Celeste’s Top Reads of 2023

Celeste’s Top Reads of 2023

My 2023 reading year was a bit of a mixed bag.  While I read some truly phenomenal books, I also got bogged down in some that didn’t work for me.  This was also the year when I began to take a step back from reviewing quite as much, as have felt myself beginning to burn out for quite a while now.  This led me to rereading much more this year, as I didn’t owe those books anything else.  I read a solid mix of new releases and backlist books, and I believe this is the year where I saw the most new releases added to my list of favorites.  Eight of the twelve books below were published in 2023, with two more having hit shelves the year before.  The other two are modern classics that couldn’t be more deserving of the title.  

The rules for this list are as follows:

  • All books must be new to me.
  • One book per author.
  • All books must have been 5 star reads.  While I read some fantastic books that I gave 4.5 stars, none of those made this list.  

I couldn’t narrow it down to ten. Without further ado, here are my twelve favorite books read in 2023. 

Inheritance by Nora Roberts:

I always get so excited when a new Nora Roberts series is announced. I love her standalones. I love her J.D. Robb series, following murder cop Eve Dallas in the late 2050s and 2060s. But her trilogies and quartets are the stories I truly sink into the most. While I have loved her last couple of trilogies, where she was doing new and exciting things outside of her norm by going more fantasy-heavy, I was also excited to hear that she would be going back to her roots, so to speak, with her newest offering, The Lost Bride Trilogy. Firmly rooted in reality with a healthy dash of the supernatural, it’s a romance and a mystery and, if Inheritance is any indication, a compulsively rereadable story that is going to stick with readers long after they read the final pages.

Beach Music by Pat Conroy:

While I’ve owned Beach Music for years, I wouldn’t have picked it up when I did had it not been for the thoughtful recommendation of a wonderful internet friend.  I feel like an entire semester-long writing course could be taught with Beach Music as its sole textbook. It’s a masterclass in craft. I was just so incredibly impressed by it, that I couldn’t give it less than 5 stars. It made me nostalgic for a time and place I’ve never known, and for people who don’t even exist. This book is the epitome of a modern classic.

Thank You For Listening by Julia Whelan:

It’s been a while since I had a book that was an easy 5 stars. No waffling on the rating. No notes. Nothing I would change. Thank You for Listening is one of those books. Had I owned a physical copy, I would have hugged it after finishing the final pages. I just loved every single thing about it. I’ll be buying myself a copy for my shelf, though I highly recommend consuming the audiobook of this one. Whelan is just as fantastic an author as she is a narrator.

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter by Brandon Sanderson:

Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is a beautiful story of love and friendship earned instead of fallen into, of the importance and power and demands of art, and of learning to embrace who you are and forgive who you are not. The prose is lovely. There’s just the right amount of humor. The plot is mysterious and tense and playful in equal measures. The characters were unique and well fleshed out, with a lot of interesting interactions between them. And the romance was soft and subtle and slow, but still incredibly powerful. This was one of those stories where I wouldn’t change a thing.

House of Odysseus by Claire North:

I loved everything about House of Odysseus, and will be counting down the days until the final installment is released. The Last Song of Penelope promises to be an absolutely fantastic finale, if it lives up to its two predecessors. And if it does, this will become my favorite historical trilogy of all time, and quite likely my favorite Greek myth retelling. Which is really saying something, as that’s one of my favorite subgenres. North has done something really special with this series, and I can’t wait to see how the story ends.

