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My Twelve Top Reads of 2023

written by

Aliceson Bales

posted on

December 5, 2023

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Y'all know I love to read! I am always reading something and usually two or three somethings at a time. If I'm in the car I'm listening and if I'm sitting down at night I've got a book in my hand. I will read ALMOST anything. This year I have read 59 books this year in multiple genres and formats. I have DNF'ed 3 books. So if I didn't finish it, it's pretty awful to me. 

And I just finished another 5-star book so I thought, I wonder how many 5-stars I've given this year? I looked back and low and behold, I've given twelve. Not necessarily one each month but if you want to read one of my recommendations each month you'd have twelve by the end of next year. They cover a lot of different subjects, tropes, lives and times and I hope you'll let me know if you've previously read them, if you read them in the future and what you thought/think of them. I love talking all things books! So, here goes (in chronological order of when I read them, not how much I loved them although they do each have a 5-star rating from me):

The Reckoning by John Grisham is an epic. A sweeping novel that begins in the 1940s and ends in our current time. It follows a WWII hero and his family through all the twists and turns of a Southern life. This is a very different story than most of Grisham's work and I'm glad I picked him up again after years of passing his works over for other authors.

Close to Shore I found Close to Shore after listening to a podcast that wasn't about shark attacks at all. This is the real life account of multiple shark attacks in the early 1900s that inspired Jaws. It is also evidence of how far medical care has come in 100 years. If you are into marine science, vacationing near any body of water, watched Jaws as a kid or even know the first notes of the theme song. . . this is for you. Just maybe read it in, say, February. Not June.

Y'all know I was so fortunate to visit France with my sister this spring and we met the most fun and amazing friends who also read a ton. And one of my friends on the trip recommended The Keeper of Lost Things to me. It is a very different story and so unique. I love reading new (to me) authors and being whisked away on a journey through the covers of a book. This is a beautifully-told story and I was smitten from the first word. And the added bonus is the BEAUTIFUL cover! It's just stunning. Inside and out.

The Covenant of Water Oh. Oh. Oh. This book. Man I was not interested in this book! 1900 India? No thanks. I wasn't interested in it all. (Also I'm not a fan of the book picker on the cover - her reads are usually downers.) But I read it and couldn't put it down. It was such a fantastic story beautifully written by Verghese who is also a physician so his medical insight was sprinkled throughout. I've recommended this book to friends who are 80+ and 25 - everyone adores it.

The Help - you've likely read this book and I re-read it for Marshall's American literature class. I love the book. I love the movie. If you haven't read it or watched it, please do! You won't be disappointed. It's set in Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s and told from multiple points of view with different narrators and writing/speaking style. Just brilliant and one of my favorites from the last 20 years. 

Jayber Crow - my friend Rory Feek actually gifted this book to me. I've read Wendell Berry's nonfiction work but never his fiction and boy am I glad I read this one! Jayber was a delightful, lovable, loving, kind and wise character. This novel tells the story of Jayber Crow, who lived his life in Kentucky. It's a tale of his adventures, loves and life. It's just about perfect. And Mr. Berry is a delightful author - both in fiction and nonfiction work. 

A Raisin in the Sun is also a pick for Marshall's American literature class so I listened to the audio version as I didn't in my educational journey. This is a story of the struggle for financial independence in America. It's not a cheery read at all and the struggles for the characters are real and vivid. It's worth your while.

Clemmentine - if you follow me on social media you may have seen my recommendation of this biography earlier this year. I am so so glad I learned about Clemmentine Churchill. I knew little about her and she was a deep, intellectual, caring, gifted wife, mother, friend and woman. Plus I learned more things about Winston which I'm always happy about! Who knew she was the British version of Jackie Kennedy? Who knew they vacationed separately? Not me! So many things I learned about this woman and I'm glad I did.

Winston Churchill's Greatest Speeches - if you listen to this on cd (I suppose it's also in audiobook version somewhere) you can actually hear Winston Churchill give the speeches. It's fascinating! I'm so so glad I was able to listen to this piece of history. Plus his grandson's insight is so very cool in this book.

Well you know I have to put this on any list. To Kill a Mockingbird
is one of my top three pieces of American Literature. I read it again because it's another pick for Marshall's class and I just really can't pass up an opportunity to dive into this classic. I love reading about Scout's adventures and life in a small southern town being raised by a man who was always straight, true, honest and the same in the town square as he was in his living room. 

Call of Duty is a book that you probably won't find on a lot of lists lately and that's just too bad. It's terrible, really. We need to LEARN from history. Because history is what makes the present. I teach American History for high school students and this is a book I've read previously and recommend to my students for multiple reasons: it's small enough to be digestible, there are tons of quotes and interesting anecdotes, it covers a life well-lived and well-loved and it was written in 1997 so not this whacko revisionist history we have now. Robert E. Lee is an example of faith, wisdom, hardships, resiliency and overcoming. If you really want to learn about history - good and bad - read books. Preferably written before the year 2000.

Truman - it's taken me three times to finish this book because something always gets in the way - it's a commitment I won't lie. And it's worth the commitment. Harry S. Truman was a true American. He was born in the Gilded Age, grew up one generation removed from the wild frontier days, fought in WWI, led in WWII and then became President after FDR's death. He was a good man and a good President. And as I told Marshall, he woke up at 5am each morning as a child to practice piano for two hours. (Marshall didn't like that.)

So there you go - my top twelve books that all happen to get 5-star ratings from me. Twelve out of sixty-two this year. Some biographies, some history, some fluff. A mix that I hope will encourage everybody to pick at least one.

Let me know what you think! I love talking all things books.



best books of the year

5-star books


Winston Churchill

Clemmentine Churchill


The Keeper of Lost Things

call of duty


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