13 great new books to read right now: the contemporary fiction to be excited about

Here are all the brand-new books to rip through as you stay home

From Hawaiian mythology to co-working thrillers and cults in drought-stricken California, the latest book releases open doors to a range of worlds
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Many of us are at home 24/7 right now, and while life can still be busy, you're likely finding yourself with a little more time to read a book. It's an excellent way to both engage and relax the mind.

As TV releases are postponed due to movement restrictions (Succession season three was supposed to be in production right now, but isn't), book releases may be one of the things less affected by the pandemic.

Yes, picking up the latest hard copy might not be possible, but authors can write solo, and being able to download a book to your Kindle or Audible account is a supply chain that's unlikely to be affected.

So, without further ado, here are 13 books worth reading ...

1. 'The Herd' by Andrea Bartz

Perfect for: those who like their page-turning thrillers to have a contemporary pop-culture gloss 

This March release is a gripping thriller in which the founder of an elite women-only co-working space in New York vanishes without a trace. As the book jacket writes, the tale confronts "just how dangerous it can be when women’s perfect veneers start to crack, crumble, and then fall away altogether".

It's armchair escapism, but of the slick and smart variety.

2. 'Afterlife' by Julia Alvarez

Perfect for: people who like their fiction as topical as it is poetic

Known for In the Time of Butterflies, this is Alvarez's first adult novel for 15 years. Afterlife tells the tale of Antonia Vega, a retired English professor dealing with the death of her husband – and then her sister disappears and an undocumented and pregnant teenager lands on her doorstep.

The novel deals with grief, sisterhood, art and politics, and is being praised for its sharp eye and prose.

3. 'Chosen Ones' by Veronica Roth 

Perfect for: Hunger Games and Divergent fans who have grown up (at least a little)

You know the Divergent young adult book series? Well, this is the first adult novel by its author, Roth. You can expect plenty of twists and turns as she tells the tale of a group of people called the Chosen Ones.

They were five ordinary teenagers who were 'chosen' to defeat the Dark One, an entity that terrorised Earth. Interestingly, this story picks up 10 years after his defeat, when the teenagers have turned into adults and are dealing with PTSD, secrets and some fresh nefarious forces. The book is read by actress Dakota Fanning in its Audible version.

4. 'Conjure Women' by Afia Atakora

Perfect for: those who like their fiction hopeful and heartbreaking in equal measure

This striking debut takes you to America's South, to a plantation: the story jumps back and forth, pre- and post-Civil War.

It's being lauded as an epic, and sweeps through the stories of three women: Miss May Belle, a healing woman; her observant daughter, Rue; and their master’s daughter, Varina.

5. 'The Beauty of Your Face' by Sahar Mustafah

Perfect for: those who loved Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire

Dubbed a book that "reaches its hands straight into the fire", this novel is a debut from Palestinian-American author Mustafah.

It revolves around Afaf Rahman, a principal of a Muslim girls' school in Chicago whose world is upended when an alt-right terrorist shooter attacks the school. We are taken back and forth from the terror at the school, to Rahman's memories of growing up as an immigrant in the US.

6. 'Sin Eater' by Megan Campisi

Perfect for: those who like their historical fiction dripping in darkness

This odd but compelling feminist reckoning of a tale is set in 16th-century England and is about a 14-year-old who is caught stealing bread. Her punishment? To become a Sin Eater.

This means she must eat ritual foods as a symbol for taking on the sins of the dying. It's horrific and creepy in parts, and triumphant and funny in others.

7. 'The City We Became' by N K Jemisin

Perfect for: people who love New York City as well as fantasy fiction

This is a fantasy novel, but set in a fantastically real city, New York. The book follows five people as they become embodiments of the city's five boroughs. But, an ancient threat is trying to attack the city, and therefore them. The good news is they've now got superpowers.

Sounds weird, because it is: but it's also being billed as delightfully readable, with fantastic characters.

8. 'Valentine' by Elizabeth Wetmore

Perfect for: those who wish there were more female voices in dusty American dramas such as True Detective 

Narrated by five incredibly gritty female characters, this story details the fall-out after a cowboy viciously attacks a Mexican teenager in the town of Odessa, Texas.

As Elizabeth Gilbert writes of the book: "Westmore has ripped the brutal, epic landscape of West Texas out of the hands of men, and has handed the stories over (finally!) to the girls and women who have always suffered, survived, and made their mark in such a hostile world."

9. 'Deacon King Kong' by James McBride

Perfect for: those who wished Peaky Blinders was funnier

A young drug lord is shot in 1960s Brooklyn: the drunk deacon who committed the crime then has to evade police.

"It's supposed to make people smile," McBride says of his work.

It's a comedic crime caper about one community, but definitely touches upon wider issues of class and race.

10. 'The Mountains Sing' by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Perfect for: those who love the kind of historical epics that require family trees  

This novel charts Vietnam's painful 20th-century history: it has sweeping scale but also hones in on intimate moments.

The story of a country is told through the lives of five generations of one Vietnamese family. Que Mai is a celebrated Vietnamese poet, and this is the first of her books to have been translated into English.

11. 'God Shot' by Chelsea Bieker

Perfect for: fans of Emma Cline's The Girls

A cult leader who performs sticky baptisms with soda and a coming-of-age story in drought-stricken Peaches, California.This book promises to be fascinating and evocative: we predict it'll get an Oprah- or Reese Witherspoon-approved sticker imminently.

12. 'Sharks in the Time of Saviours' by Kawai Strong Washburn 

The story of a boy who is saved by a shark and then has to grow up in poverty with the pressure of being considered 'blessed', this is a fascinating insight into Polynesian and Hawaiian mythology and culture.

Novels so often take us to Victorian England, Cairo's streets or America's South, but this is a rare glimpse into Hawaiian life, beyond the tourism.

13. 'The Subtweet' by Vivek Shraya

Perfect for: those fascinated by the rise and fall of internet fame

This book is about the friendship of two musicians, and how their relationship implodes via one single tweet.

Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara fame wrote of the book: "I can’t think of anything I’ve read that has captured Twitter culture so well."