The best (and worst) books I read in 2023.

At the very end of last year, I realised something. I'd not been on a holiday since 2018.

A first world problem, I'll admit. But in the post-COVID landscape where the word 'burnout' is on pretty much everyone's lips, I knew I needed a break. 

I'd built up enough leave to take a good few weeks off, so I headed to my parents' place in the UK earlier this year. As any expat knows, trips home often aren't very relaxing. You spend weeks darting all over the country to catch up with people before returning home feeling more exhausted than before you left. 

So I decided, on this occasion, to split my time between my parents and my Kindle.

Here are the five best (and worst) books I read on my extended break: 

How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie.

Image: Booktopia/Mamamia.


I've been a Bella Mackie fan girl for a really long time. A mental health advocate, she's written extensively about her struggles with anxiety and how she overcame severe panic disorder by taking up running (it was a lot more challenging than I've just made it sound.)

She also writes for Vogue and has a wardrobe so colourful and glittery, she could give Mia Freedman a run for her money. So yeah, big fan.

Imagine then, my excitement when I got my hands on her debut novel, 'How To Kill Your Family', released late last year.

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but the title alone would have sold it to me - and that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact I've just spent precisely 56 consecutive days in the company of my parents. Nothing whatsoever. 

Mackie has come up with a brilliant premise. In a nutshell, Grace Bernard discovers her absentee millionaire father rejected her dying mother's pleas for help – and decides to kill him. Oh, and all the other remaining members of her family. As a huge crime fiction fan, six murders for the price of one really sounded like a good deal.  

The trouble is, there is actually very little murder in the book. There is, however, A LOT of Grace – the most hideous protagonist of all time – endlessly rambling about all the things she hates. Some examples include fat people, women who have had plastic surgery, people who take baths and oh also you, the reader. 


I wanted to love this as much as I love Bella Mackie. Instead, I disliked it as much as Grace Bernard dislikes... well, everything. 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

Image: Amazon/Mamamia.

Look at me reading books that aren't murder mysteries! 

I read this immediately after 'How To Kill Your Family', which did the former no favours. The Vanishing Half is truly one of the most mesmerising books I've read in years.


The novel spans 20 years of the lives of identical twin sisters Stella and Desiree who are black, but 'white passing' and what happens when, aged 16, one chooses to 'pass' and the other does not. 

It's a multi-generational family saga, covering multiple issues, from race to class to the corrosive impact of family secrets. 

It was a captivating, thought-provoking read, and I couldn't put it down.

The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth.

Image: Amazon/Mamamia.


I picked this up in the bookshop at Sydney Airport.

Yes, I'd packed my Kindle, but you have to buy a book at the airport. It's the rules. 

Plus, I knew the Australian queen of the domestic thriller, who never misses, would be worth the extra hand luggage weight.

Gabe and Pippa have the perfect marriage and have just purchased their dream coastal cottage. 

But all is not as it seems. The couple soon learn that the tall cliffs opposite are a popular spot for people taking their own lives, and Gabe essentially puts himself in charge of literally talking people off a ledge. 

Until one day, despite Gabe's seemingly best efforts – a woman falls to her death. And Pippa quickly discovers Gabe knew her personally. 

It cracks open their so-called perfect relationship as Pippa questions: Did she really jump? Or was she pushed? 

Like all of Hepworth's other novels, this was chock full of suspense with twists and turns galore.

I'd finished it before I landed at London Heathrow. 

The Last Remains by Elly Griffiths.

Image: Amazon/Mamamia.


If you haven't read any of Elly Griffiths' Dr Ruth Galloway series, stop. Right now. And go read 'The Crossing Places', the first of 14 captivating crime novels about archaeologist Ruth, her druid friend Cathbad (among many other colourful characters), and her will they/won't they romance with Detective Inspector Harry Nelson (it's not a spoiler here to say they will – a lot – but it's a lot more complicated than that – you'll see). 

Each mystery is historical in some way, hence the involvement of Galloway who is a professor of forensic archaeology at the University of North Norfolk and lives in an eerie lone cottage on the edge of the salt marsh. She meets – and hates – Nelson in the first book, but well, there's a thin line etc, etc. 

Ruth's expertise in ancient bones is a compliment to Nelson's good old-fashioned policing – and as Griffiths weaves genuinely fascinating history and folklore into each story, you'll be hooked as much by the mystery and the setting, as you are by the complicated affair between the two protagonists. 


I was devastated when I learned this was the last in the series, but Griffiths ties it all up beautifully – while leaving the door just enough ajar for more books in the future, if she changes her mind. 

If you love Griffith's top notch characterisation and captivating story-telling, you'll be thrilled to know she's a real churner who's also currently writing two other series' – The Brighton Mysteries (six books so far), and the Harbinder Kaur series (three at last count). 

Never Lie by Freida McFadden.

Image: Amazon/Mamamia.


This book is the reason why I always take Good Reads ratings (4.2/5 in this case) with a pinch of salt. 

In McFadden's defence, I picked this up because I really enjoyed her latest offering, 'The Housemaid', so that's... something. Sadly, this book didn't live up to the Good Reads – or my own internal – hype. 

Newlyweds Tricia and Ethan have – massive red flag – known each other for approximately five minutes before they begin searching for the house of their dreams.

They come across a remote manor, which once belonged to Dr Adrienne Hale, a renowned psychiatrist, who disappeared mysteriously four years earlier. While attempting to view the property, they get trapped their in a snowstorm, because of course they do – and quickly Tricia discovers a secret room full of recordings of Dr Hale's final sessions with her patients.

She doesn't tell her husband because he'll think she's silly for being intrigued? Instead, she listens to the tapes in secret, and as she does, Dr Hale's final weeks and days unravel, until the final cassette reveals the horrifying – and frankly ludicrous – truth.

The short chapters and cassette recordings might keep you turning the pages – but the irony is that Never Lie has so many consistencies I lost count.

Feature Image: Supplied/Amazon/Mamamia.

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