We love getting our social follower’s responses to Readers’ Choice prompts because they always come through with amazing new books—and we emerge with a brand new pile of books to devour. This most recent prompt was essential for the end of the year: What’s your favorite book you read in 2023? Check out a few of the books that captured reader’s hearts this year below. And head over to our Instagram and Facebook posts to see the full list!
In fifteenth-century China, women were expected to be wives. But Tan Yunxian’s grandmother raises her to learn how to recognize and treat women’s illnesses that often go undetected by men. As Yunxian learns and grows she becomes best friends with Meiling, a midwife in training, until she is shipped off in an arranged marriage. Her mother-in-law insists that she be a traditional wife, but Yunxian is determined to help other women, and, with the help of her friends, sets herself on a trajectory that will change the course of women’s medical history.
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.
A remarkable blend of heartache, humor, mystery, and hope, REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES is a tale of an unexpected friendship between a grieving widow, Tova Sullivan, who works nights at the aquarium, and a perceptive octopus, Marcellus. Van Pelt's deft storytelling skill brought to life the rich emotions in every interaction, tugging at my heartstrings, and keeping me on edge. It's a read that reaches into your soul and compels you to turn page after page, unable to stop until you've absorbed every last word of this stunning narrative.
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Safiya Sinclair was raised by her volatile father, a reggae musician and militant observer of a strict Rastafari sect, who crafted everything around protecting her purity from Babylon, the sect’s term for the corrupting influences of the Western world. But as Sinclair embraced the books her mother gave her and the education she received, she found herself on a rebellious and violent collision course with her father’s beliefs. HOW TO SAY BABYLON is a nuanced and lyrical look at one woman’s grappling with the interlocked legacies of patriarchy and colonization.
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With echoes of Educated and Born a Crime, How to Say Babylon is the stunning story of the author’s struggle to break free of her rigid Rastafarian upbringing, ruled by her father’s strict patriarchal views and repressive control of her childhood, to find her own voice as a woman and poet.
Throughout her childhood, Safiya Sinclair’s father, a volatile reggae musician and militant adherent to a strict sect of Rastafari, became obsessed with her purity, in particular, with the threat of what Rastas call Babylon, the immoral and corrupting influences of the Western world outside their home. He worried that womanhood would make Safiya and her sisters morally weak and impure, and believed a woman’s highest virtue was her obedience.
In an effort to keep Babylon outside the gate, he forbade almost everything. In place of pants, the women in her family were made to wear long skirts and dresses to cover their arms and legs, head wraps to cover their hair, no make-up, no jewelry, no opinions, no friends. Safiya’s mother, while loyal to her father, nonetheless gave Safiya and her siblings the gift of books, including poetry, to which Safiya latched on for dear life. And as Safiya watched her mother struggle voicelessly for years under housework and the rigidity of her father’s beliefs, she increasingly used her education as a sharp tool with which to find her voice and break free. Inevitably, with her rebellion comes clashes with her father, whose rage and paranoia explodes in increasing violence. As Safiya’s voice grows, lyrically and poetically, a collision course is set between them.
How to Say Babylon is Sinclair’s reckoning with the culture that initially nourished but ultimately sought to silence her; it is her reckoning with patriarchy and tradition, and the legacy of colonialism in Jamaica. Rich in lyricism and language only a poet could evoke, How to Say Babylon is both a universal story of a woman finding her own power and a unique glimpse into a rarefied world we may know how to name, Rastafari, but one we know little about.
In BEYOND THAT, THE SEA, young Beatrix Thompson is sent from 1940s war-torn London to America for safety. Living with the Gregory family in Boston, Bea, feeling initially lost, slowly integrates into their affluent lifestyle, growing close to their sons William and Gerald. Her new American life, filled with summers in Maine and new friendships, starkly contrasts her modest English upbringing. As Bea adapts and thrives, her old self begins to fade. However, post-war summons her back to London, leaving her torn between her two worlds. This poignant novel explores Bea's struggle with identity and belonging amidst a backdrop of war, loss, and love, vividly capturing her emotional journey and the enduring impact of her American experience.
Alix and Josie couldn’t be more different, except for the fact that they were born on the same day in the same hospital and happen to be celebrating their 45th birthday in the same bar. Alix is a popular podcaster, while Josie’s life has been far from perfect. When the two run into each other again, Josie offers herself up as the subject for Alix’s next podcast. While she’s initially hesitant, Alix welcomes Josie onto the show and into her home. Alix is unnerved by Josie and her past but continues with the podcast anyway until she realizes how enmeshed Josie is in her life. Just when she starts to think this may have been a mistake, Josie disappears. As Alix uncovers more about Josie’s life and her terrible secrets, she finds that she’s become the story in her true crime podcast. NONE OF THIS IS TRUE is Jewell at her best, with a riveting and fast-paced psychological thriller.
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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author known for her “superb pacing, twisted characters, and captivating prose” (BuzzFeed), Lisa Jewell returns with a scintillating new psychological thriller about a woman who finds herself the subject of her own popular true crime podcast.
Celebrating her forty-fifth birthday at her local pub, popular podcaster Alix Summer crosses paths with an unassuming woman called Josie Fair. Josie, it turns out, is also celebrating her forty-fifth birthday. They are, in fact, birthday twins.
A few days later, Alix and Josie bump into each other again, this time outside Alix’s children’s school. Josie has been listening to Alix’s podcasts and thinks she might be an interesting subject for her series. She is, she tells Alix, on the cusp of great changes in her life.
Josie’s life appears to be strange and complicated, and although Alix finds her unsettling, she can’t quite resist the temptation to keep making the podcast. Slowly she starts to realize that Josie has been hiding some very dark secrets, and before she knows it, Josie has inveigled her way into Alix’s life—and into her home.
But, as quickly as she arrived, Josie disappears. Only then does Alix discover that Josie has left a terrible and terrifying legacy in her wake, and that Alix has become the subject of her own true crime podcast, with her life and her family’s lives under mortal threat.
Who is Josie Fair? And what has she done?
Marie-Laure is a clever and kind girl who lives with her father in Nazi-occupied Paris. Despite her blindness, she is determined to be the keeper of a historical treasure in the face of invasion. Meanwhile, Werner, an orphan who will do anything to protect his sister, enters Hitler’s Youth and develops a skill at radio technology that could prove deadly in the wrong hands, despite his good intentions. Their stories intertwine in ways neither of them could have imagined in this acclaimed and dazzling epic.
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book, National Book Award finalist, more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list
From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).
HORSE is a captivating novel that weaves together American history, art, and the story of the legendary racehorse Lexington. In 1850 Kentucky, an enslaved groom named Jarret forms a profound bond with a bay foal, leading to unparalleled racing victories. Amidst the Civil War, their paths cross with a young artist renowned for painting the racehorse. Fast forward to 1954 New York City, where Martha Jackson, an adventurous gallery owner, becomes intrigued by an enigmatic 19th-century equestrian painting. The narrative then shifts to 2019 Washington, DC, where Jess, a Smithsonian scientist, and Theo, an art historian, unite over their shared interest in Lexington, uncovering the horse's legacy and the forgotten contributions of Black horsemen. HORSE is a tale of enduring spirit, love, and the unaddressed scars of racism.
Imagine you marry the love of your life only to find out, within the first year of marriage, that they are going to turn into a shark. Not a metaphorical shark, but literally a living-in-the-ocean great white shark. SHARK HEART takes this seemingly ridiculous premise and breaks down every agonizing and heartbreaking moment in the unwilling dissolution of a marriage. Lewis, who will soon be a shark, deals with his unfulfilled dreams while Wren, his wife, deals with repressed trauma from her childhood as she faces an uncertain future. As lovely as it is sad, SHARK HEART will have you question what you know about love.
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A gorgeous debut novel of marriage, motherhood, metamorphosis, and letting go, this intergenerational love story begins with newlyweds Wren and her husband, Lewis—a man who, over the course of nine months, transforms into a great white shark.
For Lewis and Wren, their first year of marriage is also their last. A few weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives a rare diagnosis. He will retain most of his consciousness, memories, and intellect, but his physical body will gradually turn into a great white shark. As Lewis develops the features and impulses of one of the most predatory creatures in the ocean, his complicated artist’s heart struggles to make peace with his unfulfilled dreams.
At first, Wren internally resists her husband’s fate. Is there a way for them to be together after Lewis changes? Then, a glimpse of Lewis’s developing carnivorous nature activates long-repressed memories for Wren, whose story vacillates between her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time with a college ex-girlfriend, and her unusual friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds. Woven throughout this bold novel is the story of Wren’s mother, Angela, who becomes pregnant with Wren at fifteen in an abusive relationship amidst her parents’ crumbling marriage. In the present, all of Wren’s grief eventually collides, and she is forced to make an impossible choice.
