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The 23 Best Books of 2023

Each year, one of our favorite booklists is the collection of our favorite books published that year, based on the books we’ve personally read. We originally shared a mid-year version of this list with our favorite titles up to that point. We’ve now updated it to include all of our best books of 2023, as well as the best backlist reads of the year.

Our email subscribers also had an opportunity to fill out a survey sharing their favorite books of 2023. We compiled the results into a list of our Readers’ Choice Best Books of 2023. If you’re not on the email list, join now so you don’t miss future surveys!

In addition to these books being our personal favorite books of 2023, some of the novels have also been included on our reading challenge book lists over the past few months. When that is the case, you’ll also see our average reader rating and the percentage of those readers who would recommend the book to a friend.

The Best New Books We Read in 2023

In this section, we’ve included only books published in 2023 that one or both of us personally read and picked as one of our absolute best reads of the year. If your favorite isn’t on the list, there is a good chance we just haven’t had a chance to enjoy it!

Book Summary

Clover had an unusual childhood, with her Kindergarten teacher passing away during a reading of Peter Rabbit. Then, her parents passed away while traveling, and she started a new life with her grandfather in New York City. She continued to be fascinated by death and was studying different cultural traditions abroad when she received the terrible news that her grandfather had passed away alone in his office.

Clover commits to preventing others from dying alone by becoming a death doula. She only takes one patient at a time, so can be more present for her clients than hospice workers. Whether she’s only holding their hand or hearing their regrets about life, she is present to honor them in their last moments. Her only friend is actually her grandfather’s friend, Leo, who is very concerned that when he is gone, Clover will be alone. Between his friendship-matchmaking and a fiesty new client, can Clover shift her life focus outside of work from the dying to a new life of her own?

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa highly recommends this book for anyone who loves the heart of Fredrik Backman and characters like Eleanor Oliphant or Albert Entwistle, who have been loners for much of their life. While the concept of the book sounds like it’s heavy on death and grief is a big theme, the novel is very much about life. It’s a rare book that Melissa wanted to read again immediately, while also wanting to give it a hug. Some readers have reported not connecting with Clover, but Melissa adored her and was rooting for her on every page.

Book Summary

Ashlyn Greer is a rare book dealer who loves the smell of old paper, ink, and leather. Old volumes appeal to all of her senses, including a sense the rest of us don’t have. She is gifted with the unique ability to feel the echoes of the books’ previous owners.

When Ashlyn discovers a pair of beautifully bound, unpublished volumes with no evidence of how they came to be, she gets wrapped up in a decades-old literary mystery. Each volume bears a curious inscription, as well as the emotional fingerprints of the authors, Hemi and Belle. The books tell conflicting sides of a tragic romance. The more Ashlyn learns about Hemi and Belle, the closer she comes to bringing closure to their love story and to the unfinished chapters of her own life.

The Book Girls Say…

As the title of the book implies, the main character, Ashlyn, possesses the gift of psychometry, which is the ability to sense the emotional echoes of a book’s former owner. Based on this, Angela went into this book expecting that a strong sense of magical realism. However, Ashlyn’s special gift is used merely as a device to explain her desire to uncover the mystery behind the unpublished books. This book is really a historical fiction, with equal parts romance and mystery. It delves into deeper historical issues, including anti-Semitism and the roles of women in society in the 1940s.

Angela highly recommends this novel for book lovers and those who enjoy a story within a story.

Kindle Unlimited as of: 08/09/2023

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Historical Fiction with Elements of Magical Realism

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This historical novel is based on the real-life & historic memoir of a 15th-century female physician in China. Tan Yunxian was raised in the Ming Dynasty era by her grandmother, also a physician, who taught her the art of Chinese medicine. She also learned about female conditions from her best friend, Meiling, who was training to be a midwife. While Yunxian was on the path to be a success in her own right, she was still sent into an arranged marriage.

Her new mother-in-law was a traditionalist who forbade her from seeing Meiling and stopped her from helping the girls and women in their household. Instead, she is supposed to be a “proper wife,” learning poetry, embroidering foot-binding slippers, and staying within the walls of their compound.

How did Yunxian break free and go on to treat women from all classes of society and create remedies that are still used over 500 years later? Lisa See tells her compelling life story in this novel.

The Book Girls Say…

While Melissa loves historical fiction, she prefers anything from the Gilded Age to the present and usually avoids earlier settings. However, she was drawn to Lady Tan’s Circle of Women as her Book of the Month pick in June. While she was compelled by the description, the book was even better than expected and often left her awestruck as she learned about what it was like for women in Ming Dynasty era China.

It was fascinating to see what was “normal” at the time for a wealthy and revered family. Knowing the book is based on a real woman adds to the page-turning nature of the novel!

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Books Set in Asia: Northern Countries

Book Summary

When bombings began in London in 1939, 14-year-old Hazel and her 5-year-old sister, Flora, were evacuated to a rural village in the English countryside. Living with a woman and her teenage son in a charming stone cottage, Hazel comforts Flora by telling her stories of a magical fairy tale land. It provides the sisters with a fictional place where they can escape the fears and hardships of war. One day while playing near the banks of the River Thames, Flora disappears. Hazel blames herself and carries the guilt into adulthood. Twenty years later, Hazel’s life looks ideal from the outside – charming boyfriend, a nice flat in London, and a good job at a rare bookstore. But on the eve of her new career at Sotheby’s, she unwraps a package that changes everything.

It’s an illustrated first-edition book called “Whisperwood and the River of Stars.” It’s the imaginary world that she created for Flora – one that she never wrote down and never told anyone else about. What does it mean? Is Flora still alive? And does this fairy tale hold the truth about her disappearance? Hazel embarks on a feverish quest for answers. Along the way, she’ll reconnect with people from her past and put her future in jeopardy.

