2023 Books in Review

By Elizabeth Barnhill

Top 10 books from a book buyer to add to your holiday gift list

There are many things I love about being a book buyer for Fabled. One of the best parts of my job is getting to introduce new releases to our patrons in Waco and around the world. When I started working at Fabled, I envisioned an event that would inform readers about the best books coming out each season.

The event — initially called our Book Preview — occurred six months after the store opened. Fifty people attended in-store in February of 2020. Our second seasonal preview was planned for April 2020 but had to be moved to zoom as the store was closed to in-store traffic during the pandemic.

Alison Frenzel, co-owner of Fabled, joined me to make the event more conversational and to continue bringing our customers the latest greatest books each quarter. We liked the online format as we could include our patrons from beyond the Waco community. The number of registrants has grown to over 1,200 readers from across the globe, many of whom sign on in the middle of the night in Europe and the next day in Australia.

We are so proud of how the event we now call The Book Review has grown and it is fun to imagine people all over the globe thinking about our Waco store during these discussions. The event is free and registrants are offered a beautiful .pdf of the books discussed as well as a 20% discount code just by registering. Our next Book Review is November 14.

As Wacoans are preparing for the season of giving, I have compiled a list of my top 10 favorite 2023 releases that would make perfect gifts, or simply a treat for yourself to escape during the busy season. Many genres are represented in this list including literary fiction, mystery, dystopian and nonfiction. There are many more wonderful books from local authors that I also recommend, including “Never Enough Time” by Kimberly McMillan and “The Sporting House Killing” series by Gerald Powell, both of which were featured in the Cover to Cover column earlier this year. Want even more specific help with what to read next? I also offer free book buying appointments at Fabled where I will “walk the shelves” with customers to find your perfect book. Contact me at bookbuyer@fabledbookshop.com.

“Hello Beautiful” by Ann Napolitano is an emotional family drama told over a 30-year period primarily focused on the four Padavano sisters and a love affair that threatens the fabric of the tight-knit family. Themes of heartache, love, forgiveness and redemption weave throughout this masterpiece.

“All that is Mine I Carry with Me” is a haunting story of a mother who disappeared in 1975, told through four points of view — a family friend, a son, her only daughter and, ultimately, the husband/father who many believed had a hand in her disappearance. This is a great book club book as readers will draw their own conclusions to what actually happened. William Landay is one of the best at writing gripping moral dilemmas.

This police procedural by Juan Gómez-Jurado has been an international sensation, selling millions of copies worldwide and only released in the United States this year. I loved everything about the crime drama translated from Spanish. “Red Queen” is the first of a mystery series and I can’t wait to get my hands on the second book next year!

Hands down my favorite cover of the year and an absolute romp! Charlie is a middle-aged substitute teacher who wants nothing more than to own his own pub. He is floundering in life until he inherits his late uncle’s villainous empire. This empire is run by sentient cats who help Charlie know who to trust. John Scalzi’s “Starter Villain” is highly entertaining and funny, but with a lot of heart.

“Go as a River” by Shelley Read is one I recommend to people who loved “Where the Crawdads Sing”. It is beautifully written, heartbreaking, hopeful and ultimately a love story to the back country of Colorado. I can’t remember a more enjoyable reading experience than I had with this debut this year.

Catherine Ryan Howard is my favorite Irish crime novelist. I have the honor of interviewing her for Fabled’s book club each year when her latest book releases in the U.S. Each of her books are standalone, unique and unexpected. “The Trap” was one of her very best and I wanted to read it again immediately after turning the final page.

T. J. Newman came to Fabled in June to promote “Drowning” and that event was one of the highlights of my year! “Drowning” is an edge of your seat thrill ride. Right after a plane takes off in Hawaii, it falls to the ocean and submerges with 12 people on board. The reader is treated to a front row seat of a harrowing survival story.

“Shark Heart: A Love Story” is the best book with the strangest premise. A man and a woman fall in love and get married in Dallas. Soon after the wedding, the husband slowly begins to turn into a great white shark. This is not an unusual occurrence in this slightly dystopian tale and readers will be surprised at how this tragedy tears at their heart strings. Theatre drama also plays a role in Emily Habeck’s fascinating debut.

“Generations” is a book that I talked about for weeks after I read it. Jean M. Twenge explores the characteristics, members and misconceptions of the five living generations. This book helped me to understand my parents, coworkers and children better. Twenge spoke at Baylor Law School earlier this year and spoke with Fabled’s book club in May.

Timothy Egan is one of my favorite narrative nonfiction writers. He spoke at Baylor years ago about his book that remains in my lifetime favorites list, “The Worst Hard Time”. In his latest book, “A Fever in the Heartland”, he explores the rise of the KKK, the power they wielded, as well as the murder of a woman who helped chase the hate group back into the shadows.