Cool Debuts for Fall

This roundup of debut fiction includes both fall titles (through December 2013) and late summer titles that should not be missed, as evidenced by terrific reviews and special media coverage. Among them are Jason Mott’s much-buzzed The Returned, thrillers by J.J. Abrams and Valerie Plame, Anne Hillerman’s continuation of her father’s beloved series, and a first novel from Koren Zailckas, who made her name with the eye-popping and hugely best-selling memoir Smashed. Those aren’t the spotlighted titles, however, which instead include stunning breakout titles from writers whose names might not have resonated with you last spring but should certainly be resonating now.

Don’t Miss

Choo, Yangsze. The Ghost Bride. Morrow. Aug. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780062227324. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062227386.

Set in 1800s Malaya, this “delicate and thought-provoking” story of a young woman who encounters the supernatural after agreeing to a spirit marriage with a rich man’s dead son won exceptional attention as a Discover Great New Writers, Indie Next, and Oprah Book of the Week pick. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 8/2/13)

McFarlane, Fiona. The Night Guest. Faber & Faber. Oct. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780865477735. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374710644.

Winning ABA’s “Indies Introduce Debut Authors” and Amazon Fall Pick accolades, this story of an Australian widow who imagines a tiger roaming outside her door and contends with a troublesome social services worker “feels at once like a classic and a fresh, original tale of engrossing literary suspense.” (LJ 9/15/13)

Jackson, Mitchell S. The Residue Years. Bloomsbury USA. Aug. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781620400289. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781620400302.

Named an Editors’ Choice by the New York Times Book Review, which called it “as moving as it is unbearable…with a hard-won wisdom about the intersection of race and poverty in America,” this taut novel limns black urban struggle and decay by telling the story of recovering addict Grace and her drug-dealing son, Champ. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 9/13/13)

Loyd, Amy Grace. The Affairs of Others. Picador. Sept. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781250041296. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781250041302.

A young widow who owns a Brooklyn apartment building tentatively re-creates connection, with results that are “mesmerizing” (Entertainment Weekly, A-), “forceful” (O, the Oprah Magazine, lead title), “stunningly rendered” (Redbook, September book club pick), and fraught with “elements of Hitchcock” (Indie Next). (LJ 8/13)

Duffy, P.S. The Cartographer of No Man’s Land. Liveright: Norton. Oct. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780871403766. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780871403766.

A Discover pick boosted by ABA’s “Indies Introduce Debut Authors” promotion, this “astounding debut, very highly recommended,” achingly portrays the battlefields of World War I and heartbreak at home in the 65-year-old Duffy’s native Nova Scotia. (LJ 8/13)

Kent, Hannah. Burial Rites. Little, Brown. Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780316243919. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316243902.

Crowned with Library­Reads, Indie Next, and Discover Great New American Writers laurels, this study of Agnes Magnúsdóttir’s murder conviction in 1829 Iceland is a “compulsively readable novel…in the company of works by Hilary Mantel, Susan Vreeland, and Rose Tremain…[that] entertains while illuminating a significant but little-known true story.” (LJ 7/13)


Allen, Lisa Van. The Wishing Thread. Ballantine. Sept. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780345538550. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780345537829.

“Chick-lit cozy meets magical realism with inevitably warm and fuzzy results” (Booklist) in this story of the Stitchery Yarn Shop in Tarrytown, NY, willed by matriarch Mariah to her three young nieces.

Conley, Susan. Paris Was the Place. Knopf. Aug. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780307594075. $26.95.

In a “tenderhearted, earnest, and sincere” debut (PW) set in the beautifully detailed city of Paris, Willow “Willie” Pears finds love, reconnects with her brother, then risks losing every thing. An Indie Next pick. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 7/26/13)

Crawford, Lacy. Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy. Morrow. Sept. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780062240613. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062240705.

A Redbook Reads title by a former independent college admissions counselor who imagines a young tutor and her angst-ridden charges, this novel “nails the anxiety of a selection process gone crazy” (People).

