Every year I round up my favorite covers, and think that it’s impossible for book covers to get any better, and then the next year I’m proven wrong as creative designers find even more ways to push the boundaries and reel readers in. The covers for this year’s newest books are an exceptional group. Featuring eye-catching visuals, brilliant attention to detail, and lots of ingenious uses of fruit, the ten best 2023 book covers here are ones I simply cannot get enough of. And once I found out the meaning behind the covers—and the beautiful stories within—I realized I had to share them with my fellow readers.
This is the gold standard for covers I cannot stop staring at. It’s impossible for me to look away from the woman eating from a bowl of pearls! This statement cover is even more powerful when you consider the book’s plot: Daniel Kalla interrogates society’s lofty beauty standards, giving wellness culture a deadly twist. Los Angeles and Vancouver’s hospitals are filling up with patients who have overdosed on a toxic diet pill. When notable influencer Rain Flynn dies in her hotel with the same symptoms as the other overdose patients, detectives Cari Garcia and Anson Chen must figure out who is behind the marketing and distribution of these pills.
From internationally bestselling author Daniel Kalla comes a riveting thriller about online body shaming, toxic diet pills, a vulnerable mega-celebrity, and a rapidly rising body count.
When Owen Galloway, the track star son of a prominent US senator, is found dead of an overdose in his bedroom, LAPD Detective Cari Garcia suspects that he’s just another teenager who hid a drug addiction.
In Vancouver, Dr. Julie Rees, an experienced toxicologist, notices a growing number of overdoses among the eating disordered and body builders, and mentions it to her boyfriend, Detective Anson Chen.
Then Rain Flynn, a famous pop star and social media influencer, dies in her Vancouver hotel room showing the same symptoms of a fatally high fever and uncontrollable seizures as Julie’s other ER patients, including the coowner of a wildly popular wellness center with locations in both Vancouver and LA.
After an autopsy confirms that Rain overdosed on illicit diet pills containing a deadly toxin known as DNP—an explosive agent originally used in the trenches of World War I—the media gets hold of the story and runs wild with it. But who’s behind the online marketing and distribution of DNP? And how is the wellness center connected? The daunting challenge of putting the pieces together falls to Detectives Garcia in LA and Chen in Vancouver. Can they solve these crimes before DNP becomes the next viral TikTok challenge?
THE UGLY HISTORY OF BEAUTIFUL THINGS is one of my current reads, and I love the way Katy Kelleher contrasts the beauty of objects such as mirrors and flowers with their dark histories. Admittedly, one of the things that drew me to this cover was, coincidentally, its beauty. In a world of bold, eye-catching covers, I was attracted to this one for its meticulous attention to detail. I love that the blue, pink, and yellow-brown text pulls from the cover’s flower imagery.
Speaking of the flowers, I only noticed after starting the book the brilliance of this image. You may think that the flowers are in a vase, but upon closer inspection, you’ll see that they’re housed in the broken top of a glass bottle. The image excellently conveys the book’s thesis that beyond the surface of every beautiful object is an unsavory history to uncover.
Paris Review contributor Katy Kelleher explores our obsession with gorgeous things, unveiling the fraught histories of makeup, flowers, perfume, silk, and other beautiful objects.
April recommended reading by the New York Times Book Review, Vanity Fair, Goodreads, Jezebel, and Next Big Idea Club
One of Curbed’s best architecture, design, and urbanism books of the spring
A most anticipated book of 2023 by The Millions
Katy Kelleher has spent much of her life chasing beauty. As a child, she uprooted handfuls of purple, fragrant little flowers from the earth, plucked iridescent seashells from the beach, and dug for turquoise stones in her backyard. As a teenager she applied glittery shimmer to her eyelids after religiously dabbing on her signature scent of orange blossoms and jasmine. And as an adult, she coveted gleaming marble countertops and delicate porcelain to beautify her home. This obsession with beauty led her to become a home, garden, and design writer, where she studied how beautiful things are mined, grown, made, and enhanced. In researching these objects, Kelleher concluded that most of us are blind to the true cost of our desires. Because whenever you find something unbearably beautiful, look closer, and you’ll inevitably find a shadow of decay lurking underneath.
