top books of 2023

Top Books of 2023

My favorite reads from 2023 (in no particular order). Enjoy!

Nonfiction Books Divider

A Curious Faith by Lore Ferguson Wilbert

For those who feel like there are questions about faith they are not allowed to ask. Rather than being full of answers, this book is an exploration full of honest and gentle questions that might just make us better by asking them rather than figuring them all out.

Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools by Tyler Staton

The best book on prayer I have read. Why is prayer essential? What can it actually look like in my very mundane, busy, day-to-day life? Can it truly transform even my own life? What if praying is what is good for us, not necessarily praying “correctly”? An honest assessment, an open invitation, a beckoning call. You won’t want to miss this one.

Learning to Walk in the Dark and An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

barbara brown taylor books

I read Learning to Walk in the Dark first and fell in love with Barbara Brown Taylor. It is a curious look at “the dark” (physically, mentally, spiritually) that we are conditioned to shy away from. What if there are aspects of God we only get to glimpse in the dark? What if there is so much the dark could teach us, but we are too jittery when all the lights go out to see? What if seeking out the dark and holding its hand rather than running in terror is the best thing that could happen to us? 

After this, I had to look up every book this lady has written and have read two more of hers since. An Altar in the World is equally good, with page after page of examples on how your day to day life is a lot more sacred than it appears, if you know where to look. 

Her memoir Leaving Church was a wonderful read as well. On my list for 2o24 is Holy Envy. I can’t wait.

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

This was a reread for me. I love everything I’ve ever read by Ann Voskamp. Her words constantly take my eyes off of myself and raise my chin to look at the Father with thanksgiving, praise, and deep contentment. This book is a gentle invitation to give your life away, that you might gain it. Each time I read a chapter, I want to be a better human. 

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith

I found this book after listening to one of Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens podcast episodes featuring Maggie Smith. She read a poem in the episode called Good Bones and I had to set my dumbbells down in the gym, rewind the podcast, and listen to her read it again. Stunning.

She then mentioned that the title of her latest memoir came from that poem and I had it in my hands to read only days later.

It is beautiful, like the title suggests, in more ways than one. Not only does she approach telling her own story with humility, her writing sounds like poetry. I felt like I was peering through the window of her life to witness something tragic, but also witness how she took painful circumstances and “turned it beautiful” (in the words of an old pirate I know). 

I now also want to read everything this lady has written.

Blue Horses, Red Bird, and Evidence by Mary Oliver

There were a lot of digital copies of Mary Oliver’s poetry collections available via my library app, and for many months this year I didn’t go to sleep without reading a Mary Oliver poem first. At least one, sometimes a handful. Many of her poems are about nature, and all are beautiful. 

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

I have seen this book on my dad’s bookshelf since I was a little kid, and finally got around to reading it this year. Full of stories, thoughts on faith, and thoughts on life without being overly “religious” about it, he presents the gospel in an approachable way as he brings you through some key events in his life, and he manages to be relatable, funny, and thought provoking all at once.

The Good Enough Job by Simone Stolzoff

the good enough job

One of the last books I read this year, but definitely not the least. This book consists of a collection of interviews featuring people across different professions in a variety of industries.

The author sheds light on common myths about the workplace, as well as real life examples of people who climbed career ladders all the way to the top or abandoned them altogether.

He particularly talks about how many people attach their identity to what they do for a living, creating an unhealthy relationship toward the job they have, requiring more from a career than it was designed to give.

He’s not trying to persuade you toward one type of career (or lack thereof), he’s just asking the reader to re-evaluate their mindset toward work in a culture that idolizes it, and remember that there is more to being a “successful” human than what we do for a living. A fascinating read that I’m still mulling over.

Fiction Books Divider

The Night Ship by Jess Kidd

I saw this book an airport gift shop on my way back from Oregon in September the premise sounded so intriguing that I picked it up from the library when I got home.

The story is told from two points of view, several hundred years apart.

One child is a passenger on a boat that is on a dangerous voyage for many months. One child is visiting his grandfather on an island where a mysterious shipwreck was found. And the island is supposedly home to the spirit of a little girl.

You know the ending from page one, but that doesn’t diminish the haunting beauty of the story as it unfolds. I particularly enjoyed how both stories are told from the perspective of children. The one on the boat is trying to catch a monster out of folklore before it kills anyone else on board, while the other child is an outcast, grieving the loss of his mother. They have more in common than they realize, several centuries apart.

Gallant by V. E Schwab

It has no dialogue from the main character. It has illustrations. It has creepy shadow monsters and old decaying gardens and a secret curse on a bloodline. The main character is young and leaves her orphanage to answer a beckoning invitation to live at Gallant. An invitation none of the current Gallant residents have written…

Someone has terrible nightmares every night, the staff never forgets to lock every window and every door at nightfall, something bad is happening to the garden, and the gate at the back wall is not to be opened under any circumstances.

It’s a spooky, rainy weather read (without being too gross), at a young adult level. I read it in a day and loved every minute.

Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Törzs

There are people who can read spells, and people who can create them. Two sisters live on opposite sides of the world and each is protecting something. One is being hunted. One has questions no one can answer. A sick boy lives in a house with the largest known magical library and he’s starting to suspect his caretakers aren’t who they say they are. Something sinister is pulling all three of them together.

Rare books, immortal enemies, hidden identities, magical bloodlines. Everything I want in a novel for a cozy October read.

Fourth Wing and Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros

The internet would not stop talking about Fourth Wing, and while I normally dislike the books the general public calls “LIFE CHANGING”, I caved and read it anyway to give it a try. Life changing? No. But it was incredibly fun, so yes, when the sequel Iron Flame hit the shelves in November I read that in a matter of days too. 

It’s a military college. With dragons. And a forbidden love interest who has shadow powers. I mean, what’s not to enjoy?

Here’s the thing: If you approach this thinking you are going to get an Eragon-level quality dragon rider story, you will be disappointed. My main complaint was the fact that despite some telepathic sass from the dragons, there wasn’t a whole lot of detail given about them. But if you set that aside and enjoy the enemies to lovers romance with the “only we can save the world” trope, it is so much fun.

Iron Flame continues immediately where Fourth Wing ends and we get more magic powers, more secrets, more dangerous enemies, and more dragon sass. The author also really loves ending books on a cliffhanger, so I am awaiting book 3.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

I love the movie so much that I could not resist the book when I saw it on the Goodwill shelf. It’s written entirely in the form of letters and telegrams right after WWII. A London author stumbles across mention of a book club that existed on the island of Guernsey during the German occupation. She is captivated by this idea and travels to the island to learn more from the surviving members and hear their stories from that time. The longer she stays and gets to know the people of Guernsey, the more her heart feels it has found its home there rather than back in London. A joy from start to finish (and yes, BETTER than the movie).

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

This book sold me on Emily St. John Mandel books. I read a total of three by her this year but this one, the first one I read, remains my favorite.

I went into this book completely blind, and that might be why I loved it so much. I had no idea who it was about or what was going to happen the entire time I read it. 

It follows a couple of different people. One is an author in a post-pandemic moon colony. One is a man trying to interview a few different people who have all encountered a “glitch” at some point in their lives. That sounds more complicated than it is though. With Emily St. John Mandel, it is always more about the characters than world-building, which is my favorite. It felt a little bit like reading a sci-fi version of Inception set in the future after a pandemic has forever altered the world. It’s not fast-paced but I could not stop turning the pages and thoroughly enjoyed the twist at the end.

Other books I read by Emily St. John Mandel and enjoyed were: Station Eleven and The Singer’s Gun.

Happy Reading!

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