Tag Archives: debut novel

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Debut Novels I’ve Read in the Past 3 Years

This week’s top ten Tuesday will highlight 10 favorite debut novels (in no particular order) I’ve read in the past few years.  This meme is usually hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, however, they are taking a break.  So, this one is blogger’s choice.  I love reading debut novels!  It’s always a gamble, but it can be so satisfying to find a new author’s work to love.  Have you read any of these?  What are your recent favorite debut authors/books?

 

  1.  Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – A family in Ghana divided by slavery, sweeping over 300 years.  (2016)

 

 

Yaa Gyasi, born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama.  She spent 7 years writing this novel which was published when she was only 26 years old and has won numerous awards for it.

 

2. Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng– A Chinese American family searches for the reasons behind their daughter’s death. (2014)

Celeste Ng grew up Pittsburgh, PA and Shaker Heights, OH.  She graduated from Harvard and from the MFA program at the University of Michigan.

 

 

 

3. The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld– A fantastical novel exploring death row and the humanity of an inmate there. (2014)

Rene Denfeld had authored several non-fiction works prior to this first fictional novel.  She is a death penalty investigator and a mother to 3 children adopted from foster care.

 

 

 

4.  The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker – A novel about the power of art to heal. (2017)

Kayla Rae Whitaker has received a BA from University of Kentucky and an MFA from NYU.  After living in Brooklyn for many year, she and her husband have returned to her home state, Kentucky.

 

 

 

5. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh – A thriller with twists, so the less said the better.  (2015)

Clare Mackintosh spent 12 years working for the police, including time on the CID.  She left in 2011, and now writes full time.

 

7.  Red Rising by Pierce Brown – A dystopian novel of epic proportions.  (2014)

Pierce Brown grew up in seven different states.  He graduated from Pepperdine University in 2010.  He wrote 6 novels and face rejection from over 120 agents prior to selling Red Rising.

 

 

7.  Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – A magical, fantastical world set in England containing politics, romance and diversity.  (2015)

Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia, but currently lives in England.  She writes full time.

 

 

8.  The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson – A novel about the dangers lurking within in a wealthy Marin high school, particularly cyberbullying. (2017)

Lindsey Lee Johnson grew up in Marin County.  She currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband.  She holds a professional writing degree from the University of Southern California.

 

 

 

 

9.  Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler – A novel about the secret thrilling life of waitstaff inside one of NYC’s most famous restaurants. (2016)

Stephanie Danler waitressed in NYC after graduating from Kenyon college.  She later obtained a MFA at the New School and drew on her waiting experience in the writing of this novel.

 

 

10.  Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey  – A quirky, humorous mystery novel set in Brazil. (2016)

Idra Novey grew up in a small mining town in Pennsylvania, but has lived in Chile and Brazil.  She has translated the work of several Brazilian authors prior to publishing this book.

 

“The Animators” by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Pages:  384

Expected Publication Date:  January 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

Breathtaking, stunning debut novel!  It is amazing!  It is tragic, heartfelt, tender and brazen all at the same time.  I absolutely loved this!  I loved the journey it took me on.  I loved that I had no idea where this book was headed, but went along for a wild ride that had me laughing and crying.  There were so many areas of gray and missing pieces of information that I was itching to learn more about along the journey. These holes were so often filled in just when you thought you might not get the answers.  However, the missing pieces weren’t ever what was expected, never cliched.  This book is filled with tragedy, horrors, sadness, but also with redemption, hope and love.

The novel begins in art class with Mel and Sharon, two young women not quite fitting the usual mold at the upstate college they attend.  They are poorer, have experienced more hurt and pain, and seem to have no one.  That is, until they find each other.  They bond over old cartoons including Dirty DuckRen and StimpyClutch CargoFritz the Cat, and Heavy Traffic.  They begin working together at school and after graduation spending long days and nights working on their first movie together based on Mel’s mother, who was a drug-addicted prostitute.  They are both artists who have triangulated their futures together through their art.  Ten years later they are experiencing the success of their first film.  Mel is bold, confident, the life of the party.  Sharon is reserved, holding back, the more practical of the two.  Together they have become a great team.  They are best friends and work partners.  However, their friendship is tested by addiction, jealousy, and medical illness.

It is through their friendship with each other that they begin to rebuild themselves.  “She was the first person to see me as I had always wanted to be seen.  It was enough to indebt me to her forever.”  Their relationship is close, nurturing, subject to role reversals and also anger.

It is through their art that they come to terms with their pasts, redeeming themselves through a process of catharsis. Kayla Rae Whitaker beautifully describes how much they pour themselves into their work, how it is transformative, healing, and full of love.  It changes the way they feel about themselves, their childhoods, and it Sharon’s case it changes her relationship with her mother.

