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Books Read in 2023

This list of books read in 2023 has 58 books you can choose from – that’s more than one a week! From chick lit to memoirs to historical fiction to non-fiction science, I have something for everyone in this year’s list.

book list - something for everyone

I write these book lists every year. Here are lists from previous years:

More Book Lists

Here are my book lists from previous years!

Now, onto my picks from 2023. Any blue text is a clickable link that will take you to the book listing on Amazon.

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Memoirs

What You'll Find on This Page

Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

Told through the lens of the author’s younger self, Daniel Nayeri crafts an incredible memoir in Everything Sad is Untrue. This is a must-read, even if you don’t normally read memoirs.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

I grew up hearing about Nelson Mandela, but reading his memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, was my first proper deep dive into his life. And what a deep dive! The audiobook (I listened to it rather than read a paper book) is nearly 28 hours long!

I’m glad I read the book. Nelson is straightforward and honest about many of his own flaws. He shares personal heartbreaks like being unable to attend the funeral of his mother and son while he was imprisoned. He also shares fun stories, like that of a Welsh prison minister who inserted bits of news (which prisoners had no access to at the time) into his preaching, and who always loved the prisoners’ singing.

I was struck by Mandela’s constant pragmatic optimism, and his willingness to do whatever was needed to bring peace to his country. He was a creative problem solver and a leader who saw the importance of making everyone – even historical oppressors – feel that they had a place in South Africa. 

Yes to Life In Spite of Everything by Viktor E Frankl

Yes to Life is a meaningful read whether or not you have read Frankl’s most famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning. This book is actually a series of lectures Frankl gave a mere 11 months after being liberated from Nazi concentration camp.

The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama

I read Michelle Obama’s first book, Becoming, back in 2019. It made enough of an impression for me to read her second memoir, The Light We Carry. I think both books are well worth reading, but I loved the warmth in The Light We Carry. I also think it is written to reach an even broader audience than Becoming, since it is mostly about finding your own way through life’s challenges, no matter who you are or where you come from.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

I picked up a copy of singer songwriter Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart because one of my children was assigned it for high school English. They really struggled to connect with the book, and, reading it, I think it is a very tall order to expect a teenager to understand a book about an adult woman losing her mother to cancer. The book is beautifully written, and – whether you end up loving the author or not – she draws you thoroughly into her world, with no pretense of being perfect herself. And that authenticity kept the book on the New York Times bestseller list for 60 weeks.

Non-Fiction Biography

The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel by Kati Marton

In The Chancellor, Kati Marton offers about as close a look as you’ll get to the very private former German chancellor, Angel Merkel. I loved learning more about her journey from the East German daughter of a pastor to the most powerful woman in Germany – and possibly Europe.

Non-Fiction History books read in 2023

Bread + Medicine by Bertrand M. Patenaude and Joan Nasbeth Stevenson

Bread + Medicine is presented as a coffee table book, but the content is both extensive and intense. I knew that Soviet Russia suffered from famine after World War I, but this book paints the dire situation on the ground vividly stark detail. The book is full of photos and documents from the time period.

Non-Fiction Science

ADHD 2.0 by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., and John J. Ratey, M.D.

I appreciated Hallowell and Ratey’s take on ADHD in ADHD 2.0. It’s a great read for anyone who knows anyone with ADHD, as well as anyone with ADHD. There are also some useful takeaways for people who struggle to focus in general (the authors call this VAST – variable attention stimulus trait. They got this term from Carrie Feibel, a health journalist at NPR). 

Plays Well with Others by Eric Barker

Plays Well with Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships is (Mostly) Wrong could easily fit into the self help category. The book is full of interesting anecdotes and scientific facts, but there is also a section on when you should ignore (!) science. This was an engaging, relatively light read.

Self Help

Atomic Habits by James Clear

My favorite thing about Atomic Habits is that James Clear writes very clearly! Try signing up for his 3-2-1 newsletter if you want to find out if you like his style before you take the plunge and buy the book. My favorite takeaway from this book is that you want to create obstacles that make it more difficult to engage in bad habits and do everything you can to make good habits easy and accessible.

