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I read over a hundred books in 2023 and I loved most of them, but I only gave five of them a full five stars. I tend to be sparing with my five star ratings, so that I have a record of books that I really loved. When it comes to stars, I take both writing quality and enjoyment into consideration, so these are not necessarily the books I read with the most incredible writing (though some are!) -- I had to love reading it, too. So with my star qualifications explained, here are my five-star books from 2023.

Beartown book cover

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

My favorite book of the year. I loved this book so much that I intend to read it again this year with highlighters and sticky tabs. Backman has a unique style of writing that can capture and convey profound thoughts and emotions, while still maintaining a lightness of prose. There is something quotable on every page. Beartown tackles a heavier topic than his other books: In a small, hockey-mad Swedish town, a teenage girl is assaulted by one of the town’s young hockey stars. It is a book about humanity, what it means to be part of a community, and how we treat each other. 










Cover of The Trees Witness Everything

The Trees Witness Everything by Victoria Chang

My 2023 reading goal was to read more poetry. All of it was excellent, but Chang’s collection of wakas (Japanese syllabic forms like tanka or haiku) was my favorite. These poems, often very short, hit me right in the heart.


There is a bird and a stone

in your body. Your job is not

to kill the bird with the stone.










Cover of Bluebird, Bluebird

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

This may be the book I recommended most often last year, for its wide appeal. It’s the first book in a mystery series starring Texas Ranger Darren Mathews. In this first book, Darren travels to a small town where a Black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman have been murdered. It has a compelling lead, a strong mystery, and great characters. What makes it a favorite is the East Texas setting, which Locke fully brings to life. The social atmosphere is deftly drawn, with all of the class and racial influences and specifics, and the physical landscape is vivid. I could almost feel the heat and humidity as I read.











Cover of Deacon King Kong

Deacon King Kong by James McBride

James McBride is a brilliant writer in every aspect. The prose, the stories, the settings, and most of all, the characters. He creates an amazing tapestry of vivid and complex characters and then throws them all together. In 1969, in the housing projects in Brooklyn, an old church deacon shoots a drug dealer in broad daylight, with no explanation. This event ripples through the neighborhood, touching the lives of everyone from the Black and Latinx residents, white neighbors, local cops, and the Italian Mob. I was totally immersed and felt like I was living right there with them all at the flagpole. The book isn’t a typical mystery. Instead, it's a snapshot of people, life, and a neighborhood on the brink of historical change.











Cover of Securing Ava

Securing Ava by Anne Shade

This romance novel is an example of a book that earned its stars by just being a delightful read. The writing is a solid vehicle to deliver a story and characters that I absolutely adored. It's a great contemporary romance between two women, with just the right amount of suspense. Ava, the daughter of a business mogul, is forced to go on the run when a mysterious accident confirms her belief that the family is in danger. Months later, her family hires Paige, a private investigator, to find her. Together, the two women must stay safe while they figure out who is behind the threats. Naturally, they fall in love.

About the Author

Claire is a librarian at Takoma Park Neighborhood Library. She reads widely but always loves romance, mystery, and sci-fi and she's learning to love poetry and non-fiction. She is always reading at least five books at one time. She lives with a very silly golden retriever named Peggy.