Daly, Paula. Just What Kind of Mother Are You? Grove. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780802121622. $24.

“Thriller and mystery lovers alike will devour this book” about a mother who loses a friend’s daughter. One of PW’s Top Ten Thrillers of Fall 2013, with starred reviews from LJ and Booklist. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 8/16/13)

Filer, Nathan. Where the Moon Isn’t. St. Martin’s. Nov. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250026989. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250026996.

Schizophrenic Matthew Homes, a 19-year-old from Bristol, England, ruminates on his older brother’s disappearance while the family was on holiday ten years earlier. A “very assured debut” that won a starred LJ review. (LJ 9/15/13)

Finnigan, Judy. Eloise. Redhook: Hachette. Sept. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780316399548. pap. $16.

This contemporary gothic by the cohost of the UK’s Richard and Judy Book Club is both “a remarkably polished…page turner” and “a thoughtful meditation on grief, motherhood, family and friendship.” (LJ Xpress Reviews, 8/30/13)

Hornby, Gill. The Hive. Little Brown. Sept. 2013. 343p. ISBN 9780316234795. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316234764.

This “enjoyably acerbic social commentary on mean girls of all ages” comes from the well-connected Hornby, sister of Nick and wife of Robert Harris, who won a six-figure contract for this book after a hot auction. (LJ 8/13)

Mott, Jason. The Returned. Mira: Harlequin. Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780778315339. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781459236639.

Mott’s evocation of the dead returning to life won starred reviews from LJ (“masterly”), PW (“exceptional”), Booklist (“eloquent”), and Kirkus (“breathtaking”), plus a nod from Entertainment Weekly (“white-hot”) and an ABC limited series. (LJ 7/13)

Patel, Shona. Teatime for the Firefly. Mira: Harlequin. Oct. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9780778315476. pap. $15.95.

In 1940s India, newly married Layla Roy contends with ex-pat culture and the repercussions of World War II. “Readers who enjoy historical fiction and a beautiful portrait of an exotic culture will surely love this novel.” (LJ 10/1/13)

Redfearn, Suzanne. Hush Little Baby. Grand Central. Oct. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781455573202. pap. $15.

Jillian Kane must flee her abusive husband, taking her two children though he’s cleverly managed to win custody, and the result is a “snappily paced, cinematic novel about the dysfunctional modern American family” (PW).

Shannon, Samantha. The Bone Season. Bloomsbury USA. Aug. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9781620401392. $24.

Recent Oxford grad Shannon’s dystopian tale, set in 2059 London and the first in a projected seven-book series, opened noisily when it was optioned for film and picked to launch the Today show’s new book club. (LJ 6/15/13)

Simsion, Graeme. The Rosie Project. S. & S. 304p. ISBN 9781476729084. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781476729107.

Brilliant if socially out-of-his-depth geneticist Don launches the Wife Project, then meets sprightly bartender Rosie, who fits none of his myriad qualifications for a spouse. “A sparkling, laugh-out-loud novel” (Kirkus). (LJ 6/15/13)

Weyer, Hannah. On the Come Up: A Novel, Based on a True Story. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Jul. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780385537322. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780385537339.

Smart, sassy, pregnant eighth grader ­AnnMarie Walker, from Far Rockaway, NY, lands a role in an indie film but still struggles to build her life. Discover honors and a four-star People review. (LJ 7/13)


Baxter, Greg. The Apartment. Twelve. Dec. 2013. 193p. ISBN 9781455547715. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781455547715.

An unnamed American in an unnamed European city hunts for an apartment with the help of a woman friend, and what unfolds is a day in the life of a disaffected man that’s “full of unshowy wisdom and surprising moments of beauty” (Sunday Telegraph). (LJ 9/15/13)

Beachy-Quick, Dan. An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky. Coffee House. Sept. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781566893411. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781566893435.

Featuring a college professor in pursuit of stories, this first novel by distinguished poet Beachy-Quick is “inspired” (PW), “lyrical” (Kirkus), and “a strange but rewarding experience…for readers with a taste for adult fairy tales” (LJ 9/1/13).

