Our favourite books of 2023

WHEN PROOFS OF new books arrive, I have learnt to pounce before another bookseller snaffles the choicest of the stack. Yet Denise swooped in the other day to pick up the new Andre Aciman (of Call Me By Your Name fame), leaving Rory and I to scrap about who gets to read it second. We’ll report back: it’s out next April.

But with so many new books to read, it’s sometimes wiser to rely on your colleagues to do the filtering. Which is why I’ve been looking forward to the team’s 2023 highlights. Personally, I find Megan very persuasive: I’ve got my eye on Wifedom and Take What You Need. Amy has really sold me on The Secret Lives of Church Ladies. And I think I should try The Librarianist: Denise can always be relied upon for a good yarn.

What about you? Let me know what’s on your list after reading our picks.



Our overall favourite

IN MEMORIAM by Alice WinnA beautiful debut novel the whole team loved, about two young men in 1914 who don't realise they're in love until the war upends their bucolic existence. It's a tragic but gorgeous read about beauty and war, love and enmity, men and the things they do to one another. Highly recommended. Buy online

Denise’s top 5

ROMANTIC COMEDY by Curtis SittenfeldThis brilliant ‘rock star boy meets recently divorced TV sketch writer’ is a deep dive into the world of celebrity and our double standards about personality over looks. Full of wit and warmth.

CHERI by Jo Ann BeardThis unusual, poignant short story merges fact and fiction. Cheri Tremble was a real person who died from assisted suicide after years with cancer. Beard interviewed some of her friends and family to help write this story.

THE LIBRARIANIST by Patrick deWittBob Comet, an introverted, retired librarian, lives alone and has a simple, content life. A chance encounter with a confused older lady changes everything. A sad, charming, quirky book.

REALLY GOOD, ACTUALLY by Monica HeiseyMaggie, a young, reluctant almost-divorcee, will feel like one of your best friends. You will laugh, and cringe, at her coping strategies. If you’ve ever been unceremoniously dumped, you will recognise a bit of yourself in her.

GAMES AND RITUALS by Katherine HeinyThis collection explores love in all its forms with Heiny’s trademark humour. Marlee turns up at work in her bridesmaid’s dress, Erica’s elderly father mistakes his hearing aid for a cashew nut and a Starbucks receipt reveals a deception.

Megan’s top 5

WIFEDOM by Anna FunderLooking at the life of “Mrs Orwell”, Anna Funder delicately balances juicy historical gossip with cultural criticism, inviting us into her world as she untwists the complicated life of Eileen Blair.

WHY WOMEN GROW by Alice VincentThis gorgeous, sprawling work of non-fiction is both a balm and a call to action. A celebration of women who care, written in sparkling prose. Pick it up for the women in your life who helped you grow.

TAKE WHAT YOU NEED by Idra NoveyThis novel traces the complications of family, grief, artmaking and pain in a deeply felt and compassionate way. I can’t get it out of my head.

ARRANGEMENTS IN BLUE by Amy KeyThe book is ostensibly an exploration of Joni Mitchell's album ‘Blue’, but really is a piercing exploration of how to build a life that you love on your own. Bring it to your family Christmas and consider the beauty of alone time when you all argue about television channels.

AUGUST BLUE by Deborah LevyA new Levy feels like a precious gift, and ‘August Blue’ did everything I hoped it would. A story about doppelgangers and failure, artistic and personal, August Blue is a strange and moving must-read.

Amy’s top 5

NORMAL RULES DON’T APPLY by Kate AtkinsonAtkinson weaves fairy tale tropes throughout these interconnected stories which range from the apocalyptic to the soap-operatic. Replete with Easter eggs, this is a book to read again and again.

THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES by Deesha Philyaw. Black women reckon with their attitudes towards sex and love and the Church. Witty and romantic and tender and illicit - you won’t skip any of the stories in this collection.

