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The Bookshelf

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Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess

Dr. Caroline Leaf

Best Books of 2023

Today I’m sharing a list of the best books I read in 2023. 

I read 38 books this year. I was shooting for 50 but fell off track–this was by far my busiest “work” year yet. I spent many nights editing reels, putting together travel guides, and writing newsletters. The busyness, of course, is a sign of growth, so I am grateful for that. 

I am, however, hoping to get back to a more consistent “one book per week” schedule this January. 

Even though I fell short of my yearly goal, this was a fabulous year of reading. I read SO many incredible books, and I’ve been agonizing for weeks on narrowing down this list. 

The Best Books I Read in 2023

Fiction: 

Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan

This is a short, poignant novel that takes place in Ireland in 1985. It’s set at Christmas and centers around a coal merchant who is forced to make a choice after having witnessed something during one of his deliveries. This is a spellbinding and powerful novel that addresses a universal dilemma. 

Small Things Like These - Claire Keegan | The Best Books I Read in 2023

French Exit – Patrick DeWitt

This novel had me in absolute stitches. Frances and Malcolm Price, an upper class mother-and-son duo, flee from New York to Paris in the wake of social upheaval. This novel is ridiculous, sharp, and laugh-out-loud hilarious. 

French Exit - Patrick DeWitt | The Best Books I Read in 2023

Demon Copperhead – Barbara Kingsolver 

You can scrap the whole list and just walk away with this recommendation for all I care. This is one of the best, if not the best, books I’ve ever read. And if you don’t believe me, Tyler read it too, and I’ve heard him tell at least five people that it’s the best fiction book he’s ever read. Demon Copperhead is a memoir-style, coming-of-age novel about a young boy who grows up in Appalachia with basically every card you can think of stacked against him. 

Demon Copperhead - Barbara Kingsolver  | The Best Books I Read in 2023

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin 

This book feels like a warm hug. It’s simple and heartwarming, the perfect thing to bust you out of a reading drought. I picked this up after having loved Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow. I was surprised by how different this one was but still enjoyed it very much. 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin 

Hello Beautiful – Ann Napolitano

I had extremely high hopes for this, as I loved Dear Edward, and this was even better. The Chicago-based novel follows a family with four daughters as they enter adulthood and details their relationship with a Northwestern basketball player who falls in love with Julia, the second-oldest sister. Ann Napolitano credits Little Women as her inspiration behind Hello Beautiful which made me love it even more. 

Hello Beautiful - Ann Napolitano | The Best Books I Read in 2023

Homecoming – Kate Morton

I read this over the course of about 4 weeks before and after our Europe trip. I didn’t have much time to read as I thought I would on our trip on account of my vlog project (LOL). I ended up reading small pieces at a time which is my least favorite way to read a book. The reason I mention all this is that despite an incredibly disjointed reading process, I still really enjoyed this book. Set in Adelaide, Australia, this book is about a cold murder case and a girl who searches for the truth about her family’s past over 50 years later. It does have a slow start, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. The ending was INSANE. 

Homecoming - Kate Morton | The Best Books I Read in 2023

Cloud Cuckoo Land – Anthony Doerr

I’ll be honest: I felt totally lost throughout the first 50-100 pages of this but finally found my way and got the hang of what was going on. The novel takes place across three different time periods (ancient, present-ish, and future). Eventually, the stories all weave together, and the ending absolutely blew me away. If you’re up for a “slog,” this is well worth the work. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land - Anthony Doerr

Tom Lake – Ann Patchett

This is such a precious, special book. Set on a cherry farm in Michigan, three sisters make their way home in the spring of 2020. The girls make themselves useful during lockdown by harvesting cherries with their farmer parents. While they work, Lara, their mother, indulges her daughters in the story of her early-twenties romance with the famous actor Peter Duke. The novel bounces back and forth between the present day and Lara’s story. I didn’t want this to end. 

Tom Lake - Ann Patchett

None of this is True – Lisa Jewell 

This is the best thriller I read this year. It’s twisty, fast-paced, and kept me guessing until the very end. Lisa Jewell’s books are always just witty enough to distract you from how disturbing they are. Something about a British accent rolling through my mind makes her thrillers less scary too? 