The Book Girls Say…

Centered around the fairytale world created by Hazel for her sister, this novel blurs the lines between the real and the magical in the most wonderful way. The book focuses on the relationship between the sisters while also showing the realities of Operation Pied Piper and its long-lasting impacts on the families who were faced with such difficult choices during the war.

It’s hard to say too much without spoilers, but Angela loved the book from the first page to the last. Told in dual timelines, the mystery is unraveled bit by bit through beautiful prose.

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Best Book Club Books for 2023

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

House of Eve alternates perspectives of two women in 1950s Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Ruby’s story is told in first person perspective as she tries to become the first person in her lower-income family to attend higher education. However, her plans are threatened when she begins to fall for a Jewish boy.

Eleanor’s story is told from the third person perspective as she arrives in DC with equal parts ambition and secrets. Like Ruby, Eleanor’s plans are changed when she falls for a man, William, at Howard University. William is from one of DC’s elite, wealthy Black families, and his parents are picky about who is good enough to join them.

While this setup feels like a romance novel, this is a fast-moving historical fiction novel that will take you into a piece of history you may know little about. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end!

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa hadn’t read much more than our description of this book before jumping in, and she enjoyed the twists along the way that came from not knowing more. She recommends that you enjoy this historical novel the same way as you step into the lives of two young black women in the 1950s who are desperately trying to be their best.

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Books Set in the 1950s
Best Book Club Books for 2023

Tom Lake book cover

Book Summary

Set during the summer of 2020, Lara’s three adult daughters have returned home to quarantine at the family’s northern Michigan cherry orchard. As they pick cherries and go about running the family business in isolation, the sisters beg their mother to tell them the story of her long-ago romance with celebrity Peter Duke. When Lara was in her early 20s, she and Peter shared the stage during a Michigan summer stock theater run of the play Our Town.

Lara begins the story with her very first experience on stage in high school and works her way forward through her brief but eventful theater career. As the girls learn more about their mother’s life, they are forced to reconsider everything they thought they knew about her and their father.

The Book Girls Say…

Angela went into this book knowing nothing about the premise and loved being slowly drawn into the story. This character-driven novel captures the ways in which our past shapes who we become, how certain moments and experiences stay with us forever, and how certain relationships – no matter how brief – leave lasting imprints on our souls.

Ann Patchett has had some amazing narrators for her audiobooks over the years (Tom Hanks reading The Dutch House, for example), and this book is no exception. Meryl Streep’s narration is phenomenal and definitely adds to the experience of reading the book.

After reading and enjoying Viola Shipman’s Famous in a Small Town earlier in the year, Angela really loved the connection to northern Michigan’s cherry culture.

House is on Fire Book Cover

Book Summary

In the middle of the 1811 winter social season, Virginia’s planters and their families gathered at the capital for the General Assembly. Just after Christmas, six hundred people packed into the theater for a show.

Newly widowed Sally is in a third-floor box. Cecily is in the colored gallery, happy to briefly escape bad circumstances at home. Stagehand Jack is backstage hoping to earn a permanent job. Blacksmith Gilbert is on the other side of town, trying to make enough money to buy freedom for himself and his wife.

In the middle of the performance, the theater catches fire. The decisions by Sally, Cecily, Jack, and Gilbert will impact their futures as well as the lives of countless others.

Based on the true story of a fire in Richmond, Virginia’s theater in 1811, this compelling novel moves from tragedy to redemption as the lives of four people instantly become forever intertwined.

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa raced to pick up this book after the author had a speaking engagement in Florida canceled because the book addresses slavery.

It is a compelling and heart-wrenching look into not only a real disaster from history, but of what it was like to live in slavery despite being a short train ride away from freedom. Some owners were horrific, while others were kind, but the kindness didn’t take away the pain of not being free. Melissa wishes this book would make its way onto some high school required reading lists.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

97% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Nineteen-year-old Marion’s dreams come true when she’s cast as a member of the Rockettes, Radio City Music Hall’s precision dance troupe. It’s an honor for any dancer to be selected for the role and given the opportunity to perform at the art deco masterpiece of a theater that is Radio City. But Marion soon learns that, behind the scenes, the days are long and the rehearsals grueling.

One night, in 1956, a bomb explodes in the theater. It’s suspected to be the work of the infamous “Big Apple Bomber” who has been planting bombs in crowded places around the city for the past sixteen years. The police still have no leads, leaving citizens living in fear. At Marion’s urging, the police agree to try psychological profiling, a radical new technique at the time.

While the Rockettes are trained to stay in line, Marion realizes that to help catch the bomber, she’ll have to stand out.

The Book Girls Say…

Fiona Davis is one of our favorite authors because she has such a knack for turning historic NYC buildings into living, breathing characters in her novels. Like most of Fiona’s books, this one includes a mystery and a dual timeline, although, in this novel, the later 1990s point of view is limited to several short chapters.

Before reading, Melissa was unaware of the real Manhattan bombings that took place in this time period. Between that history, the inclusion of mental health care at the time, and the dawn of criminal profiling, this book was the perfect mix of entertaining and educational.

Book Summary

Mary Jackson is from a long line of women who have spent their lives running the Very Cherry General Store in Good Heart, Michigan. Like her lakeside hometown, the store is constantly inundated by tourists and facing threats from developers. She’s in her eighties and ready to retire, but when she was young, a mysterious prediction told her to await the arrival of a stranger – a young woman – to take over the store and carry on her legacy.

