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Scary Mommy's Best Books Of 2023

Scary Mommy's editors snuck in a few moments of reading here and there — and these are the very best books we found.

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There is so much to keep up with in entertainment these days, and moms (who manage so much already) don't have tons of time for movies, music, and books not targeted at toddlers, tweens, and teens. But there is something so, so special about stealing a few minutes here and there to escape into a novel — to just enjoy an entirely different world, even if you're sitting in a car while your kid is at soccer practice, waiting in line at Target, or nursing your youngest to sleep.

In 2023, the Scary Mommy team stole time to read all sorts of things, from romance to fantasy to comedy to horror to historical fiction, and it was worth every page. We traded titles and favorites throughout the year. We laughed, we cried, we drowned out our children's petty fights with audiobooks. And as we roll into a new year (with new additions to our TBR piles), we're sharing our favorite reads from the last 12 months with you.

Banyan Moon by Thao Thai

“Thao has written some wonderful pieces about her daughter for us, so I knew she’d be super skilled at a full-length take on mothers and daughters. And I was NOT wrong.

Her debut novel is so vividly written that you feel like you’re living in the Banyan House with this Vietnamese American family. Like so many of my favorite books, it’s about mothers and daughters — and the resentment, the secrets, and the deep, deep love that so often goes into those relationships.” – Kate Auletta, Scary Mommy Editor-in-Chief

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

“Honestly, this book made my summer vacation. Amina al-Sirafi is a middle-aged mom with a bad knee and terrible taste in men, as well as the most dashing, daring, brilliant swashbuckler on the Indian Ocean. But now she’s retired. Kind of. Except she gets dragged back into the game for ONE LAST SCORE (as they always do). I cannot even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed spending time with this grumpy, delightful pirate and her crew. I hope Shannon Chakraborty writes one million more books in this new series.” – Kelly Faircloth, Scary Mommy Executive Editor

Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

“Ready for a weird, funny, affecting read? Greta lives in a crumbling, ancient farmhouse in upstate New York. She’s a bit lost in her life, from her career to her relationships — not to mention that her home is currently filled with thousands of bees, which she just isn’t up to dealing with. She takes a job transcribing sex therapy sessions for a guy named Om, and she soon falls in love with one of his patients — just from the recordings alone — whom she calls Big Swiss. And then everything really changes on the day she meets Big Swiss in real life at the dog park and recognizes her voice.

This book’s cover says it all: It’s strange and sexy. It’s funny and tragic. It’s contemplative but a page-turner. I devoured this book, completely enamored with the setting, the characters, and the starkly original plot. The writing is sharp and smart, the protagonist is oddly relatable (I hope!), and it still manages to deal with important topics like trauma, mental health, privacy, class, sexuality, and, of course, love. There’s also a very cute dog in it.

As one Goodreads review perfectly put it: ‘I love reading literary fiction about messed up women doing crazy sh*t.’ Well said!” – Sarah Aswell, Scary Mommy Book Club Editor

You, Again by Kate Goldbeck

You, Again is basically if When Harry Met Sally took place in 2023 with LGTBQ+ representation, and that’s what makes it pretty much perfect. Ari and Josh can’t seem to escape each other as their lives intertwine over the course of several years as the two try to find their own personal paths in life. This enemies-to-friends-to-lovers romance novel is witty, romantic, and filled with Taylor Swift references (which is a plus in my book).” – Katie Garrity, Scary Mommy Staff Writer

Stone Cold Fox by Rachel Koller Croft

“My favorite part about thrillers is the element of surprise — but as someone who reads thrillers religiously, I can be hard to shock. Rachel Koller Croft caught me completely off guard, and I can’t wait to read whatever she’s working on next.

