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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

12 Debut books worth reading

Debut books are often a risk. Can the author actually write well? Do they have a compelling story to tell? Here are some of my recommendations of first books that are well worth reading. Presented alphabetically by author, these 12 books represent a variety of genres so hopefully there will be something to catch your attention.

As usual for my lists, I've read all these books (though some I read years ago) and can recommend. Many Must-Read lists tend to focus on the shiny new publications - and those are fun....but you'll see that many of these are back-list books. Back-list books are often easier to find at the library or at thrift stores because the big rush to read them has passed. But, they are still good, sometimes great, books.

The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

Genre: General Fiction

Published 1995, 296 pages

A coming-of-age story of a girl being raised in a strict ultra-Orthodox Jewish home contrasted with the pulls of the outside world.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2007, 304 pages

A quick, light, entertaining read about two magical sisters, one who stays home and embraces the magic and one who moves away but returns home bringing trouble (sound familiar?). The touches of magical realism are satisfying in this sweet story of family, redemption, and love.

Lost Dog #1 by Bill Cameron

Genre: Mystery

Published 2007, 373 pages

I don't remember how I came across this book, but it was a surprisingly good read. This is a perfect example of a good book that has flown under the radar for some reason. You know from the beginning who the killer is, so the story is more about Peter, the random, average guy who just keeps being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Could be a good summer read with a great bad guy and a likable good guy.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Genre: Historical Fiction

Oprah book club 10/19

Published 2019, 403 pages

Another book with magical realism but this one revolves around slavery and the story of one slave who dreams of a better, free life. The underground railroad, falling in love, escaping and getting caught - all themes in this beautifully written debut novel. Reviewed here.

The Ensemble by Aja Gable

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2018, 352 pages

The story follows the happenings of a musical quartet through loves, lives, losses. And the writing. My goodness, the writing. Relationships in books are often described in such cliches - it's hard to find new ways to describe emotions and how people relate. This author does it convincingly and with great insight. It is also a great peek into the dedication of musicians.

Nathan's Run by John Gilstrap

Genre: General Fiction

Published 1996, 384 pages

Gilstrap didn't want his first novel to be considered a YA book (protagonist is 12 years old), so filled the book with "objectionable language" (it has been on banned lists over the years). It's the story of a kid accused of killing a cop and on the run from a killer, as he tries to make his case to the public by giving radio interviews. An excellent story.

The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B #1 by Sandra Gulland

Genre: Historical Fiction

Published 1995, 448 pages

If you're a fan of historical fiction, this book is a MUST read. The first in a trilogy and using epistolary form, diary entries track the life of young Josephine Bonaparte as she meets Napoleon, falls in love and gets swept up in history. I loved this book (actually the whole trilogy!).

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2011, 512 pages

Partly about college sports and the fanaticism and dedication of athletes, partly the story of a gay athlete and a teacher, and also about the deep bonds of friendship. A surprisingly good read.

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag

Genre: Dystopian

Published 2011, 512 pages

Set in a flooded post-apocalyptic world, a woman and her 7 year old daughter are endlessly searching for her older daughter among the vast ocean and random small islands. Well written, great dialog, action and questions of morality/ethics are explored. Reviewed here.

The Dry #1 by Jane Harper

Genre: mystery

Published 2016, 352 pages

This debut novel has a lot going for it. Great characters, a solid plot, clever, smooth dialog, and such evocative writing that I could feel as if I were in the drought in Australia. I've since read all her other releases and they are equally excellent.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2018, 384 pages

This book made a big splash as a debut novel, with good reason. It's the engrossing story of a young woman alone on the marshes of N Carolina. So evocative of a place and time, it's a good blend of descriptions of the marsh and its critters against the challenges faced by this young woman to survive.

Reviewed here.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Genre: General Fiction

Published 2006, 406 pages

Told in 2 timelines: current day and 50 years in the past, it has sort of a Victorian vibe. The slight mystery revolves around a dysfunctional family's secrets that are being revealed by a dying woman. I also loved her Once Upon a River published a few years later. Reviewed here.

So there you have it - 12 debut novels to explore. Of course, many of these authors may have become your favorites as they have gone on to write more books since some of these firsts are more than 10 years old. But sometimes it's fun to go back and read their first book, just for comparison. How did you like my recommendations? Have you read any? All? Or did one or two make your TBR list? Leave me a comment ........

Welcome to Bookshelf Journeys.

It's my goal to provide real reviews of the books I read without totally rehashing every plot. I'll never spoil a story by giving away a plot twist! Hopefully you'll find one or two of interest and will discover a new book or author to add to YOUR TBR list.  Take a moment to explore, read a couple reviews, and let me know what you think.


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