December 2023

13 of My Favorite
Books of 2023

2023 Book Recommendations from the Charliemadison book club

This year I had high hopes of reading even more than 2022 at 147 books, but life got extra busy in November and December so I was just shy of 140 books this year. And what a year it was! It was really hard to narrow down a list that big to 13 favorites, because there were so many good ones.

I chose these 13 incredible books that were a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and historical fiction because they stuck with me long after I turned the last page. Many of these books had strong, free-spirited female lead characters who overcame incredible challenges and lived life on their own terms.

All of these books would make wonderful gifts for a book lover and are certainly worth adding to your TBR (to be read) list for 2024. Cheers to another year of reading, inspiring, and escaping to different worlds with my 13 favorite books of 2023.

XO, Wendy



A trio of women from a seaside community in Long Island discover that the mid-life changes they're experiencing aren't a burden, but a very powerful blessing. They use their powers to help solve the murder case of a young girl the police have swiftly moved on from and end up head to head with the rich and powerful men who live in a community where the rules don't seem to apply.

I couldn't have loved this book more! The trio of main characters are quirky, funny, and so relatable. They challenge the stereotype that women in mid-life and beyond simply disappear into the background, yet these women embrace the changes and use them to help those most vulnerable. Such a great story!

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During the spring of 2020 when the pandemic is shutting down the country, Lara’s three daughters come to stay at their family’s cherry orchard in Michigan. As they help with the cherry picking, the girls convince their mother to retell the story of her romance with famous actor Peter Duke years ago during their summer production at a theater company called Tom Lake. With new pieces of the past unveiled and Lara’s decisions to keep some parts of her story a secret, the girls learn how their mother and father’s love story began and contemplate how they view their futures.

Oh my, where do I start with this one? I was excited to see a new book by one of my favorites - Ann Patchett. After reading her older book, Bel Canto, I was intrigued by this completely different story. But what absolutely sold me on this was the audiobook narration by Meryl Streep. I adored this book from start to finish, but I think the audio version made it even better. My favorite book this month, I highly recommend listening instead of reading this lovely story!

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Olivia and her son Asher move back to her small New Hampshire home town to escape the cruelty of her surgeon husband. Lily and her mom move to the same town to make a fresh start. When Lily and Asher fall head over heels for each other, they feel as if life is finally giving them a chance. Until Olivia receives a call that Lily is dead and Asher has been arrested. As the trial progresses and secrets are revealed, Olivia is left wondering if Asher was really capable of murder.

Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite storytellers - she has a gift for weaving so much detail into her stories and getting you invested in the characters. This book was on my TBR list for a while, but after getting so many rave reviews, I picked it up and wow, it was incredible. I realized there were many things I was uneducated about and I am so grateful I read this book - beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time!

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Caz and her boyfriend Pete set sail on the RMS Atlantica - a luxury cruise liner with every amenity imaginable. They enjoy their first night aboard by eating, dancing, and discovering new friends. But when Caz wakes up the next morning, she can’t find Pete and she soon discovers she is alone on the ship and all the cabin doors are open. The cruise ship is barrelling ahead with no crew and no passengers, but that is just the beginning of Caz’s terrifying experience.

I had this one on my wish list for months after I read a recommendation from a military spouse friend who had an advanced copy of the book. I was so excited to read it that I got it the day it was released. All I can say is what an amazing ride. This book keeps you turning page after page, wanting to read the next chapter to find out what craziness happens next. Gripping, suspenseful, and terrifying, this book left me with my mouth wide open. One of the best books I’ve read - well done Mr. Dean!

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Set in Montgomery, Alabama in the 1970's and based on historical events, this book follows a Black nurse who works in a Family Planning Clinic as she hopes to make a difference in her community. As she advocates for her first two patients - sisters who are just eleven and thirteen years old - she discovers the horrifying truth about widespread atrocities happening in neighboring towns and states. Based on the real life court case of Relf v Weinberger.

This was a beautifully-written book and a favorite read of January. It was heartbreaking and hopeful - a story of love and compassion. A part of history that should be shared so it never happens again.

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Based on the true story of the Wager and the aftermath of its wreck on the coast of Patagonia. The Wager, a British man-of-war ship left England in 1740 to intercept and capture a trove of Spanish gold. But the dangerous seas and horrific traveling conditions caused the ship to run aground. The account of what followed - mutiny, murder, escape - varied significantly between the surviving crew members and the result of the court martial left everyone in shock.

