We are already more than half way through the year which means I’ve been making my way through my ever-growing stack of books. Instead of a summer reading guide, this year I’m sharing my ten favorite books that I’ve read in 2023 so far. This list is not a “top 10,” cuz, let’s be real, ranking them stresses me out but I often get asked for book recommendations so I hope that this is helpful to you. These are all 4.5-5 star reads. I have found that I’m giving out less 5 star ratings recently so you know I loved these books!
Take a look and see if there’s one that catches your eye! There’s a mix of romance, literary fiction, fantasy and even memoir. I’ve included links to where you can buy the books and also support local bookstores. Here’s my list of ten favorite books I’ve read in 2023 so far!
Limelight by Amy Poeppel was my first five star read of the year. I knew I was going to enjoy this book after reading Musical Chairs by the author and giving it a five star rating in 2020. Amy writes fun and witty dialogue and features chaotic but lovable families and characters.
This books centers around Allison Brinkley and her family who just up and moved to New York City on a whim from suburban Texas. Each family member is responding to the move differently and, for the most part, it’s not positive. After a mishap of happenings including loosing the job she moved for, Allison meets a vaguely familiar teenage who is causing unsupervised havoc. It happens to be a famous pop star (a la Justin Bieber or the like). Allison appoints herself as his personal assistant and hilarity and chaos ensues. I thought the writing and situations were hilarious in the book and highly recommend if you’re looking for a light and funny read.
How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water was added to my reading list by way of the Tucson Festival of Books. I had the incredible opportunity to moderate a panel at the festival this year featuring Angie Cruz and another author It was an incredible experience to learn more about the book and the process of writing it.
This novel is structurally unique. It follows Cara Romero, a woman in her mid 50s, who loses her job during the Great Recession. In an effort to get back out into the job market, she begins meeting with a job counselor. Instead of talking about her work experience and qualifications, Cara tells the counselor her life story. She details her family troubles, struggles with debt, relationship strife and other hilarious and heart felt situations. Cara is such a brilliant narrator and protagonist. Her grit and sense of fight is inspiring yet the reader is also confronted with some of the negative decisions she’s made. You will mourn those decisions with her yet celebrate her tenacity and grit. It ended up being an incredibly moving novel.
These Impossible Things was a book club pick at the beginning of the year. It follows three best friends, Malak, Jenna and Keyes. They have been friends since childhood and have navigated all the complications that come with being women. Not only this, but they have had to navigate the expectations of being good Muslim women, too. After a night that breaks their friendship, it sets them each off on separate paths where they individually have to face complicated and challenging things. Throughout this time and their own personal journies, they are wishing for their friends. This novel is about navigating religious, familial and cultural expectations while also learning who you are. It’s about forgiveness and the lengths you’ll go to heal and be there for your friends. I thought this book, though sad, was really beautiful and moving. I would recommend it for fans of A Place for Us by Fatima Farheed Mirza which was featured on another favorites list of mine. Please be aware of trigger warnings before reading this book (sexual content and domestic abuse among others).
Another Amy Poeppel?! YES! She’s just that good! The Sweet Spot is probably my favorite of hers so far (though I still have one more of her books to read) and I’ve already recommended and given it as gifts to friends. As I described above, Amy writes large chaotic families with so much warmth and grace and humor. This book was an example of that in full force.
It primarily follows Lauren and her family (though does feature other characters as narrators, too) who live in an old brownstone in Greenwich Village in NYC. The home was adopted from Lauren’s eccentric father in law who moved out but surprises them by showing up unannounced and moving back in. Lauren and her family (which seems to grow by the day), become connected with other people in the neighborhood and in the greater NYC area. These connections add to the chaos and hilarity of their lives. I don’t want to give too much away about these characters or the relationships they form with the family. What I will say is that you will be delighted by the relationships. I was left with warmth and awe and how people can show up for each other and forgive. This is one of my favorites of the year so far and I hope you pick it up!
Finding Me by Viola Davis definitely lives up to the hype. If you can, I highly recommend listening to Davis’ Emmy earning performance in audiobook format. I chose this medium and am so happy I did. Davis tells the story of where she came from, her family and their challenges and triumphs and the healing and growth she’s achieved to get to where she is today. She details both her personal and professional life. We get to hear how she’s become the beloved and award winning actress that she is. Her circumstances were often quite difficult but it was beautiful to hear what she learned from them and how she’s become such a strong and loving woman.
