The Daily Grace
The Daily Grace

My Top Ten Reads of 2023 (+1)

Feb 13, 2024 | reading & recs | 3 comments

WHAT A GREAT book year! I have to say I look back at 2023 with gratitude and great admiration for the writers who brought such powerful stories to the page. I’m not one to consider reading a contest or an activity to check off a To-Do list, nevertheless I love to look over the statistics compiled by Goodreads to see what stands out. I read 41 books last year and that equated to 11,747 pages, with the heftiest read of all coming in at 560 pages. I read 30 fiction, 2 volumes of poetry and 9 works of nonfiction/memoir. It was such a great reading year it’s really difficult to choose my 10 faves, but let’s give this a shot!

Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver

From the acclaimed author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees, a brilliant novel that enthralls, compels, and captures the heart as it evokes a young hero’s unforgettable journey to maturity.

Demon Copperhead is not my favorite book of all times; it is far too difficult a read to say that. But it is, without a doubt, the best book I have ever read—exquisitely written, vitally important, and in my opinion required reading for every human with heart and a soul. I was shook to my core by the character Demon, a young man so vividly drawn by Kingsolver he lives deep within me, still. I was changed by this read with its unvarnished look at one hardscrabble life and with the complexities of and devastation caused by generational poverty, our foster care system, the opioid crisis—the inescapable vortex created when there are layers and layers and layers of challenge. And yet may I beg you to give this book a chance, even if you find all of this daunting? Too overwhelming? It is both of those, to be clear. But in Kingsolver’s extraordinary hands, the novel is nevertheless a compulsive read, and the culmination is (ultimately) surprisingly hopeful. A thousand stars for this one.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon Audible

The Vaster Wilds, by Lauren Groff

A taut and electrifying novel from celebrated bestselling author Lauren Groff, about one spirited girl alone in the wilderness, trying to survive

If you don’t count Demon Copperhead, and since it’s in a historical category of its own now that I’ve declared it the best book I’ve ever read, I’m pleased to say The Vaster Wilds was may favorite book of the year. I’d never read Lauren Groff and isn’t it just magical when you find a new-to-you author you adore? I marvel at the way Groff brought this story to life, a real feat in that she describes “bitter cold” in a thousand different ways and every one feels real and new. I loved every sentence in this book, and I was drawn into the story in a way that made it impossible to put down.

from promo copy: A servant girl escapes from a colonial settlement in the wilderness. She carries nothing with her but her wits, a few possessions, and the spark of god that burns hot within her. What she finds in this terra incognita is beyond the limits of her imagination and will bend her belief in everything that her own civilization has taught her.

Lauren Groff’s new novel is at once a thrilling adventure story and a penetrating fable about trying to find a new way of living in a world succumbing to the churn of colonialism. The Vaster Wilds is a work of raw and prophetic power that tells the story of America in miniature, through one girl at a hinge point in history, to ask how—and if—we can adapt quickly enough to save ourselves.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon  Audible


Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett

In this beautiful and moving novel about family, love, and growing up, Ann Patchett once again proves herself one of America’s finest writers.

This was the perfect book at the perfect time for me. Ann Patchett can tell a daggone good story, and this one was the perfect combination of compelling drama + just enough spice + just enough sweet. Also, a story about a mother and her daughters? Count me in.

from promo copy: In the spring of 2020, Lara’s three daughters return to the family’s orchard in Northern Michigan. While picking cherries, they beg their mother to tell them the story of Peter Duke, a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance years before at a theater company called Tom Lake. As Lara recalls the past, her daughters examine their own lives and relationship with their mother, and are forced to reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.

Tom Lake is a meditation on youthful love, married love, and the lives parents have led before their children were born. Both hopeful and elegiac, it explores what it means to be happy even when the world is falling apart. As in all of her novels, Ann Patchett combines compelling narrative artistry with piercing insights into family dynamics. The result is a rich and luminous story, told with profound intelligence and emotional subtlety, that demonstrates once again why she is one of the most revered and acclaimed literary talents working today.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon Audible

The Marriage Portrait, by Maggie O’Farrell

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.

