It has been a great year of reading fiction for me. I started reading romance books for the first time, which has provided some escapism. But after looking at the list of novels I’ve read in 2023, the ones that affected me the most are the ones with strong family themes. The novels I chose to highlight have characters with different backgrounds and experiences than my own, but are all seeking the same thing: acceptance. For me, the best books feel like stepping into someone else’s shoes and learning something about myself. These books have helped me do that. Let me know if you read any of these!

Aysha’s Best Fiction Reads of 2023

All That’s Left Unsaid

by Tracey Lien

Published: September 2022


Formats Available: Hardcover, eBook and eAudiobook via Libby and audiobook on CD

Check Availability

Synopsis: In Cabramatta, Australia, after her younger brother is murdered inside a restaurant while celebrating his high school graduation, Ky Tran vows to uncover his killer despite an indifferent police force and witnesses who claim they saw nothing.

Review: I chose to listen to All That’s Left Unsaid because I needed to listen to something while running, and it looked interesting. The novel is set up to be a murder mystery, but it’s so much more. Ky, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants in Australia, tries to find out what happened to her brilliant 17-year-old brother, Denny. The police have written off the crime as drug-related. Ky examines her relationships with her shell-shocked parents, her childhood friend who took a different path in life and the choices that led to Denny’s death. Ky feels an enormous sense of guilt that she wasn’t there for Denny, and she talks to the people who were there with him the night he was murdered. Their stories are woven together beautifully.

It seems like a quiet and unassuming novel, but All That’s Left Unsaid packs an emotional punch.

Aysha’s Best Fiction Reads of 2023

Black Cake

by Charmaine Wilkerson

Published: February 2022


Content Warning: Sexual assault

Formats Available: Hardcover, Large Print, eBook and eAudiobook via Libby and Boundless

Check Availability

Synopsis: Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake made from a family recipe with a long history and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right?”

Review: I’ve thought a lot about Black Cake this year. This book captured my imagination in so many ways: the stories of migration, having to start over multiple times, family secrets and betrayal. The novel touches on other topics, too, like the social history of recipes and environmentalism.

Eleanor Bennett reveals her turbulent story after her death, leaving her children struggling to understand who their mother was and if they really ever knew her. As her daughter, Benny had a difficult time living up to her parents’ expectations of her. She wished Eleanor had told them about her past. This made me think about whether the secrets we keep about our past from our loved ones help us or hurt us. And it was too late for Benny to reconcile with Eleanor.

As the novel shifts from the past to the present, there are threads mentioned throughout the story that are picked up again towards the end. We learn what happened to some of the characters from Eleanor’s past and how her children are moving forward. Now a TV series on Hulu, Black Cake is filled with drama, pain and, ultimately, forgiveness and hope.

Aysha’s Best Fiction Reads of 2023

Olga Dies Dreaming

by Xochitl Gonzalez

Published: January 2022


Content Warnings: Sexual assault and drug addiction

Formats Available: Hardcover, Large Print, eBook and eAudiobook via Libby and audiobook on CD

Check Availability

Synopsis: In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Olga, a wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers, must confront the effects of long-held family secrets when she falls in love with Matteo, while other family members must weather their own storms.

Review: I already wrote about Olga Dies Dreaming in October, so jump over to that blog post to read my in-depth thoughts. The quick take: I love how this book combined themes of family, community and learning how to be truly comfortable in one’s skin.