2023 Year End Book Review

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It’s that exciting time in every avid reader’s year when you pull up whichever book tracking app you use (StoryGraph in my case) and look through all the books you’ve read (or DNFed, or set aside to finish when the mood strikes again in another few months). So, here’s a round up of the highs and lows of my 2023 reading year!

A Plethora of Writing Craft Books

I’ve read 45 books this year (not quite the 50 I was aiming for, but it was a heavy writing year). A good chunk of them were nonfiction books about the writing craft or the business of writing.

A few standouts were:

There are others, but those were the ones that I learned the most from.

Mysteries and Thrillers

I apparently went on an Anne Cleeves’ spree this May. I read four of her Vera Stanhope novels that month. Telling Tales, Hidden Depths, and Silent Voices were my favorites. I love how she gets into her characters’ heads and how that closeness leads you to second guess their motivations and intentions.

Another phenomenal thriller was Alex North’s The Whisper Man. It was definitely in my top five books of the year. I read it in June, so I don’t recall exactly, but I believe you follow three points of view in this thriller that involves missing children, a serial killer, and a possible supernatural element. The plot is fantastic and I couldn’t put the book down. But the story was just as much character driven, which made it all the better and more emotional. I’d highly recommend it.

Another wonderful, atmospheric supernatural thriller I read was Francine Toon’s Pine. The story takes place in a remote village in the Scottish highlands and involves a missing persons case from years before. Great characterization, interesting plot, medium pace, and so absorbing!

Other fun thrillers were Diablo Mesa, which I reviewed earlier on the blog, and C. J. Cooke’s The Lighthouse Witches, which was an entertaining book, and the writing was well done, but the story overall fell flat. Tales from the Gas Station, Volume 1 was just an interesting, fun read. If you like scrolling through creepypasta stories on the internet, you’d enjoy it.

Gentler Fiction

 I read more Gervase Phinn books. All wonderful and warm and overflowing with humor as usual. I still have the fifth and final book in his Little Village School series to complete, and I can’t bring myself to finish it and say goodbye to that world just yet. So it’s on standby.

I read my first Debbie Macomber books, 16 Lighthouse Road and Summer on Blossom Street, and they were decent enough reads for anyone who likes small town women’s fiction with some clean and wholesome romance.

Another book I enjoyed was recommended to me by my in-laws. The Last Bookshop in London was, unlike a lot of WWII historical fiction books which tend to be over-the-top melodramatic, actually rather warm and cozy, despite the backdrop of war. I’d highly recommend it for anyone needing a lighter read but who also loves that time period.

Children’s Books

I kind of hate that this is included in my book count, but I spent all of one morning last school year reading three Dog Man books aloud to a student who was having a bad day. By the end of it, my throat was sore and dry and my voice was scratchy. Because of that, I figured I’d record them. They were Dog Man books. Not really much to say about it.

The Wild Robot, on the other hand, was a masterpiece! I read this to my kids for a nightly read aloud. It started off a bit slow but really grew on them. It follows a robot who wakes up on an island and doesn’t know who she is, why she is there, or what she was made for. She explores the island and learns to live in the wild along with all the wild animals, overcoming obstacles along the way. It is thoughtful, entertaining, heartwarming, and just utterly fantastic. The chapters are all really short, so it makes for a great page-turning experience where the kids kept begging for just one more chapter. There are two more books in the series. We got the second one and will be starting it soon.

The other children’s book, which I read for the first time in my life this year, was Diana Wynne Jones’ classic, Howl’s Moving Castle. I was absolutely blown away by it! In fact, let me give it its own little section here and share some words I wrote about it just after I finished.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I have the biggest, falling star-shaped hole in my heart right now.

The book was phenomenal! Delightful, whimsical, warm, and cheery. I wish I had found it when I was younger. I didn’t have a great home life growing up and reading books and dreaming up stories was what got me through things until I could finally get out on my own. For anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation, or if you know a young person who is having a rough time of things, I’d highly recommend it. It’s truly a story that has the power to strengthen and bring hope and offer a bit of escape and comfort.

I absolutely loved that we get an unreliable narrator (in 3rd person) in Sophie. The farther along I got in the story, the more I realized I didn’t have the full picture, or the right one, at times. And it made the culmination in the last two chapters all the more wonderful and beautiful! I was left in a puddle of magical, happy tears by the end.

Hands down the book was 5 out of 5 stars and I can’t wait to read more from Jones.

Bonus: I found this quote from Jones that absolutely blew me away:

“When I was a student at Oxford, both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were lecturing there, Lewis magnificently and Tolkien badly and inaudibly, and the climate of opinion was such that people explained Lewis’s children’s books by saying ‘It’s his Christianity, you know,’ as if the books were the symptom of some disease, while of Tolkien they said he was wasting his time on hobbits when he should have been writing learned articles…

“I imagine I caused Tolkien much grief by turning up to hear him lecture week after week, while he was trying to wrap his lectures up after a fortnight and get on with The Lord of the Rings (you could do that in those days, if you lacked an audience, and still get paid). I sat there obdurately despite all his mumbling and talking with his face pressed up to the blackboard, forcing him to go on expounding every week how you could start with a simple quest-narrative and, by gradually twitching elements as it went along, arrive at the complex and entirely different story of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale – a story that still contains the excitement of the quest-narrative that seeded it. What little I heard of all this was wholly fascinating.”

A Few More Miscellaneous Items

I read Beverly Cleary’s first autobiography, A Girl from Yamhill, this spring. It was an easy read, written in her conversational, simple style. And it really brought to life her world and all of the experiences she had that shaped her into the woman she became and the stories she decided to tell. If you were ever a fan of her books as a kid and wanted to learn more about her, I’d highly recommend giving this a read. I have her second autobiography as well, but haven’t finished it.

Another wonderful and humorous read is Sally Urwin’s Diary of a Pint-Sized Farmer. If you want to smile so big that your face cramps up and laugh so hard that you nearly give yourself a hernia, this is the book for you! It follows Sally’s year as a sheep farmer in northern England. But apart from the humor that saturates her words, it’s so informative as well. You learn a lot about what life is like for farmers in the UK. You follow their ups and downs. Things like weather trouble, lambing season, financial difficulties, etc. There are heartwarming and heartbreaking moments, but through it all, Sally’s joy in life shines bright. It’s such a great read and I’d recommend this book to anyone!

Finally, though I’m not finished just yet at the time of this post (Christmas morning), I did pick up Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island and am so immersed in his wonderfully witty descriptions of people and interactions and all the wonderful particulars of life in England that I am sure I will have it finished by the New Year. If you’d like a laugh and yet still like to be in awe of a master writer, wordsmith, and storyteller, then look no further than Bill Bryson. 

So Long, and Thanks for All the Books

You thought I was going to say fish, didn’t you. So long, and thanks for all the fish. Perhaps that’s how I should have ended it, but alas, I’m far more straightforward and not nearly as witty.

2023 is on its way out, but I hold so many of the wonderful books it brought me close to my heart. I hope that you found some wonderful reads this year as well, and I hope that 2024 brings even more wonderful books and stories your way!

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