First Novels for Spring/Summer 2012: 80 Best Bets

For decades, LJ has listed forthcoming first novels for the spring/summer and fall/winter seasons. Now, we’re doing something different. With so many books available, we want to give readers some direction with this annotated list of 80 especially promising debuts appearing February 1‚ August 31, 2012. We’ve drawn on publisher excitement, the author’s previous nonfiction or short fiction, and prepub media coverage or reviews.


Auslander, Shalom. Hope: A Tragedy. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2012. ISBN 9781594488382. $26.95.

Nebbish Solomon Kugel finds a cranky Anne Frank still alive in his attic and finally declares, Six million he kills, and this one gets away. Poisonously funny (Entertainment Weekly).

Ausubel, Ramona. No One Is Here Except All of Us. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2012. ISBN 9781594487941. $26.95.

A Jewish village in 1939 Romania decides to step out of time; ambitious (New York Times) and a must-read (Harper’s Bazaar).

Barry, Kevin. City of Bohane. Graywolf. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9781555976088. $25.

Given Barry’s reputation for audacious brilliance, the virtuosic writing in this much-tweeted, much-blogged-about futuristic Irish dystopia is no surprise. (LJ 11/1/11)

Brothers, Caroline. Hinterland. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9781608196784. pap. $15.

Inspired by the author’s front-page New York Times piece; a compelling and empathetic account of two Afghan orphans aiming for Britain. (LJ 12/11)

Dau, Stephen. The Book of Jonas. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2012. ISBN 9780399158452. $24.95.

Dau’s sobering and accomplished chronicle of an orphaned Muslim boy and an American soldier; selected for Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program as well as Powell’s Indispensables. (LJ 1/12)

DuBois, Jennifer. A Partial History of Lost Causes. Dial: Random. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9781400069774. $26.

Irina Ellison goes to Russia to meet chess champion‚ turned‚ Putin challenger Aleksandr Bezetov, to whom her father once wrote. An engrossing read with glowing early reviews. (LJ 1/12)

Dybek, Nick. When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2012. ISBN 9781594488092. $26.95.

Featured in Granta, Hopwood Award winner Dybek’s book is a captivating coming-of-age novel about a community sustained by king crab fishing. (LJ 12/11)

Fernando, Roshi. Homesick. Knopf. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780307958105. $24.95.

Winner of the UK’s 2009 Impress Prize for New Writers, this novel follows a London-based Sri Lankan family from the 1980s to the present. A second novel has been signed.

Flanery, Patrick. Absolution. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2012. ISBN 9781594488177. $26.95.

This remarkably assured, atmospheric novel investigates South Africa’s past via an interview between a journalist and a distinguished novelist. (LJ 2/15/12)

Fountain, Ben. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2012. ISBN 9780060885595. $25.99.

Lots of underground anticipation for this first novel from PEN/Hemingway winner Fountain, helped by this movie pitch: A Catch-22 for our time.

Greenfeld, Karl Taro. Triburia. Harper: HarperCollins. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780062132390. $25.99.

Upper-class crash, as told by a group of fathers whose children attend an exclusive private school; from a PEN/O. Henry Prize winner whose short fiction has appeared everywhere.

Hicks, Dylan. Boarded Windows. Coffee House, dist. by Consortium. May 2012. ISBN 9781566892971. pap. $16.

From songwriter/musician Hicks: the story of drug-dealing country musician Wade Salem, father figure to the novel’s confused young narrator. Free download of the novel’s soundtrack.

Hill, Gregory. East of Denver. Dutton. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780525952794. $25.95.

In this Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winner, Stacey Shakespeare Williams hatches a plot to rob the local bank. Hill works at the University of Denver library.

Ivey, Eowyn. The Snow Child. Reagan Arthur Bks: Little, Brown. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780316175678. $24.99.

Set in 1920s Alaska, this beautifully executed retelling of a beloved Russian fairy tale is one of the season’s hot debuts. A Discover Great New Writers and Indie Next pick. (LJ 12/11)

Joinson, Suzanne. A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Jun. 2012.
ISBN 9781608198115. $26.