Newly 40, Becky Thatcher takes a vacation to Good Heart with her best friend in order to forget about her real-life troubles for a while. After meeting Mary at Very Cherry and listening to the octogenarian talk about destiny, Becky begins to reflect on childhood memories and future goals.

The Book Girls Say…

Viola Shipman, the pen name for Wade Rouse, is one of our favorite authors of feel-good books. We were eagerly awaiting this summer release, and it did not disappoint! Wade was raised in Missouri and now calls Michigan home for much of the year. His beautiful descriptions of these two states are so vivid that you’ll feel like you are spending your summer alongside his quirky and lovable characters. And, like us, you may also find yourself dreaming up a future trip to northern Michigan!

This is the first Viola Shipman book we’ve read that has a thread of magical realism, and we loved how seamlessly it was woven throughout the story. We also loved, however, that the magical elements did not overpower the very real-life lessons about family and friendship.

You’ll be craving cherries the entire time you read this book – so plan accordingly! 🍒

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Best Beach Reads – Best 2023 Summer Books

The First Ladies book cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

96% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This historical fiction novel tells the story of the friendship between two powerful and influential women in American history.

Mary McLeod Bethune, the daughter of formerly enslaved parents, was one of the first black female activists. Through her work as both an activist and an educator, she helped lay a foundation for the civil rights movement. Eleanor Roosevelt shared Mary’s passion for education and women’s rights, and was eager to make her acquaintance. The two became fast friends and confidantes.

After Eleanor’s husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was elected president in 1932, the two women began to collaborate even more closely. She became quite a controversial First Lady for pursuing her own agenda, separate from FDR, and particularly for her outspoken stance on civil rights.

When Elanor begins to receive threats as a result of her close relationship with Mary, both women use it as motivation to fight even harder for equality.

The Book Girls Say…

After reading and loving The Personal Librarian, we were so excited to see the writing duo of Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray collaborating again on this novel. And once again, they hit it out of the park! This historical fiction novel paints an intimate portrait of both women, showing both their strengths and their flaws.

Book Summary

Clementine has been protecting her heart ever since the worst day of her life. She wants to find love, but she’s scared to get hurt. But then she meets a man with kind eyes, a Southern drawl, and a taste for lemon pies. He’s precisely the kind of man she’d fall for… if only he didn’t exist seven years in the past.

Her late aunt always told her that her apartment was a pinch in time – a place where moments blend together like watercolors. And it seems she was right. When she finds this man standing in the kitchen and realizes she’s living seven years in his future, she knows she shouldn’t let her heart get involved. But she just might anyway.

The Book Girls Say…

Ashley Poston is also the author of The Dead Romantics, which we both loved so much more than we anticipated. Poston is a master of mixing romance and magical realism elements! Over the past two years, we’ve begun to really appreciate how a touch of magical realism can enhance a fictional novel and make you consider so many what-if scenarios. This is a great introduction to the genre!

If the character slipping into a different point in time appeals to you, be sure to check out our Books Like The Midnight Library list.

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Best Beach Reads – Best 2023 Summer Books

Book Summary

Charlie greets the women in his family, including his wife and four daughters, by saying “Hello, Beautiful” and truly sees something special in each of them. Unfortunately, Charlie is resented by his wife, Rose, because he’s an alcoholic, which also impacts his ability to provide for the family.

Their oldest daughter, Julie, is smart and ambitious. When she meets William, whose family couldn’t be more different than her own, he’s at college on a basketball scholarship. For William, the sport has been his saving grace and a substitute for the love of family. At least until he meets Julie and her family embraces him in their family unit when they become a couple. Once that happens, the family refuses to give up on him.

The book begins in the main character’s childhood, in the 1960s, and spans into their middle age years.

The Book Girls Say…

This slow-paced character-driven family drama from the author of Dead Edward pays homage to Little Women, including references to the classic as the sister in Hello Beautiful shift moods and declare what sister they feel like in certain moments.

While this book is under 400 pages, it’s one that you’ll naturally read a bit slower as you meander through life with the family. Melissa thinks it’s the perfect read for a lazy fall or winter day when you have time to sit down and enjoy it.

Heads Up: Themes in this book include depression and suicide.

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Best Book Club Books for 2023

Book Summary

Sadie is a talented portrait artist, who is finally getting the recognition she deserves as a finalist in the North American Portrait Society competition. Before her death, her mom was a finalist in the same competition, so Sadie is full of emotions about the new painting she must produce as part of the contest.
However, in one moment, everything changes for Sadie. The only constant is her beloved dog, Peanut. With both her work and her family in chaos, how will Sadie overcome the hardest period in her life?

The Book Girls Say…

If you’ve been a Book Girls’ Guide reader for long, you know that we always seem to connect with Katherine Center books, and Hello Stranger was no exception! We kept our summary more vague than the publisher’s so you can be as surprised as the main character by some of her experiences. It’s rare a book provides a real surprise, and this one does it well.

Like Center’s other books, you get a mix of a main character with internal struggles, family drama, and some romance. However, these common pieces do not make her books predictable. They each have their own unique characters and setting. Hello, Stranger is no exception!

Don’t miss the author’s notes at the end for her thoughts on romance novels and the reasons they are so delightful!

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

98% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This dual-timeline novel opens in 2019 at the funeral for BettyKay in a small town in Iowa. BettyKay’s daughters are shocked when Hollywood movie star Kitty Devereaux walks in and places something into their mother’s casket. Over the course of the weekend, BettyKay’s daughters discover a whole other side to their mother as Kitty shares stories of their lifelong friendship, which all began in 1967 at a St. Luke’s Nursing School in the fictional town of Greensboro, Iowa.

