Author Sower of levity Italophile Time traveler Horsegirl Optimist
The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,199 authors and super readers for their 3 favorite reads of the year.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

My favorite read in 2023…

The Marriage Portrait

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Book cover of The Marriage Portrait

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

I love historical fiction that makes a moment in time come alive, but also adds a lens to it—otherwise why read fiction?

The Marriage Portrait plunged me into the 16th century in Florence and Ferrara, and showed those familiar palaces to me through the lens of how powerful men manipulate women, and how women who seem to have no power in a society can still fight back. It also makes me see the famous Browning poem and all of the court portraits of the era in a new light.

I loved the highly layered details, and admired the way O’Farrell created nonstop dramatic tension in the novel. This is a super intense story that never lets up.

By Maggie O'Farrell,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Marriage Portrait as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION FINALIST • REESE’S BOOK CLUB PICK • NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • The author of award-winning Hamnet brings the world of Renaissance Italy to jewel-bright life in this unforgettable fictional portrait of the captivating young duchess Lucrezia de' Medici as she makes her way in a troubled court.

“I could not stop reading this incredible true story.” —Reese Witherspoon (Reese’s Book Club Pick)

"O’Farrell pulls out little threads of historical detail to weave this story of a precocious girl sensitive to the contradictions of her station...You may know the history, and you may think you…

My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Things Beloved: Two Short Novels

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

I met the author at a writers’ workshop and ordered the book out of solidarity, and then was happily blown away by the tight, smart prose, especially in the second of the two novellas, which is about a boy who finds a sailboat half buried in the sand and restores it.

I found the story spare and intensely moving. This book is like a secret treasure—a real find.

By Glenn Morrow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Things Beloved as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

Christina Lynch Why did I love this book?

This is another short book (in terms of pages) that nevertheless packs a huge emotional punch. It made me laugh, cry, and all the feelings in between.

A collection of short stories, each one features characters who are longing, yearning, but also laughing, and using power in fresh and funny ways. The wordplay is fantastic. Loved this book so much.

By Deesha Philyaw,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Secret Lives of Church Ladies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where Black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church's double standards and their own needs and passions.

There is fourteen-year-old Jael, who has a crush on the preacher's wife. At forty-two, Lyra realizes that her discomfort with her own body stands between her and a new love. As Y2K looms, Caroletta's…

Plus, check out my book…

Sally Brady's Italian Adventure

By Christina Lynch,

Book cover of Sally Brady's Italian Adventure

What is my book about?

Abandoned as a child in Los Angeles in 1931, Dust Bowl refugee Sally Brady convinces a Hollywood movie star to adopt her, and grows up to be a gossip columnist secretly satirizing Europe’s upper crust. By 1940 saucy Sally is conquering Fascist-era Rome with cheek and charm.

A good deed leaves Sally stranded in wartime Italy, brandishing a biting wit, a fake passport, and an elastic sense of right and wrong. To find her way home through a land of besieged castles and villas, Sally must combat tragedy with comedy, tie up pompous bureaucrats in their own red tape, force the cruel to be kind, and unravel the mystery, weight, and meaning of family.

Heir to Odysseus’s wiles and Candide’s optimism, Sally Brady is a heroine for the 21st century.

I read 20 books this year.

My book recommendation list