Are you a fan of stand up comedy or Saturday Night Live? If so, this book is for you! Romantic Comedy follows a female comedy writer on a late night sketch comedy show with incredible similarities to Saturday Night Live. Sally, the writer, is noticing that more and more “hot female” celebrities and guest hosts of the show are entering into relationship with some of the show’s “average-looking” and dorky men (see Arianna Grande and Pete Davidson or Kim K and Pete Davidson or ScarJo and Colin Jost – ha!). In this midst of this, the show welcomes Noah Brewster, a pop icon and known dater-of-models. When he and Sally begin working together on sketches for the show she becomes increasingly charmed by him.
I loved this book because it featured a mature, female protagonist and love interest. Most romances I read now feature young couples whose flaws often annoy me and contribute to my distaste of the book. These two are not perfect, but their flaws don’t contribute to a crazy rollercoaster plot. This book is set partly during Covid quarantine times which lends to the plot, but be aware of that if it’s not something you’re interested in reading about quite yet. I found this romance incredibly unique and refreshing and gave it 5 stars!
This was my first book by J. Ryan Stradel and it definitely won’t be my last! Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club is set in the Midwest and features multiple timelines and narrators. It mainly follows Mariel Prager, the owner of a Midwest supper club which she is desperately trying to keep open. Her husband, who also happens to be the future inheritor of a competing restaurant, is in the midst of an identity crisis. To top it all off, Mariel’s mother, who she hasn’t spoken with in years, has been waiting at the local church for her daughter to pick her up for more than a week.
This book is a great mix of heart and humor. It definitely deals with heavy topics such as death of family members so be aware of that going into it. If you feel you can handle a plot like this right now, I highly recommend this book. It moves quickly and you’ll fall in love with the Midwest location and the characters and their growth.
Felicity, “Fizzy,” Chen is a prolific and successful romance writer and known to many around her as being spunky, sexy and wild. The True Love Experiment is her love story. Fizzy feels like she’s lost her spark and she’s questioning if she’s ever actually been in love or has it all been lust? Enter Conner Price, a documentary filmmaker who just wants to make meaningful environmentally conscious films that benefit the world. His boss has put him up to produce a reality love show and Fizzy is his first lead. Fizzy, romance aficionado, gives Conner a list of demands for her male counterparts that are hilarious and will make any romance fan chuckle. Another one of Fizzy’s demands for Conner is that they find joy again, together. When they become closer and closer friends, they are both left wondering how this will affect the show and Fizzy’s attempt to date other men. What ensues is a sweet and romantic story about growth and joy and fighting for yourself. I highly recommend for romance and Christina Lauren fans!
The Great Believers is a sweeping novel that goes between Chicago in the 80s and 90s and contemporary Paris. In the first timeline, we follow Yale Tishman and a group of friends whose lives are being severely affected by the AIDS epidemic. One by one, people are dying and they are trying to fight for their lives and dignity. In the other timeline, Fiona, the friend of Yale, is in Paris trying to find her estranged daughter who moved there after leaving a cult.
Each of the characters grapple with the way the AIDS epidemic affects and continues to shape their lives. It is a beautiful yet heart-breaking novel but I learned so much from it and very much enjoyed reading and discussing it with my book club. Trigger warnings apply but, if you can handle it, I recommend picking it up.
Ink Blood Sister Scribe is, what I would describe, as an urban fantasy. If you’ve been wanting to try out more fantasy books but high fantasy (other worlds and fantastical creatures) intimidate you, I recommend giving this one a try!
This book follows a family who, for generations, has been entrusted to safeguard a collection of magical books. Unfortunately, this magical collection causes strife in the family and even forces them to separate. The story mainly follows Joanna, who lives in isolation protecting these books in her home in Vermont, and her sister Esther. Esther has to pack up her life and travel every year on the dot because of a cryptic warning from her father. Esther is in Antartica and has fallen in love and decides to forgo her father’s warning and stay put after a year To top it all off, the girls’ father was recently found dead on the driveway of their Vermont with a magical and especially mysterious book in his possession.
What happens next spans continents and centuries and allows this family to discover that they might not be the only ones out there with knowledge of this magic. This book is a great adventure filled with magic and mystery and the love of books and reading! While the plot was not similar, it has a similar vibe to The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. If you are a fan of that or just a fan of fantasies in general, I recommend.
Thank you for reading my ten favorite books I’ve read so far in 2023! I hope there’s at least one book in here that strikes your fancy! Please tell me if you pick up one of my recommendations and what you think. It will be interesting to see how this list will shape up by the end of the year; what books will stay on it and what books will be cut because of other awesome reads. Stay tuned!
If you’re interested in more book recommendations, check out these lists that I’ve compiled in the past. Happy reading!