Wednesday, January 3, 2024

2023 in Review: Best Books

Happy New Year! Today I'm kicking off a short series of 2023 in review posts. I feel very late to the game in terms of posting my best books list, but I wanted to wait until the year was over in case I read something really great in the final month of the year! 

2023 was a great reading year for me. I finished 97 books. I read fewer books than I did the last 2 years, but that's ok. I don't need to read a certain number of books each year. If I had set a goal, like 100 books, I would have probably gamed things and picked short books to hit that goal!

I hemmed and hawed quite a bit when narrowing down my list but came up with 12 favorite books for the year, broken out by best book, best non-fiction, best commercial fiction and best literary fiction. 

Best Book of 2023

It was not hard to pick my best book of 2023. Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano was easily the best book I read. Napolitano had me from the first sentences: "For the first six days of William Waters’s life, he was not an only child. He had a three-year-old sister, a redhead named Caroline." There is so much heartbreak and anguish in this novel, but I love a book that makes me feel things. It's about the lives of 4 sisters and a young man, William. It's positioned as a retelling of Little Women but I don't think it needs to be read as a retelling. As someone from a big family, the inter-sibling alliances and drama felt so true to life. 

Best Non-Fiction

Finding Me by Viola Davis was a buzzy memoir that I listened to when I had long drives to/from the lake. Her life story is not for the faint of heart. She experiences so much trauma and abuse. It's amazing that she built the life she did. I rarely listen to audiobooks but made sure to listen to this one since she narrates it. It's excellent but should not be listened to around small ears. 

In Love by Amy Bloom was my favorite book club book I read this year. It's a memoir about Bloom's husband's decision to go to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life with dignity and peace after he is diagnosed with dementia. We had a great discussion about this book - certainly our best discussion of the year. Sadly, everyone had a personal experience with dementia. Phil's dad died from it, another member's mother died from it, another member's MIL is struggling with it, and so on and so forth. This book sparked a good discussion between Phil and I about what he would do if he was diagnosed with dementia. I hope and pray that is never the case because it is a truly awful disease. 

Under the Skin by Linda Villarosa was another great book club book about the impact of race on health care and health outcomes. We have a lot of medical professionals in our club - genetics counselor, pediatric urologist, nurse anesthetist, child psychologist, and someone that works in marketing for a large medical company. Everyone loved this book and felt that it should be required reading for those in the medical community. But everyone would benefit from reading this. 

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith was a heartbreaking read about the demise of a marriage. The final straw was infidelity but there were troubles ahead of when the husband cheated. Smith is a poet so this is especially beautifully written and so very moving. I was reading this on the couch, wearing a mask since I was reading it while I had covid, and Phil saw me across the room and asked what I was reading because he said I had the most emotional look on my face. So the fact that he could see my distress, even with a mask on, says a lot. I bought this book for a friend going through a separation, but I think even if your marriage is rock solid, there are lessons to take away from this book. 

Best Commercial Fiction

Drowning by T.J.Newman was the best thriller I read this year. Newman is a former flight attendant that writes plane-based thrillers. They are excellent page turners but probably not something you want to read ON a plane or if you have a fear of flying. 

All That is Mine I Carry With Me by William Landay was an excellent book with a horrible title!! But don't let the title prevent you from reading this. I also found this to be a complete page turner. There are mixed feelings about this book, especially the ending, but I loved it. 

Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld is a great romance book set during the pandemic. It's set on a fictional version of Saturday Night Live. Sections of the book are written in epistolary form which I really loved. This was another page turner. 

Best Literary Fiction

Signal Fires by Dani Shapiro is about a relationship that develops between a little boy and the older man that lives across the street. The final scenes of this book stayed with me. This is heavily character driven so it's probably not for you if you need a plot to move the story along. 

Stealing by Margaret Verble is a heartbreaking book about a little girl that is sent to a residential school for Native American children where she experiences unimaginable abuse. I didn't love the ending of this book but still count it as one of my favorites of the year. The most interesting tidbit about this book is that the author struggled to get it published for years because no one thought the story of abuse at a residential school was believable... then the truth and horror of these schools was revealed by the news and she was able to get it published. 

Go As a River by Shelley Read is a coming of age story about a young woman in Colorado. It's beautifully written and also features a lot of heartbreak. I guess I go for books that really punch you in the gut! This is a debut novel but the author is older - in her 50s I believe.

In Memoriam by Alice Winn is a novel set during WWI. It's about 2 men who have feelings for each other but have to hide those feelings since love between 2 men was not accepted at that time. It really shows the evils of war and how despite declaring a "winner" at the end of war, no one truly wins and the price paid by soldiers is unimaginable. This is another debut novel. 

What were your best books of 2023?

No comments: