My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

My Top 20 Reads Of 2023
My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

As I reflect on the past year, I’m thrilled to share the literary gems that captivated my heart and mind. I read a total of 54 books. The 20 I have included in this post are those books I rated 4 and 5 stars. So, join me as I review my 20 top reads of 2023.

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Historical Fiction

1. She’s Up To No Good – Sara Goodman

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

Jenna gets blindsided when, four years into her marriage, her husband asks for a divorce. Suddenly she finds herself with plenty of time on her hands and an unpredictable future ahead. With the desire for change, she decides to accompany her eccentric grandmother Evelyn on a road trip to the seaside of Massachusetts. A town where much of their family history was shaped. 

As they hit the road, Evelyn tells Jenna about the star-crossed teenage romance that captured her heart more than seventy years ago and how it changed the course of her life. Even though she can’t stop talking about Tony, her unforgettable and forbidden first love, Evelyn insists that the return to her hometown isn’t about him at all. 

When they arrive, Jenna meets Joe, Tony’s attentive great-nephew. They soon form a friendship which gives her the confidence and distance she desperately needs to help her put the pain of her broken marriage behind her. 

As Evelyn’s past unfolds, full of secrets and truths, Jenna discovers a new side of her grandmother and of herself. One she never knew existed, and with it, she learns that the possibilities for healing can come when one least expects it.

My Review:

This story gave me all the feels. It was so refreshing to read a romance book without pages upon pages of smut. Just a good old romance novel, full of charm, wit and characters with the capacity to pull at your heartstrings. 

Evelyn’s past and her relationship with Tony was without a doubt my favourite part of the book. It reminded me of those times when my father would talk about when he was young, and how much the world has changed since.  I honestly think that we don’t pay enough attention to our elders and the stories they carry with them. Especially, those stories that are so different from the way of life we lead today.

She’s Up To No Good is a book about new beginnings, forgiveness and embracing the good along with the bad, with a dash of romance thrown into the mix. I gave it a 4-star rating on Goodreads, and I will definitely be reading more books by this author. 

2. All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

Marie-Laure, blind since age six, memorizes her Paris neighbourhood through a miniature model crafted by her father. As the Nazis invade, father and daughter escape with a perilous secret. Meanwhile, Werner, a German orphan with a talent for engineering, faces a brutal military academy. In a distant walled city, an old man discovers new worlds amid impending danger. Doerr’s blend of imagination and keen observation unfolds a captivating and devastating elegy for innocence as lives collide unpredictably in the engulfing war-torn landscape of Europe.

My Review:

Another book that had been sitting on my TBR list for years. However, this one did not disappoint. I can’t believe I almost passed on reading it and only did so after being encouraged by my friend, Nikki. ‘This book is spectacular, you have to read it!’ Well, okay then. I am so glad I did.

All the Light We Cannot See is a carefully constructed book, masterfully executed to make the time jumps and changes of POV seem effortless

Set in WWII, Doerr has crafted the stories of two characters that will linger in my heart for a long time to come. The more I read, the more I felt profound sympathy for both characters—the blind French girl and the talented orphaned boy. Both stories brought tears to my eyes, and I immediately fell in love with their courage and perseverance.

The writing in this book is unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s fast-paced with no frills; instead, it is raw and authentic.

The narrative is unsettling, provoking deep emotions and leaving a lasting impact on me. It made me pause and reflect on how challenging and unjust life was back then. My father was a young boy of five during the Second World War. He, along with my grandmother, aunts, and uncle, was evacuated to London. I remember him telling me horror stories of his experience. This story, although entirely different, felt as though it brought me closer to the memory of my own dad and the incredible journey that was his life.

Without a doubt, a 5-star rating for this masterpiece. And if you’ve seen the TV show, please note that I only managed to watch two episodes before giving up on it. It cannot compare. Give this book a chance; you will not regret it!

Romance

3. Love On The Brain- Ali Hazelwood

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

Bee finds herself in an impossible situation. She has been offered the opportunity of a lifetime. A chance to work on a neuro-engineering project, a dream come true. Downside? She has to work along with her nemesis Levi, a NASA engineer with whom she doesn’t exactly share a good history.

Not wanting to give up on her dream job, Bee accepts the offer. But when her equipment starts to go missing, the staff ignore her and her emails are never answered, she swears she can feel Levi softening into an ally. 

It doesn’t take long for their relationship to evolve into more than just work colleagues. Bee will question everything she has ever believed about the handsome Levi Ward.

My Review:

After reading and loving Ali’s first novel – The Love Hypothesis, I had high expectations for Love On The Brain. Even though I enjoyed it, it still fell a tad short. Don’t get me wrong, it was 100% a fun read but I felt as though the characters were a refurbished version of Olive and Adam. The story revolves once again around science (expect a lot of scientific words thrown around, my little brain couldn’t keep up) and women in STEM! 

This is the typical rom-com trope: a girl thinks boy doesn’t like her, turns out the boy is in love with her, girl falls in love too, but in between there is a load of miscommunication and unspoken feelings. And that’s fine, I like these types of rom-coms as predictable as they can be, but I don’t think I will be reading any more books by this author unless she decides to write a love story that is not focused around scientists.

Having said all this, I still think the writing is absolutely hilarious with a capital H. It kept me chuckling in the early hours of the night. Hats off to Ali Hazelwood because making a reader laugh is no easy feat, and her writing is some of the most hilarious and witty I have ever come across. 

If you are looking for an easy, hilarious, and by hilarious I mean really really funny, (unless you don’t have a sense of humour, in which case, I feel sorry for you) then grab this book because it will make your day!

4. The Chemistry Of Love – Sariah Wilson

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

Anna Ellis is a geek, brilliant and totally in love with her boss Craig Kimball, supposedly the man of her dreams. But how can she make Craig notice her and ultimately fall in love with her? The answer comes to her in the shape of Craig’s half-brother Marco. Whatever Marco has, Craig wants. So Anna hopes that if she fakes dates Marco, Craig will end up realizing he is madly in love with her and sweep her off her feet.

The thing with fake dating is……..you never know what you are in for, as Anna will soon find out.

My Review:

A fun book and a must for rom-com lovers. Full of witty and smart interactions that had me laughing out loud.

The characters are so well-written, flawed yet relatable and loveable. Marco is warm and charming. It’s obvious from the start that he has feelings for Anna. His and Anna’s chemistry was right on par. Anna on the other hand seemed a tad childish at times. Aged 26 and living with her grandparents? I don’t know, it’s the one part of the book I didn’t like. However, Marco saved the day page in, page out. He is such a great character, that when I finished the book I felt a tad sad.

All in all a delightful story from start to end.

Thriller / Mystery

5. What Lies Between Us – John Marrs

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

Nina harbours an unforgivable grudge against Maggie, one she’s determined to never release. She’s equally resolved never to let Maggie escape.

As the saying goes, every house conceals its own secrets, and the one Maggie and Nina have long shared is no exception. The difference is that these secrets are not buried in the past. 

Their peculiar routine unfolds;  dinner together every other night, followed by Nina’s assistance in escorting Maggie back to the attic, and into the heavy chain that keeps her there. Maggie must pay for the transgressions she’s committed against Nina, it is time for her to pay the price.

Yet, lurking in the shadows of their shared history are things Nina remains blissfully unaware of, and Maggie is hell-bent on maintaining that ignorance, even if it kills her.

In this house, the truth is more dangerous than lying.

Review:

From the moment I began reading this book, I have tirelessly recommended it to anyone who will listen. The reason being, the more I read the more confusing it got. Let me clarify it for you. There are two POV’s, mother and daughter. Whilst I was reading the mum’s POV, I was convinced that the daughter was the bad one in the story. I felt sorry for the mum and I kept questioning what kind of daughter would put her mother through hell. However, when I read the daughter’s POV I found myself feeling sympathetic towards her instead and automatically thought, the mother definitely deserves her punishment.

When it comes to the thriller genre, if the book you are reading manages to have you questioning your better judgment throughout the whole story, then you know you have hit the jackpot. And that’s exactly how I felt reading What Lies Between Us. Even before I turned the last page,  I was already recommending it. 

As with any good thriller, there were a few plot twists along the way. Some of them I totally saw coming, however, the ending was unexpected. I cannot emphasise enough how much that ending took me by surprise. Had it not been for the sheer shock, I would have probably shed a few tears.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I look forward to reading more from this author. 

6. The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

In this charming murder mystery novel, we meet four unlikely friends. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. 

After a brutal killing takes place right on their very doorstep, the four friends find themselves right in the thick of it, their first live case. They might be pushing eighty, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a few tricks up their sleeves.

I have heard so many good things about this book that I literally cannot wait to get started on it. 

My Review:

Oh, how I enjoyed this. I literally sailed through it. Not only did the scenarios keep me laughing (I mean four pensioners nearing their eighties and solving murders?? What’s not to enjoy?) but it also kept me guessing until the very last minute. 

The characters are so well thought out and they complement each other too, sort of like an older version of the famous A-team, without the explosions and the crazy over-the-top get-a-ways.  I could totally see Elizabeth playing the part of Hannibal, the mastermind behind it all. The story read so funny at times but also quite sinister. In my opinion, the perfect combination which as a result made it a very enjoyable read indeed. 

