Roelia Reads:  My Five-star Reads of 2023

Best Books of 2023Hey, book lovers!

It has been a wonderful year for us, don’t you agree? I enjoyed reading and reviewing books from various genres and authors. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to finish a lot of books this year and I shared my opinions and reviews on this blog and on my other social media platforms.

Sharing our opinions and thoughts with each other is essential, as it strengthens our community and expresses our gratitude for the publishers and authors who support us, the readers of the world. We also support each other in the same way. I’m proud and delighted to be part of the faithful and committed reading community.

Out of all the books I read, these are the ones that blew me away and got five stars from me. These books are so different, but they all have something in common: they are engaging and inspiring. No matter what you are in the mood for, you will find a book that will make you happy among my favourites of 2023. I listed them in alphabetical order because it was too hard to choose the top one, or even the top three or five!

Best Books of 2023Alone with You in the Ether by Olivie Blake

Review copy received from Pan MacMillan SA

Genre: Romance

“It is beautifully written, intricate, and emotional. It tells the story of two people with complex personalities, dealing with mental health issues. Because of the tendency to self-destruct, this story is also filled with dark tension. Their connection is on such a deep and complex level, it left me breathless. Think that I am exaggerating? Here are a few of my favourite heart-wrenching quotes:

“Can you love my brain even when it is small? When it is malevolent? When it is violent? Can you love it even when it does not love me?”

“She is in all of his spaces and all of his thoughts. He contemplates formulas and degrees of rationality and they all turn into her. He thinks about time, which has only recently begun, or at least now feels different. He thinks: the Babylonians were wrong; time is made of her.”

“I want you to say everything, anything. I want to have your thoughts, I want to bottle them, I want to put them in my drawer for safekeeping.”

My full review here:  What I read: Alone With You in the Ether – Olivie Blake


Best Books of 2023Bloomer by Anne Schlebusch

Review copy received from Helco Promotions and Modjadi Books

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

“I found “Bloomer” thoroughly enjoyable.  It was one of those books that I read with a permanent grin on my face.

“Old folks’ kind of night.  Hello, the wee hours.  And that refers to the loo, too.  The wee hours and the wonky bladders.  Like a newborn.”

And yes, all isn’t necessarily fun and (dark?) humour, but I absolutely adored Maggie and her crew.

“You could practise being grumpy from age 60 up but the Golden Age for grumping is 70 plus.”

Now, three years after our first hard lockdown due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, I found it quite amazing of how much I forgot about what we all went through, but also how easy it was to remember, whilst reading this book.

My full review here:  What I read: Bloomer by Anne Schlebusch


Best Books of 2023Die Fantastiese Mevrou Smit deur Elizabeth Wasserman (Afrikaans)

Die kopie wat ek gelees het, is my eie.  Uitgewers: Penguin Random House SA.

Genre:  Knussie/Suid-Afrikaanse fiksie 

“Die Fantastiese Mevrou SmitMevrou Smit ry Aronspoort in. Sy het hierdie plattelandse dorpie gekies as haar nuwe blyplek – of is dit nou, skuilplek? ‘n Nuwe begin, ‘n nuwe identiteit, nuwe vooruitsigte.

Hierdie vurige vrou slaap toe nou sommer die eerste aand al in die tjoekie. En stap in haar nuwe blykplek in, net om ‘n lyk in haar kombuis te kry. Bliksem, wat ‘n begin!

Die karakters in “Die Fantastiese Mevrou Smit” is so kleurvol soos die voorblad van die boek. Die stereotipiese plattelanders, kompleet met ‘n Mevrou Dominee and ‘n aantreklike dokter. Maar wag, is daar tog meer as wat die dorp se skinderbekke raaksien?

Mevrou Smit draai nooit doekies om nie, en sy is duidelik nie daar om vriende te maak nie, so ek het haar karakter vreeslik geniet”

My volle resensie hier:  Wat Ek Gelees Het: Die Fantastiese Mevrou Smit deur Elizabeth Wasserman


Best Books of 2023Die Laaste Kanariegeel Notaboek deur Anchien Troskie (Afrikaans)

Resensie kopie ontvang van Exclusive Books.  Uitgewer:  NB Uitgewers/Publishers

Genre: Literêre/Suid-Afrikaanse fiksie 

“Die Laaste Kanariegeel Notaboek is ‘n boeiende roman wat die verhaal vertel van Mia Steyn, ‘n jong vrou wat daarvan droom om ‘n skrywer te word in die 1960’s.

