Truly insatiable readers require more than one book to get them through a week-long vacation. These 10 stellar mystery and thriller series have solid backlists as well as excellent new 2015 installments—ensuring entertainment that goes on and on and on and . . .
Jeff Lindsay's Dexter series
It all began with Darkly Dreaming Dexter, about the polite and lovable Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who only kills bad people. Lindsay never envisioned it would become a series, but after 11 years, seven national best-selling books and a hit TV show, the author closes out the series with his eighth and aptly titled final novel, Dexter Is Dead. Check out our coverage of the Dexter series, especially our Q&A with Lindsay about Dexter Is Dead, which came out this month.
Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series
In her first adventure, The Crossing Places (2010), archaeologist Ruth Galloway is drawn into a murder mystery when she determines that some found remains are 2,000 years old. The following six books have been a wildly entertaining blend of history, romance and whodunit. Check out our coverage of the Ruth Galloway series, including our review of the seventh and most recent installment, The Ghost Fields.
Charles Todd's Inspector Ian Rutledge series
The mother-son writing team of "Charles Todd" first introduced Rutledge in 1996, with A Test of Wills, set in 1919 England, with the intrepid Scotland Yard inspector trying to move on with his career after WWI. New installments have come out almost every year since, and the series now numbers 17. Check out our coverage of the Ian Rutledge series, including our review of A Fine Summer's Day, which could be considered a standalone or a prequel to this excellent series.
Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder series
Former romance novelist Castillo's debut mystery, Sworn to Silence (2009), transported readers to Amish country, where Chief of Police Burkholder—a lapsed Amish woman—dredges up old secrets and solves a string of grisly murders. Check out our coverage of the Kate Burkholder series, including our review of book #8, After the Storm, which just pubbed last week.
Walter Mosley's Leonid McGill series
It's likely that avid mystery readers already devour Mosley's popular Easy Rawlins books, but the author's series featuring NYC private eye Leonid McGill should be appreciated as well, beginning with The Long Fall (2009). In book #5, And Sometimes I Wonder About You, McGill is balancing some chaos in his personal life while hunting down a purported rare manuscript thief. When it comes to great books, here's an easy rule of thumb: Never miss Mosley. Check out all our coverage of Mosley's books.
Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti series
Beginning in 1992 with Death at La Fenice, Leon has consistently offered fans fascinating explorations of Venice through the character-driven, atmospheric Brunetti mysteries. Readers who (inevitably) get hooked on this series will delight in the fact that Leon's latest installment, Falling in Love, harkens back to the first book. Check out all our coverage of Leon's books.
Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police series
From the very beginning, in Bruno, Chief of Police (2008), British author Walker blended all of our favorite things: wine, marvelous food, mysteries and the French countryside. What else could we want? Check out our coverage of the Bruno, Chief of Police series, including our review of the 10th installment, The Children Return. Book #11, The Patriarch, comes out next month.
Taylor Stevens' Vanessa Michael Munroe series
Though there are already five thrillers in Stevens' series starring kickass heroine Vanessa Michael Munroe, beginning with her 2011 debut, The Informationist, we'd wager you could blow through the whole stack in only a few sittings. It's fast, action-packed reading, with exotic locales and crisp writing. Check out our coverage of the Vanessa Michael Munroe series, including our review of The Mask.
Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paiboun series
London-born Cotterill lives in Southeast Asia, where he writes both the Jimm Juree novels (set in southern Thailand) and the award-winning Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery series. Readers met Laos' aging coroner in 2004's The Coroner's Lunch, set circa 1976 after the communists took power. The subsequent books have been a rollicking, eccentric saga, full of wicked humor and clever charm, as with book #10, Six and a Half Deadly Sins. Check out all our coverage of Cotterill's books.
Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford series
White's first Doc Ford novel, Sanibel Flats (1990), immediately pegged his marine biologist and ex-CIA agent hero as the ultimate successor to John D. MacDonald’s legendary Travis McGee. And there's no question these salty, sandy mysteries make for perfect beach reading. Check out our coverage of the Doc Ford books, including our review of the 22nd in the series, Cuba Straits.
It’s Private Eye July at BookPage! All month long, we’re celebrating the sinister side of fiction with the year’s best mysteries and thrillers. Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass for a daily dose of murder, espionage and all those creepy neighbors with even creepier secrets.
Tomorrow, the winner of the Man Booker International Prize will be announced. To celebrate, we've gathered 15 of the best books in translation from the past year. There's a whole world of reading out there—go explore!
And check back next week for news about the upcoming translations we're most excited about.
Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt (Greenland), translated by Denise Newman
The winner of the 2015 PEN Translation Prize, this collection of stories deals with themes of sex and gender in marvelously odd ways. Aidt's stories are dreamlike (or, perhaps more accurately, they run on a scale of fever dream to nightmare), and she fearlessly tackles society's strange ills.
Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (Mexico), translated by Lisa Dillman
Desperate to find her missing brother in America, Makina, a young Mexican woman, agrees to cross the border as a drug mule. The story unfolds like a myth as Makina crosses the Styx-like Rio Grande into the underworld of America. This novella is a beautiful, haunting take on the migrant experience.
The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain (France), translated by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce
If you're looking for a lovely summer jaunt through Paris with a native guide, then this is your book. When a bookseller finds a lost purse with a fascinating little notebook in it, he's determined to find its owner. With charming characters and a delightfully whimsical plot, it calls to mind the indie films the French are famous for, à la Amélie.
The Musical Brain by César Aira (Argentina), translated by Chris Andrews
Aira, known for the frenetic energy of his short stories and his seemingly endless imagination (he's published more than 80 books!), is quite popular in Latin America. His latest translated work is a collection of very—well—short short stories that mine deep into the bizarre and surreal. Aira is among the finalists for the Man Booker International prize this year.
Acclaimed author Petterson (Out Stealing Horses) returns with the quietly powerful prose that made him an international bestseller. In his latest novel, two men have a chance meeting that reminds them of disturbing events from their shared boyhood and the abrupt end of their friendship 35 years prior.
Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda (Dutch), translated by Jonathan Reeder
To an observer, it would appear that Siem Sigerius is living a charmed life. He has a beautiful family and home, and the future of his career looks bright. But of course, life in the Sigerius household is not as lovely as it appears. Siem has dark secrets in his past, and the family’s veneer begins to fade as truths are revealed.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Japan), translated by Philip Gabriel
Murakami has a massive international fan base, and when his latest novel was published in Japan in 2013, American fans were practically foaming at the mouth to get their hands on the English translation. In summer 2014, Murakami's hard-working translator finally delivered. Focusing on the wayward Tsukuru and his quest to find out why his tight-knit group of friends abruptly dumped him, Murakami successfully weaves another fabulous tale.
Old book, new translation. Notes from a Dead House (also known as The House of the Dead) is one of the greatest pieces of Russian literature from one of the best authors—Russian or otherwise—of the 19th century. The award-winning translator duo tackles this Russian masterpiece with a nuanced (and doubled!) knowledge of language and history.
It's the classic dead-body-in-a-locked-room mystery in internationally best-selling author Higashino's latest thrilling mystery. Get ready to ditch your friends—and not just because you'll be busy reading. This novel may plant the fear in your heart that your dearest friends have got it in for you.
I'll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin (South Korea), translated by Sora Kim-Russell
Shin is one of South Korea's most acclaimed authors, and her novel Please Look After Mom was on the New York Times bestseller list in 2011. Set during the harrowing 1980s in South Korea, the novel plays out in the memories of Jung Yoon, a brilliant but lost college student, adrift until a poetry professor rescues her and three friends.
The Last Lover by Can Xue (China), translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen
Experimental author Xue delves into the perrenial topics of love, sexuality and all its weirdness in her latest novel. Although set in surreal environments, Xue strikes to the heart of very real emotions. Realities blur and fantasies come to life in this lush, atmospheric novel from one of China's most respected authors.
Billie by Anna Gavalda (France), translated by Jennifer Rappaport
Gavalda's latest, a #1 bestseller in France, has been translated into more than 20 languages, and Jennifer Rappaport has finally added English to the list. This moving tale follows two young friends trapped in the Cévennes Mountains who turn to trading stories from their pasts in order to keep up morale and their will to live.
There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (Russia), translated by Anna Summers
This collection of three novellas from a Russian legend wins the honor of "Best Title on This List." (It also includes this fabulous maternal motto: “Love them, they’ll torture you; don’t love them, they’ll leave you anyway.”) Petrushevskaya tips her hat to her Russian-writer predecessors (in one story of familial disaster, a folder is labeled "Notes from the Edge of the Table") while bringing a dark humor all her own to her brilliant writing.
Dendera by Yuya Sato (Japan) translated by Edwin Hawkes and Nathan A. Collins
Sato reimagines the Japanese custom of ubasute—the practice of leaving the elderly in the wilderness to die during hard times—in his latest novel. Kayu Saito was supposed to die alone on top of a mountain. Instead, she survives and finds herself in a utopia of abandoned old women. But soon a threat arrives in the form of a ferocious mother bear. This novel is an intriguing fable of maternity, violence, aging and mortality.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson (Sweden), translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Jonas Jonasson’s whimsical and witty novel follows a young Nombeko Mayeki, the titular “girl” stuck in 1960s Soweto. The profoundly determined 15-year-old sets off with millions of smuggled diamonds on a journey to South Africa’s National Library, where she encounters Israeli Mossad agents, a lovable Chinese official, an American Vietnam War deserter and Swedish twins with grand plans to bring down their country’s monarch. Jonasson’s hilarious and pointed satire sheds light on our increasingly global world and societal issues.
