Leah O'Connell

motherhood, personal

Favorite books of 2023

I'm Leah!

I’m obsessed with stories of family, creativity, and simple joys.  A nostalgia nerd, educator, wife, and mom of 3, I believe life’s most fun when you’re dreaming big and having kitchen dance parties. 

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Oooh how even the best laid, most conservative and graceful plans can go awry. This was the year I’d be having a baby, and given that this was the third time I’d be doing this, 2022 Leah knew – hey, don’t set any lofty reading goals. BE REASONABLE. To her credit, I did only give myself a list of 12 books – one per month – which is definitely a change from my 2022 reading list. And look! I actually read 12 books! YAY! But they weren’t the same ones on my list and some definite curveballs in there. So here’s what actually got read + my favorite books of 2023.

favorite books of 2023, great for creatives

Top 3 Favorite books of 2023

1.Writing down the bones – by Natalie Goldberg

In a recent edition of The Firefly Letters, I shared about what writing has done for me this year. Short version – a lot. Something stirred early in the year in my soul and begged me to reconnect with writing. Part of that obedience was learning about writing. And then also, ya know, writing.

But this book kicked off everything – it was engaging, funny, and tactical. My undergraduate degree is in English, but somehow this book taught me more about real writing that my entire formal education.

2. Create anyway – Ashelee Gadd

If there was ever a book that every mother should read – and read while her kids are young, especially – it is this one. This was such a timely and important read for me in a newly postpartum year. It’s a collection of beautiful stories, photographs, and interviews – each chapter with relatable and poignant vignettes about motherhood. It is comforting, funny, encouraging, and empowering.

Go get this one in your hands asap and get a few extra to gift the other amazing women in your life.

3. Lessons in Chemistry

This was my favorite fiction book of 2023 by far, along with the rest of the world. But for a reason. I read this when I was still pregnant and even while exhausted, I couldn’t put it down. It was funny (a theme, nay, essential for me this year?) and suspenseful. It was such a unique story with a main character who is equal parts endearing, interesting, and inspiring.

I believe a good fiction book is such a welcome reprieve from the world while simultaneously teaching us so much about the world. This one was definitely that kind of book.

favorite books of 2023, new moms

Other books I read in 2023:


  • All the light we cannot see
  • The startup wife
  • *This time tomorrow (my second favorite fiction book of the year – a classic time travel situation, but with a beautifully interesting father-daughter relationship angle)


  • Out of Sorts
  • You are a badass
  • Searching for Sunday
  • Play
  • *Cold tangerines (another amazing one for new moms and a close favorite for the top 3)
  • The Book of delights
favorite books of 2023 for new moms

This was also the year of quitting books.

There were 5 whole books I started but didn’t quite finish. After decades of the mentality that one must finish every book, I came to the conclusion that life – and my personal time – is too limited to be spent dragging myself through books I can’t quite get into. Not to say they were bad books, just that for whatever reason, I got the gist and never fully pulled my way to the back cover.

My most used cookbooks of 2023

Call me old-fashioned, but reading recipes on the internet takes me excited about creating to wanting to throw my phone into a wall. So much scrolling. Phone locks up. Something always splatters onto the screen. Drying my hands to unlock and scroll again. THE POPUPS. I’ve found I enjoy cooking for my family leagues more when I can do so from a printed page, cookbook, or family heirloom card.

Magnolia home Volume 2 and Half Baked Harvest: Every day were my top two cookbooks pulled from the shelves this year. Joanna Gains’s waffles and blueberry muffins were fan faves and Tieghan Gerard’s pizza dough and pretzel chicken fingers amped up some classics around dinner time.

The prospect of new books is among the top exciting feelings that come with starting a new year. One of my very favorites ever is coming out with a sequel and I can’t wait to get my hands on this one releasing in June, either.

Cheers to nights curled up with a good book and all the stories that shape us.

You might also like:

My 2023 book list

Favorite books for creatives and small business owners (2020)

Charlottesville, VA gift guide

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Hi, I'm Leah.
Family photographer, writer, educator.

I’m  one of the first to meet your newborn baby, the one who won't judge your clothes baskets and unmade beds, and the one who can capture the way your husband looks at you with a twinkle in his eye after 12 years of marriage. I believe in honoring people and telling stories.

I believe art has the power to light up the world in dark places, starting at home.