The year is coming to an end and it’s time to turn on the Out of Office, put on your favorite fluffy socks, and snuggle up by the fire with a good book. For me, 2023 was a year of fun beach reads, historical fiction, thrillers, and even a self-help-esque book written by one of my favorite people on the internet.
There’s still time to shop for last-minute gifts, so choose a book or two for your favorite bookworm (or yourself) this holiday season with this list of 20 of the best books of 2023!
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20 must-read books of 2023
Beach reads, rom-coms, and chick-lit
When Mark and Abby met, they were teens at a weight-loss camp. When they reconnected 15 years later, Mark was half the size he was when they met, and Abby is (mostly) at peace with her plus-size body. The two fall fast for each other again and are on the track to happily ever after.
Only, Abby can’t quite put her finger on why this doesn’t feel *quite* right. Or why she keeps thinking about a sexy one-night stand she had two years ago with a man named Sebastian.
When she’s asked to fill in leading a cycling trip, she jumps at the chance for some time away to clear her mind and figure out what, or who, she really wants. Things get complicated when Sebastian shows up as one of her cyclists. And they get even more complicated when Abby’s mother signs on as a last-minute participant.
The group will pedal 700 miles together, where more than one secret will come to light. At first glance, this may seem like “just another rom-com,” but Jennifer Weiner does a fantastic job writing about the complicated nature of life, love, and mother-daughter relationships.
Buy The Breakaway now!
I’ve been obsessed with Sophie Kinsella since her Shopaholic days, and she just. keeps. getting. better!
In The Burnout, Sasha hits a wall. “Urgent” emails pile up and work-life balance is non-existent. When her attempt at running away to join a nunnery ends in failure, she decides to go back to one of the places that made her truly happy as a child— Rilston Bay. If you’ve ever returned to a place from childhood, you know it’s never quite what you expect. And in a Sophie Kinsella novel, it’s even wilder than you can imagine.
While there, she meets grumpy, mysterious Finn, who always seems to be exactly where Sasha wants to be. The two embark on parallel healing journeys and a quest to rediscover their zest for life. Will they find their way to love as they reconnect with their inner selves?
As usual, the characters are zany, loveable, and evoke many laughs (and maybe an emotional tear or two) throughout the book.
Buy The Burnout now!
The Fraud Squad
Can a woman from a humble background fool Singapore’s elite into thinking she’s one of them? That’s what Samantha Song is going to find out— along with some help from her wealthy co-worker and friend Anya Chen and one of high society’s golden boys, Timothy Kingston.
This book is part Crazy Rich Asians, part The Devil Wears Prada, and part Bridgerton. Can Samantha Song impress the editor-in-chief of Singapore’s poshest magazine while avoiding being discovered by the gossip columnist set on spilling the Singapore elite’s hottest tea? Shenanigans ensue, and I loved every moment of this unlikely team’s antics.
Buy The Fraud Squad now!
Sadie Montgomery is a struggling artist on the verge of her big break. She’s finally earned a spot in the portrait competition she’s dreamed of her entire life.
And then, in a freak accident, she ends up with a condition where faces look like jumbled puzzle pieces— not good for someone who needs to paint a realistic portrait in just a few weeks!
On top of the painting drama, Sadie has TWO potential paramours— the charming vet and the bad boy neighbor with a bomber jacket.
Will she get her vision back in time to compete? Which man will she choose? You’re going to have to read to find out!
I love that Katherine Center sets her novels in Texas towns, so reading them always feels like a hug from home!
Buy Hello Stranger now!
I love love love Jean Meltzer and was worried that Kissing Kosher couldn’t live up to last year’s The Matzah Ball. Boy, was I wrong! This book has it all: feuding grandpas, rival babka bakeries, a handsome undercover grandson (Ethan Lippman), and a granddaughter (Avital Cohen) who needs a break.
Ethan is there to steal the Cohen family babka recipe, but finds himself loving more than just the baked goods. Avital feels it, too, but her chronic pelvic pain means only essential tasks get done— there’s no room (and maybe even no physical possibility) for love.
Jean Meltzer writes about chronic pain so compassionately, and I loved every second of this realistic romance!
Buy Kissing Kosher now!
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women
Lady Tan’s Circle of Women wins the award for most life-changing book of 2023. In the time of foot-binding and Confucius’s “wisdom” that “an educated woman is a worthless woman” Tan Yunxian is born into an elite Chinese family. But there’s something different about Yunxian’s family. Her grandmother is one of only a few female doctors in China, treating “women’s issues” because male doctors are prohibited from touching female patients.