See anything you'd like to read? Check back next week for news about the upcoming translations we're looking forward to.
It's still early in 2015, but at least one unknown female author has already rocketed to the top of bestseller lists (we're looking at you, Paula Hawkins!). Which other women will join her this year? Here's our list of the top 10 candidates.
THE FAIR FIGHT
Riverhead • April 14
Fans of authors like Sarah Waters and Michel Faber will thrill to Anna Freeman's debut, The Fair Fight, an exciting historical novel set in the little-known world of women's bare-knuckle boxing. Yes, in 1800s England, women—at least, some women—were allowed to escape the confines of the home to fight for prizes that were twice the annual salary of a housemaid (one of the few occupations for women at the time). But Freeman, who is a poet and lectures in English at Bath Spa University, goes beyond the blood splatters and missing teeth to take a broader look at the limitations of class and gender, encouraging readers to ponder who (if any) among her characters is given a fair fight.
Thomas Dunne • April 21
An artful mix of suspense, fantasy and social critique, Emily Schultz's The Blondes puts a feminist twist on the dystopian stories that have been crowding fiction shelves for the last several years. It's the near future in New York City, and grad student Hazel is pregnant after an affair with a married man. She's also confined to the house thanks to a mysterious virus that is turning blonde women into cold-blooded killers (luckily, Hazel is a natural redhead). Now blondes are no longer the butt of jokes but the world's worst nightmare. Schultz's work has been praised by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King (who gave an unwitting bump to her first novel, Joyland, when he published a book by the same name)—look for The Blondes to be embraced by an equally diverse group of readers.
Pamela Dorman • May 5
Retellings of Jane Eyre are not exactly thin on the ground (see 1 2 3 4), but Queens-born writer Patricia Park takes a fresh tack in her debut, Re Jane. She casts the quiet but strong-willed heroine as a mixed-race Korean orphan living with relatives in 2001 Flushing—and that's just the first twist Park puts on her decidedly 21st-century, girl-power take on the beloved classic, which sends its heroine from Brooklyn to Gangam and back again. Park, a Korean-American who spent time in Seoul on a Fulbright scholarship and has studied under the novelist Ha Jin, expertly details the cultural divides facing her heroine, adding another dimension to a tale that might otherwise seem too familiar.
GIRL AT WAR
Random House • May 12
It's impossible for those who have not experienced civil war to truly know what it's like—and that's one of the themes of 28-year-old Sara Nović's sensitive debut novel, Girl at War. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, the story follows main character Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States. Nović's descriptions of Ana's wartime childhood convey how war can be both shocking and mundane as violence becomes part of everyday life. Girl at War was acquired and edited by Random House's David Ebershoff, who knows his talent: He was the editor of not one but two of the 2013 Pulitzer winners (The Orphan Master's Son and Embers of War).
Amistad • May 26
Novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez's 2010 debut, Wench, was a word-of-mouth hit with readers and explored a lesser-known corner of American history: the resorts where plantation owners would vacation with their enslaved mistresses. Her long-awaited second novel, Balm, takes an equally unflinching look at America's past and should bring this talented writer to an even bigger audience. Set in post-Civil War Chicago, it follows three strangers—a widowed white woman, a freeborn black woman from Tennessee and a former slave whose wife was sold away from him before the war—who move to the city for a chance to start over but are unable to completely shed their pasts.
THE BOOK OF SPECULATION
St. Martin's • June 23
Erika Swyler's debut, The Book of Speculation, is a bookish mystery with a supernatural twist. In a dilapidated house on Long Island Sound, librarian Simon Watson presides over a crumbling family legacy—until the day an old book arrives on his doorstep. It's the journal of a carnival owner, and it's connected to the drowning death of Simon's mother. Can he solve the mystery before his sister meets the same fate? Swyler, who has written short fiction and worked as a playwright, probes the bonds of sibling love and loyalty with the same authenticity she brings to the book's more magical elements, giving the novel surprising depth. Fans of family sagas with a touch of the fantastic should flock to it.