The single non-fiction book in this month's list was absolutely fascinating - I finished it in two days. The details of the voyage and the horrific conditions the men faced were not nearly as shocking as the outcome of the court martial. No surprise this book sits on top of the NY Times bestseller list. Fabulous!

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Demon Copperhead tells the story of a boy, born in the mountains of southern Appalachia in a single-wide trailer to a teenage mother with an on again off again drug habit. Told by Demon, the story follows his birth through life in the foster system, child labor, horrific living conditions to athletic success, addiction, loves, and losses. 

Barbara Kingsolver is one of my all-time favorite authors - I've been reading her books for years. The story is tragic and heartbreaking - many times I found myself wondering how our foster system has let so many kids down. This book opened my eyes to the struggles and unimaginable conditions many find themselves stuck in, many times through circumstances beyond their control. This story will stay with me forever!

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The annual summer trip to "The Paper Palace," her family's vacation place, quickly takes a big detour for Elle - a 50-something married mom of three. After an evening's dinner, she and her childhood friend Jonas sneak outside to rendezvous while their spouses and family chat inside. Over the next 24 hours, both Elle must search her soul and relive her past as she decides whether to stay with her husband, Peter or give it all up to be with Jonas.

Filled with tragedy, love, and heartbreak, this story looks at the difficulties of our past and how we must sometimes give up something we really want for something else that is meant for us. Beautifully written and filled with difficult decisions and family drama. I absolutely loved this one.

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The year is 1960 and college student Marilyn Kleinman and the rabbi's son are caught making out in front of the entire congregation. To save her reputation, Marilyn's parents send her to live with her great-aunt Ada for the summer. They're sure Ada's job as a matchmaker in Philadelphia will save Marilyn's reputation.

Ada doesn't match Marilyn's pre-conceived notions of a 70-year old single woman - she's sassy, loves the best of everything, and drives a Cadillac convertible. As they spend the summer at the Jersey shore, Marilyn helps Ada scope out matches for some eligible ladies. But Marilyn has a thing or two to learn about life, her future, and her relationship with Ada.

I immediately loved the plot and characters from the first chapter of the book. Yet there were many unexpected plot twists and the sweetest relationships that made my heart so happy. An absolutely beautiful novel about relationships, societal expectations, and life choices that made this one of my absolute favorites of the year.

*Bonus - if you have Kindle Unlimited, this one is included.

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A fascinating work of historical fiction - a look at Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant scientist whose early work with x-rays and DNA were the basis for our understanding of the double-helix structure of DNA. She sacrificed her own life in her pursuit of science for humankind, only to have her work stolen and published by men who won the Nobel Prize for their work with DNA.

As a scientist who also studied DNA, I found this to be one of the most inspiring and validating books I've read about women in science. Marie Benedict is a beautiful storyteller and this book made me want to learn more about Rosalind Franklin and her brilliant work.

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In the early 1960s, gifted chemist and researcher Elizabeth Zott is struggling to make her place in a male-dominated and discriminatory world of scientific research. Sparks soon fly with fellow researcher and Nobel Prize-nominated Calvin Evans and the two build a life together. When tragedy strikes, Elizabeth finds herself a single mother and the star of the television cooking show, Supper at Six. Her quirky approach to cooking and challenge to women’s stereotypes make her both popular and controversial as she challenges women’s role in society.

I instantly loved this fun and fast-moving novel. As a scientist myself, it was difficult to read about the dismissive and often hostile treatment of women in science at a time when men dominated the field. Despite the challenges and disappointments, Elizabeth Zott continued to fight for what she believed in. This was one of my top choices this month – I loved every minute!

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Four sixty-something women have spent the last 40 years as elite assassins for a secret organization. To celebrate their retirement, they foursome are treated to a cruise ship vacation. Yet they soon realize they are now the targets of an assassin inside the organization. They must stay alive and figure out who and why they’ve been targeted.

Deanna Raybourn is one of my favorite authors (A Spear of Summer Grass), so I didn’t hesitate to pick up her latest novel. From the first page to the last, this feisty foursome will keep you turning the page and laughing, as they share their life stories and prove that age is just a number.

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The story of two nerdy kids, who form a friendship over their love of video games, and go on to create a best-selling video game that catapults them to stardom within the gaming world. From their early childhood days in the hospital, to college, to their struggling young adult years, to after their success, the story winds together love, tragedy, loss, and grief.

This book has gotten so much hype and I almost passed on reading it because I really am not into video games. I am so glad I took a chance on this one because there was so much more to the story. From the fragility of life and friendships, to the effect of grief and loss, to the redemptive nature of love and how we are all searching for it made this one of my favorite February reads!

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