A sweeping love story that is at once lyrical and funny, airy and visceral, Shark Heart is an unforgettable, gorgeous novel about life’s perennial questions, the fragility of memories, finding joy amidst grief, and creating a meaningful life. This daring debut marks the arrival of a wildly talented new writer abounding with originality, humor, and heart.
DOC tells the story of Dr. John Henry Holliday, a genteel Southerner, who ventures to the Texas frontier, seeking health in its arid climate. Struggling to find work, he turns to professional gambling alongside his companion, Mária Katarina Harony, an intense, well-educated Hungarian. Their quest for high-stakes poker leads them to the saloons of Dodge City, where Holliday forges an unexpected friendship with Wyatt Earp, a fearless lawman. This bond precedes their legendary involvement in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, an event that cements their names in American frontier lore for generations to come.
Following the murder of their father in the summer of 1932, Odysseus “Odie” Banion and his brother, Albert, are sent to the Lincoln Indian Training School. Alongside other orphans, Odie and Albert are subjected to terrible abuse by the headmaster until Odie snaps and violence ensues. As a result, the brothers are forced to flee from the camp, bringing with them their best friend, a Sioux teenager named Mose, and Emmy, the daughter of a recently deceased teacher. The foursome escape down the Minnesota River in a canoe and spend an entire summer crossing paths with others who are adrift in this coming-of-age story that is begging to be an American film classic.
For fans of Before We Were Yours and Where the Crawdads Sing, “a gripping, poignant tale swathed in both mythical and mystical overtones” (Bob Drury, New York Times bestselling author) that follows four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the New York Times bestselling author of Ordinary Grace.
1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.
Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will fly into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an enthralling, big-hearted epic that is “more than a simple journey; it is a deeply satisfying odyssey, a quest in search of self and home” (Booklist).
Amy Poeppel’s THE SWEET SPOT is a tale of the unanticipated camaraderie that blossoms when an unexpected baby lands on the doorstep of a Greenwich Village brownstone. Lauren, Melinda, and Olivia find their lives interwoven in hilarious and heartwarming ways as they navigate through neighborhood feuds, unwanted viral fame, and sudden parenthood. Told with Poeppel's signature charm, wit, and delightfully quirky characters, this novel paints an endearing picture of unconventional families, friendships, and the pursuit of happiness in life's messiest moments. It's an enchanting read that serves up humor, heart, and a healthy dose of absurdity.
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Amy Poeppel brings her signature “big-hearted, charming” (The Washington Post) style to this wise and joyful novel that celebrates love, hate, and all of the glorious absurdity in between.
In the heart of Greenwich Village, three women form an accidental sorority when a baby—belonging to exactly none of them—lands on their collective doorstep.
Lauren and her family—lucky bastards—have been granted the use of a spectacular brownstone, teeming with history and dizzyingly unattractive 70s wallpaper. Adding to the home’s bohemian, grungy splendor is the bar occupying the basement, a (mostly) beloved dive called The Sweet Spot. Within days of moving in, Lauren discovers that she has already made an enemy in the neighborhood by inadvertently sparking the divorce of a couple she has never actually met.
Melinda’s husband of thirty years has dumped her for a young celebrity entrepreneur named Felicity, and, to Melinda’s horror, the lovebirds are soon to become parents. In her incandescent rage, Melinda wreaks havoc wherever she can, including in Felicity’s Soho boutique, where she has a fit of epic proportions, which happens to be caught on film.
Olivia—the industrious twenty-something behind the counter, who has big dreams and bigger debt—gets caught in the crossfire. In an effort to diffuse Melinda’s temper, Olivia has a tantrum of her own and gets unceremoniously canned, thanks to TikTok.
When Melinda’s ex follows his lover across the country, leaving their squalling baby behind, the three women rise to the occasion in order to forgive, to forget, to Ferberize, and to track down the wayward parents. But can their little village find a way toward the happily ever afters they all desire? Welcome to The Sweet Spot.
Set in 1914 against the backdrop of World War I, IN MEMORIAM follows Henry Gaunt and Sidney Ellwood, students at an English boarding school, as they grapple with personal turmoil and the distant horrors of war. While the war rages, killing thousands, it seems a world away to Gaunt, Ellwood, and their classmates, as Gaunt, who is half-German, is consumed by his secret infatuation with Ellwood, unaware that his friend harbors the same feelings. Pressured to enlist to combat anti-German sentiment, Gaunt sees it as an escape from his emotions. However, Ellwood and their classmates soon join him at the front, confronting the stark reality of morality, war, and death. IN MEMORIAM poignantly captures the brutal impact of war and a hidden, passionate love story that blooms amidst the darkness and violence.
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