Tuesday, January 30, 2024

I Read 200+ "Best Books Of 2023" Lists

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It took nearly a month, but I have searched the Internet and read, watched, or listened to over 200 "Best Books Of 2023" lists. Why would I waste my time doing this? Because I'm insufferably nosy and want to know what everybody is reading. I also have a bad case of FOMO. What if there's an awesome book in the world that everybody knows about except me? I can't let that happen!

While I was perusing the lists, I jotted down the titles of books I saw multiple times. Then I looked them up on Goodreads and picked 16 that I want to read. That's what I'm going to show you today.

There was one book that I saw more than any other. It was Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros. That's definitely the favorite book of 2023, especially on TikTok. I have no interest in reading it, but I'm happy that so many people enjoyed it.




🏅  "Best Books Of 2023" That I Want To Read In 2024  🏆





A Fever In The Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot To Take Over America, And The Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan

Adult History Nonfiction




The Roaring Twenties—the Jazz Age—has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Their domain was not the old Confederacy, but the Heartland and the West. They hated Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants in equal measure, and took radical steps to keep these people from the American promise. And the man who set in motion their takeover of great swaths of America was a charismatic charlatan named D.C. Stephenson.

Stephenson was a magnetic presence whose life story changed with every telling. Within two years of his arrival in Indiana, he’d become the Grand Dragon of the state and the architect of the strategy that brought the group out of the shadows—their message endorsed from the pulpits of local churches, spread at family picnics and town celebrations. Judges, prosecutors, ministers, governors and senators across the country all proudly proclaimed their membership. But at the peak of his influence, it was a seemingly powerless woman—Madge Oberholtzer—who would reveal his secret cruelties, and whose deathbed testimony finally brought the Klan to their knees.


Why it caught my attention: I don't think I know this story! Usually, when I read history nonfiction, I already know a bit about the events the book covers. This one is new to me. Apparently, it's new to a lot of readers. Reviewers were shocked that this story isn't taught in schools.






A Study In Drowning by Ava Reid

Young Adult Fantasy




Effy Sayre has always believed in fairy tales. Haunted by visions of the Fairy King since childhood, she’s had no choice. Her tattered copy of Angharad—Emrys Myrddin’s epic about a mortal girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, then destroys him—is the only thing keeping her afloat. So when Myrddin’s family announces a contest to redesign the late author’s estate, Effy feels certain it’s her destiny.

But musty, decrepit Hiraeth Manor is an impossible task, and its residents are far from welcoming. Including Preston HĂ©loury, a stodgy young literature scholar determined to expose Myrddin as a fraud. As the two rivals piece together clues about Myrddin’s legacy, dark forces, both mortal and magical, conspire against them—and the truth may bring them both to ruin.


Why it caught my attention: I'm trying to figure out if I like dark academia. According to reviewers, this book is about two rival students who team up to solve a mystery in an author's decaying manor. Readers liked watching the characters learn to trust each other as they uncover secrets.






Accountable: The True Story Of A Racist Social Media Account And The Teenagers Whose Lives It Changed by Dashka Slater

Young Adult True Crime Nonfiction




When a high school student started a private Instagram account that used racist and sexist memes to make his friends laugh, he thought of it as “edgy” humor. Over time, the edge got sharper. Then a few other kids found out about the account, and pretty soon, everyone knew. Ultimately no one in the small town of Albany, California, was safe from the repercussions of the account’s discovery: not the girls targeted by the posts. Not the boy who created the account. Not the group of kids who followed it. Not the adults―educators and parents―whose attempts to fix things too often made them worse. In the end, no one was laughing, and everyone was left wondering: What does it mean to be held accountable for harm that takes place behind a screen?


Why it caught my attention: A few years ago, I read Dashka Slater's The 57 Bus. I wish that book had been around when I was a true-crime-obsessed teenager. She writes about real-life ethical dilemmas that are relevant to the lives of teens. Her books give you a lot to think about.






Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, And The Teachings Of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Adult Nature Nonfiction




As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.


Why it caught my attention: One of my goals is to read more nature nonfiction, so I was thrilled to find a nature book on people's lists. Fun fact: I strongly considered going to college to become a botanist, but they wanted me to take way too many chemistry classes. That was never going to happen. I'll have to learn from books.






Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

Adult Literary Mystery / Thriller




January 1978. A serial killer has terrorized women across the Pacific Northwest, but his existence couldn’t be further from the minds of the vibrant young women at the top sorority on Florida State University’s campus in Tallahassee. Tonight is a night of promise, excitement, and desire, but Pamela Schumacher, president of the sorority, makes the unpopular decision to stay home—a decision that unwittingly saves her life. Startled awake at 3 a.m. by a strange sound, she makes the fateful decision to investigate. What she finds behind the door is a scene of implausible violence—two of her sisters dead; two others, maimed. Over the next few days, Pamela is thrust into a terrifying mystery inspired by the crime that’s captivated public interest for more than four decades.

