We were supposed to choose our top ten, but some I read were in a series, so I grouped them together – cheating? nah, just a way to promote more books! Changes from previous years – I read a lot more nonfiction that I usually do – and not as much literary fiction, though there were a lot of enticing releases. Here’s the list, in no particular order.
If you enjoyed The Jane Austen Society by the same author, you’ll enjoy this one too! Set in 1950’s London, this story follows Evie Stone, Viven Lowry, and Grace Perkins, as they navigate the difficulties of navigating the old-fashioned rules and new ways of thinking in a post-war era. Mentioning actual influential authors, artists, and politicians, led this reader off on short bursts of research to find out even more.
Finely Donovan is Killing It AND Finely Donovan Knocks ‘em Dead by Elle Cosimano
Finely Donovan is a woman of many talents, she’s a best selling author, she’s a mom, she’s about to be the ex-wife of a cheating husband, and she’s accidentally started solving murders. Joined by Vero, a live-in nanny, Finely is as surprised as anyone when this unlikely duo take on some pretty serious bad guys -and win! If you like the Stephanie Plum mysteries, let this be the new series you start in 2023!
Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley
Iona feels like her best days are behind her, professionally and personally, but she’s in for a great surprise when strangers on her daily commute tell her what they think of her. With plenty of sass and sweet moments, I dare you to read this book and not feel better about the world we live in!
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Elizabeth Zott is a brilliant chemist with innovative ideas and the ability to make those ideas into reality. Unfortunately for Elizabeth, she’s a strong smart woman in the 1960s, and she’s beautiful, and she’s dismissed by men in power at every turn. Elizabeth isn’t a quitter though, she believes provable facts and hard work make a difference. If you enjoyed Mad Men on television, you’ll love this one!
Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher
Last year was the first time I’d read a book by this author and A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking made my top ten for the year. Who would have guessed a repeat appearance already?! A Wizard’s Guide is meant for a slightly younger audience than Nettle and Bone, but they’re both chock full of quirky characters and interesting adventures featuring strong young women. If you’re looking to set off a quest with a demonic chicken, fairy godmother, disgraced knight, and a youngest sister trying to save her sister and kingdon, this one’s for you!
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman
If you were old enough to care about pop culture or politics during the 1990s, this book is full of things you probably forgot or to provide better insight on what happened back in the day. A good sense of humor and enjoyable footnotes (yes, enjoyable footnotes!) made this an extra fun walk down memory lane.
Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen
It’s been a little bit of time since this author’s last book but this was worth the wait. Zoey lost her Mom when she was pretty young but now she’s done with high school and she’s headed back to Mallow Island where her Mom left her a studio apartment in the small Dellawisp Condos community. Zoey hopes to spend the summer searching out more of her Mom’s past but finds herself caught up in a different kind of mystery. If she’s willing to listen to the Dellawisp’s resident flock of birds, she should be fine…. right?
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt
I’m not afraid of animals telling me part of the story and neither should you be (if you don’t mind my saying so). In this book Tova Sullivan, a 70 year old widow, and a giant Pacific octopus named Marcellus narrate a story of love, family, friendship, and connection. Small details keep connecting in unexpected ways, and help make the end 100% satisfying.
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
People moving through time, voluntarily or by mistake, can make me a little anxious on their behalf. Generally I don’t read to feel anxious and usually skip over stories where people find themselves bouncing through time. I’m so glad I read this one though. Alice is turning 4o and loves 99% of her life as an independent woman living in her NYC hometown, the missing 1% is due to father’s ailing health. When she discovers she can travel to her past, giving her the chance to live slightly altered timelines and, more importantly, seeing her father strong and healthy, Alice’s journey truly begins.
The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
When Satoru finds a stray cat in need of medical attention, he doesn’t hesitate in his swift actions to save a life. Naming his new cat companion Nana, Satoru and Nana quickly settle into the properly respectful worshiping relationship every cat person should recognize. But they aren’t just good companions, they have the kind of strong bond nothing could break. Traveling across Japan, Satoru and Nana visit people and places from Satoru’s past, and each visit leaves a lasting impression on all involved. Fair warning: Nana tell the entire story, and he’s a *gifted!* storyteller. Give it a try, you might like it too!