Yunxian learns alongside her grandmother where she meets Meiling, the midwife’s daughter. Despite coming from different backgrounds, the two vow to be forever friends. One arranged marriage and a demanding mother-in-law later, the two are separated— forbidden from contacting one another again.
Will the confines of her husband’s family compoud keep Yunxian’s gift locked away? Can friendship between women persevere in hard circumstances? And can an educated woman make a difference— even in male-dominated China?
Tan Yunxian was a real Chinese physician during the Ming dynasty in China whose remedies are recorded in “Miscellaneous Records of a Female Doctor” and still used to this day. Lisa See’s fabulous storytelling brings this woman’s work to life through her novel— and even inspired me to try Chinese medicine for myself. And guess what? It worked!!
Buy Lady Tan’s Circle of Women now!
Nobody Puts Romcoms in the Corner
Hopeless romantic Sally and anti-love Harry are new flatmates and accidental viral superstars. One drunken night leads to #EpicRomcomReenactmentFailure when Harry and Sally recreate the famous lift from Dirty Dancing. Of course, these two have to keep their viral success going, reenacting all the most loved rom-com scenes.
These two are just faking it… aren’t they?
This book made me all kinds of happy and left me torn between wanting to rewatch all my favorite rom-coms and going out to find my own Harry!
Buy Nobody Puts Romcoms in the Corner now!
The Second Ending
A former child prodigy and an internet sensation go head-to-head in an epic dueling piano competition… what could go wrong?
Dreamy virtuoso Alexei Petrov’s Russian upbringing (and family’s lifestyle) depend on his practicing all day, every day. There’s no room for error and absolutely no room for fun.
When she was three, Prudence Childs taught herself to play piano. At 48, she’s sent her daughter off to college and wondering whether there’s more to life than writing jingles for commercials.
For the competition, both pianists will need to learn something new and will discover whether they might find a new way to play— on the keys and in life.
Buy The Second Ending now!
The True Love Experiment
The Soulmate Equation made my list of top books of 2021, and I loved the forward-thinking, techie spin on romance. The True Love Experiment takes sidekick Fizzy, the romance novelist, and turns her into a heroine— literally. She’s cast as the lead in a dating show, where literary archetypes (think hot nerd, Navy SEAL, vampire, etc.) vie for her affection AND a chance to win $$ and a trip to Fiji. Of course, she only accepts to make sure the surly, yet hot, producer doesn’t mess things up. I love everything Christina Lauren comes up with, and this is no exception!
Buy The True Love Experiment now!
The Wishing Game
The Wishing Game is the book I never knew I needed— and now that I’ve read it, I can’t believe I was able to wait this long to read it.
I laughed. I cried. And immediately upon finishing, I texted my librarian aunt to make sure she had the book on her list. The book is a play on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for book-loving adults. Lucy loved reading Jack Masterson’s books as a child. Growing up with a sick sister and parents who didn’t love her, his mysterious character Master Mastermind, who lived on Clock Island, seemed far better suited to raise her. Unfortunately, her childhood attempt at moving in failed.
Now, Lucy is all grown up, and she’s trying to adopt a child of her own. With insurmountable debt and a sub-par living situation, it seems like Lucy and Christopher will never be a family. Then, Jack announces an invitation-only game to win the sole copy of his latest book, and Lucy receives a letter from Clock Island. Can she beat the other child runaways for her chance at happiness?
Buy The Wishing Game now!
The Golden Doves
Martha Hall Kelly
I was first introduced to Martha Hall Kelly with her 2016 novel Lilac Girls. (Check out all my 2016 favorites here.) When I learned that she’d written another historical fiction, I knew I had to read it, and The Golden Doves didn’t disappoint.
During WWII, American Josie Anderson and Parisian Arlette LaRue meet while working for the French Resistance, becoming known as the Golden Doves for their contribution to the movement. Eventually, they are caught and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where they face unspeakable horrors. The disappearance of Arlette’s son is perhaps the most devastating.
Years later, Josie is working with U.S. Army Intelligence to track down a doctor from Ravensbrück and Arlette receives a call that someone has found her son. The Golden Doves reunite for a final mission that takes them across the world and puts their lives in danger once more. This novel is incredibly well-researched and well-written, exploring the fates of the Resistance fighters, concentration camp survivors, and Nazis post-WWII.
Buy The Golden Doves now!
The Paris Daughter
It’s 1939, and Elise finds herself a target of the German occupation. She has a heartbreaking decision to make— keep her daughter with her, knowing she’s in danger, or leave her with her friend, bookstore owner Elise, who has a daughter of her own.
