Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

What We're Reading's Favorite Books of 2023

Image of 10 book covers.
Maria Hileman / KAXE
Publisher provided
Ten of "What We're Reading" host Tammy Bobrowsky's favorite books of 2023.

Making the list are TJ Klune, Jennifer Ackerman, Alix E. Harrow, Annette S. Lee, Travis Novitsky, Will Weaver and more, with a strong showing from Minnesota authors.

I am blissfully overwhelmed by how many new books came my way this year. And so many great Minnesota books. We really do live in one of the best states for writers.

The idea of making a best of the year list is daunting. Who on Earth has time to read every book that was published this year? (Well over 200,000 books are published in the U.S. annually — I just asked Google.)

This was also an interesting year in books. Some books I was eagerly anticipating fell flat. Some did not disappoint, thankfully. And some took me completely by surprise.

Top 5 Favorite "What We're Reading" Books of 2023

This list was fairly easy to create, but within it, I moved titles around and around and around.

I made some hard choices — but can now present you with the Top 5 What We're Reading books that found their way into my hands, heart and mind this year. The list includes books that started strong and ended strong, taught me things, took me on an adventure, or reminded me where we came from.

5. "In the Lives of Puppets" by T.J. Klune

Writer TJ Klune and the book cover of his latest novel
New York Times best-selling author TJ Klune finds inspiration in classic fantasy and music.

Klune's adult novels always take you on an adventure; introduce you to lovable, witty, and often snarky characters; and, in a sense, adopt you. When you read one of his novels, you become a part of a family. This is especially true for In the Lives of Puppets, inspired by Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio and Pixar's WALL-E.

The family in this science fiction/fantasy novel were assembled from spare parts; most of them are machines. When their father Gio is captured, this motley crew must travel to the City of Electric Dreams to rescue him.

When I finished Puppets, I felt like I had been on a grand adventure. And though I rarely say this about a book, I would love to see a movie adaptation.

4. "What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds" by Jennifer Ackerman

Left, cover of the book "What an Owl Knows;" right, photo of author Jennifer Ackerman, leaning against a wood fence. A Great Grey owl is perched on the same fence a few feet away from her in the foreground.
Sofia Runarsdotter
Penguin Random House
Award-winning and best-selling writer Jennifer Ackerman returns with a fascinating scientific investigation into owls.

Owls really seem to be having their moment in the spotlight, so Ackerman's book was well-timed.

Few other birds have such fascinating lore, legend and scientific enigma surrounding them. Ackerman's book is full of these things, but also includes new scientific findings. And because she is an excellent writer, What an Owl Knows is also a very engaging read.

3. "Starling House" by Alix E. Harrow

Left, the cover for the book "Starling House" includes illustration of several starling birds, some holding keys; Right, photo of the author in a sunlit prairie.
“Starling House” is a gorgeous modern gothic fantasy.

Starling House tells the story of Opal, a full-time cynic and part-time cashier who is determined to make a better life for her younger brother Jasper beyond their veritable ghost town of Eden, Kentucky.

Its remaining citizens live lackluster lives and stay clear of the infamous Starling House, known to be haunted and plagued by mysterious deaths.

On a personal note, Harrow's Starling House checks off all the boxes on my favorite kind of book: gothic, fantasy elements, strong but flawed heroine, books about books.

But speaking objectively, Harrow’s writing is excellent and her storytelling is transcendent. You’ll feel like you're right there in the chilly, damp and musty old mining town (which also serves as an homage to the real-life town of Paradise, Kentucky, made famous by the 1971 John Prine song).

2. "Spirits Dancing: The Night Sky, Indigenous Knowledge, and Living Connections to the Cosmos" written by Annette S. Lee and photography by Travis Novitsky

Cover of book "Spirits Dancing" and photo of Travis Novitsky, photographer of the images in the book.
Minnesota Historical Society Press
Photographer Travis Novitsky and astrophysicist Annette S. Lee collaborate on a book celebrating the science of and our connections to the northern lights and night skies.

If you can’t get outside to see the northern lights this winter, the next best thing may be to grab a copy of Spirits Dancing: The Night Sky, Indigenous Knowledge, and Living Connections to the Cosmos.

