Monday, January 1, 2024

The Best Books I Read in 2023...

Happy New Year! Here's wishing all of you a happy and healthy 2024, full of joy, laughter, and lots of great books.

This past year was a tough one for me. As some of you may know, over the summer I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Luckily it was caught early and we're enthusiastic that it won't recur, but I did have surgery in late October to remove part of one kidney. All this to say, this wasn't a typical year for me where reading was concerned. I didn't do a great job of recording (or reviewing) what I read, so I don't have an exact count of how many books I did read in 2023—I'd say it's around 200, but we'll never know. LOL

This year I put together a list of my 20 favorites with an additional 10 books which were too good not to mention.

As always, I'd love your thoughts on what you loved reading this year!

The Top 20

1. Tom Lake by Ann Patchett: One of my favorite authors at the top of her game. This is such a gorgeously told story of family, love, memory, motherhood, and recognizing that happiness can come from a path other than the one you dreamed of. It's a quiet but utterly beautiful book.

2. Shark Heart by Emily Habeck: Lewis and Wren fall in love and get married. Not long after, Lewis learns he has a rare mutation which will turn him (rapidly) into a great white shark. As crazy as this sounds, this book is an unforgettable, powerfully emotional look at love, loss, and creating a meaningful life.

3. The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Poston: The author of one of my top three favorite books of 2022 makes the top three again! If you’re not a fan of magical realism and weird time loop-ish storylines, you may not enjoy this. But this left me a puddle of emotions.

4. Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez: Another home run from Jimenez, who deftly meshes romance, quirky characters, and more serious topics (this one deals with social anxiety) into a book that made me smile and cry, sometimes simultaneously.

5. Small Mercies by Dennis Lehane: A tense (and intense), sometimes sad, and tremendously thought-provoking book set in Boston in the summer of 1974, in the midst of the forced desegregation of schools. This one will make one heck of a movie.

6. Search by Michelle Huneven: This is a quietly compelling and dramatic story of a church searching for its new minister. (Plus recipes!!) It’s gorgeously written, a fantastic study of human dynamics, and I found the conversations about theology and philosophy to be fascinating and never heavy-handed.

7. In Memoriam by Alice Winn: Two young men, close friends at an English boarding school at the start of World War I, deal with their attraction to one another and the horrors of war, as Henry, who is part German, feels the need to enlist, but wants Sidney to stay safe. This feels like a more emotional E.M. Forster classic.

8. The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters: A four-year-old Mi’kmaq girl goes missing from the blueberry fields of Maine, sparking a mystery that will haunt the survivors, unravel a family, and remain unsolved for nearly 50 years. It's such a beautiful book and unbelievably, it's a debut.

9. Glitterland by Alexis Hall: How do you convince yourself that you’re worthy of love? Hall delivers a powerful story of love, heartbreak, and emotional turmoil, which had some incredible moments of beauty.

10. We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian: I feel like this book made my heart grow two sizes larger. It was full of self-discovery, romance, tension, and a good dash of history. I couldn’t get enough of these characters!!

11. Maame by Jessica George: This debut novel is moving, thought-provoking, and just so good. It captured all the challenges of family, career, friendship, love, and responsibility. Maddie was such a fantastic character and I really felt for her as she tried to be open to new experiences while still mired in unhappiness.

12. Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet: This is one of those excellent character-driven books that surprises you with how much you love it. This is a story about connection, how enhanced our lives become through our relationships, and how much life they bring to a solitary person, and it’s also a story about nature, regret, grief, and allowing yourself to let others in.

13. Something Wild & Wonderful by Anita Kelly: This is a grumpy-meets-sunshine romance about two men who meet while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. But while Lex is looking for solitude, the gregarious Ben fills him with an unexpected light each time they run into each other. Can love flourish when life doesn't turn out how you planned?

14. None of This Would Have Happened if Prince Were Alive by Carolyn Prusa: A funny, moving book about finding strength to overcome disasters—both atmospheric and emotional. It’s at turns sarcastic, emotional, thought-provoking, and funny as hell. (And how about that title?)

