Did you finish the 2023 Reading Challenge? With a book for every week, here are all 52 books I read this year for my 2023 Reading Challenge.
On my birthday, I realized the year would be over in less than three weeks and I hadn’t finished my 2023 Reading Challenge. I still had two books to go!
How embarrassing would that have been to have failed my own reading challenge?!
Admittedly, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world if I didn’t finish. I always tell people that the Booklist Queen Reading Challenge is more about the journey than the destination. There’s no prize for finishing all 52 categories. The reading challenge is just a means to focus your reading efforts to increase your reading and read more diversely.
But, still, I would never live it down if I didn’t finish. I picked the categories, for goodness sake.
If you’re curious, here are all 52 books I read this year. Some were excellent, some were terrible, but all satisfied a reading challenge category.
Now I’m off to start planning my books for the 2024 Reading Challenge!
1. Winter Read
As a teenager, Madeline Martin was the only surviving victim of Evan Handy, who was convicted of murdering her best friend Steph and suspected in the disappearance of two other friends. Now Madeline runs a thriving bookstore while caring for her aging father, the former sheriff. When true-crime podcaster Harley Granger arrives just before Christmas, he suspects there is more to the story. Women are still disappearing and Harley wonders if Evan might have had an accomplice.
Lisa Unger can certainly set a scene with this novella about a decades-ago murder at Christmastime. Christmas Presents had a good mix of tension and twists to keep you wanting more. The novella’s short length made it a very quick read; however, it didn’t leave as much time as I would have liked for character development.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penzler Publishers through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
2. Goodreads Winner in 2022
Both vulnerable and hilarious, Jennette McCurdy’s tell-all memoir sends a poignant message of the dangers of child acting. McCurdy brilliantly embraces her inner child by describing how desperately she wanted to please her mom by acting, even if it lead to an eating disordered and a chaotic relationship with her family. McCurdy idolized her mother so much that she didn’t fully understand the abuse she underwent until attending therapy after her mother’s death.
With its brash cover and title, McCurdy’s memoir has been on top of the bestseller lists since it was released, and for good reason. In this excellent memoir, McCurdy perfectly vocalizes the childlike desire to please your mother, assuming that your mom must only want what’s best for you. From being forced to fulfill her mother’s dream of acting to being taught anorexia, McCurdy gives an in-depth look at abuse by a narcissistic codependent mother and the mental and physical effects that had on her life.
3. By a Black Author
Crystal Smith Paul
When legendary white Hollywood actress Kitty Karr Tate leaves her entire estate to the St. John sisters, three wealthy Black women who were the daughters of her co-star, the media has lots of questions. For Kitty’s backstory is not what anyone realized. Raised by a Black single mother in a segregated Southern town, Kitty began passing as a white woman when she moved to Los Angeles, a decision that would have lasting consequences.
I have mixed feelings about Did You Hear About Kitty Karr?. I can see why Reese Witherspoon picked it for her May book club pick; the plot was intriguing. And not just the premise, but the entire story. I enjoyed learning more about what it was like for a Black woman passing as white: how that affected her relationships with others and with herself. Although the discussions on colorism, racism, and sexism were thought-provoking, the writing quality itself felt subpar and would have benefitted from a better editor.
4. With More Than 500 Pages
In the middle of the night in New Delhi, an expensive Mercedes jumps the curb and kills five people. When the dust settles, only a stunned servant is left to explain what happened. An Indian version of The Godfather, Age of Vice tells the interconnecting crime thriller and epic family drama of Sonny Wadia, the playboy heir of a mobster; Neda, his journalist girlfriend; and Ajay, his loyal servant.
Age of Vice starts out with a bang, gripping you from the start with the tale of Ajay, an Indian boy born in poverty, then sold into slavery, who eventually becomes the personal manservant of the son of a mob boss. At this point, I was completely feeling all the five-star reviews.
Once the narrative shifts away from Ajay, the story stumbles. Kapoor recycles the narrative, this time showcasing Neda’s backstory, which is less interesting but still manageable. Then, the plot shifts again, into the train wreck that is Sunny’s current life plus random backstories of other characters that dragged on and completely lost me. The fast-paced ending was hard to follow and left you without a resolution for any of the characters. Which is how I found out it’s the first book in a planned trilogy; a trilogy I have no intention of finishing.
5. Published in Your Birth Year
Orson Scott Card
In a future where humanity is at war with an alien enemy determined to destroy life on Earth, Ender Wiggin is a third child in a family of extraordinarily gifted children. Sent off to battle school at only six years of age, Ender – with his perfect mix of compassion and ruthlessness – is forced to become the military genius humanity so desperately needs.
Ender’s Game is probably the book I’ve reread more than any other. No matter how many times I read it, its fast-paced science fiction narrative hooks me every time. But it’s the deeper themes that keep me coming back with thought-provoking messages on ethics, leadership, and compassion.
