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Embrace a digital detox this holiday season by immersing yourself in these reads. IMAGE: UNSPLASH

Turning Pages: Books That Captivated Us In 2023

It’s that time of year again: if there was ever a chance that you’d pick up a book to read (and finish reading it), it’d be now. We love this magical year-end period when work is but a construct and whether or not we are physically on holiday, our minds are firmly in vacation mode.

To that end, here are a handful of books that we enjoyed reading this year when we were not held hostage by our addiction to social media. We hope you’ll find transportive new worlds within them too. Happy holidays!

The Covenant of Water by Dr Abraham Verghese

We won’t lie. It took us four months to get through this 724-page saga that follows three generations of a family in Kerala seeking the answers to their peculiar affliction. The story yawns across the years 1900 to 1977, and begins as a 12-year-old girl prepares for an unwanted arranged marriage to a much older man, then sweeps through the decades, detailing the couple’s love and suffering in an unending string of ways. The writing is grand and sweeping, slow-going at times, but always absorbing. It is so richly landscaped that Oprah Winfrey dedicated a six-part podcast to the book. If you’re looking to delve deep into a story that transports you to a new, not always joyful world, this is a book to pick up and sail into the New Year with.

The Guest by Emma Cline

This BookTok summer hit revolves around Alex, a young woman who drifts from house to house, party after party, after being kicked out by her boyfriend Simon, a 50-something finance bigwig for whom she is little more than a gorgeous distraction. We soon learn that Alex has no place to go. She’s been kicked out of her flat in the city for stealing and failing to pay rent, and is on the run from another man she’s stolen money and drugs from. Convinced that Simon will cool down and restore her place in his mansion in a week, Alex sets out to get through six days on her own with only her bag of designer clothes and a phone that seldom works. Everything Alex does fills the reader with a sense of dread. She is our hot, anxious summer sister whom we want so much to succeed, but just know is going to fail.

The Housemaid by Freida McFadden

Desperate and in search of a fresh start, Mille is thrilled when she is employed by the Winchesters as their housekeeper and nanny. Of course, something isn’t quite right in the household. Andrew Winchester is nothing but charming. His wife Nina, on the other hand, is often manic, though at times kind and accommodating. Once the characters are fleshed out in the early pages, the story becomes utterly absorbing. This psychological thriller is full of plot twists that had us veering from rooting for Mille and later for Nina Winchester. It was such a fun read, we could barely put it down. Happily, a movie based on the book was recently announced. In the meantime, there’s the sequel, The Housemaid’s Secret, to binge on too. A follow-up to that, The Housemaid Is Watching, is due in the summer of 2024.

Finlay Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

Fast-paced, witty, and a gleefully unexpected premise for a murder mystery. Finlay Donavan is a struggling novelist with a looming book deadline, young children to care for, and an ex-husband who seems hell-bent on making life difficult for her. Somehow, she’s also mistaken for a contract killer, which leads her down a dangerous rabbit hole with a silver lining: a hefty payout and a romantic encounter with the crime scene investigator. This is the first in a wonderful series that includes four other books.

Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

This engaging novel begins in 1960 with the birth of William. Six days later, his sister dies and although he will not understand the implications of this event for many years, her death goes on to shape his life in fundamental ways. Silenced by tragedy, his parents can barely look at him, let alone forge a bond with their new son. When he eventually leaves for college, he understands that “they only ever had one child, and it wasn’t him”. When William eventually meets his future wife in his first year of college, his world lights up. He becomes part of her family and experiences a newfound contentment. A beautifully written homage to Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Hello Beautiful is a heart-wrenching story of the multifaceted nature of love and family.

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