Summer Best Debuts | First Novels


Akhtiorskaya, Yelena. Panic in a Suitcase. Riverhead. Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781594632143. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101638262. LITERARY

Featuring a Russian immigrant family from Odessa trying to make its way in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn (often called Little Odessa), this “touching and darkly funny first novel” got uniformly strong prepub reviews and “is sure to be adored by readers everywhere.” (LJ 5/15/14)

Alsaid, Adi. Let’s Get Lost. Harlequin Teen. Aug. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780373211241. $17.99. YA

Alsaid’s smooth-riding, ultimately joyous YA crossover title about four teenagers linked by Leila and her shiny red car was featured at Harlequin’s BookExpo America booth and LJ’s PLA author party. Alsaid attracted long signing lines at both events and at LJ’s Librarians’ Lounge.

Bertino, Marie-Helene. 2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas. Crown. Aug. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780804140232. $25. LITERARY

Opening with spunky nine-year-old Madeline Altimari’s hunt for the famed Philly jazz club the Cat’s Pajamas on Christmas Eve, this little charmer, a Discover Great New Writers pick, has been getting raves. “Be prepared to quickly reread this novel to try to answer the question, How did Bertino do that?” (LJ 7/14)

Black, Robin. Life Drawing. Random. Jul. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781400068562. $25. LITERARY

Having triumphed with the story collection If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, Black offers a debut novel about a couple whose focused life in the country is disrupted by a new neighbor. “Irresistibly readable” (PW) and “astringent and wise” (the Guardian), with “superb sublety” (the BBC). (LJ 1/14)

Börjlind, Cilla & Rolf Börjlind. Spring Tide. Hesperus. Sept. 2014. 420p. tr. from Swedish by Rod Bradbury. ISBN 9781843915157. pap. $16.95. MYSTERY

A woman is buried alive on a Swedish beach in the 1980s, and the murders of homeless people are live-streamed in 2011. The link between these two events creates chilling reading. “The authors effortlessly blend two mysteries to create a plot with many twists and turns.” Featured in LJ’s Mystery Preview “Pushing Boundaries” (LJ 4/15/14). (LJ 7/14)

Bouman, Tom. Dry Bones in the Valley. Norton. Jul. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780393243024. $24.95. MYSTERY

Set in rural northeastern Pennsylvania beset by fracking and featuring hardscrabble old timers and newly minted druggies, this deftly atmospheric debut mystery racked up stars from LJ, Kirkus, and PW and was a LibraryReads and Indies Introduce pick as well. (LJ 6/1/14)

Braden, Kara. The Longest Night. Sourcebooks. Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781402291852. pap. $7.99. ROMANCE

Living in solitude in the cold Canadian wilderness, former marine captain Cecily Knight has been successfully forgetting the past until a keen-eyed stranger named Ian barges in and makes her come alive in the present. “Touching and stupendously fresh” (PW).

Brooks, Malcolm. Painted Horses. Grove. Aug. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780802121646. $25. LITERARY

A Discover Great New Writers, an Indies Introduces, and an Indie Next pick, this 1950s Montana–set saga is “an authentic story, examining in gripping, page-turning prose what it means to live in the West. Outstanding.” (LJ 3/1/14)

Don’t Miss Excerpt


“Not there. I walked around and around. That house had up hill and down dale. Steps and mud. Those wellies red. Umbrella. Wondrous being dry. See fat drops plop and run like a river down for flies. Spiders. That time it was always raining. Summer. Spring. I don’t know though when we were or where. Puddles and puddles very good for sailing peanut barge shells over. Like over and over the sea. Or this is Lough Corrib or this is the Nile. I’d like little men to sail them but. Your soldiers aren’t mine.”—Eimear McBride, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, Coffee House

Burton, Jessie. The Miniaturist. Harper. Aug. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780062306814. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062306838. HISTORICAL

The story of a troubled young bride in 17th-century Amsterdam, this book was a hit at the 2013 London Book Fair, an Editors’ Pick at Day of Dialog, a Shout ’n’ Share pick, a BEA Buzz Book, and a Discover Great New Writers pick. “Taut suspense” (New York magazine). (LJ 6/15/14).