In these dazzling and deeply researched essays, Katy Kelleher blends science, history, and memoir to uncover the dark underbellies of our favorite goods. She reveals the crushed beetle shells in our lipstick, the musk of rodents in our perfume, and the burnt cow bones baked into our dishware. She untangles the secret history of silk and muses on her problematic prom dress. She tells the story of countless workers dying in their efforts to bring us shiny rocks from unsafe mines that shatter and wound the earth, all because a diamond company created a compelling ad. She examines the enduring appeal of the beautiful dead girl and the sad fate of the ugly mollusk. With prose as stunning as the objects she describes, Kelleher invites readers to examine their own relationships with the beautiful objects that adorn their body and grace their homes.
And yet, Kelleher argues that while we have a moral imperative to understand our relationship to desire, we are not evil or weak for desiring beauty. The Ugly History of Beautiful Things opens our eyes to beauty that surrounds us, helps us understand how that beauty came to be, what price was paid and by whom, and how we can most ethically partake in the beauty of the world.
Pomegranates play a significant role in Helen Elaine Lee’s POMEGRANATE; the book starts with a quote from D. H. Lawrence’s poem “Pomegranate,” and the main character’s father gives her a pomegranate at the book’s beginning. Given this significance, it just makes sense to have a pomegranate on the front cover. However, this cover proves that a simple design can be absolutely stunning. An understated peach-and-blue background highlights a beautifully illustrated pomegranate in the foreground. What I love most about the fruit is that it’s open to expose the seedy inside, a visual metaphor for the emotional journey the main character, Ranita Atwater, takes during the course of the story as she explores who she is beyond her addiction.
“A remarkable feat of literary conjuration.” —Jennifer Haigh, nationally bestselling author of Mercy Street
The acclaimed author of The Serpent’s Gift returns with this gripping and powerful novel of healing, redemption, and love, following a queer Black woman who works to stay clean, pull her life together, and heal after being released from prison.
Ranita Atwater is “getting short.”
She is almost done with her four-year sentence for opiate possession at Oak Hills Correctional Center. With three years of sobriety, she is determined to stay clean and regain custody of her two children.
My name is Ranita, and I’m an addict, she has said again and again at recovery meetings. But who else is she? Who might she choose to become? As she claims the story housed within her pomegranate-like heart, she is determined to confront the weight of the past and discover what might lie beyond mere survival.
Ranita is regaining her freedom, but she’s leaving behind her lover Maxine, who has inspired her to imagine herself and the world differently. Now she must steer clear of the temptations that have pulled her down, while atoning for her missteps and facing old wounds. With a fierce, smart, and sometimes funny voice, Ranita reveals how rocky and winding the path to wellness is for a Black woman, even as she draws on family, memory, faith, and love in order to choose life.
Perfect for fans of Jesmyn Ward and Yaa Gyasi, Pomegranate is a complex portrayal of queer Black womanhood and marginalization in America: a story of loss, healing, redemption, and strength. In lyrical and precise prose, Helen Elaine Lee paints a humane and unflinching portrait of the devastating effects of incarceration and addiction, and of one woman’s determination to tell her story.
Sarah Rose Etter’s RIPE also sports a pomegranate on the cover but takes a different approach. The pomegranate’s delectable-looking seeds take center stage here, an appropriate choice given the book’s central conflict about whether the tempting fruits of Silicon Valley are worth it for Cassie, the protagonist. While she has attained her dream job and is ripe for success in her industry, her CEO’s illegal requests, as well as her constant companion—a miniature black hole—threaten to unravel her life.
From an award-winning writer whose work Roxane Gay calls “utterly unique and remarkable” comes a surreal novel about a woman in Silicon Valley who must decide how much she’s willing to give up for success—for fans of My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Her Body and Other Parties.
