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Of Merchants, Mythology, & Mercians: My Top Books of 2023

It’s been a great year for books! Though I haven’t read as much as I’d like, I’m thankful to have imbibed some excellent ones in 2023. Here I’ll share some of my top reads as well as some of my past favorites!


Circe

By Madeline Miller. Back Bay Books. 416 pages. April 2020.

Book cover of "Circe" by Madeline Miller. The golden face of a woman graces the front cover on a background of black. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Miller’s talent as a weaver of stories is shown in Circe. Circe, the primary protagonist, is crafted as a sympathetic character. Her powers frighten others, and she’s treated as a mythical pariah. Circe does what she does in response to various situations in which she finds herself, and Miller explores her reasoning, casting Circe as a multifaceted, strong woman instead of the flat, one-dimensional character in Greek mythology. She may arguably be in the wrong, but Circe is unapologetically herself. I absolutely loved this book and know lovers of Greek mythology and strong women will as well.


Daughters of the Winter Queen

By Nancy Goldstone. Back Bay Books. 496 pages. January 2019.

Book cover of "Daughters of the Winter Queen". Five portraits of the women portrayed - Elizabeth Stuart, Elisabeth, Louise Hollandine, Henriette, and Sophia - provide the background of the cover. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Nancy Goldstone’s Daughters of the Winter Queen is a remarkable biography about five different women: Elizabeth Stuart, princess of England and Queen of Bohemia, and her four daughters: Elisabeth, Louise Hollandine, Henriette, and Sophia. This is one of those rare multi-character biographies where the author effortlessly and successfully weaves their stories together into a compelling and enthralling narrative.


The Merchant from Sepharad

By James Hutson-Wiley. New Generations Publishing. February 2023. 310 pages (paperback).

The book cover for "The Merchant from Sepharad". The book title and author are displayed over a sandy background with a few religious symbols scattered around. One of my favorite books of 2023.

The Merchant from Sepharad continues the excellent The Sugar Merchant series with the travels of Joshua ben Elazar who is tasked with establishing a mercantile presence between Europe and Asia. From Portugal to India, in a world brimming with political and religious upheaval, Joshua must contend with his crisis of faith and other external factors to ensure his journey’s success amidst a volatile period in history.


Pericles and Aspasia

By Yvonne Korshak (@yvonnekorshak). Caryatid Imprint. 500 pages. October 2022.

The cover of "Pericles and Aspasia". The Parthenon towers on the Athenian acropolis in the background. The book title and the author's name are written in white. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Fans of Greek history will appreciate this rendering of the story of Pericles and Aspasia, two important historical figures in ancient Athens. Drawing upon her travels and research, Yvonne Korshak weaves together a tantalizing and arresting story as strong as those woven by the mythical Fates of Greek mythology.


Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini, the First Female Pope

By Eleanor Herman. William Morrow & Company. 496 pages. September 2009.

The cover of "Mistress of the Vatican". A scantily-clad noblewoman graces the background with the title text in white over St. Peter's Basilica in the forerground. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Mistress of the Vatican is the biography of a tenacious and intelligent woman who maneuvered her way into becoming the power behind the Papal throne of Pope Innocent X in seventeenth-century Italy. Intelligently crafted with a refreshing blend of interesting fact and compelling narrative, Herman delivers a balanced and highly engrossing biography.


Through the Veneer of Time

By Vera Bell (@verabellauthor). Timebound Publishing, LLC. 384 pages. June 2023.

The cover of "Through the Veneer of Time" is set against a green background with the book title and author at the bottom of the image. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Vera Bell takes readers on a time travel journey through past life regression in Through the Veneer of Time. Experience parallel story lines as Siena Forte and Neave McConway fight for their loves and survive the horror of a terrible enemy in this spell-binding tale. From the bustling streets of Washington D.C. to the rolling Irish hills, this is a story you won’t want to miss.


Not Pink

By Margaret Kasimatis. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 252 pages. April 2018.

The book cover of Not Pink. Two white concentric circles surround a pink one, in which are the words "Not Pink". In the background is a blue pattern. The author's name is at the bottom. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Not Pink follows the story of Mary Therese Panos, a troubled young woman caught between her Greek patriarchal upbringing and the roaring counterculture of the ’60s. This hard-hitting but highly readable novel explores Mae’s demons and how she struggles to overcome them. Will she succumb to them? Or will she learn to address them in order to be a better mother for her daughter?


Æthelflæd: Lady of the Mercians

By Tim Clarkson. John Donald Publishers. 256 pages. September 2018.

Cover of Tim Clarkson's biography of Æthelflæd called "Æthelflæd: Lady of the Mercians". The cover shows the head of a statue of Æthelflæd facing forward against a red background. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Tim Clarkson’s biography of Æthelflæd, daughter of King Alfred the Great and the Lady of the Mercians, fills in a gap in the historiography of Anglo-Saxon women. Æthelflæd is perhaps among the best known of Anglo-Saxon women, especially in holding power on her own after the death of her husband in 10th-century England. Clarkson does an admirable job of recognizing the limitations in primary documentation while still effectively pulling together the known facts and reasonable speculation into a lively illumination of this incredible woman.


Of White Ashes

By Constance Hays Matsumoto and Kent Matsumoto. Apprentice House Press. 388 pages. May 2023.

The cover of "Of White Ashes" depicts a black-and-white image of a woman walking down a street holding a shopping bag and her coat. One of my favorite books of 2023.

In Of White Ashes, Constance Hays Matsumoto and Kent Matsumoto tell the tales of two individuals and how their lives intertwine during one of the most horrific times in history: World War II. Based on the true stories of Mr. Matsumoto’s parents, this utterly captivating novel represents historical fiction at its finest, and most heartbreaking.


Witness to the Revolution

By Kiersten Marcil (@kierstenmarcil). Champagne Book Group. February 2023. 330 pages.

Book cover of "Witness to the Revolution". A woman in an ornate green dress stands in a grassy field looking wistfully to the left. A tagline in the upper-left says "The twenty-first century doesn't prepare you for 1778". Beneath that is text that indicates this book is part of "The Enlightened" series, and the author is Kiersten Marcil. One of my favorite books of 2023.

Savannah Moore is inexplicably sent back to 1778, right at the beginning of the American Revolution. But little does she know there’s no chance of her being an innocent bystander for very long as she’s pulled into a world of romance and intrigue during a very formative time. It’s possible that she’ll have the ability to change American history as we know it. Marcil effortlessly balances historical research and realism with supernatural elements to craft a highly readable historical fantasy sure to please a wide swath of readers.


Bonus Book!

David Stokes’ King Alfred’s Daughter was another one of my favorite books this year. Alas, it wasn’t part of Bookshop.org, but I wanted to share it here anyways!


King Alfred’s Daughter

By David A. Stokes. Book Guild Publishing, Ltd. March 2023. 300 pages.

The cover of King Alfred's Daughter. A young brown-haired woman holds a sword in the background. Overlaid is the book's title and author. One of my favorite books of 2023.

In King Alfred’s Daughter, British author David Stokes suffuses meticulous research with vibrant storytelling to tell the story of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians. Our tenacious, intelligent, devout, and occasionally naïve heroine must step into the boots of her legendary father and fulfill his dream: uniting the Anglo-Saxon peoples under one leader. Readers will find themselves drawn to the history of the period, written in a very approachable manner which lends well to further exploration.


Intrigued By My Choices? Get Them Here!


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