I loved the writing, the build-up of tensions, the breaking down of tensions.  I loved the power of the encounters between Sharon and her family.  It is amazing how much was conveyed with so little said, how tone and inaction spoke so loudly between them.  The characters are so vividly and fully developed, the relationships incredibly dynamic, and the storyline itself is unique, bold and exhilarating.

This book is incredible.  It has so much depth, energy, grit.  I highly recommend this to everyone!  This will make an excellent book club choice.  

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What is art to Mel and Sharon?  What does it symbolize?
  2. Discuss Mel’s reaction to her mother’s death.  Do you think she feels guilty at all for creating a movie about her mother?
  3. Discuss the role of drugs and alcohol in this novel.  Who are the addicts and why?
  4. Why did Sharon keep her list a secret from Mel?
  5. Why do you think Teddy features so prominantly in Sharon’s list?  Is it because he was her first friend or because he showed her his father’s pictures?
  6. What do you think it is between Sharon and Teddy that brings them together romantically when she finds him in Louisville?
  7. Why is Teddy so upset that he is portrayed in Sharon’s movie?  Is this rational?
  8. Mel begins losing weight and drinking heavily leading up to her accidental death by overdose.  Why was she so depressed?
  9. Discuss the tension between Sharon and her mother.  How does it finally begin to ease and why?
  10. How do you think this last project that Mel had started and Sharon finally starts to put together will come together?  How do you predict the progression of the story?
  11. Was Mel in love with Sharon?

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s website

An Interview with Kayla Rae Whitaker

Fellow Blogger, Simon McDonald’s Review

“I Let You Go” by Clare Mackintosh

Pages: 371

Published: November 9, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

This book is fabulous.  I don’t usually gush about thrillers, but this one I just might!  The twists are what make this book so interesting, keeping you on the edge of your seat.  I listened to the audible version and loved it.  I thought the two narrators, Nicola Barber and Steven Crossley, did an incredible job, each very compelling in their roles.  The characters in this novel are all so well developed that you quickly begin developing feelings about them, both good and bad.

This is a police thriller.  The novel starts out with a mother walking home with her 5 year old son, Jacob, on a rainy afternoon after school. As he runs ahead of her to cross the street to their home,  a car comes speeding around the corner striking and killing the boy on impact.  The grief-stricken mother does not get a good look at the driver because of the heavy rainfall and the driver backs up, turns around, speeding away.   She withdraws into her own guilt, stating she only let go for a second.

Ray and Kate are two detectives involved in investigating this case.  During their investigation they become uncomfortably close, despite the fact that Ray is married.  Because he and Kate spend so much time together, he finds himself talking to Kate more easily about problems at home and with his children than he does with his wife.

Jenna Gray is so upset because in her mind she is guilty of the murder of her son.  She keeps thinking, “I let you go.”  She runs away escaping to Wales, dropping her cell phone in a puddle, renting out a small cottage, retreating into solitude. One day she rescues a dog that’s been tossed to the side of the road in a bag with another that has already died.  She takes it to the local vet, Patrick, who convinces her to keep the dog, whom she names Beau.  She and Patrick begin spending more time with each other.  It seems she is slowly beginning to recover from her trauma.  She is trusting herself more, developing affection for Patrick, and finding joy in her photography.  It is all interrupted by a knock on the door by Ray and Kate.  Thus ends Part 1 and begins Part 2, which I cannot say anything about without giving away too much.

The novel moves swiftly from there.  It is cunning, well-written and superbly crafted, such that this twist will take your breath away wondering how it could be, how you could have gotten it wrong.  It’s a compelling, thrilling, thoroughly enjoyable book!  I highly recommend it.  

 

Penfach is a fictionalized Welsh town on the lower Gower Peninsula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What did you expect was going on with Ray and Mag’s son?  Were you surprised at the truth?
  2. When Jenna Gray is narrating in Part one, did you think she was the mother of the 5 year old boy, the murderer or someone else?  I was certain she was the mother of the 5 year old boy.  What clues were present that would have told us this was not the case?
  3. Compare and contrast the relationship Ray has with Mags to that he has with Kate.  What is it about Kate that appeals to Ray?
  4. Which characters do the words “I let you go” apply to?  Explain.
  5. Discuss Jenna’s mental state when she is living in Wales.  She is fearful of people, experiencing nightmares, and does not trust herself to make decisions.  How did you interpret this when you thought she was the mother of the 5 year old boys?  How do you interpret this knowing who she is?
  6. Why do you think Jenna yearns so much for solitude?
  7. Why do you think Jenna finds relief in being accused of murder?
  8. Discuss the reaction of the villagers in Penfach to Jenna’s arrest.
  9. Discuss the relationship between Eve and Jenna.  What has driven them apart and what brings them back together?
  10. We never found out what happened to Marie, Ian’s previous significant other.  Do you think she made it out alive?  What do you suppose happened to her?
  11. What do you make of the epilogue?  Is Ian still alive or is it only the memory of domestic abuse that will never die?
  12. How do you imagine Jenna’s future unfolds?

