Top Books of 2023

Of the 60+ books I read this year, there were so many fantastic ones. It was hard to narrow down the list, but this year I’m going with a top 6. Here they are!

The Change by Kirsten Miller

Fantastic, female empowerment

Topping the list is The Change by Kirsten Miller. This book is like hitting a punching bag and letting out all the pent up rage you’ve been holding inside…. Imagine if menopause gave you superpowers. Need I say more? A band of middle-aged women decide enough is enough and put their actual, and even their supernatural, abilities and talents to work to stop the misogynistic and power-hungry men who are raping and murdering women in their small, sea-side town. Empowering and triumphant. Fierce and freeing. Wonderfully ridiculous in the most delicious and satisfying way. Couldn’t love this book more.

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Gut-wrenching young adult story

I don’t read many young adult books, but this one absolutely gutted me. Carver’s three best friends, Eli, Blake and Mars, were killed in a car accident. Worse, Carver may be at fault since he was texting the driver when the accident happened. Now, along with blaming himself, Carver is hated by everyone at school, hounded by reporters, facing possible criminal charges, and suffering from embarrassing panic attacks. On top of that, Blake’s grandmother wants Carver to join her for a “goodbye day” to celebrate all the things Blake loved, and give him a proper goodbye. It’s such a nice thought, the other families want one too. But they don’t see how these days are tearing Carver apart. If you are ready for a good cry, give this book a read. Soul-affirming and heart-crushing at the same time. 

All the Broken Places by John Boyne

Moving and powerful sequel

While not necessarily a sequel to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, All the Broken Places picks up the story of Gretel, the daughter of the Nazi commander in charge of the fated concentration camp all those years ago. Gretel, now in her 90’s and living a quiet life in London, never refers to her violent and shameful past. When she meets a young boy who needs her help, she considers revealing all of her secrets in order to protect him–something she has fought against her entire life. A fascinating and suspenseful story that will keep you sprinting to the end, with more twists and surprises than you’d ever think possible. 

The Measure by Nikki Erlick

Deep, hopeful apocalyptic fiction

On a seemingly ordinary day, every person on Earth receives a box with a piece of string inside. The string corresponds to the length of your life. Nothing, it seems, can change what the string foretells. Everyone must decide what to do with this knowledge, if they choose to look in the box at all. Plan for a long future? Make the most of your final days? Or only choose to associate with those who will live as long as you will… A creative and thoughtful look at both the debilitation and freedom of predestination, and a story about deciding what matters, living for the moment, and about whether knowledge actually is power. 

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd 

Mysterious and haunting historical fiction

Set in dual timelines–in 1629 aboard a Dutch East India ship, and in a fishing village in 1989 on an island off the coast of Western Australia–the lives of two children overlap across history. Mayken, a young passenger aboard the doomed ship, Batavia, is shipwrecked on the same island where Gil, orphaned and mourning the loss of his mother, will end up living with his reclusive grandfather hundreds of years later. Exploring the island and its small community, Gil learns of the shipwreck and the ghosts that supposedly walk the shores. Mysterious, haunting and based on true events, this was a magical story that stayed with me long after I finished reading. 

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Touching and heart-felt fantastical fiction

Tova Sullivan, the dedicated night custodian at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, is lonely and a little lost after losing both her husband and her 18-year-old son. In the long hours of the night, Tova finds herself talking to the sea creatures–in particular, Marcellus, the giant Pacific octopus who seems to not only be listening, but responding. What follows is a sweet, sad and ultimately hopeful story, partly told in Marcellus’s dry and strongly opinionated voice. Never would I think a story told from the point of view of an uppity octopus would rank high on my list of favorites but this one somehow manages to be believable, endearing and inspiring. 

I review books all year on Instagram @jessicamaffetoreauthor if you are looking for more great books to check out!

Another year of reading great books….

Favorite reads of the year

After reading SO many amazing books this year, it was tough to pick my favorites, but here are the ones that topped the list in the end!

New in ’22:

🌸 The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan – a mother is forced into a nightmare year-old parenting reform program after being deemed unfit by new government standards.

🌸 More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez – a woman living a double life, secretly married to two different men, one of whom ends up jailed for the murder of the other.

Awesome female-led fantasy:

💫 The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow – a story that intertwines sisterhood, suffrage, the power of mystery womankind and the history of witchcraft.

