Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Best Books Of 2023

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Welcome to my favorite blog post of the year! These are the best ten eleven books I read in 2023. There were supposed to be ten on the list, but apparently, I can't count. Whatever. There's eleven. For extra drama, I organized them countdown style.

Drumroll please . . . .

💙  Best Books Of 2023  🏆

11. Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Adult Literary Fiction

Amanda and Clay head to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they've rented for the week. But with a late-night knock on the door, the spell is broken. Ruth and G. H., an older couple who claim to own the home, have arrived there in a panic. These strangers say that a sudden power outage has swept the city, and—with nowhere else to turn—they have come to the country in search of shelter.

But with the TV and internet down, and no phone service, the facts are unknowable. Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What has happened back in New York? Is the holiday home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another?

Why I love it: This novel has no plot or character development; just vibes. I know that sounds like a bad thing, but I couldn't stop reading. I like the vibes! They're intense.

Since the characters are isolated in the wilderness, they have no way of knowing if they're being paranoid or if something bad actually did happen to the world. Every tiny problem may be a sign of impending doom. I suspect this is the most realistic apocalypse story I've read. If all of humanity's communication systems go down, we won't know why strange things are happening. We'll just have guesses and paranoia. This book will make you tense, but it won't give you any answers.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Classic Suspense

David Kelsey, a young scientist, has an unyielding conviction that life will turn out all right for him; he just has to fix the Situation: he is in love with a married woman. Obsessed with Annabelle and the life he has imagined for them—including the fully furnished cabin he maintains for her—David prepares to win her over, whatever it takes.

Why I love it: The book is terrifying because of its realism. David is obsessed with Annabelle, even though she shows 0 signs of being romantically interested in him. Annabelle attempts to be friendly with David, but her attention is never enough for him. Eventually, his obsession spirals into murderous rage because she won't give him what he wants. It's every woman's nightmare. I can see why this book is becoming a modern classic. Read it if you enjoyed YOU by Caroline Kepnes.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Memoir / Nature

For twelve years, Andrea Lankford lived in the biggest, most impressive national parks in the world, working a job she loved. She chaperoned baby sea turtles on their journey to sea. She pursued bad guys on her galloping patrol horse. She jumped into rescue helicopters bound for the heart of the Grand Canyon. She won arguments with bears. She slept with a few too many rattlesnakes.

Hell yeah, it was the best job in the world! Fortunately, Andrea survived it.

In this graphic and yet surprisingly funny account of her and others’ extraordinary careers, Lankford unveils a world in which park rangers struggle to maintain their idealism in the face of death, disillusionment, and the loss of a comrade killed while holding that thin green line between protecting the park from the people, the people from the park, and the people from each other. Ranger Confidential is the story behind the scenery of the nation’s crown jewels—Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Great Smokies, Denali. In these iconic landscapes, where nature and humanity constantly collide, scenery can be as cruel as it is redemptive.

Why I love it: Since I've been working in a state park since 2019, I thought reading this book would be stressful. It was! I picked it up and put it down so many times. It's a book full of worst-case scenarios. I mean, this quote is in the introduction:

"In the United States, a park ranger is more likely to be assaulted in the line of duty than is any other federal officer."

Fun times. Let's quickly move on.

Andrea Lankford spent twelve years as a ranger in various national parks. This book includes all the behind-the-scenes stuff that park visitors don't see. The author writes about the accidents and deaths, the brutal work schedule, and the crappy living conditions for the staff. Her writing style is surprisingly funny. She has the gallows humor that seems to be common among park employees.

If you want to work in parks, I highly recommend this book. It'll give you a realistic view of all the bad things that happen. But, the job isn't all bad. You get to see bizarre and beautiful things that (often) make the pain worth it.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult History Nonfiction

In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. Eerie aspects of the incident—unexplained violent injuries, signs that they cut open and fled the tent without proper clothing or shoes, a strange final photograph taken by one of the hikers, and elevated levels of radiation found on some of their clothes—have led to decades of speculation over what really happened. This gripping work of literary nonfiction delves into the mystery through unprecedented access to the hikers' own journals and photographs, rarely seen government records, dozens of interviews, and the author's retracing of the hikers' fateful journey in the Russian winter.

Why I love it: A few years ago, I became obsessed with the Dyatlov Pass incident and read everything I could find on the internet about it. This is the first book I read on the subject. It's a freakin' terrifying mystery!