Another wonder! The Renaissance world Maggie O’Farrell creates is stunning, vivid, unforgettable. This novel has it all: gorgeous writing, a page-turning plot, such deep immersion in an unfamiliar world you are there. This, my friends, is what a great novel is supposed to be and do.

(FULL DISCLOSURE. Every elective I took while an English Major at Clemson University was in a Shakespeare class of one sort or another. One might think I’d have had the practical sense to choose one business course, at least. Maybe? But, umm, no. So no wonder I loved this setting.)

from promo copy: Florence, the 1550s. Lucrezia, third daughter of the grand duke, is comfortable with her obscure place in the palazzo: free to wonder at its treasures, observe its clandestine workings, and devote herself to her own artistic pursuits. But when her older sister dies on the eve of her wedding to the ruler of Ferrara, Modena and Reggio, Lucrezia is thrust unwittingly into the limelight: the duke is quick to request her hand in marriage, and her father just as quick to accept on her behalf.

Having barely left girlhood behind, Lucrezia must now enter an unfamiliar court whose customs are opaque and where her arrival is not universally welcomed. Perhaps most mystifying of all is her new husband himself, Alfonso. Is he the playful sophisticate he appeared to be before their wedding, the aesthete happiest in the company of artists and musicians, or the ruthless politician before whom even his formidable sisters seem to tremble?

As Lucrezia sits in constricting finery for a painting intended to preserve her image for centuries to come, one thing becomes worryingly clear. In the court’s eyes, she has one duty: to provide the heir who will shore up the future of the Ferranese dynasty. Until then, for all of her rank and nobility, the new duchess’s future hangs entirely in the balance.

Full of the beauty and emotion with which she illuminated the Shakespearean canvas of Hamnet, Maggie O’Farrell turns her talents to Renaissance Italy in an extraordinary portrait of a resilient young woman’s battle for her very survival.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon Audible

Maureen, by Rachel Joyce

Ten years ago, Harold Fry set off on a six-hundred-mile walk to save a friend. But the story doesn’t end there. Now his wife, Maureen, has her own pilgrimage to make.

This book is the third in a trilogy, and while you don’t have to read the first two to adore Maureen’s story, I loved them all so much I have to recommend you start at the beginning, with Harold, and read through. Love, love, love.

from promo copy: Only she can finish the journey her husband started.

Maureen and Harold Fry have settled into a quiet life, but when an unexpected message from the North disturbs their peaceful equilibrium, Maureen realizes that it’s now her turn to make a journey. But she is not like her affable, easygoing husband. By turns outspoken, then vulnerable, she struggles to form bonds with the people she meets—and the landscape she crosses has radically changed. Maureen has no sense of what she will find at the end of the road. All she knows is that she has to get there.

A deeply felt, lyrical, and powerful novel, Maureen explores love, loss, and how we come to terms with the past in order to understand ourselves a little better. While this book stands alone, it is also the extraordinarily moving finale to a trilogy that began with the phenomenal bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and continued in The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. Like those beloved books, Maureen has all the power and weight of a classic.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon  Audible


Signal Fires, by Dani Shapiro

Two families. One night. A constellation of lives changed forever.

Oh, Dani Shapiro, how I do adore you. This novel would have been a masterclass for me in how to write a page-turning family drama but that I was so engrossed in the story I only paid attention to that! Bravo! And read this book, y’all.

from promo copy: Division Street is full of secrets. An impulsive lie begets a secret–one which will forever haunt the Wilf family. And the Shenkmans, who move into the neighborhood many years later, bring secrets of their own.. Spanning fifty kaleidoscopic years, on a street–and in a galaxy–where stars collapse and stories collide, these two families become bound in ways they never could have imagined. Urgent and compassionate, Signal Fires is a magical story for our times, a literary tour de force by a masterful storyteller at the height of her powers. A luminous meditation on family, memory, and the healing power of interconnectedness.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon  Audible

Those We Thought We Knew, by David Joy

From award-winning writer David Joy comes a searing new novel about the cracks that form in a small North Carolina community and the evils that unfurl from its center.