Harper • July 28
TV producer and author Lissa Evans is well known in her native England (fellow Brit Paula Hawkins is a fan), but this summer she's being published for the first time in the U.S. Crooked Heart is her fourth novel, and her second for an adult audience. Set during World War II, it follows a 10-year-old orphan who's a crime novel aficionado. He's evacuated during the Blitz and rehomed with Vera Sedge, a down-on-her-luck single mother with a penchant for money-making schemes, and the two form an unlikely bond. Their odd-couple friendship will appeal to readers of books like Lost & Found, and Evans' authentic period tone evokes the subtle charm of midcentury classics like I Capture the Castle.
Touchstone • August 18
Susan Barker made the 2008 longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize with her second novel, The Orientalist and the Ghost, but she's hovered just below most readers' radars. That just might change with the release of The Incarnations, a suspenseful tour through Chinese history and folklore that was described as "China's Midnight's Children" when it was published in the U.K. last year. In modern-day Beijing, Wang, a taxi driver, is being stalked by someone who claims to be his soul mate. As letters appear in his taxi telling the stories of their past lives over the last 1,000 years—all of which end in tragedy or betrayal—Wang's paranoia about his watcher's identity increases, and he begins to wonder if history will repeat itself.
St. Martin's • August 18
Celebrity authors may strike seven-figure deals without breaking a sweat, but for unknown writers, having a book snapped up at a price like that is a little less common. That is just one of the things that makes New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford's first novel, Everybody Rise, a standout. Set in 2006 New York City, the book plumbs the unfailingly popular literary trope of the young and privileged in Manhattan, as seen through the eyes of an imposter in their ranks. The film rights have been secured by Fox 2000.
FSG • October 6
OK, so maybe it's a little sneaky to put an author who's already a bestseller on a list like this. But Sloane Crosley (I Was Told There'd Be Cake) is making a transition from humorous essays to fiction—and I for one am intrigued about how she'll do it. The Clasp is described as "a comedy of manners," which is a novelistic genre that's a perfect match for Crosley's talents. Other intriguing elements include the exploration of how college friendships start to change in your late 20s, a madcap search for a missing family heirloom and a nod to Guy de Maupassant.
Check out our track record by viewing past women to watch lists here.
Ah, summer vacations. The crowds. The traffic. The high gas prices and/or airfare. The long waits at airport security. The HEAT. These are the reasons that I, like any sensible person, schedule my yearly trips for spring or fall. But once my Instagram and Facebook feeds start filling up with waterfront photos, I confess to craving a little more escapism in my fiction. If you've got the staycation blues, here are 10 books with creative settings that will take you a world away . . . even if you're still in your easy chair.
Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill. Cotterill has made a name for himself with offbeat mysteries set in East Asia. The first in a new series, Killed provides "a beautifully crafted look at life with a Thai twist," not to mention a hero named Sticky Rice. Escapism, indeed!
The Ruins by Scott Smith. Got friends visiting Mexico? Well, that trip will seem a lot less desirable after reading Smith's dark, suspenseful story of four friends whose excursion to a Mayan temple doesn't go exactly as planned.
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann. This debut takes you away in place and time—and throws in a murder to boot. Set in a wealthy enclave on Martha's Vineyard (is there any other sort of enclave on Martha's Vineyard?), it follows two families whose fortunes and fates are changed by World War II—and by one fateful night.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. The titular hero of Jonasson's quirky second novel goes around the world and back again on a madcap journey from 1960s Soweto to modern-day Sweden that will thrill fans of Forrest Gump or François Lelord.
Beach House No. 9 by Christie Ridgway. The first installment of Ridgway's best-selling series set in coastal California is a sexy and sun-kissed escape that follows the slowly developing romance of a memoirist and the woman sent to help him finish his latest publishing project.
The Red House by Mark Haddon. If you're stuck at home idealizing the "family summer vacation" thing, here's your antidote. Told in multiple voices, Haddon's creative third novel from adults is set in a cottage in Wales, where a family reunion slowly falls apart.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub. Longing for a taste of Europe? Straub's second novel follows a family on a visit to the idyllic island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. But amid the olive trees, family drama lurks.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. An isolated lighthouse off the Australian coast, on an island full of natural wonders, is the setting for Stedman's debut, which follows the consequences of a couple's morally ambiguous decision to raise a foundling child as their own.
The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris. Is there anyone out there who would turn down a trip to Paris? I didn't think so. Take one in this sequel to the bestseller Chocolat, which finds chocolatier Vianne Rocher and her daughters living in Montmartre and opening shop in the big city.
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. This second novel from Sullivan is set on the Maine coast, which is as lovingly detailed as the family drama between the characters, who are visiting a weather-worn beachfront cottage packed with memories.
Have you read any books with a memorable setting lately? Share in the comments!