On the other side of the country, Tina Cannon has found peace in Seattle after years of hardship. A chance encounter brings twenty-five-year-old Ruth Wachowsky into her life, a young woman with painful secrets of her own, and the two form an instant connection. When Ruth goes missing from Lake Sammamish State Park in broad daylight, surrounded by thousands of beachgoers on a beautiful summer day, Tina devotes herself to finding out what happened to her. When she hears about the tragedy in Tallahassee, she knows it’s the man the papers refer to as the All-American Sex Killer. Determined to make him answer for what he did to Ruth, she travels to Florida on a collision course with Pamela—and one last impending tragedy.


Why it caught my attention: It's based on the true story of Ted Bundy, but it's not about him. I'm always searching for books that are about crime but don't glorify the criminals. According to reviewers, this book centers the victims and how the crime alters their lives.






Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia Of Faeries by Heather Fawcett

Adult Fantasy




Cambridge professor Emily Wilde is good at many things: She is the foremost expert on the study of faeries. She is a genius scholar and a meticulous researcher who is writing the world's first encyclopaedia of faerie lore. But Emily Wilde is not good at people. She could never make small talk at a party—or even get invited to one. And she prefers the company of her books, her dog, and the Fair Folk.

So when she arrives in the hardscrabble village of Hrafnsvik, Emily has no intention of befriending the gruff townsfolk. Nor does she care to spend time with another new arrival: her dashing and insufferably handsome academic rival Wendell Bambleby, who manages to charm the townsfolk, get in the middle of Emily's research, and utterly confound and frustrate her.

But as Emily gets closer and closer to uncovering the secrets of the Hidden Ones—the most elusive of all faeries—lurking in the shadowy forest outside the town, she also finds herself on the trail of another mystery: Who is Wendell Bambleby, and what does he really want? To find the answer, she'll have to unlock the greatest mystery of all—her own heart.


Why it caught my attention: If Fourth Wing was 2023's favorite book, then this was the second favorite. The characters sound quirky, and the plot sounds delightful. I can see why it made so many people happy. Also, there's science! Fantasy science, but still science.






I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai

Adult Literary Thriller




A successful film professor and podcaster, Bodie Kane is content to forget her past—the family tragedy that marred her adolescence, her four largely miserable years at a New Hampshire boarding school, and the murder of her former roommate, Thalia Keith, in the spring of their senior year. Though the circumstances surrounding Thalia's death and the conviction of the school's athletic trainer, Omar Evans, are hotly debated online, Bodie prefers—needs—to let sleeping dogs lie.

But when the Granby School invites her back to teach a course, Bodie is inexorably drawn to the case and its increasingly apparent flaws. In their rush to convict Omar, did the school and the police overlook other suspects? Is the real killer still out there? As she falls down the very rabbit hole she was so determined to avoid, Bodie begins to wonder if she wasn't as much of an outsider at Granby as she'd thought—if, perhaps, back in 1995, she knew something that might have held the key to solving the case.


Why it caught my attention: Because it's so polarizing! This book (and Fourth Wing) are probably the most divisive books of 2023. I saw this one on a bunch of "Best Books" lists and "Worst Books" lists. How does it end up on both lists? What's so great about it? And what's so horrible about it? I need to find out.






Idol, Burning by Rin Usami

Adult Literary Fiction




Akari is a high school junior obsessed with "oshi" Masaki Ueno, a member of the popular J-Pop group Maza Maza. She writes a blog devoted to him, and spends hours addictively scrolling for information about him and his life. Desperate to analyze and understand him, Akari hopes to eventually see the world through his eyes. It is a devotion that borders on the religious: Masaki is her savior, her backbone, someone she believes she cannot survive without—even though she's never actually met him.

When rumors surface that her idol assaulted a female fan, social media explodes. Akari immediately begins sifting through everything she can find about the scandal, and shares every detail to her blog—including Masaki's denials and pleas to his fans—drawing numerous readers eager for her updates.

But the organized, knowledgeable persona Akari presents online is totally different from the socially awkward, unfocused teenager she is in real life. As Masaki's situation spirals, his troubles threaten to tear apart her life too. Instead of finding a way to break free to save herself, Akari becomes even more fanatical about Masaki, still believing her idol is the only person who understands her.


Why it caught my attention: Fandom culture on the Internet is wild. I want to know more about it, so I was very happy to discover this novel! Reviewers have compared it to Convenience Store Woman, which was one of my favorite books in 2022. Both books are about Japanese women who feel disconnected from society.






I'm A Fan by Sheena Patel

Adult Literary Fiction




I stalk a woman on the internet who is sleeping with the same man as I am.

The unnamed narrator in I’m a Fan is obsessed; obsessed with the married man she is sleeping with and with one of his other lovers who is an influencer.