This book is the author's attempt to solve the mystery. He mixes the hikers' photos and journal entries with police reports and interviews. It's a short book, and it feels very personal. You really start to care about the young hikers. Even though I already knew all the theories about what happened to them, I couldn't put the book down. If you like unsolved mysteries or wilderness disaster stories, you need to read this one. I don't want to say anymore because I don't want to spoil the mystery for you.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Horror Graphic Novel

Getting yourself a girlfriend is easy, according to Richard. All you need is papier mache, string, soft material, a balloon, some old fashioned bellows, and a good pair of scissors. The difficult bit is keeping her secret. Set in an English suburb in the early 1990s, this is the story of Richard's all-consuming passion for creating 'girls' from household objects. But as his hobby begins to flourish, his real life friendships and family relationships deteriorate.

Why I love it: I was frustrated with this book at first because it's mostly focused on the construction of girlfriends. I wanted more info about the boy who's doing the building. Then I started to understand. The narrator's parents and classmates are trying to make him into their definition of a man. A stereotypical man wouldn't share his feelings in a journal, but he might write detailed instructions about how to build an object. The character development is very subtle.

This book is disturbing because the narrator's girlfriends look . . . corpse-like. It doesn't help that he hides them in the woods. His weird girlfriends are paired with his sweet, innocent voice. You're never sure if he's a budding serial killer or just a socially awkward kid who's struggling hard with puberty. That's why I keep thinking about this book. Sometimes you don't know if your kid's behavior is a problem or just weird. It's unsettling.

The art style is pretty cool. It's done in embroidery. I can't imagine how long it took the author to make the images. They work nicely with the story because they look imperfectly homemade (just like the narrator's girlfriends) and add to the creepy vibes.

I could write an essay about this graphic novel, but no one would want to read that, so I'm just going to tell you to read the book. It'll stick with you.


Young Adult Historical Fiction

It's 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

Why I love it: Ruta Sepetys is a queen of historical fiction. How does she consistently find such interesting subjects to write about? She's amazing at immersing the reader in historical settings. I'm impressed.

I'm in love with the characters. When you're examining the underbelly of a city, you're going to uncover some dark things. The author shows the good and the bad side of her characters, especially the prostitutes. The women at the brothel become a family to Josie. They're just as dysfunctional as any family. The women don't love being prostitutes, but they're strong and funny and are doing whatever it takes to survive. I was completely invested in their lives.

If you like character-driven historical fiction, then I think you should pick up this book and meet Josie.

Buy it on Amazon

5. A Separate Peace by John Knowles

Adult Literary Fiction / Classic

Set at a boys' boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, A Separate Peace is a harrowing and luminous parable of the dark side of adolescence. Gene is a lonely, introverted intellectual. Phineas is a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. What happens between the two friends one summer, like the war itself, banishes the innocence of these boys and their world.

Why I love it: The book doesn't have much action, but the characters are awesome. The author does an excellent job of capturing the insecurity of people's teenage years. This is the definition of a coming-of-age novel. The story stars a group of teenage frenemies who are growing up in an ultra-competitive environment. The school has high academic expectations and mandatory sports participation. How do you make friends and trust people in a world where everything is a competition, and everyone is a potential enemy?

WWII hangs over the plot like a storm cloud. The boys know they're being educated and trained to be soldiers, even if that's not what they want for themselves. Joining the military after high school is an unwritten rule.

Even though this book was first published in the 1950s, it's still relatable because it's about the difficulties of coping with disappointment. What if you never get the future you dream about? What if you can't live up to your own expectations? What if you make a mistake that can't be undone?

I understand why this novel is a modern classic. WWII may be over, but teenagers will always be full of doubt and insecurity.


Adult Literary Fiction

Constantinople, 1453:

An orphaned seamstress and a cursed boy with a love for animals risk everything on opposite sides of a city wall to protect the people they love.

Idaho, 2020:

An impoverished, idealistic kid seeks revenge on a world that’s crumbling around him. Can he go through with it when a gentle old man stands between him and his plans?

Unknown, Sometime in the Future:

With her tiny community in peril, Konstance is the last hope for the human race. To find a way forward, she must look to the oldest stories of all for guidance.

Bound together by a single ancient text, these tales interweave to form a tapestry of solace and resilience and a celebration of storytelling itself.

Why I love it: This is a bizarre book, and I'm not sure how to talk about it. It's the kind of story I just want to shove into everybody's hands.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a story about stories. It's a love letter to books and libraries. It shows how stories are passed down through generations and give us the courage to keep moving.

At the center of the novel is an ancient myth called "Cloud Cuckoo Land." Other stories branch off from that myth like spokes. In 1453 Constantinople, a farmer and a seamstress are trapped on opposite sides of the city wall during a war. In 2020 Idaho, an elderly librarian is directing a play when a teenager with a bomb walks into his library. Sometime in the future, a young girl is alone on a spaceship and searching for a new home for humanity.