6. Famous Author You’ve Avoided
A popular food blogger, Hollis Shaw’s life is not as picture-perfect as it seems. When her husband is killed in a car accident after an argument and her daughter pulls away, Hollis decides to try a “Five-Star Weekend.” She gathers her best friend from her teens, 20s, 30s, and midlife together for a weekend on Nantucket. But the perfect weekend might turn sour when her friends don’t all get along and her childhood friend invites Hollis’s first love along.
I generally avoid most standard beach reads, but I figured it was time to give Elin Hilderbrand a chance. And I’m very glad I did. I found The Five-Star Weekend to be a delightful look at midlife and how female friendships impact our lives. With well-rounded characters, you get glimpses of the different work, marriage, and health issues that affect women. Although I would have preferred a more nuanced ending, The Five-Star Weekend wraps up with a hastily put-together happily-ever-after which is characteristic of the beach read genre.
7. Character with a Disability
Seventeen years ago, contaminated water runoff from a chemical plant caused deaths and birth defects throughout the small town of Bourne. One Two Three tells the story of sixteen-year-old triplets: Mirabel, a genius trapped in a wheelchair using a computer to speak; Monday, a neurodivergent bookworm; and Mab, who feels guilty for being “normal.” When the company decides to reopen the chemical plant, the sisters become obsessed with finding the necessary proof to stop them with the help of the owner’s grandson who just moved to town.
I have mixed feelings about One Two Three. The highlight of the book was the Mitchell sisters, with chapters cycling between the three, each with a distinct voice. The interplay between the sisters fascinated me and I loved seeing how their actions and abilities affected each other. Yet, the evil corporation storyline was a bit trite and the second half of the book was overly long and repetitive.
8. Fiction & Nonfiction Pairing
In 1923, Hattie Shepherd leaves Georgia in search of a better life in Philadelphia. Instead, she ends up in a disappointing marriage. Hattie goes on to have 11 children, whom she raises with strength, but not much tenderness. Through the narratives of her children, you see the legacy inherited by the children of the Great Migration.
I decided to pair Mathis’s novel with Isabel Wilkerson’s stunning history of the Great Migration, The Warmth of Other Suns for my 2023 Reading Challenge. Each chapter is a beautifully written short story of one of Hattie’s children. Yet, collectively, the novel felt too fragmented, as most of the children were never mentioned again. The disjointed format prevents you from becoming to fully invested in the story and makes the novel lose much of its potential power.
9. Fiction & Nonfiction Pairing
From the First World War to the 1970s, a mass exodus ensued of Blacks leaving the South and settling in northern and western cities. Wilkerson’s book highlights three stories from The Great Migration: Ida Mae Gladney who left sharecropping in 1937 for a blue-collar life in Chicago; George Starling, who left orange-picking in Florida in 1945 for Harlem; and Robert Foster, who moved from Louisiana in 1953 to become a personal physician in Los Angeles.
Isabel Wilkerson’s history of the Great Migration is simply outstanding. Impeccably written, The Warmth of Other Suns brilliantly uses the three narratives to pull you into history while Wilkerson gives you a fuller understanding of the broader context. With great insights into the complex and complicated history of race in America in the 19th century, The Warmth of Other Suns shines a light on many of our current race issues today.
10. By a Local Author
In 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart became a household name when she was kidnapped from her Utah home in the middle of the night. For 9 months she was held captive and abused by Brian David Mitchell and his wife Wanda Barzee. In her memoir, Smart recalls how her faith allowed her to maintain hope through her traumatic ordeal and how she was able to forge a new life afterward.
I vividly remember when Elizabeth Smart’s kidnapping captivated the nation a few months after the Salt Lake Winter Olympics. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook version because I enjoyed how thick her sarcasm came through. Smart explains the entire timeline of her kidnapping, helping you understand the mental conditioning that kept her from trying to escape. All in all, it’s a heartbreaking story that thankfully has a happy ending.
11. A Western
In Larry McMurtry’s classic Western novel, carefree Gus McCrae and duty-driven Captain Woodrow Call, two retired Texas Rangers, embark on one last adventure – a crazy cattle drive from Texas to Montana. Far from the easy paycheck they expected, the journey turns dangerous time and again, weaving a tale that showcases the changing American West.
When I asked my Instagram followers what I should read next, I never expected that almost every single comment would rave about a massive old Western I picked up from the library for my reading challenge. Now I understand why. Though the pace is slow, the writing is excellent, and the great characters really drive the story, making it every bit deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. McMurty paints his characters better than almost any author I’ve ever read, bringing them to life with incredibly realistic complexity in a story that showcases the Wild West without glorifying it.
12. You Own But Haven’t Read
David McCullough chronicles the lives of rarely heard of settlers in the Ohio Valley. Among the pioneers willing to brave the newly opened Northwest Territory, Manasseh Cutter and General Rufus Putnam felt lured forth by the promise of freedom of religion, universal free education, and the prohibition of slavery.
After covering such historical figures as Truman, John Adams, and The Wright Brothers, I was less than impressed with the extraordinarily narrow focus of The Pioneers. While it contained some interesting details, the book was basically an in-depth history of Marietta, Ohio, making for a rather dull read, even for an Ohio girl like me.
