Our month-long celebration of debut fiction may be ending today, but there are plenty of new voices to look forward to this fall. Read on for some of 2015's remaining First Fiction highlights.
The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo (Harper)
When you’re down on your luck, sometimes you have to look to the past for answers. At least, that’s the plan for Mattie Wallace, the resilient heroine of this sparkling debut.
A Bright Moon for Fools by Jasper Gibson (Viking)
This debut from the cofounder of a British comedy website (The Poke) follows a man with some serious trouth issues as he tries to outrun his past mistakes in Venezuela.
The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry (Dutton)
Set during the legendary Qing dynasty, this historical novel tells the story of a real-life Chinese courtesan whose world opened up after a scholar chooses her as his concubine. Suddenly Jinhua has the opportunity to travel the world, something rarely afforded to Chinesewomen—or indeed, many men—in the 1880s.
Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Scout Press)
Already longlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, this debut from literary agent Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man) is a scorching depiction of a community's grief after a life-changing event.
The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young (Putnam)
A grieving mother starts experiencing visions after the death of her son, and wonders if she can solve a long-cold missing child case, in this Southern Gothic debut.
The Girl from the Garden by Parnaz Fourutan (Ecco)
The fortunes of a wealthy Iranian-Jewish family are explored in this poignant, accomplished and cinematic first novel from a recipient of the PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellowship.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta (HMH)
When civil war breaks out in Nigeria, Ijeoma is sent away to safety and finds love—but with someone who is not only of a different ethnicity, but also another girl.
A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (Simon & Schuster)
An I Don't Know How She Does It for this digitally plugged-in decade, Egan's playful and provocative meditation on what it means to “have it all" is one of the fall's most charming releases.
After the Parade by Lori Ostlund (Scribner)
This gentle midlife coming-of-age story follows a gay man after the collapse of a nearly 20-year relationship who goes on a redemptive journey to his hometown.
Another Woman's Daughter by Fiona Sussman (Berkley)
Apartheid South Africa forms the backdrop of this powerful story of a mother and daughter who are caught up in the racial tensions of the day.
Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson (Doubleday)
An elaborately designed novel that weaves a 19th-century manuscript into its pages, this story of a future dystopia created through an alternate past (Texas gained independence, for one) is an original and thrilling ride.
Cleopatra's Shadows by Emily Holleman (Little, Brown)
Did you know Cleopatra had a little sister? Neither did we, but this historically detailed exploration of life on the Nile during the Ptolemy dynasty feels like a breath of fresh air after the "Downton"-inspired wave of 20th-century historical fiction. Fans of Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles should take note.
City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Random House)
This is probably the fall's most buzzed-about debut, and at more than 900 pages, it demands a significant time investment. But early word has it that the story, set in 1970s New York City and told by multiple narrators, is one that's worth getting lost in. Hallberg, a longtime contributor to the Millions blog, sold the manuscript for seven figures.
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead)
Watkins, whose short story collection, Battleborn, was highly touted in 2012, is finally releasing a work of full-length fiction. Set in a near future where water has nearly vanished from the American West, it's a story of survival, weakness and cults.
The Marriage Pact by M.J. Pullen (Thomas Dunne)
A former therapist makes her fiction debut with a smart story of Atlanta 30-somethings coming to terms with life, careers and love.
Our final debut of the week is Erin Duffy's Bond Girl. Duffy spent years on the floor as a trader, and she knows the world her book is set in well.
I must confess to panicking when I glimpsed the shiny black Louboutin stiletto embellishing Erin Duffy’s debut novel, Bond Girl. Call me a snob, but I have no interest in reading anything remotely resembling an homage to "Sex and the City." Thus I was delighted to discover that Duffy’s maiden literary voyage has steered clear of the silly and sordid clichés of so-called “chick lit,” and instead delivers a delectable tale of a plucky female bond trader whose Wall Street escapades just happen to coincide with the economic Armageddon of 2008.
Read our full review here.
So you sped through All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr's riveting second novel set during World War II. Starring two teenagers—a French girl and a German boy—on opposite sides of the war whose lives become intertwined in surprising ways, this magical, almost fable-like story is a sweeping saga. If you're looking for a book worthy of following it, allow us to humbly present the options below.
If you were drawn to Doerr's not-unsympathetic portrait of German life during wartime—and the explanation of how everyday people could be caught up in the Nazi machine—pick up Hummel's realistic story of a German hausfrau on the homefront, which is based on the lives of her grandparents. Full of pitch-perfect details about the hardships faced by families as resources were diverted to the army, this novel "drive[s] home the humanity and suffering of the people who are frequently considered only as the enemy."
This moving debut, set during the Chechen wars, also features a cast of characters whose lives, at first, appear to have little in common, but are eventually shown to be linked in surprising ways. It also possesses the same emotional heft as Doerr's bestseller—and hey, we already know you like books by authors named Anthony!
