragedy of Felix and Jake by J. Daniels
From the first chapter, I was all in with Felix and Jake and the writing here is the kind that pulls you right into the story immediately. We meet Jake first, as he’s on the edge once again and in need of help. The book is told in first person POV from both Jake and Felix and, for me, that’s the best way to understand the characters. If you like angst and an addictive love story set around high stakes odds, you will find that here. J Daniels was a new author for me and I hope to find something new in 2024.

Something Wild and Wonderful by Anita Kelly
When I started this book and was a few chapters in, I found it to be slow and I was having a difficult time getting into it at all. But as the miles passed as Alexei and Ben walked the PCT and I learned more about them and felt their connection, it all changed. This the gentlest book on my list and the men get a wonderful ending. I recommend you take a walk with Alexei and Ben, as the deep emotional payoff is worth all the miles it takes for the men to get there.

our sweet revenge coverOur Sweet Revenge by A.V. Shener
There is a lot that happens in this story and almost all of it is a spoiler to unravel the next spoiler, so it’s difficult to discuss details of the book. It’s a revenge porn/non-consent story that I feel goes into the fantasy category with a “what-if” vibe—what if you could get revenge on the person you thought wronged you the most? The author has a distinct way of reeling you into the story and making you uncomfortable before pulling back just enough, and it’s a book for when you want to explore the darker side. There are a lot of warnings in this book and many potential triggers, so do review those before reading.

A Night at the Theatre by Ariana Nash
One more from Ariana Nash and this book is a novella set in the Shadows of London series and takes place after the fifth book, Without a Trace. The series must be read in order and there are natural spoilers for the series present in the review and this writeup. This story was an unexpected treat, as I had thought this series had fully wrapped up, and it was so much fun to reunite with Alexander and Dom after the final events of the previous book and all they have been through. If you haven’t read this series, there are many reasons why you should, but one reason is so you can get to this super entertaining and gratifying novella as the men try to simply go to the theater.

salt kiss coverSalt Kiss and Salt in the Wound by Sierra Simone
I read this book in September and, at the time, it was the best book I had read so far in the year. Sierra Simone is a favorite author for me and her books always hit and hit hard. Salt Kiss is the first full-length book in Sierra Simone’s Lyonesse series and it starts with the prequel novella, Salt in the Wound, and that ebook is available for free. Salt in the Wound details Isolde and Mark’s meeting and is from Isolde’s POV. Salt Kiss is told through Tristan’s POV. I only know the story of Isolde and Tristan in broad strokes and this book can be enjoyed for the story it is telling, so don’t let that be a deterrent if you aren’t familiar with the source material. The heat level is high, the character development is amazing, and the mystery behind Mark is all kinds of alluring. The next in the series is most definitely my most anticipated book for 2024.