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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

My Very Favorite Bossy 2023 Reads



My very favorite reads of 2023!

I post my favorite reads each month, and I was having such a great reading run, in late spring I posted Six of My Favorite Reads of the Year So Far. But I had such a great reading run for the rest of the year, none of the books from that list made it to my final Favorites list here. (If you're following along, five out of six of My Bossy Favorite Reads of the Summer did make it onto this list. That's some strong summer reading!)

If you've read any of these, I'd love to hear what you think!

To check out my favorite reads from prior years, take a look at My Very Favorite Bossy 2022 Reads, My Twelve Very Favorite 2021 Reads, and My Twelve Favorite 2020 Books.

What were some of your favorite reads of the year? Let's do some Bossy book talking!


 

01 Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver offers an epic story of a faulted, unlikely hero in danger of being crushed by exceptionally difficult circumstances. His golden heart and grit allow him to keep fighting through brokenness, pain, and disappointment in rural Virginia.

The newest Barbara Kingsolver book, which has been called an Appalachian David Copperfield, is epic. It's 560 pages and driven by the unique voice and gritty, heartbreakingly hopeful, broken voice of Demon (named Damon, a redhead, hence the "Copperhead").

Charles Dickens's experience with extreme poverty in Victorian England inspired him to highlight its cruel impacts on children in his story David Copperfield. That book inspired Demon Copperhead, in which Kingsolver showcases the invisibility of the rural poor in Appalachia as well as a tragic cycle of poverty, drug dependence, and death--with signature Kingsolver characters who have unique voices and are complex, flawed, and irresistible.

The downward spiral kept going and going, and its grimness took my breath away. Yet Kingsolver keeps Demon's voice strong even as he falters and as everything he has counted on seems swept away. His rock-bottom--it isn't a moment; it feels as though he drags the bottom for years--sets up a situation in which he seems washed clean for some version of a new beginning.

The prospects for Demon's future seem far from neat and perfect, but by the end of the book there are glimmers of hope for our faulted hero.

Click here for my full review of Demon Copperhead.


 

02 Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You by Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams offers a gritty, honest, captivating, spare yet fully developed memoir in which she explores her musical influences and influential high and low moments in her personal life.

In Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You, songwriter, singer, and musician Lucinda Williams shares stories of her childhood, her musical influences, and pivotal moments in her career and personal life.

Williams takes us along as she digs into her life's trajectory and the various conflicts, explorations, realizations, and challenges that have shaped her.

Her insights into her mindset and her creativity are often offbeat, and they always feel thoughtful. She writes songs about "sex, love, and the state of the world," and in one instance describes musical freedom as feeling like everything is “uncorked."

As she digs into the inspirations for her music she quotes her own lyrics--along with, occasionally, others' poems--and it all feels like truth-telling poetry--in her case, often set to music.

Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You was wonderful--spare yet fully developed, often surprising, and always intriguing.

With wry humor, gritty honesty, and refreshingly candid reflections, Williams's singular voice comes through steadily here. I listened to Williams's Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You as an audiobook and enjoyed hearing her tell her own story.

For my full review, check out Don't Tell Anybody the Secrets I Told You.


 

03 The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue

Caroline O'Donoghue's coming-of-age story celebrates friendship, young love, and life-changing decisions and missteps that shape the lives of her characters in 2010s Ireland.

In Caroline O'Donoghue's contemporary fiction The Rachel Incident, main character Rachel is an Irish university student working in a Cork bookstore in the 2010s. She's dating a boring but reliable young man from her high school and living at home when she meets James.

James is irresistible, vivacious, and mischievous--and Rachel is immediately swept into his powerful orbit.

Years later, Rachel runs into someone from her past, which spurs her to think back to the events and relationships that shaped her during her college years.

Despite some of the questionable, haunting choices that are made at times in the story, I was so taken with the characters that my cringing didn't hamper my enjoyment of the celebration of friendship, circuitous routes to self-confidence, and heartwarming second chances.

I loved The Rachel Incident--the story, the characters, and the vivid setting of 2010s Ireland.

Click here for my full review of The Rachel Incident.


 

04 Chenneville by Paulette Jiles

Jiles's newest stark, beautiful, heartbreaking historical fiction tracks former Union soldier John Chenneville as he travels the country seeking vengeance for the brutal murder of his sister and family.

I got full-body chills when I saw that Paulette Jiles had a new historical fiction novel coming out. The enthusiasm of my obsession with her book News of the World was (borderline? full-on?) irritating to the rest of my book club years ago, but I couldn't help my love.