Will definitely keep reading this series. I cannot wait to learn about their next adventure. 

7. Keep It In The Family – John Marrs

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

Mia and Finn renovate their dream home, but a shocking message hints at a sinister past. Investigating, they uncover the house’s history as a murder site. Despite the trauma, Mia can’t let go of the past, fixated on the crimes above them. As they unearth a dark truth, Mia becomes desperate for answers, willing to confront previous tenants to protect her family. The danger, however, looms terrifyingly close, and she must navigate the secrets shrouding the attic to unveil the mystery.

My Review:

This one was hard to digest. Not because it was badly written or boring, but because the subject matter was unlike anything I have ever read about before. I could almost say it made me anxious, mostly because even though I knew I was reading a book, the fact that this happens all too often in the world we live in wasn’t lost on me. 

John Marrs has an exceptional talent when it comes to making the reader second-guess what they think they know. There are several time jumps in this book, so masterfully crafted that it keeps you turning the pages. You may not exactly know what you are reading, but you have no choice but to be fully captivated by the thrill of the story.

I have read plenty of thrillers and mystery books in my time, and hands down this author takes the price for the best thought-out plot and execution of the story. Not to mention, just when you think you have it all figured out, Marrs throws in an unexpected twist that will have your mind doing backflips on repeat. 

Keep It in the Family was a 5-star read for me. While I was reading it, even before finishing, I was already encouraging friends to download it.

A chilling and unforgettable tale of betrayal, jealousy and mystery hidden in family history.

8. The House By The Sea – Louise Douglas

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

Edie’s life was destroyed in the blink of an eye and the person to blame was her mother-in-law Anna. Years later when Anna passes away and with her marriage now over, the last thing Eddie expects is to inherit a long-abandoned Villa della Madonna del Mare, along with her now ex-husband.

She is so angry at the thought that even from her grave, Anna is still controlling her life and meddling in her affairs. Probably her last attempt to reunite her and ex-husband Joe.

As Edie arrives in Sicily, she is determined to leave Italy as soon as possible. Meet up with Joe, sell the villa, and go back to her life. But as the days pass, the villa starts shedding its mysterious secrets. Edie unwillingly at first, becomes attached to its ghosts and its past.

My Review:

The House By The Sea came highly recommended by a friend. It wasn’t part of my TBR list for the month or the year, but as it happens many times, the book cover jumped out at me, closely followed by the synopsis. I picked it up on a Friday afternoon and was done by Tuesday morning. 

This book…..I have no words. The description of the town, the weather, the scenery, and even the food, was so well written. It was hard not to get sucked into the story created by the author. I could actually see myself in Sicily, smelling the sea air and vividly seeing all the colours in every flower. I will go as far as saying that I could taste the amazing Mediterranean food. Louise Douglas left no stone unturned, delivering a full experience.

And then there’s the characters. I instantly connected with Edie. Even if thankfully I cannot relate to her loss, I still felt her pain and her despair.  Both she and Joe are broken individuals, their emotions so well laid out throughout the pages. 

Even though I did figure out who the villain was halfway through the book, the mystery surrounding Edie’s and Joe’s story still kept me turning the pages late into the night.

If you love mystery stories with a touch of drama, set in beautiful locations, then this is the book for you. 

Fantasy

9. The Very Secret Society Of Irregular Witches – Sangu Mandanna

Synopsis:

My 20 Top Reads Of 2023

In unlikely places, Mika Moon discovers magic. Abiding by three rules—hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches—she’s adept at being alone. However, an unexpected invitation to teach young witches at Nowhere House entices her into a different life. As she grows fond of its quirky residents and the prickly librarian, Jamie, the prospect of belonging feels real. Yet, with magic comes danger. Is it worth risking everything to protect the found family Mika didn’t know she was looking for?

My Review:

This book gave me all the right feels, hitting me unexpectedly hard. Yes, it’s a book about witches, but it’s more than that. It’s also a story about finding your tribe. Mika Moon is one of those characters that makes you want to embrace them and give them all the love they lacked as a child. This story is a blend of love, heartbreak and new beginnings, emphasizing the significance of finding one’s place in the world.  

The magic system, the potion-making, and the three young witches in the story captured my heart instantly.  Three girls from different backgrounds with a shared common struggle: being witches with no idea how to control their magic.  As Mika guides them to love and accept their magic instead of fearing it, a subtle metaphor emerges, highlighting the importance for young individuals to believe in themselves and embrace their uniqueness, despite society’s expectations.

At its core, the story revolves around the profound love shared among its characters. People from diverse backgrounds with one common goal: to embrace, nurture, and love these three young girls. 

