I love reading fiction. I really do make an effort with non-fiction (especially when listening to audiobooks) and try to read at least one or two a month, but if I’m reading for pure pleasure, it’s gonna be fiction. Fiction can be a great escape from reality, the best way to unwind! I always feel my imagination stirring and my creativity heightened without fail. I love that each fiction story takes you through such a rollercoaster of emotions, allowing you to find a character you connect with. Who hasn’t put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist of a recent fiction read?
There’s an endless selection to choose from, but there’s always a select few that stand out from the others. This is my top list of fiction reads from over the years.. some that have made me think, some that have made me cry, some that have left me absolutely speechless. From romance novels to sci-fi, these 15 books are the perfect mix to round out your new year fiction snags.
PPS – don’t forget about The Library. Everything I’ve read over the past eight years, plus you can search, sort, and filter by genre!
14 A + Fiction book recommendations
The book thief, by Markus Zusak
Oh man – this book was beautifully written. Set in Nazi Germany and told from the perspective of Death, you can imagine that you will need tissues. All of them. It follows the story of the main character Liesel (aka the book thief) from age nine to fourteen and what her life was like during Hitler’s rule. It’s heartwarming and funny at times but also heartbreaking. Over 10 million copies have been sold – it’s a classic, I’m not sure how I read it so much later. Be prepared to laugh and cry… it’s one of those books that really stuck with me, years after finishing.
The seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by taylor jenkins reid
I absolutely devoured this one – reading it in all of 24 hours. I think it is one of the best vacations reads if you have not already read it. Evelyn Hugo is an aging old Hollywood star (think Liz Taylor, Marilyn Monroe) and commissions a rather unheard of journalist to do an interview with her. Her story is a wild one – heart warming, glamorous, deceitful at times… you won’t be able to put it down. As her story unwinds, it becomes obvious that Evelyn + Monique (the journalist) have intertwined lives. It’s shocking and raw and real and I can’t say enough good things about this one.
my brilliant friend, by elena ferrante
This is the very simple, beautifully written story of two young women, growing up in the fifties in Italy. This book covers their childhood through adolescence and the remainder of the series will cover the rest of their lives. The second thing that struck me was that it’s a translation. The book was originally published in Italian and translated to English. It’s amazing to me how the translator (Anne Goldstein) was able to translate it and keep it so vibrant and beautifully told. Oftentimes when books are translated to English, they lose something and can feel a bit flat/harder to read. What I loved about it is the storytelling and how perfectly Ferrante (and Goldstein) captured the nuances of friendship.
demon copperhead, by barbara kingsolver
I felt stressed out for a lot of this book. There is a lot of trauma (drugs, death, addiction, abuse) but while the subject matter is dark, its endearing protagonist makes the book a page turner. My mom had read it and loved it, many of you had said it was one of your best fiction books of 2022. This is a tough book at times, but if I could give it an A++ I would. So far, it’s my favorite book of 2023.
Damon Copperhead is born to a junkie mother. By the time of his birth, his father is already dead. He is the boy that nobody wants. The storyline follows Demon from childhood through young adulthood, through horrible loss after horrible loss, terrible and sometimes abusive foster homes, child labor, heartbreak, more death, disaster, and loss. In between that there are pockets of sunshine (his athletic success, his friendships, his wit and sense of humor) which makes the book a compulsive read: Damon/Demon’s voice is really just incredible.
Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Dorr.
Oh my goodness, this book. It came recommended to me by a friend whose taste in books I really, really respect but when it showed up, it was such a big book that I got intimidated. I started it, and friends… I finished it in just a couple days. And I couldn’t put it down! I will say that this one is a little bit polarizing. There are so many different stories that it took me a little while to become invested in each one, and then when I did, I wondered how they would ever intersect. But anyway, this is a masterpiece.
There are 3 different main story arcs: one set in ancient Constantinople, one set in modern day, and one set in the future on a space ship (!!! – but it’s not science fiction-y, if that worries you at all). You are kind of like “what is happening” in parts, but trust me… just stick with it, the way it all ties together is magical. The last 200 pages took my breath away! I don’t know if I will ever be able to stop thinking about this book.
City of girls, by Elizabeth gilbert
I am definitely an Elizabeth Gilbert superfan and really, really enjoyed this book. The book follows Vivian Morris (a 19 year old Vassar dropout) to New York City, through ups and downs and middle age all the way until she’s 89 years old. She moves to the city to her aunt Peg’s house, where she takes up costume design for glamorous showgirls… spending most nights out on the town . When she makes a terrible mistake her whole world implodes and she faces ruin but ultimately lands on her feet. This is the story of female friendship, of female sexuality, of redemption… and so much more. I could not put it down.
the nickel boys, by colson whitehead
This book!!!! So many of you recommended it and I am so glad I read it. This book has been on nearly every notable “best books” list and it won the Pulitzer Prize, so I knew it would be good. It’s set in the sixties in Jim Crow-era Florida at a hellish reform school, and it’s (horrifyingly) based on a true story.
