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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Cline Barton

Veronica's #WritersDiary: My Top Reads for 2023!

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

Mortimer Adler

Well, here we are, another year comes to a close and what a time it has been! In this post, I'm continuing my end-of-year tradition and highlighting the authors and their books that captured my reading attention in 2023 with that little something extra!

This year's picks include a chilling collection of ghost stories; a heartwarming, tug at your heartstrings romance; a brilliant, story within a story mystery, a baffling; southern whodunnit with two adventurous cousins, and a biographical collection of essays and short stories from a legendary queen of the macabre. Here are my top picks for 2023:


  • Sharon Bradshaw, The Bookseller's Ghost

  • Tonya Penrose, Venetian Rhapsody

  • Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders

  • Joy York, The Bloody Shoe Affair

  • Shirley Jackson, Let Me Tell You

Without further ado, here's a few words from the authors...

Author Sharon Bradshaw, The Bookseller's Ghost

Thank you very much, Veronica, for featuring The Bookseller's Ghost in your Top Reads of 2023. I am honoured to be here, and delighted that you enjoyed the stories.


My passion for writing about the spirit world, and paranormal, began when I was a teenager. My mother and I shared a love of spooky stories in the books we read, and those hauntings we watched on the television in the early 1980s from the Hammer House of Horror. I came to appreciate the wonderful Christmas tales by Charles Dickens, and those of Montague Rhodes James. Both of whom would regularly frighten friends and family, with stories of the ghosts they had created.


You'll catch a glimpse of the unseen in my Ghosts From The Bazaar series; find spirits which may only exist in memory or the inexplicable, and discover things that go bump in the night. There are another five tales in the recently released book 2, Old Meg And The Fox. The Haunting of Rose Cottage will also be out in a few weeks' time, and the 3rd novel in my 8th century series, a few months later. It's about Durstan, a monk on Iona, and is based on the history of Dark Age Britain. He falls in love at Beltane, but that's only the beginning! Ailan disappears, the Vikings arrive, then there's Beth... There'll be a novella too, set in Glastonbury. Several of the legends from there will be included, since he would have known them in 800 AD. 


 (Pssst, The Bookseller's Ghost eBook is just 99 cents through December 29th)

If you would like to be notified of these new releases, please also click the follow button next to my author name on Amazon.


Thank you. Happy New Year, Everyone!


Author Tonya Penrose, Venetian Rhapsody

First, thank you, Veronica, for choosing Venetian Rhapsody to highlight on your wonderful blog. I’m pleased as punch to share a snippet about my journey with the book and what unfolded.

The story’s genesis came to me in the most intriguing and highly emotionally charged way. I was listening to a song by David Bazo, an award-winning composer/producer/performer from Madrid. This song transported me to Venice, where I saw a young couple having an encounter. At that moment, the idea for Venetian Rhapsody came calling and launched my story writing gondola.

Set in the City of Love, it’s a rom/com/timeslip with a few twists. One twist I wrote into the main characters, (Eduardo and Sofia’s) romantic encounters, is scenes where they listen and dance to music. When I shared this uncommon experience, I was having with David, he had a spark, as he calls it. He offered to compose a companion soundtrack album to marry the story with music. Of course, my yes was instant. 

Our excitement about doing this unique project together resulted in Venetian Rhapsody becoming a fully immersive experience for readers. We’re excited about doing more creative projects together.

Oh, if any producers/filmmakers are reading this, please give a squint at Venetian Rhapsody. Sofia and Eduardo would love to have their story on a screen. Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

Find Venetian Rhapsody here:

Tonya Penrose (Pen Name)

X @tonyawrites

Instagram/Threads @TonyaPenroseWrites


Author Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders

Unfortunately, Author Horowitz was not available for comment in time for print (Anthony, give us a holler when you read this please), so I'll lead with the next best thing in this YT video where he talks about what inspired the writing of Magpie Murders (which led to the brilliant series featured on PBS Masterpiece Mysteries and other providers). Let's have a listen:

For me, I thought the plot, characters, and the story within a story format was so cleverly done in Magpie Murders, giving the reader a unique segue into two fictional worlds that collide. In the world of whodunnits, this tale left me in awe. I've also read the 2nd book in this series, Moonflower Murders, which is due (hopefully) to make its book-to-screen premier soon--readers will love this one too!

I've become a huge fan of Author Horowitz's mysteries. You can find out more about Anthony's books here:


Author Joy York, The Bloody Shoe Affair

Thank you so much, Veronica, for including me in your Top Reads for 2023. I am so honored to be among such talented authors.

