Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

12 Best Books Of 2023

Another year, done and dusted! In 2023, I had the pleasure of reading a bunch of great new releases, as well as older titles plucked from my trusty TBR jar. And now, as is tradition, I’m rounding up the best of what I read this year. Here are the best books of 2023.

12 Best Books Of 2023 - Book List - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Search History by Amy Taylor

Search History - Amy Taylor - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Search History is “a sharply funny debut novel about identity, obsession, and desire in the internet age”. But, unlike most books about relationships in tHe DiGiTaL eRa, this one actually rings true – in the way the characters think and behave, and the way their use of technology shapes their perceptions. If you’ve ever accidentally deep-liked a new love interest’s Instagram post, this is the book for you. It’s brilliant and relatable, and the heroine is both self-destructive and self-aware. The tagline promises that it’s Rebecca meets Fleabag in a Melbourne setting, which sums it up perfectly! Read my full review of Search History here.

The Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard

The Nothing Man - Catherine Ryan Howard - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Nothing Man is a very creepy, very detailed crime novel, so you should really check the trigger warnings before you pick it up. That said, it’s so well-written and propulsive, it’s difficult to put down – even when it turns your stomach. Howard masterfully balances the perspectives, giving the “victim” just as strong a voice and an active role in what unfolds as the perpetrator (something all-too-often missing from crime thrillers, with passive dead girls left voiceless in the narrative). Plus, it culminates in a satisfying ending that seems, granted, a little unrealistic – but not overwrought or overdone. It’s the perfect pick for fans of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark. Read my full review of The Nothing Man here.

Becky by Sarah May

Becky - Sarah May - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Ambitious and determined, Becky Sharp is going to scheme her way into high society. She slips unnoticed through the ranks, weaponising the secrets she uncovers about the movers and shakers, until she gets what she wants. Is it Vanity Fair, or the latest novel by Sarah May, Becky? Believe it or not, it’s both. This contemporary adaptation like if a British Ottessa Moshfegh told the story of the News Of The World phone-hacking scandal, using Thackeray’s classic novel as a template. May touches on everything – gender inequality, colonialism, celebrity culture, corruption in politics, the wealth gap – without overegging the pudding. Read my full review of Becky here.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is In Trouble - Taffy Brodesser-Akner - Keeping Up With The Penguins

At first glance, Fleishman Is In Trouble looks like your stock-standard New York divorce novel. A privileged couple – he’s a doctor, she’s a talent agent/manager – sniping at each other and using their kids like battering rams in the dissolution of their marriage. But by the end of the first chapter, you’ll realise that this is something different, something special. I might be the last person in the world to read it, but I’m very glad I got around to it! As well as living up to the prodigious hype, it ended up being one of my best books of 2023. Read my full review of Fleishman Is In Trouble here.

One Of Those Mothers

One Of Those Mothers - Megan Nicol Reed - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I love it when a book takes me by surprise, and one of the most notable examples of 2023 was One Of Those Mothers. I hadn’t heard a thing about it before receiving a copy for review. The blurb brought to mind Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and the cover had a recommendation from Charity Norman, so I figured I was getting into a stock-standard domestic noir. I wasn’t reckoning on just how dark, or just how compelling, it could be. You might want to steer clear of this one if you’re sensitive to issues around child abuse and exploitation, but I was absolutely gripped by it and highly recommend it otherwise. Read my full review of One Of Those Mothers here.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rodham - Curtis Sittenfeld - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Rodham offers fascinating insight into Hillary Clinton’s mind – or, at least, Sittenfeld’s informed best-guess about it. The choice to relay the story from a first-person point of view doubles the effect. It’s shockingly intimate, even quite horny at times. I found it difficult to force myself to forget that it’s about a real person. I’m dying to know what Real Hillary thought of it, but if I never find out, I’ll satisfy myself with recommending it to everyone and forcing them to tell me what they think about it. It’s masterfully written, fascinating and shocking (at times), a pleasure to read and fuel for a lot of post-read musing. Read my full review of Rodham here.

