What novels will your book club love reading in 2023? It’s never too early to start planning a spectacular lineup. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of fictional works being released in paperback during the first half of 2023 that have all received 5-star ratings from our reviewers.
Our list features exciting and significant debut novels, including two from authors who previously established themselves via poetry, Destiny O. Birdsong and Leila Mottley. We’ve also included books by writers who were already well-known and acclaimed for their fiction, like Douglas Stuart, winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, and veteran bestselling author Victoria E. Schwab. While we’re aware that some of these novels may be longer than the maximum page count that some book clubs stick to, we’ve considered what books would be worth exceeding this limit for and have endeavored to only choose longer selections that we think qualify as fast reads.
All the books have reading guides currently on the site or forthcoming, plus reviews and Beyond the Book articles that you can use to explore relevant subjects and start conversations. For each pick below, we’ve included discussion topic suggestions for your book club.
Coming next month: Nonfiction recommendations for book groups in 2023.
by Destiny O. Birdsong
Paperback Jan 10, 2023. 368 pages
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Nobody’s Magic delves into the lives of three different black women with albinism from Shreveport, Louisiana. Don’t mistake Birdsong being a poet for her being inaccessible. Her sometimes crude humor is full of pop culture references, as seen in Maple’s story: “Ms. P was a rich chocolate brown, over six feet tall, and had the biggest natural titties I’ve ever seen…And it was torture watching her dance anywhere that wasn’t on the pole. You kept wondering when those titties were gonna pop out like the Kool-Aid Man.” Moments like this are sprinkled throughout the narrative, showing that the author knows how to play around with voice, construct elaborate, visceral images, and genuinely have fun with her craft. I had a blast laughing at these snippets of humor, but there were also aspects of the narrative that made me crumble into tears. (Lisa Ahima)
Topics for book clubs: Book clubs reading Nobody’s Magic might like to discuss the different ways that people approach grief and love, the experience of being marked an outsider through appearance and the ways that Birdsong uses word choice in creating a fictional world that draws in the reader.
Black Cloud Rising
by David Wright Falade
Paperback Jan 20, 2023. 304 pages
Published by Grove Press
In December of 1863, the newly formed African Brigade, under the command of fiery abolitionist, one-armed General Edward Augustus Wild, set out for a three-week raid to root out Confederate Partisan Rangers and free the remaining enslaved. Among them was Sergeant Richard Etheridge, the real-life historical figure and beating heart of David Wright Faladé’s mesmerizing debut adult novel, Black Cloud Rising. Wright Faladé superbly crafts an authentic portrayal of the African Brigade and its harrowing experiences in 1863. Black Cloud Rising succeeds on every level as both history and historical fiction: evocative scenes, nuanced characters and taut writing convey powerful lessons about slavery, emancipation and Black identity. (Peggy Kurkowski)
Topics for book clubs: Book clubs can explore the real-life experiences of Sergeant Richard Etheridge and the African Brigade during the Civil War alongside Faladé’s work, as well as related topics such as the conflict of performing patriotism as an oppressed person, love in times of war and family separation.
Shadows of Berlin
by David R. Gillham
Paperback Jan 24, 2023. 400 pages
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark
David R. Gillham’s latest novel, Shadows of Berlin, opens in New York City in 1955. Rachel, a young Jewish woman from Berlin, has managed to avoid the horrors of Hitler’s concentration camps but remains scarred by her experiences during World War II. She has married Aaron, a native New Yorker, and has tried to adopt the role of American housewife, but is unable to move beyond the guilt she feels for her actions a decade ago in Germany. Gillham expertly unfolds this tale in increments, keeping his audience spellbound until Rachel’s full history is laid bare. Although the third-person account is told entirely from Rachel’s perspective, Aaron is illuminated through her observations of him, and the author’s ability to imbue this character with so much nuance is remarkable. Shadows of Berlin is an excellent exploration of survivor’s guilt, as well as a brilliant portrayal of a marriage reaching a breaking point. (Kim Kovacs)
Topics for book clubs: Topics that groups may wish to explore include the phenomenon of survivor’s guilt, mental health treatment in general and collective historical memory. You can find more inspiration for your discussions in our own book club discussion of Shadows of Berlin.
Peach Blossom Spring
by Melissa Fu
Paperback Feb 28, 2023. 400 pages
Published by Back Bay Books
Opening in 1938, Peach Blossom Spring tells us the story of a mother’s struggles, hardships, sacrifices and hopes for her only son as they run for their lives from Changsha in central China to, eventually, Taiwan. It also tells the story of Dao Renshu’s immigration from Taiwan to the United States, his complicated transformation from Dao Renshu to Henry Dao and the issues that challenge him. And it tells the story of his struggles to understand who he is just as his daughter Lily later struggles to understand who she is and who she wants to be (Paula K). Fu not only looks at the historical events, she also examines the consequences and generational impact of the trauma associated with the war, aftermath and political fallout. Sensitive subject matter is carefully handled. The passion the author has for this story is evident in her research and attention to detail (Mitzi K).