Money and Love by Myra Strober and Abby Davisson

Money and Love is based on a course called Work and Money that Strober taught first at Berkeley, and then at Stanford. The book offers an approach to making important life decisions. It think it would have been more useful if I had read it when I was younger.

The Dance of Connection by Harriett Lerner

Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection offers tips at communicating through difficult emotions. Her main tips seem to be that you should be patient, kind, thoughtful, and listen a lot.

Wintering by Katherine May

Wintering is a memoir as much as a self help book, but its impact feels more self help so I’m putting it here. My sister recommended it, and I definitely enjoyed the book. I love the idea of life as a cyclical, and one of those cycles is winter. Critiques of the book talk (justifiably, in my opinion) about the author coming across as self-absorbed and privileged, so read it with that warning in mind. I think if you can set criticism aside, it’s a good book. But if that’s not the frame of mind you’re in I’d save it for another day.

General Fiction

Positively, Penelope by Pepper Basham

Pepper Basham’s Positively, Penelope is a light, fun, not very realistic read. It was clearly written fore and will be a sure hit with anyone who loves musical theater. I loved it as an escape read with a couple of small lessons thrown in.

The Patron Saint of Second Chances by Christine Simon

I thoroughly enjoyed the light, fun read that is Christine Simon’s The Patron Saint of Second Chances. The plot is highly unlikely, but who knows – truth can be stranger than fiction. This is a gentle read that will have you smiling, and probably laughing out loud a few times as well.

The Museum of Ordinary People by Mike Gayle

We look at the belongings of the rich and famous; what of those of ordinary people? Mike Gayle examines this idea within the context of individual lives in The Museum of Ordinary People. Yes, there is an actual museum by this name in the book, too. I enjoyed this book, but not as much as All the Lonely People, which I also read this year (featured in the Current Events section of this post)

The Four Graces by D.E. Stevenson

I started D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle series last year; this is the last book of the series – even though it doesn’t really deal with Miss Buncle. The Four Graces are four young women with the last name of Grace. This was confusing at the beginning of the book, as there are also characters with the first name of Grace. I found this a pleasant enough read, but the plot is a little thin. It is an interesting look at life in England in the 1940s.

Welcome to the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

There are loads of English boarding school books for children, but Jenny Colgan wrote Welcome to the School by the Sea for adults. The book is written from the teacher perspective, although with an all knowing narrator style. It was a fun read that ended without resolving anything.

Rules at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

As much as I hate to encourage an author to end a book on a cliffhanger of sorts, I like Jenny Colgan and enjoyed her first book in this series enough to read Rules at the School by the Sea. In many book series, sequels suffer, but I actually preferred this second book over the first. It ends without resolving things, but in a more comfortable way than the first book. 

Lessons at the School by the Sea by Jenny Colgan

I honestly didn’t need a cliffhanger to continue reading this series. Lessons at the School by the Sea was a nice read. Even though the author had things heading towards a resolution and then threw in (of course) a cliffhanger. I guess I’ll be reading book 4 when it comes out in 2024!

Cook for Me by Alexander McCall Smith

The short read Cook for Me might qualify as chick lit, but it feels pretty old fashioned for that genre. It’s a quick, sweet, and not entirely predictable read.

Book Club Fiction

The History of Us by Leah Stewart

I was actually looking for a different book with this same title when I stumbled on Leah Stewart’s The History of Us. My library had this book and not the one I was looking for, so I borrowed this one. It’s a coming of age story that left me with mixed emotions. The characters are not particularly lovable, I think by design. They end up figuring out what truly matters, but only at the tail end of the book and there are a lot of loose ends. It’s a good book club discussion read rather than a comfortable rainy day escape.

Lies and Other Love Languages by Sonali Dev

Sonali Dev builds beautifully complex characters, and Lies and Other Love Languages was no exception. It’s a unique examination of why and how people tell lies, as well as how some ethically difficult decisions get made. All told within the context of what often feels like a pretty light story, albeit with very serious undertones.

