2023 highly anticipated releases. Image: Ecco Press; Doubleday Books; Tor Books; Harper Voyager; William Morrow & Company; and Feminist Press.

Our Most Anticipated Books of 2023—So Far

Booked & busy.

There are so many exciting books coming out this year, and while I didn’t get through a quarter of last year’s releases, we’re still making a most anticipated list because they don’t stop coming! From new fantasy series to historical fiction and political thrillers, there’s so much exciting stuff coming this year. To include plenty of debut authors, I’ve reduced the number of books from all of my auto-read authors to just a few. Also, please note that there are no graphic novels or comics on this list, not because we hate them, but because there were so many that the list got unwieldy. Therefore, they got their own list! Like our picks for The Mary Sue Book Club, the following are all either standalone novels or the first titles in a new series.

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Here are 13 novels that should be on your TBR this year:

Where There Was Fire by John Manuel Arias

Where There Was Fire by John Manuel Arias. Image: Flatiron Books.
(Flatiron Books)

This work of historical fiction may be just that—fiction—but it is set against the backdrop of real turmoil and countless lives lost in the region known as Central America. I know very little about the Banana massacre and the U.S. “protecting their corporate interest” (and the Cold War) in Latin America from the 1800s to the present, but this novel doesn’t look at all of the events, instead focusing on the human toll and generational trauma still felt by tens of millions of people.

Costa Rica, 1968. When a lethal fire erupts at the American Fruit Company‘s most lucrative banana plantation burning all evidence of a massive cover-up, the future of Teresa Cepeda Valverde’s family is changed forever.Now, twenty-seven years later, Teresa and her daughter Lyra are still picking up the pieces. Lyra wants nothing to do with Teresa, but is desperate to find out what happened to her family that fateful night. Teresa, haunted by a missing husband and the bitter ghost of her mother, Amarga, is unable to reconcile the past. What unfolds is a story of a mother and daughter trying to forgive what they do not yet understand, and the mystery at the heart of one family’s rupture, steeped in machismo, jealousy, labor uprisings, and the havoc wreaked by banana plantations in Central America.

The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz

The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz. Image: Tor Books.
(Tor Books.)

A sci-fi mystery spanning over a thousand years that features terraforming and a resilient people—yes.

Destry’s life is dedicated to terraforming Sask-E. As part of the Environmental Rescue Team, she cares for the planet and its burgeoning eco-systems as her parents and their parents did before her.

But the bright, clean future they’re building comes under threat when Destry discovers a city full of people that shouldn’t exist, hidden inside a massive volcano.

As she uncovers more about their past, Destry begins to question the mission she’s devoted her life to, and must make a choice that will reverberate through Sask-E’s future for generations to come.

Yellowface by R.F. Kuang

'Yellowface' by RF Kuang. Image: William Morrow & Company.
(William Morrow & Company)

This is simultaneously nothing new from Kuang in terms of themes, and also an interesting challenge considering it appears to be a magic-less, scathing, and satirical look at creativity and yellowface. It reminds me of the dark comedy World’s Greatest Dad, except the story is presented as a social critique (along with a few other key differences).

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song–complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez

What Happened to Ruthy Ramirez by Claire Jimenez. Image: Grand Central Publishing.
(Grand Central Publishing)

What would you do if your sister disappeared over 10 years ago, as a child, and then you saw her on a reality TV show competing under another name? This is an absolutely wild premise and it features a road trip, so sign me up for this mess.

The Ramirez women of Staten Island orbit around absence. When thirteen-year-old middle child Ruthy disappeared after track practice without a trace, it left the family scarred and scrambling. One night, twelve years later, oldest sister Jessica spots a woman on her TV screen in Catfight, a raunchy reality show. She rushes to tell her younger sister, Nina: This woman’s hair is dyed red, and she calls herself Ruby, but the beauty mark under her left eye is instantly recognizable. Could it be Ruthy, after all this time?

The years since Ruthy’s disappearance haven’t been easy on the Ramirez family. It’s 2008, and their mother, Dolores, still struggles with the loss, Jessica juggles a newborn baby with her hospital job, and Nina, after four successful years at college, has returned home to medical school rejections and is forced to work in the mall folding tiny bedazzled thongs at the lingerie store.

After seeing maybe-Ruthy on their screen, Jessica and Nina hatch a plan to drive to where the show is filmed in search of their long-lost sister. When Dolores catches wind of their scheme, she insists on joining, along with her pot-stirring holy roller best friend, Irene. What follows is a family road trip and reckoning that will force the Ramirez women to finally face the past and look toward a future—with or without Ruthy in it.

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty

The Adventures of Amina Al-Sirafi by S.A. Chakraborty. Image: Harper Voyager.
(Harper Voyager)

After devouring the Daveabad Trilogy, I seriously did not think that we were going to get any more from S.A. Chakraborty for a while. After all, that trilogy basically came from writing fanfiction based on her research. Luckily, she has a lot more to say and this time, the series is set further back in time, during the Islamic Golden Age.