P.S. Enter this week's Monday contest for a chance to win two of these books, plus more great armchair travel reads.
In a special post in honor of Father's Day, Well Read columnist Robert Weibezahl shares memories of his own father and his Top 10 books featuring father-and-son relationships.
Along with my name and my rueful skepticism, I acquired from my father a love of reading. He was an avid reader, and to my enduring envy, a natural speed reader who could devour a book quickly without sacrificing an iota of comprehension. His taste in reading was different from what mine would become, more escapist than literary. My childhood memories are of him reading sea stories (he was a dedicated boatman himself), spy thrillers (my childhood years aligned exactly with the ascendency of James Bond), and brawny Westerns. Yet it is not what he read that left its mark on me, it is the fact that he read. I took on the habit without questioning its source, just as, say, a son invariably roots for the same team as his father without stopping to consider the virtues of its rivals.
Family lore recalls how when my father was young he could remain completely engrossed in a book even while fishing. My grandfather would be irked when his inattentive son would still manage to catch all the fish. A more personal memory for me: riding bicycles with my father and sister to the public library on a warm summer’s evening to check out books. My father, a talented woodworker, also built many of the bookcases that still house my own personal collection.
As my father declined from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, he was no longer able to retain what he read long enough to enjoy a book. I know that was just one of many frustrations his condition brought with it. This is my first Father’s Day since my dad left us last December and, inevitably, I have been thinking a lot about him, and about fathers and sons in general. There are countless books that center on this most primal of relationships, of course, from such 19th-century classics as Turgenev’s Fathers and Son and Dickens’ Dombey and Son (a lot of Dickens, like much of Shakespeare, is about fathers and sons) to Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road.
Compiling my own short list of memorable books about fathers and sons took me to those aforementioned bookcases. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 that have in some way provoked or moved me as a reader. Admittedly, many of the father-son connections in them are problematic (there’s no drama without conflict, after all), but all are illuminating:
All My Sons by Arthur Miller. Miller, of course, wrote searingly about fathers and sons in Death of a Salesman. This tragedy, written two years earlier, offers an emotionally brutal appraisal of the American Dream.
Atticus by Ron Hansen. Its title a nod to one of the most famous and faultless fathers in literature, this elegiac tale of redemption tells of a Colorado rancher who travels to Mexico to retrieve the body of his estranged son, who has purportedly committed suicide.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Though not the central relationships in the book, the father-son pairings—between Charles Ryder and his emotionally remote father and Sebastian Flyte and the sinning Lord Marchmain—add texture to the story and no small measure of insight into these two young men’s inner conflicts.
Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks. This monumental, fictionalized version of the life of the mythic abolitionist John Brown is told by his son Owen, who survives the raid at Harpers Ferry with equal measures of anger and guilt.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Structured loosely around the first family of Genesis, Steinbeck’s powerful work is a timeless portrait of the conflicts between father and sons and brothers.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. An extended letter from a 76-year-old preacher to his 7-year-old son, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel explores the struggles, faith, and conflicts encountered by four generations of men in the Ames family.
The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt. One of the most eloquent “coming out” novels; Leavitt creates some surprising family dynamics with sensitivity and insight.
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. The story of a slightly deranged father who uproots his family and moves to the jungle is told with affecting admiration and confusion by his 14-year-old son.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carols Ruiz Zafón. A young boy is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his widowed bookseller father, launching an intriguing metaphysical mystery about familial identity and our connections with the past.
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar. After losing their son, Frank Benton and his wife move to a small coastal village in India, where the grieving father takes the son of their servants under his wing with heartbreaking consequences.
As the writers of the 2013 debuts we've been highlighting this month know, launching a first novel is an uncertain thing. Which signal the beginnings of a successful career? Which are flashes in the pan? It's often hard to tell.
With these 25 debuts, however, there was no doubt. These authors astonished right out of the gate with strong storytelling prowess and memorable voices. Read on for our list of the best debuts from the century's first decade: 2000-2009.
Perhaps the defining debut of the 2000s, Smith's multicultural portrait of London life perfectly captured The Way We Live Now. While totally specific in its jump-off-the-page characters and true-to-life setting, it manages to have a universal feel as well—this could be your family. This is the sort of ambitious, accomplished debut that it's impossible to ignore, and Smith has gone on to prove her talent with three more very different but equally accomplished novels.
"This best-selling novel is the work of a whiz-kid," says our review—which about sums things up. Imaginative, quirky and humorous, the novel also tackles the Jewish diaspora and the effect of the past on the present, ideas that Foer continued to explore in his second bestseller, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Though she's now one of the leading voices in historical fiction, back in 2001 Brooks was best known for her prize-winning work as a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. She broke through the fiction barrier with a bang to tell this story of a small English village that goes into quarantine when the black plague is discovered within its boundaries.