Light Bringer by Pierce Brown: 

Light Bringer is everything I love about the original Red Rising trilogy. Iron Gold and Dark Age were very good, but they were missing the spark that made the originals so special. Light Bringer recaptured that spark. While there is still an appalling amount of bloodshed and loss and betrayal, there is also growth and joy and hope. And that razor thin balance is what makes this series so special. There are incredibly high stakes, and the world is so dark, but the bright spots make the fight worth it.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield:

The Thirteenth Tale is deliciously gothic, and an exquisite love letter to books and stories. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s the best piece of gothic fiction I’ve read outside of Jane Eyre. I found The Thirteenth Tale far better balanced than Wuthering Heights and less overwrought than Rebecca, which are two of the other biggest and best loved pieces of gothic fiction. There’s a lushness to this story that covers the decay at its core, which is the epitome of gothic to me. I see gothic fiction as decadent and elegant on the surface, but with seams that are splitting to showcase the rot taking root beneath that beauty. The tale Vida Winter spins about Angelfield is the epitome of that.

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi:

I ended up loving The Last Tale of the Flower Bride in ways that I would never have guessed when I first flipped open its pages. It’s one of the most beautifully written stories I’ve experienced, and it was far deeper and more philosophical than it appears on the surface. This is the gnarled underbelly of a fairytale, an exposition of the dangers of living in dreams. It’s an exploration of abusive relationships that we wouldn’t view as abusive on the surface, and an exposure of madness that masquerades as imagination. It’s ugly in very purposeful ways. It’s terribly tragic and cautiously hopeful. I absolutely loved it, and can guarantee that I’ll be revisiting this decadent, decaying Gothic fairytale.

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo:

Hell Bent is a brilliant, well balanced, tense, thoughtful, perfectly paced follow up to Ninth House. This is exactly what I have always wanted from both dark academia and urban fantasy, though I’ve never been able to properly verbalize that desire. The fact that both are beautifully packaged in the same story is more than I ever could have hoped for. These books are dark and dense (though never slow, in my opinion) and they’re not going to be for everyone. But I feel like they were written just for me. And isn’t that exactly how the best stories make you feel?

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes:

I loved everything about Stone Blind. It’s a beautifully balanced mythological retelling that manages to feel like a fresh take on a timeless tale while also choosing to not shy away from the more magical elements. This reminded me of sitting down with big books of mythology when I was a child, but if I had magically been given the “true story” by one of the figures involved. It was entrancing and entertaining while also filling me with rage and sorrow. Any time such a well-known story can told in a way that elicits such powerful emotions in the reader, the author has achieved something truly special.

I had a tie for my favorite book of 2023.  I just couldn’t choose between the two.  And they are:

Starling House by Alix E. Harrow:

I adored Starling House with every fiber of my being. To me, it’s a perfect book. Full stop. No notes. I fell in love with Opal and Arthur, with the supporting cast and with the House itself. The mythos was just as captivating as the storytelling. I loved every sentence of this, and I’m already looking forward to rereading it. If ever a book deserves a place on my favorites shelf next to The Ten Thousand Doors of January, it’s this one.

No Two Persons by Erica Bauermeister:

This is exactly what I’m always subconsciously hoping to find whenever I pick up a book about books. No Two Persons is all about the power of story to reveal and connect and heal, and how that journey can be radically different for each person who picks up the same book. And that emphasis on the importance of story, particular this one specific story, is the binding element of the entire work. Some books proclaim themselves to be a “love letter to book lovers” or an “ode to the power of story,” but they almost without fail forsake that promise as the plot takes over. Not so with No Two Persons. The book within this book is the plot, and nothing ever usurps it. Because it’s a quiet, thoughtful, meditative work, I don’t know that it will sing into the soul of every reader as it did mine. But that’s the entire point of the story here. No two persons ever read the same book in the same way. I’m just incredibly thankful to have experienced it in the way that I did.

Honorable Mentions go to:

Short Stories:

  • The Six Deaths of the Saint by Alix E. Harrow
  • The Passing of the Dragon by Ken Liu

Children’s Books:

  • The Secret Garden Devotional AND The Anne of Green Gables Devotional by Rachel Dodge
  • Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell
  • Alone by Megan E. Freeman
  • Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield

Other Books by Authors on the Main List:

  • Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson
  • Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson
  • Identity by Nora Roberts

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