It's the most wonderful time of the year... the time where I reflect on all my favourite reads of 2023! As always, I hope that this list might give you some holiday inspiration for the bookworms on your wishlist - or perhaps you'll find a recommendation for yourself, to curl up with in those slow and wintry days before the New Year. Happy Holidays!
There'a reason you've seen Gabrielle Zevin's latest novel absolutely everywhere, and it's not just the stunning cover! Tomorrow & Tomorrow & Tomorrow is without question one of the best books I've read in the last five years, and I freely admit that I was somewhat dubious about the concept to begin with. What do I know about video game developers? Why would I care about three techy nerds? But after reading about a paragraph I confess that I was lost in the prose and the poetry of the characters that Zevin created: passionate and compassionate and complex, woven into a story that deftly handles love in all its forms. Please give this one a read if you haven't already - you won't be disappointed.
Honestly, give me a book with a forested setting, a crumbling cottage, and a 1970s aesthetic and I'm sold! What Wild Women Do charts the intersecting stories of Rowan, a reluctant social media influencer who dreams of becoming a screenwriter, and Eddie, the eccentric heiress who opens a women's retreat at her family's palatial summer home in the Adirondacks in the mid-'70s. I found Wild Women a joyful and expansive read about redemption, sisterhood, and courage, and fully recommend it to anyone in those winter months looking to escape into an immersive and sun-drenched summer.
It won't come as much of a surprise to learn that I have an enduring fascination with early 20th century glamour, and you don’t get much more glamorous than 1920s Tinseltown. In Strangers in the Night, the talented Heather Webb charts the passionate and tumultuous relationship between Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra - a relationship I didn't know all that much about before jumping into the book, and one which Webb portrays with crackling authenticity on the page.
This is a book that might not appeal to everyone, but if you've got a reader on your list with even the scantest connection to the publishing industry, they're going to love RF Kuang's most recent release. Yellowface is a twisting, fast-paced story about identity politics and self-deception, told from the perspective of a white author who co-opts her dead Asian-American friend's manuscript and co-opts it for herself... a decision which includes passing herself off as an person of colour to boost book sales. This book made me physically cringe at times, in the best possible way: it's like watching a train wreck while shouting at the conductor to change course while there's still a chance of avoiding imminent disaster. Needless to say, it's a stunner of a read.
Any other fans of Shondaland out there? I'm going to go out on a very sturdy limb and say yes -- hello, Bridgerton-verse! Truthfully, I'm not much for the whole self-help thing, preferring to muddle my way frustratingly through the void, but when I learned that Shonda Rhimes had written a book about how to stand out and embrace the unexpected, I knew it would be worth a read. It's more than a self-help book -- it's more like a memoir written by your incredibly successful and sophisticated older sister. Shonda uses her own life experiences and journey of self-improvement to lay down some home truths about seizing opportunities and empowering yourself to live your best, most fulfilling life.
I adore Greek myths (I once regaled my ten-year old cousins with a multi-day one-woman performance of the Ilead… I've since apologized to them all) so I was thrilled to pick up Mythos, a new retelling of Greek myths written by the delightful storyteller Stephen Fry. As you might expect, this isn't your grandmother's Greek chorus: it's a wonderful, conversational look at the Greek pantheon, each illustrious deity rendered with all too human faults and foibles.
Hamnet is one of those novels I put off reading for a while, not because the subject matter didn't interest me but because I wanted to have a proper stretch of time to enjoy it properly - and I'm so glad I did. Hamnet is a heartfelt story about William Shakespeare and his family, told within the context of the loss of Shakespeare's young son, Hamnet. Does the name sound familiar? Perhaps in relation to Shakespeare's greatest work? Maggie O'Farrell thought so too, and this novel is the result of her exploration into Shakespeare and his wife Agnes' lives, in the wake of personal tragedy.
Lauryn Chamberlain's sophmore novel is an immersive and wonderfully written story about the transformations and nuances of adult friendships: how they change, how they fade or grow with time and space and life experience. The book introduces us to four college roommates on the eve of their graduation, with nothing but hope and promise ahead of them, then follows them through fifteen years of ups and downs as the thread of friendship that binds them frays and strengthens in turn. As an elder (cough cough) millennial, this book particularly appealed to me because it overlaps with my own university and post-university experience, taking technological, musical and fashion cues seemingly from my own life - needless to say, nostalgia to the max. It's a pefect gift for the university roomie you're seeing this holiday season, to be given before countless reminisences about those olden days of going-out tops and bottles of cheap wine, marveling about how far you've come.
There are plenty of reasons why The Keeper of Hidden Books is on everyone's end of year lists… this story about book banning and censorship during the Second World War is a timely tale, with an unflinching look at the horrors of war inflicted on the Polish people. Given my own release this year about the Nazis' war on modern art, The Keeper of Hidden Books feels like something of a companion, telling a story about another form of censorship (one with unesettling parallels in today's literary landscape), and its a beautifully told story of resistance and hope in dark times.
This fantastic story takes Charlotte Bronte's moorswept classic Jane Eyre and transports it to the glass and steel skyscrapers of Toronto's financial district, with delightful results. To say I was surprised to learn that this is a debut is an understatement - Melodie's got such a way with words, and even though I knew the Bronte particulars I was entirely captivated by Melodie's retelling. Prior to getting my start as an author, I worked in the financial district, and it was so fun to see parts of the city I love reflected on the page.
Sometimes you come across a book that the universe is tellng you to read, and Dolly Alderton's Everything I Know About Love is one of those books, because when I attended two weddings in two weeks on two different continents, BOTH of their ceremonies had a reading from this book. Dolly's memoir is a collection of stories about the author's relationship with love in its many forms throughout her life: those early, awkward high school fumbles, reaching out across the MSN ether to talk to boys while second-guessing every virtual and in-person interaction; building a wild, whirlwind college sisterhood (which had uncanny enough parallels to my own university experience for me to send photos of the pages to my own sisterhood); enduring those first true attempts at forging connections, affections, and beyond; mellowing, maturing into adulthood with friendships forged in the fire of life experience. I laughed, I cried, I loved it.