This book will surely leave a lasting smile on your face. A 5-star rating for me and I can’t wait to read more books from this author. 

10. Divine Rivals – Rebecca Ross

Synopsis:

At the tender age of eighteen, Iris nurtures aspirations of her writing making a meaningful impact someday. In the midst of an epic struggle among deities, she secures a prestigious position at the Oath Gazette, her gateway to influence.

However, within the confines of her home, her life is unravelling. Her brother remains unaccounted for on the front lines and her mother grapples with addiction, veiled in a disorienting fog. Night after night, Iris pens heartfelt letters to her absent sibling, never anticipating a response.

Yet, these heartfelt missives have found an unexpected recipient, the very last person Iris would confide in—Roman Kitt, her cold and unforgiving rival at the Gazette.

My Review:

If I had to use one single word to describe this story, it would have to be captivating. Loosely set in Edwardian England/ World War 1 era, with a fantasy twist.  Divine Rivals has a timeless feel to it. A tale delicately woven around the ugliness of war, interwoven with the joy of a blossoming romance.

Compelling Characters Worth Falling For

The characters are so well-developed. Ross’s writing enabled us to see and experience the many layers within each of them, especially Iris and Roman. There was a rawness to them,  a quality that’s challenging to put into words. Flawed yet strong, confident tinged with a hint of self-doubt, and despite their fears, they cling desperately to their frail threads of courage. These characters are perfection as far as book characters go. 

A Skillfully Crafted Plot

The plot was skillfully crafted and maintained an appropriate pace for a book of this calibre. After all, literary masterpieces cannot and should not be rushed, and, as it turns out, this book is pretty much just that—a masterpiece.

As previously mentioned, it took me 17 days to read this book. However, I felt compelled to thoroughly digest every single word on its pages and savour the delight of its exceptional storytelling. One of my favourite aspects was the inclusion of both men and women in the army during their war. Which, as we well know,  back in the WW1 era would have been unheard of. 

I appreciate the author’s unique take on the war narrative. Rather than portraying human beings in conflict, tearing the world apart, she introduces the concept of powerful Gods. While I would have liked to witness more of the action on the war front, I understand that doing so might have diminished the focus on the real story and its underlying message. Courage and love will always prevail over fear and greed. 

Masterfully Crafted World-Building

The world-building was beautifully executed. I am a lover of historical fiction, throw in some fantasy and you have me drooling.  The likes of TV Shows like Downton Abbey or Call The Midwife are some of my all-time favourites, and this book did not disappoint in giving me all the feels. Sometimes an author will try hard to set a book in a certain era but doesn’t really accomplish the desired effect. I must say, this author truly hit the nail right on the head.

If you fancy being enchanted by a story that will transport you to another time, featuring relatable characters and a well-paced plot, then I wholeheartedly recommend giving Divine Rivals a try.  The second book, Ruthless Vows is set to be published on 4th January 2024, and I can’t wait to dive back into the tale of Iris and Roman.

11. Keeper Of Enchanted Rooms – Charlie N Holmberg

Synopsis:

It’s 1846 and writer Merritt Fernsby inherits a remote estate in Narragansett Bay. Fernsby is estranged from his family, so this inheritance comes as a total surprise. When he arrives at Whimbrel House, it’s clear to see that the home has been uninhabited for years. However, what Fernsby didn’t expect was for the house to be enchanted and even worse, it won’t allow him to leave, ever.  In fact, one could say, the house is acting quite violently towards Fernsby.

Luckily for Fernsby, Hulda Larkin of the Boston Institute for the keeping of Enchanted Rooms (who happens to be trained in taming such structures) has been assigned to Whimbrel House. When she arrives Fernsby feels for the first time since he arrived, safe and optimistic about the future.  But Hulda soon finds out she has her work cut out for her. As the two become closer, it’s clear that the house is keeping secrets that run deeper than even they anticipated.

Unbeknownst to the new inhabitants of Whimbrel House, there is an evil force interested in absorbing the enchantments of the house, something that neither Hulda nor Fernsby will see coming. 

My REVIEW

Having read the Spellbreaker duology by CN Holmberg last year, I was quite looking forward to the release of her new book, Keeper of Enchanted Rooms. Thankfully it turned out to be a  magical read, no pun intended.

Charlie’s writing style flows effortlessly throughout the pages, the characters jump out at you and tug at your heartstrings. It was so well written that I even managed to fall in love with the house, imagine that.

 The plot was well laid out and the pacing was fantastic. I love Hulda. I love her self-confidence regarding her skills, but I also love her vulnerability when it comes to relationships. 