‘n Geel notaboek word deur Annabel en Isabel ontdek nadat hul ma se dood. Hulle is geskok en gefasineer deur die inhoud van die boek, en lees dit saam terwyl hulle haar huisinhoud oppak.

Die roman wissel af tussen Mia se perspektief in die 1960’s en Annabel en Isabel se perspektief in die hede. Die roman ondersoek die temas van liefde, verraad, familie, vriendskap, kuns, literatuur, politiek, en sosiale kwessies.

Die Laaste Kanariegeel Notaboek deur Anchien TroskieMia trek na Bloemfontein om as ‘n tikster in ‘n prokureur se kantoor te werk, maar vind gou haar ware passie in ‘n stowwerige boekwinkel wat deur ‘n eksentrieke bejaarde egpaar besit word. Daar ontmoet sy Louis Feldtsmann, ‘n bekende romanskrywer wat haar mentor en minnaar word. Maar Mia se lewe is nie so eenvoudig soos dit lyk nie, en sy moet baie uitdagings en geheime in die gesig staar.”

My volle resensie hier:  Wat Ek Gelees Het: Die Laaste Kanariegeel Notaboek deur Anchien Troskie


Best Books of 2023From Now Until Forever by Rowan Coleman

Review copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers

Genre: Romance

“From Now Until Forever by Rowan Coleman is a novel that explores the themes of love, life, death, and immortality. It tells the story of Ben and Vita, two people who find themselves drawn to one another by fate but must overcome an impossibility because Ben is dying and Vita is immortal.

Ben Church is a young scientist who has a rare genetic condition that causes his blood vessels to rupture. He knows he has only a few months left to live, so he decides to travel to London and enjoy his remaining time. There, he meets Vita, a mysterious woman who seems to know a lot about history, art, and alchemy. They feel an instant connection and soon fall in love. But Vita has a secret….

From Now Until Forever is a novel that will appeal to fans of romance, history, and fantasy.  It is a novel that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster, from hope to devastation, from now until forever. Looking at the cover (and even the title), it was not what I expected at all; it is so much more than your run-of-the-mill romance.  It is pure escapism.”

My full review here:  From Now Until Forever by Rowan Coleman


Best Books of 2023Go As A River by Shelley Read

Review copy received from Exclusive Books.  Published by Penguin Random House SA

Genre: Historical Fiction

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Historical Fiction (2023)

Genre: Historical Fiction

“The storytelling is enchanting and almost lyrical – exquisite. “Go as a river” is a moving story that will stay with you long after you read the last pages. The prose is perceptive and evocative.

“There is a kind of sadness that transcends sadness, that runs like hot syrup into every crevice of your being, beginning in the heart then oozing into your very cells and bloodstream, so that nothing— not earth or sky or even your own palm— ever looks the same. This is the sadness that changes everything.”

The role of the landscape and nature with all its beauty and cruelty, is skillfully weaved into the storytelling – almost like a character on its own. And, as with nature, it tells of the power to heal. The imagery is captivating and picturesque. The story is well-paced to enable the reader to fully experience Victoria’s journey and emotions.

“I looked around me at the birth and growth and death piled atop one another, at the open bellies of downed trees feeding new sprouts, all the life pushing through every crook and crevice and possibility for light. It was an ancient intelligence far too rich and complex to fully grasp but exactly what I needed to remind myself that it is in these layers of time that everything becomes itself… Strength, I had learned, was like this littered forest floor, built of small triumphs and infinite blunders, sunny hours followed by sudden storms that tore it all down. We are one and all alike if for no other reason than the excruciating and beautiful way we grow piece by unpredictable piece, falling, pushing from the debris, rising again, and hoping for the best.”

