New year, new genre: reading recommendations to ease you out of your comfort zone

Curated suggestions for genre devotees.

Let's start with a disclaimer: there is nothing wrong with being a genre aficionado. You are not in a 'reading rut', you're in your biblio-haven and you'll find no quarrel here. However, if you are looking to stretch your literary legs in the new year, we're ready to help you find something that you'll genuinely want to try. This list of recommendations is designed to shift your reading in a different direction based on what you already like, expanding on your comfort zone rather than completely abandoning it, to make sure you find something you really enjoy.

If you mainly read science fiction, try. . .

Sea of Tranquility

by Emily St. John Mandel

Book cover for Sea of Tranquility

Broaden your sci-fi horizons with this fantastic piece of literary fiction which shares a similar space (pun partially intended).

Emily St. John Mandel reached new levels of success in 2020 when her 2014 pandemic-set dystopia Station Eleven became a lockdown favourite. Sea of Tranquility sees her move even further into science fiction. Lives separated by time and space have collided, and an exiled Englishman, a writer trapped far from home, and a girl destined to die too young, have each glimpsed a world that is not their own. Travelling through the centuries, between colonies on the moon and an ever-changing Earth, together their lives will solve a mystery that will make you question everything you thought you knew to be true.

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Not Alone is ecologist Sarah K Jackson’s debut novel, set in a world devastated by a toxic storm. Deep Wheel Orcadia has both feet firmly in science fiction (it won the 2022 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction Book of the Year), but pushes the boundaries of the genre with its form: a verse-novel written in the Orkney dialect (with parallel English translation). Or you could turn to the classics: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is the mother of all science fiction (and, coincidentally, a book about the potential expendability of mothers).


If fantasy's your bag, try. . .

Leech

by Hiron Ennes

Book cover for Leech

If Poe wrote about parasites. . . Add a bit of Gothic science fiction into your reading mix with this atmospheric dystopian horror. In an isolated, icebound community, a doctor kills himself. The replacement, sent by the Interprovincial Medical Institute, discovers a parasite living in the corpse. But how did it survive, when the doctor was already possessed? And who exactly are the Interprovincial Medical Institute?

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Incorporate a little dark academia with The Atlas Six: unbelievably attractive magicians fight for a place in the Alexandrian Society, switching loyalties and lust objects as they go. Or take a look at singer-songwriter PJ Harvey’s narrative poem Orlam, which draws on the rituals, children’s songs, chants and superstitions of the rural West Country of England. 


Revel in romance? Try. . .

Alone With You in the Ether

by Olivie Blake

Book cover for Alone With You in the Ether

For a deeply involving love story where the happy-ever-after feels less than guaranteed, try Alone With You in the Ether.

Obsessive, eccentric personalities Aldo and Charlotte struggle to be without each other from the moment they meet, but they’re struggling in other ways too. Aldo is a doctoral student who manages his destructive thoughts with compulsive calculations about time travel. Charlotte is a bipolar counterfeit artist undergoing court-ordered psychotherapy. And whilst they’re deeply in love, their reliance on each other is increasingly troubling.

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If you fancy some actual magic alongside your spellbinding romance, take a look at our favourite romantic fantasy books. Many classics are romances at heart. You can’t go wrong with Pride and Prejudice or the wonderful I Capture the Castle. Or for something a little more caustic and a lot more unconventional, try Raven Leilani's Luster.


If you're crazy about crime and thriller, try. . .

Promise Boys

by Nick Brooks

Book cover for Promise Boys

Further proof that YA fiction should not be dismissed by Older Adults, Promise Boys is an exquisitely taut thriller about three teen boys of colour who must investigate their principal’s murder to clear their own names. This a brilliant, tense mystery which shines a glaring light on how the system too often condemns Black and Latinx teen boys to failure before they’ve even had a chance at success, and a great introduction to a whole new arena of publishing.

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Try some thrilling non-fiction with forensic search and rescue expert Peter Faulding in What Lies Beneath or investigative journalist Patrick Raddon Keefe in The Snakehead, or try some literary fiction: Now I Am Here by Chidi Ebere is an unflinching exploration of how good people can do terrible things. The Other Side of Night is by an established thriller writer and features a disgraced ex-detective and three unexplained deaths. To articulate precisely why it will stretch crime and thriller fans out of their comfort zone would be to spoil the dizzying mystery at the heart of the book, so please just take my word for it (and read it, immediately).


Head stuck in historical fiction? Try. . .

Dream Town

by David Baldacci

Book cover for Dream Town

Let PI and World War Two veteran Aloysius Archer take you around 1950s LA in this heady combination of a glittering historical setting and the edge-of-your-seat thriller writing David Baldacci is famous for. It is New Year’s Eve and PI Aloysius Archer is dining with his friend and rising Hollywood actress Liberty Callahan when they’re approached by Eleanor Lamb, a screenwriter who wants to hire him, as she suspects someone is trying to kill her. . .

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Discover the extraordinary true story of how the Endurance, Sir Ernest Shackleton's ship, was found in the most hostile sea on Earth in The Ship Beneath the Ice. Or try a new type of reading experience: based on Antonio Iturbe’s novel of the same name, The Librarian of Auschwitz is a powerful introduction to graphic novels.



If you love literary fiction, try. . .

Becky

by Sarah May

Book cover for Becky

If you’d like to make your lit fic more riotous in 2023, try Becky: Vanity Fair meets Succession in nineties tabloid-era London. Scoop after scoop, Becky's downfall looms as she becomes more and more involved in every scandal her newspaper publishes and cares less and less about the lives she ruins in the process. A sharply intelligent and funny interrogation of how far society has really come since Thackeray's nineteenth-century Becky Sharp.

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Add some crime to your reading pile with Other Women (more of which below) or try out some narrative (and, in this case, poetic and creative) non-fiction with Milk.



Never deviate from non-fiction? Try. . .

Other Women

by Emma Flint

Book cover for Other Women

This is true crime meets literary fiction, based on a real case from the 1920s. It's the story of Beatrice, one of the thousands of nameless and invisible unmarried women trying to make lives for themselves after the First World War, and Kate, the wife of the man Beatrice has fallen in love with. When fantasy and obsession turns to murder, two women who should never have met are connected forever.

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The Lamplighters is inspired by the true story of three keepers who vanished from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore, while We Had to Remove This Post offers 'a glimpse of the fetid underbelly of the internet' (The Times).