Having read many (and by many I mean MANY) fantasy books, I can quickly point out similarities in the magic systems. Not with Charlie Holmberg books though. Her magic systems are original and well thought out. 

All in all, this story was beautiful and warm, full of loveable characters but with a hint of sinister slowly crawling into the storyline. A combination that will keep you turning the pages. 

12. Gallant – V.E. Schwab

Synopsis:

Olivia Prior is sixteen years old and missing three things: her mother, her father and her voice. Her mother disappeared all at once and her father followed soon after, but her voice, she never had to start with. 

As we meet Olivia, she approaches the end of her time at Merilance School for Girls. During this period, she receives a letter from an uncle she’s never met, summoning her to his estate, Gallant. When Olivia gets there she discovers that the letter she had received was years late. Her uncle had already passed away and those that remain at the estate are the servants and her cousin Matthew.

In order to remain at Gallant, Olivia must follow two rules: don’t go out after dusk and always stay on the right side of the crumbling wall. She soon discovers that Gallant is a house of secrets, sitting in a lonely vigil, where the ghouls are powerful. 

Searching for answers about her family and her past, Olivia discovers a dark reflection of everything she knew. An ancient realm where ghosts take form and a dark master that sits waiting for her. 

My Review:

Gallant was absolutely delightful! Even weeks after finishing it, I couldn’t stop recommending it to my family and friends. It was my first time reading anything by author V.E. Schwab, and I can assure you it won’t be my last. Her writing style is simply enchanting, whimsical, and incredibly reader-friendly. The plot is masterfully crafted, maintaining a perfect pace, and the characters are beautifully developed.

The story was surrounded by mystery with an old house full of hidden rooms, secrets, ghosts and the big bad. An evil force trying to destroy the world. 

Olivia never had any dialect in the book, and at first, I thought it would possibly bore me, but her character is so well-written that it was never a problem. I instantly fell in love with her and her tenacious spirit. 

Gallant was a magical read as much as it was nerve-wracking. Great combination in my opinion. Adequate for young adults too, which is refreshing, considering all the smut that is the hype nowadays.

13. The Serpent And The Wings Of Night (Crowns Of Nyaxia 1) – Carisa Broadbent

Synopsis:

(Please research this book before reading as it might contain triggers of a sexual nature for some)

Oraya is the adopted human daughter of the Nightborn vampire King. She has been raised and trained to protect herself in a world designed to kill her. The rules of survival are simple, never trust, never yield and always guard your heart. Oraya knows her place. She is a human in a world of predators. 

The Kejari is a legendary tournament hosted by the Goddess of Death herself, Nyaxia. Entering is the only chance Oraya has to become something other than prey. And even though she has been training for this all her life, she knows that winning won’t be easy. Not when she has to compete against some of the most vicious warriors from all three vampire houses. 

Reluctantly she agrees to form an alliance with Raihn, a mysterious and dangerous vampire. A ruthless and efficient killer and enemy to her Father’s crown.

Yet, the thing that terrifies Oraya most is how she finds herself drawn to him. All is not as it seems when it comes to Raihn. Turns out he might understand her better than anyone she has yet met. 

However, there is no room for friendships or compassion in the Kejari. As war brews for the House of Night, everything Oraya thought she knew shatters. One thing is for certain,  her blossoming attraction to Raihn could be her downfall, especially in a kingdom where nothing is more deadly than love. 

My Review

This book was NOT on my TBR for the month. In fact, I didn’t even own it. Yet, my friend Daisy mentioned it to me and it piqued my curiosity. As it’s well known, (unless you are new to our blog, in which case let me introduce myself) my preferred genre is fantasy, and as it had been quite a while since I had read a good vampire story, I decided to give it a go. I dived in and I didn’t come up for air until I finished it. This book was a ride and a half. It took off and didn’t slow down once. 

If you are not a fantasy lover, then you can skip this review. This book is jam-packed with everything I love about fantasy stories. Fast-paced, enemy-to-lovers troupe, kick-ass female main character and powerful, hot male vampire! I know, cliche right?

But the plot was great, the characters are witty and funny, and the fight scenes are explosive and well written, Plus, there are a few plot twists in the end that will have you reaching out for book two immediately. (I did anyway). 

This is the first book I have read by this author and it won’t be my last. For all my fantasy-crazed friends, (you know who you are) trust me you want to read this one!!

14. The Invisible Life Of Addie Larue – VE Schwab

Synopsis:

In this Sunday Bestseller, we meet Addie LaRue, a desperate young woman who makes a desperate bargain with the devil to live forever but be remembered by none.

Addie’s invisible life begins. She becomes a shadow muse to artists throughout history, a forgotten friend, confidante and lover. But come the morning light she slips away. 