My full review here:  What I read: Go as a River by Shelley Read


Best Books of 2023Homecoming by Kate Morton

Review ARC audiobook received from Netgalley

Genre: Mystery

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Mystery & Thriller (2023)

Homecoming is a gripping mystery that spans two periods and two continents, linking a savage crime in Australia to a journalist’s search for the truth in London. Kate Morton delivers a masterpiece of historical fiction and suspense, with her trademark complexity and beauty.

“Home, she’d realized, wasn’t a place or a time or a person, though it could be any and all of those things: home was a feeling, a sense of being complete. The opposite of ‘home’ wasn’t ‘away,’ it was ‘lonely.’ When someone said, ‘I want to go home,’ what they really meant was that they didn’t want to feel lonely anymore.”

The novel begins with a shocking discovery in a grand house in Australia on Christmas Eve, 1959. Four adults and a baby are found slain, and the only survivor is a young girl who has no recollection of what happened. The case remains unresolved for decades, until a journalist named Jess returns to Sydney to visit her dying grandmother, Nora. Jess discovers that Nora has a connection to the house and the tragedy, and that she has been concealing a true crime book about the case. Jess decides to investigate the cold case and write a story about it, hoping to revive her career and uncover her family secrets.

“What is the truth anyway?” Jess had once been asked by a curious friend.
“It’s what happened.”
“According to whom?”

My full review here:  What I read: Homecoming by Kate Morton


Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell Roelia ReadsImpossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell

Review copy received from Exclusive Books.

Genre: Fantasy

Katherine Rundell’s engrossing fantasy book Impossible Creatures takes the reader to a world where legendary monsters live alongside people. The narrative centres on Christopher, a young boy who learns that his grandfather is in charge of guarding a gateway that leads to the Archipelago, a collection of enchanted islands home to griffons, dragons, sphinxes, and other marvels. Christopher goes on a mission with Mal, a girl who has just arrived in his world while carrying a newborn griffon and running from a vicious killer, to defend the Archipelago from an evil menace. They come into numerous perils, mysteries, and shocks during the journey, and they also discover the strength of love, camaraderie, and bravery.

Fans of Harry Potter, the Narnia series, and His Dark Materials will like this exciting novel. Every page of Rundell’s work evokes amazement and astonishment due to its rich and colourful style. She also looks at issues like duty, identity, and belonging in addition to the moral conundrums raised by the use of magic and knowledge. Each of the likeable and well-developed characters has a distinct personality and past. The reader is kept interested and fascinated by the plot’s rapid pace and abundance of twists and turns. Beautiful pictures by Tomislav Tomic are also included in the book, adding to the overall ambiance and feel of the narrative.

My full review here:  Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell


Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide by Rupert Holmes

Review copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers

Genre: Mystery

I went in blind, totally charmed by the cover art, and was simply blown away.

This book reads as an educational manual, but you will quickly realise that there is a unique premise and plot unfolding – that of an uber entertaining thriller, filled with murder and mayhem.

Set in the 1950s, the reader learns of a mysterious and exclusive college, the McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts.  And what is the “Applied Arts” being taught here?  The fine art of murder!

My full review here:  What I Read: Murder Your Employer (The McMasters Guide to Homicide) by Rupert Holmes


Ons Skulde deur P.P. Fourie (Afrikaans)

Resensie kopie ontvang van Exclusive Books.  Uitgewer:  NB Uitgewers/Publishers

Genre: Spanningsverhaal/Suid-Afrikaanse Fiksie

“Ons Skulde” deur P. P. Fourie is ‘n boek wat jou sal laat dink, voel en wonder. Dit is ‘n verhaal oor skuld, vergifnis, liefde en wraak, wat in ‘n spanningsvolle raaiselroman verpak is.

Die boek begin met ‘n proloog wat die leser dadelik in die greep kry.

“Skuld is ‘n swaar las om te dra, maar dit kan ook ‘n kragtige dryfveer wees om te verander.”

