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Beyond ‘Booktok’: my favorite reads of 2023

Check out these lesser-known books from a variety of genres
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Sloan Crosson

As an avid reader, I’m constantly looking for new books to read. However, I’ve exhausted most “BookTok” books and have had to turn to other sources, such as recommendations from friends, the “little libraries” near my house, strolling through second-hand bookstores, and reading articles online. There are so many books out there that you don’t see on social media, but where do you find them? Here are some of my favorite reads of 2023 that you may not have heard of. 

 

Mystery/Thriller

“Falling” by T.J. Newman

If heart-stopping thrillers are your jam, you need to read this book. Imagine you just boarded a flight to New York with 142 other passengers. The annual risk of a plane crash for an average American is one in 11 million. These crashes could be due to pilot error, weather, mechanical error, takeoff or landing collisions, birds, or hijacking. You boarded the plane aware of these risks, but they’re so insignificant they should hardly matter, right? Little did you know that 30 minutes before the plane took off (maybe you were passing security, grabbing some food, or running through the airport), your pilot’s family was kidnapped. The terms of surrender are simple: for his family to live, the pilot must crash the plane, and everyone must die. That is the premise of “Falling” by T.J. Newman. This book was definitely an intense read. From the very first sentence (“When the shoe dropped into her lap the foot was still in it.”), I was hooked. Throughout the novel, I felt like I was walking on a tightrope. This novel was filled with suspenseful twists and turns, and it really made me think about decisions and their consequences. I was genuinely scared while reading this, because I would be absolutely terrified to be put into this situation. I love my family, but do their lives matter more than 140 passengers? It’s an unfair and horrible decision to have to make. If you’re scared of flying, put this book back on the shelf.

 

“Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough

I found this book in a little library in Wisconsin when looking for a quick filler read, and totally didn’t expect it to be this interesting! Louise meets a man in a bar one night, and sparks fly after they have an in-depth conversation about their lives. As it turns out, when she shows up at her new job next morning, her boss is the same guy from the previous night, who just so happens to be married. When Louise bumps into Adele, David’s wife, things take a turn for the worse. The women connect instantly, and Louise tells herself David will never find out about their friendship. However, Louise soon learns David and Adele’s relationship isn’t what it seems to be. That is the premise of “Behind Her Eyes” by Sarah Pinborough. I usually wouldn’t be interested in a premise like this. “It isn’t what it seems” is such a cliche. But trust me, if you love thrillers with huge twists, you need to read it. Nothing is as it seems in this book, and the ending completely caught me off guard. It was unbelievable, literally. The whole book was similar to watching an episode of Disney+’s “Brain Games.” It makes you go back to the beginning and see if any of it even makes sense at all. And it does. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in the idea of lucid dreaming. Pinborough did an amazing job at weaving the story together, making this book the intense hidden gem it is.

 

Romance

“The Flatshare” by Beth O’Leary

This book is perfect for people who love a cute, quiet romantic comedy! Tiffy and Leon share a flat and a bed … but not really. Their strange arrangement involves Tiffy having the apartment in the evenings while Leon has it during the days. When they start writing notes to each other and leaving them around the flat, they quickly become friends. And then, maybe more. But falling in love with your roommate is a horrible idea, especially if you’ve never met. That is the premise of “The Flatshare” by Beth O’Leary. This book was super witty, and I couldn’t put it down! The whole time I was rooting for the two characters to get together, and loved how they were able to learn about each other (without meeting) through their shared space. I enjoyed seeing their whole relationship unfold; it never felt too fast or too short, the whole time just felt real. Some other romcoms I’ve read force the characters together despite them not having any chemistry, and they end up being a perfect match, parading around each other with confidence. However, in “The Flatshare,” the relatable awkward energy made the whole story super sweet and enjoyable.

 

“The Ex-Talk” by Rachel Lynn Solomon

The Ex-Talk” is perfect for lovers of fake-dating and rivals-to-lovers tropes. I picked this one up looking for exactly that, and was not disappointed! Shay Goldstein loves her job working for public radio … until Dominic Yun. Shay is not impressed when he immediately gets to talk on the radio after she had to wait 10 years, and he is the new workplace favorite. When a station-brainstorm meeting turns up a new idea for a show, “The Ex Talk,” things get even worse. The show has two exes talk about their relationship, what went wrong, and how they worked through it. However, Shay and Dominic’s boss noticed their unusual bickering energy, and asked them to host the show. Shay believes this is outrageous, not only because they’d be lying to their viewers, but she’ll lose her job if she doesn’t take it. Unbeknownst to her, Dominic isn’t as bad as he seems, and they actually make the perfect match. That is the premise of “The Ex-Talk” by Rachel Lynn Solomon. I loved the fact that this book could so easily articulate emotions. It covered everything from grief to love to indecision. There were so many moments I could relate to her, including her observations of everyone around her being bad at communicating, which usually protagonists in other books are made too dumb to see. Dominic and Shay had such great conversation and banter, making this a super fun and lighthearted read.

 

Realistic Fiction

“Orbiting Jupiter” by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter” is perfect for readers who struggle to get into a book. Not only is it short, but it gets right into the story. However, if you don’t enjoy crying while reading, you need to turn away. This one was a big tear-jerker. Joseph is a 14-year-old boy who almost killed a teacher. He also has a daughter named Jupiter, who he has never and will never see. Due to his difficult life, Joseph is sent to live with a foster family. He has trouble adjusting at first, but eventually warms up to his new foster brother, Jack. Then, one night, Joseph tells Jack everything. All Joseph wants to do is find his daughter. That is the premise of “Orbiting Jupiter” by Gary D. Schmidt. I really wish I could spoil everything that happens in this book. There’s so much to unpack, despite how simple it felt to read. The beginning had me in tears, and so did the middle but especially the end. It broke my heart into a million little pieces. There were so many things to cry about, happy and sad. It was a whirlwind of emotions. I could feel what the characters were feeling, and could experience all the things that make their lives horrible but beautiful.

 

“The Marriage Portrait” by Maggie O’Farrell

Historical fiction has never been my genre, but when my mom told me I had to read “The Marriage Portrait,” I was intrigued. And, by the first page I was hooked. Imagine you’re 13-years-old. You’ve just been married off to a man you barely know. As bad enough as this sounds, it gets worse: you suspect your husband is planning to murder you. That is what it was like for Lucrezia di Cosimo de’Medici, in Florence in 1560. That is the premise of “The Marriage Portrait” by Maggie O’Farrell. This book was not at all what I expected, but it was only better. It didn’t feel like a history lesson, but a movie with the most unexpected twists and turns. Not only did it touch on the difficulties for women in the past, but it brought attention to the transition of a little girl to a woman. Lucrezia was young and scared, and it was captivating to see the thought process of a young individual going through this. O’Farrell’s descriptions are wonderful, rich, and make Lucrezia’s bleak experiences so full of life. However, don’t let this blind you. The ending was twisted, and left me confused for days.

 

I hope you enjoy these books as much as I did and find something to add to your shelf. The increase in popularity from Booktok has encouraged many more people to read. However, it doesn’t display the other amazing books that exist. Next time you need a new book, shy away from Booktok and pick something out of your comfort zone.

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