In Jiles's Chenneville, titular character John Chenneville is a former Union soldier who has spent the year since the end of the war recovering from a severe brain injury. Now he's on a quest for revenge for the brutal, senseless murder of his sister and her family.

Jiles writes gorgeously about the unforgiving landscape, post-Civil-War wasteland, and the sprigs of promising new beginnings. As always, her main characters are richly layered, struggle with terrible circumstances, retain strong moral compasses, and find glimmers of hope in the darkest of days.

You might also like the books on my Greedy Reading Lists Six Satisfying Novels about Revenge and Six More Satisfying Novels about Revenge.

Click here for my full review of Chenneville.


 

05 Foster by Claire Keegan

Keegan offers a gorgeously wrought Irish story of childhood, hope, love, and loss that is spare, lovely, heartbreaking, and that brought me to tears.

In Claire Keegan's slim novel Foster, a young girl in Ireland is taken by her unreliable, frequently drunk gambler of a father to spend the hot summer with previously unknown-to-her relatives, a couple living on a rural farm.

Her bitter mother has just had another baby, and her various other siblings are fighting for resources. Her home life is hectic, hardscrabble, and emotionally cold, but she has never known life to be any other way.

The loving, affectionate household in the country allows her to feel more open and secure than she has before. She has plenty to eat, useful work to do, she learns to love books, she finds laughter. She can't help wondering if she might possibly be here to stay of if she'll be thrust back into her rough home, and which she'd prefer. Summer is ending, and there's a mysterious, unspoken, dark undercurrent at the Kinsellas'.

I absolutely adored this book. It's beautiful, spare, and powerful. I was brought to tears at the end. I'm in for all Claire Keegan books forever now.

I also loved Claire Keegan's novel Small Things Like These. Check out my reviews of So Late in the Day: Stories of Women and Men and the short story collection Antarctica.

Click here for my full review of Foster.


 

06 We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman

Newman's writing is irresistible; she offers a heartbreaking and heartwarming tribute to friendship and to family that centers around witty dialogue, unconventional arrangements, coping with an excruciating, looming end, and above all else, love.

In Catherine Newman's novel We All Want Impossible Things, Edith and Ashley have been best friends for more than four decades. They've shared the good, bad, and the ugly; endless painfully mundane and thrilling cliffhanger moments; love and loss; disappointment and victory; and everything in between.

But now the unthinkable is happening: Edi is dying from ovarian cancer and living out her days in a hospice near Ash. Ash is struggling with her own imperfections as a mother, wife, and friend as she tries to figure out how to say goodbye to her longest, best friend in the world.

Newman's lets the reader into Edi and Ash's rabbit warren of private jokes and moments and memories, and she made me feel a part of it all. The dialogue is exceptional in how real it feels--funny, heartbreaking, sometimes realistically without resolution.

I find myself drawn to books that explore mortality. We All Want Impossible Things is heartbreaking and wonderfully strange, funny and full of love, and a tribute to deeply loving friendships and families. I loved this.

For my full review, please check out We All Want Impossible Things.


 

07 Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

McAllister offers a smart, intriguing, twisty story that plays with time and offers second chances, revelations, betrayals, deep connections, and an unusual route to uncovering the truth. I loved it.

Gillian McAllister's twisty mystery Wrong Place Wrong Time plays with time, and I love books that play with time.

The story begins with a mother awaiting her teenage son's return home late one night. She peers out the window to see him walking down the street--then she sees that he is armed, and to her horror, she sees him kill another man on the street.

But when she awakens the next morning bracing to face the living nightmare her family has begun living in, she's relieved to find that her son hasn't killed anyone, he hasn't been arrested, and in fact, none of last night's events have happened after all. She must be losing her mind. But she knows that last night was real.

Somehow she's reliving yesterday again. She really and truly is. She can't explain what's happened, but she quickly realizes that now she may be able to stop the murder before it occurs. Can she shift the future by changing the past?

The story was fascinating and touching and chilling and sweet. I absolutely loved it.

Please click here for my full review of Wrong Place, Wrong Time.


 

08 Happiness Falls by Angie Kim

Angie Kim's sophomore novel is a mystery, but Happiness Falls is primarily an exploration of a complicated, loving, messy family and each of its members.

For the rest of our lives, every time one of us goes somewhere and doesn’t return on time, doesn’t let the others know where we are, we will remember this time, what can happen. And we will fall apart.

Mia doesn't panic when her father and brother Eugene are late returning from a walk in the park. They might have forgotten their phones, or taken a detour.

But when Eugene rushes into the house, bloody and alone, Mia realizes something terrible has happened. And Eugene, who has the rare genetic condition Angelman syndrome, cannot communicate to tell her what occurred.

