The Best Books I Read in 2023

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Since we all had much more time on our hands during the pandemic, I decided that it was high time I became more intentional with my reading. Not that I didn’t read at all; I’ve always been a reader. I’ve always had books around, whether comics, graphic novels, classics, or paperbacks.

I’m pretty sure a few old Tom Clancy paperbacks are still hanging out in my parents’ basement.

Regardless, I decided in 2020 that I’d read more and keep track of that reading. Thank goodness for tools like Goodreads that allow me to keep up with books I want to read.

I also create book notes in Notion to keep track of my thoughts on each book. Readwise helps me keep track of highlights from books (and just about everything else I read) and syncs with my Notion to create a true collection of what I get from each book.

Yes, I’m aware I go overboard on many things. My wife says I’d make a very good addict, so I figure it’s best for me to find other things to be addicted to, which means I read books.

Side note: I’m also getting into collecting vinyl, another expensive and space-filling addiction…

I published a best books of 2022 list last year and decided to give it another go this year.

Please remember: these opinions are mine, and if I love a book that you hate, that’s ok. That’s pretty much how things are supposed to work in the world. I read mostly sci-fi/fantasy, history, historical fiction, biographies, and mysteries. I also read quite a bit on education since that’s my job.

There are many other fine reading genres, and I venture into other realms occasionally. You read what you like, I’ll read what I like, and we’ll all share what we learn and grow together.

Now, in no particular order, here are the best books I read in 2023:

Tress of the Emerald Sea

For much of the fantasy reading world, 2023 was the Year of Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson, one of the top current fantasy authors, ran the most successful Kickstarter campaign of all time in 2022, producing leather-bound editions of four completely new novels. The year’s first release was a cozy fairy tale; Tress of the Emerald Sea.

I love this book. Loved it. While it does connect to Sanderson’s wider Cosmere universe, it works wonderfully as a stand-alone novel. As Sanderson has described the inspiration for the book, “What would happen if Buttercup had to save Westley in The Princess Bride?”

It’s one of my all-time favorite books.

tress of the emerald sea

The Greatcoats Series

I’m cheating a bit with this selection and the next since I’m choosing a whole series rather than just one book. But, I couldn’t help myself.

If you’re a fan of swashbuckling tales and grew up watching continual retellings of Robin Hood, Horatio Hornblower, and the like, you will love The Greatcoats.

Falcio Val Mond became one of my favorite characters ever this year, and I can only hope that he and the rest of the Greatcoats return again soon.

traitor's blade

The Licanius Trilogy

Another series I finally got around to reading this year is The Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

These books are incredible. But, I will say this: you have to stay on your toes when reading them. There are many, MANY moments of what happened and how we got here in each of these three books.

But, the payoff is worth it. So, so good.

the shadow of what was lost

In Search of Deeper Learning

Back to the world of education, I read this book as part of my ongoing dissertation readings. My biggest takeaway is this: there are pockets of innovation and work toward deeper learning across the US. But we still have a long way to go.

This text gives insight into how some schools are “doing” deeper learning and may give you some ideas as you begin your journey into deeper learning with your students.

Unpleasant Truth about Education #47: Kids learn more deeply in school when participating in extracurriculars than they do when being taught in classrooms.

In Search of Deeper Learning

Street Data

This one. Oh my. I really need every assessment coordinator, teacher, administrator… pretty much everyone in education to read this book and think about how we assess students.

Street data” is ever so much more important than most other assessment data that we spend days, weeks, and months poring over while our students care less and less about the meaningless work we ask them to complete.

Get this book, read it, and then share it with a colleague.

street data

The City of the Singing Flame

I shared my thoughts on this one not long ago, and honestly, this story has quickly become an all-time favorite. Yes, it’s dated, and it may not be your thing. But, for speculative fiction fans, I believe you can see so many other stories that were likely inspired by this one.

Final Thoughts

Somehow, amidst accepting a new position halfway through the year and completing more doctoral coursework, I read 120 books in 2023. For the first time since I began tracking, I crossed the 50k pages read in a year mark.

I don’t share those numbers to boast–I can barely believe them myself–I share them to hopefully encourage you that you have more time to read than you think.

My tips to read more:

  • Always have a book with you. Yes, ebooks and audiobooks count, and if someone tells you they don’t, punch them in their dirty mouth.
  • Take stock of how much time you spend on your phone. Whether on social media or playing games, trade some of that time for reading. Try out this social media alternatives calculator and see how much time you have to read.
  • Don’t read books you don’t like. No law says you must finish a book if you don’t like it. I use the rule ‘100 pages minus your age’–if you’re not fully into a book by that many pages, you can stop reading. And yes, I count that as ‘reading’ that book.
  • Re-reading a book you love still counts as reading.

That wraps up this year’s ‘best books’ list. Maybe you’ll start tracking your own reading and share your thoughts with the world. If you like this list and want to see more, I have a free weekly newsletter that includes monthly reading recommendations.

You can sign up for those updates through the form below. I hope 2024 brings you lots of new reading, knowledge, and fun.


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Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson – Summary & Quotes

Ah, friends. It is time that I gave you my impressions on my first book of 2023. This is one I’ve been both excited to get and hesitant to read. Why? Back in March 2022, Brandon Sanderson revealed he’d written five extra books in his spare time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He released four of them on Kickstarter, leading to the biggest Kickstarter in history ($42 million worth of awesome).

While there were some sneak peaks from Sanderson in the months leading up to the release of the projects, I stayed away from them. I didn’t even want to see the cover design.

So, without much to go on, I waited patiently for January 1, 2023, when the ebook of the first secret project would be available to Kickstarter backers. I got up that morning and dove right in.

And, oh my, was it worth the wait.

