My Favorite Books of 2023 (So Far)
A number of years ago I started creating my best books of the year list from the beginning of the year forward. It is a loose list, but I find that if I work on it as the year progresses, I don’t accidentally leave off any of the books I read early in the year.
2023 has been such an incredible year for books already, and there are no signs that it will be slowing down. Recently, one of my favorite bookstagrammers Kelly Hooker of @kellyhook.readsbooks joined me on my podcast for a discussion about our top 15 reads for the first quarter of 2023. Fifteen is a large number, but we both had trouble narrowing it down further. I am going to highlight 8 of those here and if you want to learn more about them or the rest of the titles we mention you can find the episode here. You can also find interviews for many of these books on my website.
Here are 8 of my 15 favorite reads for the first quarter of 2023:
The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson (historical fiction) – Set in 1950s Philadelphia, The House of Eve follows Ruby Pearsall, a 15-year-old who plans to be the first in her family to head to college regardless of the lack of familial support. But when she gets drawn into a forbidden relationship, she threatens to destroy her future before it even starts. Meanwhile, Eleanor Quarles moves to Washington, DC where she meets and falls in love with William Pride at Howard University. But William’s family is one of DC’s elite Black families, and his par¬ents have other ideas for William. Eager to integrate into the Pride family, Eleanor decides a baby will help her feel more accepted by his parents. When the two women’s lives unexpectedly collide, they must contend with choices that will impact them both for years to come. In The House of Eve, Johnson brings 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. to life while effectively demonstrating what it was like to be a black woman during that time period. I highly recommend this one.
Go As a River by Shelley Read (historical fiction) – Go As a River is a stunning and unforgettable debut set in rural Colorado that tells the story of one woman’s hardscrabble existence and how she learns to make her way in a man’s world. 17-year-old Victoria Nash keeps her family’s household running while her father and brother tend the family’s peach farm in 1940s Iola, Colorado. When she meets a young Native American man on his way through Iola, the pair fall in love but their relationship sets in motion a shocking chain of events that ultimately sends Victoria into the mountains and on a new path. Read’s incredibly strong sense of place and ability to bring the natural world to life is the backbone of the story, but the characters, particularly Torie, and their tales stole my heart, and this book will stay with me for a long time.
The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell (mystery) - The creative concept of this book drew me right in: a dead body is found during the filming of a highly rated baking show set at Grafton, a historical mansion in rural Vermont and the main host’s childhood home. For the 10th season of “Bake Week”, host Betsy Martin is less-than-thrilled to be sharing the spotlight with “Cutting Board” host Archie Morris while filming the episodes at her home. When small things start going awry on day one like salt replacing sugar in a cannister, no one thinks twice about it. But when a dead body is found, the contestants realize that something more sinister is at play. Told from the point of views of the various contestants and Betsy, The Golden Spoon is a delightful mystery set in the world of baking competitions with an Agatha Christie vibe. The book is already being made into a limited series on Hulu and will lend itself so well to the screen.
Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano (fiction) – With Little Women as a jumping off point, Napolitano writes an incredibly moving and engrossing family drama centered around the four Padavano sisters and William Waters, the lonely individual with a sad past, who becomes intertwined with them and inadvertently threatens to rupture their bond. Each sister has a distinct personality, some more likable than others, but it is William who truly steals the show. Growing up, his parents treated him poorly causing him to struggle with mental health issues but as the story progresses he finds the inner strength with the help of some loyal friends to find his path and to learn to accept honest and real love into his life. Hello Beautiful is storytelling at its finest, and it portrays life, loss and love in all its different forms, the beauty and price of love, and the extraordinary power of human connection. This is a must read.
The Last Beekeeper by Julie Carrick Dalton (climate fiction) - This stellar addition to the fast-growing climate fiction genre is set in the future, approximately ten years after society collapsed. While most of the world believes that honeybees are extinct, Sasha returns home to find the research her father, nicknamed The Last Beekeeper, swears exists, research proving that bees are still alive on Earth. With her father in prison, the family home was abandoned so Sasha finds squatters occupying her old home, individuals anxious to avoid the terrible state housing. As she settles in, the group becomes a refuge for her until she spots a lone honeybee, a sighting that can subject her to derision and potential harm. Toggling back and forth in time and slowly unraveling the mystery at the heart of the story, The Last Beekeeper is a powerful reflection on the importance of caring for our planet and how dependent humans are on the natural world. Interwoven with this disturbing glimpse at what the world could look like without bees is a beautiful story of hope, friendship, and the importance of relationships and community. I highly recommend this one.
I Love It When You Lie by Kristen Bird (mystery) - Houstonian Kristen Bird’s clever new mystery stars the Williams sisters who are preparing to bury their grandmother after her unexpected passing. In the midst of their planning, the women are struggling with their own complicated issues and the messy men in their lives, one of whom they end up putting with the grandmother in her coffin. Told over the period of several days and toggling back and forth between characters and time, the story slowly unfolds as the reader tries to guess who has gone missing and why. This page turner is carefully and thoughtfully crafted, and I couldn’t wait to get to the end to see how it played out. I highly recommend it.
Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai (historical fiction) - In this stunning tale set in 1969, two sisters Trang and Quỳnh leave their village in an effort to help their parents pay off debts and travel to Sài Gòn to become “bar girls,” women who, for a fee, drink and keep company with American GIs. Against her better judgment, Trang gets involved with Dan, an American helicopter pilot. Many years later, Dan, with his wife Linda, decides to return to Vietnam in an effort to make peace with his past. Meanwhile, Phong, the son of a Vietnamese woman and a Black American soldier, sets out on a journey to locate his parents and find a way to escape Vietnam. Abandoned as a baby, Phong grew up ostracized from his peers, called “the dust of life.” Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s amazing gift is her ability to portray the legacy of war from a very human standpoint – she compels readers to understand the long-lasting effects of conflict on both the land and the thousands upon thousands of people impacted by war. This is a book I won’t soon forget.
Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto (mystery) - Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is a laugh-out-loud mystery set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. When 60-year-old Vera Wong finds a dead body in her tea shop, she calls the police, but not until after taking a flash drive from the dead man’s hand and hiding it. Frustrated with the police’s investigative work (it looks nothing like how the cops solve cases on TV), she decides to do a little detective work herself. Corralling the four individuals who stop by the shop following the body’s discovery, Vera works to crack the case while inadvertently making new friends with the people she is sure are suspects. Filled with humor and hijinks, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is a delight from beginning to end.
I would love to hear your favorites so far of 2023. Feel free to drop them in the comments below.
For more book recommendations and bookish thoughts, see Cindy’s monthly Buzz Reads column, her Thoughts from a Page Podcast or follow @ThoughtsFromaPage on Instagram. Find upcoming Conversations from a Page events here.
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