Prize-winning poet Jiles takes on a little-known slice of American history: the imprisonment of women during the Civil War. After being unjustly accused of spying, 18-year-old Adair is taken from her family home in the Ozarks to the St. Louis jail. With the help of a sympathetic Union soldier—who promises to find her once his duty is over—she manages to escape and embarks on a harrowing trek home. Jiles excels at depicting the horrors of a land and people ravaged by war, and her strong and spirited heroine is one readers will root for.
An old-fashioned family drama, Glass' fiction debut is told in three parts, a triptych that gives a full picture of the complicated bonds within the McLeod family—parents Paul and Maureen, their oldest son Fenno and their twin sons David and Dennis. Brilliantly rendered, full of characters who feel like people you know, this is a polished, perfect first book.
The brutal, violent death suffered by Sebold's narrator in the opening chapter sets the tone for this bold and visceral first novel. Susie Salmon is just 14 when she goes missing on the way home from school. Though her own life is over, she continues to watch the struggles of her family from heaven as they attempt to discover what happened to their beloved little girl.
Jones' debut is a sensitively written coming-of-age story, set against the backdrop of Atlanta's African-American neighborhoods in 1979, where black children were being murdered by an infamous serial killer. This historical drama serves to deepen Jones' careful exploration of the dangers of growing up—and especially, the dangers of growing up black.
In her first novel, Lahiri continued to showcase the elegant, deceptively simple writing that marked her Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection, expanding her scope to tell the story of Gogol Ganguli, the American-born son of Ashoke Ganguli, who arrives in Massachusetts from India in the late 1960s as an engineering student, and Ashima, Ashoke's wife through an arranged marriage.
Hosseini was a practicing physician in California when he wrote The Kite Runner, a surprise hit that illuminated Afghanistan’s tortured history through the powerful story of two boys. The novel sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S., and Hosseini has since published two other bestsellers.
This "staggeringly accomplished" first novel takes as its premise a surprising piece of history: Some free blacks did, in fact, own slaves themselves. Jones takes a clear-eyed look at this morally complicated time through his complex characters, including Henry Townsend, whose own parents worked for years to buy his freedom only to see him enslave others, and Jim Skiffington, a local sheriff who is personally against slavery but must uphold the laws of 1850s Virginia.
Christopher Boone is 15, and something of an autistic savant. Yet his ability to name every prime number doesn't help him parse the emotional turmoil of his home life. When he embarks on a mission to find out who stabbed his neighbor's dog with a gardening fork, Christopher—who narrates the story in an inimitable voice—ends up stumbling on a much greater mystery.
Who would have thought that an 800-page book starring two magicians could become a major bestseller? Though Clarke's epic, Dickensian tale set in an alternate 1806 England might have come in on Harry Potter's coattails, it had a style all its own. As magicians Strange and Norrell—the first in possession of abundant natural, effortless but undirected talent, and the second something of a scholarly pedant—attempt to bring magic back to England, Clarke brings magic back to the world of literary fiction. Fans of The Night Circus and The Golem and the Jinni—you're welcome.
We readers love our books about books, and Ruiz Zafon's first adult novel—also a bestseller in his native Spain—is one of the best ever written. A twisty, Gothic tale that contains a story-within-a-story, it features a mythical "Cemetery of Forgotten Books," a reclusive author and a Barcelona that is still reeling from the Spanish Civil War. Part noir, part coming-of-age story and part mystery, this is 100% page-turner.
The somewhat staid world of Southern fiction got a jump-start when Jackson appeared on the scene. Though it targets themes of redemption, family bonds and the weight of the past, Jackson's writing deals honestly with the South's complicated past, possesses nary a jot of nostalgia and is anything but treacly. Her debut showcases all of the above and adds a saucy, strong heroine to boot.
Novels set in prep school are a dime a dozen, which makes the fact that Prep stood out from the crowd an even more impressive feat. As middle-class, Midwestern girl Lee learns to swim among the sharks at her upscale boarding school, Sittenfeld perfectly captures all the pain and drama of growing up, making for a solid, perceptive debut.
Starring a bookish young heroine who gets drawn into a Gothic mystery involving a reclusive female writer, this dark horse debut took bestseller lists by storm upon publication and has been a perennial hit with book clubs ever since. Setterfield, who taught French before becoming a published writer, is only now coming out with a follow up—we can't wait to dig in.