None of this is True - Lisa Jewell 

The Dearly Beloved – Cara Wall 

I’ve never read anything quite like The Dearly Beloved. The story follows two pastors (and their wives) of a Presbyterian church in NYC in the 1960s. The book explores each of the four main character’s faith journeys and the role relationships and community play. You don’t often see faith-based books in traditional publishing, so I thought that was really cool. 

The Dearly Beloved - Cara Wall 

Absolution – Alice McDermott

This novel is set in Saigon, on the precipice of the Vietnam War. The novel is primarily about a pair of wives who are adjusting to life in Vietnam while their husbands are on assignment there with the U.S. government. This, like The Dearly Beloved, is less plot and more character driven which is fine by me. I found this so fascinating. 

Nonfiction: 

The Highly Sensitive Parent – Elaine Aron

Last year when I read The Highly Sensitive Person, I realized around page 2 that I am, in fact, a Highly Sensitive Person (or HSP). This realization was both illuminating and validating for me, someone who has always felt a bit “on the outskirts” of life (lol, I swear I mean that in the least emo way possible). After that, I decided to continue my journey by reading The Highly Sensitive Parent. This book was even more helpful for me, as I find many seemingly normal aspects of parenting to be quite challenging. I learned a lot from this book and wish I had known about it when I first became a mother. If any of this piques your interest, I recommend starting with the self test to get an indication of whether or not the trait applies to you. 

Good Inside – Dr. Becky Kennedy

I wrote a whole blog post about this here, but I learned SO much from this book. I love Dr. Becky’s empathetic approach. So much about our pasts and who we are at our core comes to the surface when we parent, so I found many of these tools to be extremely helpful as I navigate tough conversations and moments with the girls. 

Hunt, Gather, Parent – Michaeleen Doucleff 

This author travels to the Yucatan Peninsula, the Arctic Circle, and Tanzania and investigates the ancient cultures known for raising the most helpful, cooperative, and emotional intune kids in the world. She sums up the approaches with her handy TEAM acronym (Togetherness, Encouragement, Autonomy, and Minimal Interference). I practice many of the principles I learned in this book daily with the girls. This book is quite different from Dr. Becky’s, and that just goes to show how important it is to read from a variety of authors and backgrounds.

Hunt, Gather, Parent - Michaeleen Doucleff 

The Read Aloud Handbook – Jim Trelease 

My mom, who taught middle school Language Arts for 30 years and knows just one or two things about literacy, recommended this book to me. I feel like every parent should read this book. The first half of the book talks about why reading aloud is so important for kids of all ages and how to seamlessly incorporate books throughout the day, and the second half is a helpful glossary of book ideas for kids based on their age and reading level. 

The Read Aloud Handbook - Jim Trelease | The Best Books I Read in 2023

Wear it Well – Allison Bornstein 

Allison Bornstein is one of my favorite people to follow on social media, so it was a no-brainer pre-order for me when she announced her book. This book is unbelievably helpful and practical. Allison lays out her “three words” method to personal style and coaches readers through closet editing and putting together timeless, elevated looks without buying anything new. This book made me so happy, and I highly, highly recommend it. 

Wear it Well - Allison Bornstein | The Best Books I Read in 2023

Interested in more book recommendations? While I have you, I send out an email newsletter every Friday morning. In it, I share what book I’m reading, products I’m obsessing over, links to the latest blog posts, and answer reader questions. If you’re not already on the list, I’d love to have you.

To hold you over in the meantime, head to my bookshelf or check out my list of the best books I read in 2022 and 2021.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow 

Hamnet

Atonement

Demon Copperhead

Need a book rec?

This is the best book I’ve read in a very long time—definitely in my top five ever. This book is astonishingly good. Demon is a young boy who grows up in southern Appalachia with basically every card you can think of stacked against him. The book is written from Demon's point of view, and although it's fictional, it is written in a stream-of-consciousness, memoir-style format. The way the author captured Demon's voice is just breathtaking–I found myself either grinning from ear to ear or fighting back tears at all times.

Barbara Kingsolver

Demon Copperhead

This book is special to me because it’s the book that made me fall back in love with reading when I was in college. The story begins in the English countryside in 1935 when a young girl name Briony Tallis makes a split decision with catastrophic consequences. This book is haunting, profound, and heart-wrenching.