13. Animal on the Cover
Shelby Van Pelt
After her husband died, Tova Sullivan began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium. Thirty years ago, Tova’s son Erik disappeared on a boat in the Puget Sound, and cleaning the aquarium helps her cope. When she befriends Marcellus, the aquarium’s giant octopus, Marcellus discovers what happened to Erik and must find a way to show Tova the truth before it’s too late.
Remarkably Bright Creatures is a cute story of finding connection and growing past our limited viewpoints of ourselves. Normally I hate animal narrators, but Marcellus’s chapters shine. His unique narration and dry humor elevate the entire book. Sweet and heartwarming, Remarkably Bright Creatures would be a great book club book.
14. Recommended by a Librarian
Though her body was never found, everyone knows that, five years ago, popular high school senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend Sal Singh who then killed himself. Except Pip isn’t so sure. For her senior project, Pip, the epitome of a good student, wants to prove Sal’s innocence. With the help of Sal’s brother Ravi, Pip uncovers secrets that someone wants to remain hidden.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is a fun young adult read with excellent twists that keep the story moving. I found Pip an extremely relatable character – the essential good girl who is very much into her schoolwork. Her earnest nature and methodical investigation lets you feel like you are part of the story, making this a compelling whodunit perfect for teens.
15. Newbery Award Winner
Elizabeth George Speare
In 1687, Kit Tyler is marked with suspicion as soon as she arrives to live with her aunt and uncle in colonial Connecticut. The Puritans don’t know what to do with a vivacious girl from Barbados. Torn between trying to fit in and wanting to be herself, Kit befriends an old Quaker woman. But the colonists’ prejudice and distrust lead to Kit being accused of witchcraft in this enjoyable Newbery Medal-winning historical fiction story.
16. About Royalty
The second son of King Charles III and his first wife, Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry has always known he was the spare prince. Traumatized by his mother’s death, Harry struggled to live such a public life, constantly plagued by the ever-hungry paparazzi. In his highly anticipated memoir, Harry discusses his life and his public falling out with the royal family, feeling they did not support his wife enough when she was hounded by the British press.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Spare since I’m not particularly into Royal drama, but I absolutely loved it. I found Harry’s story so compelling that I could not put it down. The shocking family revelations have gotten the most attention, but Spare is mainly about Harry’s lifelong battle with the paparazzi. Harry brilliantly describes the monarchy’s twisted relationship with the press: hating them but also desperately wanting their praises. Harry’s stunning story reminds you that being royalty isn’t a dream come true.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
17. Written Before 1850
What better way to recover from surgery than by rereading one of my favorite classics. Jane Austen’s witty novel never gets old, serving as a fun reminder of the importance of marrying for love and not lust or security. Follow along as Elizabeth Bennett goes from loathing to loving Mr. Darcy in one of the best classic romance novels. And yes, I followed up my reread with my absolute favorite movie – the Keira Knightley adaptation.
18. With Dual Timelines
In 1946, Vincenzo and Giovana fall desperately in love in Genoa, Italy. Although they come from different worlds, they find themselves inseparable, until politics forces them to choose opposite sides. Now in 2017, Cassandra and Luca are in love although their families don’t get along. When Cass’s grandmother and Luca’s grandfather pose for a painting, a long-buried secret changes everything.
Jill Santopolo’s post-World War II tale was an utterly predictable feel-good story with overly simplistic writing. Santopolo goes into inane detail about everything, yet fails to give any proper depth to any of the characters. Like many historical fiction books with dual timelines, the modern story felt forced. Unless you are in the mood for a mindless cute historical fiction, I’d give this one a pass.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from G. P. Putnam’s Sons through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
19. Dewey Decimal System: 300s
Emmanuel Acho, former NFL player turned sports analyst, takes on the hard questions that many white Americans are afraid to ask but need to know to be more informed. Based on his hit YouTube series, Acho presents each topic as a way to help people increase their understanding and change their behaviors to help end racism in America.
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man is an excellent beginning primer on race and racism in America. Acho patiently discusses both basic topics and deeper concerns such as white privilege, and reverse racism. An approachable reading, Acho’s book is a good starting place, full of recommendations on how to deepen your understanding.
20. Mother-Daughter Story
Alison has always hated Christmas, but her holiday season gets worse when her mother calls and tells her she only has a few weeks to live. Wanting to repair their relationship, Alison agrees to take in Mavis despite Alison’s traumatic memories of her abusive alcoholic mother. Instead of healing the relationship, Alison begins to realize her mother is not who she thought. Suspecting her mother is possessed by a demon, Alison must decide how far she is willing to go to save her family from this nightmare.