💫 The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab – a young woman makes a deal with the devil that will make her immortal, but also instantly forgotten by everyone she meets.

Seriously creepy reads:

🖤 A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw – an investigator, searching for a missing woman…a hidden commune cut off from the rest of the world…a secret disease spreading through the woods…all tie together in this haunting story.

🖤 The Push by Ashley Audrain – a mother convinced that something is not right with her daughter finds that getting someone to believe her is harder than she thought…and the consequences start to add up.

There were many more great ones – too many to mention but I’ve reviewed them all on my Instagram page over the last year, if you are interested! – and so many more I’m looking forward to reading in 2023!

Spring 2022 Reads – Best Books of the Season

I’ve read so many fantastic books already this year. And somehow my to-be-read pile never seems to get any smaller! Here are a few of the best ones from this spring. A story of witchcraft in 1893…or perhaps a story of women’s rights, power and potential throughout all time. A story of mysteries and lies beginning to unravel when a man searching for a lost woman finds an isolated community of people living in the woods, cut off from society. A tale of humor, empathy, strength and love when an interpreter takes a new job working for a headstrong DeafBlind man. And, lastly, a mother-daughter short story by one of my favorite authors.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow

What I was expecting to be a typical fantasy story about witches and magic turned out to be much more. This was a multi-layered reflection on the injustices that women have endured for centuries. The characters embody the ingenuity, cleverness and guile necessary to succeed as a woman in society. And their success depends on the strength and bravery women find through the bonds of sisterhood.

The Eastwood sisters seek to bring about the next age of witchcraft, but not for any nefarious purpose. It is simply because they are tired of seeing womenkind suffer at the hands of men, or be subjected to their every whim or want. The sisters end up discovering far more than witchcraft. They realize that every woman possesses a little magic, she just needs to find the will to use it.

The Once and Future Witches is a beautifully researched story, perfectly placed at an exact moment in history when witchcraft was still deeply feared and those accused were cruelly persecuted. But the story spans time, ripe with issues that STILL haunt women today.

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw

 I don’t tend to read suspenseful books. I don’t enjoy them because I generally feel that life is scary enough! But this book drew me in, and I loved it.

Maggie St. James has been missing for five years. Travis Wren has been hired to find her. He walks into the woods where she was last seen…and doesn’t come out. Deep in those same woods lives a secluded, fearful community, cut off from the outside world for many years. When they start to find traces of Maggie and Travis inside their borders, even though none of them have ever seen the couple, their whole reality starts to unravel, and suddenly, they aren’t sure what to fear most anymore.

Side note: I listened to the audio version of this book (beautifully done!), but it is ill-advised to do so on a long solo road trip at night, as I did. I promise you’ll start to see eyes watching you from the darkness at the side of the road…

The Sign for Home by Blair Fells

The Sign for Home is told from the point of view of both a DeafBlind man and his interpreter. It touches on the ideas of what it truly means to care for and about someone, how the limits of someone’s body doesn’t limit the abilities of their heart or their mind, and what it takes to find the strength to stand up for what is right.

This is a truly beautiful story, with complex character who don’t get everything right. But they are a joy to get to know. There is also a huge cross section of minority groups represented – people with different religious beliefs, those with hearing and/or vision impairment, immigrants, LGBTQ community members, some with substance abuse – all trying to find their way forward. It is clear that none of them – gay, straight, sighted, blind, hearing, deaf, able, disabled, or otherwise – has it any better figured out than anyone else. But as long as they are willing to open up and put their ego aside, everyone has something to learn from each other.

My Evil Mother by Margaret Atwood

I was cruising through this new short story by Margaret Atwood, enjoying its wonderful weirdness. (To be fair, most stories by Ms. Atwood do lean toward the wonderfully weird side of things) Then, all of a sudden, near the end, she goes and throws in a gut-punch of a tender mother/daughter moment. It makes the grown daughter stop and rethink everything she has always thought about her mother. And it reminded me – the mother of teenagers – just how insane (at times even evil?) loving a child can make all of us. Do we do things that seem crazy? Who hasn’t talked to themselves? Given the evil-eye to an “enemy”? Muttered a curse under their breath? Made pacts with the devil to get your child to just. Go. To. Sleep.

Just saying….Maybe there’s a little necessary evil in every parent, at least in the eyes of our children. The little angels.

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