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I hope you had a wonderful, book-filled 2023! I’m going to echo Hoarder Penny and say that the demands of daily life kept me from sharing literary thoughts as much as I would have liked this year. We continue to wish that our paying jobs were reviewing books, while our daily 9-to-5 schedules were optional. Alas, this magical day has not yet arrived.

But we’re still here, and still hoarding books with as much passion as day one!

This list is an accumulation of my favorite reads of 2023. Penny mentioned that this year was our year of reading chunky books, and we managed to make a dent in those TBR lists. Were they the only books we picked up? Of course not. Hoarders get distracted easily by new releases. But the intent was there, and a key to immersing ourselves in 800–1300-page books was paring back our reading goals on Goodreads. Without the pressure of having to read a higher number of books by the end of the year, we were able to pick up several tomes and lose ourselves for weeks at a time. We liked this idea so much that we plan to repeat it in 2024! If you find yourself picking books based on your Goodreads annual progress, then slap that number back. We have enough worries on our plates. Reading should not be one of them.

So here we go – Elizabeth’s Top Reads of 2023! Some were released this year, some not. All are wonderful and are worth your valuable time!

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

This beautiful coming-of-age story is about Samuel Hill, who was nicknamed Sam Hell when he was young because of his ocular albinism (red eye color). You follow Sam throughout his life, through every bullied frustration, every disappointment, and every moment of reclaimed self-esteem. Sam was hands-down one of the most endearing characters that I encountered in 2023. By the end of the book, I was both fully invested in Sam’s life and emotionally drained. This is a heart-swelling novel, and if you need a book about overcoming odds, this is the one for you.

West With Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge

This 2021 novel is based on the true story of the cross-country trek of two young giraffes in 1938 and the people who kept them safe. It’s both a coming-of-age story and a testament of caring for and loving God’s gentlest creatures. The travels of America’s first giraffes and how they came to live at the San Diego Zoo was equal parts thrilling and charming, and the people in the book will steal your heart just as much as the lovely creatures that they were transporting. Maybe it’s true that the time you spend loving animals is time added to your life. What a wonderful thought. This is a book that I have gifted to people and will continue to do so. Grab a copy – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

This is a complete departure from King’s other works, and I was stunned at the shift from horror to… well, fairy tale. I saw so many reviews complaining that there was nothing scary about this story, and to be honest, these readers made the same mistake I made. They thought it would wind up being a frightening tour de force. It’s not. In fact, I think the novel could be split into two inspiring halves. The first half is about the friendship that develops between a teenager and his grumpy elderly neighbor (it was so sweet). The second half is about the teen’s travels in a hidden world, which he accessed through his neighbor’s shed. All of this culminates into a wild ride that’s PACKED with amazing characters, but I have to say that my favorite character was Radar, the German Shepherd. This dog was a strong, devoted and lovely thread that held the book together, and she’s an amazing testament to our beloved canine companions. Overall, this novel clearly illustrates King’s incredible imagination, and his power to leave you with characters that you’ll never forget.

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby

Penny and I have become huge fans of S.A. Cosby, as he pens amazing page-burners that are as profound as they are riveting. This particular novel is dark and violent (please be warned), but so are the social issues that Cosby deftly tackles with every single page. Bigotry, racism, hatred – this book challenges them all in a breathless cat-and-mouse chase. The main character of this novel, Titus, was quickly added to my list of all-time favorites. He was a phenomenal protagonist, and I secretly hope that this is not the last time that we hear from him. If you do choose this novel, please let me suggest that you try the audio. The narrator Adam Lazzare-White performs with a gravelly intensity that will make the little hairs on your neck stand to attention.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

I’m enthusiastically here for any novel that puts a spotlight on women who support women. While I liked the female characters of this novel enormously, I liked each one for different reasons. This book is about murder plots, and I never thought I’d see the day when that would be cause for amusement. The dry banter between the women in this novel made me laugh out loud more than once, and I was cheering for their friendships by the close of the book. Regardless of caste, wealth or status, these women backed each other up. Much more of this, please.

The Stand by Stephen King (Complete & Uncut Edition)

Coming in at over 1,300 pages, this novel has been on my TBR list for years. I actually listened to the audio version, which clocks in at 47 hours and 48 minutes. (The audio is narrated by Grover Gardner and he’s BEYOND brilliant.) The Stand is thought by many to be King’s literary triumph, and after absorbing it, I can see why. This novel is about character arcs, faith, love, hatred, dreams, sociology, community, and the bottom line of good vs. evil. Just a few topics. While the story did not take the turns that I was anticipating, it all made perfect sense in the end. And don’t get me started on the cast of this novel, which is lengthy and fascinating. There are a couple of people in this book that I will never forget.

M-O-O-N. That spells a book that I might read again one day. (If you know, you know.)

Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

I swear I did not set out to read multiple books by Stephen King this year. But when I saw that his 2023 Fall release Holly was part of a series, I thought it was time to get my act together. Mr. Mercedes is the first novel that mentions the character Holly Gibney (and it’s also the first book of the Bill Hodges trilogy). It also marked King’s first foray into the world of police procedurals (he referred to it as his first hard-boiled detective book). I’m sure that many of you read this novel years ago, but if you haven’t, run out and grab a copy. I swear I didn’t take a breath for the last 100 pages.

Red Rabbit by Alex Grecian

This is a difficult novel to describe. It’s a cat-and-mouse mesh of magic, the afterlife, and the Wild West. (I know – I swear I’m not making this up.) Who are the characters? Well, there are sharpshooters, demons, widows, shapeshifters, ghosts, and let’s round this list out with a fabulous witch. (It’s a bit of a dizzying array of characters, but it works.) There are sections of this novel that are surprisingly violent, and others that are quite touching. And the result of all this mayhem is a good vs. evil adventure that is both wild and wildly entertaining. Leave your logic at the door for this novel, because it’s just an excellent bout of escapism.

Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall

Don’t be deceived by the fact that I’m talking about this book last. This book was at the very top of my 2023 reads, and I’ve recommended it to many. I could not put this 5-star read down. Not only is this a page-burner, but it’s also an incredibly important read. From post-war maternity wards to back-alley procedures and forced births and adoptions, this is a sobering look at the fight for women’s rights. The book will leave you infuriated and impressed by the inherent strength and determination of women.

There we have it – my 2023 favorites! And here comes 2024, which promises to brim with new releases that we won’t be able to resist. Table For Two by Amor Towles, Long Island by Colm Tóibín, The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang, The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson…. I could go on and on. And I will once again set a reasonable reading goal for the year, allowing me to immerse myself in books like The Bee Sting by Paul Murray, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, and perhaps this is the year that I finally tackle Gone with the Wind.   

The books are calling. Farewell 2023, hello 2024, and Happy Reading to All!