Naked Ambition by Robert Gott

Naked Ambition - Robert Gott - Keeping Up With The Penguins

C’mon, you know it wouldn’t be a list of my best books of 2023 without a genuinely hilarious knee-slapper or two! Naked Ambition is a hilarious satire of Australian politics, skewering the egos of the privileged career politicians making decisions about our lives (while making messes of their own). It had me howling with laughter. I can’t promise everyone will find it as funny as I do – but it’s surely worth a try. With lines like “Australians don’t like their politicians with their clothes on, taking them off isn’t going to win you any votes,” (page 14), and “The scrotum is not a vote winner” (page 22), how could you not find the funny? Read my full review of Naked Ambition here.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca

Well Met - Jen DeLuca - Keeping Up With The Penguins

“All is faire in love and war.” That’s the slogan of Well Met, an enemies-to-lovers romance novel that takes place in the unlikely setting of a small-town Renaissance Faire. I’m a sucker for a kooky premise like that, so of course, I had to read it. It’s a wonderfully fun feel-good summer romance. The heroine’s sunny nature makes for delightful narration (without ever becoming grating), and the plot is perfectly paced. Sure, the characters get a bit Extra at points, but it’s a romance novel. That’s expected. Jen DeLuca has won herself a fan, and I’ll be checking out her other books in this series ASAP. Read my full review of Well Met here.

Business Or Pleasure by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Business Or Pleasure - Rachel Lynn Solomon - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I was desperate to read more Rachel Lynn Solomon as soon as I turned the final page of her last book, Weather Girl. Even going in with those high expectations, Business Or Pleasure knocked it out of the park. It’s a steamy read, with a bonus “oh no, there’s only one bed!” incident that had me giggling with delight. It’s not all smut, though; there’s a lot of interesting insights into the world of comic book conventions and fantasy fandom, and both main characters have anxiety disorders (OCD and GAD) that play significant roles without defining them. Solomon remains a must-read romance author for me, and I can’t wait to see what she comes out with next. Read my full review of Business Or Pleasure here.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

The Five - Hallie Rubenhold - Keeping Up With The Penguins

The Five is a book about challenging long-held assumptions. Rubenhold encourages us to think critically about what we accept as historical fact. What we “know” about the past is inevitably shaped and coloured by the values of the time, and the hangover of those values on our perspective today. It’s a fascinating and insightful read, one I really wish I’d got to sooner. If you’re on the fence about picking this one up, let me be the one to tip you over to the side of “yes”. True crime readers will likely find it dry and scant on grisly details, but hopefully will recognise the reason for that and understand its importance in the broader context. Read my full review of The Five here.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History - Donna Tartt - Book Laid on Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins

I found myself gripped by The Secret History. There’s something going on in this story, and I was determined to get to the bottom of it! Tartt’s prose is exquisitely detailed, with startling revelations and intriguing mysteries. By about a third of the way through, I was pretty sure I could see where it was all going, but she still managed to weave in a couple of surprises. In the hands of a lesser writer, the plot would have been beyond the pale. But Tartt is convincing, too convincing, and you’ll find yourself drawn in unquestioningly as the story unfolds. I’m sorry to say that it is every bit as good as everyone always says it is. Read my full review of The Secret History here.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

Eggshell Skull - Bri Lee - Keeping Up With The Penguins

Eggshell Skull is one of the rare books when the quality of the writing (very, very high) makes it difficult to read. I had visceral, physical reactions to Bri Lee’s story. At various points, my stomach churned and my heart rate skyrocketed. In the final chapters, I unwittingly gave myself a headache because I didn’t realise I’d been clenching my teeth. It falls into the category of an incredibly good book that it’s incredibly difficult to recommend to anyone. It will be a five-star read for anyone who enjoyed Roxane Gay’s Hunger. It will be a rude shock for anyone who’s ever asked why a victim would “wait so long” to come forward. Read my full review of Eggshell Skull here.

2 Comments

  1. Delighted to see The Five make it to your list of favourites. It’s a hugely impressive piece of social history with a remarkable level of research yet she makes it so readable. These women were effectively victims many times over – treated badly by society or their partners, killed in the most brutal of manners and then tarnished by being labelled prostitutes

    • Sheree

      December 31, 2023 at 10:35 AM

      Oh absolutely. Rubenhold did an incredible job, and that book lives in my head rent-free even now, months later. Happy new year! x

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