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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!
At the heart of the Ottoman Empire, in the ancient city of Smyrna, a devastating moment determines the fates of four families. On an orange-tinted evening in September 1905, Scheherazade is born to an opium-dazed mother in the ancient city of Smyrna. At the very same moment, a dashing Indian spy arrives in the harbour with a secret mission from the British Empire. He sails in to golden-hued spires and minarets, scents of fig and sycamore, and the cries of street hawkers selling their wares. When he leaves, seventeen years later, it will be to the heavy smell of kerosene and smoke as the city, and its people, are engulfed in flames. But let us not rush, for much will happen between then and now. Birth, death, romance and grief are all to come as these peaceful, cosmopolitan streets are used as bargaining chips in the wake of the First World War. Told through the intertwining fates of a Levantine, a Greek, a Turkish and an Armenian family, this unforgettable novel reveals a city, and a culture, now lost to time.
This poignant page-turner switches between the four members of the Willows family - a sixty-something couple and their two daughters, one of whom, 38-year-old Take That fan Patience, has Rett syndrome, a progressive genetic neurodevelopmental disorder that almost exclusively affects females. While she can’t speak or move, Patience is incredibly perceptive. She takes everything in and knows everyone’s secrets. She’s wryly funny too, remarking to herself that, “I’m still lying here, like Miss Havisham’s mouldering wedding cake, at least ten years after I should have left.” Former nurse Louise has devoted her life to Patience and understands her daughter better than anyone. Meanwhile, Patience’s 36-year-old sister Eliza is in denial about being dumped by her fiancé, while Dad Pete works overseas most of the time. Then comes a ray of hope, in Louise’s eyes at least. She takes on a job with a leading Rett syndrome consultant, essentially so Patience can be part of his potentially ground-breaking gene therapy trial. While Professor Larssen thinks the therapy could reverse the syndrome’s symptoms, Pete is vehemently against Patience’s participation - he thinks the risks are too great. Despite the dangers, they go ahead, and the story accelerates to an emotional, edge-of-your-seat ending, underpinned by a fine exposition of how humans weather the worst of life’s storms to cope with the unexpected hands we are dealt.
A hugely entertaining and thrilling debut that feels as though a blockbuster film is playing out in front of you. Twin sisters Iris and Summer may look identical, but their personalities are a world apart. When Summer asks Iris for help sailing their yacht across the Indian Ocean, Iris has the opportunity to create the life she has always envied her sister. Oh my, where to start! Well, this would make the perfect summer read, as you gallop through, just remember to savour the journey. Rose Carlyle has created a thriller that sits right on the edge of unbelievable. She takes you into secrets and lies, and throws in a humdinger of a plot. As Iris revealed her story, as the tension increased, I found my feelings hesitating, then changing. Iris has the most distinct voice, she is brutally honest, and allows access to the thoughts most wouldn’t allow to surface. As such, she isn’t always likeable, but boy is she captivating. The setting is vibrant, the family drama is dramatic, in other words The Girl in the Mirror is a vivid and entirely stimulating read.
A gorgeously simple yet heartbreakingly complex debut that strays into magic realism and explores the meaning of family. Tito and his grandmother probe the magic of family bonds, as they grow older, their struggle to keep loved ones close takes its toll. Fairlight Moderns are little gems of books, small and compact, beautiful inside and out, each story packs a punch. J T Torres writes with a compassionate and thoughtful yet penetrating and provocative pen. A chain reaction of emotions ran through me as I joined Tito and his Nana and echoes of Cuba slid into Florida and Alaska. It feels as though the magic of Taking Flight will release a totally different experience to each person who steps between the pages. While readers always take a part of themselves into a book, here that piece of me stayed within it. With a devastating delicacy, Taking Flight delves into the intricate complexities of family, migration, and mental health and has been chosen as one of our Debuts of the Month.