The Bloody Shoe Affair was my first book. It is a young adult southern mystery set in 1968. They say you should write what you know for your first book, and that is what I did. This novel was inspired by my visits to north Alabama to spend time with my cousin Julia, who was the jailer’s daughter. My uncle was a deputy sheriff and managed the rural county jail. They lived in a big brownstone house that was connected to the 2-story jail by a check-in hall. My cousin, who was the same age as me, was a fearless prankster, and I was her shy, fearful opposite. She would sneak into the jail to play checkers with the prisoners and take them candy and cigarettes. When I was visiting, she would drag me along with her, sometimes insisting we play jailer in the empty cells. I was always stuck being the prisoner. My biggest fear was getting accidentally locked in.

One day when she was taking me into the dark basement of the jail to see a woman trustee who lived down there, she pointed out the evidence room. She told me that inside the room was a pair of bloody shoes from a woman who was murdered. Apparently, the voice of the dead owner would call for her bloody shoes at night. I was terrified. Years later, The Bloody Shoe Affair was born with a new fictitious location, story, and characters, all inspired by my childhood visits.

About three years ago, I began working on a sequel to The Bloody Shoe Affair. I aged the girls from fourteen-years-old to sixteen-years-old. I finished the manuscript the same year, but it was too long and just didn’t feel right. I lost perspective and needed some distance. At the beginning of this year, I brought I back out and it all came together. The Moonshine Murders, Book 2 of The Jailer’s Daughter Mysteries, will be released soon.

My new book is Protective Instinct, a suspense/thriller, that will be released on January 16, 2024. It is currently available for preorder on Amazon Kindle and is available now on Google Play audiobooks.

Thank you again for your continued support, Veronica. I wish you and everyone a very happy and healthy New Year!


Author Shirley Jackson, Let Me tell You

I'll close this year's top reads with a book from a queen of the macabre. Let Me Tell You gives unique insights into her home life (complete with ghost traps), contains a collection of literary essays, and as an added treat, features never before published short stories.

I found this book so inspiring and filled with the emotions and quips that gave you an unfiltered glimpse into Shirley's writing world. This collection was arranged posthumously by her children and what a homage to her memory it is. I wasn't the only reader impacted by this book. I've invited a fellow mystery writer friend, Amy Reade, to give her thoughts on what she found special about this collection:

For anyone who’s ever read and enjoyed Shirley Jackson’s work, this book is a must-read. It's comprised of previously unpublished essays, short stories, musings, and even drawings by the author of The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery.

The stories demonstrate Shirley Jackson's wide appeal to readers of a variety of genres. There are the quintessential horror stories, but readers will also find works that are poignant, funny, thought-provoking, and even a little uncomfortable at times. Jackson writes about her kids, her husband, her haunted house, and even the mundane in a way that’s fresh and relatable.


Her stories touch on subjects from trust to marital harmony to the supernatural. My favorite stories are the ones in which she playfully teases her husband, who was a renowned literary critic. 


If you're a writer, this book is one you'll turn to again and again—not only to study the ways in which she engages readers with subtleties of language, but to drink in the advice she shares on writing. Shirley Jackson elevated writing to a form of artistry. I only wish she were still alive to witness her newly-revealed words enthralling legions of readers once again. My thanks to her children, who made this volume of stories possible.


(Pssst, you can find out more about Amy's books here: ( and Amazon ( #GreatReads)

Thank you kindly, Amy, for sharing your thoughts and insights for this inspiring book. I think you summed up the highlights and enchantment this collection reveals to readers and fans of Shirley's works. If you're looking for writing inspiration in the new year, I highly recommend you give this a read! You can find out more about Author Jackson's tales of horror and the bizarre here:


What a year of wonderful reads it has been--thank you authors! I'm currently putting together my 2024 TBR list--I can't wait to read what you write!

Here's to an inspiring year of reading and writing...Happy New Year! 🍾🥂✍️📚

Crowns and Kisses,


P.S. Wishing you and yours a joyful, peaceful, productive #NewYear for 2024! Gemma and Rikkhe approve 💖👑

35 views4 comments


Priscilla Bettis
Priscilla Bettis
Dec 27, 2023

You read some awesome-sounding books in 2023! Happy New Year!

Veronica Cline Barton
Veronica Cline Barton
Dec 27, 2023
Replying to

Thank you, Priscilla--these are highly recommended! Happy New Year! 🎆📚


Dec 27, 2023

What an incredible lineup! ❄️✨❄️✨

Congratulations to the talented authors chosen for your top list this year…especially one of the original creepy girls, Shirley Jackson!

Wishing you and everyone reading this a happy new year and many thanks for the support, amazing friendship and love of all things bookish, all year long. Here we go, 2024🤩🥂✨!

Veronica Cline Barton
Veronica Cline Barton
Dec 27, 2023
Replying to

Thanks so much, UberHappy--great reads here! Happy New Year! xo 🎆📚

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