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!
Charged with sexual and moral tensions, Julia May Jonas’ Vladimir debut is tantalisingly provocative from start to finish. Its complex, fallible characters are nigh unforgettable as they storm, teeter and flounder on multiple brinks of human experience. Shot-through with dark humour, with a cunning, unexpected sense of hubris rearing forth in the feverish finale, Vladimir is a tragi-comic gem of our times, and incredibly compelling as it lays bare extra-marital affairs with dubious imbalances of power, fulfilling desire through devious means, and middle class, middle-age crises. “When I was a child, I loved old men, and I could tell that they also loved me”. “I’ve always felt the origin of anger in my vagina and am surprised it is not mentioned more in literature”. These are the kinds of declarations made by the novel’s narrator, a middle-aged English professor at a liberal college in the US. Though long accepting of her husband’s affairs (they’ve always had an open agreement about extra-marital sex), he’s now facing accusations of sexual misconduct from former students. Since they teach at the same college, his actions are making her life pretty difficult. At the same time, “trapped in the prison of vanity”, she develops an obsession with a younger novelist. Through the extraordinary escalation of the narrator's infatuation, we see the extremities of manipulation, desire, and the desire to be desired. She becomes, in her words, an “evil puppeteer”. But this is no straightforward story of affairs and lust. The novel careers to a crazy, unexpected, and quite brilliant denouement, with a sense of tenderness and gallows humour through the darker subject matter. At once edgy, playful and serious, Vladimir is a compulsive triumph.
Navigating loss, love and family strains while standing out as a brown girl in a predominantly white school isn’t easy for Ellie, a budding songwriter and music aficionado. A beautiful, funny ode to finding the strength to sing up and stand out, Ellie Pillai is Brown is sure to chime with readers who also feel they don’t quite fit in, with QR codes peppered through the book bringing Ellie’s songs to life, and adding extra depth to the experience. Ellie Pillai is a girl who know what she loves — music. And, against her parents’ wishes, she’s set on making a go of her drama GCSE, determined to find a way to overcome feeling invisible. While her family are mourning the loss of her little brother, which has left Ellie and her mum terribly distant from each other, Ellie has the stable support of her best friend. But her life is well and truly shaken up when a new boy and his twin sister arrive at her school. While handsome Ash is the only person who gets all her music references and understands the power of a playlist and finding the right song for every situation, it looks like he’s hooked up with her best friend, so Ellie tries to put him out of her mind. At the same time, Ellie’s new drama teacher instils her with confidence: “I think you have presence, something special about you. Something different”. If only Ellie can stop putting herself in a box and making herself small. Exploring grief, consent, family expectations, self-confidence, first love, same sex love and mental health through its well-drawn cast of characters, Ellie Pillai is Brown strikes a smart balance between humour and emotion.
This magical debut set in Victorian London is bold and profound yet somehow uncomplicated as it lays out a mosaic of vibrant themes and characters for your reading pleasure. Star theatre performer Zillah has climbed out of the slums, so while uncomfortable with the part she performs, she does what it takes to remain the headline act until one day she is faced with a life-altering and dangerous decision. Zillah tells her own story, I immediately heard her voice, so vibrant and alive. Lianne Dillsworth ensures all of the characters have an individual vital energy, they can be seen, felt, sensed. While the era throws itself around you and immerses you in all things Victorian, it feels as though the human responses are timeless. That feeling echoes through the plot as Zillah’s mixed heritage, and the fact that she was born free in London, marks her as different. All of humanities character traits are on offer from greed, selfishness, ignorance and indifference through to empathy, kindness, and courage. The mystery aspect of the plot was thrilling, yet it was Zillah’s personal journey that will stay with me and that is why I’ve chosen this novel as a Liz Pick of the Month. Vivacious, provocative, and compelling, Theatre of Marvels comes with a standing ovation stamp of approval from me.
