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December 12, 2023

Best Books of 2023

The Hamilton East Public Library is proud to present our staff favorite selections for Best Books of 2023! Explore our annual recommendations for kids, teens, and adults, all curated by our expert librarians. The books on these lists are perfect for gifting, book club selections, or personal reading. They include fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, picture books, and more! All of these books are in the Library’s catalog, and many are available in multiple formats, including e-books and audiobooks. Happy reading!

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For Kids

Picture Books

Cape by Kevin Johnson, illus. by Kitt Thomas

After losing the person in his life he loves more than anything, a young child holds onto a cape as a source of comfort and strength as he navigates the sadness and joy of his memories.

In the Night Garden by Carin Berger

A collage-illustrated bedtime read about the often mysterious and always beautiful experiences to be found in nighttime spaces.

Is this…Winter? by Helen Yoon

While romping in the snow, an energetic little puppy is taken aback by the winter weirdness of encountering unfriendly deer, tiny lights, and inflatable snowmen.

Just a Worm by Marie Boyd

Upset at being called “just a worm,” worm sets out around the garden to find out what the other insects do and discover his own role in keeping the garden healthy.

Mine! by Candace Fleming, illus. by Eric Rohmann

A group of forest animals vie for the same delicious red apple that is just about to drop.

We Are Going to Be Pals! by Mark Teague

A talkative cattle egret explains to a rhinoceros that in addition to having a symbiotic relationship, they also have a friendship built on communication, kindness, and a respect for boundaries.

I-Can-Read Fiction

Elena Rides by Juana Medina

Elena wants to ride her bike. She steadies, she readies. She wobbles, she bobbles… KA-BANG! Learning to ride a bike is hard. But Elena can do it. She just has to try, try again.

Who Will Win? by Arihhonni David

When a quick-footed bear and a quick-witted turtle race across a frozen lake, Turtle has a secret plan to win!

Chapter Books

Bear and Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories by Jarvis

Bear and Bird are best friends, and they spend a lot of time together. They don’t always understand each other, but both agree that all they want is for their friend to be happy. So, when Bear forgets the most important thing to pack for a picnic (but pretends that he didn’t), Bird doesn’t let on that she knew all along. And when Bird is upset to discover her friend has more of a certain talent than she does, Bear finds a touching way to make her feel better.

Drag and Rex: Forever Friends by Susan Lubner

Best friends Drag and Rex could not be more different, but together they find joy and adventure in the simplest places.


The Book of Turtles by Sy Montgomery & Matt Patterson

This tribute to one of the most diverse, fascinating, and beloved species on the planet (turtles) speaks to the diversity and wisdom of these long-lived reptiles

The Deep!: Wild Life at the Ocean’s Darkest Depths by Lindsey Leigh

The Deep! is a rollicking survey of animals that live in the deepest part of the ocean created in an exciting graphic nonfiction format. The first-person commentary by the animals themselves cover a wealth of facts from the surface of the ocean to the darkest trenches. And the beautiful full-color illustrations bring them to life. From animal adaptations like bioluminescence and giant flashlight eyes to the habits and habitats of the Pram Bug and Dumbo Octopus, The Deep! will keep readers fully engaged with life at the bottom of the sea.

The Fire of Stars by Kirsten W. Larson, illus. by Katherine Roy

This moving biography powerfully parallels the kindling of Cecilia Payne’s own curiosity and her scientific career with the process of a star’s birth, from mere possibility in an expanse of space to an eventual, breathtaking explosion of light.

Grizzly Bears: Guardians of the Wilderness by Frances Backhouse

This nonfiction book introduces middle-grade readers to grizzly bears. Featuring photos throughout, it discusses their biology, habitats, threats to survival, and how scientists, conservationists, and young people are working to protect grizzly populations.

