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7 Great Books From My 2023 Reading List


Here are 7 Great Books From My 2023 Reading List (& Why They Are Excellent Mentor Texts For Writers)

In addition to being a book coach and author, I am an avid reader. So, it is hard to pick out only 7 great books from the 90 books I read in 2023. I mean, I read a number of great books in 2023, so what criteria should I use to make a short list?

Taste is personal, and I am an eclectic and voracious reader. I read across genres and categories. So, I thought long and hard about what value a top reads list could offer.

The answer, of course, is craft. Each of the books on this list has a solid craft-related reason for being here that I can clearly articulate.

So, here, in no specific order is a list of 7 great books I read in 2023 and the elements that make them stand out for me as a reader, author and book coach.

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The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (Mystery/Historical Fiction)

Book Cover- The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate MortonThis one makes it onto the list for several reasons, including some absolutely beautiful writing and the expert handling of the multiple timeline/viewpoint structure,  but the opening lines alone would be enough for it to qualify.

“We came to Birchwood Manor, because Edward said that it was haunted. It wasn’t, not then, but it’s a dull man who lets truth stand in the way of a good story.”

It’s a brilliant way to open a story about a ghost/haunted house. It places a question firmly in the reader’s mind right from the start. We are hooked. We want to know more about how the house actually became haunted and the narrator’s role in it. And we want to know why Edward said the house was haunted before it was. Also, the house has a name, which tells us we are going to get to know a lot about the house. And the narrator lets us know right from the start that a good story trumps all.

All this from just two sentences.

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (Graphic Novel)

Book Cover - The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen WangThis book handles a difficult topic with empathy, compassion and a touch of humor. The characters are well-drawn and both have key character arcs. A great example of how to braid together dual storylines that reflect one another and make the overall story resonate on multiple levels.

Also, the illustrations are great.

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Witch King by Martha Wells (Fantasy)

Book Cover - Witch King by Martha WellsThis book makes the list, not only because it’s such a great story with solid worldbuilding and a creative magic system but especially because the author does such a great job of developing an incredibly complex and compelling protagonist.

Wells has a way of working in the gray areas between good and evil even when her characters themselves argue that things are, or should be, black and white. This is a great example of how to create characters that live in the minds of readers long after they close the book.

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The Skull by Jon Klasson (Picture Book based on a Tyrolian Folktale)

Book Cover - The Skull by Jon KlassonKlasson is incredibly creative and looks outside the standard picture book forms and format. I love the way that this book explores the topics of escaping from abuse and death in a very accessible way. His use of a dark palette filled mostly with black, gray and brown set a mood and tone that is somber, yet the story has its own version of a happy ending.

This book is a great example of how new stories can be shaped from old ones, that ideas are all around us and that we can find inspiration in unusual places. We just need to open ourselves up to it.

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Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt (Literary Fiction)

Book Cover - Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van PeltAgain, there are several reasons to pay attention to how this author crafted this compelling narrative, including a multi-viewpoint structure and some fabulous writing, and some great lines like this one:

“Maybe we all have sea monsters living in our brains.”

But what makes this work stand out is the unusual narrator, a Giant Octopus. Telling much of the story through the eyes of such an unusual creature seems odd when you think about it, but the way Van Pelt pulls it off makes this book worth diving into.

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Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia & Lauren O’Hara (Picture Book)

Book Cover - Hortense and the Shadow by Natalia & Lauren O'HaraThis book follows standard picture book format, but the topic is one we don’t see dealt with much in picture books. The protagonist hates her shadow and tries to live without it. And who among us can’t relate to hating or at least wishing to deny our darker side?

The illustrations do a great job of adding to the richness of the story, especially those spreads that foreshadow the danger that lurks in the shadows.

This book is a lesson in embracing all aspects of ourselves told in a way that illustrates but does not dictate. It’s a great example of how to say something important in a picture book without being didactic.


Ain’t Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds, Illustrated by Jason Griffin (YA Fiction/Poetry)Book Cover- Ain't Burned all the Bright by Jason Reynolds and Jason Griffin

This one is really hard to place because it is so unusual. It is over 300 pages but under 1,000 words. It can be read in a few minutes, but the illustrations are so much a part of the narrative that they pull the reader in for a closer, more lingering look. Told in three breathes, this incredible work contains the intensely emotional experience of living through the pandemic and resonates at a deep level.

I saved this one for last, not because it isn’t as good or better than the rest of the books on this list, but because it is an experiential work that is outside the realm of what we normally see published. And, yes, it’s Jason Reynolds, who has an incredible voice and creative track record, which means he has more leeway in the publishing realm.

But this is also an exciting example of what can be done outside of the normal publishing parameters. It’s an invitation for the rest of us to continue to explore our own creativity and push at the boundaries of what is considered normal.

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Thanks for reading this list. I hope you find inspiration from at least one of these books.


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Published inStory Craft