We’ve all navigated the vast ocean of stories so far this year, from heartwarming tales that brought smiles to our faces to profound historical narratives that opened our eyes to previously unexplored epochs. But our journey is not a solo voyage, and your insights and recommendations are the compass guiding us. That’s why we turned to our treasured community of book lovers on Facebook and Instagram, seeking to uncover your literary gems of the year. From the page-turners that kept you up all night to the narratives that moved your heart, here are your favorite books of 2023 so far.
In Matthew Quick’s WE ARE THE LIGHT, Lucas Goodgame, a reluctant local hero of Majestic, Pennsylvania, grapples with grief and mysterious nightly visitations from his deceased wife, Darcy. He pours his heart out through letters to his former analyst, Karl, until unexpected companionship arises when an outcast teen named Eli sets up camp in Lucas’s backyard. This unlikely duo sets forth on a mission to mend their fractured community and, ultimately, themselves. This story, by the author of THE SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, is a radiant affirmation of the human spirit, a critique of toxic masculinity, and a salute to the healing power of art, laced with Quick’s signature humor and warmth.
From Matthew Quick, the New York Times bestselling author of The Silver Linings Playbook—made into the Academy Award–winning movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper—comes a poignant and hopeful novel about a widower who takes in a grieving teenager and inspires a magical revival in their small town.
Lucas Goodgame lives in Majestic, Pennsylvania, a quaint suburb that has been torn apart by a recent tragedy. Everyone in Majestic sees Lucas as a hero—everyone, that is, except Lucas himself. Insisting that his deceased wife, Darcy, visits him every night in the form of an angel, Lucas spends his time writing letters to his former Jungian analyst, Karl. It is only when Eli, an eighteen-year-old young man whom the community has ostracized, begins camping out in Lucas’s backyard that an unlikely alliance takes shape and the two embark on a journey to heal their neighbors and, most importantly, themselves.
From Matthew Quick, whose work has been described by the Boston Herald as “like going to your favorite restaurant. You just know it is going to be good,” We Are the Light is an unforgettable novel about the quicksand of grief and the daily miracle of love. The humorous, soul-baring story of Lucas Goodgame offers an antidote to toxic masculinity and celebrates the healing power of art. In this tale that will stay with you long after the final page is turned, Quick reminds us that life is full of guardian angels.
Breaking free from an oppressive relationship in New York in 1943, Irene Woodward forges a new path. Bound for Europe and a new role in the Red Cross, she forms an alliance with Dorothy Dunford, a fiery and quick-witted companion from the Midwest, amid the turmoil of World War II. Together they work to distribute a slice of home to troops on the brink of combat. Navigating the perils of wartime Europe, Irene rediscovers trust through her bond with Dorothy and love with a valiant American pilot named Hans. Her only wish? For the three of them to make it out alive.
THE MAP OF SALT AND STARS is both realistic and fantastical, a coming-of-age story of a Syrian refugee that combines elements of magic realism and alternating timelines. In the summer of 2011, Nour loses her father to cancer, and her family moves from New York City back to Syria to be closer to her relatives. To cope with both loss and her changing reality, Nour tells herself her favorite story that she and her father shared: the story of Rawiya, a girl living in the twelfth century who disguised herself as a boy in order to become a mapmaker’s apprentice. When the war in Syria escalates and a shell hits Nour’s home in Homs, her family is forced to flee across the Middle East and North Africa to safety by taking the same route that Rawiya once took on her travels.
THE WISHING GAME tells the story of Lucy Hart, a lonely 26-year-old teacher’s aide who dreams of adopting her orphaned student Christopher. Lucy is a lifelong fan of Jack Masterson’s Clock Island books, but her world turns upside down when Masterson announces a contest for his new book, held on the real Clock Island. Winning the one and only copy could secure a brighter future for Lucy and Christopher, but the journey is fraught with ruthless collectors, cunning competitors, and intriguing illustrator Hugo Reese. As Lucy battles for her future, Masterson weaves a plot twist that could change their lives forever.
Going against Confucius’s dictum, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” Tan Yunxian is raised to make a difference. Trained by her grandmother, one of China’s few female physicians, Yunxian learns to navigate women’s medical needs with the support of her confidante Meiling, a young midwife. However, Yunxian’s arranged marriage confines her within traditional domestic roles, barring her from contact with Meiling and threatening the important work they vowed to complete together. LADY TAN’S CIRCLE OF WOMEN is a tale about the power of female solidarity, exploring Yunxian’s battle against these restraints, her transformative journey serving women of all social ranks, and the lasting impact of her remedies centuries later.
The latest historical novel from New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, inspired by the true story of a woman physician from 15th-century China—perfect for fans of See’s classic Snowflower and the Secret Fan and The Island of Sea Women.
According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.
From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.
But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.
How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.