A year into her dream job at a cutthroat Silicon Valley start-up, Cassie finds herself trapped in a corporate nightmare. Between the long hours, toxic bosses, and unethical projects, she also struggles to reconcile the glittering promise of a city where obscene wealth lives alongside abject poverty and suffering. Ivy League grads complain about the snack selection from a conference room with a view of houseless people bathing in the bay. Start-up burnouts leap into the paths of commuter trains, and men literally set themselves on fire in the streets.
Though isolated, Cassie is never alone. From her earliest memory, a miniature black hole has been her constant companion. It feeds on her depression and anxiety, growing or shrinking in relation to her distress. The black hole watches, but it also waits. Its relentless pull draws Cassie ever closer as the world around her unravels.
When her CEO’s demands cross an illegal threshold and she ends up unexpectedly pregnant, Cassie must decide whether the tempting fruits of Silicon Valley are really worth it. Sharp but vulnerable, funny yet unsettling, Ripe portrays one millennial woman’s journey through our late-capitalist hellscape and offers a brilliantly incisive look at the absurdities of modern life.
We’ve seen covers featuring illustrations and close-up photography of fruit, and you may wonder how else fruit can be featured on a book cover. Well, wonder no more, because the cover of THE THICK AND THE LEAN showcases an unexpected but delightful evolution in the theme: fruit as clothing! Featuring a woman enrobed in a pear with a pomegranate and cherry earrings as accessories, this cover is an exquisite visual representation of the sacred, intimate relationship between food and the body, a relationship that is thoroughly explored throughout THE THICK AND THE LEAN. In a dystopian future society where abstaining from food is believed to be a holy endeavor, Beatrice Bolano desires nothing more than to cook. However, when her town seeks to religiously count every citizen’s calorie intake, Beatrice must decide whether leaving the only community she’s ever known to pursue her forbidden dream is worth it.
In Lambda Award finalist Chana Porter’s highly anticipated new novel, an aspiring chef, a cyberthief, and a kitchen maid each break free of a society that wants to constrain them.
In the quaint religious town of Seagate, abstaining from food brings one closer to God.
But Beatrice Bolano is hungry. She craves the forbidden: butter, flambé, marzipan. As Seagate takes increasingly extreme measures to regulate every calorie its citizens consume, Beatrice must make a choice: give up her secret passion for cooking or leave the only community she has known.
Elsewhere, Reiko Rimando has left her modest roots for a college tech scholarship in the big city. A flawless student, she is set up for success...until her school pulls her funding, leaving her to face either a mountain of debt or a humiliating return home. But Reiko is done being at the mercy of the system. She forges a third path—outside of the law.
With the guidance of a mysterious cookbook written by a kitchen maid centuries ago, Beatrice and Reiko each grasp for a life of freedom—something more easily imagined than achieved in a world dominated by catastrophic corporate greed.
A startling fable of the entwined perils of capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind, Chana Porter’s profound new novel explores the reclamation of pleasure as a revolutionary act.
A story that takes place in Rio de Janeiro demands a bold cover, and TROPICÁLIA delivers with lush reds, yellows, and greens, with hints of blue. While the colors are the initial draw for this cover, what I love most is the favela woven between the three figures, symbolizing the importance of the city and its community to the story. However, I love that the emergence of three particular figures from the favela can also signify the desire of the characters in TROPICÁLIA to break out of the city’s corruption and the poverty and trauma that underlie their lives.
In the heady days before a New Year’s Eve party on the bustling sands of Brazil’s Copacabana Beach, a family reckons with a matriarch’s long-awaited return, causing old secrets to come to light in this infectiously vibrant debut that explores the heartbreak and hope of what it means to be from two homes, two peoples, and two worlds.
Daniel Cunha has a lot on his mind.
He got dumped by his pregnant girlfriend, his grandfather just dropped dead, and on the anniversary of the raid that doomed his drug-dealing aunt and uncle, his mother makes her unwanted return, years after she fled to marry another American fool like his father.