Unlikely Animals by Annie Hartnett
I’ve been struggling for months to describe this book, keeping in all of the story’s amazingly enjoyable quirky elements and bonus features. Now that we’re (alphabetically) at the end of my list, I’ll ask you just to trust me so I don’t need to do another bad job and you still get the joy of meeting new fictional friends doing interesting things…. 🙂
If you’ve read any of these, or if you decide to try one, let me know what you’re thoughts were! Happy Reading! -Stacey
This year it was slightly easier than usual to narrow down my list to a top 12. I read significantly less this year, and there were fewer standout titles. However, it was still tough to select which of those standouts made the final list. As usual, I have grouped any series that have made my list into a single entry. Additionally, you can click the images to see their availability.
On June 1, 2017, six people were killed at a Burger City franchise off I-80 near Jonny, Iowa. It was the bizarre and gruesome conclusion to nine months of alleged paranormal activity at the fast-food joint—events popularly known as “the Burger City Poltergeist.”
Presented here is the definitive story of “the most exhaustively documented haunting in history,” including—for the first time ever—interviews with every living survivor of the tragedy.
The employees of Burger City were a family. They loved one another. At least, at the beginning.
A witty and moving debut. Moving to the quiet, mostly non-Jewish town of Tregaron, Hoodie Rosen falls for the daughter of the mayor who is trying to keep Hoodie’s Orthodox Jewish community out of town, and when antisemitic crimes turn deadly, he must choose between his first love and the only world he’s ever known.
When his most prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, is stolen, bookstore owner A. J. Fikry begins isolating himself from his friends, family and associates before receiving a mysterious package that compels him to remake his life.
Chronicling her life in the songs she writes, April Sawicki, after leaving home for good, finds her way to Ithaca, New York where she finally finds a sense of belonging but cannot shake the feeling that she’ll hurt her new friends that way she’s been hurt.
The Japanese Breakfast indie pop star presents a full-length account of her viral New Yorker essay to share poignant reflections on her experiences of growing up Korean-American, becoming a professional musician and caring for her terminally ill mother.
Presents an urgent call for justice-system reform in the story of a disadvantaged, African-American single mother from the rural South who was separated from her young daughter and sentenced to life in prison for a first-time offense.
As simmering tensions between the towns of Beartown and Hed turn into acts of intimidation and then violence, a 14-year-old boy, increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community, puts in motion a plan to avenge his beloved sister’s death that will leave Beartown with an unimaginable loss.
Accepting a contract from a fledgling record company, a talented music artist in early 1970s New York endures racist responses to her activism, before a reunion interview decades later reveals explosive secrets.
Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, this is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.
When we came to the end of 2022, it was both fun and difficult to look back and evaluate the whole year and make my list for our readers. After careful consideration, here are my top ten books that I enjoyed reading this year.
Her Hidden Genius by Marie Benedict – Tells the story of Rosalind Franklin, who, despite an environment of harassment and bullying in the late 1940s and 1950s, worked in a stringent, scientific manner ad became one of the first scientists to map the structure of DNA.
The Song of the Cell: An Exploration of Medicine and the New Human by Siddhartha Mukherjee – Presenting revelatory and exhilarating stories of scientists, doctors and the patients whose lives may be saved by their work, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, drawing on his own experience as a researcher, doctor and prolific reader, explores medicine and our radical new ability to manipulate cells.
The Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham – The #1 New York Times best-selling author sets the stage for his most gripping thriller yet as he returns to Mississippi where his page-turning twists and turns lead to a stunning conclusion.
The Net Beneath Us by Carol Dunbar – A timely story of one woman persevering in the natural world. In the wake of her husband’s logging accident, Elsa, while caring for their two small children in an unfinished house in the woods of rural Wisconsin, forges her own relationship with the land and learns to accept help from the people and places she least expects.
The Ways We Hide :A sweeping World War II tale of an illusionist whose recruitment by British intelligence sets her on a perilous, heartrending path. Inspired by stunning true accounts, The Ways We Hide is a gripping story of love and loss, the wars we fight—on the battlefields and within ourselves—and the courage found in unexpected places.
Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner – Presents a story of post-war London, a century-old bookstore and three women determined to find their way in a fast-changing world.
How to Raise an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi – This guide for parents, caregivers and teachers focuses on strategies for talking to children about racism, how to avoid the mistakes of our past and help dismantle racist behaviors in ourselves and our world.
It All Comes Down to Thisby Therese Anne Fowler – Three sisters—Beck, a freelance journalist; Claire, a pediatric cardiologist; and Sophie, an Instagram influencer—come together to sell the family’s summer cottage in Maine, which becomes complicated by an enigmatic ex-con with his own hidden past. By a New York Times best-selling author.
Take My Handby Dolen Perkins Valdez – In 1973 Montgomery, Alabama, Civil Townsend, a young black nurse working for the Montgomery Family Planning Clinic, grapples with her role when she takes two young girls into her heart and the unthinkable happens, and nothing will ever be the same for any of them.
Bitter Orange Treeby Jokha Alharthi – A young Omani woman attempting to assimilate in Britain reflects on the relationships that have been central to her life in the new novel from the Man Booker International Prize-winning author of Celestial Bodies.
Non Fiction: Gender Studies, LGBTQ+, History “Hugh Ryan’s When Brooklyn Was Queer is a groundbreaking exploration of the LGBT history of Brooklyn, from the early days of Walt Whitman in the 1850s up through the queer women who worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, and beyond. No other book, movie, or exhibition has ever told this sweeping story. Not only has Brooklyn always lived in the shadow of queer Manhattan neighborhoods like Greenwich Village and Harlem, but there has also been a systematic erasure of its queer history–a great forgetting.
Ryan is here to unearth that history for the first time. In intimate, evocative, moving prose he discusses in new light the fundamental questions of what history is, who tells it, and how we can only make sense of ourselves through its retelling; and shows how the formation of the Brooklyn we know today is inextricably linked to the stories of the incredible people who created its diverse neighborhoods and cultures. Through them, When Brooklyn Was Queer brings Brooklyn’s queer past to life, and claims its place as a modern classic.”
Fiction: Horror/Paranormal “IN AMERICA, DEMONS WEAR WHITE HOODS. In 1915, The Birth of a Nation cast a spell across America, swelling the Klan’s ranks and drinking deep from the darkest thoughts of white folk. All across the nation they ride, spreading fear and violence among the vulnerable. They plan to bring Hell to Earth. But even Ku Kluxes can die. Standing in their way is Maryse Boudreaux and her fellow resistance fighters, a foul-mouthed sharpshooter and a Harlem Hellfighter. Armed with blade, bullet, and bomb, they hunt their hunters and send the Klan’s demons straight to Hell. But something awful’s brewing in Macon, and the war on Hell is about to heat up. Can Maryse stop the Klan before it ends the world?”
Fiction: Teen, Fantasy, Witches “On the way home from a party, seventeen-year-old Ivy and her soon-to-be ex nearly run over a nude young woman standing in the middle of a tree-lined road. It’s only the first in a string of increasingly eerie events and offerings: a dead rabbit in the driveway, a bizarre concoction buried by her mother in the backyard, a box of childhood keepsakes hidden in her parents’ closet safe. Most unsettling of all, corroded recollections of Ivy and her enigmatic mother’s past resurface, with the help of the boy next door.
What if there’s more to Ivy’s mother than meets the eye? And what if the supernatural forces she messed with during her own teen years have come back to haunt them both? Ivy must grapple with these questions and more if she’s going to escape the darkness closing in.
Straddling Ivy’s contemporary suburban town and her mother’s magic-drenched 1990s Chicago, this bewitching and propulsive story rockets towards a conclusion guaranteed to keep readers up all night.”
Fiction: Fantasy “Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.
Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon–like all other book eater women–is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairy tales and cautionary stories.
But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger–not for books, but for human minds.”
Fiction: Historical “Isobel Gamble is a young seamstress carrying generations of secrets when she sets sail from Scotland in the early 1800s with her husband, Edward. An apothecary who has fallen under the spell of opium, his pile of debts have forced them to flee Glasgow for a fresh start in the New World. But only days after they’ve arrived in Salem, Edward abruptly joins a departing ship as a medic–leaving Isobel penniless and alone in a strange country, forced to make her way by any means possible.
