WTOP’s Book Report: Don’t-miss books of 2023

December 27, 2023

WTOP’s Book Report: Don’t-miss books of 2023

This story was written as part of the WTOP Book Report series authored by Terik King. Read more of that coverage

In 2023, WTOP’s Book Report series took us many places. We’ve conversed with a law professor about the complicated history of police lawsuits, chatted with a journalist about the power of cancel culture, heard from a cryptologic linguist who spent years translating the Taliban’s conversations, and even talked to twin sisters about their co-authored mystery novel.

As the year draws to a close, a few favorites emerge as the cream of the crop across various genres, highlighted here as a collection of “don’t miss” books to bring into 2024.


“Everyone Here Is Lying” by Shari Lapena

(Cover art courtesy Pamela Dorman Books / Viking)

One of the most interesting fiction books of the year, this nail-biting suspense thriller grabs you from the first page. After family man William Wooler has an affair that ends horribly, he returns to his house, devastated and angry, to find his difficult nine-year-old daughter, Avery, unexpectedly home early from school. William loses his temper, and by the end of the day, Avery is missing.

Suddenly, everyone in the quiet town of Stanhope is a suspect. Everyone suspects their neighbor, and spins self-serving narratives to the dogged pair of investigators investigating Avery’s disappearance to keep their own secrets buried, pointing fingers at each other in the process. And as the title suggests, everyone there does, in fact, seem to be lying.

The novel hinges on the question: where is Avery Wooler? Who is responsible for her disappearance? Who is lying and who is telling the truth?

“It’s a really engrossing, fast read about the darker things that people do, “ author Shari Lapena told WTOP. “But it’s not gory at all. I sort of specialize in psychological suspense. I like to see how people are thinking and reacting. And I’m interested in relationships between people and how someone might present himself in one way to one person, and present himself quite differently to another person. I like to look at all the different sides that people show, and then try and get at the truth.”


“Leading Lady: A Memoir of a Most Unusual Boy” by Charles Busch

(Cover art courtesy Smart Pop Books)

In his addictive memoir, Chares Busch, the Tony Award-nominated writer of “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” and the Off-Broadway sensation “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” tells a story reflecting on his lifelong quest for surrogate mothers since the untimely death of his mother when he was just seven. It started with his iconoclastic Aunt Lilian, who first exposed him to the glamorous world of show business.

“I just wanted to make sure that the non-famous people in the book were as interesting as the celebrities that I name-dropped throughout the book,” Busch told WTOP. “So, it was important to me particularly that Aunt Lillian came out as a real full character that could capture someone’s imagination.”

Layered atop that is his unique path toward forging an identity in the monolithic days of Hollywood, Broadway and Off-Broadway theater as he discovered his gift for writing plays and performing as a male actress. Along the way, Busch’s path is littered with dishy tales of his colorful interactions with luminaries of film and theater, including the singular Joan Rivers, Angela Lansbury, Rosie O’Donnell, Claudette Colbert, and Bea Arthur.

“The book is called ‘Leading Lady’ and you can look at that title in numerous ways,” Busch said. “In one sense, yes, I am the leading lady of the title because I turned myself into a leading lady through my performances, and then [there are] all these different ladies in my life.”

Complete with rare photos, “Leading Lady” is not only for fans of true stories about entertainment and theater, but also for those who appreciate real-life stories of artists who defy conventions, break boundaries and find their own unique way to sparkle.


“Live to See The Day” by Nikhil Goyal

(Cover art courtesy of Metropolitan Books)

One can best understand the effects of public policy choices through the lens of compelling personal experience. This is the thesis of “Live to See the Day: Coming of Age in American Poverty” by sociologist and policymaker Nikhil Goyal.

In the harsh poverty of Kensington, Pennsylvania, we meet Ryan, Giancarlos, and Emmanuel—three Puerto Rican children fighting against a tide of adversities that include homelessness, hunger, incarceration, stray bullets, sexual and physical assault, and the relentless grip of the drug trade.

“They’re all remarkable young people who have gone through struggles and enormous pain that no young person should have to endure in a country as rich as ours,” Goyal told WTOP.  “So I hope readers will not just sympathize with them, but actually recognize that we have the wealth and resources to transform the conditions in neighborhoods like [theirs].”

A triumph of empathy and a decade of dedicated reporting, Goyal delves into the lives of  his protagonists, deftly connecting the grim reality of their world in a new age of American poverty that emerged after the termination of “welfare as we know it” and the criminalization of a generation of students through “zero tolerance” policies in schools.