Voice is a big part of what marks a debut as special, and the hyper-literate, exuberant, creative voice of Marisha Pessl was one that readers could love or love to hate—but not ignore. This ambitious coming-of-age novel is also a suspenseful mystery, a story of adolescence and a touching portrayal of the father/daughter relationship. Pessl's long-awaited second novel, Night Film, is coming later this month.
Narrating a novel in the second-person plural is a risky choice—especially when it's also your first book. But Ferris pulls it off with aplomb in Then We Came to the End, a high-wire act of a novel that takes a collection of office archetypes—the go-getters, the slackers, the petty tyrants—and brings them vividly to life. Written in just 14 weeks, this vibrant and lively story marked Ferris as a true writer to watch.
The turbulent political history of South America is not often plumbed for fiction, but Alarcón does this complicated subject justice—and tells a moving tale besides—in his lyrical debut, set in an unnamed South American country. "This book is about telling the stories that people didn't want to hear before, that were inconvenient to hear," he told us in an interview. Alarcón's second novel, At Night, will be published in November.
Díaz's first novel, which had been anticipated for nearly a decade, stars an overweight nerd who couldn't be more different from Yunior, the womanizing antihero introduced in Díaz's celebrated story collection, Drown. Yet the two share a talent for falling in love, and as Díaz recounts Oscar's journey in that inimitable voice, readers fall in love as well.
Occupying the narrow territory between suspense and literary fiction, French's debut is a psychologically acute, harrowing police procedural. As Dublin detective Rob Ryan and his partner and best friend Cassie Maddox investigate a 12-year-old girl's murder, Rob finds that the case stirs up a childhood trauma he can no longer ignore.
Quirky and bold, Lauren Groff's debut is both the story of an individual—Willie Upton, who has been told that her father isn't the person she thought he was—and a town: Templeton, in upstate New York. As Willie pores over Templeton history in order to discover who her father is, readers are treated to the colorful histories of its varied residents. Told in several voices, including that of the area lake monster, this is a lively and compelling first novel.
One of the signs of a successful novel is its ability to spawn imitators—and we're still feeling the impact of Stieg Larsson's hard-boiled Swedish thriller starring a heroine who, to put it mildly, doesn't take crap from anyone. Sadly, Larsson died before seeing his novels published, but his legacy lives on in the flood of Scandinavian thrillers and kick-ass heroines that swamp bookshelves worldwide.
Through 2009, and well into 2010, I frequently had the following conversation: "I just read a really great book," a friend would say excitedly. Before she could launch into a description, I would hold up a hand. "Was it The Help?" Nine out of 10 times, the amazed friend would say yes. (I would later play this party trick in the summer of 2012 with Gone Girl.) A debut like that deserves a spot on any best list.
Like Khaled Hosseini, Verghese trained as a doctor before turning to fiction, and his first novel stars twin siblings who both practice medicine. Marion becomes an excellent if unheralded surgeon, but Shiva, with no formal medical training, becomes a pioneer in fistula repair, a skill desperately needed in Ethiopia. As this epic tale unwinds across continents, the conflicts between the two very different brothers are juxtaposed with the larger crises in the outside world.
Set in Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Rust Belt, this literary debut portrays a disappearing small-town, blue-collar America with clear-eyed perception. Best friends Isaac and Poe had planned to escape their dying hometown of Buell for college. But when these dreams are crushed, both must try to salvage their futures. Meyer, whose second novel, The Son, was published this year, writes with authority, and his work has been compared to American greats like McCarthy and Faulkner.
What was your favorite debut of the early 2000s? Tell us in the comments.
If you have 14,000 messages in your overflowing inbox (like me) you might be a little reluctant to sign up for yet another free e-mail newsletter. We kept that in mind when we created the latest addition to our e-newsletter offerings. BookPage Top 10 offers one (and only one!) email per month, giving readers a quick rundown of the 10 books our editorial staff has selected as the best for the month ahead. BookPage editors evaluate hundreds of books every month, and these 10 books represent our favorites, across all categories and genres. (See a sample of a previous Top 10 e-newsletter here.) We can't guarantee that you'll like every book on our list, but we do hope that every reader will find at least one book that sets his or her reading heart aflutter.
The April Top 10 will be sent to subscribers Monday, April 1. If you'd like to get some fresh ideas for your reading list and keep your inbox clutter-free, sign up today.
This is shaping up to be a big week for Top 10 lists, what with our recent announcement of the best cookbooks of the year. This week we also sent out our guide to the 10 notable books from November.
Here are the November picks. Click the book jackets to read more about each title.
Do you have any books to add to this list? What's your personal favorite book from November?