Jennifer McMahon has penned an atmospheric slow-burn horror story that will give you chills. At first, Ali discards her worries since everything is just a shade off, desperately wanting to believe she’s imagining it. By the time Ali realizes the truth, everyone now thinks that Ali is the problem, setting up a cat-and-mouse psychological game that keeps you on edge throughout the second half of the novel.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Gallery/Scout Press through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
21. Empowering Read
Katty Kay & Claire Shipman
Study after study shows that women are less confident than men, with far-reaching social and economic impacts. In a thought-provoking book about women’s empowerment, Kay and Shipman explore the nature of confidence. What exactly is confidence? How much of it is genetic and how much of it is learned? Interviewing notable scientists and leaders, they teach women how they can overcome their self-doubt, be more confident, and take more action.
The Confidence Code is an interesting book, looking at confidence through genetics and brain physiology, and comparing nature vs nurture vs the hard knocks of life. Kay and Shipman have some good takeaways, yet I think I’d have preferred to read a long article on the subject instead; The Confidence Code was more in-depth than I needed. My biggest takeaway – it’s okay to feel nervous and process a situation. Confidence doesn’t need to be blustery or brash, but you do need to take action and make decisions.
22. World War I Book
In Paris near the end of the First World War, Pauline Deng discovers that her uncle is arranging a marriage for her back in Shanghai. For help, she searches for her cousin Theo, a translator for the Chinese Labor Corps near the front. In the French countryside, Pauline finds shelter with Camille, a French woman entangled in a love affair and planning to escape her abusive marriage. When Pauline and Camille’s paths cross, they must make a decision that will affect the rest of their lives.
The Porcelain Moon is worth a read just for its informative look at the contribution of the Chinese Labor Corps during World War 1, a lesser-known historical event. However, the storytelling itself fell flat with a predictable plot and one-dimensional characters. The disjointed timeline didn’t help either, feeling more stilted than seamless. While I appreciated the deeper themes of identity and misogyny, the narrative stayed surface-level, never provoking an emotional response.
23. Domestic Thriller
In a well-off neighborhood, four families gather together for a pleasant summer barbecue but are thrown when Whitney, the perfect hostess, explodes at her son Xavier. Months later, Xavier falls out a bedroom window in the middle of the night. While he lies critically injured in the hospital, Whitney refuses to speak and the other women begin to wonder what really happened that night, knowing they all have secrets to hide.
The Whispers was a page-turning family drama that I could not put down, reading it in one evening. Each account of motherhood was different but contained such power, showing the strain that comes from the choices each woman makes. Unafraid to tackle hard subjects, Audrain tackles the dark side of motherhood in this intense suburban thriller.
24. 2023 New Release
Ten years ago, on the way back from a high school service project, two vans were in a tragic accident and only nine students survived. Yet none of the survivors feels like a hero, each ashamed of a decision they made that fateful night. Every anniversary since, they have met at a North Carolina beach house to check up on each other. Cassidy Brent has tried to distance herself from the other survivors, but when she finds out one has recently died, she finds herself drawn back in. When the group realizes that someone has been talking, they begin to suspect each other, and Cassidy wonders if one would go to great lengths to keep them all quiet.
The Only Survivors is an excellent slow-burn mystery, emanating a tense atmosphere as Cassidy suspects each classmate in turn. Slowly, Miranda reveals the true story of the accident, exposing how the weight of their secrets has influenced each of their lives. The high-action climax was a bit overdone, but I absolutely loved the final twist in the story. A solid 4 stars for me, The Only Survivors is my new favorite of Megan Miranda’s thrillers.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Scribner through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
25. Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
In London, Maddie spends most of her time either at home taking care of her father with advanced Parkinson’s or at work in a job she hates where she is the only Black employee. When her mother returns from Ghana, Maddie is thrilled to move out and experience life for herself. After tragedy strikes, Maddie begins to understand her unconventional family and the joys and fears of putting her heart on the line.
Sometimes you read a book that speaks to you at a deeper level; that has the exact message you need to hear at that very moment. A lot has been happening in my life, some I’ve talked about and lots I haven’t. But George’s debut touched me on so many levels. Maddie grew up too young, learning to always place herself second and just give, give, give. Maddie is forced to grow up in a different sense, learning about love and mental health and dealing with racism. I loved watching Maddie find her own voice and finally put her foot down to demand more. While my journey is different, I so personally relate to many of Maddie’s struggles as they are things I’ve been wrestling with in my own life.
26. A Book Everyone is Talking About
Rebecca Yarros took the bestseller list by storm this summer with her captivating fantasy romance Fourth Wing. In the highly anticipated sequel, Violet Sorrengail returns for her second year at Basgiath War College. No one expected her to survive this long, much less bond with one of the strongest dragons in existence and a second dragon as well. Now that she knows the secret the nation has been hiding, it will take all her wits to survive her second year, especially with the new vice commandant determined to make her betray the man she loves.
The whole book world was aflame with anticipation at Iron Flame‘s release and Rebecca Yarros did not disappoint. In the second book of the Empyrean series, Violet starts back again at Basgiath War College. While keeping the steamy romance and the fast-paced plot of Fourth Wing, Yarros delivers a clever twist halfway through to keep Iron Flame from feeling like a retread of the first book. And the twists keep coming, culminating in a cliffhanger that will make you desperate to read the third book.