Misfortune, however, is a Cunha family affair, and no generation is spared. Not Daniel’s grandfather João—poor João—born to a prostitute and forced to raise his siblings while still a child himself. Not João’s wife, Marta, branded as a bruxa, reviled by her mother, and dragged from her Ilha paradise by her scheming daughter, Maria. And certainly not Maria, so envious of her younger sister’s beauty and benevolence that she took her vicious revenge and fled to the States, abandoning her children: Daniel and Lucia, both tainted now by their half-Americanness and their mother’s greedy absence.
There’s poison in the Cunha blood. They are a family cursed, condemned to the pain of deprivation, betrayal, violence, and, worst of all, love. But now Maria has returned to grieve her father and finally make peace with Daniel and Lucia, or so she says. As New Year’s Eve nears, the Cunha family hurtles toward an irrevocable breaking point: a fire, a knife, and a death on the sands of Copacabana Beach.
Amid the cacophony of Rio’s tumult—rampant poverty, political unrest, the ever-present threat of violence—a fierce chorus of voices rises above the din to ask whether we can ever truly repair the damage we do to those we love.
The cover of EVERYTHING’S FINE, much like the book’s plot, begs the question Is everything fine? The title at the top of the cover in blue block-capital letters is practically screaming that yes, everything is fine. However, in yet another smart use of fruit on a book cover, there’s a large, smashed strawberry that’s impossible to ignore. This cover is an excellent visual indicator for the predicament the book’s protagonist, Jess, faces: while she may think everything is fine between her and her adversary-turned-romantic-interest Josh, there’s an elephant (or, in this case, a destroyed strawberry) in the room that suggests otherwise, as Jess must contend with the fact that Josh’s fundamental beliefs directly contrast with hers during the politically fraught year of 2016.
“Extraordinarily brave...plain funny as hell, too.” —Zakiya Dalila Harris, New York Times bestselling author of The Other Black Girl
“A subtle, ironic, wise, state-of-the-nation novel, sharp enough to draw blood, hidden inside a moving, intimate, sincere and very real love story--or vice versa.” —Nick Hornby
When Jess lands a job as an analyst at Goldman Sachs, she’s less than thrilled to learn she’ll be on the same team as Josh, her preppy, white, conservative sparring partner from college. Josh loves playing the devil’s advocate and is just…the worst.
But when Jess finds herself the sole Black woman on the floor, overlooked and underestimated, it’s Josh who shows up for her in surprising—if imperfect—ways. Before long, an unlikely friendship—one tinged with undeniable chemistry—forms between the two. A friendship that gradually, and then suddenly, turns into an electrifying romance that shocks them both.
Despite their differences, the force of their attraction propels the relationship forwards, and Jess begins to question whether it’s more important to be happy than right. But then it’s 2016, and the cultural and political landscape shifts underneath them. And Jess, who is just beginning to discover who she is and who she has the right to be, is forced to ask herself what she’s willing to compromise for love and whether, in fact, everything’s fine.
A stunning debut that introduces Cecilia Rabess as a blazing new talent, Everything’s Fine is a painfully funny, poignant, heartfelt novel that doesn’t just ask will they, but…should they?
A popular motif among this year’s most stunning covers is eyes. From the mischievous-looking THE BANDIT QUEENS by Parini Shroff to R. F. Kuang’s striking YELLOWFACE, designers have realized that if eyes are the windows to the soul, and a cover is a window to the book, then having eyes on covers just makes sense. My favorite cover featuring eyes—or one eye, in this case—from this year is that of YOUR DRIVER IS WAITING by Priya Guns. As soon as I saw this cover, I knew I needed to read the book. The expression on the woman’s face in the cracked rearview mirror is an intriguing mix of resentment and fatigue—and perhaps a little rage—that directly contrasts with the smiley face sticker in the corner. But perhaps what I love most is that the car air freshener is on fire—it’s a perfect graphic image for conveying the book’s theme of seeking change and the destruction that can accompany it. In this social satire inspired by the iconic film Taxi Driver, rideshare driver Damani is scraping by, paycheck to paycheck, living in a basement while being her mother’s primary caregiver. When she gives a ride to the stunning (and rich) Jolene, Damani sees this as her opportunity to both find love and improve her status in life . . . until Jolene does something unforgivable.