Hawaiian author Kiana Davenport is perhaps best known for her short stories, which have garnered numerous prizes, including the Pushcart Prize and an O. Henry award. In her stories and novels (including the best-selling Shark Dialogues), Davenport has mostly drawn from her Pacific Islander heritage (her mother is a native Hawaiian). But in her fourth novel, The Spy Lover (Thomas & Mercer), she pulls from her Alabama-born father's family history to tell a gripping Civil War story about three complicated, suffering people—a nurse who's spying for the Union behind enemy lines, a Chinese immigrant who escapes his conscription into the Confederacy to fight for the Union instead, and a wounded Confederate cavalryman.
Davenport doesn't buffer the brutality of war, presenting a stark portrayal of its horrors and the damage it can inflict on body and soul in her well-researched tale. Here, she shares her list of Top 10 Civil War Books for readers.
By Kiana Davenport
After reading nearly 70 books on the Civil War, I find I am drawn to books written with a literary elegance and operatic sweep, which matches the tragic and haunting history of this horrendous yet magisterial engagement that gave birth to these United States.
1.) The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War—my first choice because a picture says a thousand words. A perfect introduction to the War, with in Bruce Catton's brilliant prose that accompanies each picture. The photographs are lifelike, the maps indispensable. The reader is immediately swept into the war by the sheer impact of the images!
2.) A Stillness at Appomattox by Bruce Catton—Another classic from Catton, the 20th Century's foremost American writer of the Civil War. He writes with a novelist's sensibilities about the Army of the Potomac from the point of view of young soldiers in the ranks. A heartbreaking classic. Probably the best book ever written about the war!
3.) The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Well-deserving of the Pulitzer Prize it received. Through Shaara's ingenious writing, the reader enters the mind of each officer engaged in the Battle of Gettysburg: the terrible decisions, the searing cowardice and gallantry. Only with this book did I finally and fully grasp the great tragic folly of Pickett's Charge.
4.) Shiloh by Shelby Foote. Another great chronicler of our Civil War. This was one of the bloodiest battles of that War, up until that time, rivalled only by Antietam for the number of deaths in one day. My ancestor, Warren Davenport, fought and was wounded in this battle, and the slow drumlike rhythm of Foote's prose transported me to the very heart of the engagement.
5.) The March by E.L. Doctorow. The horror of Sherman's diabolical "March to the Sea" through Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, seen not just through soldiers' eyes, but through the eyes of average humans struggling through the conflagration—slaves, prostitutes, homeless children, half-mad widows—their personal tragedies silhouetted against the fires and destruction of entire cities. Biblical, horrendous.
6.) The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. A classic. Depicting a young soldier confronting his cowardice, as well as his desire to be heroic. Written only 30 years after the War, the book has an authenticity that more modern novels lack. It conveys the the "innocence" of America in that era, and how that innocence was forever shattered in the War.
7.) The Black Flower by Howard Bahr. A brilliant, heartbreaking novel that should have received the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. Written with eloquence and humanity in the style of Crane, Faulkner, even Homer, it portrays young Confederate riflemen trying to keep each other alive during the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee—and the fear, suffering and intense friendships that raged during the battle and its awful aftermath. A great book; I wept repeatedly.
8.) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. A grand telling of the ravaged South, one whose sweeping style is equal to the times it describes. Aside from the operatics of Scarlett and Rhett, the novel is a sociological study of the before and after of the Civil War, and the irrevocable transformation of the South by opportunistic industrialists from the North.
9.) The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant by U.S. Grant himself. Not a novel, but Grant was such a fine prose stylist, it READS like a novel. A man who was once an unemployable drunk proves that one can rise to greatness and forever shape history. Here are his brilliant observations on warfare, leading soldiers, personal integrity and honor. Grant was dying of throat cancer when he wrote these memoirs. He warded off death till his task was done. A true soldier. Fascinating!
10.) Mothers of Invention and This Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust. Two brilliant companion-piece books that read like novels depicting the true legacy of war: death, and the heartbreak of caring for the dead, which is always left to women. The landscape covered with corpses, the shattered families dragging their dead home to be reburied. The mass graves, each holding hundreds of young soldiers forever lost to history. These are beautiful, elegaic, books that haunt the reader, and pose the question, "When will we ever learn?"
Photo by Frank Morgan
If you subscribe to BookPageXTRA you already know today's big news from BookPage: We're launching a Top 10 e-newsletter! Here's the scoop:
Starting this month, we are offering a new Top 10 e-newsletter. Every month, BookPage editors will tell you about 10 notable books worth your attention. In one quick read, you'll find out which books people will be talking about—and which ones you want to add to your reading list. Sign up here to receive this new monthly e-newsletter.
Click here to view September's list. What's on your personal Top 10 for September?