Bonert, Kenneth. The Lion Seeker. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9780547898049. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780547898414.

A young Lithuanian Jew in South Africa proves to be “a fiercely flawed main character who manages to get himself into every kind of trouble…and readers are mesmerized.” An ABA “Indies Introduce Debut Authors” pick. (LJ 9/1/13)

Collins, Ciaran. The Gamal. Bloomsbury USA. Jul. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9781608198757. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781620401149.

How can you resist a book that’s “brilliant, baffling, and a twisted riff on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet”—and a New York Times Editors’ Choice as well? Charlie portrays friends Sinéad and James, County Cork outsiders like himself. (LJ 5/1/13)

Erens, Pamela. The Virgins. Tin House. Aug. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781935639626. pap. $15.95.

In the New York Times Book Review, John Irving called this story of two ill-fated young ­lovers observed by a jealous outcast at an exclusive boarding school a “skillfully crafted and dangerous…sexual tragedy.” (LJ 6/1/13)

Lundgren, Eric. The Facades. Overlook. Sept. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781468306873. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781468308358.

Nice for Lundgren to get both Discover Great New American Writers and Best Book of the Month acknowledgment from Barnes & Noble. In this “fascinating, complex debut” (PW), a mezzo-soprano vanishes from the opera house of a fading Midwestern town.

Smith, Michael Farris. Rivers. S. & S. Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781451699425. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451699449.

Smith limns one man’s tragedy after a catastrophic Gulf Coast storm in this Discover Great New Writers pick, called “propulsive” by the Paris Review. “It’s not surprising that early reviews have name-dropped Cormac McCarthy’s The Road” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

Waldman, Adelle. The Love Affairs of Daniel P. Holt. Jul. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780805097450. $25.

Raves from the New York Times Book Review (“a smart, engaging 21st-century comedy of manners”) and the Washington Post (“a delectable analysis of contemporary dating”). Tweets from Lena Dunham. Props from Jay McInerney. And Discover fanfare. Why wait? (LJ 6/1/13)

Wientzen, Raoul. The Assembler of Parts. Arcade. Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781611458916 $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780805097467.

Medical director of the Rostropovich Foundation, which promotes children’s health programs, Wientzen offers a “highly recommended” story that reveals “an intimate knowledge of medicine, pediatrics, and the human condition.” (forthcoming LJ review)

Zailckas, Koren. Mother, Mother. Crown. Sept. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780385347235. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780385347242.

Having triumphed with Smash, a scary memoir of childhood alcohol abuse, Zailckas returns with an equally scary and triumphant first novel of family dysfunction. “An excellent page turner.” (LJ 9/1/13)


Abrams, J.J. & Doug Dorst. S. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Oct. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780316201643. $35.

Notes in a book’s margin unite two strangers in this work from Abrams, who also happens to have created, produced, written, and directed multiple Emmy– and Golden Globe Award–winning TV series and films. With Shirley Jackson Award–nominated Dorst.

Florio, Gwen. Montana. Permanent. Oct. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781579623364. $28.

Foreign correspondent Lola Wicks wants to return to Afghanistan but has been re­assigned to Montana, where nothing exciting happens until she trips over a corpse. “Breathless pacing, strong characterizations, and a nuanced plot.” (LJ 10/1/13)

Hillerman, Anne. Spider Woman’s Daughter. Harper. Oct. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062270481. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062270504.

Was it wise for the author to pick up where father Tony Hillerman’s 18 mysteries featuring Navajo cops Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee left off? Evidently, yes. “Fans of Southwestern mysteries will cheer this return of Leaphorn and Chee.” (LJ 8/13)

Lancet, Barry. Japantown. S. & S. Sept. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781451691696. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451691719.

