Last week I posted my nonfiction favorites; this week, it’s fiction’s turn!
At the time of this writing, I’ve read nearly 100 books, almost evenly split between fiction and nonfiction. Below, after much difficulty (book nerd problems! :-)), I’ve listed the ten fiction books that topped my list. Have you read any of these?
French Braid by Anne Tyler
This is my second Tyler book (I read A Spool of Blue Thread last year) and I feel she writes the ultimate ‘quiet story’ – nothing much happens outside of everyday life stuff, yet as the reader I somehow can’t stop turning the pages. Her character development is extraordinary, as is the vividness of her environments and the draw of emotions. I have two more of hers I plan to read – possibly over the holidays – so I may need to update this list at that time!
Agatha Raisin series by M.C. Beaton*
I’m cheating a bit here since I’m encapsulating eight books into one entry. I was told about this series near the start of the year and have been enjoying about one book a month since (and luckily still have 20+ more waiting in the wings!). A fun mystery series with a smart, somewhat sarcastic middle-aged protagonist who keeps finding herself involved in solving the crimes of her small British village; these books have helped fill the void left by no Louise Penny book being published this year. I listen to the audiobooks via my library’s Libby app and thoroughly enjoy the narrator – a factor which often can make or break a reading experience.
True Biz by Sara Novic
I picked this one up on a bit of a whim and hoped to enjoy it, but I had no idea how deeply I would adore – and truly be moved by – it. The book focuses on a group of high school students and their families, faculty, and friends at the River Valley School for the Deaf, and seamlessly addresses a whole range of social issues while sharing a gripping story. I empathized with so many characters in this book and marvel at Novic’s ability to weave together such a compelling, eye-opening narrative.
Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin
I don’t follow many book prizes too closely, with one exception: the Women’s Prize for Fiction. This award list has led me to some of my favorite books of the year, multiple years in a row. Wandering Souls, a historical fiction story of a family fleeing Vietnam in the 1970s, was touching, heartbreaking, and beautiful, and probably not a book I would have known about had it not been for the prize. A short, powerful read offering a unique perspective.
The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane
Keane’s earlier book, Ask Again Yes, made it into my top ten a few years ago, so I was thrilled to hear she had written another – and even more thrilled that I loved this one, too. She has a way of writing such flawed (aka, human) characters that have you cheering for them, yelling at them, and relating to them deeply, all at once. At one point in the story, I literally gasped because a character I thought I knew so well made a completely different choice than I expected. I love experiencing such emotion through literature!
The Lost Husband by Katherine Center*
I haven’t read much in the romance/rom com genre lately, but I wanted a paperback while traveling and decided to give Katherine Center a try. I’ve since read a couple more of hers and, like I wrote above about Anne Tyler, have others on deck in the near future! Center’s books somehow manage to be both light and funny yet deep and touching, too. Fortunately she has quite a backlist so I’ll have picks for a good while.
Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
Clocking in at 672 pages, this was definitely the longest book I read this year, and I enjoyed every page! Classics usually take me a little while to get into in terms of the language and cadence, but once I fell into the flow of this one, I was entranced. We often seem to revel in the ‘simple life’ nostalgia of these times, but authors like Gaskell show how not simple it truly was, especially for certain people. I’ve now got several other Gaskell works on my TBR; North And South will be next.
Foster by Claire Keegan*
Size-wise, this one is at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Wives & Daughters at barely more than a novella, but equally as poignant. Keegan has a mastery of words unlike any other author I know; her writing is sparse yet packed with imagery and meaning. I had a hard time deciding whether Foster or her later book, Small Things Like These, would make the list – I read both this year and both were absolutely stunning.
Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
An award-winning book and a popular movie – both of which have been around for 30+ years – and I am just now getting to this novel! Definitely worth the wait, though. I loved the great care the main character took with his work, finding meaning in each of his various tasks as a butler; I also ached for him and some of the realizations he had along the way. Such a quiet, compelling story – I haven’t yet seen the movie and am not sure I will, but I may very well reread the book.
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
As I shared in my nonfiction top ten list, I believe this is the first time in decades of reading that an author has made both my fiction and nonfiction favorites the same year! I adore Patchett’s gift for storytelling; while I didn’t love everything she incorporated into this one, I can’t deny how vividly I still picture the cherry orchards and the theater company and nearly everything else she described. The cover of this book is glorious, but I also recommend the audiobook – read by another master of her craft, Meryl Streep.
What an outstanding reading year 2023 has been, supplemented by fun bookish podcasts and insightful booktubers, too. What tops your list of favorite books for the year?
* Signifies that I’ve read and enjoyed multiple books by the author this year!