Elwood Curtis is the boy who sets out to do everything right. He believes he’s “as good as anyone” (MLK’s words) and is determined to do great things with his life. One day, he makes the most innocent mistake and he’s sentenced to time at the Nickel Academy. The Nickel Academy claims to turn wayward youths into upstanding men but the reality is that it’s a sadistic, terrible, corrupt place of abuse. He befriends cynical Turner, and the boys form a close bond. The ending crushed me. The whole book crushed me. But please, please read this book, I promise you will find it to be one of the best books of all time!
the vanishing half, by brit bennett
This came recommended from one of the best bookstagram accounts I follow and I read it in a little over 24 hours. This is the story of two identical twin sisters, growing up in the small Black community of Mallard, Louisiana. Desiree is the troublemaker and restless, whereas her sister Stella is more bookish and a bit of a goody two-shoes. From there, the sisters lives take very different paths. Stella passes for white and goes on to marry her boss and become a wealthy housewife (with her husband having no idea of her background). Meanwhile, Desiree marries the darkest man she can find, who eventually abuses her, causing her to leave and go back to Mallard.
The story follows the two women and their daughters (Jude and Kennedy, whose lives intersect at one point!) through childhood, from high school in the fifties in the Jim Crow South to adulthood in the nineties in Los Angeles. I could not put it down. I cannot recommend this book enough!
the midnight library, by matt haig
Oh wow, this book was just… excellent. The writing is exquisite, it’s evocative and thought provoking… it’s one of my favorite works of fiction I have read in a long time. This is a book about regret. Nora Seed showed so much promise. At one point, she could have been an Olympic swimmer. At another, a rockstar. But bad decision after bad decision leads her to a sad and lonely life. When her cat dies, she decides that it is time to end her life. But in between life and death, she arrives at a place called The Midnight Library. There, she meets her childhood librarian who shows her around.
Each book on the shelf represents a different regret or decision, and the life she would have had if she’d chose differently. But as soon as she finds a life to be disappointing she is taken back to the library to take out another book. And so Nora goes on to live tons of different lives. In one, she’s a former Olympian. In others, she’s a mother. In one, she’s a famous rockstar. In another, she didn’t break up with her ex-fiance. I could go on.
the maid, by Nita Prose
OK I absolutely loved this book. It was the most heartwarming murder mystery I’ve ever read? Molly is a maid at an upscale London hotel. She loves her job and can’t think of anything else she’d rather do. But Molly is different. She’s smart and kind and well intentioned, but doesn’t always pick up on social cues and tends to misread people. Because of that, sometimes, she trusts the wrong people. One day, one of the hotel’s VIP clients turns up dead. A murder investigation ensues and Molly finds herself at the center of it, as the main suspect… wanted for murder!
Everything she says only seems to make the situation worse. Her entire life is upended, but friends in unlikely places come through to help her search for clues and figure out what really happened: who the real murderer was, and what actually happened. I think nearly everyone I know would enjoy this!
black cake, by Charmaine wilkerson
Benny and Byron are estranged siblings. But when their mother dies, everything changes. Their mother leaves them just two things: an eight hour voice recording (and a stipulation that they must listen to the whole thing together, in the presence of their family lawyer… and a black cake (a traditional Caribbean dessert; now I must figure out where to get some!). In listening to the recording, they learn about a headstrong girl named Covey who grew up in the Caribbean (the island is never specified), and loved to swim. Secrets emerge about Benny and Byron’s family, and everything they thought they knew about their mother (and father) is challenged. Spanning the sixties through modern day and addressing everything from race to the forced adoptions that happened in the sixties and seventies, it is fascinating. The characters were so real, the story was incredible… I couldn’t put it down.
Violeta, by isabel allende
I feel badly because on Instagram stories (after getting about 90 pages in), I told you that I was only medium on this book and wasn’t so sure how I felt about it. Things turned around quickly: I was on the plane for my flight to Anguilla, and became totally captivated/mesmerized by the story. It is truly (in the spirit of Black Cake), a masterpiece, an epic saga of sorts and I loved it so much.
It spans a full century; starting with the Spanish flu and ending with COVID-19, a hundred years later. Violeta is writing to an unknown friend or family member (you find out who it is later), telling them the story of her (hundred year long) life. From her family’s downfall and subsequent exile to the mountains of South America to her first marriage, the births of her children, heartbreak, death… I could go on. It is wonderful. There is so much love in this book but also so much tragedy.
Notes on an Execution, by Danya kukafka
I love, love, loved this book. Please read it. This was a thriller, but not like most of the thrillers I read… it’s more of a… literary thriller? I discovered it on one of the book podcasts I listen to. Ansel Packer is on death row, scheduled to die in twelve hours. The book takes us through the perspectives of several people (including Ansel’s) to show us how he got there.
We learn about his background and traumatic childhood- abandoned by his mother, growing up in the foster system. Then we meet Saffy, the little girl who was once in foster care with him and grew up to be the detective who is determined to nail him. We hear from her mother, and come to understand why she did what she did. We meet Hazel, his wife Jenny’s twin sister, who had a little crush on Ansel – until she didn’t. It’s chilling. It feels like it could be real. It’s dark and upsetting but so, so good. The sort of book you’ll think about for months after you read it. Highly, highly recommend this one!
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, by gabrielle zevin
This is a beautiful, special book. It follows Sadie Green and Sam Masur (later, Mazer) from their childhood friendship (they meet in a hospital waiting room and begin playing video games together). Sadie’s sister is sick and Sam has been in a traumatic car accident. The book spans all the way through adulthood to their late thirties. The two become stars, rich… at just 25 years old. They move back to LA where they establish (alongside their third partner Marx Watanabe) their company, Unfair Games. Throughout, Sadie experiences a couple of bad heartbreaks. Sam has his fair share of health issues. They fight and find themselves not speaking to each other. This book is a different sort of love story about friendship. It will break your heart and put it back together several times as you read.