BettyKay grew up on a farm in the Midwest and risked everything to attend nursing school against her parent’s wishes. Her assigned roommate, Kitty came to Iowa to escape her past in Atlanta, but already had her sights set on Hollywood. The two, having little in common, became unlikely friends. Another new student, Jenny, completed their trio. Jenny had aspirations of becoming a doctor, but she knew that the combination of being a woman and being Black meant that the odds were stacked against her in the late 60s.

The bond these three women formed at their Iowa nursing school would carry them through the years as their lives led them in different directions – from the jungles of Vietnam to the movie sets of Hollywood.

The Book Girls Say…

We both loved the strong female leads in this historical fiction novel. Each of the women had different backgrounds and goals for life, but a shared experience at nursing school brought them together in a deep way. It’s a great story of lasting friendship, but also of what it was like to be a woman in the late 60s with big dreams.

NOTE: Technically, this book was released at the end of 2022, but it was after our cutoff for the Best Books of 2022 list so we considered it with our 2023 titles.

The Last Love Note book cover

Book Summary

Kate hasn’t recovered from losing her husband, Cameron, two years ago. She’s back to work, but not at peak performance. Her best friend is trying to get her back on the dating scene, but she’s already overwhelmed trying to care for herself and her young son.

When Kate and her boss, Hugh, are on a flight to a quick business meeting, they have to land in Byron Bay due to a massive storm. The time away may be exactly what she needs to move into the next stage of healing.

While the title of this novel, and even the first couple of chapters, read like a rom-com, don’t go in expecting that vibe throughout. It gets quite deep and covers some very serious, hard, heart-wrenching topics. While it’s not exactly a dual-time, some chapters take you back to Kate’s life with her husband. You’ll tear up as many times as you laugh out loud. There are romantic elements, but it’s also squarely a story about grief and loss.

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa read this one in a day because it had the perfect mix of entertainment and seriousness to keep the pages turning. She chuckled out loud and teared up within a few chapters. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end of the book, where she shares her personal connection to the story.

WARNING: This is one of those books that contains topics that may be upsetting to readers who have personal experience with them. However, they are spoilers, and we recommend reading this book without reading any more than our description for the best experience if you can. If you find any topics distressing, we recommend reviewing GoodReads reviews for trigger warnings before picking this one up.

Lonely Hearts Book Club Book Cover

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

92% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Sloane is a small-town librarian in Idaho who enjoys her daily visits from the town curmudgeon, Arthur. She loves verbal sparing with him so much that she instantly notices when he doesn’t show up one morning. When another day passes without a visit, her worry intensifies.

When Sloane tracks Arthur down at home and finds him almost bedridden, she needs a way to cheer him up. An impromptu book club with other lonely library patrons soon begins and unlikely friendships form through their shared love of books.

The Book Girls Say…

Both Book Girls really enjoyed this book, with Angela rating it five stars and Melissa giving it four. This novel combines two of the themes we love – books about the power of books and intergenerational friendships. In a world that seems increasingly divided, this story is a heartwarming reminder about the power of connection!

Book Summary

This novel centers around Hollis, a popular food blogger who loses her husband to a car accident. The fight she had with him right before he drove away drives an even deeper wedge between her and her teenage daughter, Caroline.

After learning about a trend called a “Five-Star Weekend,” where one woman organizes a trip for her best friends from each phase of life, Hollis decides to host her own. But gathering her best friend from each decade from childhood through midlife doesn’t turn out to be the joyful Hallmark movie she’d envisioned. But it will definitely be a weekend she’ll never forget.

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa loved this summer novel and agrees that it lives up to its 5-star namesake. While Elin delivers a page-turning beach read, she also provides plenty to think about in your own life. It’s the perfect mix of light reading with some deeper themes of friendship and relationships included to stop it from being too fluffy.

Book Summary

In this intimate memoir, Prince Harry tells his story, beginning when he learned of his mother’s tragic death at the tender age of 12.

We all remember the image of two young boys – two princes -walking behind their mother’s coffin as the world watched in sorrow and horror. As Princess Diana was laid to rest, billions wondered what Prince William and Prince Harry must be thinking and feeling—and how their lives would play out from that point on.

For Harry, this is his side of the story finally made public. After his mother’s death, he struggled at school while dealing with anger and loneliness. Because he blamed the press for his mother’s death, he also struggled to accept his prescribed life in the spotlight.

After his teen years, he found purpose and structure during his two combat tours with the British Army. But after the military, he felt more lost than ever. He suffered from post-traumatic stress and became prone to crippling panic attacks.

Above all, Harry dreamed of finding true love and some sense of normalcy. He hoped to start a family of his own and to somehow protect them from the media scrutiny that ended his mother’s story so tragically.

The Book Girls Say…

We expected to enjoy this memoir, but what made it a 5-star read for us was the fact that Prince Harry didn’t skip the hard stuff and didn’t shy away from the stories that show he is not perfect. Listening to the audiobook, we could feel how relieved he was to be able to share his side of things without a filter.

While many question the accuracy of Harry’s stories, we found it very informative to read the memoir for ourselves and then compare it to the often twisted and inaccurate headlines about its contents. This alone lends veracity to his allegations that the press has unfairly demonized him over the years and painted pictures of him to suit their own needs.

We highly recommend this book in audio format, read by Prince Harry himself.

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Must-Listen Memoirs

Book Summary

Picture-perfect couple Harriet and Wyn met in college and have been an inspirational duo ever since. But, as their annual week-long Maine vacation with their best friends approaches, they have a big decision to make. Do they finally confess that they broke up six months ago and still haven’t managed to tell their best friends?