Jim Brodie, a San Francisco antiques dealer now running his late father’s Tokyo-based private investigation firm, looks into the killing of five Nakamura family members at a San Francisco mall. “A fresh voice in crime fiction” (Kirkus). (LJ 7/13)

Marwood, Alex. The Wicked Girls. Penguin Pr. Aug. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780143123866. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101618356.

An act of violence by two 11-year-old girls results in a 2013 Thriller Award nomination for Best Paperback Original Novel for Marwood’s edgy debut. “Full of dark turns and dread, and the twisty ending will stick with readers.” (LJ 7/13)

Miley, Mary. The Impersonator. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781250028167. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028174.

Good work, Miley; your Prohibition-era mystery featuring a vanished heiress and a look-alike vaudeville player grabbed the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition. (LJ 9/1/13)

Norton, Carla. The Edge of Normal. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250031044. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250031051.

Norton, coauthor of the No. 1 New York Times nonfiction best seller Perfect Victim, won a Royal Palm Literary Award for best unpublished mystery for this debut. “Nail-bitingly delicious.” (LJ 8/13)

Plame, Valerie & Sarah Lovett. Blowback: A Vanessa Pierson Novel. Blue Rider. Oct. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780399158209. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101598566.

Plame may have lost her CIA career when her cover was blown, but here she launches a new career, delivering “a tightly wound, vigorously deployed thriller.” With the author of the Dr. Sylvia Strange thrillers. (LJ 8/13)

Robinson, Thatcher. White Ginger. Seventh St: Prometheus. Oct. 2013. 290p. ISBN 9781616148171. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781616148188.

San Francisco’s best-known souxun, or people finder, Bai ­Jiang takes a case that leads her to gangs and sex trafficking in Vancouver. “Fantastic—Keeper,” RT Book Reviews; “taut writing and excellent action sequences” (LJ 10/1/13).

Stewart, David O. The Lincoln Deception. Kensington. Sept. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780758290670. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780758290687.

Historian Stewart’s 1900-set debut backtracks to a conspiracy regarding Lincoln’s assassination. “Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the two protagonists fight for their lives while tackling the big mystery of their era.” (LJ 9/1/13)

Wagner, David P. Cold Tuscan Stone: A Rick Montoya Italian Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Sept. 2013. 250p. ISBN 9781464201905. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464201929. $14.95.

An American translator in Rome, Rick Montoya is recruited by old friend Beppo of the Italian Art Squad to help expose criminals trafficking in Etruscan antiquities. “Wagner hits all the right notes…. Don’t miss this one.” (LJ 8/13)

Ziskin, James W. Styx & Stone: An Ellie Stone Mystery. Seventh St: Prometheus. Oct. 2013. 285p. ISBN 9781616148195. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616148201.

There’s a killer loose at Columbia University, and he’s already targeting Ellie Stone’s father. So naturally Ellie’s on the case, never mind that Sixties girls aren’t supposed to be detectives. “Engrossing and fascinatingly complex.” (LJ 9/1/13)


Aitcheson, James. Sworn Sword. Sourcebooks Landmark. Aug. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781402280764. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402280771.

A Norman knight faces resistance and intrigue in England after the Battle of Hastings. “Aitcheson brings excitement and intrigue to a bloody period of medieval history—one that is underrepresented in the genre” (PW). (LJ 8/13)

Belfoure, Charles. The Paris Architect. Sourcebooks Landmark. Oct. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781402284311. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402284328.

In 1942 Paris, occupied by the Germans, architect Lucien Bernard finds his hidebound anti-Semitism giving way as he is asked to design hiding spots for Jews. “Both disturbing and captivating,” said the starred LJ review. (LJ 6/15/13)

Bodden, Marlen Suyapa. The Wedding Gift. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250026385. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250026125.

This “page-turning tangled web of misogyny, greed, scandal and violence…about races colliding against the backdrop of America’s darkest era” (PW) got blurbed by Tom Wolfe and Henry Louis Gates Jr. (LJ Xpress Reviews, 9/6/13).

Gleichmann, Gabi. The Elixir of Immortality. Other. Oct. 2013. 768p. tr. from Swedish by Michael Meigs. ISBN 9781590515891. pap. $18.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590515907.