I Want to Be Spaghetti! by Kiera Wright-Ruiz, illus. by Claudia Lam

Even from Ramen’s small shelf in the supermarket, they see spaghetti propaganda everywhere. They want to be celebrated, too. Maybe, Ramen misguidedly thinks, I have to change to be loved like that. “I want to be spaghetti!” they proclaim to the dismay of the rest of the instant noodle section.”

Mary’s Idea by Chris Raschka

A picture book biography of Mary Lou Williams, an American jazz pianist and composer who wrote hundreds of compositions, recorded hundreds of songs, and wrote arrangements for Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and is an artist often overlooked in the canon of American music because of her gender and skin color.

We are Starlings: Inside the Mesmerizing Magic of a Murmuration by Robert Furrow & Donna Jo Napoli, illus. by Marc Martin

A stunning picture book for young nature lovers about starlings and the fascinating phenomenon of murmurations.

Graphic Novels

The Bawk-ness Monster by Sara Goetter & Natalie Riess

Before she moves away to a new city, Penny wants to prove that she was truly saved from drowning by the Bawk-ness Monster but instead must rescue kidnapped cryptids from an evil collector along with Luc and K.

Ghost Book by Remy Lai

July Chen sees ghosts. But her dad insists ghosts aren’t real. So she pretends they don’t exist. Which is incredibly difficult now as it’s Hungry Ghost month, when the Gates of the Underworld open and dangerous ghosts run amok in the living world. When July saves a boy ghost from being devoured by a Hungry Ghost, he becomes her first ever friend. Except William is not a ghost. He’s a wandering soul wavering between life and death. As the new friends embark on an adventure to return William to his body, they unearth a ghastly truth–for William to live, July must die.

Schnozzer & Tatertoes: Take a Hike! by Rick Stromoski

Two dogs, Schnozzer and Tatertoes, set out into the forest to visit Tatertoes’ mother, and on the way, they will encounter a number of fairy tale characters and become involved in their adventures.

Juvenile Fiction

Dear Mothman by Robin Gow

After the death of his best friend and the only other trans boy at school, Noah starts writing letters expressing his feelings to the humanoid creature Mothman and risks everything when he treks into the woods to prove Mothman’s existence.

Finally Seen by Kelly Yang

When ten-year-old Lina Gao leaves China to live with her parents and sister, after five years apart, she must reckon with her hurt, anger, and curiosity and find a way to get her bearings in this new country–and the almost-new family that comes along with it.

The Golden Frog Games by Claribel A. Ortega

Ravenskill is hosting the Golden Frog Games, a magical tournament, but somebody is using forbidden hexes to turn contestants into stone. Meanwhile, Seven Salazar, future “uncle” of Ravenskill, who is supposed to have the power to communicate with animals, has a secret — the only voices she hears belong to the deadly monstruos.

Leeva at Last by Sara Pennypacker

What are people for? That’s the burning question on the mind of Leeva Spayce Thornblossom. “Fame!” says Leeva’s mom, the mayor of Nutsmore. “Money!” says her dad, the town treasurer. With the help of an orphaned badger, a risk-averse boy in a hazmat suit, and the town’s librarians, Leeva sets off to discover her own answer — setting off a chain of events that will change Nutsmore forever.

Simon Sort of Says by Erin Bow

Two years after a tragedy saddles him with viral fame, twelve-year-old Simon O’Keeffe and his family move to Grin And Bear It, Nebraska, where the internet and cell phones are banned so astrophysicists can scan the sky for signs of alien life, and where, with the help of two new friends, a puppy, and a giant radio telescope, Simon plans to restart the narrative of his life.

Will on the Inside by Andrew Eliopulos

After dedicated soccer player Will is sidelined from the season — and his friend group — due to complications from his newly diagnosed Crohn’s disease, he finds himself figuring out who he really is on the inside.