When Elise returns to Paris one year later, she’s expecting a happy reunion with her daughter. Instead, she finds a pile of rubble where the bookstore once stood and no trace of Juliette or the children.
This painfully beautiful novel shows how far a mother’s love goes.
Buy The Paris Daughter now!
On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give this book a 10!
In 1956, Marion Brooks has it all. A nice job at a dance studio in NYC and a sweet boyfriend whose upcoming proposal will propel her into a life of domestic bliss in the suburbs. Except, she’s beginning to wonder if there’s something more.
When she learns about an opportunity to audition for the Radio City Rockettes, she sashays toward the glamour of the bright lights. Not all that glitters is gold, though, because the Big Apple Bomber is terrorizing people in the city that never sleeps.
After 16 years with no suspects, the police lean on Peter Griggs, a young doctor at a local mental hospital who has a penchant for psychological profiling. (Think Criminal Minds.)
Explosive circumstances push Marion and Peter into the bomber’s sights, and they must risk it all to catch him.
Buy The Spectacular now!
Thrillers + mystery
I first met Rachel Krall in 2020. In Night Swim, the popular true-crime podcast host covers an ongoing rape trial and a 25-year-old mystery. She’s back in Dark Corners, where the police call her in to help find Maddison Logan, an influencer who went missing just hours after meeting with Terence Bailey in prison.
This novel goes deep into the world of influencer rivalries, secret societies, and the dangers of the internet. Rachel goes undercover at BuzzCon (an influencer conference) to learn more about who Maddison— the person, not the internet personality— really is.
Megan Goldin did it again! I can’t wait for the next Rachel Krall novel!
Buy Dark Corners now!
As the podcasters on Morbid say, “fresh air is for dead people.” When four friends embark on a hike in Norway, it becomes clear that there’s something dangerous lurking in the woods when a dead body is discovered at the bottom of a ravine. Who’s out there? Are the women safe? And who will make it back alive?
Buy The Hike now!
None of this is True
It’s right there in the title. None of this is true. Remember that.
Popular podcaster Alix Summers meets Josie Fair on the night of her 45th birthday while celebrating. Scratch that— it’s actually THEIR birthday. Because Josie is celebrating her 45th birthday, too.
This coincidence leads to another chance run-in outside Alix’s kids’ school. Josie says she’s been listening to Alix’s podcast and thinks she’d be a good subject for a new series. You see, she’s planning on making some big changes to her life soon.
Alix finds Josie a little strange, and the coincidences just keep piling up, but she’s not ready to call it quits on the podcast just yet. Soon, Josie has implanted herself firmly into Alix’s life and home— the cost of making this podcast might be more than she bargained for.
The twists and turns in this one are WILD, and Lisa Jewell’s character development makes you feel like you know both women. But just remember— none of this is true.
Buy None of this is True now!
The Only One Left
“At seventeen, Lenora Hope
Hung her sister with a rope
Stabbed her father with a knife
Took her mother’s happy life
‘It wasn’t me,’ Lenora said
But she’s the only one not dead”
This is the chilling nursery rhyme born out after a brutal massacre at Hope’s End in 1929. Since then, Lenora hasn’t spoken a word about that night.
In 1983, Kit McDeere is hired at Hope’s End to care for Lenora after the previous nurse left in the middle of the night. After a series of strokes, Lenora can no longer communicate verbally, but when Kit helps her access an old typewriter, Lenora types, “I want to tell you everything.”
In true Riley Sager fashion, you’ll have to wait until the very end for all the twists and turns to be revealed!
Buy The Only One Left now!
What Have We Done
Alex Finlay is the master of twisty thrillers and What Have We Done is no exception. The novel is told from three different points of view— Jenna, Nico, and Donnie. They were the best of friends when they met as parentless teens at the Savior House group home, but lost touch when the home was shut down following the disappearance of several children.
Now, circumstance has brought them together once more. And like last time, the circumstances are far from ideal. The three must reunite to discover who’s trying to kill them and why.
Buy What Have We Done now!
A book to help you live a happier life
How to Human
I’ve been following Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) since 2020, and his book did not disappoint. As he encourages his followers online to value connection above all, in How to Human, he reminds us to see others as humans instead of political or religious views. This book was a breath of fresh air in anxiety-ridden times and should be required reading for anyone feeling angry, disconnected, or unsure how to build relationships with people different from themselves.
Buy How to Human now!
What’s your favorite book of 2023? Let me know in the comments!
Looking for more great books? Check out my past year-end book round-ups: