At the end of each year, the NetGalley team loves reflecting back on the great books and audiobooks we’ve read. These are the books that made us laugh, cry, and swoon, and kept us talking nonstop. Here’s a look at our favorite 2023 read we read. Whether you’re looking for a gripping mystery, a heartstopping romance, riveting nonfiction, or a dystopian tale—you’re sure to find a book on this list you’ll want on your TBR!
The Haunting of Alejandra by V. Castro
I was not expecting to have so many emotions while reading this book. I read it at the beginning of the year, and I still can’t get over how much I loved it. The Haunting of Alejandra is a horror book, but it packs an emotional punch with topics of generational trauma, motherhood, depression, and the struggles of women throughout history. It tells the story of Alejandra, who is a mother and a wife but doesn’t know who she is outside of those titles and is struggling with depression and loneliness. When she starts seeing the apparition of La Llorona, she seeks help from a therapist and starts to think more about her biological mother, the women in her family, and the Mexican heritage that she’s been cut off from. This book is a great example of how the horror genre can be much more than just scares.
We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian
Earlier in the year I said this was one of the best romances of 2023, and I have been recommending it to everyone I know ever since. Cat Sebastian transports readers to 1950s New York City, where the son of a newspaper mogul falls hard for a local reporter. It’s packed with everything I adore about Sebastian’s books—humor, caretaking, found family—and also feels like a love letter to queer identity and how revolutionary it can be to embrace and love who you are and find community in that. Sebastian shines in the moments where characters explore the complicated balance of acknowledging their fears and the realities of a world that doesn’t welcome them, against the vital importance of holding onto hope and experiencing joy to its fullest. It’s no secret that Sebastian is one of my favorite authors, and if you haven’t read her works and don’t know where to start, I couldn’t think of a better entry point than this book!
Stars in Your Eyes by Kacen Callender, narrated by André Santana, AJ Beckles, and more
Kacen Callender’s adult romance debut blew me away. Co-stars Mattie and Logan are pressured into a fake dating stunt to create hype around the romantic movie they’re filming. The media casts Logan as a troublesome bad boy and Mattie as a golden rising star, though the time they spend together reveals so much more going on beneath the surface. Mattie is struggling not to lose himself while trying to live up to the expectations of those around him, and Logan is grappling with accepting love from Mattie while battling inner demons that have long haunted him. Callender crafts a nuanced and emotional look at what a happily ever after looks like for someone who has experienced deep trauma and is on the road to healing. The audiobook is spectacular. The leads perfectly capture Mattie and Logan’s voices, and it features a full cast for snippets of vlogs, articles, social media, and news articles that flesh out their world. Friends, prepare to hear me yell about how stunning this book is for a long, long time.
The Wren, the Wren by Anne Enright
Generational trauma? Dysfunctional parenting? Resilient female leads? Check, check, check! The Wren, the Wren does not disappoint. I already loved Anne Enright, but this one left me in a puddle, rearranging the details of scraps of paper, family truisms, repeated images… searching for truth and knowing it’s all just a story. Don’t miss this.
Hi Honey, I’m Homo! written and narrated by Matt Baume
I’ve wanted to read this book my entire life, since before I knew this book existed. As a queer person raised by Seinfeld, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Golden Girls, I couldn’t have loved Matt Baume’s extensive look into LGBTQIAP+ sitcom history more. Expertly narrated by the author, Hi Honey, I’m Homo! dives deep into modern queer history and pop culture through the lens of queer representation in sitcoms, from the mid-twentieth century through Modern Family.
Hi Honey, I’m Homo! presents the reader with the realities of queer life, from the Annual Reminders (which I learned about thanks to this book!), predating the Stonewall riots, through the Obama administration’s endorsement of marriage equality. Baume expertly mixes the facts of queer representation on sitcoms like Bewitched, Ellen, and Will & Grace with our culture’s attitudes toward queer people at the time these shows aired, allowing us a look at how subversive television can be and has been. I absolutely could not put this one down, and I will be recommending (and relistening!) for years to come. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.
The House of Eve by Sadeqa Johnson
Halfway through 2023, I suddenly got hooked on historical fiction and I kept seeing The House of Eve on every recommendation list. I finally read it and immediately understood the buzz behind this book! The House of Eve, set in the 1950s, is an intertwined story of two characters at a crossroads. Ruby, is a fifteen-year-old Black girl in Philadelphia with her whole life ahead of her. Eleanor is a Howard University student trying to figure out her place in the world. It’s a thoughtful, timely read about women’s history, motherhood, and the intersection of race and class.