Ons Skulde deur P.P FourieEmma is ‘n navorser en projekbestuurder vir ‘n internasionale nuustydskrif, wat haar man, Simon, verloor het nadat sy hom van haar ontrouheid vertel het. Sy reis na Clarens om sy as te strooi, maar daar wag haar meer as net rou. Sy ontmoet Simon se tannie Vera, wat ook ‘n donker geheim met haar dra. Vera ontvang elke jaar ‘n koevert met ‘n foto en ‘n paar voorwerpe wat haar aan ‘n traumatiese gebeurtenis in haar jeug herinner. Wie stuur hierdie koeverte en waarom?

“Vergifnis is nie iets wat jy net een keer doen nie. Dit is ‘n proses wat jy elke dag moet herhaal, totdat jy vrede het met jouself en die ander.”

Emma besluit om die raaisel op te los en kom agter dat Vera se verlede verweef is met die van ander mense in die dorpie.

My volle resensie hier:  Wat Ek Gelees Het: Ons Skulde deur P.P. Fourie


The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams

Review copy received from Penguin Random House SA

Genre: Historical Fiction

This a captivating historical novel that explores the themes of knowledge, love, war, and sisterhood. It is a companion book to the author’s previous bestseller, The Dictionary of Lost Words, but it can also be read as a standalone book.

To set the scene:

“It is 1914, and as the war draws the young men of Britain away to fight, women must keep the nation running. Two of those women are Peggy and Maude, twin sisters who live on a narrow boat in Oxford and work in the bindery at the university press.”

Peggy is a curious and ambitious young woman who longs to study at the university and access the books she binds, but is constrained by her gender and social class. Maude is a gentle and loyal sister who is content with her simple life on the narrow boat they share. Their world is turned upside down by the outbreak of World War I, which brings refugees, illness, and change to their town of Jericho.

My full review here:  What I read: The Bookbinder of Jericho by Pip Williams


The Cassandra Complex by Holly Smale

Review copy received from Penguin Random House SA

Genre: Contemporary/Science Fiction

The Cassandra Complex is a novel by Holly Smale about Cassie, a 29-year-old woman who has autism, dyspraxia, and synesthesia. She remembers everything but understands nothing.

“I’ve always been able to remember everything. It’s not a skill or a talent: it’s just how my brain works. It’s called hyperthymia, and it means I have an autobiographical memory. I can recall every single day of my life in perfect detail.”

She likes order, routine, and predictability, and hates mess, change, and surprises. She works as at a public relations company and has a boyfriend named Will, who she met four months ago. Her life seems to be going well until one day, everything goes wrong. She gets fired from her job, dumped by Will, and has got roommate problems. She also learns that her local café has run out of banana muffins, her favourite treat.

“I don’t like change. I don’t like surprises. I don’t like anything that isn’t exactly what I’m expecting, and I’m not expecting this.”

Feeling hopeless and desperate, Cassie wishes she could go back in time and fix everything. To her shock, she discovers that she can. She has the power to travel back to any point in the past four months and change things. She thinks this is the perfect opportunity to make her life better and avoid all the mistakes she made. But she soon realizes that changing the past is not as easy as it seems. Every time she goes back, she creates new problems and complications. She also starts to question who she really is and what she really wants.

My full review here:  What I read: The Cassandra Complex by Holly Smale


The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer

Review copy received from Exclusive Books.  Published by Penguin Random House SA.

Genre: Literary Fiction

Goodreads Choice AwardNominee for Best Fiction (2023), Nominee for Best Debut Novel (2023)

“The secret to a beautiful death is living a beautiful life.”

This is probably the most quotable book of the year!

“The Collected Regrets of Clover” is a debut novel by Mikki Brammer that tells the story of Clover Brooks, a death doula in New York City. After her grandfather dies alone while she is traveling, Clover becomes a death doula, dedicating her life to ushering people peacefully through their end-of-life process. It was my first encounter reading about death doulas and death cafés and I am fascinated!

“Grief, I’d come to realize was like dust, When you’re in the thick of a dust storm, you’re completely disoriented by the onslaught, struggling to see or breathe. But as the force recedes, and you slowly find your bearing and see a path forward, the dust begins to settle into the crevices. And it will never disappear completely- as the years pass, you’ll find it in unexpected places at unexpected moments.”