In his dying days, Jacob writes a reconciliatory letter to his estranged gay son, Isaac, unfolding untold ancestral tales, family secrets, and personal shame. DON’T CRY FOR ME vividly explores the nuanced relationship between Black fathers and queer sons, weaving a narrative of revelation, trauma, and, ultimately, reconciliation. Compellingly stark and poetic, the novel portrays a family’s struggle with love’s harsh realities and underscores unexpected arenas of hope and healing.
THE WINNERS is the third book in the Beartown trilogy, which includes the novels BEARTOWN and US AGAINST YOU. THE WINNERS begins with a violent and overwhelming storm that, for a moment, brings out the best in the townspeople of Beartown and Hed as they try to help one another. What follows is a tale rich with characters, some returning and some new. After the horrific events of two years ago, two young teenagers return to a happy reunion with family and friends. There’s a sense of trying to move on from what happened, but it’s not easily done, and before long an old rivalry between the two towns is once again played out in a hockey rink. Both towns are obsessed with winning at any cost. But, in the end, will that cost be too great?
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Return to the close-knit, resilient community of Beartown with this “engrossing page-turner” (Woman’s World) about first loves, second chances, and last goodbyes—from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anxious People and A Man Called Ove.
Over the course of two weeks, everything in Beartown will change.
Two years have passed since the events that no one wants to think about. Everyone has tried to move on, but there’s something about this place that prevents it. The destruction caused by a ferocious late-summer storm reignites the old rivalry between Beartown and the neighboring town of Hed, a rivalry which has always been fought through their ice hockey teams.
Maya Andersson and Benji Ovich, two young people who left in search of a better life, come home and joyfully reunite with their closest childhood friends. There is a new sense of optimism and purpose in the town, embodied in the impressive new ice rink that has been built down by the lake.
Maya’s parents, meanwhile, are caught up in an investigation of the hockey club’s murky finances, and Amat—once the star of the Beartown team—has lost his way after an injury and a failed attempt to get drafted into the NHL. Simmering tensions between the two towns turn into acts of intimidation and then violence. All the while, a fourteen-year-old boy grows increasingly alienated from this hockey-obsessed community and is determined to take revenge on the people he holds responsible for his beloved sister’s death. He has a pistol and a plan that will leave Beartown with a loss that is almost more that it can stand.
Discover what it means to forgive with this “hell of a conclusion to an outstanding series” (Booklist, starred review).
Mariel Prager is tired, and it’s no wonder why. Grappling with a family crisis and the pending failure of her beloved family restaurant, the Lakeside Supper Club, she yearns for a break. To top it all off, her mother, Florence, has never gotten over the fact that Mariel’s grandmother left the business to her, not to Florence, sparking further familial tension. Ned, Mariel’s husband, proposes a solution using an inheritance of his own, but, following a shattering tragedy, their familial victories and dreams hang by a thread. J. Ryan Stradal’s vivid narrative encapsulates a fading world of midwestern traditions, presenting lovable, flawed characters wrestling with love, legacy, and loss as they seek salvation through their crumbling enterprise.
Haunted by a painful past, Shantanu Das grapples with a fractured family in the wake of his daughter Keya’s untimely death. Years earlier, when Keya came out as gay, her family responded with nothing but silence—a fact that haunts the Das family to this day. But a glimmer of redemption appears in the form of Keya’s unfinished play. In a bold proposition, this family decides to stage the drama as a tribute and long-overdue apology to Keya. Set amid the vibrant Bengali immigrant community in New Jersey, this debut novel is a heartfelt and occasionally humorous exploration of the unanticipated paths we tread to mend familial bonds and discover love in its myriad forms.
A “painfully beautiful” (Booklist), heartwarming, and charmingly funny debut novel about how a discovered box in the attic leads one Bengali American family down a path toward understanding the importance of family, even when splintered.
Shantanu Das is living in the shadows of his past. In his fifties, he finds himself isolated from his traditional Bengali community after a devastating divorce from his wife, Chaitali; he hasn’t spoken to his older daughter, Mitali, in months. Years before, when his younger daughter, Keya, came out as gay, no one in the Das family could find the words they needed. As each worked up the courage to say sorry, fate intervened: Keya was killed in a car crash.
So, when Shantanu finds an unfinished play Keya and her girlfriend had been writing, Mitali approaches the family with a wild idea: What if they were to put it on? It would be a way to honor Keya and finally apologize. Here, it seems, are the words that have escaped them over and over again.
Set in the vibrant world of Bengalis in the New Jersey suburbs, this “delightful” (Diksha Basu, author of The Windfall) debut novel is both poignant and, at times, a surprisingly hilarious testament to the unexpected ways we build family and find love, old and new.
In a realm where queens are either scorned or forgotten, Clytemnestra claims her fate. Trapped in a marriage to a tyrant, she witnesses atrocities that ignite her thirst for revenge. Upon her husband’s triumphant return from Troy, she faces a crucial choice and understands one truth: if power isn’t handed to you, it must be claimed. This compelling novel, set in ancient Greece, weaves a thrilling tale a formidable queen unafraid to exact justice on those who cross her.
Photo credit: iStock / NATALIA KHIMICH