For Teens

Middle School Fiction

The Eyes & The Impossible by Dave Eggers

Johannes, a free dog, lives in a park hemmed in on three sides by dense human neighborhoods and on one side by the ocean. His job is to be the Eyes — to see everything that happens within the park and report to the park’s elders, three ancient bison who ensure the Equilibrium. His friends — a stalwart seagull, a mordant raccoon, a one-eyed squirrel, and a pelican who can read — work with him as the Assistant Eyes, observing the humans and other animals who share the park and making sure everything is in balance. But, changes are afoot.

Iceberg by Jennifer A. Nielsen

Twelve-year-old Hazel Rothbury stows away aboard the Titanic, and, with the help of a porter named Charlie and a first-class passenger named Sylvia, she sets out to explore the great ship, uncovering a haunting mystery — until the ship hits an iceberg and she must fight to save herself and her friends.

It Found Us by Lindsay Currie

Hazel, a twelve-year-old aspiring detective, must decode a series of ominous clues tied to a century-old tragedy to find a missing teenager before it is too late.

The Lost Year: A Survival Story of the Ukrainian Famine by Katherine Marsh

In the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, thirteen-year-old Matthew discovers a shocking secret about his great-grandmother’s past as he learns about her life during the Holodomor famine in Soviet Ukraine.

Nothing Else But Miracles by Kate Albus

Living on their own on Manhattan’s Lower East Side while their Pop is off fighting in World War II, twelve-year-old Dory Byrne and her brothers discover an abandoned hotel that proves a perfect hideout just when they need it most.

What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski

Thirteen-year-old new girl Anna Hunt decides to make an investigative podcast about how fellow classmate Rachel Riley went from being the most popular girl in school to the most hated.

Middle School Graphic Novels

Buzzing by Samuel Sattin

Isaac is a shy boy with OCD, but one day at school, he meets new friends who introduce him to role-playing games, which lead him on a journey of self-discovery and growth.

School Trip by Jerry Craft

Eighth grader Drew Ellis recognizes that he isn’t afforded the same opportunities, no matter how hard he works, that his privileged classmates at the Riverdale Academy Day School take for granted, and to make matters worse, Drew begins to feel as if his good friend Liam might be one of those privileged kids and is finding it hard not to withdraw, even as their mutual friend Jordan tries to keep their group of friends together.

Tegan and Sara: Junior High by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin, illus. by Tillie Walden

Before Tegan and Sara took the music world by storm, the Quins were just two identical twins trying to find their place in a new home and new school. From first crushes to the perils of puberty, surviving junior high is something the sisters plan to face side-by-side, just like they’ve always faced things. But growing up also means growing apart, as Tegan and Sara make different friends and take separate paths to understanding their queerness. For the first time ever, they ask who one sister is without the other.

High School Fiction

Blood Debts by Terry J. Benton-Walker

Sixteen-year-old twins Clement and Cristina feel lost after their father’s death but find a new sense of purpose as they work to quell the rising tensions between New Orleans’s magic and non-magic communities and find out who cursed their mother.

A Curse For True Love by Stephanie Garber

Two villains, one girl, and a deadly battle for happily ever after. Evangeline Fox seems to have found her happy ending married to a handsome prince and living in a legendary castle, but she can’t remember how she got there and why she is so drawn to the man she’s told is so dangerous. (Book 3 of Once Upon a Broken Heart series)

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

The Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in 1910 Chicago, and the two daughters, Olivia and Helen, are finding their way and finding love – even where they are not supposed to.

Foul Heart Huntsman by Chloe Gong

In 1932 Shanghai, exposed national spy Rosalind Lang must rescue fellow spy, Orion, whose memories of Rosalind have been wiped, and find a cure to a dangerous chemical weapon before it lands in the hands of foreign invaders. (Book 2 of Foul Lady Fortune series)

I’ll Tell You No Lies by Amanda McCrina

Set during the Cold War in upstate New York, Shelby Blaine, the teenage daughter of an Air Force intelligence officer, becomes entangled with an escaped Soviet pilot accused of being a spy.

Just Do This One Thing For Me by Laura Zimmerman

Stuck at the lake in the middle of a Wisconsin winter, Drew and his younger brother and sister struggle to stay together after their manipulative, con artist mother dies, which they can only do if they can keep her death a secret.

