Spring Best Debuts


Drawing on reviews, media coverage, and critics’ buzz, this roundup includes essential debut novels for spring. In addition, last fall’s roundup (LJ 10/1/13) could barely touch winter works, so here are a dozen January titles most libraries will want: Ishmael Beah’s Radiance of Tomorrow (“moral urgency…and searing precision,” New York Times); Drew Chapman’s The Ascendant (multiple prepub raves); Sarah Cornwell’s What I Had Before I Had You (multiple prepub stars); Kim Fu’s For Today I Am a Boy (a Discover Great New Writers pick that’s “impressive,” LJ); Laurie Loewenstein’s Unmentionables (“Exceptionally readable and highly recommended,” LJ); Mary Miller’s The Last Days of California (a triple-threat Discover, Indie Next, and Okra pick); Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods, Inc. (a double LJ Editors’ pick and “razor-sharp,” New York Times); Brian Payton’s The Wind Is Not a River and James Scott’s The Kept (both LibraryReads and Indie Next picks); Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades (“may be the year’s breakout epic war fantasy,” io9); Adam Sternbergh’s Shovel Ready (a Discover and an Indie Next pick); and Magdalena Zyzak’s The Ballad of Barnabas Pierkiel (“funny…and unexpectedly moving,” New York Times). Check them out, along with these spring debuts, which include excerpts from four late spring novels just showing their stuff now.

Bacharach, Jacob. The Bend of the World. Liveright: Norton. Apr. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780871406828. $25.95. LITERARY

This loony romp about one 29-year-old’s finally growing up (in Pittsburgh, no less) is “an immensely entertaining read with a Vonnegut-like sensibility.” (forthcoming LJ review)

spirited032814Behre, Mary. Spirited. Berkley Sensation. Apr. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780425268612, pap. $7.99. ROMANCE

Starring a heroine who can see ghosts and the police detective hero who believes in her, this first in the “Tidewater” series is “cute, fresh, and will appeal to fans of upbeat paranormals,” says LJ Romance columnist Kristen Ramsdell.

Bond, Cynthia. Ruby. Hogarth: Crown. Apr. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780804139090. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780804139106. LITERARY/HISTORICAL

Highlighted by Edwidge Danticat in the New York Times last summer, this Discover Great New Writers pick brings a young woman back to her native Texas. “[The] dark and brutal redemptive beauty here… pays homage to the greats of Southern gothic literature.” (forthcoming LJ review)

Brown, Pierce. Red Rising. Del Rey: Ballantine. Feb. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780345539786. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780345539793. DYSTOPIAN

Brown’s trilogy opener about rebellion on Mars, a LibraryReads top pick and a New York Times best seller, has a “dark and twisted power,” said the starred LJ review. (LJ 9/15/13)

Burnsworth, David. Southern Heat. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781432828004. $25.95. MYSTERY

In this LJ Mystery Debut of the Month, young widower and former Marine Brack Pelton investigates his uncle’s murder. “A choppy start belies a well-executed plotline enhanced by the atmospheric Palmetto State setting,” and you can feel the heat. (LJ 2/1/14)

Bushnell, Jeremy P. The Weirdness. Melville House. Mar. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781612193151. pap. $16.95. LITERARY

From the fiction editor at Longform.org, this offbeat, deal-with-the-devil look at the New York literary scene is “a comedic literary thriller…[that] effectively mines well-trodden terrain to unearth some dark gems” (PW).

Butler, Nickolas. Shotgun Lovesongs. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250039811. $25.99. LITERARY

Set in small-town Wisconsin, this novel draws on Butler’s own background and his Iowa Writers’ Workshop skills to offer a “warm and absorbing depiction of male friendship.” Plus, there’s a movie deal in the works. (LJ 12/13)

ljx140302webfirstspot1a Byrne, Monica. The Girl in the Road. Crown. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780804138840. $26. VISIONARY

Blending Meena’s future journey across a floating energy-harvesting bridge connecting India and Africa with child slave Miriama’s flight across Africa, this book “enthralls on many levels,” said the starred LJ review. See “Don’t Miss,” p. 71, for an excerpt. (LJ 3/1/14)

Calhoun, Kenneth. Black Moon. Hogarth: Crown. Feb. 2014. 228p. ISBN 9780804137140. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780804137157. DYSTOPIAN

A literary dystopia about a frightening epidemic of insomnia, this Discover Great New Writers pick got an LJ star as “a deeply lyrical exploration of humanity at the extremes.” (LJ 1/14)

Cambias, James L. A Darkling Sea. Tor. Feb. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780765336279. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466827561. SF

It’s humans vs. others in a battle beneath the sea that’s been called “impressive” (PW), “searching” (Kirkus), and “beautifully written” (Booklist)—though LJ’s reviewer said that “most of the interest comes from the aliens.” (LJ 1/14)

ljx140302webfirstspot2aCollins, Courtney. The Untold. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780399167096. $26.95. LITERARY

This Ingram Premier Pick and multiprize winner from Australia sounds like Cormac McCarthy with a feminist twist and reads like an absolute dream. “Extraordinary” (forthcoming LJ review). See “Don’t Miss,” p. 71, for an excerpt.