I had the grand good fortune of getting to audit a fiction class with David Joy at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop this summer the week before this book was released. That experience was such a gift. The man is magnetic in a somehow humble and still unflinchingly honest way. Which is exactly what’s so powerful about this book. Joy is not afraid to “go there” in this story of a small North Carolina town, and the reckoning that occurs when people are forced to face their racist truths was just so powerful. Needless to say, I stayed on the proverbial edge of my seat.

from promo copy: Toya Gardner, a young Black artist from Atlanta, has returned to her ancestral home in the North Carolina mountains to trace her family history and complete her graduate thesis. But when she encounters a still-standing Confederate monument in the heart of town, she sets her sights on something bigger.

Meanwhile, local deputies find a man sleeping in the back of a station wagon and believe him to be nothing more than some slack-jawed drifter. Yet a search of the man’s vehicle reveals that he is a high-ranking member of the Klan, and the uncovering of a notebook filled with local names threatens to turn the mountain on end.

After two horrific crimes split the county apart, every soul must wrestle with deep and unspoken secrets that stretch back for generations. Those We Thought We Knew is an urgent unraveling of the dark underbelly of a community. Richly drawn and bracingly honest, it asks what happens when the people you’ve always known turn out to be monsters, what do you do when everything you ever believed crumbles away?

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon Audible

Bloodroot, by Amy Greene

A dark and riveting story of the legacies—of magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss—that haunt one family across the generations.

There’s something magical about a debut novel that performs well, and Amy Green’s wonderful Bloodroot is just that sort of novel. First published in 2009, I was aware of the book but had never read it until I picked it up in 2023. I both read and listened to this one because I knew from the very first paragraph Greene’s dialect was going to be perfection. The audiobook did not disappoint, either, which is rather a marvel given how awful “performed” Appalachian voices can be. A good story wonderfully told, I loved the characters, I loved the setting, I loved the reading and listening experiences. And I always love a little magic.

from promo copy: Myra Lamb is a wild girl with mysterious, haint blue eyes who grows up on remote Bloodroot Mountain. Her grandmother, Byrdie, protects her fiercely and passes down “the touch” that bewitches people and animals alike. But when John Odom tries to tame Myra, it sparks a shocking disaster, ripping lives apart.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon Audible

The Trackers, by Charles Frazier

From the New York Times bestselling author of Cold Mountain and Varina, a stunning new novel that paints a vivid portrait of life in the Great Depression

Charles Frazier does not miss. And lordy this novel is a fine example. I adored it.

from promo copy: Hurtling past the downtrodden communities of Depression-era America, painter Val Welch travels westward to the rural town of Dawes, Wyoming. Through a stroke of luck, he’s landed a New Deal assignment to create a mural representing the region for their new Post Office.

A wealthy art lover named John Long and his wife Eve have agreed to host Val at their sprawling ranch. Rumors and intrigue surround the couple: Eve left behind an itinerant life riding the rails and singing in a western swing band. Long holds shady political aspirations, but was once a WWI sniper–and his right hand is a mysterious elder cowboy, a vestige of the violent old west. Val quickly finds himself entranced by their lives.

One day, Eve flees home with a valuable painting in tow, and Long recruits Val to hit the road with a mission of tracking her down. Journeying from ramshackle Hoovervilles to San Francisco nightclubs to the swamps of Florida, Val’s search for Eve narrows, and he soon turns up secrets that could spark formidable changes for all of them.

In The Trackers, singular American writer Charles Frazier conjures up the lives of everyday people during an extraordinary period of history that bears uncanny resemblance to our own. With the keen perceptions of humanity and transcendent storytelling that have made him beloved for decades, Frazier has created a powerful and timeless new classic.

Find it via:  Bookshop  Amazon  Audible

The Bullet that Missed, by Richard Osman

A new mystery is afoot in the third book in the Thursday Murder Club series from million-copy bestselling author Richard Osman. 

I loved the first in this series. I adored the second. And in this third installment, Osman carries on! Smart, funny, and completely engaging. I’ve read all three on audio because the accents are just SO GOOD. In the mood to be delighted? Richard Osman and his “quartet of aging amateur sleuths” will lift your spirits and I guarantee there’ll be a chuckle or two!

from promo copy: It is an ordinary Thursday, and things should finally be returning to normal.

