A jewellery company once ran a Christmas ad campaign featuring glitzy earrings and diamond necklaces accompanied by the scornful slogan “Or you could get her book tokens”.
Granted, jewels are easier to sew into hemlines when fleeing your country, opals may protect against curses, and a diamond ring can be used to scratch a threatening message onto a mirror hanging in your enemy’s home, but in every other way – books win out.
Especially the ones below, newly published in 2023 and chosen as personal highlights by Den of Geek’s writers. Maybe find a new favourite and recommend us your picks below.
Making It So: A Memoir by Patrick Stewart (Simon & Schuster)
Sir Patrick Stewart’s first job was as a journalist and that early training in writing really shines through in this compelling book, nearly seven decades years later. This is far from a memoir-by-numbers, as Stewart’s unique voice, formed through a heady combination of 1940s Yorkshire and 21st century Hollywood via Bristol and Stratford-upon-Avon, makes this compelling reading and you can hear him in your head through every page, even if you haven’t bought the audiobook (which he narrates himself, of course).
For Star Trek fans, one of the loveliest things about this book is how Stewart’s recollections of his whole life come to be connected, in a good way, to his time making it. Little snippets and anecdotes from The Next Generation slip through even the early chapters, followed by substantial sections dedicated to the show itself. The warmth in the way so many of the cast members talk about each other is always such a heartening thing to see. But there is plenty here of interest to non-Star Trek fans too as Stewart’s career has been long and varied, so whether you know him from the Royal Shakespeare Company, I, Claudius, the X-Men films or American Dad!, there will be backstage tidbits and new contexts here.
Stewart’s life is also genuinely fascinating in its own right. Born a working-class Yorkshire lad in 1940, the early chapters read like a history book describing a world that no longer exists of one-up, one-downs with outdoor privies. Stewart has spoken out many times about the abuse his mother suffered when he was growing up, and that is covered sensitively. On the lighter side, he has also had some fascinating spooky experiences in his life, and of course he takes the opportunity to provide his version of some very well known and well rehearsed Star Trek cast convention stories.
If you decide this is the perfect present for the Star Trek fan in your life, go ahead and get it for them, but do yourself a favour and be sure to pick up a copy for yourself as well! – Juliette Harrisson
The Grimoire of Grave Fates created by Hanna Alkaf & Margaret Owen (Penguin Random House)
What if you took a murder mystery, set it at a magic school, and then spread the clues over eighteen different short stories, all with different protagonists? That’s the challenge that editors Hanna Alkaf and Margaret Owen faced in creating this fantastic YA anthology. When a hated, bigoted, sexist professor is murdered, and the murderer is apparently still on the loose in the school, the teenage students aren’t about to sit still and let the adults handle things. Set from 2:00 a.m., when a student discovers the professor’s body, to 8:00 p.m. when another student finally puts the last bit of evidence where it needs to be to solve the crime, the book doesn’t let down its pacing.
Each student protagonist has a small adventure—some more dangerous than others, each of them showing how any student, no matter their background, could be a Chosen One, the hero of their own story. Owen and Alkaf gathered together diverse voices, both up-and-coming and well-known, to present students of different ethnicities, sexualities, and genders taking hold of their own destinies. Between each story, the editors inserted ‘evidence’, such as group chat transcripts or descriptions of objects relevant to the case, as presented by the adult authorities investigating the crime.The result is a charged narrative that will have readers putting together clues, alongside the students, until the criminal gets their due at the end. – Alana Joli Abbott
Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott (Penguin Random House)
Megan Abott has always convinced us to identify with problematic women, from brutal cheerleaders to bloodthirsty scientists. But her latest thriller feels like a new era for the accomplished author because we’re immediately ride-or-die for Jacy, who is newly married and newly pregnant despite not really knowing her husband Jed beyond their feverish courtship and conception… and now they’re visiting Jed’s father at his cozy cottage, and it’s in-law love at first sight. Except when Jacy has a miscarriage scare and suddenly Dr. Ash is making pronouncements about bed rest and pregnancy complications, and why don’t you just stay here and recover until you give birth? And in a blink, Jacy has become nothing but a vessel—an imperfect one, when her medical history comes to light.
