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Looking to try something new? Check out our Debuts of the Month selection. You never know, one might become your favourite new author and a special discovery!
The book world has been excited about this debut for some time, and for good reason as it is such an intensely powerful and emotional read. Lex Gracie is Girl A, the girl who escaped the House of Horrors, as an adult she now has to confront the past all over again. This is a book that deserves your time, don’t rush, even though it is so good it calls for you to race through. Lex narrates, her clear concise words transferred to my thoughts with piercing clarity. Abigail Dean writes with a devastatingly eloquent pen, she examines the cause and effect of power, abuse, and trauma. When a book alters the patterns of your thoughts, if only for a short time, it deserves to be read, to be felt, even if those feelings are harrowing at times. When I reached the end, I slowed, stopped, and after a few moments returned to the last few chapters to read and again allow the words to enter and become fully absorbed in my heart. I’m not sure if everyone will follow the same fork in the path that I took as I read, and that is what makes this book so special, the reader will make their own decision as to where they step with Lex. A LoveReading Star Book, Girl A is challenging, thought-provoking and above all a beautifully compelling read.
Often eye-opening and heart-wrenching, always elegant and absorbing, Hafsa Zayyan’s We Are All Birds of Uganda is an outstanding debut that crosses continents, cultures and generations. Remarkable in its exploration of identity, family bonds, racism, colourism and the phenomenon of twice migration through characters who’ve moved from South Asia, to East Africa, to Europe, I read Sameer’s story in one sitting, utterly engrossed by his awakening from a state of unrest to finding new purpose as he redefines the nature of success. At 26, Leicester-born Cambridge graduate Sameer is flying high as a lawyer in London, and on track to fast track it to partner when he’s offered a post in Singapore. Life seems sweet, except for fearing what his parents will think of the move, the “filling a quota” remark made by a colleague, and a bullying new boss who excludes him from a social event because “you lot don’t drink”. Then comes news that one of his best friends since childhood has been left in a coma after a vicious attack, and Sameer begins to question everything - who he is, what he’s doing with his life, where he wants to be. Skipping back to 1945, we follow another Asian Ugandan voice via Hasan’s heartfelt letters to his deceased first wife. Through these we see colonialism through Hasan’s eyes. We read how the British “have crept up on us, unwittingly seeped through our skin and into our bones, and settled comfortably inside each of us like veins”, how they excluded Hasan from their Sports Club, and then comes the rise of anti-colonialism, a push for Ugandan independence, hostility towards and legislation against Asian Ugandans: “We are not natives and we are not Europeans.” Back in Sameer’s narrative, wealthy Mr Shah, a family friend, speaks of the betrayal of “being turfed out of the country in which you were born, the only country you’ve ever known, like you’re no one, like you’re nothing.” With his move to Singapore looming, Sameer decides to visit Mr Shah in Uganda to find out more about his family history, with monumental effects. Emotionally rich and deeply resonant, it’s no wonder this gem co-won the inaugural Merky Books New Writers' Prize. The LoveReading LitFest invited Hafsa Zayyan to the festival to talk about We Are All Birds of Uganda. You can view the event by subscribing to the LitFest programme for as little as £6 per month - or you can pay per view. For just £2, go, see Hafsa in conversation with Paul Blezard and find out why everyone is blown away by this stunning debut. Check out a preview of the event here
Set in Barbados in 1984, Cherie Jones’s How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House undulates with ocean-pure, ocean-powerful writing. Telling the poignant stories of Bajan women struggling to survive the actions of abusive men who’ve veered violently off track, it’s an exceptional debut that deftly exposes the inequalities of race and gender that simmer beneath the island’s paradisal veneer. As a child, Lala’s grandmother guardian told her the cautionary tale of the one-armed sister who disobeyed her elders and ventured into the tunnels near their home at Baxter’s Beach. As a young woman, Lala braids the hair of white tourists who rent luxury beachfront villas while she cares for her baby and lives with her abusive, petty criminal husband Adan. When Adan bungles a burglary, he unleashes a succession of devastating events that results in two women losing the thing most dear to them. As a result, Adan is compelled to flee to his secret hideaway, and so the tunnels of the cautionary tale take on real-world significance. Demonstrating the deep-rooted extent of patriarchal control and abuse, the narrative slips back in time to tell the stories of Lala’s mother and grandmother. “Of course she did not leave him. What woman leaves a man for something she is likely to suffer at the hands of any other?” - tellingly this excerpt is applicable to all three generations. The author also explores the tangled relationships between these women, and the complexity of mother-daughter bonds, such as when Lala comments, of herself, “despite your best efforts, you are exactly like your mother”. And yet, at the same time, she misses her mother “more than ever”. Another powerful theme is that of the destructive underbelly of tourism - the fishing villages that “died in the birthing of the big houses, because rich tourists who visit for a few months each year do not wish to suffer the stink of market”, and the men who sell themselves to older white women, such as Tone the gigolo, Lala’s childhood love, who’s much more than he seems. What a novel. What execution. What a writer to watch.