Clark, Stephan Eirik. Sweetness #9. Little, Brown. Aug. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780316278751. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316278768. POP FICTION

Starring a whistle-blower who notices odd results when a certain sugar substitute is ingested, first by lab animals and then by his family, “this is a hilarious take down of a food industry…. A must read for fans of Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking.” (LJ 5/1/14)

Creech, Sarah. Season of the Dragonflies. Morrow. Aug. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780062307521. $25.99. lrg. prnt. POP FICTION

A young woman returns home to give special help to the family’s perfume business. “A charming, fast-paced novel that lightly blends folksy magical realism with a story of strained family relationships, messy romantic entanglements, and the power of the female bond.” (LJ 7/14)

de Castell, Sebastien. Traitor’s Blade. Quercus. Jul. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781623658090. $26.99. FANTASY

A trio of disgraced swordsmen come to the rescue of a young woman as political conspiracy brews. Yes, it’s just like The Three Musketeers! “A triumph of character, with every protagonist a fascination…this swashbuckling series launch…shows huge potential.” (LJ 6/15/14)

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“ ‘Yallah, Salim! Farm-boy! The Jews are coming for you! They’re going to kick you out and break your skinny arse like a donkey.’
Two boys stood opposite each other on the dirt road between Jaffa’s orange groves and the sea.
One was older, burly and black haired. His chin, arms and belly rolled in chubby folds, like a lamb ready for the oven. Some day those folds would smooth into the coveted fat of the ay’an—one of the rich, the coffee drinkers with their white mansions and expensive wives. But today the excess weight was only good for bullying and sweating his way through the warm spring air.”—Claire Hajaj , Ishmael’s Oranges, Oneworld

Hajaj, Claire. Ishmael’s Oranges. Oneworld. Aug. 2014. 226p. ISBN 9781780744940. $24.99. LITERARY

His family having been dispossessed in 1948 Jaffa, Salim’s family flees to London, where in the Sixties he meets Judith. Surely, the marriage between a Palestinian man and a Jewish woman can be complicated—and illuminating. “Accessible and beautifully rendered; highly recommended.” (LJ 6/1/14)

Haynes, Natalie. The Furies. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9781250048004. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466848306. POP FICTION

When she begins teaching drama therapy at a school for troubled teens, Alex Morris finds that her students relate to Greek tragedy in dark and surprising ways. “Accomplished psychological mystery” (PW); “suspense fiction with depth” (LJ 6/15/14).

Jacob, Mira. The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. Random. Jul. 2014. 512p. ISBN 9780812994780. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780812994797. POP FICTION/FAMILY LIFE

This Discover Great New Writers pick is an emotionally rich tale of an Indian American family coping with past and present tragedy. “Comparisons…to Jhumpa Lahiri are inevitable …both write with naked honesty about the uneasy generational divide among Indians in America and about family in all its permutations (Kirkus). (LJ 6/1/14)

Johansen, Erika. The Queen of Tearling. Harper. ISBN 9780062290366. $26.99. FANTASY

First in a trilogy, this story of Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn’s return to the land of her birth to reclaim her throne is a ­LibraryReads pick (“This book caught me from the first page and kept me guessing till the last. A great read!”) that will soon be a film starring Emma Watson. (LJ 6/15/14)

Knight, Anouska. Since You’ve Been Gone. HQN: Harlequin. Aug. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780373779284. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460330265. romance

As she mourns her dead husband, Charlie, Holly Jefferson struggles to keep up her job as part-owner of the company Cake. Interestingly, the cake she’s baked for the CFO of Argyll, Inc., is resulting in lots of attention from his handsome son. “A poignant look at grief” that ends up as a sweet treat; it’s “scrumptious.” (LJ 5/1/14)

Kubica, Mary. The Good Girl. Mira: Harlequin. Aug. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780778316558. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460330197. THRILLER

One of the publisher’s big hits at BookExpo America, this story of spirited 24-year-old Mia and her rogue kidnapper is “compulsively readable and highly recommended for anyone who loves a mystery, a suspense tale, or a psychological puzzle.” Featured in LJ’s Mystery Preview “Pushing Boundaries” (LJ 4/15/14). (LJ 5/15/14)

La Seur, Carrie. The Home Place. Morrow. Aug. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780062323446. $25.99. LITERARY

Alma Terrebone is compelled to return to Montana when she learns about her sister’s death. “Walloping in suspense, drama, rage, and remorse, this debut is an accomplished literary novel of the new West.” (LJ 5/15/14)

Lepucki, Edan. California. Little, Brown. Jul. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780316250818. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316250825. LITERARY

Both a LibraryReads and a Discover Great New Writers pick, this debut features Cal and Frida, who are increasingly uncertain of their security deep in the wilderness and decide to head for the nearest settlement. Perhaps not a good idea. “An inventive take on the post-­apocalyptic novel” (Time Out Chicago) that’s “steeped in Southern California literary tradition” (Los Angeles Times). (LJ 7/14)

Little, Elizabeth. Dear Daughter. Viking. Aug. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780670016389. $26.95. SUSPENSE

Imprisoned for reputedly killing her mother, Janie Jenkins is now free—and trying to learn what really happened. “Fans of Tana French and Gillian Flynn are going to enjoy the smart narrator and the twists and turns.” Featured in LJ’s Mystery Preview “Pushing Boundaries” (LJ 4/15/14). (LJ 6/15/14)

McBride, Eimear. A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing. Coffee House. Sept. 2014. 270p. ISBN 9781566893688. $24. LITERARY

This story of a young woman coping with coming-of-age stress and an ailing brother was shopped around for nine years but rejected as too experimental before its purchase by Galley Beggar Press. Then it won the Goldsmiths and Baileys Women’s prizes and was named a finalist for the inaugural Folio Prize.