Haunting and compelling, Amanda Bestor-Siegal’s The Caretakers unveils the secrets of the inhabitants of a wealthy Paris suburb, with the spectre of the 2015 terrorist attacks as a backdrop, and the unthinkably tragic death of a child at home at its heart. We’re introduced to the set of characters when a young American au pair is arrested on suspicion of killing one of the children in her care. Her host family live in an affluent suburb on the edge of Paris, where hiring an au pair is pretty much de rigueur, where cracks glint beneath the polished veneer. Both the wealthy women and au pairs lay bare complex issues around class, privilege, coming-of-age and midlife shifts on both sides of the Atlantic as the novel slips in time and place to reveal the events that led to the au pair’s arrest. Revenge is exacted in the form of affairs. People hide secrets of their past. These are a collection of lost, lonely souls, with their backstories adding further depth, among them a story of Czech immigrants in the US, and a French woman hiding her provincial past. Exuding the enthralling pace of a thriller and the emotional depth of a literary family drama, The Caretakers is a thoroughly thought-provoking, un-put-down-able read.
“Once a research chemist, Elizabeth Zott was a woman with flawless skin and an unmistakable demeanour of someone who was not average and never would be”. So we are introduced to gloriously unconventional Elizabeth near the opening of Bonnie Garmus’ Lessons in Chemistry, an enchanting, uproariously witty novel that I cannot recommend highly enough — think a funny, feminist Mad Men set in the world of science, in a “patriarchal society founded on the idea that women were less. Less capable. Less intelligent”. With her doctoral career cut short after daring to defend herself against the groping hands of a tutor, in 1951 Elizabeth is working as a chemistry researcher, surrounded by men who overlook her work and treat her with sexist disdain. One of her colleagues is Calvin, an introverted, socially awkward Nobel-prize nominated scientist with a penchant for holding grudges, which is one of the things Elizabeth first admires in him, for “Elizabeth Zott held grudges too”, especially against a society that all but forbade women to do anything of importance. Elizabeth and Calvin strike up a sparring working relationship, start dating, and move in together — unmarried (the horror!). She suggests paying her share of the rent by cooking dinner, declaring that “Cooking is a serious science. In fact, it’s chemistry”. Meanwhile, while the unique chemistry between the couple is a delight to devour. Some years later, Elizabeth finds herself single again, and a single mother to boot. And it’s through her daughter (specifically, the delicious, nutritious lunches she cooks for her) that she’s offered a slot on a TV cookery show. True to form, Elizabeth refuses to play ball with the producer, declaring that “There’s nothing average about the average housewife”, and using the show to deliver cracking advice: “Courage is the root of change…Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future”. Guaranteed to have you roaring with laughter, weeping in empathy, and fist-pumping the sheer joy of Elizabeth’s indomitable spirit, Lessons in Chemistry is a revitalising, stirring triumph.
Yinka, a 31 year old Nigerian is fed up of her family constantly asking “so, where is your huzband?” (pronounced auz-band). After her Aunty Debbie offers up a very public prayer for her and asks the Lord to intervene and save her from singledom, Yinka decides she needs a plan to find a man before her cousin Rachel’s wedding. Femi broke her heart when he moved to New York and decided he didn’t want to settle down. As we join Yinka on her mission fraught with twists and turns on her journey to self-love. A hug in a book, this is a joyous read. I chuckled and sped my way through, wishing and hoping for a happy ending for Yinka. She struggles and bumbles her way through navigating dating, female relationships and the challenges of extended families, and I loved every page of it.
If you're looking for your next book fix, stop right now and read Twelve Secrets. Twenty years ago Ben Harper's world was turned upside down when his older brother Nick and best friend are murdered by two school friends. Ten years later he lost his mother and the story rocked the little town and the whole country. Now an award-winning investigative journalist his boss asks him to relive his traumas on the tenth anniversary of his mother's death. Ben has a decision to make. Does he want to go there? What will he find? Will be be able to write this story? Set in fictional town of Haddley, based on Gold's hometown of Putney, Twelve Secrets is a cracking psychological thriller. When another murder brings it all back to haunt the idyllic town we see how secrets are a dangerous thing and the book grabs you in a vice like grip as you uncover them all. This is an assured debut, the start of a series and we can't wait to read more of Ben Harper. Bring it on, Gold!
