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  • Writer's pictureTiffany Noel Froese

My 2023 In Books



This is the sixth year that I’ve recorded the books I read throughout the year, and not only was it my most prolific (I read sixty-five books!), it was probably my most life-affirming year of reading. Part of that may have to do with how I started the year. I was going through a challenging time and I picked up a Nora Roberts novel at the grocery store that turned out to be the medicine I needed – book one of her Dragon Heart series. It was so cozy, comforting, and spiritually on point that, for a while, I kept chasing that feeling in every book I read. Of course, I couldn’t quite recapture it, but I found other books that moved me forward, characters struggling through darkness and finding light, sometimes even carving the way forward into their own flesh, like in The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

 

At a certain point, I realized there were some themes to what I was reading: plots where food was a central part of a character’s life—cooking, serving, eating—were some of my favorites, as were books about witches and faeries, and romances. I started to build lists in my Bookshop.org store centered around these themes and started to look at why I was gravitating toward these books.

 

The most obvious was that I was looking for comfort and connection. Both food and romance meet these needs, but I was also looking for a sense of autonomy and power, which magic speaks to. Many of the books I read met this need as I lived through the experience of the protagonist, but towards the end of the year, I began to notice that those needs were being met in my own life too. I hadn’t realized it, but I was reaching out and connecting more with the people in my community, I was enjoying my meals more, and I felt more stable and centered in myself and healthier overall, both mentally and physically. Now it wasn’t the books themselves that caused the change, but they nurtured it.

 

Lest you think that all the books I read were silly fantasy-romance and bacchanalian debauchery, let me disabuse you of that notion. Many dealt with dark subjects, abuse, grief, suicide, death, and persecution, but they had at their hearts a path through the darkness and that is serious business.

 

If you could use some nurturing in your TBR list, here are some recommendations. Click on the individual book link for a summary, or click on the heading to be brought to my list of all the books I've read in that category.

 

 

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman – Goodman deftly weaves the dotcom boom and bust of the late 90s/early 00s, with the fight to save the old-growth forests of Northern California and a mysterious and eccentric cookbook collection dating back to the 1500s. Her characters are ambitious, flawed, and tender, and the period comes rushing back with force.

 

Delicious! by Ruth Reichl – I will read anything Reichl writes. She is a wizard with prose that glides off the page directly into the image maker of the mind. A young woman is hired at a food magazine that shortly thereafter is given the axe by the publisher, but she stays on to fulfill the magazine's recipe guarantee. If the recipe doesn’t work, the magazine will refund the reader’s cost to make the dish. In the meantime, she gains access to the magazine's mysterious library and discovers letters written by a young girl to James Beard during WWII. Everything about this book feeds the soul, from the food descriptions to the sweet letters to James Beard. There is romance, redemption, and reconciliation. It is delicious.

 

 

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow – Hands down my favorite book I read all year. And Alix Harrow is my new favorite author. After reading January, I sought out her two other published novels, I loved her writing so much. She is deeply intelligent, witty, and surprising. January is an epic adventure story of a little girl living as the ward of a rich man who grows up to discover the family legacy that has been kept from her. I don’t want to give too much away, but there is adventure and other worlds, and a deep undercurrent of questions of belonging that pulls through it all.

 

The Dragon Heart Series by Nora Roberts – This is the series that kicked off the year and I’d be remiss without mentioning it for how healing it was for me. Nora Roberts is a legend in the romance space for changing the landscape of romance novels by featuring strong heroines with lives and careers and desires beyond men, while at the same time giving them fulfilling love stories. In this series, the romance takes a backseat to the protagonist's self-discovery and fulfillment of her destiny. She has to fight the remnants of her upbringing to find her place in the world and her sense of belonging. She doesn’t have to do it alone though; she is surrounded by a cast of characters that are as embracing as they are different.

 

 

The Seven Year Slip by Ashley Posten – I loved this book because, beneath the romance, the protagonist is at a crisis moment in her life: she’s grieving her favorite aunt and about to get a big promotion at work that she’s worked hard for, but isn’t sure she wants. Meanwhile, she’s inherited her aunt’s magical New York City apartment and a strange man has shown up in it from seven years in the past. And worst of all, she’s falling for him. The romance is steamy and central, but it’s not the only thing going on. The result is an emotionally satisfying read.

 

 

Some other favorites from the year that don’t fall into the above categories are

 

Damnation Spring by Ash Davidson – A truly heartbreaking story of a logging community in the early 1980s suffering from water contamination due to the use of Agent Orange to kill the undergrowth of the forest.

 

The Last Animal by Ramona Ausobel – A mother and her two teenage daughters travel to the Russian tundra in search of wooly mammoth DNA with a research group trying to bring wooly mammoths back from extinction. This is a beautiful story about motherhood, loss, extinction, growing up, and grief.

 

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano – This is Napolitano’s riff on Little Women, set in an Italian American Family in Chicago from 1960-2008. I loved this book because it reminded me of my mom, who grew up Italian American in Chicago in the 60s. The four sisters are so wonderful, but the character who undergoes the best transformation is William, the man that two of the sisters fall in love with.

 

 

Wishing you good reads and a good life in 2024!

 

 

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