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19 best new books to read in 2024, from historical fiction to romance novels

Discover debut novelists and immersive page-turners from acclaimed authors this season

Daisy Lester
Wednesday 21 February 2024 14:54
<p>You won’t want to put down these tomes</p>

You won’t want to put down these tomes

Our Top Picks

While we eagerly await stretching out on a sun lounger with a book in the summer, the colder months offer ample opportunity to cosy up and power through your reading pile.

Whether you have a penchant for a crime caper or love reading a romantic romp, darker evenings and lazy weekends are made better with a good book (or two).

From immersive historical epics to novels that transport you to warmer climes, the main criteria for a good winter book is simple: you won’t want t o put it down. Luckily, last year’s titles and this year’s early releases leave you spoiled for choice. From romance novels to Booker Prize-nominated tomes and laugh-out-loud stories, the mix is as eclectic as ever.

This year’s reading pile sees plenty of acclaimed debuts from the likes of Yomi Adegoke, Madeleine Grey, Maud Ventura and Alice Winn, as well as eagerly anticipated titles from acclaimed authors such as Kiley Reid, Paul Murray, Dolly Alderton, Zadie Smith, Colson Whitehead and Jen Beagin.

The varied authorship is reflected in the diverse themes addressed, ranging from an Irish family in turmoil and love in the trenches of the First World War to slavery in the Caribbean, and dating across the political spectrum and dark domestic dramas.

How we tested the best new books

Some of our favourite new releases

To narrow down our list of the best books to read this winter, we looked for original page-turners with superb quality prose and a captivating story that stayed with us after we’d reached the end. From books for history lovers to romance novels, witty romantic comedies and acclaimed prize-winners, there’s something for every type of reader.

The best new books to read in 2024 are:

  • Best new releaseThe Bee Sting by Paul Murray, published by Hamish Hamilton: £15.69,
  • Best literary thriller Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang, published by The Borough Press: £11.60,
  • Best war novel In Memoriam by Alice Winn, published by Viking: £13.19, 
  • Best buzzy book The List by Yomi Adegoke, published by Fourth Estate: £8,
  • Best subversive romance novel Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess: £11.99,

‘The Bee Sting’ by Paul Murray, published by Hamish Hamilton

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  • Best: Overall new release
  • Genre: Comedy drama
  • Release date: 8 June 2023

Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting is a tour de force of fiction. The Barnes, a once-well-off Irish family, are in the midst of emotional and financial strain. Set during turbulent months in their claustrophobic town (think floods, droughts and the aftermath of recession), Murray expertly gives us each family member’s perspective of the same events – with flashbacks unravelling an intricate story of betrayal, crime and lust.

Profound on the human condition, utterly gripping and peppered with comedy, Murray’s novel is a must-read this year.

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‘Good Material’ by Dolly Alderton, published by Fig Tree

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  • Best: Comedy novel
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Release date: 9 November 2023

Some writers suffer from second-novel syndrome, but not Dolly Alderton. The author and columinist’s second book Good Material is a cliché-avoiding break-up novel, in the vein of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.

Told through the eyes of recently dumped Andy, we follow him as he grapples with single life after his girlfriend realised she wanted to be alone. This in itself is a powerful narrative, with Alderton making a case for the happy and single 30-something woman.

Genuinely laugh-out-loud funny – with characters straight out of a Richard Curtis film (the elderly lodger who’s prepping for doomsday is a highlight) – whipsmart dialogue and relatable millennial themes (Alderton’s forte) mean there’s never a dull moment. Despite it being a pleasingly easy read (we tore through it in a single day), Good Material still manages to be thought-provoking and wise.

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‘Yellowface’ by Rebecca F Kuang, published by The Borough Press

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  • Best: Literary thriller
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release date: 25 May 2023

A satire of the publishing industry and brazen exploration of cancel culture, Rebecca F Kuang’s literary heist Yellowface is one the most gripping books of the year. It begins with the freak accident death of young, famed writer Athena Liu (she chokes on pancake mixture, setting the preposterous tone for the rest of the book), witnessed by her sometimes-friend and aspiring (currently failing) novelist June Hayward.

After June steals Athena’s unfinished manuscript and publishes it under her own name to acclaim, she is thrown into the fame, money and relevance she’s always desired. But when her secret threatens to become known, June must decide how far she will go to maintain her reputation. Addictive and uncomfortable, with plenty of savagely funny moments, Kuang’s novel is a must-read.

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‘Green Dot’ by Madeleine Grey, published by W&N

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  • Best: Affair novel
  • Genre: Romance
  • Release date: 1 February 2024

There’s nothing new about an affair novel – but, testament to Madeleine Grey’s writing, Green Dot is fresh and modern. Hera, a 24-year-old, has just started an admin job at a newspaper, where she meets Arthur. Older, more senior and attractive, Hera distracts herself from the boredom of her day-to-day life by crashing headfirst into a workplace romance.