Amina al-Sirafi should be content. After a storied and scandalous career as one of the Indian Ocean’s most notorious pirates, she’s survived backstabbing rogues, vengeful merchant princes, several husbands, and one actual demon to retire peacefully with her family to a life of piety, motherhood, and absolutely nothing that hints of the supernatural.

But when she’s tracked down by the obscenely wealthy mother of a former crewman, she’s offered a job no bandit could refuse: retrieve her comrade’s kidnapped daughter for a kingly sum. The chance to have one last adventure with her crew, do right by an old friend, and win a fortune that will secure her family’s future forever? It seems like such an obvious choice that it must be God’s will.

Yet the deeper Amina dives, the more it becomes alarmingly clear there’s more to this job, and the girl’s disappearance, than she was led to believe. For there’s always risk in wanting to become a legend, to seize one last chance at glory, to savor just a bit more power…and the price might be your very soul.

Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns

Your Driver Is Waiting by Priya Guns. Image: Doubleday Books.
(Doubleday Books)

Despite what the publisher is marketing it as, this synopsis for Your Driver Is Waiting gives me Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid vibes, except with much higher stakes and it’s a thriller. I also want to know why that tree-shaped air freshener is on fire. Of all the books on this list from authors I haven’t read, this is probably my top most anticipated, to be honest.

Damani is tired. Her father just died on the job at a fast-food joint, and now she lives paycheck to paycheck in a basement, caring for her mom and driving for an app that is constantly cutting her take. The city is roiling in protests—everybody’s in solidarity with somebody—but while she keeps hearing that they’re fighting for change on behalf of people like her, she literally can’t afford to pay attention.

Then she gives a ride to Jolene (five stars, obviously). Jolene seems like she could be the perfect girlfriend—attentive, attractive, an ally—and their chemistry is off the charts. Jolene’s done the reading, she goes to every protest, and she says all the right things. So maybe Damani can look past the one thing that’s holding her back: she’s never dated anyone with money before, not to mention a white girl with money. But just as their romance intensifies and Damani finally lets her guard down, Jolene does something unforgivable, setting off an explosive chain of events.

The Making of Yolanda la Bruja by Lorraine Avila

The Making of Yolanda la Bruja by Lorraine Avila. Image: Levine Querido.
(Levine Querido)

It’s not every day (after the year 1995) that you find a character name Yolanda, and that alone piqued my interest. However, upon reading the premise, it’s’ even more interesting as a story of gun violence, race, and justice.

Yolanda Alvarez is having a good year. She’s starting to feel at home Julia De Burgos High, her school in the Bronx. She has her best friend Victory, and maybe something with Jose, a senior boy she’s getting to know. She’s confident her initiation into her family’s bruja tradition will happen soon.

But then a white boy, the son of a politician, appears at Julia De Burgos High, and his vibes are off. And Yolanda’s initiation begins with a series of troubling visions of the violence this boy threatens. How can Yolanda protect her community, in a world that doesn’t listen? Only with the wisdom and love of her family, friends, and community – and the Brujas Diosas, her ancestors and guides.

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim

Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim. Image: Delacorte Press.
(Delacorte Press)

In addition to the previous entry, this fantasy novel falls firmly in the YA genre. Maiya Ibrahim’s debut uses spice to awaken the powers of magic users and features lots of political intrigue.

In the hidden desert city of Qalia, there is secret spice magic that awakens the affinities of those who drink the misra tea. Sixteen-year-old Imani has the affinity for iron and is able to wield a dagger like no other warrior. She has garnered the reputation as being the next great Shield for battling djinn, ghouls, and other monsters spreading across the sands.

Her reputation has been overshadowed, however, by her brother, who tarnished the family name after it was revealed that he was stealing his nation’s coveted spice—a telltale sign of magical obsession. Soon after that, he disappeared, believed to have died beyond the Forbidden Wastes. Despite her brother’s betrayal, there isn’t a day that goes by when Imani doesn’t grieve him.

But when Imani discovers signs that her brother may be alive and spreading the nation’s magic to outsiders, she makes a deal with the Council that she will find him and bring him back to Qalia, where he will face punishment. Accompanied by other Shields, including Taha, a powerful beastseer who can control the minds of falcons, she sets out on her mission.Imani will soon find that many secrets lie beyond the Forbidden Wastes—and in her own heart–but will she find her brother?

Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto by Clarkisha Kent

Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto by Clarkisha Kent. Image: Feminist Press.
(Feminist Press)

I’ll read anything pop culture critic Clarkisha Kent writes, and now I have the pleasure of reading a whole damn book. I know millions have Prince Harry’s book Spare on pre-order, so do yourself a favor and add this memoir/manifesto, too.

There was no easy way for Kent to navigate personal discovery and self-love. As a dark-skinned, first-generation American facing a myriad of mental health issues and intergenerational trauma, at times Kent’s body felt like a cosmic punishment. In the face of body dysmorphia, homophobia, anti-Blackness, and respectability politics, the pursuit of “high self-esteem” seemed oxymoronic. Fat Off, Fat On: A Big Bitch Manifesto is a humorous, at times tragic, memoir that follows Kent on her journey to realizing that her body is a gift to be grown into, that sometimes family doesn’t always mean home, and how even ill-fated bisexual romances could free her from gender essentialism.

