Top Five Best Books of 2023
Enjoy these page-turners as we turn the page on another year
Never Whistle At Night edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst
It's not often that a short story collection hits the mark perfectly, but this year's Never Whistle At Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology comes pretty darn close.
In many Indigenous stories and legends, whistling at night brings with it terrible consequences — for Native Hawaiians, this means summoning the Hukai'po, or the spirits of ancient warriors, while Native Mexicans believe it beckons Lechuza, a witch able to turn into an owl. No matter the group, though, the act is something to be avoided if you don't want to draw the attention of evil spirits.
Each story is chilling in its own way, introducing readers to legends from an array of Indigenous cultures. With unique storytelling skills, each author brings to the table something new, and something frightening to keep readers up at night. Curses, ghosts, monsters both human and otherwise, and complexities of both real life and legend weave through the pages to present horrors so magnificent that you'll want to keep reading, but maybe with the lights on. — Ally Kutz
Vintage // 400 pages // Horror, Short Stories
Shark Heart by Emily Habek
On its surface, the concept of Shark Heart is one some readers may find strange, but a deeper dive into the heart of the story will make you glad you decided to pick this book up.
When Lewis and Wren tie the knot, they never knew that their first year of marriage would also be their last. Just weeks after their wedding, Lewis receives the rare diagnosis that he will gradually turn into a great white shark. Though he will retain most of his consciousness and memories, his physical features as well as his impulses will soon turn to those of the apex ocean predator.
While Lewis grapples with this diagnosis and his unfulfilled dreams, Wren fully resists this new life, hoping for a way forward that will keep them together. But as Lewis changes, Wren's world begins to crumble, bringing forward memories she repressed from her childhood living on a houseboat in Oklahoma, her time in college with an ex-girlfriend, and her friendship with a woman pregnant with twin birds.
A unique love story, Shark Heart is all at once poetic, funny, sobering, and delightful in a way many books fail to achieve. Unforgettable and beautiful, it examines the fragility of our memories, as well as finding joy where none seems to be, and making the most of the life we are given. — Ally Kutz
Simon & Schuster // 415 pages // Magical Realism
Sure, I'll Join Your Cult: A Memoir of Mental Illness and the Quest to Belong Anywhere by Maria Bamford
Maria Bamford is the unsung comedic genius of a generation. If you haven't taken the time to watch her Netflix show Lady Dynamite, put that at the top of your list, but in the meantime, read Sure, I'll Join Your Cult. Smart, witty, hilariously self-deprecating, while at the same time tackling her seriously serious struggles with maintaining her mental health — this book waffles, like Maria does, between wanting desperately to get away from the world while simultaneously craving the world's attention.
Bamford's signature voice comes through loud and clear in this memoir, and her writing style is nervous, disjointed, apologetic, and very weird (all in good ways). She turns the rules of writing memoir on its head — wacky footnotes abound, involving everything from detailed financial information to recipes. At its core, this book is about finding a way to belong while also finding a way to make it through life when it all seems too impossible. You'll never read another memoir like it. — Erin Phillips
The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride
In 1972 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, workers digging the foundation for a new development discovered something shocking at the bottom of a well: a human skeleton. Who it was and how it got there are the two long-kept secrets of the residents of Chicken Hill, the run-down neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side, sharing triumphs and tribulations.
Chicken Hill is where Moshe and Chona Ludlow lived — where Moshe integrated his theater and Chona ran the Heaven & Earth grocery store. When authorities come to Chicken Hill looking for a deaf boy in order to institutionalize him, Chona and Nate Timblin, the janitor at Moshe's theater, work together to keep the boy safe.
When the truth is revealed and what happened on Chicken Hill comes to light — and the role the town's white establishment played in it. The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store proves that love and community are what keep us going, surviving and thriving alongside those that surround us. — Ally Kutz
Riverhead Books // 385 pages // Historical Fiction
Maame by Jessica George
Maddie's life is primarily rooted in duty. With a mother who spends a majority of the year in Ghana — yet still somehow manages to be overbearing in her daughter's life — it has fallen to Maddie to be the primary caretaker for her father who suffers from advanced stage Parkinson's disease.
When her mother returns from her most recent trip, though, Maddie uses this opportunity to strike out on her own, leaving the family home and doing things for herself. A self-acknowledged late bloomer, she wants to experience important "firsts" — first apartment with roommates, first after-work drinks, and first time trying internet dating.
While in the throes of experiencing this new life, a tragedy occurs, pulling Maddie back to face the truths of her unconventional family, forcing her to learn that putting your heart on the line can lead to great reward or great heartbreak. Stuck between two homes and two cultures is something many children of immigrants can relate to, and Maame helps to celebrate finally finding where you ultimately belong. — Ally Kutz
St. Martin's Press // 320 pages // Contemporary Fiction