When she discovers he’s married, the illicit affair consumes her life. Part Bridget Jones, part Fleabag, Green Dot is funny, fast-paced and witty, with plenty of relatable millennial and Gen Z references (and not to mention a painfully relatable lockdown passage). We tore through it.

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‘Come and Get It’ by Kiley Reid, published by Bloomsbury publishing

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  • Best: Society satire
  • Genre : Comedy drama
  • Release date: 30 January 2024

Kiley Reid’s debut Such a Fun Age was a runaway success in 2020. Now she’s back with Come and Get It, a page-turning take on money and power dynamics. Desperate to get on the property ladder, graduate and land a good job, Millie is working as a student advisor and living in dorms. Meanwhile, visiting professor and writer Agatha is doing research for a new book and wants to interview some of the students in Millie’s dorm.

Jumping at the chance to increase her income, Millie agrees, and the two women become embroiled in a world of student angst, pranks, and theatrics. Despite the story rarely leaving campus grounds, the novel has a gripping wide scope that explores society’s obsession with money, desire, and consumption.

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‘In Memoriam’ by Alice Winn, published by Viking

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  • Best: War novel
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Release date: 9 March 2023

Beginning in a private boarding school for boys, before taking us to the horror of the trenches during World War One, Alice Winn’s blistering debut is an unforgettable read. We’re first introduced to the book’s central figures – Gaunt and Ellwood – in 1914, when both schoolboys are secretly in love with each other. When half-German Gaunt is pressured by his mother to enlist in the British army, he is relieved to run away from his forbidden feelings for his best friend. But when the true terror of the war is revealed to him, he is soon devastated when Ellwood and other classmates follow him to the Western Front.

A love story set against the tragedies of war, Winn’s rousing writing transports you to the trenches, where an entire generation of lost men are brought to vivid life – the characters will stick with you, long after the final page.

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‘The Fraud’ by Zadie Smith, published by Hamish Hamilton

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  • Best: Novel about real people
  • Genre: Historical
  • Release date : 7 September 2023

Zadie Smith’s first foray into historical fiction, The Fraud is based on true events and juxtaposes a portrait of Victorian life and slavery in the Caribbean. The titular fraud in question is the Tichborne Claimant – a butcher who claimed to be an aristocratic heir in an 1873 trial that gripped the country. Real-life cousin and housekeeper to the largely forgotten novelist William Ainsworth, Smith reimagines Eliza Touchet’s mostly unknown life and her fascination with the case and its prime witness, an ageing Black man named Andrew Bogle.

The author’s version of Bogle’s backstory provides most of the second half of the book, beginning with his father’s abduction in the 1770s to the Hope Plantation in Jamaica. Affecting and devastating, it’s in stark contrast to the humdrum domestic middle-class Victorian life also explored. In typical Zadie style, the narrative structure and decade leaping require you to pay attention – but you’re heavily rewarded with the sheer breadth of the novel and its vividly painted characters.

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‘The List’ by Yomi Adegoke, published by Fourth Estate

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  • Best: Buzzy summer book
  • Genre: Relationships, social media
  • Release date: 20 July 2023

The book that everyone was talking about last year, Slay In Your Lane writerYomi Adegoke’s debut novel is so buzzy that an HBO TV adaptation is already in the works. Podcaster Michael and journalist Ola are a young couple on the cusp of marriage when their world is blown apart by allegations of abuse made against Michael online in “The List”.

Having made a career of exposing such men, Ola is torn between believing Michael’s innocence or supporting the women who anonymously submitted their stories to the list. Thought-provoking and topical in its exploration of life both online and offline, and the fallout of cancel culture, it’s written with sharp insight and is impossible to put down. The hype is real.

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‘Big Swiss’ by Jen Beagin

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  • Best: Sex comedy
  • Genre: Dark comedy
  • Release date: 18 May 2023

A sex comedy with darkness at its centre, Jen Beagin’s latest novel is narrated by Greta, a 45-year-old who lives in a decrepit Dutch farmhouse and transcribes for a sex therapist. Knowing everyone’s secrets in the small town of Hudson is no problem when you’re a relative recluse – that is until she bumps into Flavia, aka Big Swiss, her nickname for the 28-year-old married Swiss woman who suffered a terrible beating that she regularly transcribes (and is infatuated with).

Their dog park meeting leads to a passionate relationship with both women trying to escape their own traumas. Greta’s mother committed suicide when she was 13 years old while Flavia’s attacker has just been released from prison. An off-kilter romance with lashings of psychological thriller, darker moments are balanced with Beagin’s witty writing, idiosyncratic characters and laugh-out-loud passages. Naturally, there’s already an HBO adaptation starring Jodie Comer in the works.

