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42 standout books from 2023, from romances to wrenching historical novels

These are the books we'll remember next year.

2023 came and went, and we read all year long. We’re looking back on a few of our favorite books from this year.

The year kicked off with Prince Harry’s anticipated memoir “Spare,” the first of many headline-making memoirs. From there came romances by the likes of Emily Henry and Carley Fortune; memoirs from memoirs from Latinx authors; uplifting literary novels and ones that were unforgettably daring. Plus, there were all of those Read With Jenna picks. 

Here are a few of the standout books from 2023.

'We Must Not Think of Ourselves' by Lauren Grodstein

The wrenching final Read With Jenna pick of the year is set in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, and follows the real-life efforts of residents to archive their lives there.

— E.N.

'The Sun Sets in Singapore' by Kehinde Fadipe

Think of it as “Sex and the City” but in Singapore. Actor and novelist Kehinde Fadipe’s debut centers on three Nigerian expats who help each other through career crossroads and dating challenges, all in a different country.

— E.N.

'How to Say Babylon' by Safiya Sinclair

Raised by an authoritarian Rastafari father, Safiya Sinclair details her unique coming-of-age story, and how she learned to find her own voice.

— E.N.

'The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store' by James McBride

— E.N.

'Amazing Grace Adams' by Fran Littlewood

Grace Adams doesn’t feel all that amazing. Her daughter won’t speak to her and her marriage has fallen apart. This voicey, hilarious book is her attempt at a redemption. She looks back at her past and tries to find the key to fixing the future.

— E.N.

'Banyan Moon' by Thao Thai

A mom. A daughter. A ghost grandmother, watching them both. “Banyan Moon” isn’t a ghost story so much as it is a story about how decisions ripple through generations, as does trauma — in this case, the trauma of the Vietnam War.

— E.N.

'Tom Lake' by Ann Patchett

Ann Patchett’s latest is a love song to mothers and daughters; to the way the past can remain present; and to summers by a lake (or a cherry orchard). In it, a mother tells the defining story of her youth to her daughters: Her love story with a man who would go on to become very, very famous.

— E.N.

'Absolution' by Alice McDermott

Alice McDermott’s new book focuses on a part of history not often covered: The women of the Vietnam War. Absolution is about four wives who were in Saigon in the ‘70s.

— E.N.

'Sam' by Allegra Goodman

The first Read With Jenna pick of the year, "Sam" is a coming-of-age story with language that reflects its protagonist's growing up, evolving as Sam does. Describing the book to, Jenna Bush Hager says, "It explores what happens when one girl loses the wonder of childhood — the innocence of her early years only to reclaim her power and hope."

— E.N.

'Age of Vice' by Deepti Kapoor

An epic in every sense of the world, "Age of Vice" will take you on a years-long whirlwind in a character's life ... and then back again, to show the same events from a different character's perspective. As the picture comes into focus, and all the elements of greed, loss, pleasure and love fueling the New Delhi-set story, you'll feel heartbreak for the characters and thrill at the capacity of Kapoor's mind.

— E.N.

'The Survivalists' by Kashana Cauley

Aretha knows she can't prepare for every tragedy, especially in the wake of her mother's death. But there are some she can plan for "The Survivalists" follows one lawyer's detour into an underground world of people who believe the apocalypse is coming and are trying to get ahead of it.

— E.N.

'Spare' by Prince Harry

Prince Harry's anticipated memoir is billed as being an "honest and captivated personal portrait" of a person the public has seen grown up, but is only recently getting to know on an intimate level. Poised to tell his story "at last," the memoir is expected to cover the death of his mother, Diana, and why he left royal life behind with his wife Meghan Markle.

— E.N.

'Hell Bent' by Leigh Bardugo

The second installment in her Alex Stern series, "Hell Bent" returns to a magic-infused Yale University campus, where secret societies cast magic and unleash monsters. Alex Stern was brought from California to the cloistered Ivy League school to keep a watchful eye on them. And in book two, she has to venture to hell to rescue her partner. Read a preview here.

— E.N.

The Faraway World' by Patricia Engel

In 2021, "Infinite Country," Engel’s latest novel, hit the New York Times bestseller list and took a strong hold over book clubs everywhere. Any fan of Engel’s work will tell you to prepare yourself for unique and intimate layered storytelling. You'll find that and so much more in this new short story collection exploring themes of community, regret and migration.