Clover spends so much time with the dying that she has no life of her own, until the final wishes of a feisty old woman send Clover on a trip across the country to uncover a forgotten love story––and perhaps, her own happy ending.

My full review here:  The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer


The Curious Kidnapping of Nora W by Cate Green

Review copy received from Exclusive Books.  Published by Jonathan Ball Publishing.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction 

The Curious Kidnapping of Nora W by Cate Green is a first novel that narrates the story of Nora Wojnaswki, a Holocaust survivor who is about to become the oldest person in the world at the age of 122. However, Nora is not keen on the festivities that her family has arranged for her.

She has a mystery from her past that she wants to revisit before she passes away. With the assistance of Arifa, a Syrian refugee who works as a caregiver at her nursing home, Nora flees to East London, where she lived most of her life after the war. There, she rekindles old friendships and recollections, while also forging new ties with Arifa and her son Nasir.

The novel examines the themes of resilience, family, friendship, loss, and hope. It demonstrates how Nora and Arifa, despite their diverse backgrounds and experiences, share a common connection of survival and empathy. It also depicts the difficulties and pleasures of intergenerational and intercultural relationships, as Nora’s family tries to comprehend and respect her decisions. The novel is full of humour, emotion, and historical details that bring Nora’s character and story to life.

My full review here:  What I read: The Curious Kidnapping of Nora W by Cate Green


The Garnett Girls by Georgina Moore

Review copy received from Exclusive Books.  Published by Jonathan Ball Publishing.

Genre: Historical Fiction

I found “The Garnett Girls” to be deeply emotional and raw.  It deals with the complicated relationships of the Garnett family, amongst themselves and their extended families and friends.  There is quite a big cast of characters, but the role players are so well-developed and distinct, it didn’t take me long to figure out who’s who.

The protagonists are all strong female characters.  The Garnetts are flawed, human and still likeable.  Even Margo, whom some may say is an overly critical, domineering, and self-centred mother.  How much heartbreak and devastation can one take and still function ‘normally’?  Alice, Margo’s sister is an absolute gift.

My full review here:  What I read: The Garnett Girls by Georgina Moore


The Institute for Creative Dying by Jarred Thompson

Review copy received from Exclusive Books.  Published by Pan MacMillan SA.

Genre: Contemporary/South African Fiction 

Well, even before that realisation (i.e., that this movement isn’t just a wonderful concept imagined by the author), this approach to our end of life makes sense to me. And before reading the book, I honestly didn’t think that such an option exists. It can be depressing to think about our last months on earth – and this book made me ponder my own mortality a lot – but what if you can end your time on earth with calm acceptance and peace?

Richly pictured by author Jarred Thompson, this mysterious house in Northcliff in Johannesburg had me fascinated from the get-go. He sure knows how to set the scene. From the imposing house to the gorgeous, luxurious gardens I was there, every step of the way. The treehouses and opulent rooms were vivid in my mind’s eye.

My full review here:  What I Read: The Institute For Creative Dying by Jarred Thompson


The Last Devil to Die (Thursday Murder Club #4) by Richard Osman

Review copy received from Exclusive Books.  Published by Penguin Random House SA.

Genre: Mystery

The Last Devil to Die is the fourth installment in the Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman, the bestselling author and TV presenter. I would highly recommend reading the first books in the series before attempting this one. The book follows the adventures of four retired friends who live in a luxury retirement village and solve crimes as a hobby.

“Jesus, Dad,’ says Jason, laughing. ‘Of course it’d be Ibrahim. You and your mates are starting drug wars now. I used to prefer it when you wrote letters to the council complaining about the bins.”

In this novel, they face a new challenge when one of their acquaintances, an antiques dealer named Kuldesh Sharma, is brutally murdered and a mysterious package he was guarding goes missing. The package contains a large amount of cocaine that belongs to a ruthless drug lord who will stop at nothing to get it back. The Thursday Murder Club must use their wit, charm, and connections to unravel the mystery and find the killer while also dealing with personal issues and heartbreaks.

My full review here:  The Last Devil to Die by Richard Osman


The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels by Janice Hallett

Review copy from Exclusive Books.  Published by Jonathan Ball Publishing.