Abbott’s style here is different, too, more experimental: The short, choppy sentences. The stream-of-consciousness associations heightened by pregnancy symptoms. A paternal father-in-law whose attention turns prurient. His stern deputy in repressed housekeeper Mrs. Brandt. A useless new husband who defers to his father. An isolated cabin with no escape route. Sudden, intrusive assumptions about abortion and what kind of woman. There is no other way to read this book than in breathless gulps, racing through the forest of its story to where you hope there’s light beckoning you out of the woods. – Natalie Zutter
Every Man For Himself and God Against All by Werner Herzog (Penguin)
Werner Herzog is the award-winning director of over fifty films, author of numerous collections of prose, poetry, and essays, and an actor best-known for playing the villain in the Jack Reacher movie and The Mandalorian. He’s also known as a bit of a loose cannon, to put it mildly; he’s shrugged off getting shot on live TV, ate a shoe on a bet, hauled a giant wooden ship over a mountain, and threatened his (admittedly horrendously abusive) lead actor with murder-suicide.
Born in the chaos and crushing poverty at the tail-end of World War II Germany and Bavaria, Herzog’s childhood is full of famine and familial struggle, but also bouts of mischief and pastoral wonder. The legendary director didn’t see his first film until he was a teenager, and he wasn’t very impressed, yet his burning desire to explore the exotic locales he only read about carried the determined young man to work menial jobs in factories and even as a rodeo clown in Brazil to fund his films in far-flung reaches of the Amazon, the Congo, Egypt and more. There are guerrilla filmmaking exploits and, of course, explosive confrontations with the notorious prime antagonist of Herzog’s own life, the certified madman actor Klaus Kinski. But beyond the anti-Hollywood myths of an outsized eccentric auteur with no lack of grandiosity, Herzog’s anecdotes meander between memory and metaphor, and the everyday often reveals moments of wondrous awe, particularly in the natural world.
Herzog’s prose is already hypnotic, but his distinctive thick German accent, made famous from the narration of his documentaries including Grizzly Man and amusing cameos on animated TV shows Rick & Morty and The Simpsons makes this memoir a must-listen on audiobook. Compelling and confounding, you’ll find yourself chuckling at Herzog’s matter-of-fact delivery of tales too compellingly strange to not be true and looking for the marvelous beyond your own horizon. – Theresa DeLucci
Strong Female Character by Fern Brady (Brazen, Octopus)
We hear a lot about the importance of including a wider-than-previous range of voices in writing, but we don’t always hear the best argument for why: talent. When the publishing world keeps its lists filled with the same names from the same narrow group we’ve heard from a million times before, oh, the talent that goes to waste! Besides anything else, it’s inefficient.
Talent like Fern Brady’s, which rears up like a mythical beast and breathes fire all over every boring, timid memoir ever published. Brady is a stand-up comedian, a former stripper, autistic (and not personally keen on the vagueness of the catch-all “neurodivergent” label), and one hell of a writer. She describes the years and trauma leading up to her diagnosis with devastating frankness and does a terrific job of explaining how her autism works. Witty and entertaining but uncompromisingly dark, her book is likely to be just as helpful to readers with autism and the people around them, as it is to readers without. Blunt, funny and deserves to put Brady on the path to world domination. – Louisa Mellor
The Wicked Bargain by Gabe Cole Novea (Penguin Random House)
Never make a deal with the devil. Mar’s father did, and while it meant that the crew of La Catalina lived in prosperity for all of Mar’s life, when Mar turns sixteen, their dad has to pay up. El Diablo comes to collect, and despite Mar’s magic—something they hide, for fear of being considered a demonio themself—Mar can’t save them. Instead, they’re rescued by the crew of La Ana, a rival pirate ship, that takes them in. Between Bas, the teen pirate who rescued them and who drives them crazy, and Dami, a gender-fluid demonio intent on offering Mar a bargain of their on, Mar’s at their wit’s end—but they’re determined to find a way to rescue their father from the clutches of the devil.
Given the popularity of Pirates of the Caribbean, it’s surprising there aren’t more stories about pirates actually from the Caribbean, and The Wicked Bargain is a great start to remedying that, full of indigenous rebels and pirates (like Mar) who fight back against the Spanish-speaking colonizers. Mar’s magic, a blend of ice and fire, is presented as both beautiful and terrifying, and Mar’s struggle to come to terms with it is part of their journey to feel comfortable in their own skin. They’re a fantastic protagonist to introduce this beautifully built Caribbean setting, which readers will be itching to spend more time in through Novoa’s future novels. – AJA
Yellowface by R.F. Kuang (HarperCollins)
This brutal skewering of the publishing industry in literary novel form became an instant bestseller – and the publishing industry loved it. It tells the story of bitterly unsuccessful writer June Hayward, who witnesses the untimely death of her friend Athena Liu – a popular Chinese-American author – and steals her as-yet unpublished manuscript, passing it off as her own to become an overnight literary sensation.