Through the prism of this unequal, unfaithful relationship, she examines the complexities of desire and privilege. With an unforgiving eye, the narrator relentlessly dissects the behavior of all involved in the entanglement, herself included, and makes startling connections between the power struggles at the heart of human relationships and those of the wider world. I’m a Fan offers an incandescent critique of class, race, social media, patriarchy’s hold on us, and our cultural obsession with status and how that status is conveyed.


Why it caught my attention: Okay, that is the worst synopsis ever. From what I understand, it's about a woman who's having an affair with a famous man. She learns that the man is having another affair and starts stalking the other woman who is sleeping with "her" man. Reviewers like the book's self-awareness. It has a lot of commentary on fame, social media, and manipulative relationships.






Impossible Escape: A True Story Of Survival And Heroism In Nazi Europe by Steve Sheinkin

Young Adult History Nonfiction




It is 1944. A teenager named Rudolph (Rudi) Vrba has made up his mind. After barely surviving nearly two years in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, he knows he must escape. Even if death is more likely.

Rudi has learned the terrible secret hidden behind the heavily guarded fences of concentration camps across Nazi-occupied Europe: the methodical mass killing of Jewish prisoners. As trains full of people arrive daily, Rudi knows that the murders won’t stop until he reveals the truth to the world—and that each day that passes means more lives are lost.

Lives like Rudi’s schoolmate Gerta Sidonová. Gerta’s family fled from Slovakia to Hungary, where they live under assumed names to hide their Jewish identity. But Hungary is beginning to cave under pressure from German Nazis. Her chances of survival become slimmer by the day.

The clock is ticking. As Gerta inches closer to capture, Rudi and his friend Alfred Wetzler begin their crucial steps towards an impossible escape.

This is the true story of one of the most famous whistleblowers in the world, and how his death-defying escape helped save over 100,000 lives.


Why it caught my attention: Steve Sheinkin is one of the best nonfiction writers. His books don't read like nonfiction. They're more like thrillers. Most Dangerous is my favorite, and I recommend it to everyone who says they don't like nonfiction. I can't wait to read this new book and was happy to see it on so many "Best" lists.






Killers Of The Flower Moon: The Osage Murders And The Birth Of The FBI by David Grann

Adult History Nonfiction




In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.

Then, one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The family of an Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, became a prime target. One of her relatives was shot. Another was poisoned. And this was just the beginning, as more and more Osage were dying under mysterious circumstances, and many of those who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered.

As the death toll rose, the newly created FBI took up the case, and the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try to unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including a Native American agent who infiltrated the region, and together with the Osage began to expose one of the most chilling conspiracies in American history.


Why it caught my attention: I read the author's other book, The Lost City Of Z, and it traumatized me a little. I never want to spend an extended amount of time in the Amazon. Nature there is gross and deadly. I'm looking forward to another well-researched, real-life, historical mystery that will probably traumatize me.






Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree

Adult Fantasy




After a lifetime of bounties and bloodshed, Viv is hanging up her sword for the last time.

The battle-weary orc aims to start fresh, opening the first ever coffee shop in the city of Thune. But old and new rivals stand in the way of success—not to mention the fact that no one has the faintest idea what coffee actually is.

If Viv wants to put the blade behind her and make her plans a reality, she won't be able to go it alone.

But the true rewards of the uncharted path are the travelers you meet along the way. And whether drawn together by ancient magic, flaky pastry, or a freshly brewed cup, they may become partners, family, and something deeper than she ever could have dreamed.


Why it caught my attention: Because it's everywhere! This book definitely had its moment in 2023. I want to know what the hype is about. The idea of warrior orcs selling coffee is hilarious, so that's promising.






Our Wives Under The Sea by Julia Armfield

Adult Literary Horror




Miri thinks she has got her wife back, when Leah finally returns after a deep-sea mission that ended in catastrophe. It soon becomes clear, though, that Leah is not the same. Whatever happened in that vessel, whatever it was they were supposed to be studying before they were stranded on the ocean floor, Leah has brought part of it back with her, onto dry land and into their home.

Moving through something that only resembles normal life, Miri comes to realize that the life that they had before might be gone. Though Leah is still there, Miri can feel the woman she loves slipping from her grasp.


Why it caught my attention: Being stuck on the bottom of the ocean in a submarine might be the most terrifying thing ever. It would also be terrifying for your loved one to come back from that experience and not be themselves anymore. Reviewers say this book is very weird. I don't always like weird, but it might be tense enough to keep me reading.








Passing by Nella Larsen

Adult Classic




Irene Redfield is a Black woman living an affluent, comfortable life with her husband and children in the thriving neighborhood of Harlem in the 1920s. When she reconnects with her childhood friend Clare Kendry, who is similarly light-skinned, Irene discovers that Clare has been passing for a white woman after severing ties to her past—even hiding the truth from her racist husband.