When dynamic independent children’s publisher Guppy Books put out a call for submissions from unpublished, un-agented writers in 2020, Nadia Mikail answered with The Cats We Meet Along the Way - a poignant debut with a punch-packing, end-of-the-world set-up, and unconditional love at its heart. Through its deeply endearing characters, this tells a stirring story of family finding a way through loss, loneliness and feeling abandoned to embrace what’s really important. Until the Announcement “Aisha had been a seventeen-year-old student, who treasured her lie-ins and whose mother shouted about breakfast to wake her up. Now time was precious”. And the Announcement? Nothing less than the imminent end of Earth, with predictions of “the world wreathed in fire and smoke” in the fatal wake of an asteroid collision. How’s that for a mind-blowing set-up? But that’s not all Aisha has to deal with. Three years ago, before the Announcement, her older sister, June, left home and hasn’t been seen since: “she had chosen to disappear from their lives without a trace, and had chosen not to come back”. Now, mere months before the world will end, Aisha and her mother Esah want to find June, so they embark on an emotional road-trip across Malaysia with Aisha’s adorable boyfriend, his compassionate parents, and Fleabag the cat. Though the scenario is urgent, the author has a powerfully steady style, as seen in her measured, bone-deep evocations of memories, and characters’ mourning of memories that will never be made - their sorrow and grief is profoundly palpable. Then there’s Aisha and Esah’s deep-rooted connection to the place they were born, where they hope to find June, and an unleashing of pent-up anger, grief and guilt before a love-filled sense that light may be found through even the darkest of days.
Uncoiling monstrous extremes of human behaviour through traumatised, obsession-driven characters, Silje Ulstein’s Reptile Memoirs is a thriller like no other. An audaciously bizarre, taboo-tangled marvel of a debut. Guilefully plotted, the multi-timeframe, multi-voiced narrative is wildly original. In 2003, Liv becomes obsessed with the idea of having a snake, so she and her flatmates buy Nero, a young Burmese python that comes to dominate her life, evoking unnervingly intense emotions, and providing her with a strange sense of security. In 2017, Mariam’s daughter goes missing, prompting a twisting, shifting investigation that unveils the long-submerged secrets and traumas of everyone involved, including one of the chief investigators. Reader, there’s no escape from the serpentine onslaught of this story. Reptile Memoirs takes the notion of unexpected plot twists to seething, shocking extremes as characters slough their identities and the timelines converge, with the snake-narrated “reptile memoirs” of the title providing an unnerving, cold-blooded perspective on cold-blooded human actions.
Telling an absorbing, boldly honest story of resilience as it charts a girl’s life from rural Jamaica through her struggles to survive and thrive in London, Yvonne Bailey-Smith’s The Day I Fell Off My Island is a storytelling triumph. Shot-through with the stirring conviction that a person can come to control their own destiny, it’s told in elegant style, with perfectly-placed Jamaican patois making the story even richer. It’s 1968 and 13-year-old Erna is living in the care of her loving Grandma Melba and Grandpa Sippa with her three younger half-siblings. Erna’s world revolves entirely around her family and remote Jamaican village, until her mother visits them ahead of making a big move to England. After she leaves, life settles until Erna’s siblings are taken to live in London by their father, a man Grandma Melba calls the “Ugly Satan Devil Man”, leaving Erna bereft. After meeting her own father for the first time, Erna is also uprooted from her beloved island and finds England to be “an unfriendly, upside down world that made little sense.” In time though, despite racist attitudes initially curtailing her education, and despite enduring toxic masculinity and a traumatic home life, Erna begins to feel like she’s in control of her own destiny, echoing words of advice once said by her father: “Wi run things. Things nuh run wi”. Alongside exploring the trauma of being uprooted, The Day I Fell Off My Island is also incisive on the complexities of returning home, such as when Erna feels she’s seen as a “jumped-up islander who had lived abroad and now thought I was better than everyone else”. But, while Erna’s sense of displacement is powerfully palpable, so too are her triumphs. What a stirring, beautifully-told story. I certainly won’t forget Erna in a hurry.