Clare Mackintosh’s website

Fellow Blogger, Novel Gossip’s Review

Review by “The Bookworm’s Fantasy” Blog

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Pages: 288

Published:  January 10, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

This is a horrific story of a group of seemingly heartless children following them from 8th grade through senior year.  They live in Mill Valley, a wealthy city within Marin County.  They are entitled, spoiled, and largely ignored by their parents.  Through the use of social media they are also extremely dangerous.  Each chapter is told from the perspective of a student or teacher.  Even the teachers in this book are awful.  They are trying to relive their high school years by relating and engaging with the children inappropriately.  This is a book that disgusted and enraged me, but also scared me to death (as a mother).  This books warns of the horrors of social media, how it betrays friendships, how people can be heartless and ruthless on social media with no regard to feelings and outcomes.  It warns how children and adults can make very big mistakes online, how a small mistake in real life can be amplified by social media to social and emotional ruin.

This group of children in particular is savage.  Social standing is everything.  Relationships lack depth.  Anyone can stab you in the back if it might earn you higher social standing.    With all that these kids were going through and experiencing, they each seemed to be islands, lacking close friendships or supportive families.  They did not share personal details of their lives with their friends, they did not confide in their friends.  Their friends were there solely for the purpose of social standing.  The children appear lost, unhappy, and in some cases were trying to become someone else rather than discover who they really were.

At it’s core this book is about bullying and I felt it was a cry that we as a society should be doing more to prevent it, to address it once it happens, and acknowledge that it will likely happen again.  There are so many students that participated in the bullying and the bulk of it was done online where people can hide behind screens and become more heartless.  How do we as a society, as communities, as school address the online lives of our children?  How much freedom and independence do we give them versus close monitoring?  What kind of limits should be imposed?

Towards the end of the novel, Molly is made to shut down her Facebook account by the school administration because of her over-involvement online with her students.  “At least for a while, she’d reside in the land of the actual, where she might discover who her real friends were.  Where she might discover herself.”

As hard as this was to read, I think there is an excellent message to this book.  It asks a lot of questions and hopefully will get people thinking.  The character development was excellent and I enjoyed reading and getting inside the heads of various different students and teachers.  I thought it was an interesting twist that Ryan gets taken advantage of through social media at the end, however, it did seem a little far-fetched and out of character for him.  My first inclination was to give this 3 stars,  however I’m bumping it up to 4 because it brings up a lot of great discussion points.  This would make for an excellent book club read. 

Royal Blue Awareness Ribbon

 

 

 

Mill Valley, CA

located in Marin County

 

 

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Name all the victims of bullying within this book.  In what ways were they bullied?
  2. Molly Nicoll had been a victim of bullying in high school.  She thinks back that it was better not to be noticed than to be a target, which she became after a terrible haircut.  How does this relate to other victims of bullying within this book?
  3. Discuss Doug Ellison and Abigail Cress’s relationship.  Who has more to lose if people found out?  Do you think Doug Ellison has had previous relationships with his students?
  4. Why does Calista relate to the line in “Great Gatsby” where Jordan Baker says to Nick, “I hate careless people.”  Why is it that Calista hates careless people?  Who does she consider careless?
  5. Calista tells Molly “Nothing ever goes back.”  Does it seem like the rest of the school pretends that it does?
  6. Compare and contrast the social hierarchy among the students versus the teachers.
  7. Beth tells Molly “It’s only geography dear.”  What is the meaning behind this statement?
  8. Why do you think Molly yearns to understand and become close to her students?  Do you feel it is appropriate?  Where is the line?
  9. Calista contemplates suicide.  Why?  Why is she so unhappy?
  10. How is Ryan ultimately taken advantage of towards the end of the book?  Is this bullying?
  11. There is a recurring theme of people wanting to be different, of trying to reinvent themselves.  Why do you think this is?
  12. Why do you think so much of the bullying happens online rather than face to face?
  13. What do you think could be done differently to prevent bullying?
  14. The students involved online were given a brief suspension for the bullying that led to Tristan’s suicide.  Do you feel this sentence was adequate?  What should the consequences be?
  15. What kind of monitoring should parents have over online correspondence of their children?