After 300 years of living an invisible life, Addie longs to leave behind a remnant of herself. She lives in the hope that someone will remember her one day. One day she meets Henry in a small bookshop in Manhattan. Henry remembers her. 

With new hope in her heart, Addie discovers that the devil never plays fair. So when her and Henry’s lives start to intertwine, they must face the consequences of the decisions they have made. And like always there will be a price to be paid.

My Review:

‘What is a person, if not the marks they leave behind?’. This book tore my heart out, chewed it, spit it out and then stared at the gaping hole in my heartless chest. Yes, it was an experience, to say the least.

The Invisible Life Of Addie Larue left me with the worst book hangover I’ve had in years. I felt the weight of this story. The heartbreak, the desperation, and the loneliness, but I also deeply felt the pure joy of living. Of those moments that take your breath away, of living in the now. I felt the love story like it was literally happening to me. I loved loved loved Addie. Really, I cannot emphasise enough how much this character means to me. Her fierceness, her strength, her courage! 

VE Schwab has written a beautiful woven tapestry of loss, heartbreak and love. Her writing flows like poetry, almost lyrical. It captures you and pulls you deep into her masterful storytelling until you don’t know where the story starts and you end.  

This isn’t by any means a fast-paced book. It’s not meant to be read in one sitting, in fact, it’s the kind of story that deserves to be read over a span of weeks. I knew from the first chapter, that this wasn’t a book I wanted to rush through. No, this book makes you want to slow down and digest the literary masterpiece that it is. Definitely without a doubt my favourite read of 2023, and one of the best books I’ve ever read. 

15. The House In The Cerulean Sea – T.J. Klune

Synopsis:

Linus Baker lives a simple and quiet life. H is a by-the-book caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Yourth, lives in a tiny house with his cat and his old records keep him company. Unfortunately for Linus, all this is about to change.

The Extremely Upper Management gives Linus a highly classified assignment. He must travel to an orphanage on a distant island and asses six dangerous magical children. Linus needs to determine whether they are indeed so dangerous as if to bring about the end of days.

Upon arriving at the orphanage, Linus encounters a series of mysterious characters, including Arthur Parnassus, who is the master of the establishment. Based on their growing friendship, Linus soon discovers that Arthur would do anything to keep the children safe, from his secret coming to light or letting the world burn. 

My Review

This book has been hyped out on all social platforms and guess what? I am without shame, about to jump on the bandwagon and tell you all how incredibly amazing it is. 

What a treat of a book, it gave me all the feels and then some. A bundle of darkness covered in cookies and cream, with an extra layer of caramel topping. Yes, it was GOOD.  It made my heart simultaneously feel heavy and light, back and forth like a pendulum! 

The House In The Cerulean Sea is a Young Adult Fantasy book with a hint of romance. But don’t let that throw you off from reading it. This book is embedded with tiny buckets of wisdom and truth throughout. 

Full of charming characters, adults and children alike, this is a story about finding family and love in the most unusual of places. A story about accepting others for who they are, which fits in perfectly with the current judgemental world we live in. 

With fantastic world-building and even better character development, this book was vulnerable, delightful, enchanting and at times, heartbreaking. 

My soul needed to read this.

“The world likes to see things in black and white, in moral and immoral. But there is gray in between. And just because a person is capable of wickedness, doesn’t mean they will act upon it. And then there is the notion of perceived immorality”

16. Fourth Wing – Rebecca Yarros

Synopsis:

Violet Sorrengail is twenty years old and supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant. However, her mother has other plans. Dragging her away from what she loves most, books, history and a quiet life, Violet now finds herself ordered to join hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre. Dragon riders.

The fact that she suffers from a chronic illness and that she is smaller than most does not go well in her favour. After all, dragons don’t bond to fragile humans. In fact, they incinerate them. 

Violet will need to overcome challenge after challenge and dig deep into a well of courage she didn’t know she possessed. 

Alliances will be forged, lives will be lost and traitors will become allies. It’s either graduate or die!

My Review

This book…….. tore my heart out, took it on a wild ride and then went ahead and ate it for dinner!! A super hyped book if there ever was one. My social media feeds have been swamped with reels on Fourth Wing bringing on some reluctance about reading it. After all, had it not lived up to the hype, I would have been the odd one out. Luckily that wasn’t the case. So, during my time away in July, I decided to dive in. I am not exaggerating when I say I didn’t come up for air until I finished reading it. The pages kept turning as if by magic, either that or an obsessive need on my behalf to find out how the story ends.