Davidson, Rjurik. Unwrapped Sky. Tor. Apr. 432p. ISBN 9780765329882. $25.95. SF

Winner of an Aurealis Award and the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent for his short stories, Davidson goes longform in an LJ SF Debut of the Month that has “imaginative scope.” (LJ 3/15/14)

Denfeld, Rene. The Enchanted. Harper. Mar. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780062285508. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062285522. LITERARY

Internationally best-selling nonfiction author Denfeld draws on her experience as a death row investigator to write a “magical” novel “dark enough to appeal to fans of fantasy and horror …[yet]…also a work of love and redemption. Prepare to be spellbound.” A starred LJ review. (LJ 12/13)

Edison, David. The Waking Engine. Tor. Feb. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780765334862. $25.99. FANTASY

Edison’s debut offers multiverses, which means that folks never really die but keep passing on to yet another world. The result is “an extraordinary and bewildering fantasy” ( Kirkus) that’s “a fever dream of vivid imagery and dark luscious prose, reminiscent of China Miéville in its byzantine, steampunk-influenced cityscape” ( LJ 1/14).

Elo, Elisabeth. North of Boston. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Feb. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780670015658. $27.95. THRILLER

Boston-bred toughie Pirio Kasparov suspects that the death of her friend Ned in a boating mishap that nearly killed her, too, is not an accident. This Indie Next pick got some great reviews; “the brisk plot smoothly incorporates such far-flung subjects as environmental issues, the fishing industry, and the perfume business” (PW).

Fierro, Julia. Cutting Teeth. St. Martin’s. May 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781250042026. $24.99. POP FICTION

This gently funny tale of contemporary parenting woes made the “Need To Read” lists of Marie Claire, HuffPost Books, The Millions, Flavorwire, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and the Center for Fiction.

Gay, Roxane. An Untamed State. Black Cat: Grove Atlantic. May 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780802122513. pap. $16. LITERARY

Salon columnist, PANK coeditor, Rumpus essays editor, and a noted short story writer, Gay had a ready-made audience for her debut novel about a wealthy young Haitian woman’s kidnapping. “Not since Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper has an author so effectively captured the descent into mental instability.” (LJ 2/1/14)

terms&conditions032814Glancy, Robert. Terms & Conditions. Bloomsbury USA. Apr. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781620406434. $26. POP FICTION

This story of a lawyer piecing together his memory after a traumatic accident—and surprised at what he finds—is an “original office comedy” (Kirkus) that’s “remarkably fun” (PW), “wry [yet] poignant” (Booklist), and “highly recommended for fans of bleak humor” (LJ 3/1/14).

Go, Justin. The Steady Running of the Hour. S. & S. May 2014. 448p. ISBN 9781476704586. $26. POP FICTION

Tristan Campbell uncovers a secret love affair from the past when he must prove himself the rightful heir to a multi-million-dollar fortune. This Discover Great New Writers pick is “a page-turner and an impressive first work.” (LJ 1/14)

Harris, Eve. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman. Black Cat: Grove Atlantic. Apr. 480p. ISBN 9780802122735. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780802192660. LITERARY

In 2008 London, 19-year-old Chani feels like a pillar of salt as she marries a man she hardly knows. Published by a small Scottish press, long-listed for the Booker, and sold to six countries and counting, this Discover Great New Writers pick was inspired by the author’s experience teaching at an all girls’ ultra-Orthodox Jewish school.

ljx140302webfirstspot3aHayes, Terry. I Am Pilgrim. Emily Bestler: Atria. May 2014. 624p. ISBN 9781439177723. $26.99. THRILLER

A secret agent code-named Pilgrim knows what he’s up against when he encounters a dead woman whose fingerprints and facial features have been obliterated by acid. Raves from across the seas for this debut from movie producer/writer Hayes (“Destined to be spy thriller of the year,” Irish Independent); LJ’s starred review says, “You won’t be able to put it down.” See “Don’t Miss,” p. 72, for an excerpt. (LJ 1/14)

Helms, E. Michael. Deadly Catch: A Mac McClellan Mystery. Seventh Street: Prometheus. 225p. ISBN 9781616148676. pap. $15.95. MYSTERY

The author of The Proud Bastards, a classic Vietnam memoir, offers a first mystery about a recently retired U.S. Marine who’s set up for murder. “Helms’s love of his novel’s setting and his engaging first-person narrative and internal musings suggest a winning new series is under way.” (LJ 11/1/13)

Hiraide, Takashi. The Guest Cat. New Directions. Feb. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9780811221504. pap. $14.95. LITERARY

This fable about a stray cat that lightens up the life of a Japanese couple made the New York Times trade paperback best sellers list straight out of the gate. Winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award and a French best seller.

