The Mary Sue Book Club, January 2023: Resourceful & Resilient Protagonists
We’re less than halfway into January 2023, and some of the most intriguing novels of the year are already here or will be released shortly. This year, The Mary Sue Book Club will aim to curate the book selections a little bit more by limiting the number of titles that make the list. Well … except for this month. There are a lot of competing theories as to why this happens when it’s not the best time of the year for sales, but it’s a big month for book releases regardless.
This month’s book club picks include several works of historical fiction, be they biographical and memoir graphic novels or literary fiction that touches on race, class, and family. In addition to these (and one horror book set in the very recent past), there’s a science fiction story tackling corporate greed and fantasy featuring magic-inducing spice. Something that ties many of these stories together is the various expressions of resilience found in many of the main characters. Rest is needed, but with surviving another year in the 2020s amid an ongoing global pandemic, resilience is a pretty fitting theme to kick off 2023 in fiction.
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
Five years ago, Geeta lost her no-good husband. As in, she actually lost him–he walked out on her and she has no idea where he is. But in her remote village in India, rumor has it that Geeta killed him. And it’s a rumor that just won’t die.
It turns out that being known as a “self-made” widow comes with some perks. No one messes with her, harasses her, or tries to control (ahem, marry) her. It’s even been good for business; no one dares to not buy her jewelry.
Freedom must look good on Geeta, because now other women are asking for her “expertise,” making her an unwitting consultant for husband disposal.
And not all of them are asking nicely.With Geeta’s dangerous reputation becoming a double-edged sword, she has to find a way to protect the life she’s built—but even the best-laid plans of would-be widows tend to go awry. What happens next sets in motion a chain of events that will change everything, not just for Geeta, but for all the women in their village.
Release date: January 3
For Lamb by Lesa Cline-Ransome
For Lamb follows a family striving to better their lives in the late 1930s Jackson, Mississippi. Lamb’s mother is a hard-working, creative seamstress who cannot reveal she is a lesbian. Lamb’s brother has a brilliant mind and has even earned a college scholarship for a black college up north– if only he could curb his impulsiveness and rebellious nature.
Lamb herself is a quiet and studious girl. She is also naive. As she tentatively accepts the friendly overtures of a white girl who loans her a book she loves, she sets a off a calamitous series of events that pulls in her mother, charming hustler uncle, estranged father, and brother, and ends in a lynching.
Release date: January 10.
The Fraud Squad by Kyla Zhao
For as long as she can remember, Samantha Song has dreamed of writing for a high-society magazine–and she’d do anything to get there. But the constant struggle to help her mom make ends meet and her low social status cause her dream to feel like a distant fantasy.
Now Samantha finds herself working at a drab PR firm. Living vicariously through her wealthy coworker and friend, Anya Chen, is the closest she’ll get to her ideal life. Until she meets Timothy Kingston: the disillusioned son of one of Singapore’s elite families—and Samantha’s one chance at infiltrating the high-society world to which she desperately wants to belong.
To Samantha’s surprise, Timothy and Anya both agree to help her make a name for herself on Singapore’s socialite scene. But the borrowed designer clothes and plus-ones to every glamorous event can only get her so far. The rest is on Samantha, and she’s determined to impress the editor in chief of Singapore’s poshest magazine. But the deeper Samantha wades into this fraud, the more she fears being exposed—especially with a mysterious gossip columnist on the prowl for dirt—forcing her to reconcile her pretense with who she really is before she loses it all.
Release date: January 17.
How To Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix
When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.
Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.
But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…
Release date: January 17.
Queenie: Godmother of Harlem by Elizabeth Colomba
Queenie follows the life of Stephanie Saint-Clair—the infamous criminal who made herself a legend in Harlem in the 1930s. Born on a plantation in the French colony of Martinique, Saint-Clair left the island in 1912 and headed for the United States, eager to make a new life for herself. In New York she found success, rising up through poverty and battling extreme racism to become the ruthless queen of Harlem’s mafia and a fierce defender of the Black community.
A racketeer and a bootlegger, Saint-Clair dedicated her wealth and compassion to the struggling masses of Harlem, giving loans and paying debts to those around her. But with Prohibition ending, and under threat by Italian mobsters seeking to take control of her operation, she launched a merciless war to save her territory and her skin. In an America still swollen by depression and segregation, Saint-Clair understood that her image was a tool she could use to establish her power and wield as a weapon against her opponents.
Release date: January 17.
Spice Road by Maiya Ibrahim
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.
Release date: January 24.
The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz
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.
Release date: January 31.
The Davenports by Krystal Marquis
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.
Release date: January 31.
River Sing Me Home by Eleanor Shearer
Her search begins with an ending….
The master of the Providence plantation in Barbados gathers his slaves and announces the king has decreed an end to slavery. As of the following day, the Emancipation Act of 1834 will come into effect. The cries of joy fall silent when he announces that they are no longer his slaves; they are now his apprentices. No one can leave. They must work for him for another six years. Freedom is just another name for the life they have always lived. So Rachel runs.
Away from Providence, she begins a desperate search to find her children–the five who survived birth and were sold. Are any of them still alive? Rachel has to know. The grueling, dangerous journey takes her from Barbados then, by river, deep into the forest of British Guiana and finally across the sea to Trinidad. She is driven on by the certainty that a mother cannot be truly free without knowing what has become of her children, even if the answer is more than she can bear. These are the stories of Mary Grace, Micah, Thomas Augustus, Cherry Jane and Mercy. But above all this is the story of Rachel and the extraordinary lengths to which a mother will go to find her children…and her freedom.
Release date: January 31.
Gordita: Built Like This by Daisy “Draizys” Ruiz
In this 28-page color comic, we follow Gordita, a young Mexican-American teenager who lives in The Bronx. She’s judged for having no ass by classmates, strangers, and even family. Gordita struggles with low self-esteem and body dysmorphia. But, through her friendships with other girls who are also getting bullied and mentorship with her guidance counselor, Gordita, begins to speak up for herself and see that she is more than just her body.
Release date: January 2023.
Which of these are you most excited to check out? Let us know in the comments if we missed a (non-sequel) book you’ve been waiting for!
(featured image: Dial Books, Berkley Books, and Black Josei Press.)
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