The Next New Syrian Girl by Ream Shukairy

The unlikely friendship between Syrian American boxer Khadija and Syrian refugee Leene reveals the pressures and expectations of the perfect Syrian daughter and the repercussions of the Syrian Revolution both at home and abroad.

One of Us is Back by Karen M. McManus

A member of the Bayview Crew disappears, and everyone feels like they could be next, but the situation suddenly worsens when someone unexpectedly returns to Bayview. (Book 3 of One of Us is Lying series)

Saints of the Household by Ari Tison

When brothers Max and Jay help a classmate in trouble, they struggle with the consequences of their violent actions and worry they may be more like their abusive father than they thought, so the brothers turn to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.

Spell Bound by F.T. Lukens

Rival teenage apprentice sorcerers, Rook and Sun, must team up to save their teachers or risk losing their magic forever!

Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington

Eighteen-year-old Adina Walker, a scholarship student at a prestigious academy, faces the consequences of a single mistake and competes in a high-stakes contest hosted by the wealthy Remington family, where she uncovers unsettling truths about the sponsors and the contest’s high stakes.

Warrior Girl Unearthed by Angeline Boulley

With the rising number of missing Indigenous women, her family’s involvement in a murder investigation, and grave robbers profiting off her Anishinaabe tribe, Perry takes matters into her own hands to solve the mystery and reclaim her people’s inheritance. (Companion to Firekeeper’s Daughter)

We Are All So Good At Smiling by Amber McBride

When hospitalized for her clinical depression, Whimsy connects with a boy named Faerry, who also suffers from the traumatic loss of a sibling, and together they work to unearth buried memories and battle the fantastical physical embodiment of their depression.

What the River Knows by Isabel Ibañez

Set in 1884, nineteen-year-old Inez travels to Egypt after the sudden death of her parents to uncover the truth about their deaths, and as she attempts to unravel the mysteries her parents sought, she becomes a pawn in a larger game that threatens to kill her.

Where You See Yourself by Claire Forrest

Effie Galanos’ goals for senior year include her navigating her way through her high school that is not really wheelchair-friendly, getting into the perfect college, and getting her crush Wilder to accompany her to the prom – but by spring, she is beginning to see herself entirely differently.

High School Graphic Novels

Heartstopper, Vol. 5 by Alice Oseman

The much-anticipated fifth volume in the bestselling LGBTQ+ young adult graphic novel series Heartstopper is about life, love, and everything that happens in between. Nick and Charlie are in love. They’ve even said those three little words, but is everything about to change when Nick goes off to university?

Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying

After the sudden death of her father, sixteen-year-old Valerie Chu, who is hiding an eating disorder from her family and friends, reevaluates her life, her choices, and her own body as she tries to find the strength to seek help.

The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich by Deya Muniz

In this romantic comedy graphic novel, Cam disguises herself as a man to inherit her father’s money and estate, and though she tries to keep a low profile, she ends up falling for Crown Princess Brie.

For Adults


The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

While trying to settle into a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural, Amina al-Sirafi, one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, is offered a job she cannot refuse, but soon discovers this final chance at glory comes with a high price–her soul.

Blackouts by Justin Torres

Out in the desert in a place called the Palace, a young man tends to a dying soul, someone he once knew briefly, but who has haunted the edges of his life. According to the publisher, this is “A book about storytelling—its legacies, dangers, delights, and potential for change—and a bold exploration of form, art, and love. Justin Torres’s Blackouts uses fiction to see through the inventions of history and narrative.”

Bright Young Women by Jessica Knoll

The book opens on a Saturday night in 1978, hours before a soon-to-be-infamous murderer descends upon a Florida sorority house with deadly results. The lives of those who survive, including sorority president and key witness, Pamela Schumacher, are forever changed. Across the country, Tina Cannon is convinced her missing friend was targeted by the man papers refer to as the All-American Sex Killer–and that he’s struck again. Determined to find justice, the two join forces as their search for answers leads to a final, shocking confrontation.