Amusing yet poignant, uplifting yet sharply pointed, this is a very contemporary look at a woman spiralling out of control in an effort to keep up appearances. When Tom is made redundant and says the family will have to live off of their savings until he gets a new job, Faiza panics, she has secretly spent all of their money and is determined that Tom won’t find out. Faiza is warm and engaging, I felt as though I was sitting by her side and she was telling me her story. While there were times I winced and was frustrated by her actions, I also cheered her on and if I could, would have given her the hugest of huge hugs. A truly exquisite balance is maintained throughout this novel, Aliya Alif-Afzal writes with wit, perception, and emotional integrity. While sitting as a wonderfully readable and entertaining novel, this is a smart take on some of the problems faced in our society. Would I Lie To You is an engaging and moving debut, it’s also a little bit feisty, I loved it! The LoveReading LitFest invited Aliya to the festival to talk about this fabulous debut. 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 Aliya in conversation with Deborah Maclaren and find out why everyone should read this book. Check out a preview of the event here
Our July 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. This deliciously quirky, amusing and sharply-pointed debut novel slowly wormed its way into my heart and soul. Anxiety is plaguing Gilda, who also has death on her mind, she unexpectedly finds herself in a new job, fending off unwanted attention from men while keeping her girlfriend secret, and investigating a suspicious death. Emily Austin writes with such honesty and empathy, I found her words burrowed their way into my mind before reaching beyond thought, to feelings. It took me a while to get to know and warm to Gilda, she borders on awkward as she tells her story. I gradually found myself getting closer and closer to this fragile yet thoughtful and beautiful woman. The plot weaves a unique magic as it ranges from mystery to family drama to relationship story. The humour is pithy and smart, the observations can sting yet are compassionate, and the descriptions simply sing. I really have fallen in love with this book, and can’t wait to see what comes next from Emily Austin, she is a writer I will be looking out for. Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a compelling, provocative, and beautiful LoveReading Star Book.
Though complex, subtle, and rich in history and myth, Violet Kupersmith's Build Your House Around My Body makes an instantly potent impression. Her writing is at once measured and vivid, infused with the elemental power of Vietnamese folklore, and with the histories, fates and desires of its protagonists. Following the lives of two fearless women who both went missing (though decades apart - one in 1986, the other in 2011), and who both seek revenge, Build Your House Around My Body is hauntingly poetic, playful, and a puzzle, of sorts. A multi-layered Russian doll of a story with magic realist elements - ghosts, time travel, snake monsters. Indeed, the whole novel might be described as a coiled serpent that spirals and springs when you least expect it. Despite their very different backgrounds, the women are bound by the past, and by ancestors and ghosts. It’s a mystery, a mythic epic, a slippery history that defies classification, and I loved it.
Set in rural Australia in the 1940s, 1960s and 1980s (the plot smartly slips between the decades), Lyn Yeowart’s The Silent Listener - her debut novel - is a dark and stormy psychological thriller focussed on family secrets and the search to fathom terrible truths. When Joy Henderson returns to her family’s farm to care for George, her dying dad, she’s confronted with a succession of horrendous events - both those that occur in her present, and traumatic experiences from her past. The very day after her father confesses to a horrific crime, he’s found dead with his own belt around his neck. As the narrative slips back to 1960, we learn how eleven-year-old Joy existed in utter fear of her father. An abusive bully who forced her to declare herself a “lazy, good-for-nothing sinner”. A brute who scarred her for life - psychologically and physically, for Joy has been left with “thick red strips of raised flesh creeping over the top of her shoulder and under her loose bra strap, wrapping themselves around the top of her arm like the tentacles of a red octopus.” This description is representative of the author’s taut, evocative style. Then there’s the Constable investigating George’s death - Alex Shepherd, a man still haunted by an unsolved case of a missing girl from 1960, and now deeply engrained in this new case, and the Henderson family’s secrets. As Joy and Shepherd talk, Joy is struck by a sickening thought: “The bastard killed himself so that you’d think I killed him. So I’d go to jail for murdering him. It was the ultimate punishment for disobeying him.” Shepherd isn’t sure what to believe, but his instincts lead him back to that unsolved case of the missing child. Exploring coercive control, violence, abuse and revenge with edgy levels of tension through potentially unreliable narrators, this is a satisfyingly suspenseful gothic thriller.