I know that sounds confusing, but the stories actually work together beautifully because the author is great at juggling multiple points-of-view. I was equally invested in each story. It's amazing how real the characters feel. Their kindness and willingness to take risks kept me hooked.


Adult Science Fiction

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.

His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Hurtling through space on this tiny ship, it’s up to him to puzzle out an impossible scientific mystery—and conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.

And with the clock ticking down and the nearest human being light-years away, he’s got to do it all alone.

Or does he?

Why I love it: Read this book if you like plot twists because there are a lot of them. It's actually an impossible book to review because there are so many twists. Everything I want to say is a spoiler! The characters handle each twist with humor and optimism. It's kind of inspirational. These people are very, very determined to live. Every time they start to feel hopeless, they refocus and try a different way of solving their problems. Nothing is easy in space!

Buy it on Amazon


Young Adult Fantasy

Simon Snow is the worst Chosen One who's ever been chosen.

That's what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he's probably right.

Half the time, Simon can't even make his wand work, and the other half, he starts something on fire. His mentor's avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there's a magic-eating monster running around, wearing Simon's face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it's their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon's infuriating nemesis didn't even bother to show up.

Why I love it: The entire Simon Snow series belongs on this list, but that would be annoying and spoilery, so I'm just going to blather about the first book.

Carry On is ridiculous, but it’s ridiculous in the most epic way possible. Seriously, this book is over 500 pages, and I blew through it in two days because I loved it so much.

Rainbow Rowell does amazing things with fantasy tropes. She really lets you see how ridiculous and overused some of them are by flipping the tropes on their heads. Simon is an incompetent Chosen One. Baz is a loveable villain. The magic system is silly. The witches and wizards drive cars, own laptops, accidently forget their wands at home, rely on Google to solve their problems, and talk like modern teenagers. This book is full of literal laugh-out-loud moments.

This series is brilliant because of how average the characters are. They're normal kids who just happen to be wizards. It's a refreshing take on the genre. These characters aren't heroes. They're kids with magic. And dragon wings.

Buy it on Amazon


Adult Science Nonfiction

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her enslaved ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Why I love it: Everybody should read this book. It's fascinating, and it brings up topics that society really needs to discuss.

Who was Henrietta Lacks? That's what the book is about. Henrietta's cells were taken after her death and used without her permission. Her children and grandchildren are living in poverty and have not gotten any money from the use of her body. Henrietta's grave doesn't even have a headstone. This all feels very wrong.

For me, the most interesting part of the book is the ethical questions it brings up. Who should profit from biological specimens? If you give a doctor permission to cut out your tumor, do you forfeit your rights to that tumor?

I couldn't stop reading this book. I loved learning about Henrietta and the people whose biological samples have made life better for all of us.

Buy it on Amazon

What's the best book you read in 2023?


  1. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was so good. Have you seen the film?

    Here is my Top Ten Tuesday post.


  2. Great list! I loved Dead Mountain - so eerie!

  3. I've heard only great things about Project Hail Mary, I hope to try it soon too! And I loved Carry On too, you're so right that it's ridiculous but in the best way possible :) Happy New Year!

  4. I'm now on the lookout for Ranger Confidential. Thank you!

  5. I'm intrigued by Cloud Cuckoo Land, but I also think the different time periods/settings would be confusing? Especially since they connect somehow? Hmm.

  6. Fist my bump! Project Hail Mary is the best! I feel like a reread this year!

  7. Dead Mountain and Leave the World Behind sound like books I'd enjoy, but I'd want answers! I understand it with the non-fiction, but a fictional mystery needs to be solved for me. I also want to read Hail Mary after loving The Martian.

  8. I did not even try for 10, LOL! I had a LOT of favorites last year so I went for 15. Happy New Year! Cindy https://cindysbookcorner.blogspot.com/2024/01/top-ten-tuesday-favorite-books-of-2023.html

  9. Out of Easy is on my TBR. I'm glad you loved it.

  10. You have so many good books on this list. Henrietta Lacks is indeed a top notch book (as are Separate Peace and Out of the Easy)

    1. And how did I not mention Project Hail Mary?! So good!

  11. I really enjoyed OUT OF THE EASY when I read it. I love Ruta Sepetys. She has such an emotional way of writing. Happy 2024!


  12. Of anyone, you have the greatest mix of books. I am impressed to see A Separate Peace as one of your favorites for 2023. So many people poo-poo required reading, but I read that one in 1986 (?), and I still remember it. It was a school book I actually liked.

  13. Great list! I enjoyed HENRIETTA LACKS, OUT OF THE EASY, and PROJECT HAIL MARY. I'm glad you found so many great books to love this year. Here's to many more in 2024.

    Happy TTT!

  14. PHM was on my list too! Looks like you had some great picks this year. Thanks for dropping by my post (@onereadingnurse)!