I Am Ayah by Donna Hill

Written as a contemporary romance centered around serious topics with some magical realism built in, I am Ayah is definitely an adult read, although those scenes only crop up occasionally. 

I liked the way this book highlights the impact of intergenerational trauma and how injustices bleed through generations, while also emphasizing resilience and strength. 

The book also introduced me to the existence of maroon villages in the United States; something that makes sense for it to exist but that I hadn’t learned about before. The book touches on a range of important historical events, including Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the devastation of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Flight Risk by Joy Castro

Flight Risk is exquisitely written fiction, and it captures the reality of being poor in the United States better than other books I have read. I did feel it ended a bit abruptly, and might have benefited from an epilogue. 

The Five-Star Weekend by Elin Hilderbrand

I know I’ve read at least one other of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket set books; I liked The Five-Star Weekend the best of her books that I have read so far. The book deals with growing up, friendship, middle age, mother-daughter relationships, and forgiveness.

Take It From Me by Jamie Beck

Take It From Me was a little slow in getting started, but I’m glad I stuck with it! The book characters developed and changed a lot through the story, and the plot had some interesting twists and turns.

A Very Typical Family by Sierra Godfrey

Sierra Godfrey’s A Very Typical Family is skillfully written with some fascinating characters. I struggled to get past the idea that the youngest of three siblings is portrayed as “causing” her older siblings to become imprisoned by calling the police. It’s the older siblings’ actions along with our justice system that made the character go to prison.

Current Events Fiction

The Happy Life of Isadora Bentley by Courtney Walsh

There’s a bit of a theme to this year’s current events fiction reads – loneliness and the importance of connection in the 21st century. Courtney Walsh’s The Happy Life of Isadora Bentley has a difficult lead character who remains lovable – quite the authorial accomplishment. I enjoyed this read, and while in some ways it was predictable, it also was not obvious. Mostly light and fun, this counts as a comfort read on my shelf.

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

With loneliness considered such a serious issue at the moment that the U.S. Surgeon General issued a letter on the topic, comparing it to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, Mike Gayle’s All the Lonely People  feels incredibly relevant. Gayle crafts incredibly lovable characters and unexpected plot twists into a heartwarming tale that has just enough tragedy remaining to feel realistic.

The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson

The UK has closed hundreds of libraries in the past decade, and Freya Sampson explores this issue in The Last Chance Library. The book includes lots of character development, surprise plot twists, and complex personalities and was well worth the read. I appreciated the book’s emphasis on the importance of libraries for communities with limited resources, especially.

Books Read in 2023

Young Adult Fiction

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicole Yoon

Nicole Yoon’s The Sun Is Also a Star focuses on coming of age within an immigrant focused storyline. It’s also a love story, but not with the standard love story ending. The book has an unusual feel – explorations of faith, fate, and destiny as well as metaverse. It feels light most of the time, but there are some very serious themes including racism, estrangement from family members, and deportation.

Where Have All the Boys Gone by Jenny Colgan

London’s out of men in Jenny Colgan’s Where Have All the Boys Gone, but a rural Scottish town has way more men than women! Like Colgan’s other books, this is a mostly light read with more serious undertones.

Middle Grade Fiction 

The Sixth Grade Nickname Game by Gordon Korman

I’ve read Gordon Korman’s books since I was a kid; my kids also love his books. The Sixth Grade Nickname Game isn’t their favorite pick and it won’t be on my all time favorites lists (Restart is, for sure!). It felt surprisingly dated for coming out in 2017, but it was a fun read that I think will resonate with many middle grade aged children.

Fantasy

Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus Series by Lydia Sherrer

I listened to the first seven books of the Love, Lies, and Hocus Pocus series and mostly enjoyed them. They are mostly light and innocent, but sometimes (and this was my problem with them) they suddenly get very dark. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend the series, but the cat is delightful, and you might love them if you are less sensitive to darkness than I am.