Lindsey Lee Johnson’s website

Review by Sarah Nyall in the New York Times

Review by Fellow Blogger Becky Renner

Review by fellow blogger “Mad Book Love”

The Book Reporter’s Review

“Sorcerer to the Crown” by Zen Cho

 

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Pages:  371

Published:  September 1, 2015

Awards:  Locus Award Nominee for Best First Novel

 

 

 

This magical, fantastical, witty comedy of manners meets magical fairyland is so fun to read.  There is much foreshadowing to provide plenty of excitement and anticipation for the sequel which has not yet been published.  For all it’s playfulness, there is also an underlining seriousness to this novel.  This has to do with the politics of Britain and the treatment of women and people of color.  In fairyland, race does not matter, it is not even noticed.  Likewise, in fairyland, women are equally adept and capable of practicing magic as men are.  This is in stark contrast to England.  Politics and society are portrayed as a comedy of manners in Britain where people are tripping over themselves to maintain decorum despite the pervading racism and sexism.

The story is set in 19th century England.   Upon the death of his guardian and mentor, Zacharias Wythe becomes the “sorcerer royal” more out of obligation, than desire.   Given that he is a freed slave, a black man, there is much outcry against him.  There is an underground movement afoot to unseat him, led by the unscrupulous and dishonest Geoffrey Midsomer.    This all comes at a time when there is a drain on the magic in England, there are political entanglements with magicians from foreign lands, and war is ensuing with France.

Zacharias is asked to visit a school for gentle witches where the main objective is to banish or hide their magical abilities.  Zacharias immediately notices the magical talents of Prunella Gentleman, who was orphaned and left in the care of Mrs. Daubney at a young age.    Prunella has fallen out of favor with Mrs. Daubney, the headmistress of the school and Prunella’s guardian since her father’s death.  She asks Prunella to move to the servant’s quarters, but instead Prunella accompanies Zacharias back to London and begins to study thaurmatorgy with him.  Prunella has recently discovered herself in possession of a singing orb and seven familiar’s eggs.  As she begins to grow her familiars while looking for a husband, her powers grow, and a love interest develops between Zacharias and Prunella.   Prunella is certainly a “Cinderella” character, but one with much bravery, talent and ambition.  It is she who becomes the true star, the heroine of the novel, able to take the reins of her position, to succeed as the ultimate “Sorceress Royal.”

This is, of course, a very simplified and scaled back version of the novel.  There are many subplots within the main plot.  The novel is chock full of an interesting array of characters:  nosy society ladies, seedy politicians, faeries, vampiresses, curious familiars, mermaids, dragons, and much more!

This novel is craftily written, full of surprises and larger than life characters.  It is at once serious and whimsical.  It delights and  exceeds expectations.  I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction!! images-2

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What similarities do Prunella Gentleman and Zacharias Wythe share?
  2. Is magic seen as good or evil?  How does this differ depending upon the practitioner of magic?
  3. Discuss race and gender in the British society of this novel.  Does the author construe them as they were in 19th century Britain or modern day?   Is there a depiction of white supremacy and institutionalized oppression?  How so?
  4. How is Prunella like a Cinderella story?
  5. Discuss Mak Genggang’s role.
  6. How does Zacharias respond to Sir Stephen’s advice?  How does this differ from when Sir Stephen was alive?
  7. Discuss Prunella’s plans for the future of England.  What specific changes does she have in mind?
  8. How does Zacharias sacrifice himself for Sir Stephen?  How ultimately is the repaired?
  9. What is the value and cost of having a familiar?
  10. Zachary’s does not confront Sir Stephen about his parents until the end.  Please discuss.
  11. Discuss the parallel between Sir Stephen wanting to train a black sorcerer and Zacharias championing the rights of female magicians, or magiciennes.

Review by Marina Berlin published in “Strange Horizons”

Review published on “Galleywampus” blog

Review by Amal El-Mohtar published by NPR

Zen Cho’s website

5 Debut Novels of 2016 and the New Authors Behind Them

What is better than finding a new author to love?  It opens up a whole new perspective, vantage point, and reads differently from what we are used to.   Here are 5 debut books of 2016 and the authors behind these great new works.

  1.  “Ways to Disappear” by Idra Novey – Published February 9, 2016

idra_photo25746685Residence:  She grew up in a small mining town in Pennsylvania.  She has lived in Chile and Brazil.  She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Work:  She has translated the work of several Brazilian writers; she’s taught at Princeton, Columbia, Fordham, NYU, The Catholic University of Chile, and in the Bard Prison Initiative

Something Interesting:  She met her husband on the subway and immediately knew she would marry him before even speaking to him.