The cottage they visit each year is being sold, and it’s the last time they’ll all be together in their sacred spot. It feels wrong to ruin the whole mood with their bad news. So Harriet and Wyn decide they can surely fake being in love for one week. After all, they’ve had years of practice.

This book alternates between chapters titled “Happy Place,” through which you see Harriet and Wyn’s relationship from and grow through the years, and chapters titled “Real Life” where you see them in the current broken-up status.

The Book Girls Say…

We can always count on Emily Henry for a perfect new summer title, and this year is no exception. In Happy Place, she tackles one of our favorite tropes – fake dating. We absolutely loved the vivid descriptions of Maine that captured not only the sights but also the tastes and smells!

Angela and her husband listened together on a road trip, and both gave Happy Place 5 stars. Melissa rated this book 4.5 stars. While Book Lovers and Beach Read still remain Melissa’s favorite Emily Henry titles, she still enjoyed every minute of Happy Place.

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Best Beach Reads – Best 2023 Summer Books

Shark Heart book cover

Book Summary

Thirty-five-year-olds Lewis and Wren are newlyweds with their whole lives ahead of them. But just weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He is slowly turning into a great white shark, but he will continue to retain the qualities that make him most human – his consciousness, memories, and intellect.

This fate, of course, complicates his relationships. His wife struggles with how they can continue to be together, and she begins to recall long-repressed memories from her younger years. The story of Wren’s mother, Angela, is also woven through this story.

The Book Girls Say…

When it was released in August, Angela’s first reaction to this book was, “Not for me!” But after seeing so many outstanding reviews, her interest was piqued enough to pick it up reluctantly. It’s every bit as odd as the synopsis suggests, and yet it’s also captivating, emotional, and profound. When it came time to rate the book, Angela waivered between 5 stars and 3 stars because it’s a story that will stick with her for a long time, but also not one that she could recommend to everyone without hesitation. However, in the end, it made her list of best books of the year because it’s so unique and so deeply thought-provoking.

If you choose to pick it up, do so with an open mind. Push past the initial reaction that the story is simply absurd, and you might just be surprised. And if, in the end, it’s still not for you, it will make for an interesting conversation nonetheless.

Book Summary

Sally is a late 30-something sketch writer for a late-night live comedy show called “The Night Owls.” Time after time, she’s seen talented but dorky men from the writer’s room end up dating glamorous celebrities that they met via the show. She documents the phenomenon in a recurring sketch called “The Danny Horst Rule,” which pokes fun at how unlikely it is that the reverse would ever happen for a smart but average-looking woman.

When rock star Noah Brewster is tapped to serve as both the host and musical guest for an episode of Night Owls, Sally pitches a Danny Horst sketch for him to star in. But Noah has sketch ideas of his own, and Sally takes on the role of mentor for the week. Are there sparks between them, or is it just the same charm Noah uses on everyone he meets?

Sally hides behind a shield of sharp humor and sarcasm, while Noah is fighting against the two-dimensional caricature portrayed in the tabloids.

The Book Girls Say…

This book has received mixed ratings, and we think that’s due in part to the fact that the title might make you expect a typical rom-com. And while this book is comedic with just enough romance, it doesn’t fit neatly into the standard rom-com box. Author Curtis Sittenfeld typically writes literary fiction (a genre defined by the character-driven, introspective tone). This book is a smartly written mash-up of these two genres. And, in our opinion, that’s exactly what makes it so wonderful!

Fans of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock will love the late-night sketch comedy show setting of the first part of the novel, but you definitely don’t have to be an avid SNL watcher to enjoy this storyline.

A few other things you should know before deciding if this book is a good fit for you: (1) this book is told in three long parts, rather than shorter chapters; (2) Sally is endearing, but she also has her faults, which may frustrate some readers; and (3) the middle section of the book is epistolary in format that takes place during the 2020 Covid lockdown.

Angela felt that the audiobook narration was particularly well done and hit all the right notes with the humor and the pacing of the banter.

Book Summary

Kerry’s family owns a Christmas tree farm in North Carolina. Each year, her brother and father drive up to NYC to sell their trees at a street corner stand in Greenwich Village. But this year, her father isn’t up for the trip, so Kerry – who is newly unemployed and romantically unattached – reluctantly agrees to take his place. But doing so means she has to live in a tiny camper with her gruff older brother, Murphy, and his dog, Queenie.

Many in the neighborhood know Murphy from his past Decembers at the tree lot, and they are quick to welcome Kerry to their quirky corner of the city. This includes Patrick, a single dad, and his adorable son Austin. Her new friends are starting to feel like family as Kerry gets into the holiday spirit. But with Christmas fast approaching, a secretive elderly neighbor goes missing.

The Book Girls Say…

We love a story set in NYC, and nothing beats the bustle and cheer of the city at Christmas! This novel is quintessential Mary Kay Andrews, seamlessly blending of romance and mystery! It’s everything we look for in a holiday read – heartwarming and uplifting with a message of kindness.

The Book Club Hotel book cover

Book Summary

Erica, Claudia, and Anna are lifelong friends and headed to the Maple Sugar Inn in picturesque Vermont for their book club holiday. Each woman is around 40 years old, and the milestone birthday has affected them differently. Over the years, their shared love of books has carried them through life’s ups and downs.

Hattie is a 28-year-old widow who manages the Inn. Between work and her 5-year-old daughter, she has her hands full as the holidays approach. Even with distractions all around, she can see that each woman in the visiting book club trio is packing some major emotional baggage. Can these four women unite to improve each other’s lives and make this the start of a new chapter?