Ian McEwan

Atonement

The elevator pitch of this book never really grabbed me–a retelling of Shakespeare’s life featuring the Bubonic plague? No thanks. But I just kept seeing people rave about it, so I decided to give it a go. And while it took me several chapters to get into, this book left me speechless time and time again. The writing is…jaw-dropping. There were so many scenes where I had to just put the book down and breathe for a minute, and I had tears streaming down my face when I finished it. If you can handle something sad, make it a point to read this one. UGH.

Maggie O'Farrell

Hamnet

This story is about two brilliant game designers, Sam Masur and Sadie Green. Sam and Sadie grow up playing video games together and eventually end up co-designing a bestselling game called Ichigo. I know what you're thinking: a book about video games?? Trust me, there is no one less inclined to the gaming scene than I am, but this book is incredible. It's about love and friendship and grief (and, yes, video games). I found myself desperately obsessed with the characters by the time it ended.  Daisy Jones & The Six–a sort of “will they/won't they” dynamic.  between two people who have creative chemistry–so if you enjoyed that book, I'd give this one a try. 

Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

5 Star Fiction

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife

Notes on an Execution

Long Bright River

The Golden Couple

Matthew and Marissa Bishop are a seemingly perfect couple living in the bougie part of DC (one of my favorite settings, for some reason). In the wake of a massive betrayal, the couple begins to see a therapist named Avery Chambers in an attempt to work through their issues. Avery Chambers isn’t a normal therapist, though; in fact, she lost her license the previous year for her unconventional tactics. Avery decides to take on the couple but realizes quickly that either one or both of them are hiding something. The point of view switches back and forth between Avery and Marissa which was fascinating and made the book feel like it was going a mile a minute. I had NO idea how this was going to end because there were so many moving parts, but I have to say it “stuck the landing.”

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The Golden Couple

This is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I’m still not over it. Long Bright River details the lives of two sisters in Philadelphia. Kacey is an addict, and Mickey is a cop.  Kacey vanishes one day, and Mickey throws herself into the case, even though she and Kacey are no longer on speaking terms. The story is narrated by Mickey, who became one of my favorite characters of all time. This is a family drama and a pulsing thriller all in one. 

Liz Moore

Long Bright River

Ansel Packer is a convicted serial killer on death row. The book takes place over the course of the day of his execution, broken up with flashbacks from the point of view of various women in his life: his ex-wife, the detective who solved his crimes, and his mother. This psychological thriller was unlike anything I’ve read before–I could not put it down. The characters, the plotline, and the writing were all SO addictive. While the book wasn’t overly graphic, the subject matter is very dark, so fair warning. 

Danya Kukafka

Notes on an Execution

This thriller takes place on a college campus. It’s Homecoming weekend, and a group of friends return to celebrate their 10 year reunion. This isn’t just any normal group of friends, though. A member of their group was murdered in her dorm during their senior year, and another was accused of the crime but never convicted. Jessica, the narrator, is eager to flaunt her new glamorous lifestyle, but one of their classmates has even bigger motives–to finally solve the murder once and for all. I'd consider this a "must" if you're into thrillers.

Ashley Winstead

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife

Unputdownable thrillers

The Flatshare

The Idea of You

People We Meet on Vacation

The Hotel Nantucket

No summer is complete without an Elin Hildebrand novel. A billionaire named Xavier Darling buys the run-down (and haunted!) Hotel Nantucket, pours a ton of money into it, and hires Nantucket local Lizbet Keaton to manage the new, wildly opulent property. This book is just fun–full of glamorous interiors, island gossip, and a century-old mystery. The descriptions of both Nantucket island and the hotel itself are giving me the urge to book a trip back East ASAP (I’m a sucker for coastal New England).

Elin Hilderbrand

The Hotel Nantucket

I loved this book so much that I wanted to sleep with it on my pillow. Is that weird? This story is about two best friends, Alex and Poppy, who met in college and take a trip together every summer throughout all of their twenties. The book details the journey of their relationship and bounces back and forth between their past vacations and the present day on their trip to Palm Springs. I loved this book so much that I didn’t want it to end. The writing is witty and quick, and it’s just the most perfect beachy book. 