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‘Everything’s Fine’ by Cecilia Rabess, published by Simon & Schuster

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  • Best: Subversive romance novel
  • Genre: Romance
  • Release date: 8 June 2023

A subversive love story set against the political polarisation of America, Cecilia Rabess’s Everything’s Fine is a funny and punchy debut. Jess – Black and liberal – immediately dislikes her Ivy League college classmate Josh – white and conservative – but when they find themselves working in the same company after graduating, a cantankerous friendship turns into a passionate relationship.

Set against the backdrop of Trump’s presidential campaign, the novel explores if ideological opposites can be together – with its most heated moments taking place over arguments about Maga hats, wealth inequality and wokeism. Commenting perceptively on politics and economics, Rabess’s writing is just as enthralling on lust and sex. Concluding on the eve of the 2016 election, the novel questions whether love really can conquer all. We tore through it in two sittings.

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‘Crook Manifesto’ by Colson Whitehead, published by Fleet

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  • Best: Best crime novel
  • Genre: Crime, historical
  • Release date: 18 July 2023

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Colson Whitehead is back with the second instalment to his New York crime trilogy. First introduced in 2021’s Harlem Shuffle, furniture salesman and ex-fence Ray Carney returns to the criminal underbelly of the city in Crook Manifesto, in a bid to secure Jackson 5 tickets (which were like gold dust in 1971) for his daughter.

Jumping through the years up to 1976, Whitehead casts a satirical eye on New York during the tumultuous decade, touching on everything from police corruption and the Black Liberation Army to Blaxploitation. Blending family drama with history and culture, the sequel has the feel of a Quentin Tarantino movie and we were hooked.

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‘Romantic Comedy' by Curtis Sittenfeld, published by Doubleday

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  • Best: Rom-com
  • Genre: Romantic comedy
  • Release date: 6 April 2023

Having previously given voice to President’s wives in the acclaimed American Wife and Rodham, Curtis Sittenfeld has set her sights on the comedy world in her latest novel – aptly named Romantic Comedy. Protagonist Sally is a successful writer at a Saturday Night Live-inspired sketch show, and has, thus far, been unlucky in love. When she meets pop idol Noah Brewster on the show in 2018, she develops a school-girl crush that challenges her cynicism about love.

Picking up the story two years later, in 2020, during the pandemic, the two reconnect over email (this section is stellar) and meet up in LA.

Sittenfeld explores the world of celebrity, modern dating, lockdown and Covid-19 with wit, humour and often profundity. A light-hearted page-turner that’s funny, romantic and heartwarming.

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‘Ordinary Human Failings’ by Megan Nolan, published by Vintage

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  • Best: Best family drama
  • Genre: Crime
  • Release date: 13 July 2023

Megan Nolan’s Acts of Desperation was one of our favourite reads last year and we loved the writer’s second novel just as much. A unique take on the crime genre, Ordinary Human Failings marks a dramatic departure from the tone and plot in Nolan’s debut. Set in the 1990s in London, tabloid journalist Tom Hargreaves believes he’s stumbled upon a career-making scoop when a child is murdered on a housing estate.

As fingers start pointing towards a family of Irish immigrants, the Greens family, Tom hunkers down with them to drive into their history. At the centre of the family is Carmel, a beautiful yet mysterious young mother, who is forced to reckon with how her 10-year-old daughter is implicated in a murder investigation. Tom’s probing soon reveals the regrets, secrets and silences that have trapped the Greens for decades. Intriguing and vast in scope, it’s an old-fashioned page-turner.

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‘The Happy Couple’ by Naoise Dolan, published by Orion Publishing

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  • Best: Anti-romance novel
  • Genre: Comedy/satire
  • Release date: 25 May 2023

Naoise Dolan’s follow-up to 2020’s Exciting Times, this book is infused with the same biting social commentary and humour. A satirical spin on the marriage genre, it follows late-20-somethings Luke and Celine – both of whom think the other is out of love with them – on the cusp of their wedding day. Whether they’ll make it to the end of the aisle or not forms the tension of the novel.

Switching perspectives between their nearest and dearest, from best man Archie (Luke’s ex and sometimes-lover) to Celine’s sister (suspicious of Luke’s frequent disappearances), Dolan explores the anxieties of modern love. A wedding novel permeated by emotional turmoil rather than romance, its self-aware characters and comedic-timing cement Dolan as one of the sharpest writers around.

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‘Penance’ by Eliza Clark, published by Faber & Faber

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  • Best: Fictional non-fiction book
  • Genre: Crime
  • Release date: 6 July 2023

A fictional story told in the manner of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Eliza Clark’s Penance delves into the grisly torture and murder of 16-year-old Joan Wilson on the eve of the Brexit referendum in the seaside town of Crow. Three years after the murder, obsession with true crime is at an all-time high and an American podcast draws awareness to the case.