Holsinger, Bruce. A Burnable Book. Morrow. Feb. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780062240323. $25.99. HISTORICAL

Murder, mayhem, and a missing book in 1385 London have earned medieval scholar Hol­singer plenty of prepub raves, especially for the authentic detail: “Medieval England never tasted so rich nor smelled so foul.” (LJ 12/13)

Hope, Anna. Wake. Random. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780812995138. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812995145. HISTORICAL

Both “confident” (PW, Kirkus) and “moving” (LJ, Kirkus), this fresh work shows us three English women learning to cope two years after the close of World War I. (LJ 11/1/13)

Johnston, Bret Anthony. Remember Me Like This. Random. May 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781400062126. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812996166. LITERARY

What happens when a kidnapped child is returned to his family? This Discover Great New Writers pick is “ultimately an uplifting read despite the dark subject matter; readers conditioned by police procedurals will find their expectations continually defied,” said the starred LJ review. (LJ 3/1/14)

ljx140302webfirstspot4aKendal, Claire. The Book of You. Harper. May 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062297600. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062297624. lrg. prnt. THRILLER

A woman is relentlessly stalked in this exemplary tale of psychological suspense, which is backed by real love from the publisher’s library marketers. “Troubling, raw, and gripping” (PW). See “Don’t Miss,” p. 74, for an excerpt.

Lawhon, Ariel. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress. Doubleday. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780385537629. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385537636. MYSTERY/HISTORICAL

This LibraryReads pick re­imagines the actual 1930 disappearance of Justice Joseph Crater, implicating the three women of the title. “This mesmerizing novel features characters that make a lasting impression” (People).

McBeth, Colette. Precious Thing. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250041197. $24.99. THRILLER

In this LibraryReads pick, TV journalist Rachel Walsh is shocked to learn that the young woman whose disappearance she is investigating was her childhood best friend. “Sure to please fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, or Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret.” (LJ 3/1/14)

McHugh, Laura. The Weight of Blood. Spiegel & Grau. Mar. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780812995206. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812995213. suspense

A friend’s disappearance sets Lucy on a quest that helps her uncover the mystery of her long-gone mother. “McHugh comes out swinging with this gripping tale set in the Ozarks of Missouri,” which earned her an LJ star. A LibraryReads top pick; see the author interview on p. 143. (LJ 11/1/13)

May, Eric Charles. Bedrock Faith. Akashic. Mar. 2014. 420p. ISBN 9781617751967. pap. $16.95. LITERARY

Gerald “Stew Pot” Reeves is a changed man when he returns from prison to his middle-class African American neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. Now he’s a Bible thumper. May “persuasively unfolds the narrative,” and critics are buzzing. (LJ 11/15/13)

Nesbit, TaraShea. The Wives of Los Alamos. Bloomsbury USA. Feb. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781620405031. $25. HISTORICAL

Nesbit shows us the lives of the women whose husbands worked on the Manhattan Project, and it’s not a pretty picture. A Discover Great New Writers pick; “recommended both for its important subject matter and for the author’s vivid storytelling.” (LJ 10/15/13)

Paull, Laline. The Bees. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780062331151. $25.99. FANTASY

Starring a lowly bee named Flora 717 who sets off a rebellion in her hive, this work by British playwright Paull is described as The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games and was an LJ Editors’ Pick. “Powerful,” said the forthcoming starred LJ review.

inlightofwhatweknow032814Rahman, Zia Haider. In the Light of What We Know. Farrar. Apr. 2014. 512p. ISBN 9780374175627. $28. LITERARY

Intrigued by this tale of a disaffected investment banker encountering a friend who vanished during college, the Guardian included Rahman on its short “Meet the Debut Authors of 2014” list. “Readers who enjoy a book jam-packed with insights and observations will enjoy this remarkable first novel” (forthcoming starred LJ review).