The book features 154 stunning color photographs of the northern lights and night skies by Grand Portage photographer Travis Novitsky. Accompanying the photographs is information about the science and Indigenous culture behind the northern lights written by artist and astrophysicist Annette S. Lee. Spirits Dancing is a feast for the eyes, the mind, and the soul and I’ll be returning to it again and again.

1. "Power & Light" by Will Weaver

Left, the cover of the book "Power & Light" depicting a wide flat landscape and a farmhouse burning; right, a photo of the author Will Weaver.
“Power & Light” marks novelist Will Weaver’s return to the themes of “Red Earth, White Earth” and “Sweet Land.”

Power & Light is the story of the Haugen family, who emigrated from Norway to North Dakota in the early 1900s. Tragedy plus a crime against them by a powerful man threatens to destroy the family.

The novel is historical fiction, but it also has ties to author Will Weaver’s family history. His own grandfather emigrated from Norway to North Dakota and there was a violent crime committed against one of Weaver's aunts. The assailant was never brought to justice.

Despite the many hardships that come their way, the Haugens — now just brother Amil and sisters Dag, Sally and Jenny — persevere as they keep striving for "power and light." Jenny, in particular, shines as the unlikely hero even though she is the youngest. But each of the other siblings have their moments of glory.

Weaver's masterful storytelling and writing drives this utterly engaging novel. And despite some of the heavier issues brought up in the story, there are also moments of humor and love. Weaver has announced this will be a two-book saga, and I am so excited about spending more time with these characters.

I want to hear about your favorite books of the year.
You can do this in the following ways:
- Post on our What We're Reading group on Facebook. 
- Text us at 218-326-1234. 
- Leave a Talk Back at 218-999-9876. 
- Email us at 

Honorable Mentions

I could not make a 2023 favorites list without mentioning these five books.

These are books that didn't quite fit into the Top 5 for me, but I still really wanted to fight for them. These are some books that were a little out of my reading zone, but kept me turning the page; ones where I saw a lot of potential for future stories.

A Song Over Miskwaa Rapids revisits places and characters from Linda LeGarde Grover's previous novels, including the mindimooyenyag, or spirits, who have passed on and journeyed to the other side. These vivid characters, the wilderness of the Arrowhead region, and the history of the families make this an evocative story.

My heart broke several times throughout Dear Jacob. Patty Wetterling shares how, when out of the spotlight, her family dealt with Jacob's disappearance, and how she never gave up hope. Through her grief Wetterling gained the wisdom and strength to be a powerful advocate for children.

Rez Ball is an exciting and touching debut from a former Red Lake resident, Byron Graves. It's a coming-of-age story that draws on the Red Lake Warriors' 1997 bid for the boys basketball state championship. I look forward to reading more of Graves' future books.

The Taken Ones marks the beginning of a new series for Jess Lourey. The reopening of a 1982 cold case involving two missing girls has new agents Reed and Steinbeck racing against the clock. This was a thrilling and atmospheric story with dark and mystical storytelling elements: eerie and ancient woods, prescient dreams, and a villain with seemingly strange powers.

In Opposable Thumbs: How Siskel & Ebert Changed Movies Forever, Matt Singer's history of these iconic movie critics was a joy to read. It spoke to my nostalgia of growing up watching Siskel & Ebert on TV, but it also reminded me these two really helped me to understand and appreciate and love movies.

I hope you are able to check out some of these books and read for yourself what wonderful stories they hold. But now, I want to hear about your favorite books of the year.

You can do this in the following ways:

I have piles and piles of books at home waiting to be read, and I keep telling myself that I'll get a lot of reading done over the holidays, but who am I kidding?

I'm already really excited to see what's in store for 2024.

Looking for a good book recommendation? Want to recommend a book you've just read?  Check out our What We're Reading page on Facebook, or text us at 218-326-1234.

What We're Reading is made possible in part by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund and the citizens of Minnesota.

Stay Connected
Tammy works at Bemidji State University's library, and she hosts "What We're Reading," a show about books and authors.