After decades of finessing her way into filthy rich pockets, professional swindler Bea is ready for a new chapter, one rooted in old money, designer clothes, and millionaire-dollar estates up and down the coast. The only person standing in her way is Gale Wallace-Leicester, who has been infatuated with Bea’s fiancé since childhood. As Gale surges into Bea’s complicated past, she uncovers people and places riddled in deception and darkness, and so begins a titillating game of cat-and-mouse.” – Emily Weaver, Scary Mommy Book Club Contributing Editor

The Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff

“I think Lauren Groff is one of the most talented and interesting authors working today and her newest effort, The Vaster Wilds, is such a great example of the thing she does best: historical, feminist, and experimental writing. The slim novel follows an unnamed servant girl who is escaping an early Colonial American settlement that is being plagued by starvation, crime, and disease. She takes what she can and flees into the woods, where she must hide from pursuers and also attempt to live off of the land. While in the woods, she reflects on her small, difficult life as well as on the beauty and mystery of the nature around her. The last 50 pages of this book are absolutely heart-wrenching, but kind of in a good way? You just have to read it.” – Aswell

Old Flame by Molly Prentiss

“As a general rule of thumb, I try to steer clear of prompts that hover a little too close to home. So you can imagine my hesitancy when I picked up Molly Prentiss’ latest venture: A protagonist named Emily living in New York City writing for women’s catalogs, who has dreams of publishing her first novel. LOL, RIGHT? Instead, I surprisingly (and happily) found Old Flame to be the breath of fresh air my imagination was craving. Emily’s life is upended when her best work friend is *forcibly* laid off and a trip to Italy ends with two faint lines indicating a positive and unplanned pregnancy. What happens next is an enriching, honest, and sometimes hilarious journey following one woman trying to make sense of her world, while everything around her seems to smash into smithereens — until it doesn’t.” – Weaver

The Lost Journals of Sacajawea by Debra Magpie Earling

“It’s hard to live in America — and especially hard to live in the American West like I do — and not know some cursory information about Sacajewea. Most people can tell you that she was a Native American woman who helped Lewis and Clark reach the Pacific Ocean on their epic journey. Some people can tell you a little more: that she was vital to their survival or that she did it all with an infant. Or that she was just 16 during the historic journey. A few might be able to tell you that she was kidnapped from her family as a child and sold into marriage. Even fewer still might be able to tell you her tribe: Lemhi Shoshone.

In her second powerful book, Debra Magpie Earling imagines that just as Lewis and Clark had their famed journals and perspectives, the girl who made their journey possible had a voice, too. The result is an extremely challenging and heart-wrenching read that will change the way you look at that expedition and Sacajewea’s life forever. Written in prose that decolonizes language and gives a little girl her own authentic voice, the book follows her life from growing up with her mother and father to all the trauma that followed her kidnapping and slavery. We see how incredibly strong she must have been to survive and what a small part of her life the expedition likely was for her. We also see just how extraordinary she was and get a small hint at what she overcame to land so prominently in the modern history of the world.

Because the prose reads almost like a new language (think James Joyce) and because of the very heavy subject matter, I recommend you read this one slowly, a few pages at a time. But I do recommend it to everyone. It is eye-opening and has many moments of beauty among the pain.” – Aswell

We Could Be So Good by Cat Sebastian

“I’m not sure there’s any single romance novelist working who is as good as Sebastian at depicting the romance of just hanging around with somebody you care about. Nick and Andy mostly wander around late 1950s New York City together, doing newspaper stuff and cooking and going to Yankees’ games despite hating the Yankees, and I was just happy to tag along. Plus, it’s the rare book that’s a pretty good depiction of actually doing journalism. I also really enjoyed that Andy’s acrimoniously divorced parents agreed on one thing, and that’s being dedicated early-20th-century leftists. Shout out to Andy’s dad for not naming names in front of HUAC.” – Faircloth

Just My Type by Falon Ballard

Falon Ballard is one of my favorite romance literary discoveries of 2023! Just My Type is a modern spin on How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, in which high school exes Lana and Seth pine after the same promotion at the expense of their dating life. Lana is a serial monogamist who must learn how to casually date without worrying about what comes next. A player at heart, Seth is tasked with opening himself up to a serious relationship. They’ll each document their journey online, and the person with the highest engagement wins.” – Weaver

