Starred Reads from 2023, Part Two gets even better

by KJ in #AmReading

I’m crap at keeping my reading spreadsheet but I did manage to use the asterisk key.

Last week I offered you the starred reads from the first half of 2023 HERE. Not the “best reads” (what would that even mean?). Maybe not even my favorites. Not sure. But the reading experiences that made me want to hit a little “star” key once, twice, sometimes multiple times. I do that in the “whelm” column of my reading spreadsheet, which also has columns for things like date I started and finished, what I liked and didn’t, genre, form, whether I bought the book or had it gifted and who published it.

I hardly ever fill out most of them. But a star for a book that deserves a star (which is different from ratings stars on websites, here one star is excellent and the only real difference between one star and 8 is how enthusiastic my typing finger was in the moment). So, without further blether-ado, the last of the books that got that star last year (30 out of the approximately 130 that I managed to record).

The Late Mrs. Willoughby OMG if you love Jane Austen just go start this series, which begins with The Murder of Mr. Wickham and unites all the Austen characters in a glorious after-all-the-books world. Can’t recommend enough.

Same Time Next Summer Did Annabel Monaghan get BETTER at summer romances? I hate her and also I love her. You will sink into this and savor.

Portrait of a Scotsman Oh! I wrote lots about Evie Dunmore HERE. This might have been my unexpected fave.

Ink Blood Sister Scribe I don’t think this got the love it deserved. Magic spells written into books, sisters forced to keep secrets from one another, powers revealed… Another pleasure and not just if you like the genre.

The Road to Roswell You only THINK you don’t like books with aliens. This REALLY should have transcended its genre, it’s funny and delightful and combines the whackiness of the best (non-conspiracy theory) X Files episodes with a really funny romance and a mad road trip. If you don’t like it I’ll… put a bumper sticker on my car that says The Truth Is Out There.

Acts of Violet Ok, True story—not wild about the end of this one, sometimes you can’t explain away the magic. But most of it was SUCH a fun mix of formats—straight story, articles, podcast transcripts, old letters—and I loved the premise of the magician who disappeared during her greatest act. Worth a read.

Mistborn Again, not just for those who read in the genre. Like, if you liked Lord of the Rings but have never read any other fantasy, go get this. Among other things I adore that it’s a friends/mentor and mentee story, not a love story.

Just Some Stupid Love Story well okay, I also love love stories. I think this one isn’t out yet, I blurbed it and you’ll have to pre-order—but future you will thank you, this was the romance where you love the entire story AND you cannot figure out HOW these two will find their way to each other even though you want them to. And the BANTER. Amazing.

Kiss the Girl You know you would love to read the story of Taylor Swift leaving behind her fame to be a roadie for up and coming Noah Kahan. Or something like that, totally fictionalized, very believable, just sheer solid FUN.

Assistant to the Villain Like The Princess Bride, but make it loopier. Warning: cliffhanger. But I still enjoyed the conceit of a villain with HR problems in a fairy-tale economy.

The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch FUNNY. PERFECT. I never, ever would have thought anyone could redeem Lydia Bennet AND keep her exactly the way she is. The voice of this is a delight.

Starter Villain Just go look at the cover, ok? This is another one where I do not CARE if you don’t think you read sci-fi (which it barely is and why do we limit ourselves I ask you, why?). I dare you not to like this. If you don’t like it I’ll buy another kitten and then we will have four and our house will not be our own.

Going Infinite It’s Michael Lewis on Sam Bankman Fried and it’s FASCINATING, dude really should NOT have let, for example, his emails with his very relatably insecure girlfriend out into the world. Honestly this was my first Michael Lewis and I read it partly bc couldn’t part of you see yourself accidently ending up working for SBF and thinking you’d made it and then, bam? I could.

The Black Witch If you miss Harry Potter but would prefer it with of a variety of evil and good and heroines and creatures and sexuality, this is the closest anything I’ve read comes. I’ve only read the first one but I WILL keep going this summer.

Emily Wilde’s Encyclopedia of Faeries I love books set in academia. I love unlikely feminist regency characters. I love the idea that there are magical realms. And I REALLY love a very smart protective dog. Sort of dog. And a selfish, funny man (sort of man) in love in spite of himself. And a heroine determined to have nothing to do with him. And also, fairies. Which are even cooler spelled the brit way. Faeries.

One Parting Truth: I don’t tell you about the books I didn’t like. There were at least 15 last year that I read enough of to include on my list but flag as “DNF”—but I’m a writer as well as a reader, and I for the most part, I leave the “this was not for me” reviews to those who are readers only—and I appreciate them! They save me, sometimes. But writing is hard, and sometimes friends write books in which, say, there is an adoption AND a housefire AND cancer AND infidelity and those are all typically things I avoid in my fiction. (Thus, for example, Little Fires Everywhere: NOT FOR ME. But definitely for everyone else.)

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