Intertwined stories of missionary sisters in 1923 Kashgar and a young woman in modern London. The publisher called it a perfect book after purchasing in a fierce auction; starred LJ review. (LJ 2/1/12)

Joyce, Rachel. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Random. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780812993295. $25.

Recently retired Harold Fry walks 600 miles to visit a friend in hospice. Former Royal Shakespeare Company actress Joyce has written award-winning plays for the BBC.

Karunatilaka, Shehan. The Legend of Pradeep Mathew. Graywolf. ISBN 9781555976118. pap. $16.

Ailing sportswriter W.G. Karunasena searches for legendary cricket bowler Pradeep Mathew. A DSC and Gratiaen prize winner; brilliant (The Times, UK).

Korkeakivi, Anne. An Unexpected Guest. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9780316196772. $24.99.

The American wife of the British minister in Paris has a dark secret, unfolded in this engaging novel by Hawthornden Fellow Korkeakivi. (LJ 2/1/12)

Lane, Harriet. Alys, Always. Scribner. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9781451673166. $24.

Frances Thorpe comforts a woman who lies dying when her car crashes, then insinuates herself into the woman’s family. Beautifully crafted‚Ķsuspenseful. (LJ 3/1/12)

McAfee, Annalena. The Spoiler. Knopf. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9780307957344. $25.95.

Two female journalists at odds in late 1990s London. McAfee has been an Orange Prize judge and founded the Guardian‘s literary supplement.

Miller, Jennifer. The Year of the Gadfly. Houghton Harcourt. May 2012. ISBN 9780547548593. $24.

A budding reporter at an elite boarding school uncovers some dark secrets. A coming-of-age page-turner. (LJ 3/1/12)

O’Hara, Maryanne. Cascade. Viking. Aug. 2012. ISBN 9780670026029. $25.95.

From O’Hara, a Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction finalist and former Ploughshares associate editor: a promising young artist wants out of 1930s Cascade, MA, and her stifling marriage.

Warren, Dianne. Juliet in August. Amy Einhorn: Penguin Group (USA). Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780399157998. $25.95.

Distinguished playwright Warren’s tale of Juliet, Saskatchewan, won Canada’s highly regarded Governor General’s Award.

Wolf, T.M. Sound. Faber & Faber. May 2012. ISBN 9780865478503. pap. $17.

A man returns home to the Jersey shore, but it’s not what you’d think; the dialog in this ambitious debut by a writer to watch is written on musical staves. (LJ 3/15/12)

Pop Fiction

Anderson, Howard. Albert of Adelaide. Twelve: Hachette. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9781455509621. $24.95.

Albert the platypus escapes from Australia’s Adelaide Zoo. Watership Down Down Under from a novelist debuting at 66.

Cash, Wiley. A Land More Kind Than Home. Morrow. May 2012. ISBN 9780062088147. $24.99.

Two brothers, one autistic, grow up among snake-handling religious fanatics in small-town North Carolina. This highly recommended debut has been buzzing since New Year’s. (LJ 3/1/12).

Franklin-Willis, Amy. The Lost Saints of Tennessee. Atlantic Monthly. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780802120052. $25.

The fracturing of his working-class Southern family sends 42-year-old Zeke Cooper on a mission. An Indie Next pick; starred LJ review. (LJ 11/1/11)

Gage, Eleni N. Other Waters. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780312658519. $25.99.

Psychiatry resident Maya returns to India after her grandmother’s death and deals, at first skeptically, with a family curse. A splendid fiction debut. (LJ 2/1/12)

Gideon, Melanie. Wife 22. Ballantine. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9780345527950. $26.

Restless Alice Buckle reassesses her life when asked to complete a survey on marital happiness. A Frankfurt star, with rights sold to 19 countries and a film option to boot.

Goldstein, Meredith. The Singles. Plume: Penguin Group (USA). May 2012. ISBN 9780452298057. pap. $15.

A few single women rebel when invited to bring a guest to a wedding. Goldstein’s Boston Globe column, Love Letters, receives nearly one million page views monthly; film rights sold.

Gupta, Sanjay, M.D. Monday Mornings. Grand Central. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9780446583855. $24.99.

