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Best Books of the Year

Reflecting on 2023 reads

Cindy Burnett
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BEST OF THE YEAR Book reviewer Cindy Burnett lists her top reads of 2023, including historical-fiction novel Homecoming by Kate Morton. (Photo: Cindy Burnett)

As the year draws to a close, I enjoy reflecting on everything I read in 2023. So many stellar books were published, and it took me a while, but I narrowed down my favorites across three categories. These novels resonated the most with me.

Historical Fiction

Go As a River by Shelley ReadGo As a River tells the story of one woman’s hardscrabble existence in 1940s Iola, Colorado and how she learns to make her way in a man’s world. Read’s incredibly strong sense of place and her ability to bring the natural world to life are the backbones of the story, and the characters and their tales stole my heart. 

Homecoming by Kate Morton – In the South Australian town of Tambilla, a delivery driver discovers a dead body on Christmas Eve, 1959, on the grounds of a magnificent mansion. Six decades later, a young woman is stunned to discover that her family may have a connection to the crime. Morton’s prose is stunning, and she brings Australia and her characters to life on the page. 

The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters – A Mi’kmaq family’s 4-year-old child goes missing one summer while the family is in Maine working the blueberry fields. Interspersed with their story is Norma’s tale of growing up in a wealthy Maine household, with dreams of an earlier life that feel more like memories. The story is not what happened to Ruthie, because we know that she is Norma; instead, The Berry Pickers is a beautiful and powerful tale about grief and tragedy and the lifelong repercussions of dealing with both.

The Madstone by Elizabeth Crook – This beautifully crafted story set in 1868 Reconstruction-Era Texas is narrated by 19-year-old Benjamin Shreve to a young child, Tot, who he meets on the Texas frontier, as he recounts the dangerous journey the pair embark on with the child’s mom across the state to a distant port. Benjamin’s smart, heartfelt, and witty narration makes the story as well as the manner in which Crook brings 1860s Texas vividly to life. 

Contemporary Fiction

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano – With Little Women as a jumping off point, Napolitano crafts an engrossing family drama centered around the four Padavano sisters and William Waters who becomes intertwined with them and inadvertently threatens to rupture their bond. Hello Beautiful portrays life, loss, and love in all of its different forms and the extraordinary power of human connection.

The Mostly True Story of Tanner and Louise by Colleen Oakley – 21-year-old Tanner is hired to keep 84-year-old Louise company after Louise has a fall. One evening, Louise wakes Tanner up and insists that they leave immediately (in a car Tanner didn’t even know existed) and head across the country. Over the course of their hilarious adventure, the two women develop a strong bond. This book is a delight from page one.

The Connellys of County Down by Tracey Lange – The three Connelly siblings lost their parents when they were young, and life has not been easy for them since. When Tara is released from prison and returns home to live with Geraldine and Eddie, she upsets the uneasy equilibrium that the pair had reached while she was gone. I thoroughly enjoyed the sibling dynamics and am a huge fan of Lange’s writing and characters.

The Great Transition by Nick Fuller Googins – Set in the future when climate change has altered our planet, Emi and her parents, Larch and Kristina, reside in Nuuk, Greenland. When Emi’s mom goes missing and a dozen climate criminals are brazenly murdered, Emi and Larch head out in search of Kristina. Told through several points of view as well as Emi’s school essays, this stellar and hopeful debut is a standout.


Time’s Undoing by Cheryl A. Head – In 1929, Robert Lee Harrington relocates his family to Birmingham for a job, and the city is a great place to live – except for the fact that the Klan is very active there. In 2019, Robert’s great-granddaughter, Meghan McKenzie, becomes interested in his murder and why his body was never found. This page turner kept me on the edge of my seat.

Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers by Jesse Q. Sutanto – When 60-year-old Vera Wong finds a dead body in her tea shop, she calls the police. 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. Filled with humor and hijinks, Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers is so much fun.

Drowning by T.J. NewmanDrowning is a heart-pounding thriller that grabbed me from page one and did not let up until it was over. Six minutes after Flight 1421 takes off from Honolulu, the plane plummets into the ocean. As the passengers and crew work to evacuate the aircraft, an engine explodes, and the plane begins to flood. Those still inside the plane attempt to seal themselves inside the plane and hope it will float until they can be rescued. 

The Bitter Past by Bruce Borgos – After retiring from the Army, Porter Beck returns home to take on the role as sheriff of Lincoln County, located in the high desert of Nevada. When a retired FBI agent is killed, a mystery from 60 years ago involving a Russian KGB agent who came to pilfer the United States’ nuclear technology appears to be linked to the recent death. The nuclear testing site storyline, the FBI aspects of the story, and the ending make this an all-around fabulous read.

Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter – TV director Guy Howard hopes to solve the 20-year-old murder of his stepdad by revisiting the crime in a Netflix docu-drama series. Relayed in script format, the investigation and evidence are presented in the form of emails, text messages, and newspaper articles. I am a huge fan of stories told in unique formats, and Murder in the Family is a clear standout.

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