An interesting and challenging speculative science fiction novel that begins in 2066. Covering a number of years and several time frames, Ben Holden is on the run after being targeted for his scientific research. It really does feel as though this world could be our future, enough is relatable and touchable to allow you to easily slip into what could be. Author Steve Holloway has a degree in Aquatic Biology and has worked around the world in marine science, it means that the scientific and oceanic world Ben finds himself in teems with possibilities and I particularly enjoyed these sections. The frequent moves in time and locations are clearly marked, which allowed me to flick between the different timelines in the plot with ease. Faith plays a part here, in terms of what is on offer in the future, and the main character’s transformation. I’m not in the slightest bit religious and found that this element, rather than overpowering proceedings, slotted into the story with ease. There is also enough action to keep the plot moving along at a good pace. Pelagia: Between the Stars and the Abyss makes for a refreshing and thought-provoking read.
Our June 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Heady, rich and evocative, and while a reimagining of Great Expectations, this debut stands as a unique and startling read in its own right. As a child, orphaned Kit finds the world of his Uncle and Aunt an enticing place to be, as he grows older he discovers that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. Gill Darling travels through three decades from the 1970’s, creating the most spelling-binding novel. She doesn’t flinch from the harsher side of life, and while building an enchanting world, exposes vulnerability, selfishness, and excess. The characters feel as real as can be, with a tapestry of traits they ensured my feelings moved through the gamut of emotions. While I knew this was inspired by Great Expectations before I started, I entered and read it as Erringby, completely absorbed and only looking between the two when I had turned the last page. I found growing up with Kit at times disturbing, while at others I relished his adventures, and the ending sent little goose pimples skittering down my arms. When I finish reading I always return to the cover again to see with new eyes, and oh what a gorgeously expressive and clever creation it is! Thoughtful and loving, yet passionate and provocative, Erringby is a truly striking coming-of-age novel and a deserves its place as a LoveReading Star Book.
Quirky yet insightful, bright yet wistful, amusing yet emotional… this is one heck of a thought-provoking and stimulating debut. When Rachel is told ‘everything happens for a reason’ after her son Luke is stillborn, she begins to search for proof, certain she is to blame. This is one of those books that doesn’t fit neatly into a genre, instead it straddles several, and actually stands quite rightly on its own two feet. Author Katie Allen is a journalist, and this story is deeply personal and painful to her, she said on twitter that after her baby died one person texted back: “everything happens for a reason”, and she had grappled with that ever since. Grief is a lonely and isolating place to be, yet this novel, while eye-opening, is also inclusive and encouraging. Letting her feelings out in a series of emails, Rachel is incredibly engaging, she took my hand and welcomed me into the pages. I quite honestly had no idea where this book was going to to take me, I didn’t try to guess and remained firmly in the the presence of the words as they entered my thoughts. Highly recommended and a LoveReading Star Book, Everything Happens for a Reason is full of contradictions that fuse into the most surprising, moving, and beautiful novel.
Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s Ace of Spades is an explosively exceptional debut. An incisively subversive, edge-of-your-seat thriller that takes the genre to jaw-droppingly unexpected extremes as it exposes horrific, deep-rooted institutionalised racism. The action centres around an elite high school in the white part of town. It has an all-white student population, except for our two principle characters - musician and scholarship student Devon, and privileged aspiring Yale alumnus Chiamaka. Devon (Von to his proud, hardworking Ma) can’t wear his hair in twists or cornrows here, and Chiamaka, of Nigerian and Italian heritage, feels compelled to hide her natural hair, and has adopted a “kill or be killed” stance - to achieve the success she’s set on, Chiamaka knows she’ll have to be tougher than tough. Devon and Chiamaka are sent reeling when an anonymous texter, Aces, starts revealing their deepest, darkest secrets, and it doesn’t take much to realise why they’re being targeted - the colour of their skin. And so a cruel cat-and-mouse game unfolds - two mice trapped in a destructive nightmare and a malicious cat motivated by racism, with homophobia weaponised too. While there are shocks aplenty (of the rare, ingeniously interwoven variety), the story is compellingly complex, with finely considered character exposition, and no simplified, clear-cut dichotomies drawn between who we can trust, and who should be top of our suspect list. The mounting tension is powerfully palpable, as is the embedded racism Devon and Chiamaka are subjected to - it runs deeper and wider than they (or readers) can possibly anticipate. Turns out, no one can be trusted; that there’s more than one cat in this hideous game. Oh, and there are romantic entanglements too, all of which means Ace of Spades delivers on all fronts - mystery, romance and tackling important issues in explosive style. What more could a reader ask for?