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa loves a good female friendship story and this book delivers! She also appreciated that the three 40-year-old book club friends had made different life choices over the years, but they were able to remain friends. Each woman featured in the novel will quickly pull you in and make you want to learn more. You’ll also find yourself dreaming of a Christmas trip of your own to an idyllic and cozy inn.

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Book Club Books for Christmas

Honorable Mentions for 2023

These 2023 new release books didn’t quite get our full five stars, but we still highly recommend them!

Book Summary

The Celebrants focuses on a group of five college friends who are now approaching their 50s. Right before graduation, they lost the 6th member of their friend group, and the tragedy has had a lasting impact on each of them. During the memorial, the group made a pact that each person could summon the group together once with no prior planning. As part of the gathering, whoever has gathered the group gets a living “funeral” to remind them that life is worth living.

Twenty-eight years later, Jordan has a big secret that may destroy their nearly three-decade-old pact.

The Book Girls Say…

While this book has some hard themes and deals with grief, the character-driven story is wrapped in Steven Rowley’s signature wit and heart. However, If you’re looking for a book that makes you smile as often as The Guncle, you’ll want to reset expectations before picking up The Celebrants. It leans further into grief and harder moments of life. There are still humorous parts and great 90s pop culture references, though, like our favorite – the Courtney Scale. The characters use the scale to describe events in their lives as too Courtney Cox, too Courtney Love, or too Courtney Thorne-Smith.

The friendships aren’t perfect, and neither are the individual characters. And because the timeline is non-linear, it may take a bit longer to connect with them. However, if you know anyone who lost a friend during the pivotal period of life around high school and college, Melissa found the ongoing impact represented in this book to be very accurate.

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Best Beach Reads – Best 2023 Summer Books

Someone Else's Shoes book cover

Book Summary

They say you learn a lot about a person when you walk in their shoes… but can you also swap fates with them?

Nisha leads a charmed and glamorous globetrotting life. But suddenly, things aren’t going her way. First, someone accidentally walks off with her gym bag (custom-made, red crocodile Christian Louboutin’s and all), and then she returns to her London hotel room to discover that her husband has locked her out of their penthouse and cut her off.

Sam Kemp is struggling to keep her family afloat, and while she didn’t mean to swap bags with Nisha, she also doesn’t have time to worry about returning it. By the time she realizes the mistake, she’s already late for a meeting, so she puts on Nisha’s red heels rather than the old black pumps she left in her own bag. She’s shocked at how much more confident and empowered she feels.

From this start follows a story of mix-ups, mess-ups, second chances, and intertwined fates that Good Housekeeping calls, “Freaky Friday all grown up.”

The Book Girls Say…

Angela went into this book knowing it was a departure from the style of many of Jojo Moyes’ other novels, but still not knowing quite what to expect. While some call it chick-lit (a term we are not a fan of), it actually reminds us more of a cozy mystery with a thin thread of romance.

Angela really enjoyed this book, and although it didn’t quite rise to the level of a five-star read for her, she still recommends it, especially for fans of Finlay Donovan. Do keep in mind, however, that it also deals with some more complex issues, including depression and suicide.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Best Book Club Books for 2023

Five-Star Backlist Books

In addition to new releases, we always enjoy reading backlist books. There are so many older gems that are now easier to get from the library, and these received our 5-star ratings. If you also love backlist books, be sure to sign up for our In Case You Missing It (ICYMI) Reading Challenge!

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Through the true story of a racehorse named Lexington, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks manages to weave a tale of spirit and injustice over 150 years of American history.

The book has three timelines. In 1850, you’ll meet an enslaved horse groomer, Jarrett, in Kentucky, who has a special bond with Lexington. There is also a young artist who paints images of the horse. When the Civil War erupts, the artist fights for the union and runs into the young groom and stallion again far from the racetrack.

In 1954, an art gallery owner takes a special interest in a 19th-century equestrian old painting, even though the artist and provenance are unknown.

In 2019, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia and a Nigerian-American art historian unexpectedly connect through a common interest in the painting as they look for clues to the origin.

The Book Girls Say…

This story goes well beyond horse racing and art! Angela was hooked from the very first chapter. She found herself drawn in so deeply that she just kept turning pages with no regard for what time it was or what other tasks were on her to-do list.

The narrative jumps back and forth between the three timelines, and there are lots of characters to keep track of. However, the story is revealed, bit by bit, in such a brilliant way that it feels effortless. This incredibly well-researched historical fiction novel will stick with you long after you reach the final page.

Demon Copperhead Book Cover

Book Summary

This is a modern retelling of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield. Like Copperfield, Copperhead examines institutional poverty, but in contemporary Appalachia.

Born to a teenage single mother, Damon (soon to be known as Demon) braves the modern perils of foster care, child labor, derelict schools, athletic success, opioid addiction, disastrous loves, and crushing losses.

The Book Girls Say…

Angela was hesitant to read this 500-page book because it sounded quite depressing, but once she picked it up, she was immediately hooked. While it is heartbreaking throughout, it’s also an incredibly touching story that somehow feels both meandering and fast-paced at the same time, thanks to Kingsolver’s gorgeous writing.

Book Summary

Forty-four-year-old Alice is in the midst of deep grief. She’s unexpectedly lost her husband, her job is a dead-end, and even her beloved beekeeping hobby isn’t bringing her the usual joy. She has even begun to have anxiety attacks thinking about how far her life has strayed from her dreams.

As she’s transporting 120,000 bees in her truck, she nearly collides with Jake. He’s a troubled, paraplegic teenager with the tallest mohawk in Hood River County. When Alice sees Jake’s genuine interest in the bees and learns about his own difficulties at home, she impulsively invites him to see the farm.

