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Best Books of 2023


best books of 2023

In a single year, our staff reads hundreds of books. They cover almost every section in the store, from hot new hardcover fiction on the front table to the Psychology section in the back of our lower level. Of course, each of us has certain proclivities and specialties. Sydney reads gruesome horror novels that Joe and Amy will never touch. Madison can breeze through a tome of English history as well as Ottessa Moshfegh's backlist. And did you know that Melissa makes a point of reading every single book in the publishers' catalogs of children's picture books?

To answer the oft-repeated question, no, we haven't read every book in the store, but we read enough to recommend the perfect book for you or the person you're giving it to. So when I asked our booksellers to tell me about their favorite books of 2023, they jumped at the chance to gush about their personal favorites. Some were read in the course of duty; others as guilty pleasures. But either way, here's the ultimate list of staff picks from the year that was 2023.

Amy's Picks

Emily Wilde's Encyclopaedia of Fairies by Heather Fawcett
So, I love all stories that amble around the darker edges of Faerie but also, as the child of two scientists, I was instantly drawn to Emily Wilde herself, a woman striving through the academic mire of funding and peer-review.  This story is so charming as to be fae itself, drawing you into a world that will enchant and ensnare you, and from which you may (or may not) emerge changed. Join me, won’t you?

Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs
A young woman resigned to a ghostlike existence in her derelict family home, her elder sister, condemned to a rootless life to avoid an interminable threat, a wealthy young man living in a beautiful cage, and his bodyguard, tasked with the unenviable duty of watching his charge fade away in front of him. Four individuals, spread across the globe but inextricably linked by books of magic and by parallel family histories guarding the mysteries pages can hold.  A gorgeous debut, Ink Blood Sister Scribe is both a rich contemporary fantasy and a creeping, sinister exploration of the legacy of power wielded under the guise of responsibility.

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher
Following in the tradition of the very best fairy tales (aka those that remember that faeries are wildly dangerous chaos goblins), Thornhedge is a gorgeous thing- all jagged teeth and slithering mud- that asks the question "what if there was a VERY GOOD REASON someone made that person sleep forever?? Do you REALLY want to be the one who wakes them up??" Forget your villain era; this is your invitation to embrace your toad-person-raised-by-child-gobbling-swamp-monsters era. The overwhelming need to re-read this immediately is compulsive enough that I think T. Kingfisher miiiiight have cursed me, and I’m frankly thrilled about it.

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh
Set against the backdrop of humanity’s not-so-distant future, Emily Tesh's sci-fi epic checks all the boxes.  When we meet Kyr, she is everything that one of the last soldiers of humanity should be: strong, fast, and terrifyingly angry.  She’s ready to do her duty, no matter the cost.  But when a last-ditch attempt to prove her worth goes terrifically sideways, she finds herself defending what she swore to destroy, and betraying those she vowed to obey, scaling the walls of the multiverse itself to right a lifetime of wrongs.

Madison's Picks

The Guest by Emma Cline
This story reads like a psychological thriller - you can’t look away as Alex drifts and grifts her way in and out of the lives around her, burning every bridge along the way. But despite this impulsive and unlikeable main character, I couldn’t put this book down, wondering what exactly Alex would do next as she slides deeper into her delusions.

Death Valley by Melissa Broder
Death Valley is a deeply moving and inventive meditation on life and death, told through a woman’s existential crisis that drives her to escape into the California desert. What follows is a trip through grief, self-doubt, and fear, complete with talking rocks, massive imaginary cacti, and a harrowing journey inside and out. This auto-fictional novel is Broder’s best work yet.

Happy Place by Emily Henry
Emily Henry never disappoints, and Happy Place is no different! Set in a picturesque coastal town in Maine, this book is a summer-y, warm hug about the people and places we call home. I laughed, I cried, and I fell in love with Wynn and Harriet.

Rouge by Mona Awad
Dreamy, atmospheric, and at times deeply unsettling, Rouge is a journey into one woman’s grief and obsession with youthful beauty. Unmoored by the trauma and loss that haunts her, she is drawn into the sinister world of a wellness spa where everyone seems energized by something not entirely natural. This weird, dark, fairytale for the modern age pulses with a rich, crimson energy that will grip you through every twist and turn.

Sydney's Picks

Bloom by Delilah S. Dawson
You will never get me to shut up about this book. A slow burn southern gothic sapphic romance turned delectable cottagecore nightmare that all begins because of irresistible cupcakes at the farmers’ market, and it’s set in my hometown? Oh yeah, I’ve been to that farmers’ market. If you need an atmospheric horror that can be devoured in one sitting, this is the one for you.

Nestlings by Nat Cassidy
When Ana and Reid win an apartment lottery for a unit in one of the most historical and luxurious buildings in Manhattan, they think their string of misfortunes have finally come to an end. Shortly after moving in however, Ana becomes increasingly wary of her new home, Reid lives in ignorant bliss, and their baby seems…different. And why haven’t they run into ANY of the other residents of the Deptford? 

Nails and Eyes by Kaori Fujino
A little girl closely watches her father’s mistress as she becomes her new guardian after her mother’s tragic death. There are four patients in Shoko’s hospital room, including herself. But when night falls and everyone is asleep, she can feel the presence of a fifth. Behind a weathered store, there is a pocket playground where kids laugh and play except for one minute, every day, when they run away screaming.

Penance by Eliza Clark
Interviews, podcast transcripts, tumblr posts and text messages are arranged by a journalist who is determined to revive his career off the story of one teen’s brutal murder. From fangirls on the internet to scandalous journalists, Penance is a very meta novel that offers commentary on just how exploitative both the true crime community and those who report on it can be. 