Genre: Mystery

As a true crime podcast fan, I’ve always been intrigued by cults and the conspiracies that often comes to light. It is astounding how people can be manipulated and brainwashed, in this case to go so far as to attempt to kill a baby. As the story evolves, I also started wondering if at the core of this cult is the occult or supernatural or is it all criminal deceit.

With the author’s gift for unusual and creative storytelling, this imaginative and captivating mystery had all it’s hooks in me.

Because of the various media formats used, it does have a ‘true crime’ feel. This fast-paced romp had my mind boggled. I highly recommend it for all mystery readers!

My full review here: What I read: The Mysterious Case of the Alperton Angels, by Janice Hallett


The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything by Kara Gnodde

Review copies received from Exclusive Books and Pan MacMillan SA.

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

It was the title of the book, as well as the colourful cover-art that grabbed my attention.  I was keen to see how this links to Stephen Hawking’s masterpiece “The Theory of Everything”.  This renowned series of lectures about the universe and the origin thereof was ground-breaking at the time, especially in its effort to make quantum physics more accessible to the Joe Public.  This also immediately indicated to me that this is probably not just a fluffy romcom, but a book that is more complex than meets the eye.

The story is told by both Mimi and Art.  This paths the way for the reader to develop a strong emotional connection with the two characters.  We are getting insight into Art’s compelling mind and the way he sees the world.  Mimi’s strive for independence and to be freed from guilt, while also loving her brother and being loyal to him – is more of a ‘with heart’ thinker.

This is a unique and exceptional take on sibling relationships, as well as the complexities of love and loyalty.

My full review here: What I read: The Theory of (Not Quite) Everything by Kara Gnodde


Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes: The Official Biography by Rob Wilkins

Review copy received from Penguin Random House SA

Genre: Biography

“Of all the dead authors in the world, Terry Pratchett is the most alive.” – John Lloyd

The Discworld series, as authored by Sir Terry Pratchett, is a phenomenon. It was the first series of books with a dedicated fandom that I was aware of, growing up. It is pure magic, created by a prolific storyteller with sharp wit and an extraordinary imagination. The 41 novels that forms part of the Discworld universe are not Terry Pratchett’s only creations, but surely it is the most notable and familiar to the average reader.

But, let me also note that you don’t have to be a devout Terry Pratchett fan or Discworld geek to appreciate this wonderful biography. It is the story of a man who made a significant contribution to the literary landscape, a man who changed the way we read and experience enchanted fantasy. We all can do with a little magic in our lives, don’t you agree?

My full review here: What I Read: Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes: The Official Biography by Rob Wilkins


Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Review copy received from Jonathan Ball Publishers

Genre: Literary Fiction

Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Best Fiction (2023)

“The rage dissipates along with the love, and all we’re left with is a story.”

Ann Patchett’s book Tom Lake is about a woman named Lara, who writes about her summertime romance with renowned actor Peter Duke.

“It’s about falling so wildly in love with him—the way one will at twenty-four—that it felt like jumping off a roof at midnight. There was no way to foresee the mess it would come to in the end, nor did it occur to me to care.”

The narrative is given from Lara’s point of view, as she tells her three girls about what happened that summer during the first COVID-19 lockdown.

“You can’t pretend this [Covid] isn’t happening,” Maisie said. I couldn’t, and I don’t. Nor do I pretend that all of us being together doesn’t fill me with joy. I understand that joy is inappropriate these days and still, we feel what we feel.”

The past, when Lara and Peter first met and fell in love while acting in a play of Our Town at Tom Lake, a theatre group in Northern Michigan, and the present, where Lara and her girls are working on their family’s cherry farm in Michigan, alternate throughout the book.

“I look at my girls, my brilliant young women. I want them to think I was better than I was, and I want to tell them the truth in case the truth will be useful. Those two desires to not neatly coexist, but this is where we are in the story.”

The themes of love, grief, and regret are all explored in this book. This tale explores the influence of memory and how the past may affect the present.

My full review here:  Tom Lake by Ann Patchett

Have you read any of these books?  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!