27. Book Becoming Movie in 2023
When the President’s son falls in love with the Prince of Wales, international relations take on a whole new term. At first, America’s darling Alex Claremont-Diaz can’t stand the royal British heir, Prince Henry. Forced to develop a fake friendship for the publicity, the two soon realize that no faking is required.
Everyone has been talking about Red, White & Royal Blue for the last few years, so I decided to see what I thought. To be honest, it wasn’t really my thing. I’m more of a will-they-won’t-they kind of girl who prefers fade to black. Red, White & Royal Blue definitely did not fade to black. Basically, the whole middle of the book described the clandestine hookups and snarky love emails between the two main characters. Full of irreverent humor, McQuiston’s silly romance was utterly predictable, tying everything up in a neat little bow at the end. If overly sweet queer romance books with plenty of smut is your thing, then you’ll love this book. Else, I’d give it a pass.
28. About Complicated Relationships
In 1940, Millie and Reginald Thompson make the heartbreaking decision to send their eleven-year-old daughter Beatrix to America to escape the dangers in London. For the next five years, Bea finds herself enveloped into the Gregory family, sandwiched between sons William and Gerald. Although Bea has made a life for herself in America, she is forced to leave her new family behind to return to England after the war, finding herself caught between two worlds.
Told in short vignettes from different point-of-views, Beyond That, the Sea is a bittersweet character-driven story about being caught between two worlds. And by short vignettes, I mean very short vignettes; most chapters are only a page or two. I absolutely adored this enveloping story. The story spends much of its time on the war years, developing the relationships between all the characters. Then the narrative jumps forward twice more to reflect on the evolution of their relationships in a slow, thoughtful way.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Celadon Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
29. Recommended on TikTok
Violet Sorrengail is all set to live a quiet life among her books until her mother forces orders her to become a candidate for the highly competitive dragon riders. But dragons usually prefer to kill rather than bond with weak humans like Violet. With half the competition willing to kill her to improve their odds and the other half hating her because of her mother, Violet must use all her wits to survive the war college.
Fourth Wing has taken the book world by storm this summer, claiming a place atop the New York Times bestseller list for most of the summer. From the very first page, Yarros throws you into the action and the intensity never lets up throughout the entire book. Reminiscent of Veronica Roth’s Divergent and Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, fantasy readers will love this adult fantasy romance with heartstopping action and an enemies-to-lovers storyline with plenty of spice. I devoured this book in two days, and my only complaint is that there was way too much Twilight-style pining between Violet and Xaden. Luckily, you don’t have to wait long for the sequel: Iron Flame comes out in November.
30. An Audiobook
Sarah J. Maas
In the sequel to Throne of Glass, Celaena Sardothien finds being the king’s assassin no easy task. Secretly working against the evil king, Celaena finds herself unsure whom she can trust, weary even of her closest allies: Crown Prince Dorian, Captain of the Guard Chaol, and Princess Nehemia. When an unspeakable tragedy occurs, Celaena must decide where her loyalties truly lie.
Crown of Midnight was an excellent sequel, keeping the excitement of the first book without just copying it. The fast-paced plot keeps you turning pages, as you ride Celaena with her ups and downs and she relaxes in love but is gripped by betrayal. Maas does a great job of foreshadowing future events, leaving you in anticipation of the next books in the series.
31. Set in the 1930s
In a spinoff of her bestseller These Violent Delights, Chloe Gong returns to 1930s Shanghai with a tale of dueling spies. After an experiment makes her ageless and immortal, Rosalind Chang becomes a spy for her country hoping to redeem her traitorous past. When the Japanese are suspected of a series of murders, Rosalind must go undercover posing as the wife of another spy to investigate a series of murders.
Though promoted as a spinoff series, Foul Lady Fortune is actually just the third book in the These Violent Delights series. Gong toned down the supernatural vibes of the series in favor of a spy novel, at least until the ending. To me, the story didn’t stand out, lacking the vibrancy of the original. However, I imagine fans of the series will find it an enjoyable read.
32. Contemporary Fiction Bestseller
Spoiled rich Nisha Cantor has the perfect life money can buy until her gym bag is stolen. Then her husband completely cuts her off, forcing her to work as a maid in the five-star hotel where they lived, desperately trying to get her possessions back. Meanwhile, downtrodden Sam Kemp is caught in a marriage with a depressed husband who ignores her and in a job with a sexist boss who mistreats her. When Sam tries on a pair of expensive shoes from a gym bag she took by accident, the jolt of confidence inspires her to recognize she deserves more in life.
Jojo Moyes delivers a fun contemporary read perfect for the beach or your next vacation. The story is funny and light although the character’s situations are depressing. Someone Else’s Shoes is nowhere near the author’s best work, lacking depth and relying heavily on overexaggerations. Yet, Moyes did enough to make this far-fetched tale enjoyable that I would still recommend it.
