If you’re like us, finding the next great read can take time and effort. Discover Books has provided an annual reading challenge to help expand our reading repertoires and find new and wonderful books to enjoy. The books are chosen each month around a yearly theme.

Last year, the challenge revolved around biographies and interesting people. The year before, we read books published through the decades.

This year’s reading challenge will feel different. We’ve chosen distinct monthly themes rather than a single one for the year. We’ve provided a calendar (below), so you can see the entire plan for 2023. Each month, we’ll provide our picks for the theme and share 10 favorite books that speak to the topic or idea for the month. And then we want to hear from you – what books would you recommend and why? Leave a comment on the blog or reach out on social media. Great suggestions will be added to the recommended list for the bonus points.

2023 Reading Challenge Monthly Themes:

  • January: Asian Themed
  • February: Romances Adapted to Film
  • March: Adult Fairy Tales
  • April: Garden Themed
  • May: Family Relations Themed
  • June: World War II Themed
  • July: Beach Reads
  • August: Self-Published Authors
  • September: Been Meaning to Read
  • October: Spooky or Mystery
  • November: Set in New England
  • December: Snow in Title

    Join the 2023 Reading Challenge:

    • Sign up for the challenge on our website. You must register for our reading list to receive rewards badges and points.
    • For each month that you buy a book on our list, you’ll earn 50 bonus points & that month’s badge. The 50-point bonus is once per month, regardless of how many books from that month’s list are purchased.
    • For every 3 months completed (see above) – earn an additional 200 bonus points & badge – 3 / 6 / 9 / 12. (800 points max)
    • Complete the entire year and earn an additional 200 points.
    • Keep track of your progress on our website – monthly bookmarks will show completed status.

    Challenge Rules:

    • Points cannot be redeemed for cash. Click here for details about our Rewards Program.
    • Books must be purchased from our website in 2023 and be from our appointed list.
    • Points will be added to account after order has shipped.
    • Must have a registered account to participate.
    • You can join anytime & complete past months but all books must be purchased in 2023 to qualify for bonus points.

    We know that you’ll love this reading challenge as much as we do. No one participating in this challenge will ever be at a loss for what to read next. The Discover Books community is a community of readers, and we’re certain the recommendations will be outstanding. It’s an exciting way to read more books and explore new genres. So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!

    Let’s jump in and get started with January 2023 Reading Challenge – Asian Themed Books.

    Asian Themed Books

    Have you looked at a map lately? Asia is huuuuge. There are literally billions of people living in over 50 Asian countries and so many wonderful books about them, their cultures, and their histories.

    Our January challenge is to read books with Asian themes. They can be directly about Asia or feature Asian characters or ideas; the category is broad, and the only rule is the book relate somehow to Asia. Whether it’s Thailand, China, India, Turkey, Korea, or Indonesia, let’s dip our toes in and see what we can discover about our Asian friends and neighbors.

    The Gift of Rain

    Tan Twan Eng, 2007

    The Gift of Rain book cover by Tan Twan Eng. "Glorious. . . Rain is a gift indeed, as robustly absorbing as it is achingly poignant" USA Today

    Oh, I love this book. Tan Twan Eng is an exceptional author, and I honestly did not want this book to end. Exceptional isn’t even a strong enough word – Tan Twan Eng would know what exact word to use to describe the beauty and precision of his descriptions and metaphors. And that’s one of the many reasons this book speaks to me; this author can pull his readers into the story and completely immerse them solely with the power of exactly the right words.

    The other reason I love this book is that it exposed me to events I knew nothing about. The story takes place in 1939 on Penang, an island on the Malay peninsula. The main character is Philip, a young man who is half British and half Chinese and thus alienated from both communities on the island. He befriends Endo, a Japanese diplomat, who teaches him aikido and all things Japanese.

    When Japan invades the island, Philip learns his beloved teacher is actually a Japanese spy, and he’s thrust into a very difficult situation. Before reading this book, I knew nothing about WWII events on the Malay Peninsula. I could not have imagined the tensions and complexities between Malay, British, Chinese, and Japanese people living in one small corner of the world. It was fascinating, and this book is amazing.

    River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze

    Peter Hessler, 2001

    River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler author of Oracle Bones book cover with insights and more

    Peter Hessler is a gifted writer. This is the memoir of his experiences living and working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the small Chinese town of Fuling, where no American had lived for more than 50 years. He taught English and the classics to students at a local college.

    This is a personal story, and Hessler is funny and self-deprecatingly honest as he shares his struggles and failures in adapting to a totally new and foreign culture. He’s also insightful and brings readers along with him as he discovers people, ideas, and ways of looking at things that he had not previously considered or understood.

    The book is a series of essays, making it easy to read. Hessler is a gentle author, and the book has a meditative tone and feel. I also appreciated that the stories feel very honest; Hessler is only sometimes the perfect guest or perfectly understanding, and neither are the Chinese.

    I love the reminder that imperfect people who disagree on many significant things can live in peace side by side and grow to care for and respect one another.

    Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

    Jung Chang, 1991

    Book cover for Wild Swans Three Daughers of china by Jung Chang

    Uncover the untold story of three generations of Chinese women in the 20th century captured in a book that has been translated into more than thirty languages and sold over ten million copies worldwide. Written with eloquence and raw emotion, it takes readers on an intimate journey through the author’s family history while detailing the history of China and Mao’s impact on her country.

    The book presents a challenge as it delves into sensitive topics and difficult subject matter. Despite this, precisely this makes it so meaningful to its readers. As China continues to take center stage in the news, immersing oneself in the recent history of such a captivating country is key to understanding current realities. If you’re looking for an insightful and reflective read about this fascinating culture, this book is for you!