WENT TO LONDON, TOOK THE DOG by Nina Stibbe. Navigating menopause, a deteriorating marriage and the streets of London (have they always been this dirty?) Nina is back with a new diary, as funny and biting as ever.

AGAINST ALL GODS by Miles CameronI love a truly heinous villain and in this book, the whole of heaven is filled with them. Sweeping fantasy with some wonderfully debauched gods.

OUR WIVES UNDER THE SEA by Julia ArmfieldA submarine mission goes wrong and wives become strangers - reality is bent out of shape and romance is deeper than ever in this haunting and lyrical novel.

Rory’s top 5

SMALL WORLDS by Caleb Azumah Nelson. I loved Caleb’s debut novel, ‘Open Water’, and this one feels bigger and brighter in every way. A novel about the worlds we inherit and those we create for ourselves, Written in his signature musical rhythm.

IN ASCENSION by Martin MacInnes. This novel is profound on every level - the cell, family, the universe. MacInnes explores space from earth, in labs, with two feet on the ground. By page 20 we know what family means to Leigh inside and out. I spent an hour trading theories with my Dad. Simply mind-blowing.

I WILL GREET THE SUN AGAIN by Khashayar J. KhabushaniThree brothers grapple with their American and Iranian identities when their father snatches them from their LA home to go back to Iran. A sizzling novel of youth, yearning, identity, and what you need from family in the molten years of childhood. Lyrical and raw.

CHILDREN OF PARADISE by Camilla GrudovaA love letter to independent cinema, but not how you might expect. The cinema, Paradise, is filthy. We follow the antics of its eccentric staff, and Grudova zeroes in on anything gross and unsettling.

CLOSE TO HOME by Michael MageeI was so swept along by this novel about a lad getting by and into trouble in Belfast. He’s fascinated by why people leave and how people stay. His voice is so strong, the Irish turn of phrase so compelling, and every relationship is complex and tenderly drawn.

Darby’s top 5

LIMBERLOST by Robbie ArnottLyrical and atmospheric, ‘Limberlost’ tells the story of Ned - of a childhood spent dreaming of a boat and trying to impress his father. Arnott explores masculinity, responsibility, fear, and hope.

FAMILY LORE by Elizabeth Acevedo. Each of the women of the Marte family have a special gift. Flor can sense when someone is going to die. A beautifully written, character-driven novel all about relationships, identity and family.

THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT by Maggie O’FarrellO'Farrell plays with your perception in this incredibly written novel about a 15 year old girl who becomes convinced that her husband plans to murder her.

SWORD CATCHER by Cassandra Clare. One of my favourite YA authors has released an adult fantasy series and it’s a treat. Classic fantasy with stellar world-building and vibrant characters. The ending left me so eager for book two.

THE VASTER WILDS by Lauren GroffThe story of a servant girl and her struggles in the wilderness when she escapes an English settlement, set in 17th century America. Perfect for anyone wanting something a bit strange and historical.

My top 5

THIS IS EUROPE by Ben Judah. Judah spent years pulling together his attempt to tell the recent history of an entire continent through pen portraits of its everyday citizens, from lorry drivers to porn stars. Journalism at its best.

KALA by Colin Walsh. A pacy but stylish page-turner about a group of teenagers in small-town Ireland, one of whom goes missing. Fifteen years on, they’re back in town for a wedding when the truth slowly emerges...

TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett. I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but just look at it! And it’s every bit as beautiful inside, a gorgeous, sun-dappled novel about how the meaning and intensity of familial and romantic love changes throughout life.

A WAITER IN PARIS by Edward Chisholm. The food is revolting and so are the chefs in this memoir of one young Englishman’s attempt to hold down a job in a brasserie despite speaking no French.

ORDINARY HUMAN FAILINGS by Megan NolanThis beautifully-written novel about the characters caught up in an imagined 1990s tabloid scandal says so much about human frailty, fame and infamy and the power of the media.