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The 10 BEST+ 5 WORST Books I Read in 2023

THE BEST BOOKS I READ IN 2023
 
1.Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen (Adult Magical Realism)
This is the story of the residences (human, ghost, and bird alike) of a condo complex on a whimsical island. This novel is perfectly encompassed by the whole ‘no plot just vibes’ description. It’s a found family story filled with characters who will steal your heart and refuse to give it back. They all have pain in their backgrounds they’re struggling to release, but they are helping each other to heal and there’s nothing more beautiful than that. Make sure you have a box of tissues nearby while reading this.
 
2. You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao (YA Magical Realism)
This is a novel of grief and healing in which high school senior Julie finds she is able to communicate with her late boyfriend Sam over unexplained phone calls. Only a handful of books have ever made me cry and this is one of them. Parts of the book read like movie montages of a first love while others explore loss from all angles (that of a girlfriend, a best friend, a cousin, a sibling, and even the deceased). The message of this novel is that it’s important to move forward but it’s okay to remember, too.
 
3. Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo (Adult Fantasy)
This is the sequel to Ninth House about a girl with a dark past (Alex) who becomes a member of Lethe charged with monitoring the secret societies of Yale. This book follows Alex, Dawes, and Turner as they attempt to rescue Darlington from hell. The characters are a ragtag group forced together by circumstance and all undergo very subtle growth and changes throughout the novel. The plot could feel bloated, but it all slots together like puzzle pieces by the end. This novel is very dark but it’s even better than Ninth House and leaves me anticipating the conclusion to the trilogy.
 
4. The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd (Adult Magical Realism)
This is the story of a woman (Nell) whose budding cartography career was ruined by her father over the discovery of a seemingly worthless highway map. After her father’s mysterious death, she discovers the map is actually rare and valuable and that dangerous people are after it. This book is the perfect blend of fantasy and mystery (my two favorite genres). It explores the terror of obsessions and secrets and how they corrupts. Nell and her love interest (Felix) made the most of every scene they shared and the ending of this book was perfect.

5. One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig (YA Fantasy)
Elspeth lives in a misty kingdom where a fever leaves the survivor with deadly, dangerous magic. In order to cure the kingdom twelve cards (which possess safe, legal magic) must be collected. Together with a highwayman, a rogue prince, a female warrior, and the Nightmare monster that lives inside Elspeth's head, she sets out to find the cards. This is a top tier fantasy for me. It has a compelling story, setting and atmosphere, strong and fascinating world building, and an ending that makes you eager for the sequel.
 
6. A River Enchanted by Rebecca Ross (Adult Fantasy)
 This series takes place on an island ruled by the elements and where the east and west are always at war. Ross has such beautiful prose that really makes the world of Cadence come to life. Her foundation in writing YA fantasy means this is a great transition book for those dipping their toes into the adult realm. I loved all four of the main characters (Jack, Adaira, Torin, and Sidra) and their individual journeys as well as their relationships with one another. The sequel isn’t as perfect as this first book but it’s still worth the read.  

7. Never a Hero by Vanessa Len (YA Fantasy)
 This is the sequel to Only a Monster and is the second book in the trilogy. The series is about a girl, Joan, who learns she is half-monster in a world in which monsters can time travel. I feel like second books are the most difficult to get right in a trilogy but Len kept me just as spellbound as with the first book. It answers questions posed by the first book and intrudes new concepts that set up a finale to anticipate. This novel also expands on Nick, an important character from the first book who was overshadowed by another character, Aaron.

8. What Have We Done by Alex Finlay (Adult Thriller)
Jenna, Donnie, Nico, Arty, and Ben grew up together in a group home. All managed to escape their dark beginnings and forge successful lives. When Ben winds up dead and the remaining four are being hunted down they must confront their pasts once more. I had a previous lackluster experience with a Finlay book but this one blew me away. It’s high action at every turn and reminded me of Black Widow (one of my favorite superheroes). In between all the fighting and running for their lives, Finlay still makes time to develop the characters and their relationships so that the novel feels well rounded.
 
9. The Change by Kirsten Miller (Adult Thriller)
Young women from Long Island are going missing and it seems a serial killer may be terrorizing the community. It’s up to three women with mystical powers (Harriet, Jo, and Nessa) to band together and get justice for the victims. This book has feminist themes and is an empowering read for women young and old (and middle aged). The magical realism elements provide evocative symbolism. This book made me proud to be a woman! It's what similar thrillers wish they were.

10. Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail by Ashley Herring Blake (Adult Romance)
The titular Astrid is the lead designer on the renovation of a local inn for a reality TV show. She and the inn owner’s granddaughter Jordan (who is also working on the project as a carpenter) get off on the wrong foot but romance ends up blossoming between them. I loved both Astrid and Jordan individually and together as a couple. Though this is technically enemies to lovers story (my least favorite romance trope) from the very first interaction there is an obvious draw between the two. As a woman in her 30s I appreciated the message that it’s never too late to discover yourself and follow your dreams. The friend group in this novel is also amazing. They’re the great group of supportive girlfriends that every woman needs behind her.

THE MOST DISAPPOINTING BOOKS I READ IN 2023

1. Zero Days by Ruth Ware (Adult Thriller)
This book is about Jack who is hired to break into buildings to test their security. Her husband is murdered and she is accused and goes on the run. Ware is a hit or miss author for me and this was most definitely a miss. I’ll give it that compared to her last book, The It Girl, this one was more engaging and thrilling. However, Jack was simply too stupid to live. Every decision she made was the worst possible one and it made for a frustrating reading experience.

2. My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa (Adult Thriller)
Paloma has a perfect life after being adopted but thirty years later the past catches up to her. Jayatissa’s book You’re Invited was a 5 star thriller for me so I was hyped to read this book. This one was nowhere near as good, sadly. Paloma is prickly and judgmental and there were times I wanted to put the book down because reading from her perspective was painful. The twist in the story was a letdown as it was the most obvious and unoriginal reveal possible. Worst of all, the book depicts mentally ill characters in a negative and villainous light which is disgusting.

3. A Twisted Love Story by Samantha Downing (Adult Thriller)
This Bonnie and Clyde-esque book follows a toxic couple (Ivy and Wes) who band together against a detective who is investigating them. This is my first book by this author that I really disliked. The main characters aren’t necessarily meant to be likable but given I’m a fan of morally grey characters I had hoped I’d like this book. Alas, no. Not only did I not like the main characters, but the ending was so pointless. The entire book feels like a snake eating its own tail – it goes nowhere.
 
4. The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead (Adult Thriller)
This book is about a woman, Shay Evans, who escaped a cult alongside her friends but then one of them winds up dead under mysteriously circumstances. Winstead’s debut was enjoyable but this book is everything I hate about books that attempt to be feminist (coming from a feminist). It portrays ALL men as being monsters. Also, this is a book where the stakes should feel high and dangerous but Shay walks away from all situations with virtually no repercussions so the tension I expected in a thriller like this was absent.

5. A Very Typical Family by Sierra Godfrey (Adult Contemporary)
This novel follows Natalie Walker who called the cops on her siblings years ago during an out of control party. This led to a long estrangement though they are brought back together after their mother’s death. The synopsis gripped me but the novel ended up being so absurd. The characters were insufferable, the romance was lackluster, and the overall execution was just poor.
 
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