I love an optical illusion on a book cover, and YOU COULD MAKE THIS PLACE BEAUTIFUL by Maggie Smith is an absolute treat for the eyes. The letters appear to be cut out from a piece of paper, revealing a garden bursting with flowers behind them. This is such an apt visual metaphor for a memoir exploring the hope and possibility that come from heartbreak and the fact that it’s only by opening up and working through grief that you can make room for beauty in your life and begin the process of growth and healing.
“[Smith]...reminds you that you can...survive deep loss, sink into life’s deep beauty, and constantly, constantly make yourself new.” —Glennon Doyle, #1 New York Times bestselling author
The bestselling poet and author of the “powerful” (People) and “luminous” (Newsweek) Keep Moving offers a lush and heartrending memoir exploring coming of age in your middle age.
“Life, like a poem, is a series of choices.”
In her memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith explores the disintegration of her marriage and her renewed commitment to herself in lyrical vignettes that shine, hard and clear as jewels. The book begins with one woman’s personal, particular heartbreak, but its circles widen into a reckoning with contemporary womanhood, traditional gender roles, and the power dynamics that persist even in many progressive homes. With the spirit of self-inquiry and empathy she’s known for, Smith interweaves snapshots of a life with meditations on secrets, anger, forgiveness, and narrative itself. The power of these pieces is cumulative: page after page, they build into a larger interrogation of family, work, and patriarchy.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful, like the work of Deborah Levy, Rachel Cusk, and Gina Frangello, is an unflinching look at what it means to live and write our own lives. It is a story about a mother’s fierce and constant love for her children, and a woman’s love and regard for herself. Above all, this memoir is an argument for possibility. With a poet’s attention to language and an innovative approach to the genre, Smith reveals how, in the aftermath of loss, we can discover our power and make something new. Something beautiful.
One element that always attracts me to a cover is contrast, and THE EAST INDIAN drew me in right away with its distinct, eye-catching design. A black-and-white illustrated background featuring ships on the ocean is directly juxtaposed with bright blue and red flowers. This contrast is not only a fantastic artistic decision but also a stellar reflection of the book’s themes. The background represents the domineering colonial forces of the 1600s that are responsible for the kidnapping of the main character, Tony, from his home on the Indian subcontinent and his subsequent indentured servitude in Jamestown, Virginia. In contrast, the flowers represent the hope Tony has for his ultimate rebirth and life beyond that servitude as a physician’s assistant.
Inspired by a historical figure, an exhilarating debut novel about the first native of the Indian subcontinent to arrive in Colonial America—for readers of Esi Edugyan and Yaa Gyasi.
Meet Tony: insatiably curious, deeply compassionate, with a unique perspective on every scene he encounters. Kidnapped and transported to the New World after traveling from the British East India Company’s outpost on the Coromandel Coast to the teeming streets of London, young Tony finds himself in Jamestown, Virginia, where he and his fellow indentured servants—boys like himself, men from Africa, a mad woman from London—must work the tobacco plantations. Orphaned and afraid, Tony initially longs for home. But as he adjusts to his new environment, finding companionship and even love, he can envision a life for himself after servitude. His dream: to become a medicine man, or a physician’s assistant, an expert on roots and herbs, a dispenser of healing compounds.
Like the play that captivates him—Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—Tony’s life is rich with oddities and hijinks, humor and tragedy. Set during the early days of English colonization in Jamestown, before servitude calcified into racialized slavery, The East Indian gives authentic voice to an otherwise unknown historic figure and brings the world he would have encountered to vivid life. In this coming-of-age tale, narrated by a most memorable literary rascal, Charry conjures a young character sure to be beloved by readers for years to come.
Photo credit: iStock / Sensay