A CNN medical reporter, TV host, and practicing neuro surgeon, Gupta has written a first novel that anyone who enjoys medical fiction should like. (LJ 2/15/12)

Hall, Emylia. The Book of Summers. Mira: Harlequin. May 2012. ISBN 9780778314110. pap. $14.95.

After her mother dies, Beth receives a scrapbook capturing the summers she spent in her mother’s native Hungary. The publisher’s top spring debut.

McAfee, Stephanie. Diary of a Mad Fat Girl. NAL: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780451236494. pap. $15.

A hit as a self-published ebook, expanded for print, this highly recommended work features the travails of Graciela Ace Jones of Bugtussle, MS. (LJ 12/11)

Netzer, Lydia. Shine Shine Shine. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9781250007070. $24.95.

A perfect wife hides her baldness and a husband prepares to colonize the moon. This offbeat story of offbeat love is much loved in-house.

Walker, Karen Thompson. The Age of Miracles. Random. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9780812992977. $26.

The effects on the world‚ and preteenager Julia‚ when the earth’s rotation slows. Exceptional buzz; Random’s Kate Medina declared, I could not sleep, so excited was I at discovering a new writer to love.

Williams, Beatriz. Overseas. Putnam. May 2012. ISBN 9780399157646. $25.95.

This story of parallel couples in 1917 France and 2007 New York won two Romance Writers of America contests before it was even bought by the publisher.

Wilson, G. Willow. Alif the Unseen. Grove. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780802120205. $25.

The award-winning graphics novel author, also hailed for a memoir, offers a much-anticipated fiction debut blending political intrigue, cyberfantasy, and The Arabian Nights.

Woodman, Betsy. Jana Bibi’s Excellent Fortunes. Holt. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780805093490. pap. $15.

Scotswoman Janet Laird inherits her grandfather’s house in India. Great in-house excitement.

Wright, Tom. What Dies in Summer. Norton. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9780393064025. $25.95.

A coming-of-age Southern gothic about a boy, gifted with the Sight, who stumbles upon the body of a raped and murdered girl. Lots of foreign sales; stunning blurbs.


Adams, Alex. White Horse. Emily Bestler Bks: Atria. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9781451642995. $19.99.

A young woman searches through a post apocalyptic world for her lover. Lots of in-house push for this first in a thrill-ogy.

Alger, Cristina. The Darlings. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780670023271. $26.95.

A week of money misfortunes for the wealthy Darlings; a financial thriller.

Basnight, Gray. The Cop with the Pink Pistol. Ransom Note. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9780977378784. pap. $14.95.

Robbery brings together soap actor Connor Anderson and NYPD detective Donna Prima in this delicious Mystery Debut of the Month. (LJ 1/12)

Bohman, Therese. Drowned. Other. May 2012. ISBN 9781590515242. pap. $14.95.

In this literary thriller, a young woman bends to her alluring yet violent brother-in-law. Raves in Sweden; [this] may be the debut of the year (Arbetarbladet).

Gray, Amalia. Threats. Farrar. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780374533076. pap. $14.

David finds clues about his wife’s death‚ and intensifying threats‚ in this debut from a winner of the Ronald Sukenick/American Book Review Innovative Fiction Prize.

Grecian, Alex. The Yard. Putnam. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9780399149542. $26.95.

A thriller set in 1889 London by the author of the acclaimed graphic novel series Proof.

Haynes, Elizabeth. Into the Darkest Corner. Harper: HarperCollins. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780062197252. $25.99.

A woman slowly rebuilding her life after escaping from a violent boyfriend is about to be traumatized again. A UK Amazon Book of the Year.

John, David. Flight from Berlin. Harper: HarperCollins. Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780062091567. $24.99.

Espionage at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, with British journalist Richard Denham and American swimmer Eleanor Emerson caught in the web. Expect a big pitch.

Kazinski, A.J. The Last Good Man. Scribner. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9781451640755. $26.99.

The Talmud claims that 36 righteous people protect the rest of us‚ and by Det. Niels Bentzon’s reckoning, 34 have been killed. Named 2011’s Best First Novel by the Danish Academy of Crime Fiction; starred LJ review. (LJ 2/1/12)

Kondor, Vilmos. Budapest Noir. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780061859397. pap. $14.99.