This is a story about taking a leap of faith And believing the unbelievable They say those we love never truly leave us, and I've found that to be true. But not in the way you might expect. In fact, none of this is what you'd expect. I've been visiting my mother who died when I was eight. And I'm talking about flesh and blood, tea-and-biscuits-on-the-table visiting here. Right now, you probably think I'm going mad. Let me explain... Although Faye is happy with her life, the loss of her mother as a child weighs on her mind even more now that she is a mother herself. So she is amazed when, in an extraordinary turn of events, she finds herself back in her childhood home in the 1970s. Faced with the chance to finally seek answers to her questions - but away from her own family - how much is she willing to give up for another moment with her mother? For fans of The Time Traveler's Wife comes an original and heartwarming story about bittersweet memories, how the past shapes the future, and a love so strong it makes you do things that are slightly bonkers.
Hero or villain? Right or wrong? You decide, in this fast-paced thriller fraught with conundrums and contradictions, forged by the love we have for our children. The curiosity, the confusion, the suspicion, the creeping fear, the panic, the anger, the hopelessness, the protective fire of a mother. Which side will you be on? She did it, you see. She killed him. She pointed her car at him and slammed down the accelerator. Jane Bell, mother of two, frustrated and terrified about being ignored by the police, takes matters into her own hands when she uncovers plans for her neighbour to bomb the local primary school. The school and nursery which her children attend. What would you do? What do you think? Your conscience screams alongside Jane’s as the story unfolds, as we find out more chapter by chapter from each standpoint, from each perspective, from each of the bystanders. The husband Neil. The Detective Inspector Bill Simmons, the senior officer at the scene. Aneesa Khan, the journalist following the story for the Birmingham Gazette. Simon Rafferty, the barrister who decides to grab Jane’s case and attempt to change the course of legal history. As a mother myself this sucker punched me, and tears were streaming. It’s thought-provoking, captivating. And not always in a comfortable way. What if this were my children’s school? But thou shalt not kill. It’s black and white isn’t it? Or is it… With twists and turns along the way, you follow the story of Jane and her incredible journey through the media firestorm and the trial. Would you take one life to save hundreds? Let’s talk about it after you’ve read this book.
Taking in two timeframes, Yasmin Cordery Khan’s Edgware Road is an engrossing debut that lays bare the ways we’re haunted by our pasts, and driven to pursue paths that may bring about our downfall. On one level, Edgware Road tells the tragic story of a man desperate to give his family the best, so caught up in an unattainable dream of unimaginable wealth, that he loses everything that matters. At the same time, it explores long-lasting connections across time and continents. And all this against a backdrop of corrupt business practices that have catastrophic consequences for smaller cogs in the machine. It’s 1981, and Khalid has big dreams for his future. He works in the West End, determined to attain the wealth displayed by the clients he encounters in the Playboy casino, determined “to be the paymaster. Nothing else in the world could give you authority, and respect”. He’s also married to a beautiful woman and has a daughter, Alia. Always the optimist, when London Playboy is shut down, he’s not worried about losing his job. He’ll take a position with the company in the Bahamas. But alongside this optimism, Khalid is a gambler. He makes bad decisions, his relationship breaks down, he’s in serious debt, and so throws himself into an investment opportunity he's certain will solve all his problems, until his body is found washed-up far from home. Sliding to 2003 (the narrative masterfully moves between the two timeframes) and Alia, now a Junior English tutor at Oxford University, is drawn to visit her father’s extended family in Karachi to discover what really happened to him. A gripping family mystery with emotional depth and intriguing social context – Edgware Road is a riveting, smartly-written debut. The LoveReading LitFest invited Yasmin to the festival to talk about Edgware Road. The digitally native, all year round, online literature and books festival, with new content released every week is a free-for-all-users festival. What are you waiting for? Check out a preview of the event and sign up to become a member.
Welcome to the must read thriller of 2021. Helen has it all... Daniel is the perfect husband. Rory is the perfect brother. Serena is the perfect sister-in-law. And Rachel? Rachel is the perfect nightmare. When Helen, finally pregnant after years of tragedy, attends her first antenatal class, she is expecting her loving architect husband to arrive soon after, along with her confident, charming brother Rory and his pregnant wife, the effortlessly beautiful Serena. What she is not expecting is Rachel. Extroverted, brash, unsettling single mother-to-be Rachel, who just wants to be Helen's friend. Who just wants to get know Helen and her friends and her family. Who just wants to know everything about them. Every little secret...
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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