Emily Henry

People We Meet on Vacation

This book is about a single mom who accidentally falls in love with the world’s biggest pop star (think no further than Harry Styles). When I first heard about this book, I kind of rolled my eyes. However, it only took me a few chapters to become absolutely invested in Solène and Hayes’ relationship. The characters are well-written and irresistable, making this a very elevated (IMO) beach romance.  

Robinne Lee

The Idea of You

This is a witty and adorable British rom com about two people who don’t know each other at all and begin to share an apartment. One of them works days and the other nights, so it’s a “ships passing” situation. They get to know each other by leaving sticky notes around the apartment for each other. I loved this book—it’s clever and cute and very funny. 

Beth O'Leary

The Flatshare

Beachy reads

Pachinko

beneath a Scarlet Sky

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Homegoing

This book was phenomenal. Homegoing begins with two sisters in Ghana in the 18th century, Effia and Esi. Effia marries a white colonist and stays in Ghana, and Esi is captured and put on a slave ship heading to America. The story follows each of their lines of descendants, each chapter providing a snapshot into one of their descendant’s lives and corresponding time period. I almost had to quit the book because I found the first few chapters so upsetting, but my friend who recommended it to me encouraged me to stick with it. This is such a beautiful, important work of art, and I recommend it to everyone, seriously. 

Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing

This story takes place on the isle of Guernsey in the time immediately following World War II. And despite the events leading up to it, this book is just delightful in every way. Juliet Ashton, a writer, begins corresponding with a man named Charles Lamb who lives on the isle of Guernsey, a place that is recovering from the recent German occupation. The book is written through a series of letters, a format that took a second to get used to but lends itself wonderfully to the story. This, to me, is a "perfect" book. 

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This book details the true (!) story of Pino Lella, an Italian teenager living in Milan during WWII. After spending several months helping Jews escape Italy during the Nazi occupation, Pino’s parents force him to enlist with the Germans in an effort to keep him out of the dangers of combat. Pino is devastated by his parents’ decision but lands a role as the driver for the second-in-command Nazi leader in Italy, allowing him to spy on the Germans on behalf of the resistance. This story is absolutely insane.

Mark Sullivan

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Pachinko is a stunning novel about a Korean family who immigrated to Japan. The story spans multiple generations and characters, and the author is able to do this in a meaningful, intentional way without feeling chaotic. I was locked in from the start and felt a little sad to say goodbye to my favorite characters when I reached the end of the book. 

Min Jin Lee

Pachinko

Not-boring historical fic

Charmaine Wilkerson

Black Cake

This is a really beautiful story, kind of a mystery and family drama rolled into one (my favorite kind of novel). Two estranged siblings, Benny and Byron, reunite to review their mother’s will after her passing. Benny and Byron are baffled when they learn that their mother has left them a Caribbean black cake in the back of her freezer. And they’re even more confused when the lawyer makes them sit down together and listen to an audio file explaining an entire side of her past that the siblings had no idea about. While I didn’t necessarily fall for any of the characters in this book, I loved the story and found myself googling flights to the Caribbean. This book had me hooked from start to finish, and the ending is phenomenal. 

Ann Patchett

The Dutch House

The Dutch House is one of those sweeping family novels with characters that you just never forget. This story is about Maeve and Danny Conroy, a brother and sister who grow up in a mansion known as The Dutch House in Pennsylvania. Maeve and Danny’s mother abandons the family when they are very young. After their father dies, their stepmother kicks them out of the house. The story follows Maeve and Danny over the next decades as they rebuild their lives and face their past. I couldn’t have loved this more, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have tears streaming down my face on more than one occurrence. 

Tayari Jones

Silver Sparrow

UGH. I loved this book so much. This novel is about a man named James Witherspoon who is a bigamist. The story is told from the points of view of each of his daughters from his two families–one the first half of the book and the other the second. The girls are of similar age and lead parallel but radically different lives in the same area of Atlanta. Eventually, their paths cross in high school and things hit a breaking point. I couldn't put this one down. 

Mary Beth keane

Ask Again, Yes

This novel details the relationship between two NYPD cops, Francis Gleeson and Brian Stanhope, and the intersection of their families throughout multiple generations. At first, I didn’t really know where this was going, but I found myself very attached to the characters and their journeys. This is well-written, sharp, and breathtaking, and I loved every page. 