33. About Adoption
In this emotional coming-of-age book, Lisa Wingate bases her story on a notorious real-life scandal of an adoption agency that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families. In 1939, twelve-year-old Rill Floss is asked to watch her four younger siblings while her father takes her mother to the hospital to give birth. Suddenly, a group of strangers arrives and takes Rill and her siblings to a Memphis-based orphanage where Rill must fight to keep her siblings together under the eye of the cruel director. Meanwhile, in the modern day, the privileged daughter of a senator starts digging into her grandmother’s history.
Before We Were Yours is historical fiction at its finest, bringing a horrifying historical event to life with a powerful story. Rill’s story is heartbreaking and all too real, highlighting all the layers of abuse Georgia Tann inflicted on victims of her black market adoption scheme. As with so many historical fiction stories, Before We Were Yours is told in dual timelines, and Wingate excels at making the modern story compelling which keeps the pacing level throughout the book.
34. Genre You Don’t Usually Read
Art Spiegelman won a Pulitzer Prize for this memoir, detailing Spiegelman’s interviews with his father, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor. Often published together, Maus was written as two separate graphic novels. In the first edition, Vladek recalls his life as a Polish Jew, trying to survive as the restrictions became tighter and tighter, moving to the ghetto, and then going into hiding. In Maus II, Vladek and his wife Anja are both sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. A must read, Maus brilliantly tells not only a horrifying tale of the Holocaust but also shows what the author experienced as a child of the survivors.
35. Title Starts with “A”
Adelaide’s dreamy life in London is made even better when she falls hard for Rory. He might not be the perfect boyfriend, but she’s fallen so hard for him that he lights up her world. When Rory’s ex-girlfriend dies, Adelaide does all she can to hold him together. However, she worries she is losing herself in the process. A powerful debut exploring toxic relationships and mental health.
Adelaide was an interesting debut novel to read. I had a hard time connecting with the story at first because I desperately wanted Adelaide to just leave Rory. As an outsider, it’s obvious he’s an asshole who needs therapy. Yet, when you are in the relationship, it can be so hard to see the obvious. About halfway through, I was hooked as I began to learn more about both Adelaide and Rory’s past relationship trauma and how that affected their current relationship. While not always a pleasant read, Adelaide was a thoughtful debut touching on intimate topics.
36. Set in South America
As she turns one hundred, Violeta Del Valle writes a letter to her true love telling how the upheavals of the last century have shaped her life. Born in 1920 as the Spanish flu ravages her South American homeland, Violeta’s childhood is marked by the Great Depression. As she grows older, Violeta’s life is shaped by the world events that rage around her – the struggle for women’s rights, the rise and fall of dictators, even a second pandemic.
If I just told you the basic plot points of Violeta, you’d think it was this epic read. But you couldn’t be furthest from the truth. Instead, Violeta read like the Wikipedia article of someone’s epic life. Told with the dullest storytelling ever, I felt absolutely nothing as I read the book. The dispassionate writing style kept you at a remove from the characters, not allowing you to share in their joy or sadness or frustration. Violeta ended up being an absolute waste of my time.
37. Detective Story
Twenty-two-year-old Olivia is spotted on CCTV camera entering a dead-end alley and never coming out again. When Julia is assigned the missing persons case, she must balance the frantic family’s desperation with her own failing marriage and struggling daughter. But someone knows Julia’s darkest secret, blackmailing her to frame someone for Olivia’s murder.
A slow burn police procedural, Just Another Missing Person gets off to a slow start with multiple points of view that don’t mesh well. Around the halfway mark, McAllister adds an interesting twist that amps up the intrigue level. However, the lack of character development made the ending lack much punch, making this thriller mostly mediocre.
38. About Power
George R. R. Martin
George R. R. Martin kicks off his epic mastery of political machinations with the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. With winter creeping into the land of summer and the king’s advisors mysteriously dying, Lord Eddard Stark is called to serve as the king’s new Hand. But Stark’s position places his family at risk from the ambitions of the rival houses.
I finally get all the hype. A sweeping epic fantasy full of vicious political maneuverings, A Game of Thrones was simply unputdownable. Martin was a brilliant storyteller, making each of his dozens of characters feel unique and vibrant. Just be warned that the story is full of physical and sexual violence and Martin never finished the books, only writing five of the promised seven. And yes, I immediately borrowed the HBO series and checked out the second book from the library.
39. 2022 Bestseller
In a modern-day version of David Copperfield set in the Appalachian Mountains, Demon Copperhead speaks of how institutional poverty and the opioid epidemic damaged an entire generation of children. A child of a single mother living in a single-wide trailer, young Demon must survive foster care, child labor, poor schools, addiction, success, and failure in this epic tale perfect for book clubs who love thought-provoking topics.
Barbara Kingsolver’s masterpiece gives a voice to a modern generation while still echoing that not much has changed for marginalized portions of America. Full of realistic characters, Demon Copperhead isn’t afraid to shine a light on some of the darkest topics. Yet, Demon’s unending resilience carries you through the heaviest sections of the book. A completely engrossing read, Demon Copperhead breaks your heart while still making you laugh.
