Bookshelf: 7 books you’ll want to read in 2023

New year promises books by top-tier authors, highly anticipated debuts and more.

One of my favorite tasks as the book editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is culling through publishing house catalogs, press releases and social media accounts to compile a long list of upcoming Southern books, which I order chronologically by their publication dates. The list is my guiding light when it comes to determining which books the AJC covers and when.

I add to the list all year long as new releases are announced, but there’s something about starting a fresh list at the beginning of the new year that fills me with anticipation. This is the season when the industry shows its serious side, releasing heavy-hitting titles by top-tier authors alongside deeply researched nonfiction and highly anticipated debuts. This year is no different.

So far, 2023 is shaping up to be a stellar year of publishing. As I already mentioned in Bookshelf last month, there is a plethora of new books coming out by Atlanta authors, including Lynn Cullen, Zoe Fishman, Colleen Oakley, Thomas Mullen, Anissa Gray and Joshilyn Jackson.

In addition to that, three of the South’s most venerated fiction writers are publishing books in the coming months. National Book Award winner Charles Frazier, whose 1997 literary debut “Cold Mountain” made him a household name, returns with “The Trackers” (Ecco, April 11). Set during the Great Depression, it follows WPA muralist Val Welch on a journey across the country to find a wealthy rancher’s wife, the beguiling Eve, a former train-hopping “hobo” and country music singer, who’s on the lam.

Like Frazier, Daniel Wallace’s literary debut (the 1998 novel “Big Fish”) was made into a major Hollywood movie. This year the director of the writing program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill makes his first foray into memoir. “This Isn’t Going to End Well” (Algonquin, April 11) tells the story of Wallace’s relationship with his brother-in-law, a man the author deeply admired and emulated, who died from suicide at age 48. Drawing from the deceased’s journals, Wallace discovers another side of his brother-in-law that changes his perspective on someone he thought he knew.

Rounding out the trio of literary lions publishing this year is Lee Smith, a Robert Penn Warren Prize for Fiction recipient and native of Appalachia. She’s best known for “Oral History” (1983), a multi-generational story set in the mountains of Virginia, and “Fair and Tender Ladies” (1988), an epistolary novel about a tenacious mountain woman.

Her latest is “Silver Alert” (Algonquin, April 18), a playful romp about a senior citizen named Herb who takes off with his ailing wife’s cheerful manicurist for one last joy ride in his Porsche, prompting his children to issue a Silver Alert for his safe capture.

Unfortunately, those three books don’t come out until April. So, for something more immediate, consider “Night Wherever We Go” (Ecco, Jan. 3), a literary debut by Tracey Rose Peyton about six enslaved women who conspire to thwart their plantation owner’s plans to impregnate them. Or Nyani Nkrumah’s debut “Wade in the Water” (HarperCollins, Jan. 17). Set in rural Mississippi in 1982, it tells the story of an unlikely friendship between an 11-year-old Black girl and a mysterious white woman from Princeton who’s harboring secrets.

Expectations are high for De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s follow-up to his 2019 debut “In West Mills” (2019), a highly lauded family saga set in the small town of West Mills, North Carolina. “Decent People” (Bloomsbury, Jan. 17) returns to the mill town where a canal defines the community’s color line. It’s 1976 and a Black pediatrician and her two siblings have been found shot to death. When the police show little interest in finding the murderer, Jo Wright, who’s returned to town to marry her childhood sweetheart, sets out to solve the case when she discovers her fiancé is the prime suspect among townsfolk.

And for history buffs, Peter Cozzens does a deep dive on the Creek War of 1813-14 with “A Brutal Reckoning” (Penguin Random House, April 25). The former U.S. Foreign Service officer who’s published numerous books on the Civil War and the American Indian Wars examines the early ambitions of a young Andrew Jackson and the ruthless war he waged on the Creeks over control of the American South. It promises to be a sobering survey of a shameful past that warrants a closer look.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Contact her at svanatten@ajc.com.