“It shows the conditions that result in these neighborhoods as a result of centuries and decades of public policy,” Goyal said. “These conditions did not come about by accident. They’re manmade; they’re the result of policy decisions, of laws, and a whole host of other enterprises that have produced the pain that exists in Kensington and beyond. If policy created these conditions, then policy can get us out of this mess, and provide us with the roadmap to providing people with dignity and a decent standard of living.”


“Destroyer of Worlds: A Return to Lovecraft Country” by Matt Ruff

(Cover art courtesy of HarperCollins)

The 2020 hit TV series Lovecraft Country, based on the 2016 novel of the same name, still has fans yearning for its return years later. While that appears unlikely, author Matt Ruff brought back the beloved characters in this year’s sequel “Destroyer of Worlds: A Return To Lovecraft Country.” But Ruff has a warning for fans of the series: this book is written to stand on its own.

“If you haven’t read [the original]  Lovecraft Country and you didn’t want to, then this book will tell you everything you need to know about the characters,” Ruff told WTOP, adding that if you have preconceptions of the characters, you may end up confused.

And what are those differences? “Misha [Green, writer and showrunner of the “Lovecraft Country” TV series] is a lot more bloodthirsty than I am. She killed off half the cast for my original novel. So in this book, Atticus and George and Ruby are all still alive. Caleb Braithwaite, who is my version of Christina Braithwaite, is still there, too. So if you’re coming fresh off the series, and you’re still thinking about that, then you’re gonna be like, ‘Wait a minute. Why is he still alive?’”

Set in the summer of 1957, the narrative follows familiar characters Atticus Turner and his father, Montrose, being confronted by an old enemy as they journey to North Carolina to commemorate their ancestor’s escape from slavery. George Berry is facing a cancer diagnosis and striking a Faustian bargain with the ghost of Hiram Winthrop. Teenager Horace Berry, son of Hippolyta (the character played by fan-favorite Aunjanue Ellis in the series) is grappling with the loss of a close friend as he embarks on a trip to Nevada with his mother and her friend. These challenges all pale in comparison to the return of Caleb Braithwhite, determined to settle old scores and reclaim his lost magic.

Ruff’s latest creation is another unique adventure that captivatingly blends the genres of horror, humor and history, leaving us eagerly anticipating the next chapter in the Lovecraft Country saga. Ruff managed to blend the genres so expertly, he says, “because I love horror and science fiction and fantasy anyway. And bringing in real world themes just adds additional depth, and they can sort of play off each each other in an interesting way. So pick your poison.”


“Romney: A Reckoning” by McKay Coppins

(Cover art courtesy Scribner Books / Simon & Schuster)

Few political biographies can accurately be described as “engrossing” or “hard to put down,” even in our current political era.

“Romney: A Reckoning” is different.

In a remarkably illuminating page-turner of a biography, award-winning journalist McKay Coppins provides an unprecedented look into the life and political journey of Mitt Romney — one of America’s most enigmatic figures. With full participation of Romney himself, Coppins delves into the inner workings of the Republican Party, unraveling the complexities of a man who, despite his reserved nature, has played a pivotal role in shaping modern American politics.

The biography captures Romney’s dissent within the GOP during the tumultuous presidency of former President Donald Trump. Coppins reveals Romney’s private reflections on his interactions with political heavyweights like Trump, John McCain, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Mitch McConnell, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. It also sheds light on Romney’s moments of public courage, including his historic vote to remove a president from his own party and his impassioned speech following the storming of the U.S. Capitol. Through captivating detail, Coppins traces Romney’s early life and ascent through the ranks of the Republican Party, exposing the compromises that have led to a crisis in democracy.

“Some of those comments were things that he said to me over our two years of interviews, some of them were things he wrote in his journal, going back a decade or more,” Coppins told WTOP in an interview with Dimitri Sotis. “I hope that people check out the book because I think [it] ultimately reflects a man who is increasingly alienated from his party and heartbroken to see so many Republicans he once respected sort of sell themselves out to get reelected. And I think that people will find a story that’s both alarming in some ways … but also inspiring as you see this man, kind of wrestle with his conscience and struggle to do what’s right.”

Be sure to check out these Book Reports from 2023:

Terik King

Terik King is an Associate Producer for WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2022 he held roles producing podcasts, unscripted television and content for MTV, the NFL and independent documentary production companies.

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