Fourth Wing is packed with all the elements of a great fantasy read. Magic, dragons, non-stop action, enemies to lovers, and my favourite part, a fantastic female heroine, full of flaws but brimming with badassery! Did I mention the dragons???

Cleverly Written Characters:

The main character, Violet, is one of the best-written characters I have ever come across. She is a young woman with good intentions, trying hard to not let the ruthlessness of the world she lives in change her. Violet comes across as funny and witty, but her greatest asset is her bravery, her inner strength and her endless determination to persevere. Yarrow wrote a character suffering from a chronic illness, and in doing so showed us what real strength is all about. 

And then we have Xaden. Again, a character with depth and then some. The author shows us the obvious strong exterior, and yet beautifully guides us to understand his character on a much deeper level. Without giving too much away to potential readers, his character development throughout the book is what I live for as a reader. 

The world-building, the magic system and the relationships between a diverse group of young people were in my opinion, exceptionally written. It captured my attention from the very start, plunging me headfirst into a seamlessly created world. And then there’s the dragons! Never have I loved dragons so fiercely since the days when my main obsession was A Song Of Fire And Ice by George R Martin, otherwise known as Game Of Thrones to the TV show fans. 

My One Criticism

It’s a tiny one, but it bothered me. There is a certain villain, who from the very start, just hates Violet with a passion.  And whilst the author made it really easy for me to dislike him from the get-go, I wish there would have been more depth to his character. Then again, maybe he just intended to come across as a psycho, in which case, Yarros did a great job!

It’s worth pointing out that, even if he came across as the main evil in the story, it isn’t so. The villains have a more subtle role in this book. A particular much-loved character took a turn to the dark side towards the end of the book. Whilst I spent a good part of the story rooting for him/her (no spoilers here), by the end I wanted to strangle him/her! 

Conclusion

The ending destroyed me. My friend Kat (who may I add gave up precious hours of sleep whilst obsessing about it too) has in her possession a few distraught selfies of me crying. Yes, I cried the ugly, my heart hurts, the author sucks, cry. I am not ashamed, the heartbreak was real. I felt the same way when a certain Harry Potter character met his untimely death. My point is, that if an author can make me feel a loss in such a capacity, then that author has automatically made it to my list of automatic buys. This means, that no matter what Yarros writes next, I will be reading it. 

And then there is the final plot twist. All I will say is that it has perfectly set the tone for the second instalment, coming to us in November 2023. All hell will break loose and I for one cannot wait to immerse myself once again in this ruthless world and its characters. An epic fantasy story beautifully crafted by Rebecca Yarros. 

17. The Queens Rising – Rebecca Ross

Synopsis:

Born into the shadows of illegitimacy, Brienna faces the cold reality of being cast away by her noble family. Her destination is Magnolia House, an institution catering to the cultivation of passions such as art, music, dramatics, wit, and knowledge. Here, Brienna must embark on a journey of self-discovery, tirelessly honing her chosen skill, with the ultimate aspiration of graduating and capturing the attention of an affluent patron seeking to support one of the ‘impassioned.’

As the eve of her graduation approaches, Brienna finds herself not only advancing in her studies but also forging a deep connection with her intelligent and attractive tutor, Cartier. Yet, beneath her composed exterior lies a secret—Brienna grapples with ancestral memories that unveil the enigmatic tapestry of the past, carrying potential peril for the present.

Amidst the anticipation of a daring plot to overthrow the usurper king and reinstate the rightful monarchy, Brienna’s memories emerge as the linchpin for success. Cartier, aware of her clandestine burden, is eager to assist, but Brienna faces the challenging task of navigating alliances, keeping foes within arm’s reach, and placing trust cautiously. In a bid to save herself and her people, she must make choices that will reverberate through the corridors of power and treachery.

My Review

This was the last book I read in 2023, and my second read by author Rebecca Ross.  “The Queens Rising” is a captivating story featuring well-developed and enchanting characters. The writing is beautiful, almost lyrical,  making the story easy to follow.

Our main female character Brienna is one of the best-developed characters I have ever come across. In the beginning, she comes across as an insecure young woman who struggles to find her passion and worries about not being chosen by a patron. However, the feelings of self-doubt gradually fade away, as she discovers her courage and confronts all her fears. She is compassionate, brave and determined to do the right thing, no matter how much it scares her. Ross skillfully takes us through the stages of her character development, allowing us to witness the gradual growth of her confidence.

What really stood out for me, (as a plus) was that the romance side of things took second place in terms of plot. It was sprinkled here and there, but it wasn’t the main focus. 

However, my favourite part is the fact that this story is all about choices and newfound family. Blood isn’t always thicker than water, and in this story, Brienna, and the rest of the characters, show us the importance of making honourable decisions, and how one can find their place in the most unexpected of places. 