The third member of the unlikely trio that makes up this novel is Harry. He’s twenty-four, and his social anxiety has prevented him from getting a traditional job. He answers Alice’s ad for part-time farm help and is shocked to be hired. Alice, Jake, and Harry become fast friends when they have to work together to stop a pesticide company that is threatening the bees. Through their new friendship, they each begin to heal.

The Book Girls Say…

While this book deals with grief and other tough topics, the overall book is uplifting and heartwarming. Melissa read it as part of the Read Around the USA Challenge and expected to like it, but she was surprised that it was near the top of her list of favorite books of the year.

If you love stories of found family and people overcoming challenges, we think this will be a hit for you as well. It is surprising that it wasn’t a bigger hit when it was released in 2021 because it would have excelled as a Read with Jenna or other celeb book club pick. We hope that we can bring it the attention it deserves!

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

99% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Inspired by the true events of Operation Paperclip, this historical fiction novel tells the story of the US intelligence program that employed former Nazis in Huntsville, Alabama after WWII.

The story begins in Berlin in 1930. Changing political powers are sweeping through Germany. Sofie von Meyer Rhodes and her husband, Jürgen, are concerned with the social views taking hold in their country. But her academic husband’s work benefits from the ambitions of the newly elected chancellor. Soon, however, their morality is challenged and they realize that neutrality has a price.

At the same time, Lizzie Miller is living in the Texas panhandle during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The future looks bleak as their farm dries up. And that’s all before her brother, Henry, is called to Germany to fight in WWII.

Twenty years later in the 1950s, Jürgen is one of the many German scientists who is offered a pardon for their part in WWII in exchange for working on the fledgling space program in the US. Sofie welcomes the chance for a fresh start in a new country, but she soon finds that her Huntsville neighbors aren’t as welcoming or forgiving of her family’s past as she’d hoped.

Jürgen’s boss at the US space program is Calvin Miller, Lizzie’s husband. This is where the two women’s stories collide.

The Book Girls Say…

Kelly Rimmer is the author of one of our very favorite WWII historical fiction reads, The Things We Cannot Say, so we had high expectations for this book. Those expectations were far exceeded!

Even if you read a lot of WWII novels, we’re certain this novel will offer you a new perspective. It draws unexpected parallels across the decades, and it will leave you contemplating how history will reflect on the events of our lifetime.

Book Summary

Beginning in the 1980s and spanning 30 years, this story follows the lives of Sam and Sadie as they continue to reconnect at various points in their lives. Their first meet as children in the hospital – Sadie is visiting her sister, and Sam is recovering from a terrible car accident. They bond over their love of video games, and their instant friendship helps pull Sam out of his depression. But eventually, they have a falling out, and they don’t meet again until Sam’s junior year of college at Harvard (she is a student at MIT). He’s exiting a subway car when he sees Sadie across the platform.

This unexpected reunion soon begets an incredible collaboration as Sam and Sadie create a legendary video game before they’ve even graduated from college. They are young, brilliant, rich, and successful, but none of these characteristics can protect them from their creative ambitions, future betrayals, and inevitable failures.

The Book Girls Say…

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow is from the author of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but besides being well-written narratives, the two books have almost nothing else in common.

Don’t not to let the topic of gaming push you away from this book. Angela has zero knowledge about gaming (and even less interest), but she quickly realized that this story is so much more than that! While it does provides interesting insights into the gaming industry’s history and business (without requiring any prior knowledge of the topic), this is really a character-driven story about the human experience. This unique novel also touches on many different themes – including race, identity, technology, disability, and much more!

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

98% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Fourteen-year-old June had a very close relationship with her uncle Finn and was devastated when he died in 1987 from AIDS, which was then still a mysterious and seldom talked about illness.

June meets a stranger at Finn’s funeral – someone who is also struggling with the loss – and as the two get to know each other, their unexpected friendship may be what they each need to heal.

The Book Girls Say…

As children of the 1980s, we always enjoy reading books that provide us deeper insights into that decade than the memories that we have through very young eyes. Angela chose this backlist title for the Decades Challenge this year and couldn’t put it down.

This novel focuses more on complex family relationships than the AIDS crisis, exploring the ripple effects of decisions made from a place of fear and discomfort rather than love and support. So much of this resonates today, forty years later, and it’s a book we hope more people read with an open mind and an open heart.

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Books Set in the 1980s
Best Books From 2012

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

100% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

Fifty-something Imogen Fortier is a magazine columnist living on Camano Island outside of Seattle. When she receives a fan letter, containing a gift of saffron, from 27-year-old Joan Bergstrom in LA, she writes back. Thus begins an unlikely friendship between these two women.

As the years pass, their letters to one another help them through the ups and downs of the world – the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy – as well as the unexpected twists and turns in their own lives. From world events to romantic relationships, through their letters they discover that food and a good life can’t be separated. Can anything shake the trust they’ve built over their years of correspondence?

This book is fully written in epistolary style, so you’ll be reading the letters back and forth between the women. The author kept the book on the shorter side, hoping it could be enjoyed in one sitting.

The Book Girls Say…

Melissa read this book at the end of July as a Decades Challenge pick. She was on a family vacation and knew time would be limited, so she looked for something short and light. Love & Saffron exceeded her expectations! It was such a lovely story of friendship and the power of making a friend through writing first before ever meeting. As Melissa & Angela (the Book Girls) met through online communication, it was fun to be reminded that before computers, pen pals could become your dearest friends.

Don’t miss the author’s note at the end of the book, which shares details about the real-life women who inspired the story.