McNeal, Laura Lane. Dollbaby. Pamela Dorman: Viking. ISBN 9780670014736. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101614716. POP FICTION

A LibraryReads pick, this story of a teenager who comes to live with her grandmother in racially fraught 1960s New Orleans is “a vivid portrayal…bursting with believable conflict and lovable characters. It’s hard to believe that it’s a debut.” An LJ Editor’s Pick, too (see p. 28). (LJ 7/14)

Minato. Kanae. Confessions. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Aug. 2014. 240p. tr. from Japanese by Stephen Snyder. ISBN 9780316200929. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780316200912. SUSPENSE

A young science teacher’s four-year-old daughter is murdered by her own students, and she finds a coolly effective way to get her revenge. “This award-winning debut novel is a creepy and mesmerizing psychological thriller that challenges the conventions of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil, and law vs. justice.” (LJ 6/1/14)

Moran, Beth. Making Marion: Where’s Robin Hood When You Need Him? Lion Fiction. Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781782640998. pap. $14.99. POP FICTION

Trying to discover her father’s past, Marion Miller travels to Sherwood Forest and takes a job in a campground called Peace and Pigs, where a possible boyfriend appears on the scene. A Christian Fiction Debut of the Month; “funny but heartfelt.” (LJ 6/15/14)

Munaweera, Nayomi. Island of a Thousand Mirrors. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781250043931. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466842274. LITERARY

This winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize for Asia features two women representing two sides of the civil war in Sri Lanka. “The paradisiacal landscapes of Sri Lanka are as astonishing as the barbarity of its revolution, and Munaweera evokes the power of both in a lyrical debut novel worthy of shelving alongside her countryman Michael Ondaatje” (PW).

Don’t Miss Excerpt


“Behind her apartment building there ran a stream and in the evenings Leah would walk in the woods that rose along the stream’s banks. She walked to try and lose the day, to lose the women and children she’d seen sitting in the waiting room, to lose the tales of unpaid water bills and cut off electricity and of bruises and wailing children and the giggling half-truths and sob stories and excuses and the hungry look on the quiet children that played with toys only donated to the nonprofit after they couldn’t be sold at a yard sale—quarters, dimes, nickels, nothing.”—David Connerley Nahm , Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky, Two Dollars

Nahm, David Connerley. Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky. Two Dollar Radio. Aug. 2014. 222p. ISBN 9781937512200. pap. $15.50. LITERARY

A young woman whose brother disappeared when they were children is increasingly anxious about a stranger in town, and the result is “a powerful first novel, the kind that makes you want to stop people in the street to tell them about it.” Kudos to an upcoming small press. (LJ 5/1/14).

Pitre, Michael. Fives and Twenty-Fives. Bloomsbury USA. Sept. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9781620407547. $27. LITERARY

The platoon featured here by former marine Pitre is tasked with filling potholes along the highways and byways of Iraq—a dangerous job, because every pothole could hide a bomb. Buzzing since spring, this novel was picked for the “Summer/Fall Indies Introduce Promotion” at BookExpo America and was subsequently made a Discover Great New Writers pick.

Rader-Day, Lori. The Black Hour. Seventh St: Prometheus. ISBN 9781616148850. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616148867. MYSTERY

A Debut Mystery of the Month as well as a LibraryReads pick for July, this work features a college professor increasingly put-upon by those around her after being shot by a student who subsequently committed suicide. “While [Rader-Day] captivates from page one with her psychologically attuned debut, it is the sociological frames that work so well…. Alternating points of view, superb storytelling, and a pitch-perfect take on academia.” (LJ 7/14)

Rankin-Gee, Rosa. The Last Kings of Sark. St. Martin’s. Jul. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781250045355. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466844001. POP FICTION

Fresh out of St. Andrews, Jude agrees to tutor a boy named Pip on the island of Sark in the English Channel, and soon she, Pip, and the family cook enter into a glorious summer relationship. “Rankin-Gee’s keen insights into romantic negotiations belie her youth. The confident narrative will be a shot in the arm for bored book club planners.” (LJ 5/1/14)

Rotert, Rebecca. Last Night at the Blue Angel. Morrow. Jul. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9780062315281. $25.99. LITERARY

In 1960s Chicago, ten-year-old Sophia is caretaker for a wild and feckless mother trying to make it as a singer. But Sophia is the real star here, a “memorable character” (PW) given “a moving portrait” (Booklist). “It is [Rotert’s] heartbreaking portrait of Sophie, so wise yet so vulnerable, that readers will remember long after the final page.” (LJ 5/1/14)

Row, Jess. Your Face in Mine. Riverhead. Aug. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9781594488344. $27.95. LITERARY

One of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists and a Pushcart and PEN/O. Henry Prize winner, Row proves himself with a first novel about a young white Jewish man who undergoes racial reassignment surgery to appear African American. The result is a book that’s both “furiously smart” (PW) and, in its discussion of issues of identity, “immaculately and forthcomingly” honest (LJ 7/14).

