Use your past favorites to discover your favorite new voice! Here are some notable first novels paired with their 2014 read-alikes. Agree? Disagree? Duke it out with me in the comments.
Susanna Clarke's twist on the conventions of the magician's tale captured reader imaginations nearly 10 years ago. Lauren Owen brings the same energy and creativity to the tired trope of the undead in The Quick, which is set in the Victorian era. When Charlotte's brother, James, goes missing in London, she leaves their isolated Yorkshire estate to discover what's happend to him—and uncovers a fate that just might be worse than death.
No, it's not just the word "box" that these books have in common—it's the creeping sense of horror and the difficulty you'll have falling asleep after reading them. The bogeyman in Malerman's debut goes nameless and undescribed, since to see it is to go mad. But its very vagueness increases the menace.
Like Jonathan Safran Foer's acclaimed debut, Boris Fishmann's first novel follows a young man who is grappling with his Jewish heritage in an unusual way. But instead of traveling through Eastern Europe, Slava Gelman is helping his grandparents' friends apply for restitution from the German government—whether or not they were directly affected by the Holocaust.
Fans of Sue Monk Kidd's Secret Life of Bees and Beth Hoffman's Saving CeeCee Honeycutt shouldn't miss the first novel from McNeal, a touching coming-of-age story set in Civil Rights Era New Orleans. Dollbaby is the story of Ibby Bell, a young girl who is abandoned by her flighty mother on the doorstep of the grandmother she's never met in the wake of her father's tragic death. As Ibby adjusts to life in the South—and to the habits of her eccentric grandmother, Fannie—she must navigate some troubling family secrets.
Like the works of Sarah Addison Allen and early Alice Hoffman, Creech's debut is centered on women who have more than a touch of magic in their lives. The Lenore women have long been able to make a living off their unique perfumes, which contain a secret ingredient from a magical flower cultivated by their ancestor. But when the flower suddenly begins to sicken and die, a prodigal Lenore sister may be key to bringing them back to life.
Ben Fountain took on the military and the media in his award-winning debut; German-born author Clark takes a similarly satirical and darkly humorous look at the food industry in Sweetness #9, the story of the inventor of an artificial sweetener and his slow realization that the consequences of his invention might be more serious than he could have imagined.
Fans of the friendly, uplifting and heartwarming will enjoy the first work of fiction from Woodroof, a longtime NPR contributor. It stars a long suffering college professor who falls in love and finds out he has a son all in the same eventful summer. Eccentric hero Tom's crooked path to love and family will charm fans of Graeme Simsion's quirky first novel.
Nancy Horan was one of the early adopters of the "telling stories of lost women in history" genre. In her remarkable first novel, Kimberly Elkins brings not one but two historical women to life in her debut novel, which tells the story of Laura Bridgman, the first woman to learn the language of the deaf/blind/mute that was later taught to Helen Keller.
Just as Hannah Kent brought to life the vanished world of 1820s Iceland, so Jessie Burton reveals the intricacies of 17th-century Amsterdam in her first novel, The Miniaturist. When country girl Nelle marries a rich merchant, she is at first in awe of his opulent household—and his icy sister, Marin. But as Nelle gains a foothold in her new family, she realizes they are hiding some dangerous secrets.
Publishers are always on the lookout for the next big thing, which means plenty of choice for fans of new voices. After highlighting four outstanding August debuts in our print issue, it's time to take a look back at the year as a whole. Here are our 12 most notable first novels of the year (so far!).
About the book: A young widow who's always lived in the shadow of her famous husband must take a new tack on life after his unexpected and sudden death. This story of self-discovery is fun, relatable and poignant.
About the author: Radziwill is a star on "The Real Housewives of New York," who honed her writing chops with a best-selling memoir, What Remains, which explores her own widowhood.
Read more: Check out the review from our February issue.
About the book: A family of four leaves their home in Alabama to reach the California coast by the time the Rapture arrives. Teenaged Jess and her older sister, Elise, have plenty of earthly problems to deal with along the way—and they're not as sure as their parents that the end is near.