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Books Set in the 1960s

Book Summary

Alexis is a thirty-seven-year-old sophisticated city girl. Daniel is the twenty-eight-year-old small-town mayor who saves her when her car gets stuck in a ditch. They have almost nothing in common other than a strong sense of commitment to their respective communities, Nonetheless, their chemistry is undeniable!

She comes from an ultra-wealthy family who looks down on her for being a mere ER doctor (rather than carrying on the family legacy as a world-renowned surgeon). She’s also recovering from a toxic relationship.

As she spends time in Daniel’s tight-knit small town, she begins to discover what’s really important to her. But it seems impossible to reconcile these revelations with her obligations. Is there any chance that their fling could be anything more than that? How can she choose between her world and his?

The Book Girls Say…

We love a good rom-com, but many fall more into the four-star range. Those that rise to the five-star level for us mix humor and romance with deeper topics, and Part of Your World does that so well! It will make you laugh and cry (sometimes even at the same time). It’s a book that you’ll want to hug.

Let’s start with the laughs… this book includes one of the absolute funniest scenes we can remember (the tutorial – IYKYK)! Angela was laughing out loud while listening to the audiobook and had to rewind and listen again to catch every hilarious detail! Then she played the scene over for her husband, who was literally in tears from laughing so hard.

On the flip side, there are heavier issues, including both emotional and physical abuse. Neither is graphically portrayed on the page, but the impacts on the survivors are felt throughout the book.

We could go on and on, but we don’t want to spoil anything for you. We’ll just leave you with this, in case you’re not already convinced to pick up this book… the lovable characters include a baby goat in pajamas and a pig named Kevin Bacon.

Book Girls’ Readers Rate This Book

97% Would Recommend to a Friend

Book Summary

This historical fiction novel is based on the remarkable true story of J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian, a Black woman who became one of the most powerful women in NYC at the turn of the century by passing as white.

Belle da Costa Greene was working at Princeton University Library when J.P. Morgan’s nephew recommended her for a position curating a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artbooks for his uncle’s newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. This position of prominence made her one of the most influential people in the art and book world. She became a fixture on the New York social scene.

But Belle had a secret that could change everything. She led people to believe that her dark complexion was the result of her alleged Portuguese heritage. In truth, however, she was born Bella Marion Greener – the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard University.

The Book Girls Say…

We both rated The Personal Librarian five stars! The writing duo of Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray put together a seamless story that educates and entertains. From learning about the progress and recession of the civil rights movement in the decades surrounding the turn of the century to literary and art history, the book introduces several aspects that left us eager to do more research. However, that education was wrapped in a page-turning story full of romance and intrigue.

The book manages to move gracefully between lighter and heavier storylines. We were always on the edge of our seats, wondering if Belle’s secret would be revealed.

If you ever find yourself in NYC, be sure to plan time for The Morgan Library! Angela had a chance to visit back in March, and she was awed by the architecture and grandeur of each and every room, including Belle’s private office.

Also Featured on These Book Lists:

Books Set in the 1900s-1910s: The Turn of the Century
The Personal Librarian Book Club Guide with Discussion Questions

PS: We also have a printable Personal Librarian book club guide available on Etsy, including discussion questions, 7 pages of bonus contextual information and photos, a printable bookmark, and more!

Book Summary

Four million people inhabit the US island territories spread from the Caribbean to the Pacific. While these lands don’t have the benefits of statehood, like representation in the US Senate, they do have everything from US Post Offices to Little League teams.

When the author of this book realized that he (and most other Americans) knew very little about these territories, he decided to visit each one. After covering 30,000 miles and spending time with locals on each island, he was uniquely equipped to write a book about how the territories are an interesting and important part of America’s story.

The Book Girls Say…

When we decided to dedicate a month of the Read Around the USA Challenge to the five inhabited US Territories, we weren’t sure how difficult it would be to find engaging, highly-rated books. For many of the territories, it was a challenge, but then we stumbled upon this gem.

Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands each have a distinct culture and history, and they each have a different relationship with the United States. Through Doug Mack’s travels to each island, we learned more than we expected and often wished we were alongside him.

While it’s a non-fiction title and Mack digs into the details of the different government structures and unique challenges of being a territory, neither of us found the content to be dry. He infused enough personality into the book to keep us coming back for more! We think anyone interested in how and why the US has territories separate from the states should add this to their TBR list.

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Books Set in the U.S. Territories

Printable Version of Our Favorite Books of 2023

Our Buy Me a Coffee BFF members can access a printable version of this book list, with space to color in the spines and/or add your own ratings to each title. This year’s printable is two pages, the first featuring 2023 releases and the second showing our favorite backlist reads and honorable mentions.

clipboard with graphic of 23 book covers

More 5-Star Book Recommendations

If you’re looking for more five-star book recommendations, be sure to check out both our favorites and our readers’ favorites from prior years using the links below.

Top 22 Books of 2022
Best Books of 2021
Readers’ Favorite Books of 2023
Readers’ Favorite Books of 2022
Readers’ Favorite Books of 2021

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Angela & Melissa

The Book Girls are best friends who jointly read over 200 books per year. We started Book Girls' Guide in 2019 to help others de-stress and find joy through the power of a great book. We do in-depth research on thousands of novels and non-fiction titles each year to provide curated book lists covering a variety of genres.

Anam Cara

Sunday 31st of December 2023

I don’t understand how The Wager could have been left off this list. Everyone I know who has read this has raved about it..

Melissa George

Sunday 31st of December 2023

As we noted at the beginning of the post, these are the best books we personally read this year. Because The Wager is still on our TBR, it couldn't make the list. We've heard great things about it too, but unfortunately don't have time to read every book, every year.

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Looking for your next great read? Try one of the highly-rated titles from our curated book lists.