A smart, contemporary, entertaining look at friendships and what it is to be a mother in the social media age of perfection. While glamorous and celebrated social media celebrity Cassie fights to remain relevant, anxious new mum Beth finds herself on the road to viral stardom. This is the debut of lawyer Nicole Kennedy, and it was written during her third pregnancy. She has the ability to capture the big little things that really matter, writing with a light yet provocative, and warm yet witty pen. The main characters induced feelings that swung between affection and disapproval, while sitting in among the supporting cast are some truly cackle inducing creations. Social media stands to the fore, the plot weaves in and out of the need to display perfection and how damaging that can be. While undoubtedly amusing, Everything’s Perfect is also thought-provoking too, making for a gleefully readable novel.
Whip-smart, incisive and incredibly gripping, Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl presents a powerful exposé of publishing’s unpleasant underbelly - the elitism, nepotism, poor pay, and petty power-play some senior editors exert over their assistants. Think The Devil Wear Prada with edge - its young editor protagonist wants to publish writers whose voices matter. It’s a world of white gatekeepers, white privilege, with displays of (cue tiny violin) white affront when poor behaviour is called out. And all this is done through twenty-six-year-old editorial assistant Nella Rogers, the only Black employee at New York’s prestigious Wagner Books publishing house. After feeling isolated and exhausted by the everyday micro-aggressions of her workplace, Nella is delighted when Hazel, the “Other Black Girl”, starts working next to her - until Nella starts receiving threatening notes telling her to leave the company, while having to deal with increasingly problematic office politics. Though the novel is set in the publishing world, it will resonate with anyone, for example, who’s doubted the authenticity of their workplace’s commitment to diversity. In Nella’s case, she was part of Wagner Books’ diversity group, but company interest soon waned, with no one really getting the point, or understanding why representation matters - why it matters to get it right. The brutal reality of the company’s lip service attitude to equality and representation is exposed when Nella speaks out about a white male author’s offensively clichéd portrayal of a Black female character. When he (cue another tiny violin) gets upset, feeling accused of racism, she’s expected to apologise. Never mind about his lazy, dubious characterisation - the poor man’s feelings have been hurt, goddammit! That this is nothing new is revealed through the interwoven story of Kendra Rae, Nella’s editorial heroine who blazed inspirational trails before her - but what happened to Kendra after editing a huge bestseller, she wonders? It turns out that as Nella faced a backlash after (gently) calling out her author’s caricature, Kendra’s “sin” was also telling it like it is, being “someone who rejected what was expected of her as a Black woman in a predominantly white industry.” Chiming with wit and vital commentary, this debut is a thrilling feat of fiction, with twists that are impossible to see coming.
As the first in what is setting itself up as an epic magic realism series, this captivating debut thrills with a fabulous cast, intriguing plot and fascinating exploration of magic. Anna is just about to turn 16, her Aunt is arranging a ceremony to bind her magic but when Anna meets Effie and Attis she begins to question everything she has known. The main characters are teenagers on the brink of adulthood, due to the content I would say this is balanced between a read for older teens, and adults. Cari Thomas has made the magic in Threadneedle feel age-old and real, and while the teenagers release themselves to the wilds of experimentation, dangerous undercurrents swirl through the book. The characters are vibrant and relatable, even when throwing spells around. Abuse and bullying run as a theme alongside the fantasy element, and are explored with empathy and compassion. As I read, I believed, even though this is a new take on magic, it immediately settled in my thoughts. This is such a beautifully easy yet all-consuming read, I swam in its depths before coming up for air and back to reality. The ending sets itself up nicely for the next in the series. Threadneedle, the first in the Language of Magic is just wonderful, I wish it all the very best as it deserves to fly.
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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