About the author: Miller, who grew up in Mississippi, is currently the John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. She published a short story collection, Big World, in 2009.
About the book: Told in the voices of five very different childhood friends, Butler's debut is a paean to small-town Midwestern life and an exploration of how friendships can change over time. Bonus: One of the characters just might be kinda-sorta based on a famous Wisconsin musician who went to high school with Butler.
About the author: A Wisconsin native, Butler attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop and lived in the Twin Cities before moving back home to Fall Creek with his wife, an attorney, and their two children.
Read more: Check out the interview from our March issue.
About the book: Set in a small town in the Ozarks, McHugh's debut follows a young girl whose friend's disappearance stirs up questions—and secrets—relating to her own missing mother.
About the author: McHugh drew inspiration from her own experience of moving with her family to the Ozarks as a teen—where she first discovered that small-town life didn't necessarily mean an idyllic life—as well as from the real-life disappearance of a Missouri teen.
About the book: The story begins four years after then-11-year-old Justin Campbell was kidnapped—on the day that his father, Eric, receives a phone call saying Justin is coming home. Though they're overjoyed, the Campbells soon discover that putting their family back together might be just as painful as having it ripped apart.
About the author: Johnston is the current Director of Creative Writing at Harvard, and he was one of the National Book Foundation's "5 Under 35" in 2005.
Read more: Check out the review from our May issue.
About the book: Maud is worried about her best friend, Elizabeth, whom she hasn't seen in what feels like ages. But her daughter, and Elizabeth's son, blame Maud's worry on her increasing dementia. It soon becomes clear to the reader that Elizabeth's disappearance is bringing long-buried memories to the surface of Maud's now-cloudy mind, and the reader is completely involved in this double mystery.
About the author: Healey not only writes books—she knows how to bind them, having completed a book-binding degree in London before getting her MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia.
Read more: Check out the review from our June issue.
About the book: A forgotten American life takes center stage in this compelling debut, which tells the story of Laura Bridgman, a deaf, blind and mute woman who was born in the early 1800s. She was the first person to learn to communicate by finger-spell, a language that was later taught to Helen Keller.
About the author: Elkins is a screenwriter, playwright and essayist who has lived in cities around the globe. She has degrees from Duke, Boston University and Florida State.
About the book: This homage to all things Gothic is the rare book that both feels completely grounded in its period setting and completely relevant to our modern times—and puts a creative twist on the somewhat tired vampire trend.
About the author: British author Owen is currently completing her doctorate in English Literature at Durham University.
About the book: After the apocalypse, a young couple finds all the society they need in each other—until Frida realizes she's pregnant. Their search for civilization leads them to a mysterious settlement that may or may not provide the sanctuary they seek.
About the author: A graduate of Oberlin and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, Lepucki has worked as a staff writer for The Millions.
Read more: Check out the review from our July issue.
About the book: Decades of colorful Caribbean history come to life in this engaging first novel, which follows the fortunes of one family after their arrival in the Virgin Islands and includes a touch of magic.
About the author: Yanique is a native of the Virgin Islands and now lives with her family in Brooklyn. She has received a Fulbright scholarship for her writing.
About the book: Research scientist David Leveraux starts to wonder whether the artificial sweetener he's created in his lab—and unleashed on the world—has a dark side.
About the author: Born in Germany to a Norwegian mother and Texan father, Clark has lived in five states and five countries. He is the author of a short story collection, Vladimir's Mustache, and currently teaches writing at Augsburg College in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Read more: Check out the review from our August issue.
About the book: Alma thinks she has left her small-town past behind her, but when her troubled younger sister is found dead on the side of the road, she is pulled back to Montana to discover the truth—and care for her orphaned young niece.
About the author: Like her main character, La Seur is a lawyer who left her home state of Montana to practice in the big city.
Agree? Disagree? let us know in the comments!
Related in BookPage: Check out our 2013 list of noteworthy debuts.