"She felt less like a mere human being, and more like a human who was merely being." (Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

Book Details

Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: The Cosmere

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic fantasy

Pages: 483 pages (Kindle)

Published: 1st January 2023 by Dragonsteel Books (Kickstarter) & 10th January 2023 by Tor Books (US Ebook)/Gollancz (UK Ebook)

What It’s About 

Tress, a young girl, goes on an epic adventure to rescue her love. Along the way, she changes. For the better. Also, sandals with socks. We sail seas that aren’t really seas and meet tons of people who aren’t who they say they are. Heck, there’s even a dragon.

At the heart of it all, the book is the answer to this question: “What would happen if the princess had to save the prince?”

How I Discovered It

This is the first “secret project” Brandon Sanderson announced in early 2022. The entire “secret project” process has been a treat to watch. From the initial hook of learning Sanderson had written books in secret to seeing the project updates and the community that surrounds these novels has been a blast.

Thoughts

I honestly wasn’t sure about this book before I began reading it. With no clue what to expect, I dove in with an open mind. Moreso than almost any other Sanderson novel, I didn’t want to put it down.

What I Liked About It

The characters, as always. The story is told from Hoid’s perspective (if you don’t know who Hoid is, this one probably isn’t for you) which is refreshing and brilliant. The humor is perfect. Tress is a compelling female lead with a great development arc and so many of the other characters have great arcs, as well.

What I Didn’t Like About It 

Only that I finished it so quickly. I would note that if you haven’t read many of the other Cosmere novels, you may miss out on a number of easter eggs and connections to the other worlds, characters, and storylines.

Who Would Like It?

Fans of Sanderson’s Cosmere books will likely be very happy with this book and the connections made within the story. If you haven’t read the books, I don’t know that you will enjoy the book as much. It’s certainly a good story and can stand on its own, but the Cosmere connections make it something special.

Quotes

(Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

“If you wish to become a storyteller, here is a hint: sell your labor, but not your mind.”

Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea
"One of the great tragedies of life is knowing how many people in the world are made to soar, paint, sing, or steer—except they never get the chance to find out." (Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

“One of the great tragedies of life is knowing how many people in the world are made to soar, paint, sing, or steer—except they never get the chance to find out.”

Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea
"Whenever one does discover a moment of joy, beauty enters the world. Human beings, we can’t create energy; we can only harness it. We can’t create matter; we can only shape it. We can’t even create life; we can only nurture it. But we can create light. This is one of the ways. The effervescence of purpose discovered." (Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

“Whenever one does discover a moment of joy, beauty enters the world. Human beings, we can’t create energy; we can only harness it. We can’t create matter; we can only shape it. We can’t even create life; we can only nurture it. But we can create light. This is one of the ways. The effervescence of purpose discovered.”

Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea
"Even small actions have consequences. And while we can often choose our actions, we rarely get to choose our consequences." (Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

“Even small actions have consequences. And while we can often choose our actions, we rarely get to choose our consequences.”

Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea
"Questions like these burdened her. Worry has weight, and is an infinitely renewable resource. One might say worries are the only things you can make heavier simply by thinking about them." (Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

“Questions like these burdened her. Worry has weight, and is an infinitely renewable resource. One might say worries are the only things you can make heavier simply by thinking about them.”

Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea
"Heroism is often the seemingly spontaneous result of a lifetime of preparation." (Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

“Heroism is often the seemingly spontaneous result of a lifetime of preparation.”

Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea
"Consistently, across cultures, eras, and ideologies, war heroes report the same simple motivation. They did it for their friends." (Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea)

“Consistently, across cultures, eras, and ideologies, war heroes report the same simple motivation. They did it for their friends.”

Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea

Related Books

An Exciting Look at Oathbringer

Brandon Sanderson’s novel, Oathbringer, is the third installment in the best-selling Stormlight Archive series. This epic fantasy novel follows Dalinar Kholin and his quest to protect Roshar from the Voidbringers. The novel features a wide array of fascinating characters, a thrilling world, and a gripping plot that will keep readers hooked until the very last page.

Oathbringer: Book Three of the Stormlight Archive (The Stormlight Archive, 3)
  • Signed
  • Hardcover Book
  • Sanderson, Brandon (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 1248 Pages – 11/14/2017 (Publication Date) – Tor Books (Publisher)

The Foes That Dalinar Kholin Must Face

Dalinar must draw upon all of his strength, courage, and wit to succeed in his mission. He must battle against the mysterious Voidbringers who seek vengeance for their ancient wrongs. These foes are powerful and relentless in their pursuit of destruction. They are led by an entity known as Odium who has set out to destroy everything that stands in its way. On top of this challenge, Kaladin Stormblessed must grapple with coming to terms with the newly kindled anger within himself and amongst his parshmen allies. It is uncertain whether he can control these newfound emotions or if they will consume him completely.

Examining Urithiru and Dalinar’s Mission to Bring Unity to Alethkar

As well as facing numerous foes on Roshar, Dalinar also embarks on a mission to unify his homeland of Alethkar under one banner. To do this, he needs guidance from the enigmatic city of Urithiru, which lies hidden high in the mountains of Roshar. With Shallan Davar leading an investigation into its wonders, Dalinar hopes to not only bring together Alethkar but also unite all nations across Roshar under one banner for peace and prosperity. However, it soon becomes clear that there is more at stake than just unifying Alethkar; this mission could determine the fate of all those living on Roshar for many years to come.

Conclusion

Oathbringer promises excitement at every turn as we follow Dalinar Kholin on his journey across Roshar. Readers can expect thrilling battles against powerful enemies, thought-provoking explorations into morality and identity as Kaladin confronts inner demons and challenges himself emotionally, and gripping investigations into Urithiru’s magical secrets as Shallan Davar leads her team deep into unknown territory.