When she meets a young Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two are instantly drawn to each other: he is a man haunted by his ancestors, who sent innocent women to the gallows–while she is an unusually gifted needleworker, troubled by her own strange talents. As the weeks pass and Edward’s safe return grows increasingly unlikely, Nathaniel and Isobel grow closer and closer. Together, they are a muse and a dark storyteller; the enchanter and the enchanted. But which is which?
In this sensuous and hypnotizing tale, a young immigrant woman grapples with our country’s complicated past, and learns that America’s ideas of freedom and liberty often fall short of their promise. Interwoven with Isobel and Nathaniel’s story is a vivid interrogation of who gets to be a “real” American in the first half of the 19th century, a depiction of the early days of the Underground Railroad in New England, and atmospheric interstitials that capture the long history of “unusual” women being accused of witchcraft. Meticulously researched yet evocatively imagined, Laurie Lico Albanese’s Hester is a timeless tale of art, ambition, and desire that examines the roots of female creative power and the men who try to shut it down.”
Fiction: Science Fiction, Humanity/Identity “Set in the glittering art deco world of a century ago, MEM makes one slight alteration to history: a scientist in Montreal discovers a method allowing people to have their memories extracted from their minds, whole and complete. The Mems exist as mirror-images of their source — zombie-like creatures destined to experience that singular memory over and over, until they expire in the cavernous Vault where they are kept. And then there is Dolores Extract #1, the first Mem capable of creating her own memories. An ageless beauty shrouded in mystery, she is allowed to live on her own, and create her own existence, until one day she is summoned back to the Vault. What happens next is a gorgeously rendered, heart-breaking novel in the vein of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Debut novelist Bethany Morrow has created an allegory for our own time, exploring profound questions of ownership, and how they relate to identity, memory and history, all in the shadows of Montreal’s now forgotten slave trade.”
Fiction: Horror/Apocalyptic, Transgender “Beth and Fran spend their days traveling the ravaged New England coast, hunting feral men and harvesting their organs in a gruesome effort to ensure they’ll never face the same fate.
Robbie lives by his gun and one hard-learned motto: other people aren’t safe.
After a brutal accident entwines the three of them, this found family of survivors must navigate murderous TERFs, a sociopathic billionaire bunker brat, and awkward relationship dynamics–all while outrunning packs of feral men, and their own demons.”
Fiction: Asian American, Literary “Twenty-one-year-old Reed is fed up. Angry about the killing of a Black man by an Asian American NYPD officer, he wants to drop out of college and devote himself to the Black Lives Matter movement. But would that truly bring him closer to the moral life he seeks?
In a series of intimate, charged conversations, his mother–once the leader of a Korean-Black coalition–demands that he rethink his outrage, and along with it, what it means to be an organizer, a student, an ally, an American, and a son. As Reed zips around his hometown of Los Angeles with his mother, searching and questioning, he faces a revelation that will change everything.
Inspired by his family’s roots in activism, Ryan Lee Wong offers an extraordinary debut novel for readers of Anthony Veasna So, Rachel Kushner, and Michelle Zauner: a book that is as humorous as it is profound, a celebration of seeking a life that is both virtuous and fun, an ode to mothering and being mothered.
Fiction: Thriller, Historical, LGBTQ+ “Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret–but it’s not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they’ve needed to keep others out. And now they’re worried they’re keeping a murderer in.
Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept–his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.
Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He’s seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn’t extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy–and Irene’s death is only the beginning.
When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.”
Fiction: Mystery/Thriller, Anisfield-Wolf Winner “Percival Everett’s The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk. The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till.
The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried. In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance from an author with his finger on America’s pulse.”
Fiction: Science Fiction, Robots, Gender Non-Conforming “After A Psalm for the Wild-Built comes this tale of hope and acceptance in the second volume of the USA Today bestselling Monk and Robot series. After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home. They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe. Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?”
Fiction: Psychological, Women, Japan, Pacific NW “In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace–and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox–possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.”