I read a ton—this year, I will hit +65 by the end of December. (It’s an approximate number because I don’t know how much time I’ll get over the holidays to read. It will depend on whether we get some snow.)
Books have always been an important escape for me. Whether I’m struggling with pain or fatigue, or even just tired at the end of a great day, books help me step outside of my day-to-day and step into the world of other fascinating people.
It’s important to me that I’m continually looking for a diverse mix of authors, which helps me step outside of my own experience to better understand what life is like for others. For example, I had read a number of articles about what microaggressions are like for BIPOC employees, but reading it described in fiction from Black authors, like Homebodies by Tembe Denton-Hurst, helped me picture more specifically what that feels like when it happens.
There’s no rhyme or reason to this list, except that all of them have strong female protagonists and provocative twists in how their stories are told.
If you pick up any of these, I’d love to hear what you think! You can DM me on Instagram anytime.
Let’s get into it!
Porcelain Moon is set in Paris, France at the end of World War I. I read a lot of WWI and WWII books, but this one also shared the experiences of workers in Chinese Labour Camps, which I hadn’t heard much about previously.
The book shares the story of the life of Pauline Deng, who escapes her uncle’s antique shop in Paris to avoid being sent to Shanghai, China in an arranged marriage. We get both Paris city scenes and countryside, mystery, and romance. It ticked the box for “transporting me to another time.”
I don’t read a ton of mythology, but after reading Circe, I wanted to read more of it. It’s the story of a lesser known goddess in ancient Greece who is banished to an island because of her use of witchcraft, but still is able to bend the experiences of others to her will.
I worry about how stories about witches and women banished play out in mainstream, given our history. Still, with so many books that are focused on stories of the gods or the Stoics (cue my eyeroll), I enjoyed reading about Greek mythology with the writing anchored on the women from ancient Greece.
The core stories in Hello Beautiful connect back to four sisters, which some speculate is the author’s way of echoing Little Women. William Waters grows up lonely and meets Julia Padavano, where there lives become intertwined with her three fascinating sisters. The weaving together of their stories as they embark on adulthood, parenting, and deal with mental health challenges, including depression and suicide, was griping. I felt for this family, who were imperfect and had to make difficult choices.
Looking For Jane
This historical fiction about abortion access in Canada in the 1970s was a recommendation from my friend Belinda Clemmensen at the Women’s Leadership Intensive. I was familiar with the history of abortion access in Canada, including the trial of Henry Morgentaler, but had not read enough stories to understand just how difficult it was for women to access the healthcare they needed.
In Looking for Jane, we move between the underground abortion collective in the 1970s as well as reflecting back on it from modern day, all from the perspectives of women needing abortion access and the health care professionals who provided it. Plus you get lots of local Toronto 70s scenes, which I loved.
This book brought me right back to all of the sexism and overworking pressures from my consulting and corporate working days. In it, four women in a high- pressure law firm need to band together to fight the sexist overlord (oops, I mean, boss). It has a “Sex in the City Fights Back” vibe which was satisfying.
The House in the Cerulean Sea
I couldn’t put this book down—it felt like a sequel to Harry Potter (perhaps if combined with A Man Called Ove), if he had grown up to be a professor of small magical children kept out of the public eye. I love and read a lot of YA (young adult) fiction but this book stood out.
Linus Baker is a lonely government worker who takes his job very seriously, protecting gifted children who have magical skills. He is sent on a secret assignment to check on the welfare of a group of magical children and has to confront a series of unexpected truths about himself which ends up transforming his life.
I’ve heard he is writing a sequel to this book and I can’t wait until it’s published.
When Women Were Dragons
This was a year of unexpected surprises and serendipitous reading. When Women Were Dragons is the story of a group of women in the 1950s who unexpectedly transform into dragons after becoming angry and exasperated by limits imposed by the patriarchal world they lived in.
The book reminded me of The Power by Naomi Alderman, where a small group of women learn how to create fire in the palm of their hands, and go on to teach others, turning the patriarchy on its head.
Remarkably Bright Creatures
Shelby Van Pelt
If you had told me that a book with an octopus as the main character would be one of my favourite books from 2023, I would have rolled my eyes at you. But it was magical.
I don’t want to spoil it for you but suffice it to say, I loved it from the first pages. It has a deep and unexpected friendship, a hero’s journey, and heartbreak.
That’s the list!
Truthfully, I wanted to put almost all of the books I read this year on my list because they all served a critical purpose for me—to help me unwind and clear my mind at the end of the day.
I take a serendipitous approach to finding my next books. I follow authors and publishers I love (like Roxane Gay and her new imprint), as well as others who share what they’re reading on Instagram. I also have lots of friends who love to read and send me screenshots of their favourites.
If you have suggestions for me, particularly books I should add to my TBR list for 2024, let me know. I’m always looking for a good recommendation.
And – I’ve also posted my favourite non-fiction books from 2023, so you can check those out as well!