40. By an Author You Love
When the grandmother who raised her ends up in the hospital after a fall, Jess rushes back from London to Sydney to take care of her. While going through her grandmother’s house, Jess discovers a true crime book, following the suspicious deaths of a mother and her children on Christmas Eve in 1959. As any journalist would, Jess begins to look into the mystery and the surprising connections to her family’s history.
I absolutely love Kate Morton’s books and was thrilled to read her latest historical mystery. The book started off well, if a bit slow, wrapping you into the last day of the Turner family. Did Mrs. Turner really poison her children and herself? What happened to her missing baby? I was initially captivated by Morton’s writing, but with a quarter of the story dedicated to a book within a book, Homecoming was just too long for me. By the time Morton started wrapping up the mystery, I wasn’t nearly as invested as I wanted to be and just wanted the story to end.
41. With a Long Title
Known for his role as Chandler Bing on Friends, at one point, Matthew Perry had the number one tv show and movie at the same time. Yet, while his career was hitting a high, Perry struggled through some of his darkest days. In this candid memoir, Perry discusses his lifelong battle with addiction and the persistence, hope, and friends who helped him along the way.
Perry’s memoir gives you a powerfully intimate look at addiction and its overwhelming power. You can feel Perry’s pain as he constantly tries to escape the feeling of never being enough that drives him throughout his whole life. Yet, the nonlinear timeline made the disjointed narrative hard to follow and I was glad I didn’t listen to the audio version.
42. Five-Star Read
Ten years ago, Bess and Joni spend a summer in Greece with their best friend Evangeline. When Evangeline dies, Bess and Joni find themselves suspects, their brash personalities vilified by the media, but ultimately no charges are filed against them. Since then, Bess has kept the lowest profile possible while Joni has become an outspoken motivational speaker. When Joni’s fiancée disappears, Bess comes out of hiding to support Joni and must face what really happened all those summers ago.
I was immediately drawn into Berman’s captivating story about intense female friendships, for it’s always the ones who know us best who can hurt us the most. Before We Were Innocent is a slow-burn mystery that serves as a fascinating character study. I loved the look at Bess, Joni and Ev’s friendship and the examination of how easily our lives can be cherry-picked to paint us white or black, when we are all shades of grey.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
43. YA Historical Fiction
In 1937, Stella North is thrilled to be competing as the only female pilot in Europe’s first air race for young adults. Between Spain’s civil war and the Nazis gaining power, the world is looking for something uplifting to follow. But the competition quickly turns cutthroat when a competitor is killed and each of the pilots has their own dangerous past to hide.
Elizabeth Wein, the author of Code Name Verity, delivers another fun and cute young adult WWII historical fiction novel. Stella makes for an excellent female protagonist: sharp, clever, and confident. I found the descriptions of flying fascinating; they were explainable without being overpowering. The high-action plot and the cute romance keep you flipping pages trying to guess the mystery. Yes, Stateless is a bit over the top, but in a good YA kind of way.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
44. About Magic
Sarah J. Maas
In the third book of the Throne of Glass series, Celaena Sardothien must explore her fire magic in order to learn more about how to defeat the Wyrdkeys. With the help of the Fae prince Rowan Whitethorn, Celaena is forced to navigate her Fae abilities while memories of her childhood arise. Meanwhile in Adarlan, Prince Dorian tries to manage his magic with the help of Sorscha, a royal nurse, and Chaol must decide his loyalties when Celaena’s cousin Aedion arrives, one of the King’s generals who is secretly working with the rebels. I found Heir of Fire just as thrilling as the previous book and cannot wait to see what happens in the rest of the series.
45. A Book That Makes You Happy
Ever since her aunt’s death, Clementine has put her head down to work harder toward her goals at her publishing company. Living in her late aunt’s apartment, one day she finds herself shocked to find a man in her kitchen. With kind eyes and a seductive Southern drawl, he’s the perfect man for Clementine. Except for the cosmic mistiming: he actually exists seven years ago. When Clementine encounters him in the modern day, she is shocked by how much he has changed.
I haven’t read The Dead Romantics, Poston’s big hit last year, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Seven Year Slip, especially since I’m not much of a romance reader. To my pleasant surprise, I fell in love with Poston’s nuanced love story, which reminded me of a few of my favorite Josie Silver’s writing. This twist on a time travel story keeps you guessing, for every time Clementine slips into the past, it affects her interaction with the present. Poston takes the concept of right person/wrong time to a whole new level, giving you an engaging and enjoyable summer read.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Berkley Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
46. Award Winning Nonfiction
Ibram X. Kendi
The author of the bestselling How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi has written the top book on the history of racist ideas in America. Covering from the Puritans and the Founding Fathers all the way to the civil rights movement and modern-day activists, Kendi shows that racist ideas and discriminatory practices have permeated American history since its inception.