Why read a novel covering 800 years of philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s family history? Because it’s a “masterpiece” (Booklist), “full of wit and mystery” (Kirkus), and serves as a “panorama of history [that’s] breathtaking and heartbreaking in turn” (LJ 7/13).

Hess, Hannah S. Honest Deceptions. Caravel: Pleasure Boat Studio. Jul. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781929355860. pap. $18.

Margot Brenner abandons a coveted internship at a New York hospital to return to Germany and learn what happened to her father and brother during the Holocaust. “Hess’s quiet debut will haunt and provoke discussion.” (LJ 7/13)

Irwin, Michael. The Skull and the Nightingale. Morrow. Aug. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780062202352. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062202376.

Richard Fenwick engages in outrageous behavior, affording his godfather vicarious thrills in exchange for funds. “A terrific historical novel, and an even better psychological thriller. A-” (Entertainment Weekly). (LJ 7/13)

Lynch, Paul. Red Sky in Morning. Little, Brown. Nov. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780316230254. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316230247; lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316250344.

Having killed a powerful man, Coll Coyle flees 1830s Ireland for America, where things get worse as he labors with other immigrants on the railroad. “Elemental and powerful” (PW).

Macleod, Muriel Mharie. What the River Washed Away. Oneworld. Aug. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781780742342. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781780742359.

In early 1900s Louisiana, where voodoo still reigns, young Arlette learns to resist the white men who routinely come to attack her. “Compelling and exquisitely crafted,” said LJ’s reviewer; “I’d give two stars if I could.” (LJ 8/13)

Mutch, Barbara. The Housemaid’s Daughter. St. Martin’s. Dec. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9781250016300. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250031969.

An Englishwoman in early 1900s South Africa creates a bond with her housemaid’s mixed-race daughter. “If you loved The Help, try The Housemaid’s Daughter…. The friendship at its center will leave your heart singing”(Good Housekeeping, UK).

Simons, Jake Wallis. The English German Girl. Herman Graf: Skyhorse. Sept. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781626360747. $24.95.

Praised by Beryl Bainbridge in the Independent as “entertaining, provocative and original,” this work portrays the Kindertransport, which brought primarily German Jewish children to Britain in the months before World War II. “Excellent and haunting” (LJ 8/13).


Barker, Emily Croy. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Aug. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9780670023660. $27.95.

Billed as a grown-up American Hermione Granger, Nora Fischer has lost it all—until she stumbles onto a sparkly magical kingdom. An Indie Next pick; “for readers who love magical fantasy adventures with strong female protagonists.” (LJ 7/13)

James, Elliott. Charming. Orbit: Hachette. (Pax Arcana, Vol. 1). Sept. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780316253390. pap. $15.

Scion of a family that has hunted dragons, witches, and other monstrosities for eons, a cursed John Charming has become what he once despised and quietly tends bar…until a vampire and a Valkyrie come by. “Top-notch.” (LJ 9/15/13).

Lain, Douglas. Billy Moon. Tor. Aug. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780765321725. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429948074.

Christopher Robin Milne no longer keeps company with a bear named Pooh but encounters an eye-opening alternate reality in France during the student uprisings. “A priceless addition to the American magical realism canon.” (LJ 8/13)

Leckie, Ann. Ancillary Justice. Orbit: Hachette. Oct. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780316246620. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316246637.

Once part of a starship whose artificial intelligence manifested itself in a multitude of corpse soldiers, Breq is now stuck in a fragile body and wants revenge. “Impressive” (PW); “altogether promising” (Kirkus); “a newcomer to watch” (LJ 9/15/13).

Moyer, Jaime Lee. Delia’s Shadow. Tor. Sept. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780765331823. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429949484.

Able to see ghosts after the 1915 San Francisco earthquake, Delia has fled to New York but is being urged to return home by a persistent presence. “A polished historical fantasy/mystery.” (LJ 8/13).

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.