Was it the peek at a lesser-known side of World War II that drew you to All the Light We Cannot See? Then you should pick up Jamie Ford's accomplished 2009 debut novel, which sheds light on the shameful treatment of Japanese-Americans in their own country during that conflict. "Ford aims to portray the Japanese-American internment with solid historicity, choosing to focus on how the events affected the course of real people’s lives. And he succeeds," according to our review.
If you thought that Doerr's portrayal of life in France during and World War II felt real, don't miss this long-lost masterpiece. Némirovsky's manuscript for Suite Française was written as the Germans rolled into France, and is that rarest of treasures: A fictional account of WWII as it unfolded. And it was only found some 50 years later, long after the author herself (a Jew) was murdered in Auschwitz.
Fans of the fable-like feel of All the Light We Cannot See should consider picking up The Illumination, which imagines that the physical and psychological pain of others is visible—shining like a beacon. Through this device, Brockemeier explores the links between suffering and beauty, using the stories of six different characters connected by a journal of love notes, with a wisdom and compassion that will be familiar to readers of Doerr's work.
So you loved All the Light but thought that maybe, just maybe, it could use a little more action? An illicit affair or two? Gillham's twisty debut is your best bet. Set in 1943 Berlin, it's the story of an ordinary German woman who somehow finds herself helping Jewish refugees—even as her husband fights for the Third Reich. The fact that her short-lived lover, whom she still longs for, is Jewish might have something to do with it.
What books do you recommend to readers of All the Light We Cannot See? Tell us in the comments!
RELATED CONTENT: Read our previous "Read it Next" posts.
Which debut author from 2015 is destined to be your new favorite author? Let an old favorite lead you to it.
If you liked The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger, you'll love Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin.
This workplace drama has loads of humor and a touch of romance, all set against a finely drawn LA backdrop that's just as full of crazy as the fashion industry. (read our review)
Set on Staten Island, this family drama follows a close-knit Irish-Italian family whose world changed forever on 9/11. Like Butler's debut, it is especially good at making the relationships between men feel real. (read our review)
Like Messud's Nora Marie Eldridge, the protagonist of Hausfrau is angry (albeit more passive in expressing it) and definitely not a role model (/understatement). Yet somehow, you can't keep from turning the pages to see what she'll do next. And like Messud, Essbaum has some serious literary chops. (read our review)
Like Sebold's modern classic, Walsh's debut traces the effect of a horrible crime on a community. Walsh takes it a step further, though, to provide a thoughtful examination of what these crimes say about society—especially men—adding timely thematic resonance alongside his suspenseful story. (read our review)
Readers who couldn't get enough of the historical detail and chilly Nordic landscapes of Kent's debut will want to pick up Wolf Winter, which also pits outsiders against their community and features a mysterious death. (read our review)
Like Miller's Orange Prize winner, Cadwallader's debut takes readers to a vanished world in poetic and polished prose. Her heroine, though, is no warrior, but a 17-year-old girl who voluntarily retreats from society to become a holy woman, or Anchoress. (read our feature story)
In his most recent novel, the author of Corelli's Mandolin returns with another gripping tale of love and war. This time, the children of three neighboring families, who grew up in an Edwardian idyll, face love and loss as World War I rages. De Bernières blends global events with personal stories to great effect, putting both into perspective.
King Edward brought his brief and beautiful age to an end on the sixth day of May in 1910. Prostrated by bronchitis but smoking cigars to the very end that they had been hastening, he leanred from the Prince of Wales that his orse Witch of the Air had won at Kempton. 'I am very glad,' he said, and his servants put him to bed. 'I shan't give in,' he said, 'I am going to fight it,' but he fell into a coma and died at the imminence of midnight.
Thus it was left to King George to deal with what his father had foreseen; and to Rosie, Christabel, Ottilie, Sophie, Sidney, Albert, Archie, Daniel and Ashbridge.
What are you reading this week?
A heartbroken widower resolves to make the best of the life that remains in this poignant and deeply felt novel, written by a former dean of Columbia College.
In Peter Pouncey's multilayered debut novel, Rules For Old Men Waiting, it's clear from the opening that regulation play for retired professor and former rugby player Robert MacIver ended when his beloved wife, Margaret, died.
Having found himself alone in life's overtime, MacIver initially concedes defeat. Then the Scots warrior gene that served him so well during his college rugby career kicks in, and MacIver sets himself a new path.
Read the rest of our review here.
Fans of folklore-based fiction like The Snow Child, The Great Glass Sea or Mr. Fox would enjoy Adrienne Celt's myth-steeped first novel, which wraps Polish folktales and a family curse over four generations of women. Lulu is an opera singer, but after her beloved grandmother dies the same day her daughter is born, she can't sing a note. As her complicated history and many secrets unfold, the reader is left to contemplate familial bonds and the ancestral stories that we share.
Told from Lulu's point of view, The Daughters is full of depictions of music and its power.