The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese

Spanning the years 1900 to 1977, The Covenant of Water is set in Kerala, on South India’s Malabar Coast, and follows three generations of a family that suffers a peculiar affliction: in every generation, at least one person dies by drowning–and in Kerala, water is everywhere.

Crook Manifesto by Colson Whitehead

A furniture store owner and ex-grifter leaves the straight and narrow path when he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter in 1971 Manhattan.

Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general–also known as her tough-as-talons mother–has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders. But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them. She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Hangman by Maya Binyam

A man returns home to sub-Saharan Africa after twenty-six years in America. When he arrives, he finds that he doesn’t recognize the country or anyone in it. Thankfully, someone recognizes him, a man who calls him brother―setting him on a quest to find his real brother, who is dying. In his search, a series of phantoms, guides, tricksters, bureaucrats, debtors, taxi drivers, relatives, and riddles, and strangers will lead to the truth.

Happy Place by Emily Henry

It’s the last vacation with their friend group, and Harriet and Wyn don’t want to ruin it for everyone, especially with the news that the long-time couple broke up months ago. They are determined to fake a relationship – but how much is pretend?

The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride

In 1972, when workers in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, were digging the foundations for a new development, the last thing they expected to find was a skeleton at the bottom of a well. Who the skeleton was and how it got there were two of the long-held secrets kept by the residents of Chicken Hill, the dilapidated neighborhood where immigrant Jews and African Americans lived side by side and shared ambitions and sorrows. As these characters’ stories overlap and deepen, it becomes clear how much the people who live on the margins of white, Christian America struggle and what they must do to survive. When the truth is finally revealed about what happened on Chicken Hill and the part the town’s white establishment played in it, McBride shows us that even in dark times, it is love and community–heaven and earth–that sustain us.

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

Awarded a college basketball scholarship away from his childhood home silenced by tragedy, a young man befriends a spirited young woman who welcomes him into her loving, loud, chaotic household

The Late Mrs. Willoughby by Claudia Gray

The suspenseful sequel to The Murder of Mr. Wickham sees Jonathan Darcy and Juliet Tilney reunited and with another mystery to solve: the dreadful poisoning of the scoundrel Willoughby’s new wife. Catherine and Henry Tilney of Northanger Abbey are not entirely pleased to be sending their eligible young daughter Juliet out into the world again: the last house party she attended, at the home of the Knightleys, involved a murder–which Juliet helped solve. Particularly concerning is that she intends to visit her new friend Marianne Brandon, who’s returned home to Devonshire shrouded in fresh scandal–made more potent by the news that her former suitor, the rakish Mr. Willoughby, intends to take up residence at his local estate with his new bride.

Murder Your Employer by Rupert Holmes

Preparing you for an education you’ll never forget, this introduction to The McMasters Conservatory, dedicated to the consummate execution of homicidal arts, follows students as they prepare for graduation by getting away with the perfect murder of someone whose death will make the world a much better place to live.

Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A meld of Mexican horror movies and Nazi occultism: a dark thriller about the curse that haunts a legendary lost film–and awakens one woman’s hidden powers.

Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Recalling the past at her daughters’ request, Lara tells the story of a famous actor with whom she shared both a stage and a romance, which causes her daughters to examine their own lives and reconsider the world and everything they thought they knew.