Kim's missing-person novel is a mystery and is structured around the discovery and exploration of what may have happened to cause Mia's father's disappearance. But Happiness Falls is primarily a story about a family finally understanding each other and going to extraordinary lengths to work together.

For my full review, please see Happiness Falls.


 

09 Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter

I LOVED this young adult book. It's perfectly charming, funny, quirky, and sweet, yet it deals with grief and fear, hope and forgiveness, being true to oneself and growing up, and of course love.

Lynn Painter's adorable young adult rom-com Better Than the Movies is about Liz Buxbaum, a fabulously eccentric high schooler coping with the grief of having lost her mom--while navigating the sparkly idea--and messy reality--of romance, with the inspiration of her mom's favorite romantic comedies.

Liz is a hopeless romantic who has been waiting her whole high school career to be swept off her feet in quintessential romantic-comedy fashion--with the perfect soundtrack playing in the background.

But it looks like she may have to rely on her annoying next-door neighbor Wes to try to gain the attention of dreamy Michael with the perfect hair, who has just moved back to town.

Better Than the Movies is funny funny funny and so lovely and sweet, I adored the whole story, the characters, the growth, the banter, the heartbreaking, heartwarming growth, the fun--this is basically a perfect young adult romantic comedy.

For my full review of this book, please see Better Than the Movies.


 

10 The Last Ranger by Peter Heller

Heller's suspenseful wilderness story is full of danger, wonder, and emotional ties; the unforgiving nature and beauty of the natural world; and quick thinking that saves the day more than once. As with all Heller novels, the writing is exquisitely beautiful.

The Last Ranger centers around Ren, an enforcement officer in Yellowstone National Park.

Ren spends his days protecting tourists from the wild animals who live in the park, stopping drunken fights at campgrounds, and serving as mediator between wealthy vacationers temporarily in the park and the working-class full-time residents of the neighboring town.

When he investigates a local poacher, he begins to unravel a complicated web of conspiracy theories, renegade heroism, secrets, and danger.

As always, I'm in for Heller's showcasing of the unforgiving, beautiful natural world; the sometimes-renegade justice that emerges in impossible situations; and his characters' hard-won emotional vulnerability.

His writing is just gorgeous and I'm in for every word.

Heller is also the author of The Guide, The River, and The Painter, as well as The Dog Stars. Click here for my full review of The Last Ranger.


 

11 Romantic Comedy by Curtis Sittenfeld

Sittenfeld's funny and sweet take on an unlikely romance sparked by a longtime SNL-type weekly skit show immediately had me hooked, never felt too easy, and charmed me throughout.

I love Curtis Sittenfeld's books, and in Romantic Comedy she offers an outstanding premise: Sally Milz is a sketch writer for a late-night comedy show, and she's sworn off love.

That is, until she pokes fun at her fellow writer in a sketch about talented but average-looking men dating gorgeous women...and then gorgeous pop sensation and serial model-dater Noah Brewster hosts the show and turns his attentions on Sally.

I was delighted to find that much of the book is focused on the behind-the-scenes making of the SNL-like Saturday night sketch comedy show in the book, The Night Owls, and I was fascinated by this aspect.

Romantic Comedy offers lots of funny, funny dialogue that delighted me. This was the right book at the right time for me, and I loved everything about it.

Sittenfeld is also the author of American Wife, You Think It, I'll Say It, Prep, Rodham, and Eligible. Click here for my full review of Romantic Comedy.


 

12 Maame by Jessica George

Jessica George's debut Maame takes on big issues of race, culture, and the challenges of growing up between two cultures while shining in its details: wonderful dialogue, messy moments, and the main character's hard-won self-discovery and growth.

Young adult Maddie's life in London is exhausting. She's the primary caregiver for her father, who has Parkinson's disease; she pays the bills; her mother spends the majority of her time in Ghana yet manages to micromanage Maddie's religious faith and life from across the globe; her older brother never seems to be around to help; and she's the only Black person at work with a boss who shifts all of the blame and none of the accolades her way.

When her mom shows up from Ghana, Maddie jumps at the chance for some independence; a late bloomer, she finds a flat share and revels in finally being on her own. Maddie is inexperienced and has been somewhat isolated in her caregiver role (although she has close friends, who are wonderful characters in the story), so she's got a lot of learning to do and mistakes to make.

Jessica George offers a wonderful story with messy moments of love, some humor, big issues of race, loss, anger, lies and betrayal, and underneath it all, the constant, stressful push and pull between Maddie's two cultures.

Maame explores Maddie's search to establish herself in the world, and I loved rooting for her the whole way.

For my full review, check out Maame.

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