Except trouble is never far away where the Thursday Murder Club are concerned. A decade-old cold case—their favorite kind—leads them to a local news legend and a murder with no body and no answers.

Then a new foe pays Elizabeth a visit. Her mission? Kill or be killed. Suddenly the cold case has become red hot.

While Elizabeth wrestles with her conscience (and a gun), Joyce, Ron, and Ibrahim chase down the clues with help from old friends and new. But can the gang solve the mystery and save Elizabeth before the murderer strikes again?

From an upmarket spa to a prison cell complete with espresso machine to a luxury penthouse high in the sky, this third adventure of the Thursday Murder Club is full of the cleverness, intrigue, and irresistible charm that fans have come to expect from Richard Osman’s bestselling series.

Find it via: Bookshop  Amazon Audible

The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People, by Rick Bragg

From the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of All Over but the Shoutin’, the warmhearted and hilarious story of how his life was transformed by his love for a poorly behaved, half-blind stray dog.

I’ve loved every sentence I’ve ever read that Rick Bragg wrote. And his books and essays, delivered in his own voice via audio? There’s just nothing better. So let’s just go ahead lay over all that the fact The Speckled Beauty is the true story of Bragg and his almost unlovable dog, Speck. Now there’s a recipe I cannot deny. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed and then cried listening to this one, but I will say it’s about far more than the love story between a man and his dog. It’s about home, and health, and family, and mortality, and loyalty, and good southern cooking. Mamas and sons. Fame, fortune and obscurity. It’s all there, shared with an open, honest, and very tender heart. And then there’s that dang dog, Speck. I dare you not to fall in love with Speck.

from promo copy: Speck is not a good boy. He is a terrible boy, a defiant, self-destructive, often malodorous boy, a grave robber and screen door moocher who spends his days playing chicken with the Fed Ex man, picking fights with thousand-pound livestock, and rolling in donkey manure, and his nights howling at the moon. He has been that way since the moment he appeared on the ridgeline behind Rick Bragg’s house, a starved and half-dead creature, 76 pounds of wet hair and poor decisions.

Speck arrived in Rick’s life at a moment of looming uncertainty. A cancer diagnosis, chemo, kidney failure, and recurring pneumonia had left Rick lethargic and melancholy. Speck helped, and he is helping, still, when he is not peeing on the rose of Sharon. Written with Bragg’s inimitable blend of tenderness and sorrow, humor and grit, The Speckled Beauty captures the extraordinary, sustaining devotion between two damaged creatures who need each other to heal.

Find it via: Bookshop  Amazon Audible

So yay! I almost did it! My ten favorite reads of the year, plus one, because sometimes 10 is just too restrictive. And I have to say it was just as difficult as expected, there being so many other very strong 2023 reads on my complete list. If you’re interested in seeing more, you’ll find my annual book lists in the Gallery section of this website—click here and scroll until you get there. There’s also a list of my very most favorite books of all time, as well as my superstar audio book hits. Hope these are helpful!

There’s nothing I love better than talking about books I love, so I thank you for being here and being part of the conversation. And please share your favorites with me and with other readers in the comments! Or, as always, you can send an email to me at I always love hearing from you!

Until next time,


Bookshop and Amazon offer affiliate partnerships that give a tiny financial reward to bloggers for any purchases made from the links. That’s not my motivation in writing this post, but it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader. 


  1. Debbie

    Wow! You read a lot of books. Thanks for this list! I will be sure to read them this year.

  2. Cindy Enfinger

    Side note on Tom Lake-Meryl Streep’s narration on Audible is awesome.

    • Debbie

      It’s my next audiobook from the library. I bet I’ve been waiting on you!! ?

Cathy Rigg Headshot

Hi. I’m Cathy.

This is a blog about writing, creative living, and grace in the everyday. It’s my hope this little spot on the internet will be for you a place of quiet and reflection, a source for inspiration, and a reminder there’s beauty all around—we simply need to keep our hearts open to see it. Thank you for being here with me.

Posts Archive


Pin It on Pinterest

Verified by MonsterInsights