Family dramas

The Obstacle is the way

The Gifts of Imperfection

Atomic Habits

Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic

Big Magic is a cheeky celebration of creativity and provides a perfect combination of dazzling inspiration and a tough-love type of “kick in the butt.” Liz GIlbert debunks the myth that there are creative people and not creative people; she argues that creativity is central to the core of what it means to be human and is therefore deeply ingrained within each of us. She also talks a lot about the benefits of creative living (didn’t really need to sell me there) and emphasizes the importance of consistency, discipline, and treating yourself well. I can’t recommend this enough to anyone who is stuck in a rut or wanting to explore their creative side.

James Clear

Atomic Habits

This is the best I’ve read on the subject of creating “good” habits. It’s inspiring but—more importantly—practical.  If you are looking for a reset or are interested in overhauling your daily routines, Clear’s advice is to just make one small change at a time. I also found his theory on habit stacking to be extremely helpful. I’ve employed several tactics I learned from this book over the past couple of years and recommend it to *everyone*.

Brené Brown

Gifts of Imperfection

Motherhood has brought out a particularly neurotic side of me, and I’ve found this book to be enormously helpful and encouraging in my current phase of life. Brené outlines the principles of what she calls “wholehearted living “and talks a lot about shame and perfectionism. I found a lot of her talking points to be great jumping-off points for my own self-reflection. I have read (and loved!) several of her books and think this one is a great place to start because it’s the most straightforward. 

Ryan Holiday

The Obstacle is the Way

I read this book a few years ago—my first introduction to stoicism—and still think about the concepts often (I know, what am I? A 30-something startup bro?). Joking aside, Ryan Holiday has this no-nonsense way of storytelling and illustrating the ideology behind stoicism. In short, stoicism centers around the idea that while we have zero control on the world around us, we do have control on how we react to what happens to us. I found it all to be very much in line with my faith and thought his points about resilience and grit amidst adversity were very compelling. I HIGHLY recommend this book. 

Essential nonfiction

Pamela Druckerman

Bringing Up Bébé

I read this book when I was pregnant with Charlotte, not really knowing what to expect out of motherhood. I found it absolutely fascinating, and many (though not all) of the concepts have shaped the framework by which Tyler and I approach parenting to this day. Pamela Druckerman, an American woman living in Paris, goes on a quest to figure out why her French mother peers were so much more put together than she was and why their children seemed to have a better grip on sleeping, eating, and behaving than her own. She interviews parents, teachers, doctors, and experts in Paris to try to uncover the differences in French and American parenting. Not all of this is super practical, in my opinion, but  it's a very fun read and I still think about a lot of the content as I carry on my day-to-day with the girls.

Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

The Whole-Brain Child

This book lays out the science behind a child’s brain and offers practical, tangible tools for how parents and caretakers can foster healthy development. This book was enormously helpful in “setting the stage” for us, as it walks through exactly what is going on in a child’s mind as they approach their day and the challenges it may bring. The authors explain our role as parents is to help our children develop “mindsight,” or the ability to understand how we process emotions and events. This helps our kids grow into integrated, balanced, healthy young adults. I foresee myself returning to this book again and again over the years. 

Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

No-Drama Discipline

No-Drama Discipline draws on the science explained in Whole-Brain Child and applies it to discipline. The biggest takeaway I got from this book was that it helped me define the “why” behind my parenting strategy. I think I had it in my head for a long time that the goal of discipline was to develop a “well-behaved” child. What this book helped me realize is that the goal should actually be to help your child learn to process emotions, develop resilience, and approach conflict in a healthy way. This book really changed the way I think about discipline because it helped me understand WHY kids act out and what’s really going on underneath a tantrum. It taught me how to hold a boundary with compassion and how to walk alongside my kids when life seems hard or unfair. 

Janet Lansbury

No Bad Kids

The ideology behind No Bad Kids is in line with Dan Siegel and TIna Payne's work, but Janet Lansbury puts her own (very practical) spin on it.  This book is, I believe, a collection of her most popular blog posts, so each chapter is very "snackable," offering concrete takeaways and scripts to use in specific situations. This is the book I turn to when I have a certain issue I'm dealing with and need something I can use FAST.  

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