A newspaper reporter investigates the murder of a beautiful Jewish woman in 1936 Budapest. Deft writing, plausible scenarios, vivid sense of place, and noir sensibility. (LJ 2/15/12)

Pavone, Chris. The Expats. Crown. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9780307956354. $26.

Former CIA agent Kate is enjoying the expat life in Luxembourg until she gets suspicious of some acquaintances. Brilliant, insanely clever, and delectably readable; a big debut. (LJ 1/12)

Peikoff, Kira. Living Proof. Tor. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780765329301. $24.

In 2027, when destroying an embryo is murder, researcher Arianna Drake gets investigated. See Peikoff at PLA’s Meet This Season’s Best in Debut Authors panel.

Quirk, Matthew. The 500. Reagan Arthur Bks: Little, Brown. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9780316198622. $25.99.

Con artist‚ turned‚ Harvard Law grad Mike Ford tangles with the power elite in Washington, DC. Lots of buzz; film rights sold quickly to 20th Century Fox.

Steel, Jon. The Watchers. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2012. ISBN 9780399158742. $26.95.

Pivoting around France’s Lausanne Cathedral, this mystical noir-thriller got significant UK press and will be backed by a six-figure publicity campaign.

Tabor, James M. The Deep Zone. Ballantine. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9780345530615. $26.

Sabotage dogs scientist Hallie Leonard’s team, which is plumbing the world’s deepest cave to find a cure for a pandemic. From the host/writer of PBS’s The Great Outdoors.

Vincent, Norah. Thy Neighbor. Viking. Aug. 2012. ISBN 9780670023745. $25.95.

Still living at home 13 years after his parents’ violent deaths, middle-aged Nick Walsh both spies and is spied upon. From a best-selling nonfiction author.

Wallentin, Jan. Strindberg’s Star. Viking. May 2012. ISBN 9780670023578. $28.95.

Norse mythology and Nazis, arctic exploration and ankhs inform a contemporary murder story in this international best seller, sold to 21 countries. Yes, a film is coming.

Zimmerman, Jean. The Orphanmaster. Viking. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9780670023646. $27.95.

A Dutch woman and a British spy investigate when orphans disappear in 1660s New Amsterdam; 100,000-copy first printing.


Binet, Laurent. HHhH. Farrar. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9780374169916. $26.

Binet’s Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman winner re-creates the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague, by two Czech partisans. Film talks .

Brown, Stacia M. Accidents of Providence. Houghton Harcourt. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780547490809. $25.

When glove-maker’s assistant Rachel Lockyer is seen burying an infant in Cromwellian England, she’s charged with murder. The best kind of historical fiction. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 2/3/12)

Funder, Anna. All That I Am. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780062077561. $25.99.

Morally fervent fiction, inspired by the story of a German-Jewish activist during World War II; from the author of Samuel Johnson Prize winner Stasiland. (LJ 1/12)

George, Alex. A Good American. Amy Einhorn: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780399157592. $25.95.

America’s immigration story via one German American family‚ and America’s music. This Discover Great New Writers and Indie Next pick is memorable. (LJ 12/11)

Miller, Madeline. The Song of Achilles. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9780062060617. $25.99

Miller’s juicy reimagining of The Iliad has received both LJ and PW stars. Says Emma Donoghue: Mary Renault lives again!

Nicholson, Juliet. Abdication. Atria: S. & S. May 2012. ISBN 9781451658835. $25.

Vita Sackville-West’s granddaughter, the author of acclaimed nonfiction, revisits political/personal tensions in 1936 London as the king flaunts his affair with Wallis Simpson.

O’Melveny, Regina. The Book of Madness and Cures. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9780316195836. $25.99.

The only woman practicing medicine in 16th-century Venice, Gabriella Mondini must hunt for her vanished father. Superb. (LJ 3/1/12).

Rogan, Charlotte. The Lifeboat. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9780316185905. $24.99.

In 1914, after an ocean liner sinks and passengers scrambler to survive, just-married, just-widowed Grace is on trial for her life. Big media coverage in the offing.