A Mage’s Apprentice Series by Melanie Cellier

I started reading Winds of Courage, the first book in this series, and had to go skim re-read the A Mage’s Influence series to remind myself of the backstories of a couple of characters who re-appear in this series. I really enjoyed the first book. Storms of Allegiance, book two, I really disliked the ending. Book 3 was better, but it didn’t hold together as well as I wanted and I don’t think there was enough repair done to the damaged wreaked at the end of book two.

The Rogue Princess by Melanie Cellier

Melanie Cellier’s fairy tale retellings are always fun. The Rogue Princess is a retelling of Puss in Boots, and the portrayal of Puss the cat was definitely my favorite part of this read.

Masters of Deception by JC Kang

I found Masters of Deception was more intense than my typical “fun” read. I don’t think I’ll read the sequels even though it ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. People who are more into fantasy might enjoy the series, though. There are a lot of characters to track, and plenty of mysteries to uncover.

Chick Lit

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

A London based granddaughter trades places with her Yorkshire village dwelling grandmother in Beth O’Leary’s The Switch. Both learn and gain a lot in the trade in this light, fun read.

Woke Up Like This by Amy Lea

Amy Lea’s Woke Up like This is pure chick lit – fun romance combined with lots of friendship and life lessons built into the story. There is a time travel twist. Two teenagers hate each other, but they wake up after a fall as married 30-year-olds. They have to learn a lot about themselves and each other to swap back into their teenage life.

Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin

I thoroughly enjoyed Uzma Jalaluddin’s Much Ado About Nada. Inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion, this mostly lighthearted novel deals with the need for communication, juggling personal needs with family expectations, and life as the child of Muslim immigrants in Toronto, Canada. 

La Vie According to Rose by Lauren Parvizi

Lauren Parvizi delights in La Vie According to Rose. I thoroughly enjoyed this mostly light, fun, read with its entirely unlikely but fun to imagine plot. As with most chick lit, there are more serious undertones, with themes including life as an immigrant and a child of an immigrant, living up to parental expectations, chronic illness, and the grief of losing a parent.

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

A Princess in Theory is a very fun modern fairy tale. A foster child from New York city turned epidemiologist discovers that she is an African prince’s long lost fiancee – and she’s not sure what to think of it. The majority of the book is family friendly, but the occasional scene is definitely not. 

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

I listened to Nine Women, One Dress on audible and found it a quick, fun listen. Nine women wear the same dress. Parts of the book felt very familiar, and it’s possible I read this before? I don’t think so, though.

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Phaedra Patrick’s The Library of Lost and Found felt more serious than I expected. I felt that the characters were pretty complex, and the book was worth reading; it’s just not the escape read I expected from the cover.

Too Soon for Adios by Annette Chavez Macias

Annette Chavez Macias weaves a tale of grief, redemption, and coming into your own with Too Soon for Adios. I especially enjoyed the inter character relationships.

The Two Mrs. Abbotts by D. E. Stevenson

The Two Mrs. Abbotts is the third book in this particular series by the prolific Scottish author D.E. Stevenson. I read and enjoyed books one and two in 2022. This third book was written during and takes place during World War II, making it historical but not historical fiction since it was written during that time. It’s an interesting, mostly light, look at British society in that time period.

Practice Makes Perfect by Sarah Adams

Practice Makes Perfect made the perfect road trip listen for me. Mostly light and fluffy, the book does deal with trusting in marriage after growing up in a dysfunctional home, parental loss, and learning how to move beyond a box your family has put you in. 

A Novel Proposal by Denise Hunter

A Novel Proposal felt a little flat to me, but that may be because the narrator had an exceptionally unexpressive voice. Like other reviewers, the thing I found most interesting was the quotes on how romance novels are written – and the way those tips were then worked into the book’s plot. If you want an expose on romance novel writing disguised as a romance novel, this is a read you’ll love.

Historical Fiction

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

It’s easy to see by Bonnie Garmus’ debut novel, Lessons in Chemistry, has already been turned into a show on Apple TV. The characters are interesting, and pacing is excellent once you get past a somewhat slow opening. Six Thirty the dog completely won my heart. 