Baking Yesteryear by B. Dylan Hollis

A decade-by-decade cookbook that highlights the best (and a few of the worst) baking recipes from the 20th century

Class: A Memoir of Motherhood, Hunger, and Higher Education by Stephanie Land

In Class, Land takes us with her as she finishes college and pursues her writing career. Facing barriers at every turn, including a byzantine loan system, not having enough money for food, navigating the judgments of professors and fellow students who didn’t understand the demands of attending college while under the poverty line, Land finds a way to survive once again, finally graduating in her mid-thirties. Land paints an intimate and heartbreaking portrait of motherhood as it converges and often conflicts with personal desire and professional ambition

The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z by Tamar Adler

The award-winning, bestselling author of An Everlasting Meal serves up an inspiring, money-saving, environmentally responsible A-to-Z collection of simple recipes that utilize all kinds of leftovers–perfect for solo meals or for feeding the whole family

A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them by Timothy Egan

This book tells the riveting story of the Klan’s rise to power in the 1920s, the cunning con man who drove that rise, and the woman who stopped them. The Roaring Twenties — the Jazz Age — has been characterized as a time of Gatsby frivolity. But it was also the height of the uniquely American hate group, the Ku Klux Klan. Their domain was not the old Confederacy, but the Heartland and the West. They hated Blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants in equal measure, and took radical steps to keep these people from the American promise. And the man who set in motion their takeover of great swaths of America was a charismatic charlatan named D.C. Stephenson. But at the peak of his influence, it was a seemingly powerless woman – Madge Oberholtzer – who would reveal his secret cruelties, and whose deathbed testimony finally brought the Klan to their knees

Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry

The beloved star of Friends takes us behind the scenes of the hit sitcom and his struggles with addiction in this candid, funny, and revelatory memoir that delivers a powerful message of hope and persistence.

Our Migrant Souls by Héctor Tobar

A new book by the Pulitzer Prize–winning writer about the twenty-first-century Latino experience and identity. A journey across the country to uncover something expansive, inspiring, true, and alive about the meaning of ‘Latino’ in the twenty-first century.

Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond

The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Why does this land of plenty allow one in every eight of its children to go without basic necessities, permit scores of its citizens to live and die on the streets, and authorize its corporations to pay poverty wages? Elegantly written and fiercely argued, this compassionate book gives us new ways of thinking about a morally urgent problem. It also helps us imagine solutions. Desmond builds a startlingly original and ambitious case for ending poverty. He calls on us all to become poverty abolitionists, engaged in a politics of collective belonging to usher in a new age of shared prosperity and, at last, true freedom.

The Rediscovery of America: Native Peoples and the Unmaking of U.S. History by Ned Blackhawk

The most enduring feature of U.S. history is the presence of Native Americans, yet most histories focus on Europeans and their descendants. This long practice of ignoring Indigenous history is changing, however, with a new generation of scholars insists that any full American history address the struggle, survival, and resurgence of American Indian nations. Indigenous history is essential to understanding the evolution of modern America. Ned Blackhawk interweaves five centuries of Native and non-Native histories, from Spanish colonial exploration to the rise of Native American self-determination in the late twentieth century. Blackhawk’s retelling of U.S. history acknowledges the enduring power, agency, and survival of Indigenous peoples, yielding a truer account of the United States and revealing anew the varied meanings of America.

Spare by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex

It was one of the most searing images of the twentieth century: two young boys, two princes, walking behind their mother’s coffin as the world watched in sorrow–and horror. As Diana, Princess of Wales, was laid to rest, billions wondered what the princes must be thinking and feeling–and how their lives would play out from that point on. For Harry, this is that story at last. With its raw, unflinching honesty, Spare is a landmark publication full of insight, revelation, self-examination, and hard-won wisdom about the eternal power of love over grief

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann

From the author of Killers of the Flower Moon, a page-turning story of shipwreck, survival, and savagery, culminating in a court martial that reveals a shocking truth. The powerful narrative reveals the deeper meaning of the events on The Wager, showing that it was not only the captain and crew who ended up on trial, but the very idea of empire.

You Could Make This Place Beautiful by Maggie Smith

The award-winning poet explores the disintegration of her marriage and her renewed commitment to herself, interweaving snapshots of a life with meditations on secrets, anger, forgiveness, and narrative itself and revealing how, in the aftermath of loss, we can discover our power and make something beautiful.