— Lupita Aquino

'Central Places' by Delia Cai

It's "Meet the Parents" for a new generation. Since moving away from the central Illinois town she grew up in, Audrey Zhou has gotten a high-powered job and found the perfect man. Now, she's bringing her fiancé back to meet her Chinese immigrant parents. There, her past and present collide, as do her parents' expectations for her and her hopes for herself.

— E.N.

'Love, Pamela' by Pamela Anderson

After a life in the headlines, you might think you know Pamela Anderson. In this revealing memoir, Anderson describes what it was like to be in her shoes during her ascent to fame and scrutiny, and how she found herself.

— E.N.

'Maame' by Jessica George

"Maame" is a coming-of-adulthood with an unforgettable narrative voice. By page one, you'll be invested in Maame's journey as she navigates caring for her ailing father and living at home in her mid 20s; her mother's nosy phone calls from Ghana that can't make up for her absence; her friendships; disappointing work interactions; and more.

— E.N.

'The People Who Report More Stress' by Alejandro Valero

Valero's debut novel "The Town of Babylon" came out in 2022, and this forthcoming short story collection, full of memorable personalities, explores similar themes: community, relationships, modern queer life, racism and parenthood.

— L.A.

'I Have Some Questions for You' by Rebecca Makkai

Imagine if your life was the stuff of a true crime documentary. Bodie Kane has tried to move on past the 1995 murder of her boarding school roommate. When she returns to the boarding school as an adult, Bodie realizes there are still lingering mysteries about how the case was wrapped up and justice was served.

— E.N.

'Black Candle Women' by Diana Marie Brown

If you watched "True Blood" or "Practical Magic," you're sure to enjoy this family saga about a group of women with magic in their blood and secrets in their past. Augusta, the family matriarch, can't speak due to aphasia, but her daughter, grand-daughters and great-granddaughter are living with the ramifications of a decision she made and the powers she passed onto them.

— E. N.

'What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez' by Claire Jimenez

The Ramirez sisters were a tight-knit trio until the sudden disappearance of Ruthy, the middle child, shattered the family. Years after her disappearance, Ruthy seems to reappear in a reality TV show using the name Ruby. This debut novel is a funny and heartbreaking examination of sisterhood, generational trauma and the bonds that hold families together.

— L.A.

'The Mimicking of Known Successes' by Malka Older

Exploring communities in conflict and the loss of ecosystems, this science fiction novella — part sapphic romance, part murder mystery — imagines what life would be like in a human colony on Jupiter.

— L.A.

'Hello Beautiful' by Ann Napolitano

Read With Jenna author Ann Napolitano's follow-up to "Dear Edward" is centered on a lonely basketball player and the warm family of four sisters (think "Little Women") that he marries into. Read a preview of the redemptive novel here.

– E.N.

'Take What You Need' by Idra Novey

Leah returns to her home in the Allegheny Mountains to clean house after her estranged stepmother's death. Upon arriving, Leah learns that her stepmother had a secret: an inner artist who left behind large, mysterious sculptures out of scrap material. Idra Novey created the portrait of an artist, seen through the eyes of someone who only knew her as a flawed stepmother.

— E.N.

'The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter and Other Essential Ghosts' by Soraya Palmer

This debut coming-of-age story weaves in folktales and spirits through the lens of two Jamaican-Trinidad sisters who struggle to understand each other, exploring the power of storytelling and complexities of sisterhood.

— L.A.

'White Cat, Black Dog' by Kelly Link

Kelly Link is the master of the modern fairy tale. This collection of short stories is deceptively easy to read – you'll be turning the pages of strange events quickly, but the stories and their strange events are liable to linger in your mind.

– E. N.

'Above Ground: Poems' by Clint Smith

In this new collection of poems, Smith examines the ways in which parenthood has altered his view on life. He now tries to see the world through his children's eyes. Expressive and intimate, this collection flawlessly captures the vulnerability of the human experience on the page.

— L.A.

'Camp Zero' by Michelle Min Sterling

The climate apocalypse happens — and people keep going. This inventive novel follows the people after the world as we know it has been changed irrevocably, living in the far north.

— E.N.

'Carmen and Grace' by Melissa Coss Aquino

Cousins Carmen and Grace share a traumatic childhood that has bonded them together tightly. That is, until they meet a sisterhood of women known as the D.O.D, who are guided by a leader of an underground drug empire, Doña Durka. This plot-driven novel explores the bonds of found family and the ways into which power and ambition can sever relationships.