Katie Hale is our January 2020 Debut Author of the Month. Click to find out more about Katie on our blog. Oh… my… word, this is one fabulous debut! I found a deceptively simple, and stark dystopian foray into a world blighted by bombs and sickness. Monster is completely alone until one day she finds a child. She becomes mother and passes on her knowledge, but are her mothering skills being received in the way she is expecting them to be? Told in the first person, Katie Hale has created short chapters where thoughts scatter, bounce, zigzag. I filed away feelings and emotions as I read, each within touching distance, lying in wait to prod and provoke. This feels honest, as though looking at a future just within grasp, or back to a history that has already happened. The feelings are raw, sometimes painful, yet relatable and believable. I found the premise of this novel absolutely fascinating, I explored interpretation of meaning, motherhood, and thoughts on the basic cycle of life. ‘My Name is Monster’ is poignant, moving and wonderfully different, it is also incredibly intimate, readable and surprisingly beautiful, I adored it. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
Our January 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A complete joy of a debut, bright, observational and incredibly intimate, this book has lodged itself in my heart. Take twelve independent yet linked stories over twelve months about people who are connected to a London park community. The focus changes with each month, allowing individual stories to shine, yet they add up to a vibrantly wonderful whole. Gemma Reeves is beautifully eloquent, she has the ability with a few words, to give you admittance to someone’s soul. While she creates penetrating access to each person, there isn’t always a conclusion, instead life carries on, suggesting potential pathways. I fell in love with this powerfully blended infusion of life. The variety of characters, in age, personality, and beliefs crackle with energy. A new character might wander in for a few moments and then star in the next tale. Some connections may be obvious and linger, others lightly touch before moving on. The stories themselves tug at heartstrings and encourage thoughts to roam, the ending is simply divine and brought tears to my eyes. Thought-provoking and emotionally intelligent, Victoria Park slips with glorious ease onto our LoveReading Star Books list and is a Liz Pick of the Month, it really is very special indeed.
Written by counsellor, psychotherapist and clinical tutor Gill Frost, The Girls Within relates the moving case study of Vivian, a woman struggling with the impact of extreme childhood trauma. The tough subject is handled with extraordinary compassion, and written in a compellingly clear, warm style that will engage laypeople and psychotherapy professionals alike. While Vivian’s childhood experiences and resulting adulthood disorders are affectingly harrowing, the restorative twelve-year relationship between patient and therapist brings waves of joy. After a horrific childhood, Vivian went on to a nursing career with no signs of trauma until she and her husband began couple therapy. It was then Vivian first spoke of the emotional, physical and sexual abuse she suffered as a child, and began to experience flashbacks, seizures and dissociative identity disorder (DID). As the author explains, “Dissociating is something we all do at times when we are feeling uncomfortable or in pain, either physically or emotionally… in order to relieve the discomfort we would otherwise experience”, but in extreme cases like Vivian’s, “dissociation can evolve into dissociative identity disorder (DID).” This tells the story of two girls living within Vivian: six-year-old Little Vivvi (whose drawings are featured in the book) and teenage Izzy, and of the innovative therapies that spoke to Vivian during therapy, most notably Advanced Integrative Therapy, a form of “energy psychology” that holistically links body and mind, and draws on traditional knowledge like chakras. The twelve-year connection between patient and therapist recounted here is a complex, looping, juddering rollercoaster ride; a journey readers will feel deeply invested in, and much compassion for.
A fabulously entertaining absolute romp of a murder mystery set in 1940’s New York. Famous private detective Lillian Pentecost, and her assistant Willowjean Parker are hired to track down the murderer of a wealthy young widow who was bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball at a seance. This is the debut novel and first in the Pentecost and Parker series from Stephen Spotswood, who is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and theatre educator. He quite obviously knows how to tell one heck of a captivating story, and this sits somewhere between hard-boiled and cosy! The first sentence is a corker, and sets up Willowjean (Will) as the most engaging and one-of-a-kind narrator. This is very much a character-led story, the feeling of the time is created with dialogue, which snaps and crackles with energy. Both Lillian and Will are fascinating characters, with more than a few tricks hidden up their sleeves. With a locked-room mystery, wonderfully diverse central characters, and a cracking storyline, Fortune Favours the Dead is a dream of a read and has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book.
Our November 2020 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A powerful, provocative, and darkly stunning debut. This is a book that tore my heart into pieces while simultaneously showing me the wonder of love and imagination. Romilly’s childhood is one of fame and isolation when her father includes her as the main character in his books for children. While the world believes that the books lead you on a treasure hunt, a more private and heartbreaking journey awaits Romilly. This isn’t an easy read, but it is a beautiful one. Polly Crosby somehow balances some incredibly difficult issues with a sense of wonder, she really does have the most eloquent pen. The prologue has huge impact, sweet, sharp, and bitter notes struck my awareness, and I reread the words before allowing them full access into my thoughts. I initially felt as though I was stepping into a half remembered mysterious photograph. As bites of reality began to appear, they caused a mental and physical ache for all that was lost and uneasy. As the ending settled and I sat back and contemplated, I concluded that it was the most pure and perfect conclusion. Romilly is so special, she has taken up residence inside my thoughts, and she is more than welcome to spend time there. The Illustrated Child is a vibrantly unique and thought-provoking read, it has been included as one of our LoveReading Star Books, and will sit as one of my favourite novels of the year.