 

 

2.  “Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler – Published May 24, 2016

 

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th-4Lives:  Brooklyn, NY.  She moved to NYC after graduating from Kenyon College.

Work:  After waitressing, she obtained a MFA in creative writing from the New School and began work on her novel.

Something Interesting:  She is obsessed with poetry, there are pieces of poetry scattered throughout this novel.

3.  “Rich and Pretty” by Rumaan Alam – Published June 7, 2016

 

th-1Lives: in New York with his husband and 2 sons

Work: Has worked in magazine publish26890725-1ing and advertising.  Now, he writes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi– Published June 7, 2016

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Residence:  Born in Ghana, raised in Huntsville, Alabama.  She and her boyfriend now live in the Bay area.

Work: She is a graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  She spent 7 years writing and researching this novel, which was published when she was only 26 years old.  The novel has been nominated for many awards.

 

5.  “Behind Closed Doors” by B.A. Paris – Published August 9, 2016

 

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Residence:  She grew up in England but has spent much of her adult life in France.  She is the mother of 5 daughters.

Work:  She has wo29437949rked both in finance and as a teacher.

Something Interesting:  She had suspicions about a friend’s marriage and her imagination is what provided the inspiration for writing this novel.

 

 

 

“Behind Closed Doors” by B.A. Paris

29437949Pages:  304
Published:  August 9, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

“Behind Closed Doors” is the debut novel of B.A. Paris, reminiscent of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train.”  It is a thriller that one wants to plow through.  It keeps you on the edge of your seat, needing to know the eventual outcome.  I listened to the audio version of this and thought the narrator, Georgia Maguire, did a terrific job.

This book made me very uncomfortable, however.  The narrative is from the perspective of a psychologically abused wife, Grace, whose husband, Jack, meant physical harm to the Grace’s younger sister with Down’s syndrome, Milly.   Grace is literally imprisoned by her husband who derives pleasure from the fear he senses in his victims.  She is locked in a room most of the time and cannot write emails or socialize unless under strict supervision of her husband.  Although this book invokes some real truths of domestic abuse, it really goes way over the top.  Jack, the psychopath, is absolute scum of the earth.  It was mind-blowing to me that someone could dream up this scenario, and the harm he wishes to inflict on Milly.

I found that the novel required the reader to take several leaps of faith to allow the wife to fall into this situation.  Jack and Grace have only a few short months of getting to know each other, and during this time have very little quality or intimate time.  Jack asks Grace to quit her job, handover the money from selling her flat, and convinces Grace’s parents to move to New Zealand immediately after the wedding.  He is whittling away her autonomy even before they are married.  He does not like the idea of having Grace’s sister, Milly,  in the wedding, and when Milly falls backwards down the stairs to the church (necessitating hospitalization for a broken leg), as he is walking alongside her, Grace is completely non-suspecting.  The wedding proceeds despite this.  Then, Jack disappears on their wedding night not to return until the next day just before their flight, sending a repugnant text message and then refusing to take Grace to visit Milly before heading to the airport as they had planned.  And Grace still agrees to go to Thailand with him!  These things were all hard to swallow!

However, once Grace is fully secured as his prisoner, and the mind games begin, it is rewarding to see Grace begin to win some of these games, and eventually come out as a survivor.  It is also rewarding to find that Ester and Adam had connected the dots and would help her in the end.

In summary, for those who love a good edge of your seat thriller, you will probably really enjoy this.  The writing isn’t spectacular and if you look closely, there seem to be flaws in the creation of the premise, but if you can let that go, it is enjoyable.  Again, I thought Georgia Maguire did an excellent job with the audible version, so you might want to give that a go.  3-stars

Discussion Questions:

  1.  The format of the book alternates between past and present.  How does this add to the book?
  2. What clues are present prior to Jack and Grace’s marriage that Jack might be a psychopath?
  3. Do you think Grace falls in love with Jack before marrying him or just the idea of having a charming man who is accepting of her sister as well?
  4. Why do you think Grace is so vulnerable to Jack’s charms?
  5. How do the Jack and Grace appear to their friends?
  6. What key pieces of information does Ester pick up on?
  7. What tactics of domestic abuse does Jack employ in his dealings with Grace?
  8. How is Milly depicted in this novel?  What are some key roles that she plays?
  9. Is the ending satisfying or were you hoping that Jack was found out publicly?
  10. What do you predict will happen in the aftermath of this novel?  Will Grace be cleared?

 

Review on bookchatter.net by a fellow blogger

Discussion Questions by Litlovers