So you see. I was wrong to think that I could run away and make my life lighter. If I hadn't been there, hadn't left John alone to wonder about me, if I hadn't sung for Funn and watched his eyes dance in the firelight, there may have been no Kara. No birth. And so Ada wouldn't have been in the hospital either, wouldn't have fallen to the cold tile floor.
On the ranch, I opened my mouth and let sound rumble from my deepest well. Not knowing, then, who I was really singing to. Si je t'aime prends garde à toi! I thought it was a wake-up call for the sleepers in their beds. I didn't know it was a warning.
What are you reading this week?
Discovering a new voice that speaks to you is one of the most exciting things that can happen to any book lover. Here, we're highlighting the best 12 debuts of the year (so far). Share your favorite in the comments!
This sweet, alluring first novel follows an elderly woman as she leaves her home to trek across Canada by foot and see the ocean for the first time. As Etta walks across the countryside, she reminisces about her past and the two men who meant the most to her.
Fans of Southern noir will thrill to Cooper's dark, enticing story of corruption in the Louisiana bayou after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, where folks who live on the fringes struggle to eke out a living in ways that just might push the boundaries of legality.
This sharp and insightful social satire is an all-too-timely look at race relations in America, as three ostensibly liberal and definitely privileged Berkeley students from various backgrounds travel with a friend and classmate to his home in rural Georgia—just in time for a Civil War re-enactment.
Australian author Davis takes on the tricky subject of recovering from loss—whether you're 7 or 87—in her winsome first novel, which finds an abandoned young girl embarking on a road trip with very unlikely companions.
Eli Goldstein idolizes his uncle Poxl, a Czech Jew who served in Britain's Royal Air Force. But does Poxl's best-selling memoir really tell the whole story? Torday's tour-de-force of a novel puts a fresh spin on World War II (yes, really) in a page-turning tale of truth, lies and forgiveness.
Freeman's rabble-raising debut, set in the rough-and-tumble world of 1800's prize-fighting, features two memorable and very different heroines who push the limits for women of the day to fight for a better future. Fans of Sarah Waters or Michel Faber, meet your new favorite author.
What makes a home? This question is pondered (and argued about) by the 13 Turner siblings and their children in this tender family saga as they must decide whether to sell the Detroit house that has been home to three generations over 50 years. Flournoy paints an impressively realistic portrait of sibling bonds and a city in decline.
At just 28 years old, Nović has written an insightful first novel that will appeal to fans of Anthony Marra and Téa Obreht. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, Girl at War follows Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States.
Librarian Simon Watson is barely holding his life together when a mysterious book appears on his doorstep. Could this journal be the key to understanding his mother’s death—and saving his sister from a similar fate? Fans of magical stories like The Night Circus will flock to this ambitious debut.
Plum Kettle is sure that bariatric surgery will change her life. But when she crosses paths with a mysterious young woman, Plum ends up involved in a full-on riot grrl ride to a feminist awakening. Walker's first novel is a fierce and fiery look at the struggles women face in today's world—and it's as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Finding out your father cheated on your mom? Bad. Finding out by reading his dirty emails to the other woman when you're just 11 years old? Even worse. Pierpont’s debut makes this common premise feel fresh thanks to character-enriching details (Kay copes by writing smutty “Seinfeld” fan fiction, for example) and a willingness to shake up her narrative structure.
Food and family combine in this vibrant first novel, which hopscotches through the life of Eva, a Minnesotan who has risen to become one of the country’s best young chefs. When the mother who abandoned her returns, Eva must decide if they can repair their relationship. The unusual setting, embraceable characters and mouthwatering recipes add up to a can’t-miss debut.
This week's debut is Joe Schreiber's heart-pounding Chasing the Dead, a horror-filled road trip that goes from 0-60 on the first page and doesn't let up until the final one.
Joe Schreiber's brilliantly creepy debut novel will have discerning horror connoisseurs everywhere comparing it to terror-inducing classics like Stephen King's Pet Sematary and Peter Straub's Ghost Story. Equal parts supernatural horror and psychological thriller, the majority of Chasing the Dead takes place during one nightmarish 14-hour period.
Scared yet? Read the rest of our review here.
New York City's crowded Lower East Side tenements come to life in Alkemade's first novel, which opens in 1919. After tragedy strikes Rachel Rabinowitz's family, she's separated from her brother, Sam, and sent to a Jewish orphanage. Decades later, her past comes back to haunt her in surprising way, and her ability to forgive will be tested.
Alkemade's descriptions of Rachel's life in the orphanage are heartreading, although that won't come as a surprise to readers of books like The Orphan Train.
"You see?" Nurse Shapiro said. "They all cry themselves to sleep eventually if you leave them alone long enough."
In the secret darkness under the blanket, Rachel intertwined her fingers and pretended she was holding her brother's hand. It seemed like only a second later that she was jolted awake by a dream of a baby doll come to life, black buttons sewn on with coarse thread where its eyes should have been.
What are you reading this week?