Clare finds herself drawn to Irene's sense of ease and security with her Black identity and longs for the community (and, increasingly, the woman) she lost. Irene is both riveted and repulsed by Clare and her dangerous secret, as Clare begins to insert herself—and her deception—into every part of Irene's stable existence. First published in 1929, Larsen's brilliant examination of the various ways in which we all seek to "pass," is as timely as ever.


Why it caught my attention: I read a bunch of classics last year and discovered that the majority of classics at my library are written by white men, about white men, and intended for a white male target audience. I was thrilled to discover Passing because I badly need to diversify my classics reading list.






Vampires Of El Norte by Isabel Cañas

Adult Historical Horror




As the daughter of a rancher in 1840s Mexico, Nena knows a thing or two about monsters—her home has long been threatened by tensions with Anglo settlers from the north. But something more sinister lurks near the ranch at night, something that drains men of their blood and leaves them for dead.

Something that once attacked Nena nine years ago.

Believing Nena dead, NĂ©stor has been on the run from his grief ever since, moving from ranch to ranch working as a vaquero. But no amount of drink can dispel the night terrors of sharp teeth; no woman can erase his childhood sweetheart from his mind.

When the United States attacks Mexico in 1846, the two are brought abruptly together on the road to war: Nena as a curandera, a healer striving to prove her worth to her father so that he does not marry her off to a stranger, and NĂ©stor as a member of the auxiliary cavalry of ranchers and vaqueros. But the shock of their reunion—and Nena’s rage at NĂ©stor for seemingly abandoning her long ago—is quickly overshadowed by the appearance of a nightmare made flesh.

And unless Nena and NĂ©stor work through their past and face the future together, neither will survive to see the dawn.


Why it caught my attention: Historical fiction and horror are two of my favorite genres. Books that mash them together will always catch my eye. I also like the 1840s Mexico setting. I don't think I've read any books set in this time and place.






When The Moon Turns To Blood: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, And A Story Of Murder, Wild Faith, And End Times by Leah Sottile

Adult True Crime Nonfiction




When The Moon Turns To Blood examines the culture of end times paranoia and a trail of mysterious deaths surrounding former beauty queen Lori Vallow and her husband, grave digger turned doomsday novelist, Chad Daybell.

When police in Rexburg, Idaho perform a wellness check on seven-year-old J.J. Vallow and his sister, sixteen-year-old Tylee Ryan, both children are nowhere to be found. Their mother, Lori Vallow, gives a phony explanation, and when officers return the following day with a search warrant, she, too, is gone. As the police begin to close in, a larger web of mystery, murder, fanaticism and deceit begins to unravel.

Vallow’s case is sinuously complex. As investigators prod further, they find the accused Black Widow has an unusual number of bodies piling up around her.


Why it caught my attention: The reviewers who talked about it said it's not a traditional true crime book. There's a lot of focus on the "Why?" The suspects in this case committed the crimes because they believed the world was ending. I'm not interested in the gory details of murder, but I'm extremely interested in the psychology behind crime. I want to know the "Why?"


















Did any of these make your "Best Books" list?

What was your favorite book of 2023?








8 comments:

  1. Impossible Escape sounds fantastic. I'm sure it would wreck my heart but I'm going to check my library for it anyway.

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  2. I have not read any of these. Most I could totally see you reading. I was surprised by Legends & Lattes. I am eager to hear your thoughts on that one.

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  3. Passing is a good read. Hope you get to try it. I also want to read Emily Wilde, Killers of Flower Moon, and Legends & Lattes.

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  4. I have to admit, I'm kind of glad I'm not the only one who is not interested in reading Fourth Wing! Whenever I read "best of" lists, I'm always struck by how many books I have never even heard of! Vampires of El Norte is on my TBR, though.

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  5. Glad you researched all this for the list. I'd like to read Egan's book, the Bundy novel, and Sweetgrass. I've read the Makkai novel and can tell you: it's too long and circles around the crime & suspect so much that you'll turn blue before you get to the end. Still it has some good parts to it. I like the novel Passing and Our Wives Under the Sea ... which is a strange & sad-ish book but some good parts about it.

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  6. A good list of books. I have enjoyed everything I've read by Timothy Egan, he is not only a good writer, but a great historian. And "Braiding Sweetgrass" was a favorite from last year.

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  7. Okay, you know what, I'm just going to read off your list. I have A Study in Drowning, Braiding Sweetgrass, Accountable, Legends and Lattes, and Our Wives Under the Sea already on my TBR. And I've just finished reading the Emily Wilde book and loved it! I'll take your word that the others are worth reading too, so thank you for reading all those lists so that I don't have to! I did read Fourth Wing too, and I loved it!

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  8. This is quite an ambitious undertaking. Happy reading!

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