The Other Pandemic by Lynn Curlee
As a former teen librarian, I still love to read YA nonfiction and was really looking forward to this book from Lynn Curlee, a celebrated illustrator and a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction finalist. The Other Pandemic is an incredible first-hand account of Curlee’s experience in the ’80s and ’90s during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The book explores the parallels between the United States’ handling of the historical crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also a beautiful remembrance of his partner and friends who were tragically lost and a scrapbook of LGBTQIA+ history. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read the last page.
You, with a View by Jessica Joyce
After discovering that her late grandmother had a secret love prior to marrying her grandfather, Noelle Shepard turns to TikTok to track him down. She finds the man, Paul, and—together with Paul’s grandson Theo (who happens to be Noelle’s high school rival)—they embark on a road trip following the honeymoon that Paul and her grandmother planned but never got to go on. Noelle learns more about her beloved grandmother’s past life, including what happened in her forbidden love story. I loved the family relationships and emotional vulnerability portrayed in You, with a View, as well as the romance that blossoms between Noelle and Theo.
Practice Makes Perfect by Sarah Adams
Sweet, innocent Annie Walker just wants to find the love of her life to settle down with. After a disastrous first date where she overhears herself described as “unbelievably boring,” Annie decides she needs practice in being less awkward during dates. She enlists the help of her brother’s fiancée’s bodyguard: the outgoing, doesn’t-believe-in-love Will. As Annie and Will begin to open up to each other about their fears, their friendship turns into more. Practice Makes Perfect has a romance that plays out in a caring and patient way, with so many relatable and funny moments. I felt seen when I read the book’s dedication: “This one is for the softies. The tenderhearted sweeties. The introverts who are afraid to shine.”
Moon Of The Turning Leaves by Waubgeshig Rice
After reading Moon of the Crusted Snow with my book club a few years back, I had to wait extremely patiently for this sequel, devouring every article that came out from author Waubgeshig Rice to fill the void! While my American coworkers will need to wait until February 2024 to pick Moon Of The Turning Leaves up, it already hit shelves here in Canada in October.
Over a decade after the mysterious apocalypse that collapsed most of modern society (the events that take place in Moon of the Crusted Snow), a community of Anishinaabe survivors must relocate from their remote Northern Canadian home if they have any hope of finding new resources to sustain them. I think this one will feel more familiar to traditional dystopian lovers—it’s a slow, treacherous journey to the former Lake Huron, with dangerous encounters with the land and those who now inhabit it. It’s a quest to find home, like many other dystopian fiction stories, but what sets this one apart is how drenched in culture it is. Rice’s emphasis on the community’s Indigenous language and customs makes this book so immersive; it really feels like you’re experiencing the journey with these characters. It’s a love letter to hope, community, and rebirth—with a climax that kept me up past my bedtime.
She Knows Too Much by Pamela Crane
Pamela Crane’s books are always a must-read for me and having read the first book in the If Only She Knew series, I was thrilled to be heading back to Bloodson Bay for this second installment. Bloodson Bay has a dark history, and three friends—Tara, Ginger, and Sloane—all find themselves linked to a dead body that was left on Tara’s horse ranch. Many people had a reason to kill Victor Valance, and it’ll take some digging into everyone’s history to figure out whodunit. In Crane’s typical fashion, just when you think you figured out the twist, she throws another one at you! What I love the most about Crane’s books is that all her characters feel familiar and relatable to me—like old friends. This series is packed with ’80s and ’90s references, which I totally loved and brought me back, having grown up then as well. Reading her books always leaves me feeling like I just spent time with dear friends and I can’t ever step away! I can’t wait for book three, What She Doesn’t Know (which I’ve already pre-ordered!).
When I’m Dead by Hannah Morrissey
It’s been a while since I devoured a book as fast as I did this one! When I’m Dead is the perfect psychological thriller—the characters are well-developed and I found myself truly invested in their lives. The story follows Rowan, a medical examiner, and her husband Axel, a local detective, who learn that their daughter is missing following a school play. Even more frightening: two of her friends turn up dead at the same time. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like as a mother going through this. Written in alternating views, the author builds suspense with each passing chapter, never once giving even the slightest inkling as to who is guilty. I love a thriller that leaves me guessing the entire time and Hannah Morrissey did that masterfully. This is my second Black Harbor book and I can’t wait to see what Morrissey comes up with next!
Invasion Hustle by Arthur Mayor
This is the sixth and final entry in the Space Station Noir series. I don’t know that I’ve ever had so much affection for a book series. It is lighthearted science fiction that deals with heavy issues of family, adult friendships, addiction, race, personal responsibility, and generational trauma—just to name a few—in a way that is completely free of judgment, accusation, and smug sermons. The relationship between the two main characters at the center of the story gives me hope for humanity. The entire series is a delightful, easy read that stays with you long after you’ve finished.