    Three Apples Fell from the Sky

    Narine Abgaryan, 2020, translation from Russian by Lisa C. Hayden

    Three Apples Fell From the Sky by Narine Abgaryan book cover - "Read this book. It's a balm for the soul." Ludmilla Ulitskaya

    The cover of this book states that reading it is “balm for the soul,” and when you read it, I think you’ll agree. Many reviewers describe this as a book that makes the reader feel better about life and its struggles. Honestly, what more could we want from a book?

    But Three Apples does deliver more. It’s a charming folk tale about residents of a mountain village in Armenia and their ordinary lives that are nonetheless touched by miracles and a bit of magic. While the story is set during the Armenian genocide of WWI, the story is not about suffering but resilience, survival, and friendship.

    Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

    Lisa See, 2005

    New York Times Bestseller Snow Flower and the Secret Fan a Novel by Lisa See book cover

    Lily is a young girl growing up in Hunan, China, in the 1820s. She is granted a laotang, an old soul female friend, a special privilege not given to everyone. They never meet but communicate with each other for 30 years using the written language of women, nu shu, painted on fans, or embroidered on handkerchiefs. 

    There are many images indelibly imprinted on my mind from this book. Because women are at the heart of this tale, the tradition of foot binding is a big topic. I didn’t know much about it before, but I will never forget what I learned from this book and how it impacted women’s lives. 

    I also loved the embroidery images of girls going to markets and buying beautiful threads for their sewing. Lisa See is a talented writer, and this book is a wonderful juxtaposition of history and friendship.

    Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

    Barbara Demick, 2009

    Nothing to Envy Ordinary Live in North Korea by Barbara Demick book cover with a new afterword by the author - "Provocative. . .offers extensive evidence of the author's deep kowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details." the New York Times

    If you want to learn more about the realities of life in North Korea, then Barbara Demick’s investigative journalism is a must-read. Through her writing, interviews, and research, she sheds light on the lives of six North Koreans living under an oppressive regime. From their stories, one can uncover the truth about the famine and starvation that’s happening right now during our lifetimes, something many of us never understood before. If you want to go beyond the images of their leader and digest a truly eye-opening experience, this book is for you.

    In the Shadow of the Banyan

    Vaddey Ratner, 2013

    New York Times Bestseller In the Shadow of the Banyan a novel by Vaddey Ratner book cover Pen Hemmingway finalist. "Full of Beauty, even joy, . . remarkable" The New York times Book Review

    One of my childhood friends was a young woman whose family escaped the Cambodian genocide and came to live in the United States. I met her in middle school. She had a single photo of her younger years, a black-and-white image of her and her sister. 

    Author Vaddey Ratner has a similar background. She brought her real-life experiences to light in this brilliant novel about a young girl growing up under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. This book is a New York Times bestseller, and for a good reason, the writing and use of language are wonderful. My recommendation: read this at home with a box of tissues at hand. That said, you’ll love it.

    The Eighth Life

    Nino Haratischvili, 2019

    The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili book cover

    It feels like a classic, big Russian novel belongs on this reading list; Dr. Zhivago, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, and War and Peace all come to mind. (I actually really enjoy massive Russian novels, so I highly recommend these.) The Eighth Life is certainly in the spirit of these masterpieces – it’s over 900 pages of family saga – but it’s more modern and not as cliché. It’s also important to note this book isn’t Russian, it’s Georgian. There’s a mystical chocolate recipe, romance, revolution, family drama, and superb writing inside. Once you start, you won’t want to put it down; you’ve been warned.

    Why is it on our Asian list? Nestled at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Georgia is a country that perfectly merges the beauty of both regions.

    The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra

    Vaseem Khan, 2015

    The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra by Vaseem Khan book cover

    This is the first book in the Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation mystery series. The unexpected inheritance is a baby elephant delivered to Inspector Ashwin Chopra on the day of his retirement. A mystery follows the detective and the elephant through the busy streets of Mumbai. I love a good mystery, and this delightful book certainly delivered.

    I also loved the Indian names and words; they rolled around in my mind as I read, and I couldn’t help trying to say them out loud to experience what they felt like in my mouth. (Is that strange? When you read it yourself, you might feel the same. Let me know.) The good news is that if you love this book, there are several others to enjoy as well. 

    My Name Is Red

    Orhan Pamuk, 1998, Translated by Erdağ M. Göknar

    Orhan Pamukk winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature My Name is Red book cover.

    Did you know that Istanbul is one of the few cities in the world that straddles two continents? The Bosphorus strait which separates Europe from Asia is 31 km long, and serves as a natural boundary between the two. With its unique history and architecture, Istanbul is definitely worth exploring!

    In the shadows of 15th-century Istanbul lies a secret. A masterpiece in the making is hidden away from prying eyes, created by artists commissioned by the Sultan to create a book that celebrates his realm. But with figurative art considered an affront to Islam and punishable by death, it must be kept a secret at all costs. But the deeper they delve into their project, the more secrets rise to the surface—and there’s a murder lurking in their midst…

    Led by Nobel Prize winner author Mr. Pamuk, this book is an exceptional feat of art history, philosophy, and mystery.

    An Asian Road Trip through Books

    This month’s selections take you around Asia. We hope you join us on this journey and find something to read from among our best-loved titles.

    What are the books you love from or about Asia? Do you have a favorite Asian author? Be sure to let us know so we can share with other readers. Instagram or Facebook – @discoverbooks or email us at marketing@discoverbooks.com

    And be sure to pick up these and other books from discoverbooks.com. We have thousands of titles to choose from at low, low prices. Take the challenge and grab one or two – or three – of these books today. It’s is a great day to read.

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