The more you read, the further your jaw drops, as it really seems like there’s no low to which the protagonist won’t shamelessly descend, but she’s not the only guilty party. There are plenty of publishing industry players who play a part in June’s deception, and Yellowface becomes a searing satire of the publishing industry’s very real problem with diversity, and how white authors are too often given a pass to dabble in cultural appropriation without consequences. There’s also a hefty swipe at social media – the way it consumes us, the way it divides us – and it’s startling how very serious issues ultimately play out on such un-serious platforms. Even those who aren’t in the publishing industry will recognise the way social cliques form in any area of interest, building some up while excluding others, and there’s some poignant reflection on the loneliness that supposedly “social” media can cause.
It’s a vicious read, sometimes almost too on the nose, but not a book you’ll forget in a hurry. And a truer representation of life in 2023 is hard to come by. – Laura Vickers Green
White Cat, Black Dog: Stories by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press)
Bestselling author Kelly Link (Stranger Things Happen, Get in Trouble) is a master of surrealist fantasy and dark, genre-bending fiction. Her short fiction has been awarded the Hugo, Nebula, and Shirley Jackson Awards for its clever warping of familiar folklore tropes. Her latest collection revisits that realm with eerie, confounding retellings of Scottish ballads, Grimm fairy tales, and cottagecore horror full of stumbles into the otherworldly, the uncanny swirling around the mundane.
Like contemporaries including Carmen Maria Machado and Mariana Enriquez, Link’s short stories are never straight retellings. The magical realm of fairies, ghosts, and enchanted animals exist alongside Star Wars, cannabis farms, and Peter Thiel-like tech bros in standouts including “Swans” and “The White Cat’s Divorce,” illuminating the liminal spaces on the edge of our society and its order and expectations. Subversive and deceptively sparse prose belies depths of mini horrors, tiny hopes, and big questions. White Cat, Black Dog is a leap in Link’s creative muscles and an excellent taste of her forthcoming, eagerly-awaited debut novel The Book of Love. – TD
How To Sell A Haunted House By Grady Hendrix (Titan Books)
The celebrated author of My Best Friend’s Exorcism and The Final Girl Support Group tackles the haunted house subgenre (and the creepy puppet subgenre!) with his latest, once again set in Grady Hendrix’s own stomping ground of Charleston. After the death of her parents, Louise returns to her hometown to clear out the house, with her ne’er do well brother Mark. But wills and probate law are the last of her worries when it comes to her mother’s sinister collection of puppets and dolls, and a house which appears to have a mind of its own. Quirky, creepy and laced with Hendrix’ distinct sense of humor, it’s a fun new novel from an author going from strength to strength. – Rosie Fletcher
Ghosts: The Button House Archives by Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond (Bloomsbury Publishing)
One of the Ghosts team’s parting gifts as the BBC sitcom comes to a close was this hefty volume – a book companion to the TV series containing a treasure-trove of “unseen bits” from the show’s beloved characters, which at times feels like outlines for episodes they never got the chance to make.
Some of the entries are depicted as Alison’s scribbles about her discoveries (including a copy of the TV schedule with all the ghosts’ favourite shows circled – of course Thomas wanted to watch a Friends marathon – and a written account of Mary’s instructions for how to make a basket “five potatoes high”) whereas others are in the style of “clippings”, from Fanny’s complaint letter asking for a refund for her tickets on the Titanic’s maiden voyage, to Thomas’ cringeworthy love letters to the poor damsel who got the brunt of his attentions before he met his precious Isabelle.