  15. Carry On has been on my TBR for so long! Glad to see it here!

  16. Henrietta Lacks books is so good, its so hard, emotional and her story deserved to be told. One of my favorites biographies

  17. Dead Mountain was so good! I read that one last year and loved it, too. And A Separate Peace is a book I had to read in high school and I've never forgotten it. :D

  18. I always like seeing what other people are reading and I'll post my reading list with my monthly favorite books next week. A Separate Peace is a book I've though of reading but never gotten around to. Anthony Doerr's first book (all the Light I Cannot See) was a classic.

  19. Your top 4 are among some of my favorites too. I loved Cloud Cuckoo Land and Project Hail Mary especially. I read them both in 2022.

    Happy New Year.

  20. Some great choices here! I love the Simon Snow series so much and I LOVE Project Hail Mary. Rocky supremacy! I also want to read Cloud Cuckoo Land.

  21. Ahh, I want to reread Carry On. I haven't read the rest of the trilogy but I should catch up on that too!

  22. I listened to Project Hail Mary and enjoyed it. I especially remember the ending, I didn't expect it but I loved it. I can see how the Ranger book would suit you. I also like the reasons you loved The Rainbow Rowell book.

  23. I absolutely loved Hail Mary and it was on my top 10 list the year it came out. So happy to see you loved it too!

  24. My favorite book read in 2023 is Brother (horror).

    This is a great list!

  25. Good list! I liked Leave This World Behind too ... as well as the Henrietta Lacks book. Those two are particularly dynamite. I'm going to put out my favs next week. Once I figure out which ones they are.

  26. I really enjoyed Project Hail Mary (though I didn't expect to). I couldn't put it down! I also read Cloud Cuckoo Land, and I am still trying to figure out what I thought about it, more than a year later! It was different and interesting though, for sure. I hope you have a great reading year in 2024!

  27. I read the Henrietta Lacks book so long ago it's not even on my Goodreads, but it has stuck with me all these years. Such an important story that everyone should know. I'm glad to see it here on your list because that means people are still picking this book up.

  28. Such great choices! I especially love Carry On (and the whole Simon Snow series) and Project Hail Mary -- such excellent reads.

  29. Project Hail Mary was so good! And I just saw the Netflix adaptation of Leave the World Behind and loved it.

  30. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is an outstanding book! It's one of the best books I've ever read.

  31. This Sweet Sickness and Dead Mountain both sound horrifying in their own way. I might need to check both books out!

  32. Project Hail Mary was my #1 favorite book the year it came out. I've since listened to the audiobook too, and I loved it too!

  33. This is a great list - I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and am going to have to read Dead Mountain! I fell into an internet rabbit hole reading about the Dyatlov Pass incident a few months ago!

  34. I've read Immortal Life and Dead Mountain, really liked them both. Haven't read Lankford's book here on your list, but finished Trail of the Lost a few weeks ago. Have you read that one yet?

  35. I read A Separate Peace as a teenager, and it's remained one of the most well-remembered and well-loved books in my life.

  36. Great list! I loved Project Hail Mary! Happy New Year! :)

  37. You have some really interesting books on this list. I have not read anything by Andy Weir yet but I hope to some day.

  38. LOVED Project Hail Mary. Loved so much. Also, fun fact, A Separate Peace was the only book I was forced to read that I actually liked! Like you said, even though it is older, it stands up. I really want to read Leave the World Behind too. I swear I will. Soon. Ish.

  39. Out of the Easy is fantastic; thrilled to see it made your list. Haven't heard of many of these but I really enjoyed reading through your rationale for each one.

    Funnily enough, I ended up reading three books w/ people working in state or national parks this year (Famous for a Living by Melissa Ferguson; and on a more serious levle The Last Ranger by Peter Heller and the latest installment in the National Parks Mysteries series by Claire Kells), but I don't remotely know anyone IRL who works in one, so I'm kind of "!!!" to hear that you do (and now I'm definitely interested in that memoir). How did you end up in that line of work?

  40. So many of these sound good! I've never heard of Dyatlov Pass so that really catches my attention. I coincidentally listened to Henrietta Lacks just as I started working in clinical research. It really hammered home how important the process of informed consent is and all these other concepts that the FDA required me to learn about.

  41. I confess that I read Carry On a long time ago but didn't keep up with the series, and now I ... don't really remember it? I'm sad because it's the type of series that seems like it could be a favorite for me. I think I need to listen to the audiobooks to get myself back into it.

  42. Project Hail Mary was wonderful; I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

  43. What a great reading year! I also enjoyed Out of the Easy, A Separate Peace, Project Hail Mary, and Carry On. I hope 2024 is a great reading year, too.