Topics for book clubs: Topics in Peach Blossom Spring that book clubs might want to discuss and explore include the passing down of intergenerational knowledge, immigration and the personal effects of historical events.
by Rachel Barenbaum
Paperback Mar 7, 2023. 464 pages
Published by Grand Central Publishing
If you had the opportunity to prevent one of the world’s most horrific disasters, would you? What if saving thousands of lives meant losing your daughter? Such is the premise of Rachel Barenbaum’s time travel thriller Atomic Anna. Told through the eyes of Anna, her daughter Molly and her granddaughter Raisa, this story explores not only the implications of time travel but the impact of one person’s choices on multiple generations. Part science fiction thriller, part family drama, Atomic Anna is a unique blend of what’s best about these genres. Barenbaum has created three generations of flawed but relatable women who must learn to live with the choices of their mothers and the resulting circumstances. (Jordan Lynch)
Topics for book clubs: Some topics that book clubs might discuss after reading Atomic Anna are cultural identity and assimilation, interactions between art and science, and the effect one’s own actions have on others.
by Douglas Stuart
Paperback Mar 21, 2023. 416 pages
Published by Grove Press
Douglas Stuart’s Young Mungo follows a crucial year in the life of Mungo Hamilton, a boy growing up in the difficult world of Glasgow’s East End estates. Many of the themes present in Young Mungo will be familiar to readers of Stuart’s first novel, the Booker-winning Shuggie Bain, which is set around the same place and time. Yet Young Mungo is more varied and expansive. Stuart delves deeper into the culture of sectarian violence between Protestants and Catholics through the character of Mungo’s brother Hamish. A cornerstone of the novel is Mungo’s relationship with James, a young pigeon enthusiast whose doocot (the Glaswegian pronunciation of “dovecote,” a structure for housing pigeons) becomes a sanctuary against the brutality of the estates. Stuart’s delicate descriptions of the young boys’ budding romance are filled with a rare, naive tenderness. (Grace Graham-Taylor)
Topics for book clubs: Topics tied to Young Mungo that could be expanded on for book club discussions include religious differences, how harmful perceptions of masculinity may be fostered within communities, and the difficulties and joys of adolescence.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
by Victoria E. Schwab
Paperback Apr 11, 2023. 464 pages
Published by Tor Books
Winner of the 2020 BookBrowse Fiction Award
As a child, Addie is told by an older friend and mentor, “No matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.” When a crisis unfolds, though, she does the unthinkable and summons the type of being she was specifically told to avoid. She tells the creature, “I want a chance to live. I want to be free…I want more time,” and with that, she sells her soul. Such Faustian bargains are never straightforward, and what Addie doesn’t realize is that while the deal means she’ll live precisely as long as she wants to, the flipside is that she will leave no mark of her passage, no proof she existed; she is cursed to be forgotten through all time. Everything about The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is stellar, from the pacing to the characters to the exceptionally well-thought-out plot. Schwab’s writing, too, is superb, convincingly reflecting the longing at her heroine’s core while at the same time being beautifully descriptive. (Kim Kovacs)
Topics for book clubs: Possible topics for book clubs in Schwab’s novel include historical cycles and repetition, religious faith and the significance of memory.
The Return of Faraz Ali
by Aamina Ahmad
Paperback Apr 4, 2023. 352 pages
Published by Riverhead Books
In Aamina Ahmad’s debut, The Return of Faraz Ali, the eponymous character is a police inspector in Lahore, Pakistan in 1968. As the book opens, he receives a call from an important politician saying there’s been an “accident” in Shahi Mohalla, the red-light district of the city. The important politician is his father, Wajid; and Faraz hasn’t set foot in Shahi Mohalla since he was five, when Wajid took him from his mother, a tawaif (sex worker). From the novel’s description, readers would be forgiven for believing they’re picking up a standard police procedural. But actually, there’s a lot going on throughout this complex and engrossing narrative, with the criminal investigation being a minor facet when all’s said and done. Each character’s journey is heartbreaking and unforgettable. (Kim Kovacs)
Topics for book clubs: Topics that book clubs may wish to talk about in conjunction with Ahmad’s novel include secrecy, loneliness and the effect power has on relationships.
Take My Hand
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Paperback Apr 4, 2023. 368 pages
Published by Berkley Books
Take My Hand by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a tour de force of a novel. Inspired by true events, the story follows Civil Townsend, a woman fresh out of nursing school and working at a reproductive health clinic in Montgomery, Alabama. Civil quickly discovers that impoverished Black women are being sterilized without their consent (Mary S). The writing is so strong, the characters are well-developed and you get caught up in their emotions; the story is compelling and repelling; messy in a way that life is (Dominique G). The unfolding story is powerful, the characters are brave and unforgettable, and what happened is a story that must be told (Diane S). Book clubs will love this book as it really invites deep thought and discussions about medical ethics and institutional racism (Jo S).
Topics for book clubs: Some topics that book clubs may like to explore with Take My Hand are reproductive justice, eugenics and racism in medicine.
by Leila Mottley
Paperback Apr 11, 2023. 304 pages
Published by Vintage
At the beginning of the novel, 17-year-old Kiara receives a rent increase notice from her landlord, who has just sold the building in East Oakland where she lives with her brother Marcus. After losing her virginity in a coercive sexual encounter with a stranger, Kiara realizes that sex work could be the answer to her money problems; after all, it’s “nothing more than a body,” and the situation will only be temporary until she figures something else out. Kiara’s interior monologue is shot through with the dreamy, poetic sensibility of a young person who comes to see the world as it really is, but nevertheless has not lost hope. Nightcrawling has deeply perceptive commentary on gender, race and class that defies the comfortable assumptions readers might bring to a story like Kiara’s. (Lisa Butts)
Topics for book clubs: Possible discussion topics for book clubs reading Nightcrawling include questions of autonomy within racist and misogynist systems, the ways in which race and class color perceptions of gender, and sex workers’ rights.
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