Shomer, Enid. The Twelve Rooms of the Nile. S. & S. Aug. 2012. ISBN 9781451642964. $26.

Iowa Fiction Prize winner Shomer envisions a relationship between Florence Nightingale and Gustave Flaubert, who actually traveled the Nile at the same time.

Stedman, ML. The Light Between Oceans. Scribner. Aug. 2012. ISBN 9781451681734. $25.

Off the coast of Australia, a lighthouse keeper and his wife adopt a baby that arrives by boat. Big publisher push.

Tan, Sandi. The Black Isle. Grand Central. Aug. 2012. ISBN 9780446563925. $24.99.

Filmmaker Tan should add cinematic scope to a story set in the Indonesian archipelago pre‚ World War II and starring Chinese immigrant Cassandra, who sees ghosts.

Ward, Katie. Girl Reading. Atria: S. & S. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9781451655902. $26.

This rich and compelling work for Chevalier/Vreeland fans includes seven linked stories each focusing on a painting of a girl reading. (LJ 2/1/12)


Ahmed, Saladin. Throne of the Crescent Moon. DAW, dist. by Penguin. (Crescent Moon Kingdoms, Bk. 1). Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780756407117. pap. $24.95.

From a Nebula and Campbell award finalist for short fiction: the first in a trilogy starring ghul (ghoul) hunter Doctor Adoulla Makhslood. An SF Debut of the Month. (LJ 1/12)

Barron, Laird. The Croning. Night Shade. May 2012. ISBN 9781597802307. $24.99.

In this debut from the Shirley Jackson Award‚ winning author of two story collections, geologist Donald Miller stumbles upon a dark secret along the world’s edge.

Coates, Deborah. Wide Open. Tor. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9780765328984. $24.99.

On leave to attend sister Dell’s funeral, Sgt. Hallie Michaels encounters Dell’s ghost and starts investigating her death. Excellent. (LJ 3/1/12)

Cooper, Elspeth. Songs of the Earth. Tor. (Wild Hunt, Bk. 1). Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780765331656. $24.99.

Condemned to death for heresy, Gair is protected by the Guardians of the Veil. A series with the potential to rival George R.R. Martin’s ‚ÄòA Song of Ice and Fire’‚Äâ; SF Debut of the Month. (LJ 2/15/12)

Dyachenko, Sergey & Marina Dyachenko. The Scar. Tor. Feb. 2012. ISBN 9780765329936. $24.99.

An imperious guard is cursed after killing a defenseless student. Combines the somber beauty characteristic of Russian literature with the allegoric power of a traditional folk tale. (LJ 1/12)

Johnson, Suzanne. Royal Street. Tor. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9780765327796. pap. $14.99.

A junior wizard sentinel in New Orleans gets busy post-Katrina, as the Otherworld starts encroaching. Award-winning magazine editor/writer Johnson lives in the Big Easy.

Kosmatka, Ted. The Games. Del Rey: Ballantine. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9780345526618. $25.

Brainy, bloodthirsty Felix is created to compete in a new Olympic sport featuring genetically engineered combatants. An action-packed SF Debut of the Month. (LJ 3/15/12)

Locke, Kate. God Save the Queen. Orbit: Hachette. (Immortal Empire, Bk. 1). Jul. 2012. ISBN 9780316196123. $16.99.

Billed as the steampunk debut of the year, this title opens in 2012 with an undead Queen Victoria still ruling. Of course, conspiracy is brewing.


Callihan, Kristen. Firelight. Forever: Grand Central. (Dark London, Bk. 1). Feb. 2012. ISBN 9781455508594. pap. $5.99.

Alas, Miranda Ellis’s lordly new husband does have enemies. Beauty and the Beast meets Phantom of the Opera, said the starred LJ review. (LJ 2/15/12)

Devlyn, Tracey. A Lady’s Revenge. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9781402258220. pap. $6.99.

In this dark Regency, a British spy falls for the man who helped imprison her. Devlyn cofounded the Romance University blog.

Fresina, Jayne. The Most Improper Sophie Valentine. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Jun. 2012. ISBN 9781402265976. pap. $6.99.

The heroine of this lighthearted Regency gets an unusual response to her ad for a husband.

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.