Joe's Picks

Bookshops & Bonedust by Travis Baldree 
Baldree delivers another amazing cozy fantasy in this prequel to his beloved Legends and Lattes. Our future coffee shop owner is a young warrior looking to test her mettle. When she is injured, her crew drops her off at a coastal town called Murk to heal up. There she meets new friends and comes face to face with her enemy.

Frugal Wizard’s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England by Brandon Sanderson 
This book is just straight fun from the get-go. Our main character appears in a field with no memory of who he is or why he is there save for scattered paged from the Frugal Wizard’s Handbook. What happens next is a fantastic story of magic, tech cartels, and love, all set in a world very similar to our own, except it’s Medieval times.

Guardians of Dawn: Zhara by S. Jae-Jones 
Perfect for fans of Avatar the Last Air Bender and Sailor Moon. Jae-Jones starts strong with her new series filled with magic, demons, love, and loss. The world is out of balance since the magicians were killed. The Mother of Ten Thousand Eyes and her demon minions are on the rise and only the Guardians of Dawn can stop them. With the help of new friends, Jin Zhara must harness her powers to save her family, her kingdom, and herself. Look for the second installment of the Guardians of Dawn: Ami, coming this summer.

Perilous Times by Thomas D. Lee 
Hands down this is my favorite book of 2023. Set in the not-too-distant future, the world has suffered from climate change. Sea levels have risen, pushing England’s coastal population into refugee camps in the interior of the island. A corrupt government is under the thumb of big oil, who continues to drill and destroy the environment. And bigotry has risen to dangerous levels. The Realm is in peril and the only ones that can save it are the Knights of the Round Table.

Steve's Picks

Stalking Shakespeare by Lee Durkee
What did Shakespeare really look like? When Lee Durkee lifts that seemingly simple stone, he gets way more than he bargained for: faked, forged, swapped, and defaced portraits; murder, treason, incest, and bestiality in Elizabethan England; cover-ups, scandals, blacklists, and academic assassinations in contemporary America. All of it writhing, glistening, and crawling beneath the stone of that first question, but like a teeming, muddy pile of bugs, it's as fascinating as it is shocking. Lee's chronicle of his own deepening obsession with Elizabethan portraits is sometimes disturbing and often hilarious, and it adds up to the best memoir I've read this year.

The Skull by Jon Klassen
Jon Klassen does it again, this time with a spooky, timeless tale perfect for early readers or for a bedtime story on a windy night. The story and the art are Gothic and unnerving, but The Skull has a warm story of friendship at its center. This is a book that will be read and reread for generations.

All Hands on Deck by Will Sofrin
Will was a 21-year-old recent graduate of IYRS sleeping on a friend’s futon when he got roped into sailing the HMS Rose from Newport to San Diego so that it could star in the film ‘Master & Commander’ with Russell Crowe. Along the way the crew of 30 oddballs hit a tropical storm, dismasted in the Atlantic, tussled with customs officials in Panama, fell in and out of love with each other, and engaged in high seas antics and hijinks on the way to California. The book itself is almost as much fun as the event we hosted for Will this summer, which reunited the final crew of the Rose for the first time since they disembarked over 20 years ago.

Once Upon a Tim: The Sea of Terror by Stuart Gibbs
Like 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' for elementary-age readers, Stuart Gibbs' magnificent and hilarious 'Once Upon a Tim' series continues with this latest adventure, in which Tim and Belinda are commanded to voyage across a perilous and dangerous ocean with a bumbling cohort of wannabe knights. Their quest is to recover a golden fleece and magical amulet for the queen, who accidentally switched coats with another queen at a recent party. Tomfoolery, disasters, and belly-laughs of irreverent humor will make this a must-read for any kid who enjoys a dose of wry sarcasm with their tales of knights and dragons.

The Fraud by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith has famously refused to write historical fiction throughout her young, illustrious career. For her to break that declaration, the result would have to be earth-shattering. It is, and it’s here.  At its heart, this book is about the appeal of populism, the erosion of authority, and the voices on the margins crying out to tell their stories. In other words, it could just as well be set in Ancient Rome or Silicon Valley. The Fraud is an instant classic and destined to become essential reading for understanding the 2020s.

Melissa's Picks

The Swifts by Beth Lincoln
This is a hugely pleasurable read about an extensive quirky family all of whose names are chosen from a standard dictionary at birth. When they get together for a family reunion, murder, mayhem, and mischief abound, and words may not always mean what you think. Count on an increased vocabulary upon completion of this book.

Domino’s Tree House by Dawn Patitucci and illustrated by Francisco Fonseca
This is a beautifully illustrated picture book about Domino, whose desire for a bigger and better treehouse leads him literally to the moon and back.

Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross
Rebecca Ross creates a world where gods are at war and use mortals as warriors. Strong-willed Iris and arrogant Roman are journalists and rivals whose involvement covering the war becomes fateful for them both. Well-drawn characters, conflicted romance, and a plot twist that left me breathless. I highly recommend this and its sequel Ruthless Vows, which you can preorder now.

The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault
Not your ordinary ABCs book, this one is enhanced by alliterative sentences like “Fancy Ferrets Feeling Famous and Fabulous” to accompany each gorgeous illustration. Fantastic way to learn your ABCs!

In the Night Garden by Carin Berger
Gorgeous illustrations and soothing, lyrical words make this the perfect bedtime story for your little one’s imagination to soar with sweet dreams to follow. This was a beloved selection for our Charter Kids Book Box this summer.

The Winterton Deception 1: Final Word by Janet Sumner Johnson
A mystery bursting with clues to solve, a crazy scavenger hunt, and a spelling bee to win. For fans of The Westing Game and The Inheritance Games.