12 Must-Read Books of December 2023 – Chicago Review of Books


Happy holidays from the Chicago Review of Books!

Like most things, book releases tend to slow down a bit toward the end of the year. But 2023 has been an exceptional year for readers, so it’s no surprise that we have a wide collection of books to look forward to for the winter season.

From our entire team, we hope your holidays are filled with fond memories and great reads!

The End of the World is a Cul de Sac
By Louise Kennedy
Riverhead Books

Louise Kennedy’s debut novel Trespasses was a standout release in 2022, and her new collection The End of the World is a Cul de Sac gives us a look into how her lyricism and darkness translate into short fiction. The lives we see in her latest release are marked by poverty in every configuration—material, emotional, and sexual—but the glimmers of beauty and the possibility for joy shine through nevertheless. In one story, a wife is abandoned by her new husband in a derelict housing estate, with blood on her hands. In another, a sister is tormented by visions of the man her brother murdered during the Troubles. Louise Kennedy has already emerged as one of the most exciting voices in Irish literature, and it’s a thrill to see more from her before we enter the new year. 

By Samantha Harvey
Atlantic Monthly Press

Slender in length and cosmic in scope, Orbital is a moving elegy and fascinating snapshot of one day in the lives of six women and men hurtling through space—not towards the moon or the vast unknown, but around Earth. Chosen from countries around the world to participate in the last space station mission before the program is dismantled, these astronauts form the bonds that will become the only things keeping them from utter solitude. Orbital achieves the rare feat of finding genuine intimacy amidst incomprehensible scale and distance, as Samantha Harvey explores the smallest yet most consequential moments of these six people and an entire planet beneath them.

Songs On Endless Repeat
By Anthony Veasna So

Anthony Veasna So’s debut Afterparties was both an award-winning story collection and a beautiful tribute to an author who left us far too soon. That’s why our team is so thankful that readers get the chance to see his essays published in outlets such as n+1, The New Yorker, and The Millions collected for the first time. Songs On Endless Repeat features So’s sharp wit and genuine care for his subject matter, as he explores community, grief, and longing with equal amounts of humor and depth. Both Afterparties and Songs On Endless Repeat are noticeably bittersweet releases, but it’s a true gift to be able to hold So’s lasting work in our hands. 

All the Little Bird-Hearts
By Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow
Algonquin Books

Longlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize, All the Little Bird-Hearts is a poetic and funny debut by an author with autism written from the point of view of an autistic mother as she and her headstrong adolescent daughter are befriended by a glamorous, charismatic couple with dark ulterior motives. Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow’s debut finds a way to be narratively propulsive while also creating a prodding portrait of familial love, told by a woman coming to terms with what love means for her. 

Here in the Dark
By Alexis Soloski
Flatiron Books

A dark thriller reminiscent of Black Swan, Here in the Dark tells the story about a young theater critic drawn into a dangerous game that blurs the lines between reality and performance. When Vivian Parry takes an interview after years of critiquing theater productions, she learns that her interviewer has disappeared and she was the last person to see him alive. As she uncovers the final act of a tangled mystery, she learns that the boundaries between theater and the real world are more tenuous and more dangerous than she could have believed. 

The Archive of Feelings
By Peter Stamm
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Other Press

The premise of The Archive of Feelings is enough to hook any reader: When given a second chance with an old love who has now become a pop singer, a coolly detached archivist questions the life he could have had, and whether it’s not too late to live it. Award-winning author Peter Stamm has created a mesmerizing look at passion and regret, bringing subtlety and charm to the embers of a love lost and possibly regained.

By Chịkọdịlị Emelụmadụ
The Overlook Press

Dazzling is a captivating story of two young students, Treasure and Ozoemena, who are grieving the loss of their fathers. When Treasure meets a spirit who promises to bring her father back if she is willing to do one terrible thing for him first, the two find themselves in unstoppable descent into danger as they question what they are willing to sacrifice for the ones they love. Dazzling is a can’t-miss modern fairy tale that offers a fresh take on Western African mythology. 

Meet the Benedettos
By Katie Cotugno
Harper Perennial

See Also

In Katie Cotugno’s hilarious new novel, an A-list movie star moves to Los Angeles next door to a family of five eligible sisters. Meet the Bendettos brings the absurdity of The Kardashians with the interiority and emotional understanding of Pride and Prejudice, and Cotugno shows a mastery in bringing her large cast of characters to life at every turn. 

Flores and Miss Paula
By Melissa Rivero

Thirtysomething Flores and her mother, Paula, still live in the same Brooklyn apartment after they lost their beloved husband and father Martín. But when they learn they will be forced to move, they must finally confront their complicated past and decide whether they share the same dreams for the future. Melissa Rivero’s Flores and Miss Paula is a heartachingly tender novel about one Peruvian family that is struggling to find common ground amid lingering grief. 

Tender Headed
By Olatunde Osinaike
Akashic Books

Selected by Camille Rankine as a winner of the 2022 National Poetry Series, Tender Headed is a dazzling display of musicality and playfulness about Black identity and masculinity. Olatunde Osinaike shows his talent on every single page, as his poems consistently refuse to be contained by any one description or emotion. Instead, his words weave together a portrait of transformation, with possibility found across each turn of a line.

After World
By Debbie Urbanski
Simon & Schuster

If AI has been on your mind lately, After World is the book to turn to. Faced with uncontrolled and accelerating environmental collapse, humanity asks an artificial intelligence to find a solution. Its answer is to remove humans from the ecosystem. Debbie Urbanski’s debut is likely to grab your attention and also spark anxiety, but her carefully constructed story of climate change and AI’s influence has never been more prescient.  

Welcome Home, Stranger
By Kate Christensen

Welcome Home, Stranger asks an important question that many reflect on during the holiday season: Can you ever truly go home again? Environmental journalist Rachel has shunned her New England working-class family for years, but when she’s summoned home to deal with the aftermath of her mother’s death, she finds herself embroiled in past drama. Kate Christensen presents an interesting cast of characters and a heaping helping of charm and wit in this memorable novel.


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