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Image: Pantheon Books.
(Pantheon Books)

There’s a lot of critical fiction to accompany the ever-steady flow of non-fiction texts about incarceration coming this year, and this novel looks to be the most interesting. Riding the emotions of Andor, this is exactly what is needed next to engage in those weighty realities of the carceral state in a sci-fi environment.

Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly-popular, highly-controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom.

In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates. Thurwar and Staxxx, both teammates and lovers, are the fan favorites. And if all goes well, Thurwar will be free in just a few matches, a fact she carries as heavily as her lethal hammer. As she prepares to leave her fellow Links, she considers how she might help preserve their humanity, in defiance of these so-called games, but CAPE’s corporate owners will stop at nothing to protect their status quo and the obstacles they lay in Thurwar’s path have devastating consequences.

Spring’s Arcana by Lilith Saintcrow

Spring's Arcana by Lilith Saintcrow. Image: Tor Books.
(Tor Books)

I know the cover is not giving what it needs to give, however, this contemporary fantasy novel was described as “American Gods vs. Baba Yaga,” and that’s enough to pique my interest. Don’t get me wrong, I love the mythology of the British Isles and the northern side of the Mediterranean sea, but there’s so much to pull from history other than the Brothers Grimm, and this book looks like a part of that resurgence in publishing. Also, I just read Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, and cars on the front aren’t an automatic “no” for me anymore. This novel is the first in a duology.

Nat Drozdova is desperate to save a life. Doctors can do little for her cancer-ridden mother, who insists there is only one cure—and that Nat must visit a skyscraper in Manhattan to get it.

Amid a snow-locked city, inside a sleek glass-walled office, Nat makes her plea and is whisked into a terrifying new world. For the skyscraper holds a hungry winter goddess who has the power to cure her mother…if Nat finds a stolen object of great power.

Now Nat must travel with a razor-wielding assassin across an American continent brimming with terror, wonder, and hungry divinities with every reason to consume a young woman. For her ailing mother is indeed suffering no ordinary illness, and Nat Drozdova is no ordinary girl. Blood calls to blood, magic to magic, and a daughter may indeed save what she loves……if it doesn’t consume her first.

This is the way to the Dead God’s Heart.

Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo

Family Lore by Elizabeth Acevedo. Image: Ecco Press.
(Ecco Press)

Acevedo is up there with Akwaeke Emezi: If they write it, I will come. While Emezi is known for their writing in different genres and for different audiences, Acevedo primarily wrote fiction for younger people—until now, with her first adult literary novel.

Flor has a gift: she can predict, to the day, when someone will die. So when she decides she wants a living wake—a party to bring her family and community together to celebrate the long life she’s led—her sisters are surprised. Has Flor forseen her own death, or someone else’s? Does she have other motives? She refuses to tell her sisters, Matilde, Pastora, and Camila.

But Flor isn’t the only person with secrets. Matilde has tried for decades to cover the extent of her husband’s infidelity, but she must now confront the true state of her marriage. Pastora is typically the most reserved sister, but Flor’s wake motivates this driven woman to solve her sibling’s problems. Camila is the youngest sibling, and often the forgotten one, but she’s decided she no longer wants to be taken for granted.

And the next generation, cousins Ona and Yadi, face tumult of their own: Yadi is reuniting with her first love, who was imprisoned when they were both still kids; Ona is married for years and attempting to conceive. Ona must decide whether it’s worth it to keep trying—to have a child, and the anthropology research that’s begun to feel lackluster.

Spanning the three days prior to the wake, Family Lore traces the lives of each of the Marte women, weaving together past and present, Santo Domingo and New York City.

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

The Davenports by Krystal Marquis. Image: Dial Books.
(Dial Books)

Inspired by a real-life family near the end of the Gilded Age, this YA romance follows the friendship of three women coming-of-age. This debut is actually one of those books that sprang from a NaNoWriMo Challenge. I’m not sure how far this novel will get in competing with the Black political thoughts of the era, but since it will be a series and this family has money, I hope this extends with various characters giving their point of view.

The Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in a changing United States, their fortune made through the entrepreneurship of William Davenport, a formerly enslaved man who founded the Davenport Carriage Company years ago. Now it’s 1910, and the Davenports live surrounded by servants, crystal chandeliers, and endless parties, finding their way and finding love–even where they’re not supposed to.

There is Olivia, the beautiful elder Davenport daughter, ready to do her duty by getting married . . . until she meets the charismatic civil rights leader Washington DeWight and sparks fly. The younger daughter, Helen, is more interested in fixing cars than falling in love–unless it’s with her sister’s suitor. Amy-Rose, the childhood friend turned maid to the Davenport sisters, dreams of opening her own business–and marrying the one man she could never be with, Olivia and Helen’s brother, John. But Olivia’s best friend, Ruby, also has her sights set on John Davenport, though she can’t seem to keep his interest . . . until family pressure has her scheming to win his heart, just as someone else wins hers.

(featured image: Ecco Press / Doubleday Books / Tor Books / Harper Voyager / William Morrow & Company / Feminist Press / The Mary Sue.)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.