If you are interested in understanding race relations in America, Stamped from the Beginning is a groundbreaking comprehensive study of the history of racist ideas in America. Showing step-by-step how racial progress is intertwined with the evolution of racist ideas, Kendi’s book would be an excellent study for high school or college. “Study” being the operative word for Stamped from the Beginning is a dense read that begs for you to take notes. Some sections read like a history textbook, overflowing with names and dates, while much of the middle of the book settled into a narrative nonfiction style that was more accessible, though still taking a long time to get through.
47. Modern Classic
In South America, famous opera singer Roxane Cross entertains the crowd gathered at the Vice President’s home to celebrate the birthday of Mr. Hosokawa, a powerful Japanese businessman. Until terrorists storm the party taking everyone hostage. What begins as a terrifying ordeal morphs into something poignant as individuals from different backgrounds begin to bond together.
While the premise of terrorists seizing hostages at a diplomatic party sounds thrilling, in reality, it’s not. Bel Canto is a slow literary piece that took me quite a long time to get into. However, once I did, I was hooked by the characters and their increasing disconnection from reality. After months of their stalemate situation, the hostages and terrorists find transcendence in their own little Stockholm syndrome utopia, forgetting that things could not remain like that forever.
48. Borrowed from a Friend
The only life Tress has known on her island home in an emerald-green ocean has been a simple one, with the simple pleasures of collecting cups brought by sailors from faraway lands and listening to stories told by her friend Charlie. But when Charlie goes missing, Tress must stowaway on a ship and seek the Sorceress of the deadly Midnight Sea. Can this fair maiden save the day?
Written for his wife Emily, Brandon Sanderson’s Tress of the Emerald Sea is a charming, beautifully illustrated fairy tale written for adults. Facetiously narrated as if a bedtime story, Tress of the Emerald Sea enchants with a simple whimsical adventure in a fantastically imaginative world. Although Brandon Sanderson fans will recognize the humorous narrator, Tress of the Emerald Sea can easily be read as a standalone novel without any knowledge of the Cosmere.
49. Red Cover
Erin E. Adams
Although she doesn’t have fond memories of growing up as one of the only Black girls, Liz Rocher returns to her Pennsylvania hometown for her best friend’s wedding. When the couple daughter’s disappears during the reception, Liz flashes back to another summer night. In high school, the only other black girl was found dead in the woods with her chest ripped open. Now Liz realizes there’s a pattern of black girls going missing and scrambles to find Caroline before the evil in the woods is finished with her.
Considering I don’t particularly like horror, I surprisingly liked Jackal. Adams’s atmospheric writing does an excellent job of drawing you into the mystery and filling you with a fear of the woods. Though the novel started strong, the second half was a bit out there, fully shifting into a horror scenario that didn’t work for me.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bantam Books. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
50. Reread a Favorite
If you want an uplifting but funny read, you’ve found the perfect choice in socially awkward Eleanor Oliphant. She has the habit of saying exactly what she thinks and has gotten used to spending all her time by herself, except for the occasional phone call from her abusive mother. When Eleanor and her slovenly coworker Raymond help an elderly gentleman after a fall. As Eleanor embarks on a project to fix herself up for a budding romance with a musician, she becomes friends with Raymond and learns that opening up isn’t always a bad thing.
I decided that a reread of Honeyman’s debut novel would be a great way to recovery from surgery. Except, I started it the night before my surgery and then proceeded to read it in one evening, staying up late to finish it. I loved it just as much, possibly more, the second time around. I laughed, I cried, and I could not put it down – all the marks of a great book.
51. Bottom of Your To-Read List
After losing his job in the Great Recession, Clay Jannon takes a position as a night clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. However, something is odd about this particular bookstore. The customers are sparse and never buy any books. Instead, they “check out” obscure large volumes written in code stacked on perilously high shelves. When Clay’s curiosity gets the better of him, he finds a secret society determined to solve an ancient mystery that promises eternal life.
More The DaVinci Code than The Magicians, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is an enjoyable tale full of quirky characters. With little character development and overly used tech talk, the story never dives below surface level. You’ll either be completely charmed by the imaginative setting or find this to be a completely forgettable read.
52. Holiday Romance
Moving to New York to escape an abusive ex, Iris is charmed by a family-owned gelato shop in Little Italy that her mom visited decades ago and was given the secret recipe. When Gio, the handsome owner, admits to Iris that his uncle forgot the secret family recipe after a stroke, Iris doesn’t have it in her to admit that she has the key. Not wanting to cause family drama, Iris agrees to help recreate the recipe, but secrets from the past threaten to ruin her new love.
A Winter in New York is a cute little love story that reminds you that honest communication would prevent a whole lot of unnecessary drama. The miscommunication trope among fully-grown adults never sits well with me and I was disappointed Silver didn’t add a more nuanced message like she did in The Two Lives of Lydia Bird and One Day in December. Other than that, A Winter in New York was a pleasant romance with a little steam and mostly adorable characters that worked well as a quick light read.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Random House Publishing Group through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Did You Finish the 2023 Reading Challenge?
What did you think? What were your favorite prompts? What were your favorite books? As always, let me know in the comments!
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