Based on her great-great grandparents’ experiences, Tammye Huf’s A More Perfect Union is a heart-rending, soul-stirring story of the love between a black slave and an Irish immigrant. A lucid, bold tale of the despicable brutality of slavery, personal conflicts, and a bond that will not be broken. Henry O’Toole fled Ireland in 1848 to escape the famine. On arriving in New York, “America stabs me with homesickness” and he can’t find a job - “Every day it’s the same. No Irish”. Compelled to flee the city, he changes his surname to the English-sounding ‘Taylor’ and heads to Virginia. House slave Sarah is separated from her Momma and brother when she’s sold as a “quick-cleaning-slave-who-don’t-get-sick”. She and Henry meet when he comes seeking work as a blacksmith at the plantation she’s been sold to. Here Henry is moved by the sound of slaves singing at night, while Sarah paces her hoe in the kitchen garden to “the rhythmic strike of the blacksmith’s hammer”. The stirring attraction between them is palpable, but theirs is a forbidden relationship - inter-racial marriage is illegal, and viewed as an abomination. What’s more, she’s owned by another man. The couple are in an excruciating situation, their complex personal conflicts evoked with shattering clarity. Sarah has to reconcile loving a man whose white skin represents her oppression, and she’s also ostracised by fellow slaves. Then there’s the searing exchange when Sarah sees Henry making neck rings and shackles. When he protests that he has no choice, that he needs to earn money, that he knows what it is to be shackled by poverty, Sarah’s response captures the despicable inhumanity of enslavement: “’I know you been through a hard, hungry life,’ she says. ‘I want you to understand that slave suffering is a different thing. When somebody owns you, there ain’t nothing they can’t do to you.’” Both their voices are conjured with brilliant authenticity, and their story builds to an agonisingly edgy crescendo as the risks they take are as immense as their love. I cannot recommend this enough. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Set within the viciously violent reign of Jack the Ripper this is a historical crime novel with real attitude. When Susannah reads newspaper reports detailing a number of ferocious murders, she fears her new husband may be involved as he has been disappearing at night and returning bloodied and secretive. Goodness what a premise this is! While blood-soaked and brutally descriptive, it feels convincing and authentic rather than glorified and salacious. Clare Whitfield doesn’t hold back, but I felt she looked beyond the obvious violence with thoughtful consideration. Not only does she explore the Jack the Ripper case with this novel, she also highlights violence against women, abject poverty, and prejudice. Through the novel we are shown a glimpse of other lives, a connection begins to form before deliberately slicing away again to the main story. This is one of those books where there is no perfect shining light of a character to attach yourself to, life is a struggle, at times a battle, just to survive. Compelling, thought-provoking, and powerful, People of Abandoned Character has been chosen as a LoveReading Debut of the Month.
A gobble-it-up fiery and intense yet thoughtful debut novel about family, betrayal, and witchcraft. Opening the pathway to a fabulous historical fantasy series this calls out as a must-read for young adults. Set during the civil war in 17th century England, 15 year old Evey has to flee with her little sister Dill when her mother is murdered. As with all good young adult novels, it is perfectly easy to slide into and really enjoy as an adult too, particularly with the wonderful cover drawing you in. Touching history, it flies into fantasy, as author Finbar Hawkins examines the meaning of witch. Evey is a complex character and as she tells her own story she has the ability of self-reflection, even if she doesn’t always like what she sees. Witch is a read that fair on crackles with energy, it also encourages thoughts to both consider and soar and deservedly sits as one of our LoveReading debuts of the month.
If you need a slice of pick-me-up then stop right here. Dean Nicholson is famous on social media as 1bike1world. His original aim to cycle solo around the world changed when he rescued abandoned kitten Nala and she joined him on his travels. The book charts his and Nala’s story and contains some squeezably lovely photos too. It seems as though Dean is still in shock at how quickly people took to his story (their instagram page at the time of writing sits at 810k followers). Dean comes across as completely down to earth and appreciative of the small things in life, the things that actually matter and mean the world. He has seen the very best of people, while also bearing witness to the sorrowful treatment of animals by some. Dean has raised a huge amount for charity since Nala came into his life. She is one photogenic cat, and her utter trust and love for Dean shines through. A hugely glorious bundle of feel-good, Nala’s World comes with beaming smiles of recommendation from me. Chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, this would make a perfect gift for a loved one (don’t forget to buy a copy for yourself too!). Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
Fabulous First-time Fiction
Reading a fabulous debut is a truly thrilling reading experience. It can feel as though you are discovering a treasure hoard for the fervent bibliophile. Not only do you hold in your hands a gem of a book, but all the books yet to come. If you've been in at the start of a great series you’ll know exactly what we mean. You can rely on LoveReading to tell you about the debut’s that have called out to us, that give us that tingle of revelation. So do keep an eye out for our debut section on the site and in our newsletters where we highlight our favourites of the month. Our competition page is also a good place to haunt too!
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