As has become my own little tradition, at the start of each new year, I take a look back at all the books I read in the previous year and highlight my favorites. This is a fun way for me to think about what I enjoyed reading over the last 12 months as well as where I want to take my reading list going forward.

In 2023, I read 45 books. My average book length was 363 pages. According to my Goodreads account, I mostly liked everything I read throughout the year although there were definitely some big winners and a few I could have done without.

While I’ve already read books one and two in the series, 2023 saw me finally jump on the bandwagon and read Fourth Wing. Friends had been talking about how good this series is for months and I’d blown it off, thinking the audience for the book were people younger. I was so wrong.

This series has everything — complicated love, devoted friends, war, magic and dragons. It has a female narrator with her head on her shoulders who takes risks and makes things happen. The love scenes are damn sexy too.

I love series like this that know how to have fun without dumbing things down. I love that the author put this story into a military setting to add a rich layer of complexity. I like that many characters aren’t simply good or bad, but lie somewhere in between. I love the personality of the dragons and the immediacy of everything that is happening. Dig into this series now because it’s going to be more than your standard trilogy. The third book publishes later this year, but it’s projected we’re in for five books total.

While many books read in 2023 caught me up on series I’ve been pursuing, I did manage to read an entire series between June and July. These books weren’t long, are definitely meant for a YA audience, but were fantastic and fun. In true Jasper Fforde style, The Last Dragonslayer series is quirky and complex. There’s plenty of action and eccentric characters who you immediately feel connected to.

As far as modern authors go, Fforde is one of my favorites, skewing reality in a unique way that still keeps you grounded even among the fantastical.

If you’re already familiar with this author, dive into these books. If you’re new to Fforde, I’d start with the Thursday Next series or even his one-off Early Riser to get a taste.

This complete series includes:

  • The Last Dragonslayer
  • The Song of the Quarkbeast
  • The Eye of Zoltar
  • The Great Troll War

Series aside, there were a few amazingly powerful books which stood alone in 2023. They’ve continued to be my go-to recommendations as people ask me what to read. Some have been added to my book clubs’ reading lists for 2024 because I need to keep talking about them.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
It’s harder to find these days, a book that’s well-written, totally off-the-wall and able to get you crying more than once. This sweet story of a nanny, two struggling kids and a shit-ass family has it all. While it’s highly improbable that this specific situation would ever happen, it’s not an uncommon theme for an outsider to come into a family, see the emotional damage being done to the children and do their best to intervene. It gets more complicated in this story since the kids catch fire.

The Vacationers by Emma Straub
This was a bookclub read for me, but one I had picked up at some point because I thought it looked interesting. It so was. Diving into the intricacies of one family as they take an exotic vacation, this book does so much by way of character development. While there’s a lot happening in real time during the vacation, there’s also so much baggage that gets brought with them. Will the family stay together as a unit? Will everyone find happiness and resolution? Will scars of the past begin to fade? So much is packed into this cleanly-written book that it’s a refreshing and real read.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Levin
I don’t even know where to start with this book, but it’s a must-read, hands-down. What initially drew me to it was the setting — it starts out in Cambridge and the familiarity of that area from living in Boston is very appealing for me — and the plot — a trio of college kids come together and build a video game. I have friends who’ve successfully done this. I have friends who dreamt of doing this. It all connected for me. What I didn’t anticipate was who my characters were going to be. This trio is the perfect assortment of struggles, passions and feelings. I loved every minute of this book, both happy and tragic alike. I loved the imperfections, the hardships and how all three characters were who they were because of their connections to each other. READ THIS NOW!

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
I’m a big fan of Ann Patchett. I haven’t read a book of hers that I didn’t like so far, but this one is especially good. It takes place during the pandemic, but the only impact it has on the story is that it brings one whole family together for just the right amount of time. In this book, three adult daughters of cherry farmers think their mom missed out when she was young; that her chance to become a famous actress somehow slipped through her fingers and she settled for the life she had now. Through the truthful telling of a single summer at a place called Tom Lake, assumptions are disproven and truths come out. In the end, the family is even closer than they were before with a beautiful story wrapped around them all.

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning two other books from my 2023 read list that hit me in a special spot. They weren’t power houses, but they were favorites all the same.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King was actually the first King book I’ve ever read. It sounded interesting and not scary, so I picked it up and devoured it. While it started slow (as I’ve been told his books can do), it really ramps up to a fantastical place that shapes the character of the characters in surprising and emotional ways. I loved it.

Once Upon a Tome: The Misadventures of a Rare Bookseller by Oliver Darkshire was a gift from a friend who loves books as much as I do. We’d both be happiest in an old, musty bookstore full of hardback covers and that smell that only comes off aging books. If there’s a resident cat — even better. Begun as a Twitter account, the stories in this book are totally nuts and totally plausible when used books are your business. It’s an acquired taste to love this, but if you feel most at home around books, grab this now.

Because I don’t want this to be a massively long blog post, I will mention just three more books that I really enjoyed specifically because of the characters the authors created. The plots could have probably changed, but the female leads in these titles had me almost immediately.

  • Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Grams
  • Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Yes, there were a few.

  • Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver. Most people liked this, but it was too long and too heavy-handed. It stopped feeling like a modern adaptation of Dickens and quickly got muddy in a sometimes unrealistic way.
  • What I Talk About When I talk About Running: A Memoir by Haruki Murakami. It was boring, lacked insight and made the lead character (the author) seem not so likable.
  • You’ll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus. A bookclub selection. It was horrible and predictable and cliched.
  • Speak by Tunde Oyeneyin. A pick from my other bookclub. Felt very ego-centric and one-note. The inspiration that should have been put forth falls flat. Annoying and boring.

Overall, 2023 provided me with an excellent year in books. I loved or liked almost everything I read, combing through pages of books I wouldn’t have picked up on my own in many instances.

As busy as life can get, reading will always be my happy place, the one thing I can return to day in and day out and never get bored. A book may be boring, but even disliking a book is more interesting than reading nothing at all. And while 2024 has already started strong with five books down, I can’t wait to see what’s next.