There’s tons of new insight into the ghosts’ pre-death lives, with surprising revelations including a heartbreaking detail about the lead-up to Kitty’s death, and more light-hearted information about Julian’s scandalous life as an MP, all of it written in a true-to-character style that will be a real delight for fans, and a fittingly funny – and heartwarming – goodbye to a true gem of a show. The audiobook, narrated by the cast in character, is also an absolute treat – LVG
The Faithless: Magic of the Lost Book 2 by C.L. Clark (Hachette Book Group)
The sequel to C.L. Clark’s 2021 debut epic fantasy The Unbroken appropriately opens with soldier Touraine finally giving in to reading her unopened letters from princess Luca: their undeniable attraction clashing with the realities of Luca representing the Balladairan empire that had subjugated Touraine’s birthplace of Qazāl and molded Touraine into the perfect soldier—until she rebelled. But now Luca needs her in Balladaire’s capital, to ensure that she can hold the throne and deliver on her promises to protect Touraine’s people. In The Unbroken, Luca was intruding upon Qazāli land. Now, the roles are reversed, with Touraine the uncomfortable interloper into Balladairan court intrigues—but less like herself and more masquerading as the Qazāli ambassador. It’s not the front lines, where she knows how to fight; it’s luxurious ensembles at lavish balls where Luca’s allies are being murdered, and Touraine must learn how to wield the kinds of swords that are appropriate when dueling for honor.
Clark deftly balances the storytelling between subverting expected tropes—like the assumption that Touraine will serve as some sort of champion for Luca—and introducing unexpected new voices in two new POV characters (one familiar, one entirely new) who expand our scope of the world beyond these two countries’ borders. Another delightful new addition, the Marquise Sabine du Durfort, ratchets up the sapphic swordplay into not quite a love triangle but definitely a source of frisson. But really we’re here for Luca and Touraine; Clark delivers on the simmering sexual tension from the first book, then escalates it into the kind of bravura chess move that no one sees coming, that completely upends the landscape of the board. – NZ
Alan Partridge: Big Beacon by Alan Partridge/Neil Gibbons and Rob Gibbons, Steve Coogan (Seven Dials)
Proof that a little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing, Alan Partridge now has a little knowledge of literary devices. Dual narratives, symbolism, the hero’s journey… they’re all tools clipped to his belt in Big Beacon: A Lighthouse Rebuilt, A Broadcaster Reborn, a memoir about the restoration of a Kentish landmark and his own TV career.
Following on from 2016’s Nomad, which movingly recounted Alan’s inspirational ramble from Norwich to Dungeness Power Station, Big Beacon sees Alan claw his way back to the BBC, get one over on TV chef James Martin, fall back out of favour with the BBC, fall for a redhead that he really enjoys calling by the nickname “Red”, attend one of Esther McVey’s brunches, get a dog, possibly cross paths with Her Royal Highness Princess Anne, The Princess Royal (unconfirmed), lose a dog, and much more.
It’s another very funny Partridge book by Rob and Neil Gibbons, and as performed by co-creator Steve Coogan, an even funnier audiobook, filled with the kind of lines you want to remember and quote. They’ve transitioned Partridge with apparent ease into the #MeToo era, and kept him a complex satirical character by not driving him to a political and cultural extreme, but keeping him as, yes, something in the middle. – LM
What Kind Of Mother by Clay McCleod Chapman (Quirk Books)
A Southern Gothic masquerading as a crime thriller, What Kind of Mother? sees former teen mum Madi return to her hometown with her teenage daughter where she makes ends meet reading palms. When she reconnects with a former old flame whose infant son went missing five years previously, darker truths are uncovered. An exploration of grief and loss, with a strong horror bent (McCleod Chapman’s previous novels The Remaking and Whisper Down the Lane are both worth a look and establish him as an author with proper terror chops), this is intelligent literary horror great for chilly nights in. – RF
Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell (Bloomsbury). A brilliantly inventive children’s fantasy novel by the author of The Golden Mole, and the first of a new trilogy.
Why Is This Lying Bastard Lying to Me? Searching for the Truth on Political TV by Rob Burley (HarperCollins). An essential, entertaining read for UK politics fans that goes from Thatcher to Partygate and takes no prisoners.
In Memoriam by Alice Winn (Viking). A heart-rending love story set on the battlefields of WWI, and a hugely impressive debut novel.
The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty (HarperCollins). The first in a new magic and mayhem trilogy by the author of The City of Brass.
The Reformatory by Tananarive Due (Simon & Schuster). A ghostly historical tale of injustice and supernatural powers set in Jim Crow Florida, 1950.
The Ice Children by M.G. Leonard, illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee (Macmillan Children’s Books). A recently published new take on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” with a modern environmental message for young readers.