15. Games and Rituals by Katherine Heiny: An exceptional story collection from a writer at the top of her game. Heiny's 11 stories were nearly all fantastic, following men and women at a crossroads of some sort. I love the way she balances sly humor, poignant emotion, and wry observation of both life’s mundane moments and when things go off the rails.

16. Speech Team by Tim Murphy: When two friends since high school learn of a fellow classmate's suicide, it throws them for a loop, especially when they hear that he mentioned verbal abuse he experienced from the coach of their speech team. It awakens similar abuse experienced by others, so a group of former students travel to Florida to confront their now-retired teacher. Definitely hit home for me!

17. The Twenty by Sam Holland: I don't read thrillers often but this crime novel was excellent, and proof that Holland's first book (The Echo Man) wasn't a fluke. It's brutal, twisty, dark, and I couldn't put it down.

18. The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer: A beautiful exploration of chosen family, the power of wishes and dreams, and what comfort books can provide. When the reclusive author of a popular children's series announces a new book and a competition to win it, the grand prize will change someone's life.

19. Don't Forget to Write by Sara Goodman Confino: In 1960, Marilyn Kleinman desires a life of excitement and romance, but that's not the path for young women at that time. When she is caught making out with the rabbi's son, she is sent to Philadelphia for the summer to live with her great-aunt Ada, the city's most prominent matchmaker. But the banishment isn't what she expects, and she learns more about herself than she planned.

20. Stone Cold Fox by Rachel Koller Croft: I was hooked from the very first sentence: “I decided that I would marry Collin Case after the fifth time we fucked.” This debut thriller was twisty, sexy, and funny, and I can't wait to see what's next for this author!

Too Good Not to Miss

Absolution by Alice McDermott: A quiet and powerful story about women on the margins of the Vietnam War, seen through the eyes of two wives who connect with each other in the early days of the conflict.

No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister: This was utterly amazing, a story about the powerful impact a book can have on many different people.⁣ What was so remarkable about this book was its depiction of how one story can reach so many people and touch each other differently. There are interconnected stories about different people at different places in their lives and how one book helped them find their way forward.

The True Love Experiment by Christina Lauren: I couldn’t have loved this more if I tried! When a romance writer feels she has lost her mojo because she's never been in love, how can she get it back? This features Felicity "Fizzy" Chen, a supporting character from The Soulmate Equation.

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson: A fantastic, character-driven look at the foibles and crises of a wealthy New York family. This was such a terrific story, even though it’s one in which not a lot happens. The characters were fascinating and flawed, but it took a slightly different path than I expected, which is great.

I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai: She’s not the girl she was back in high school. But can you truly shed your younger self? This was a really fascinating story, part mystery and part coming to terms with your past. It’s not a fast-moving book, and there’s a lot going on here, but I really loved it.

Off the Map by Trish Doller: What happens when a woman who’s always off finding adventure connects with a man who’s never had one? This is the third book I’ve read by Trish Doller and I’ve loved every one of them, and her mix of humor, banter, emotion, and steam.

Time to Shine by Rachel Reid: I truly loved this book! I so enjoyed these characters. I loved their chemistry and I loved that Rachel Reid gave them more depth than they first appeared. The supporting cast was really fun, too. There's some steam (but not too much) but the bromance-to-romance was really sweet.

Everybody Knows by Jordan Harper: This book is a compelling thriller that reads like a movie. Thrillers are not my go-to genre but I couldn’t get enough of this book. It read like a movie or crime series and that’s not surprising given that Jordan Harper is a television writer.

In the Likely Event by Rebecca Yarros: Izzy and Nate meet on an airplane and feel an instant connection. And then 90 seconds after takeoff, the plane crashes into the Missouri River. The experience ties them indelibly to one another, but as their lives move on, there never seems to be the right time to build a relationship. But when Izzy shows up in Afghanistan, just as the region is about to collapse, it's Nate's job to protect her. Can this be the chance they need?

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld: A comedy writer who has sworn off love has her mind changed—and her expectations blown out of the water—when a handsome pop singer comes to host the sketch show she writes for. I thought this was great, and I'd love to see this made into a movie.