Serafim, Leta. The Devil Takes Half: A Greek Islands Mystery. Coffeetown. Aug. 2014. 248p. ISBN 9781603819657. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781603819664. MYSTERY

The remote Greek island of Chios attracts archaeologists, including the beauteous Eleni Argentis, who goes missing, along with her assistant. Then the body parts start showing up. “Serafim’s dense prose is perfect for lovers of literary and scholarly mysteries.” (LJ 7/14)

Shafer, David. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Aug. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780316252638. $26. THRILLER

In a blend of comedy, espionage, and big-business put-down, two guys once friends in college and a disillusioned nonprofit worker named Leila are caught up in the machinations of the Committee, which aims to privatize news, publishing, and social media. “Hits all the right buttons” (PW), and Time critic Lev Grossman praised the writing at LJ’s Day of Dialog.

Smith, Katy Simpson. The Story of Land and Sea. Harper. Aug. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780062335944. $26.99. LITERARY/HISTORICAL

Growing up in colonial North Carolina, Helen is independent-minded enough to fall in love with a pirate-turned-­soldier when the war starts. A big story of love, loss, and death subsequently unfolds. This book got attention at BookExpo America; “Smith’s soulful language of loss is almost biblical” (PW).

Don’t Miss Excerpt


“The kill line was twenty-five meters. A vehicle crossed twenty-five meters or accelerated into us at any point? The gunner spun the turret and fired for effect. Machine-gun rounds through the windshield and into the engine block until the vehicle came to a stop. Then the gunner would drop down into the crew compartment for better protection. A vehicle that accelerated into us was gonna be a vehicle bomb. Almost always.”—Michael Pitre , Five and Twenty-Fives, Bloomsbury USA

Sweterlitsch, Thomas. Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Putnam. Jul. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780399167492. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698142701. SF

John Dominic Blaxton lost his wife in a nuclear blast that leveled Pittsburgh and now works for an insurance company that’s determining who really died, which gives him access to an archive that allows him to visit his “virtual wife.” An SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month; Sony has optioned the film rights. (LJ 7/14)

Tierce, Merritt. Love Me Back. Doubleday. Sept. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780385538077. $23.95. LITERARY

A National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and Rona Jaffe Award winner, Tierce has had the publishing world talking with this tale of single mother Marie who works as a waitress in Dallas and is heading on a downward slope fueled by drugs and sexual excess. The pronounced grittiness may trouble some readers, but the book will be much discussed.

Timmer, Julie Lawson. Five Days Left. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. Sept. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780399167348. $26.95. POP FICTION

This heartbreaker features a terminally ill wife and mother learning to say good-bye and a young foster dad who can’t let go of his charge. One of the last books from the Amy Einhorn imprint (e.g., Kathryn Stockett’s The Help) before Einhorn departs for Macmillan and typical of that imprint’s savvy blend of literate writing and emotionally imbued topic.

Weil, Josh. The Great Glass Sea. Grove. Jul. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780802122155. $26. LITERARY

Named a 5 Under 35 author by the National Book Foundation, Weil offers a magically twisted dystopian tale about twin brothers in an alternate Russia who face off ideologically even as they work together on Oranzheria, an acres­wide sea of glass lit by space mirrors. A featured Los Angeles Times “Summer Book,” this “highly satisfying tale” (Kirkus) is “resplendent and incandescent” (LJ 5/15/14).

Woodroof, Martha. Small Blessings. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250040527. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781466835887. POP FICTION

NPR producer Woodroof launched a ten-part Monkey See story on the experience of publishing a book, and now here it is—the story of a constrained college professor trying to make a home for the young son he’s only just learned he has. “A warm, caring and thoroughly entertaining debut.” (LJ 4/1/14)

Yanique, Tiphanie. Land of Love and Drowning. Riverhead. Jul. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781594488337. $27.95. HISTORICAL

This multigenerational tale tells the story of the U.S. Virgin Islands throughout much of the 20th century, starting with two sisters and a half-brother orphaned by a sinking ship. Multiple prepub stars; “pulsing with life, vitality, and a haunting evocation of place (PW)

Barbara Hoffert is Prepub Alert Editor, LJ

This article was published in Library Journal's July 1, 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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.