Wild, Beautiful, and Free by Sophfronia Scott

Sophfronia Scott crafts a full cast of vividly compelling characters in Wild, Beautiful, and Free. Taking place in and around the American Civil War, protagonist Jeannette Bebinn is the daughter of a Louisiana plantation owner and an enslaved woman. The book deals with power imbalances, love, faith, and the complexities of growing up and finding yourself and your path in the world. This is the civil war era novel you need to read.

Factory Girls by Michelle Gallen

Michelle Gallen crafts a very authentic feeling look at a young Irish Catholic teen working alongside Protestants for the first time at her summer job in a shirt factory. Factory Girls shares the intensity of the Troubles in the 1990s, as well as the reality of factory life, growing up in a war zone, and also simply growing up. 

The Perfumist of Paris by Alka Joshi

This was my third Alka Joshi novel (it’s the third of her Jaipur trilogy), and it might be my favorite. The Perfumist of Paris feels much gentler than The Henna Artist and The Secret Keeper of Jaipur. It still deals with really difficult topics, but many years have passed since the previous books. The characters are grown up, the world has grown more flexible and less judgmental, and everyone is softer as a result. There is also a nice forgiveness piece written into the story.

Kirstin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

I would never have made my way through this weighty Nobel Prize winning book without the recommendation of a good friend. I listened to Kirstin Lavransdatter on Audible, where the book is nearly 46 hours long (or 35, if you listen at 1.3x speed like I did). The narrator wasn’t my favorite, but good enough for me to keep listening.

The story was in some ways of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It takes place in middle ages Norway, and the local Catholic faith of the region at the time plays a central role. The book deals a lot with characters who make mistakes and atone for their mistakes as well as human weaknesses. It ends with the Black Death bubonic plague pandemic, which is believed to have killed between one third and two thirds of Norway’s population. A dark subject, but there is also some redemption in the end. I’m glad I listened for the complexity of the characters as well as the crafting of this impeccably researched historical novel.

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

I loved the rich characters created by Krystal Marquis in The Davenports. This historical fiction novel follows the lives of a wealthy Black family in the early 1900s. I enjoyed the authors’ ability to develop a wide range of characters and to follow several different individual plot lines. This is a fun read, but it also deals with racism, sexism, and classism.

The Invincible Miss Cust by Penny Haw

I had never heard of Aleen Isabel Cust, Britain and Ireland’s first woman veterinary surgeon, before reading The Invincible Miss Cust. What a fascinating woman! Her story is a fictionalized account of her life, and I really appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book distinguishing known facts from the author’s imaginings.

The Secret Life of Sunflowers by Marta Molnar and Dana Morton

Marta Molnar and Dana Morton’s The Secret Life of Sunflowers explores women’s rights issues through the lens of Vincent Van Gogh’s sister-in-law, Jo Bonger. I hadn’t ever heard of her, but it turns out she is the main reason most of us know who Van Gogh is in the first place! I loved the Kendra Murray’s narration for the audiobook.

Under the Cover of Mercy by Rebecca Connolly

Exploring the life of the real life nurse Edith Cavell, Under the Cover of Mercy takes place during World War I. A British nurse, Cavell worked as a Red Cross nurse in Belgium during World War I. She joined the Belgian resistance movement, helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium. For this, Cavell was sentenced to death by the German occupiers, and her death by firing squad in 1915 sparked an international outcry. Edith Cavell was deeply religious, and the book reflects this Christian viewpoint. The book alternates Cavells’ point of view with another nurse, Elizabeth Wilkins, who survived the war. The book seems to be well researched (I did spend some time reading about the actual people after finishing the book),

Something in the Heir by Suzanne Enoch

I thoroughly enjoyed Something in the Heir, although please consider yourself forewarned that it’s very unrealistic historical fiction! It’s a light, humorous read with relatively straightforward messages about family and honesty.

What are your books read in 2023? Any favorites that I should add to my to read list for 2024?

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MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

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