Ex-tabloid hack Alec Z Carelli sets out to write the “definitive account” of the murder – which was committed by three school girls – through eyewitness accounts, interviews and correspondence. Living in the town, exploring its history and its people, Carelli recounts the lives of the teenage murderers and the sinister world of online true-crime fandoms. As well as questioning Carelli’s morality in exploiting a horrific murder for his own career, Clark questions society’s preoccupation with gruesome true crime. Unnerving, superbly written and engrossing, the ending is pitch perfect.

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‘The Only One Left’ by Riley Sager, published by Hodder & Stoughton

The Only One Left by Riley Sager best new books 2023
  • Best: Gothic thriller
  • Genre: Crime, mystery
  • Release date: 4 July 2023

In 1929, three members of the Hope family were murdered in their clifftop mansion. Decades later, the book’s protagonist Kit McDeere takes on a job caring for Lenora Hope who has been in the house ever since and is the only remaining member of the Hope family. She also happens to be the one accused of carrying out the murders.

This book is breathtakingly twisty and while the mystery unravels, the claustrophobia becomes almost unbearable as the Hope’s End mansion itself begins succumbing to the sea and crumbling like the cliffs. We found ourselves literally gasping out loud as secrets were revealed. The Only One Left is a Gothic thriller, with horror elements and is perfect for cosying up with as autumn turns to winter.

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‘My Husband’ by Maud Ventura, published by Hutchinson Heinemann

My Husband by Maud Ventura best new books 2023
  • Best: Domestic thriller
  • Genre: Domestic noir, thriller
  • Release date: 27 July 2023

Obsessed with her husband, the main character of this dark domestic drama spends her days over-analysing her husband’s words, agonising over perceived slights and fantasising about imagined scenarios that send her swirling into flights of jealousy and passion. Her deep obsession eclipses everything else in her life including her relationship with her children, her work and her friendships.

Her roller-coaster of emotions and unhinged antics are fascinating to follow and we found ourselves devouring this darkly humorous work in less than two days. This fresh and easy-to-read book is translated from French by Emma Ramadan.

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‘Kala’ by Colin Walsh, published by Atlantic Books

Kala by Colin Walsh
  • Best: Coming of age thriller
  • Genre: Drama, crime
  • Release date: 6 July 2023

A group of six friends living in a small Irish seaside town are inseparable until one day, Kala goes missing. Fifteen years later, three of the friends are back in Kinlough and human remains are found in the woods nearby, bringing the past screaming back.

Jumping between the time when the group was in secondary school and the present day, the mystery slowly unravels as we explore the heavy family traumas and broken friendships from the past. A complicated small-town community is the claustrophobic backdrop to the story which creates a refreshing mixture of family drama and crime thriller.

The story is told from the point of view of three of Kala’s friends who come back together and delve into the past to try and make sense of Kala’s death. There’s the loyal Mush who has always been in Kinlough, working in his mother’s cafe, hiding his mysterious facial scars from the world. Helen is the hard-headed former best friend of Kala who is now a journalist and is in town for her father’s impending wedding. And Joe, who is now a world-famous musician, has a hometown residency in a local bar, and is trying to reconnect to his old friends.

The use of three distinct narrative voices is well executed with clues cleverly revealed via the three protagonists and concludes with a major twist that you won’t see coming.

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‘The Guest’ by Emma Cline, published by Vintage Publishing

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  • Best: Stylish novel
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Release date: 18 May 2013

A follow-up to the critically acclaimed The Girls, Emma Cline’s The Guest follows 22-year-old escort Alex as she drifts from pool to beach during a chaotic week in sun-drenched Long Island. Cast out by the older man she was staying with, instead of returning to the city, she stays on the island and adapts to survive – believing they can be romantically reunited five days later at his Labor Day party.

In each encounter with individuals, groups at parties or old acquaintances, she leaves disaster in her wake. Though the story is a simple premise, each page is loaded with tension and risk, thanks to Cline’s stylistic writing. The poetic form and metaphorical use of water (swimming is survival) adds to the novel’s hazy feel. The Guest is also a deft exploration of social mobility, as Alex navigates the class system of Long Island.

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The verdict: Best novels to read 2024

Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting is storytelling at its best. Moving, witty and funny, the fast-paced tome will keep you gripped until the very last page. Zeitgeist-y and engrossing, Rebecca K Kuang’s Yellowface is the perfect literary thriller for cosying up with this autumn, while the topical and thought-provokingThe List by Yomi Adegoke deserves the hype.

For a funny yet wise novel, pick up Dolly Alderton’s Good Material, while historical tome In Memoriam by Alice Winn will linger long in your mind, thanks to its emotional heft.

Discover more great authors and books you’ll love in our fiction review section

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