Reichl, Ruth. Delicious! Random. May 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781400069620. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780679604617. POP FICTION

Trust the former editor in chief of Gourmet and author of several best-selling foodie memoirs to set her first novel at a food magazine called Delicious! that has just closed its doors. “[This] satisfying coming-of-age novel of love and loss vividly demonstrates the power of food to connect people across cultures and generations,” said the starred LJ review. (LJ 1/14)

Rieger, Susan. The Divorce Papers. Crown. Mar. 2014. 480p. ISBN 9780804137447. $25. POP FICTION

“Brutally comic” (Kirkus), a “winner” (PW), “insightful” (Booklist), a “must-read” (EW.com)—this LibraryReads pick about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal defense lawyer alarmed to be handling the divorce of upper-crust Mia Durkheim, got mostly strong reviews. (LJ 2/15/14)

Sealy, Jon. The Whiskey Baron. Hub City. Apr. 2014. 240p. ISBN 9781891885747. $26. HISTORICAL

Two bootleg runners are murdered in 1930s South Carolina Hill country, and a whiskey baron’s empire could fall. “A memorable read, on par with the best of Daniel Woodrell and Ron Rash.” (LJ 12/13)

Shotwell, Vivien. Vienna Nocturne. Ballantine. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780345536372. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345536396. HISTORICAL

A graduate of both the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Yale, where she received an Artist Diploma, young opera singer ­Shotwell imagines a “sweetly tender love story” between Mozart and real-life English soprano Anna Storace. And her discussion of music can be “as riveting as the plot.” (LJ 11/15/13)

Storr, Will. The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone: The Secret Ingredient of Unforgettable Food Is Suffering. Marble Arch: Atria. Mar. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781476730431. POP FICTION

In the 1980s, Killian Lone is slaving away as an apprentice in the kitchen of great London chef Max Mann when he discovers that an ancestor was burned as a witch for her delicious (and betwitching) food. “An insidiously creepy—yet heartbreaking—story of ambition, love, phenomenal food, and sensual, diabolical magic.” (LJ 2/15/14)

Swanson, Peter. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart. Morrow. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780062267498. $25.99. LITERARY THRILLER

Swanson has received some strong reviews for this story about a man suckered into crime by a perfidious woman with an ever-shifting identify, but the Washington Post’s is the brightest: “a highly original story, well told, that should be a contender for crime fiction’s best first novel of 2014.” Optioned for film, too.

Thompson, Ted. The Land of Steady Habits. Little, Brown. Mar. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780316186568. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316215831. LITERARY

How many readers will identify with Anders Hill, who upon reaching his sixties realizes that he’s lived the wrong life and has been striving to meet all the wrong goals in affluent suburbia? Enough to make this book a Discover Great New Writers pick with some solid reviews. (LJ 1/14)

saintmonkey032814Townsend, Jacinda. Saint Monkey. Norton. Feb. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780393080049. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393242959. LITERARY

Two African American teenagers in late 1950s Kentucky wend their way to New York and the 1960s, and the result is a “remarkable debut…dense with imagery, [that] portrays life in the Jim Crow South and Harlem’s heyday with startling immediacy,” said the starred LJ review. (LJ 1/14)

Vandermerwe, Meg. Zebra Crossing. Oneworld. Apr. 2014. 216p. ISBN 9781780744308. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781780744315. LITERARY

Orphaned siblings George and Chipo travel from Zimbabwe to South Africa in search of a better life. But “what at first appears to be a novel of aspiration shockingly devolves as each character submits to his darker nature. Another disturbing entry in the burgeoning African Diaspora genre.” (LJ 2/1/14)

Waters, M.D. Archetype. Dutton. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780525954231. $26.95. SF

This book is billed as sf, but most reviewers agree with LJ that it’s best described as “an original and compelling thriller.” It’s not every author who can vivify the idea of a woman waking up in the hospital with amnesia. (LJ 11/15/13)

Weir, Andy. The Martian. Crown. Feb. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780804139021. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780804139038. SF

Initially a self-published ­ebook, this story of a man trapped on Mars got picked up by a big house and became a ­LibraryReads and an Indie Next pick. “The perfect mix of action and space adventure,” said LJ’s starred review. (LJ 12/13)

Wroe, Simon. Chop Chop. Penguin Pr. Apr. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781594205798. $26.95. LITERARY

A struggling writer opts to work as a prep chef at the Swan, a classy London gastropub, and finds that he can’t take the heat in the kitchen. All the intrigue leads to “a kitchen confessional that makes the memoirs of Anthony Bourdain and Bill Buford pale by comparison.” Pair with Ruth Reichl’s Delicious! and Will Storr’s The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone, cited above, for some juicy reading. (LJ 3/15/14)

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Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @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.