I read a 103 books in 2023, with my favorites listed below. (My Goodreads account has additional notes and details.)
To be clear, not all of these books came out in 2023. Some are older and some, (like my Netgalley reads) won’t be published until 2024. This is just the year when I read them.
Have a wonderful 2024 everyone!
Best YA (Young Adult)
I have two very different YA picks this year, both centering on queer stories. I am a sucker for Arthurian legend, so naturally I found Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher delightful. Art is so well written he practically jumps off the page! I also was fascinated by the gory, post-apocalyptic Hell Followed with Us by Andrew Joseph White, an allegory of queer teens literally walking through hell in order to gain acceptance. I’ve never read anything quite like it.
I read many great romances this year! Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld centers on an SNL-esque writer who falls for the show’s famous guest host. Seven Days in June by Tia Williams deals with past trauma but still manages to be funny, romantic, and sexy. Part of Your World by Abby Jimenez gets a shout out for being both fun and romantic (with a cute goat!) but also tackling the very real issue of recovering from a past relationship in which there was emotional abuse.
Run Towards the Danger: Confrontations with a Body of Memory by actress, director, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Sarah Polley was simply divine, a collection of impeccably written essays about her fascinating life, including recovery from a traumatic head injury. I also enjoyed Honey, Baby, Mine: A Mother and Daughter Talk Life, Death, Love (and Banana Pudding), transcribed conversations between actresses Laura Dern and Diane Ladd held when they believed the later was dying. (Spoiler alert: she didn’t!)
Do you find haunted houses scary? How about a haunted house full of BUGS? If that sounds creeptastic A Place for Vanishing by Ann Fraistat is the book for you! I also loved, loved, loved The Edge of Sleep by Jake Emanuel and Willie Block. It reminded me of early Stephen King, in the best way. It’s classified as “horror,” but I didn’t find it scary, more thrilling as a motley crew of insomniacs try to figure out why everyone who falls asleep immediately dies.
Best YA (Young Adult) Series
The Red Queen Series by Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen, Glass Sword, King’s Cage, and War Storm) are older books, but still a solid, consistent series (however, King’s Cage falls a little short, IMO.) The story moves quickly and there are great battle scenes. While there is a love triangle at the center of the book, it also gives equal play to relationships between friends and family, as well as touching on issues of class and race. (Now in development as a TV series at Peacock.)
Best Historical Fiction
I don’t really care about horses, but after reading Horse by Geraldine Brooks I was quoting horse trivia to all my friends! It’s about the most famous racehorse you’ve never heard of and how his life intersects with racism in America. I also enjoyed Kristin Hannah‘s The Women about Army nurses serving in Vietnam. The book had some pacing issues in the later half, but I really valued the subject matter and gained a new appreciation for women in the military.
I read Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1) by Rebecca Yarros and the equally excellent Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2) this year. This high adventure series features young adults at a battle college (think Hogworts, but with more murder!) to become dragon riders. (You had me at “dragons,” baby!) A TV show based on the books has been optioned by Amazon. I also dug Champion of Fate (Heromaker Book 1) the first book in a new series by Kendare Blake about mythical female warriors who guide heroes in their paths to victory.
I probably would have learned more in school if our history books were written like this one. On This Day in History Sh!t Went Down by James Fell is just what it says… for every day of the year there’s a tidbit of something that happened in human history, served up short, brutally honest, and VERY sassy. I also read Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex by Angela Chen in hopes of being a better ally for my Ace friends and family. It was truly eye-opening, and transformed how I think about romance, intimacy, and sexuality.
The Never-Ending End of the World by Ann Christy has a novel premise–one day the world freezes in time, except for glitches where people relive the same few seconds, minutes, or hours on a loop. Our heroes left behind in “real time” fight to move forward as a society. Yours for the Taking by Gabrielle Korn answers the intriguing question, what if the end of the world was used as an opportunity to eliminate the patriarchy? Would the result be a utopia, a dystopia…or both?
The Future by Naomi Alderman will be most appreciated by the tech nerds. It tackles some thorny ethical questions like, if digital media and AI can be used as a vehicle to change the fate of the world, who should get to control that agenda and its outcome? Starter Villain by Sci-Fi royalty John Scalzi is a witty and delightful story about an ordinary guy (and his cats!) suddenly roped into becoming a supervillain. It’s a fun, fast read.
I liked I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai, an investigation into the idea of collective memory in which a visiting professor is thrust back into a murder that happened on campus when she was a student. The Island by Adrian McKinty has a (literally) killer premise: what if you went on vacation to a remote place and accidentally killed someone, suuuuuuper pissing off the locals? Also shout out to Minnesota-based author Tony Wirt for his twisted psycho kid thriller, Just Stay Away.
Best Literary Fiction – Part 1 (Families)
I had too many great literary fiction books to choose from this year so I made subcategories! In the category of lit fiction involving families, I loved Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro, an exploration of interconnected family secrets through space and time. I also enjoyed Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, a story of youth and love shared among a family as they harvest cherries in 2020. I was also deeply moved by The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, the sweeping story of one man’s life, and the family he finds, beginning and ending in post-war Ireland.
Best Literary Fiction – Part 2 (90s Nostalgia)
These lit fiction picks both have one foot set in the 90s. First up is Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin the gorgeous tale of friends who come together during the early days of computer gaming and how their relationship evolves as they become famous. (You don’t have to be a gamer to appreciate this book!) Wellness by the very talented Nathan Hill is a story of a couple who fall in love during the 90s and try to reconcile their young love with their older, married, parent selves.
Best Literary Fiction – Part 3 (Homages)
These are two of my favorite books of the year who have one thing in common–they’re both an homage to a more famous book! First off Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano, an homage to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It’s a story of sisterhood with rich storytelling that lives up to the book’s title. I also loved Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver a moving account of one boy growing up during the opioid epidemic in southern Appalachia, a gorgeous recasting of Dicken’s David Copperfield.
A lot of people HATED Stephen King‘s latest Holly, (see example) not because the actual book was bad (I thought it was pretty great!) but because King set the story during the messy depths of the pandemic. I think his narrative choice to echo the rhetoric of that time and choose ordinary citizens for his story’s villains was in service of a deeper point. Many of us during the pandemic found the actions of some people we knew and loved to be dangerous, callous, and inhumane. That realization was far scarier than any supernatural boogeyman King could dream up. That time in history WAS the horror story.