It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. The writing is amazing, the plot unfolds at a compelling pace, and the worldbuilding is thoughtfully crafted. 

Rebecca Ross has definitely won her spot on my list of favourite authors. 

Contemporary Fiction

18. Confessions Of A Forty-Something F####P – Alexandra Potter

Synopsis:

Book Reviews - October and November 2023

A novel for women questioning how life led them here and why it’s not as imagined. Nell’s life is a mess in a world of perfect Instagram images. Amid everyone making gluten-free brownies, she starts a secret podcast and forms an unlikely friendship with Cricket, an eighty-something widow. Determined, Nell vows that things will be different next year, but first, she has a confession to make.

My Review:

Described by the Telegraph as ‘The new Bridget Jones of our times,’ when I picked up this book at Bristol Airport, I thought I was in for a laugh. Don’t get me wrong; this story and its main character, Nell, made me laugh out loud, in the middle of the night (my husband wasn’t impressed). However, I was unexpectedly surprised at the rawness in this book. Being a forty-something myself, and at times feeling like a ‘fuck up’—excuse my language—everything portrayed in this story felt rather relatable. 

There have been moments in my life when the path forward seemed anything but clear. Times when I’ve questioned, ‘What the hell am I doing with my life?’ Add perimenopause and a generous dose of brain fog, and you’ve got yourself a lost forty-something soul with nowhere to go and a colossal to-do list.

Seriously though, this book, while maintaining a core of brutal honesty and humour, also brought a few tears to my eyes. In my opinion, a perfect blend for an exceptionally captivating read.

Poetry

19. Wild Hope – Donna Ashworth

Synopsis:

Book Reviews - October and November 2023

Wild Hope, Donna Ashworth’s inspiring collection, offers wisdom for finding hope, peace, and self-acceptance during challenging times. In this powerful anthology, Donna, the bestselling author of I Wish I Knew, shares love and understanding. She reminds us that amid daily struggles and overwhelming bad news, we have much to hope for. Through poems like ‘Surrounded by Treasure’ and ‘Rope Ladder,’ Donna emphasizes the goodness in people and the impact of small acts of kindness. She gently guides us, no matter how busy, to prioritize self-care and self-acceptance. In the darkest moments, Wild Hope becomes a beacon, illuminating the path toward light.

My Review:

If there’s a book that deserves to be recommended over and over, Wild Hope is it.

Poetry isn’t a genre I have ever delved into before, but after reading some of the author’s material on social media, I couldn’t help but indulge in her latest book.

If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be ‘truth.’ I feel as though every word used by the author is coated with a heavy layer of honesty about life, with all its ups and downs and in-betweens!

Wild Hope is a compilation of heartfelt words that will touch your inner soul and make you feel like you are reading magic. Within the pages of this book, you will find a source of hope that will bring tears to your eyes and make you realize that life is just that—a series of Wild Hopes. This book and its content have the ability to carry you through the dark days that threaten to swallow you whole, or at least that’s how it feels to me.

This past year has been a combination of challenges and navigating stormy weather. To have come across this jewel now, when the dust has settled and my life seems to be back on track, feels like a Godsend. Do yourself a favour and gift your soul with the wonderful and amazing work of Donna Ashworth.

Self-Help

20. Fast Like A Girl – Dr Mindy Pelz

Synopsis:

A woman’s guide to using the healing power of fasting to burn fat, boost energy and balance hormones. 

This book includes a 30-day fasting reset that uses the power of your cycle-even if you no longer have one. A go-to fasting manual explicitly created to address women’s needs based on their hormones and menstrual cycle.

My Review

Let me just start by saying, that I have recommended this book to so many women, and by this point I should just start buying copies and handing them out at the local market. 

This Magpie is NOT  big on science. In fact, if I’m reading a book with big scientific words thrown into the mix, that will confuse the bejesus out of me and I will, without shame, DNF it. However, this book is without a doubt totally easy to digest. It’s written in such a way, even this ‘F’ science GCSE grade individual, (that would be me) understood all of it.  The female cycle, hormones and the different fasts and benefits are explained in clear and concise details. 

So if you are looking at ways to improve your health, regulate your hormones or even lose weight, please I beg you, just read this book. You won’t regret it. 

Conclusion

So, there you have it, my 20 top reads of 2023. I can’t help but feel excited about 2024 and my planned TBR. Once again I have taken up a reading challenge on Goodreads. This year I hope to read sixty books, or more. I will try my best.

I hope within the above list you find your next read, and that you enjoy as much as I have.

Happy reading!

Milly

If you want to read about my 2022 top reads, check it out here!

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