The Whispers by Ashley Audrain

After her debut novel, The Push, became a best-selling sensation, Audrain hits the mark again with her second book, The Whispers. A chilling tale of the mundane nature of suburbia and ever-exhaustive plight of motherhood, The Whispers follows the lives of four mothers with very different lives and a whole lot of secrets to hold onto. I might need to actually stop reading Ashley Audrain novels because the way she writes male characters will give you TRUST ISSUES.” – Garrity

Beyond That, The Sea by Lauren Spence-Ash

“The mark of a great book, to me, is when you stop and reread lines over and over again ‘cause they’re just that beautiful or poignant. This book is chock full of them. I knew from the start that this book would break my heart — and oh, did it! — but I devoured it nonetheless. It’s about a young British girl sent to live with an American family during WWII and the story of their lives together, and apart. I love a good WWII book, and this did not disappoint. Read this, trust me.” – Auletta

Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez

“Abby Jimenez was my favorite romance author discovery of 2023. I love her ability to write witty banter and the pleasing speed with which her stories unfold. I also love that her stories don’t heavily rely on miscommunication between love interests, which is something that can get so very old to anyone flinging back rom-coms on the regular. In Yours Truly, Dr. Briana Ortiz is going through a rough patch in her life: her career isn’t on track, her brother needs a kidney transplant but can’t find a donor, and she’s going through a divorce after a catastrophic marriage. Enter Dr. Jacob Maddox, the new hire who she at first thinks is also her new worst enemy.

I love the letters that the two doctors end up writing each other — and I love the friendship and relationship that follows. I also love how it goes deeper than many other books in the genre by really exploring issues like Jacob’s social anxiety and Briana’s relationship trauma. Really, it’s everything I want in a good romance: a fast pace, excellent writing, great characters, and a little spice on top of it all.” – Aswell

Pineapple Street by Jenny Jackson

“If you like satirical, well-written takedowns of snobby Brooklynites, then this book is for you. Although this came out in March, it’s basically a beach read, and it’s a smart, funny take on one really terrible one-percenter Brooklyn family.” – Auletta

The Wishing Game by Meg Shaffer

“If I could pick one book I read this year that made me squeal in delight, Meg Shaffer’s debut, The Wishing Game, has to take the cake. As an avid reader (and a former child who always had their nose in a book), there is something so whimsical and nostalgic about The Wishing Game, which follows main character Lucy Hart as she embarks on an incredible journey to compete the chance of winning the most sought-after book in the world by her favorite childhood author.” – Garrity

The Writing Retreat by Julia Bartz

“Horror is not a genre I go out of my way to read, but when I tell you my eyes were glued to this book from beginning to end! We meet a small group of aspiring novelists who gather under the roof of beloved horror author Rosa Vallo for a month-long writing retreat. Over the course of four weeks, each writer will complete an original novel with the best one getting a publishing deal. The retreat is afoot, but when one of them vanishes, Alex realizes she agreed to something more sinister than goosebumps on a page. This book is twisted, gripping, and dare I say, sexy — but you’ll have to read to find out why.” – Weaver

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

“In the past few years, it’s felt like we’ve been pelted with more true-crime stories than we can handle, in every form, from podcasts to novels to Netflix. And so much of that true crime revolves around the sexual assault and murder of women — although it’s the men who kill them that get the spotlight. In Jessica Knoll’s gripping new novel, she puts the women (both those who survive and those who don’t) front and center in this reimagining of Ted Bundy’s terrifying crime spree in the 1970s. Bundy isn’t even named once in this page-turning, thoughtful look at what it means to be a woman in a world that rewards men for even the most gruesome accomplishments — and what it means to ‘survive’ trauma, minutes, days, years, and decades later.” – Aswell

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