— L.A.

'Homecoming' by Kate Morton

The author of "The Clockmaker's Daughter" returns with her first book in four years. Another epic, "Homecoming" follows the decades-long reverberations of a crime in South Australia for one family.

— E.N.

'Chain Gang All Stars' by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Two women prisoners become gladiators, battling each other for their lives and their freedom, in this dystopian novel.

— E.N.

'A Living Remedy' by Nicole Chung

This riveting and tender memoir is a stunning meditation on grief and guilt, driven by the ways in which the U.S. healthcare system, one of the highest costs of healthcare in the world, fails those that cannot afford it. Detailing her father's inability to access healthcare and his premature death, Chung illuminates the hardships many Americans face caring for aging parents and loved ones in a broken system.

— L.A.— L.A.

'Meet Me at the Lake' by Carley Fortune

Like Carley Fortune's hit debut novel "Every Summer After", "Meet Me at the Lake" is a lake-set romance. After an intense, 24-hour meeting a decade ago, Fern and Will meet up again in the lakeside town where she inherited her mother's inn. Read a preview here.

— L.A.

'In Vitro: On Longing and Transformation' by Isabel Zapata

In this essay-like collection, Zapata examines in vitro fertilization and the narratives that drive societal expectations and pressures in conception and pregnancy. Unveiling a nuanced view of motherhood and fertility treatment, "In Vitro" will illuminate aspects of pregnancy not often discussed.

— L.A.

'Quietly Hostile: Essays' by Samantha Irby

Blogger-turned-bestselling author Samantha Irby is back with a new and hilariously relatable essay collection. The essays depict what it's like to balance writing for hit shows like HBO’s reboot of "Sex and City" with the reality of living in a human body. Irby will have you crying and laughing as she writes about exploring therapy, reiki and much more.

— L.A.

'Yellowface' by R. F. Kuang

R. F. Kuang is the creator of intricate fantasy novels like "Babel" and the Poppy War series. In "Yellowface," she tells the story of two competitive authors, Athena Liu and June Hayward, whose careers take off at the same time — but only one's star rises. When Athena dies in a freak accident, June takes her chance to steal her manuscript about Chinese laborers during WWII and pass it off as her own.

– E.N.

'The Late Americans' by Brandon Taylor

Previously listed as a nominee for the Booker Prize longlist with his debut novel, "Real Life", Taylor’s sophomore novel "The Late Americans" follows a group of friends as they challenge each other to find themselves.

— L.A.

'The Celebrants' by Steven Rowley

The author of "The Guncle" is back with a big-hearted saga about friendship and what makes a life worth living. A group of college friends decide to throw funerals for each other.

— E.N.

'Girls and Their Horses' by Eliza Jane Brazier

The author of "Good Rich People" returns with a novel set in the cloistered world of the wealthy — this time, among competitive show jumpers, where big wallets tend to outweigh talent. After coming into a fortune, Heather Parker wants her daughters to have the chances she didn't to become horse-riding stars. Someone winds up dead in the barn — but who?

— E.N.

'When The Hibiscus Falls' by M. Evelina Galang

Centering the lives of Filipino American women in seventeen stories, Galanga explores the complexities of ancestry, identity, and community, resulting in a collection that honors the deep connections that exist between descendants and ancestors.

— L.A.

'Save What's Left' by Elizabeth Castellano

When her husband Tom leaves her without warning to go on an around-the-world cruise, Kathleen is left with a gaping hole — and a chance to reinvent herself. So she decides to move to a small beachside town across the country and becomes pulled into its ecosystem. Laugh-out-loud funny, "Save What's Left" is a novel about life in a town that makes the perfect escape.

— E.N.

'Rivermouth: A Chronicle of Language, Faith, and Migration' by Alejandra Oliva

Alejandra Oliva, a translator and advocate for Latin American migrants seeking asylum and citizenship, reflects on the different physical spaces migrants encounter as they navigate the immigration system. Illuminating the difficulties and gaps within the system, she poses crucial questions about American citizenship and the need for radical empathy.

— L.A.

'Family Lore: A Novel' by Elizabeth Acevedo

In 2018, Acevedo received the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for her novel-in-verse "The Poet X," which also became a New York Times bestseller. "Family Lore" is Acevedo's first novel for adults and it tells the story of a Dominican-American family exploring their shared history as they approach the wake of one of its members.

— L.A.