Author Rabid researcher History hound Intrepid traveler Cycling fanatic
The best books of 2023

This list is part of the best books of 2023.

We've asked 1,651 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…

Book cover of An American Spy

Ursula Wong Why did I love this book?

An American Spy shows us the people-side of the spy trade. A masterful Chinese agent has avenged his son’s death by massacring almost everyone in the secret black operations organization called the Department of Tourism (DOT). A CIA supersleuth and brains behind the DOT aims for revenge with the help of reluctant hero, Milo Weaver.

Aside from a beautifully complex story, I love Mr. Steinhauer’s spies. After marrying his daughter-in-law, the Chinese agent makes stunning observations about the intrigues of the communist intelligence apparatus. Poor Milo is constantly distracted by a physical injury and a crumbling home life. His agent friends use drugs to cope. Even the beautiful and highly effective Leticia Jones is more about dealing with stress than doing nasty things.

The story made my head spin, but isn’t spying like that?

By Olen Steinhauer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An American Spy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Milo Weaver is still haunted by his last job. As an expert assassin for the Department of Tourism, an ultra-secret group of super-spooks buried deep in the corridors of the CIA, he fought to keep himself sane in a paranoid and amoral profession. Now, the Department has been destroyed, and with it Weaver's livelihood. Finally he can spend time with his family - without constantly looking over his shoulder and fixing one eye on the exits.

Weaver's former boss is not so settled. For Alan Drummond, Tourism was everything. Now, all he wants is to take revenge on the Chinese…


My 2nd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of Who Is Vera Kelly?

Ursula Wong Why did I love this book?

Who is Vera Kelly isn’t your typical 1960s Cold War spy novel.

Although Vera’s sexuality is unresolved and she’s had a rocky road to adulthood, the CIA recruits her. She goes to work as an undercover agent in Buenos Aires. Her day job is to infiltrate a campus Marxist group with ties to the KGB. At night, she transcribes wiretaps taken from the presidential palace. When her handler goes dark, Vera is caught in the middle of a coup.

Who is Vera Kelly takes us into the mindset of lovely Vera. She’s fresh, funny, quirky, and comes off as a (relatively) regular gal, albeit one who is scrambling to stay alive in South America.

By Rosalie Knecht,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Who Is Vera Kelly? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York City, 1962. Vera Kelly is struggling to make rent and blend into the underground gay scene in Greenwich Village. She's working night shifts at a radio station when her quick wits, sharp tongue, and technical skills get her noticed by a recruiter for the CIA.

Next thing she knows she's in Argentina, tasked with wiretapping a congressman and infiltrating a group of student activists in Buenos Aires. As Vera becomes more and more enmeshed with the young radicals, the fragile local government begins to split at the seams. When a betrayal leaves her stranded in the wake of…


My 3rd favorite read in 2023…

Book cover of The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

Ursula Wong Why did I love this book?

The Spy and a Traitor is the true story of Oleg Gordievsky, KGB agent, who spied for the British in the mid-1970s. While Gordievsky was ideologically motivated to help the West, he had a hard time convincing MI6 that he was sincere, because he didn’t want money. Eventually, he managed to gain trust and provided valuable information for many years.

Enter Aldrich Ames, a British citizen intent on spying for Moscow. Ames’s underhanded dealings threatened to expose Gordievsky in Moscow. Gordievsky barely escaped with his life while hiding in the trunk of a car, thanks to the distraction provided by a screaming baby and a smelly diaper.

In addition to the awesome story, I found the displays of tradecraft fascinating. The color of a hat, a chalk mark, a lowered window shade could all be meaningful. Have things changed? Not sure, but perhaps someone should write a book about it.

By Ben Macintyre,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Spy and the Traitor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The celebrated author of Double Cross and Rogue Heroes returns with a thrilling Americans-era tale of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian whose secret work helped hasten the end of the Cold War.

“The best true spy story I have ever read.”—JOHN LE CARRÉ

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Economist • Shortlisted for the Bailie Giffords Prize in Nonfiction

If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the…


Plus, check out my book…

Amber Exile

By Ursula Wong,

Book cover of Amber Exile

What is my book about?

A former WWII refugee tells Lithuanian reporter Vit Partenkas a story so powerful it could drive the Russian army out of Ukraine. But Vit doesn’t believe a word of it. Not until the refugee is murdered—a bullet to her head.

Using her hand-written memoir as a guide, Vit heads to South America looking for proof. What he finds leads him to Berlin, a priceless Vermeer painting, and a man intent on killing him.

If Vit lives, he might unseat the first woman to rule Russia and end a war. Unless the oil oligarchs get to her first. And handle things the Russian way.