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The Foothill Dragon Press

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    Best of 2023: Books

    Karli Riehle
    Literature is a consistent influence in the lives of many people. It comes in many forms, including books loved by people all across the world. Looking at the year of 2023, writers Kalea Eggertson and Jane Kim reflect on books from throughout the previous year.

    From anonymous memoirs to fantastical dreams, historical retellings to haunting lessons learned, literary artists continued to create in 2023. Since art can’t be ranked, here are some notable highlights. 

    “The Stolen Heir” by Holly Black

    As the first novel in the spin-off series continuing the faerie world of Elfhame, “The Stolen Heir” by #1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black entered the world on Jan. 3, 2023, and ranked number one on the New York Times best-selling list.

    Following the story of the exiled child queen of the Court of Teeth, Suren spends her days in the human world releasing mortals from bargains involving the mischievous faeries. That is, until the handsome and grown-up Prince Oak of Elfhame comes along and nearly forces her to embark on a perilous journey to save his ruthless and psychotic father Madoc from captivity at Lady Nore’s Ice Needle Citadel. Along the way, Suren and Oak are forced to navigate their unexpected and difficult feelings for each other.

    A book full of dark and dangerous themes, as well as enticing romantic undertones, “The Stolen Heir” is an exciting kick-off to Black’s duology, with the second book being “The Prisoner’s Throne.” These are two perfect books for someone who has previously read the Folk of the Air Trilogy, or is even new to Black’s world. 

    “Yellowface” by R.F. Kuang

    Yellowface” by #1 New York Times bestselling author R.F. Kuang, is a psychological fiction and immersive dark satire novel about the controversies about the publishing industry and its unjust biases involving the ethnic backgrounds of authors. Selling a total of about 350,000 copies, “Yellowface” is the first book criticizing the publishing industry that has made it into  the New York Times best seller list.

    The story’s main focus is on a young, unaccomplished author named Juniper “June” Hayward, who is deeply insecure about her not measuring up to her closest and only friend, Athena Liu. A young, beautiful, award-winning author of Chinese descent, Liu seems constantly inauthentic when it comes to their relationship, and is so absorbed in her own successes that she doesn’t pay any heed to Hayward’s hardships. As a result, Hayward’s jealousy and silent hatred for her friend slowly escalates, that is, until she witnesses Liu’s death by choking on a pancake. After the traumatizing incident, Hayward comes across Liu’s first draft of an ingenious story. A conflicted young author, Hayward decides to patch it up herself and publish her friend’s story as her own. 

    The only question is — is it right to publish the manuscript of another author as your own to carry on their legacy? Is it worth the possible consequences? What are the moral and ethical hang-ups to this decision? 

    This complex and intricately-woven story explores social, moral and racial conflicts involved in the publishing industry, and whether or not someone of one ethnicity is allowed to tell the story of another. Not only is “Yellowface” a mind-boggling psychological fiction novel, but it also raises important inquiries on where we are now in society, and how to change for the better. 

    “Love, Theoretically” by Ali Hazelwood

    On June 13, 2023, #1 New York Times bestselling author Ali Hazelwood presented a sweet romance novel titled “Love, Theoretically.” Making number five on the New York Times bestseller list with around 750,000 copies sold worldwide, the book is about two star-crossed lovers who just happen to be rival scientists. 

    The plot follows the young and pretty, yet “too-average-to-be-noticeable” protagonist, Elsie Hannaway. As a person with two jobs— a theoretical physicist professor and a fake girlfriend to paying clients — Elsie faces many everyday struggles, whether that be paying off her student debt, monotonously grading papers or getting tangled in the drama of her clients. Until she realizes she is infatuated with the seemingly annoying older brother of the client she is posing as the fake girlfriend for. Next thing she knows, that small infatuation turns into something larger and more complicated when she realizes that this man threatens to take down her entire career. 

    In this thrilling and vivid novel, Hazelwood paints a compelling picture of the lines between friendship, rivalry and the timeless pursuit of love. “Love, Theoretically,” as one of the most popular books of 2023, is sure to catch the eye of all romance readers alike. 

    “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride

    They are the two things that bind us together: heaven and earth, better known as love and community. “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store,” written by James McBride, is a fictional novel that deals with the issues of race, disabilities, love and acceptance, through a complex and interwoven range of characters. The book gained popularity soon after its publication due to its well-respected author, McBride, who had written two award-winning novels before. The book, published on Aug. 8, 2023, was crowned #1 Book of 2023 by Amazon Editors and Barnes & Nobles’ Book of the Year in November, only three months after its release. 

    The story begins in June of 1972. Chicken Hill, a ramshackle neighborhood in Pottstown, Pa., is the setting for a majority of the book. It is also where most of the African-American, Jewish and European immigrant population reside. When Pennsylvania State Troopers discover a skeleton at the bottom of a well on Chicken Hill, they begin to investigate, only to have their efforts cut off by Hurricane Agnes. With this mystery in mind, backpedal 47 years to 1925, and only there does the story really start. 

    By the time the reader arrives at the end, by no means is this novel a mystery on how the skeleton on Chicken Hill got there. It is a symphony of straightforward, yet nuanced words that aren’t afraid to speak about inequality, racism, xenophobia and stereotypes. However, McBride also never abandons hope in the fact that love and community will hold us together. Therefore, this historical fiction novel is a must-read for anyone willing to uncover the truths about society. 

    “Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros

    Since its explosive debut into the fantasy-fiction world on April 5, 2023, “Fourth Wing” by Rebecca Yarros has only continued to make traction. Without missing a beat, Yarros briskly published a second book to the Empyrean series, “Iron Flame,” in November, which successfully caught the attention of more fans. 

    It’s true that the popularity of “Fourth Wing” can be attributed to its spellbinding and world-building writing by Yarros. However, there is also a large part that must be credited towards “BookTok,” the community of young book-lovers on Tiktok. Thanks to its status as one of the most widely circulating books on the platform, the Empyrean series was able to gain the publicity that most writers could only dream of. 

    The novel follows Violet Sorrengail’s initially disastrous beginning at a military academy for dragonriders, who, with her weak physique, is no match for her brutal peers. Despite her rough start, Sorrengail gains not only new skills that help her survive, but also close friends and even a romantic relationship. However, as secrets and lies run amok, and death tolls rise, Violet and her new companions seek out the bloody truth. Overall, this book is a great read for anyone who doesn’t mind explicit scenes or strong violence — after all, who doesn’t enjoy reading about dragons?

    What do you think?
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    More to Discover
    About the Contributors
    Jane Kim
    Jane Kim, Writer
    First-year writer with a passion for music, current events and science.
    Kalea Eggertsen
    Kalea Eggertsen, Writer
    Aspiring fiction author and first-year writer who has been at it ever since she could hold a pencil.
    Karli Riehle
    Karli Riehle, Illustrator
    A first-year illustrator, obsessed with dragons and doodling.

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