15 debut novels for your Reading Challenge

I read this entire novel in one sitting on a Sunday afternoon; it's a romantic comedy that manages to tackle serious issues while maintaining a light and breezy feel. Don't miss the backstory on how the author's personal life inspired the premise, and how she managed to write nearly every word of the 320-page novel on her own commute in and out of London. There are a few spicy scenes but this romance is mostly closed-door.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
A much-anticipated debut from former cellist Gabel. It’s the 1990s, and four promising musicians decide to forego the usual soloist path and bind their professional (and personal) lives to form a string quartet. Jana is driven, Henry a prodigy, Daniel a success through dogged determination, and Brit a bit of a wild card. With the feel of a dysfunctional family novel, the characters aren’t always likable but always ring true, and Gabel nails a wide range of human emotions—joy and pain, envy and fear, frustration and near-despair—as she portrays the group’s turbulent eighteen years together. An utterly believable and emotionally compelling submersion into the competitive world of classical music.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
In the idyllic small town of Three Pines, Quebec, where people don’t even lock their doors, a beloved local woman is found in the woods with an arrow shot through her heart. The locals believe it must be a hunting accident, but the police inspector senses something is off. The story is constructed as a classic whodunit but it feels like anything but, with its deliberate pacing, dry wit, and lyrical writing. A stunningly good first novel. Still Life is the first in a series that keeps getting better. Great on audio.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
The story behind this historical thriller could launch its own novel, which is just one reason this book earned a dedicated bonus episode of One Great Book. Lara Prescott has always loved the book Dr Zhivago, and was stunned—along with the rest of the world—when the CIA declassified documents revealing that it had played a role in the book's covert publication and distribution in Russia during the Cold War. This is Prescott's imagining of what that might have looked like. The story moves between East, where the focus is on Pasternak and his muse/mistress, and West, where readers get to know the female spies of the OSS. The book has the feel of Kate Quinn’s The Huntress, with some of the storytelling flavor of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, or Brit Bennet’s The Mothers.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
Recommended as Unputdownable. I never, and I mean never, would have picked this up on my own. I read this because it was a Book of the Month selection, and was surprised to love it. It's a sci fi novel whose premise is pretty out there and wow, was it fun. Wild premise, interesting structure, great narrative drive.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
I recommended this on a recent episode of WSIRN: episode 196 with Anudeep Reddy as a gateway fantasy, a fantasy novel for people who don't like fantasy. I loved this so much that we're reading this in February with the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. This is a literary mystery, a book about books, coming-of-age story, a tale of adventure and suspense and revenge, and tattoo artistry is a main theme. This was creative and inventive and lots of fun. Also note, this was great on audio.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
I keep hearing this new debut novel mentioned in the same breath as "best of the year" and now I understand why. For the first hundred pages I didn't quite grasp what the author was up to, but when it hit me it was powerful. By exploring the stories of two sisters, who met different fates in Ghana more than 200 years ago, Gyasi traces subtle lines of cause and effect through the centuries, illuminating how the deeds of ages past still haunt all of us today. A brilliant concept, beautifully executed. Read it.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
I loved this book, an MMD Book Club flight pick and a book recommended on today's episode of WSIRN. Not an easy read, but so good, and one that I still think about even though I read it many moons ago. In this coming-of-age story, debut author Bennett shows us how grief predictably consumes a 17-year old girl growing up in a tight-knit community in Southern California, and how two friends get pulled into the tangled aftermath. Bennett tells the story through the eyes of the community's mothers—the community pillars who show up with casseroles when somebody's sick—but in this story, the mothers' vicious gossip causes nothing but trouble.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
Listen up, You’ve Got Mail fans! In this new romantic comedy, Jack and Pepper are classmates at an Upper East Side private school. Unlike their privileged peers—and unbeknownst to each other—they spend their leisure hours managing the social media accounts for their families’ respective restaurants. Pepper’s family owns a hugely profitable burger chain; Jack’s family owns a beloved deli on the Lower East Side. When a twitter battle about a grilled cheese recipe erupts between the two businesses, Jack and Pepper are each playing to win—but they don’t know they’re fighting each other. This breezy read features snappy dialogue and a slowburn friends-to-something-more story, while closely following the beats of You’ve Got Mail. I read this adorable (and chaste) story in a single evening.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
"You lied. Luke lied. Be at the funeral." Federal Agent Aaron Falk is summoned home with these words after his best friend Luke dies in a heartbreaking murder-suicide, turning the gun on himself after killing his wife and 6-year-old son. Falk obeys—but he can't believe his best friend could have done such a thing, and so he starts digging, dragging long-buried secrets back to the surface. The setting is the drought-ravaged Australian Outback, and the brittleness and heat are almost palpable. Imagine an Australian Tana French, and you've got this stellar debut about right. (Psst—we're talking with the author in the MMD Book Club this summer.) Publication date: January 10.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
At age 16, Starr Carter has lost two close friends to gun violence: one in a drive-by; one shot by a cop. The latter is the focus of this novel: Starr is in the passenger seat when her friend Khalil is fatally shot by a police officer. She is the sole witness. Thomas seamlessly blends current events with lower-stakes themes common to teens everywhere, with great success. Fun fact: the title comes from a Tupac lyric. Publication date: February 28.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
Adebayo's debut is a powerful, emotional story about love, family, and fidelity set against the backdrop of the turbulent political climate of 1985-2008 Nigeria. The story begins with Yejide's mother-in-law arrives at her door with a guest in tow: her husband's second wife, that she didn't know he'd married. What follows is an unforgettable novel about sacrifice that sticks with me to this day.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
Orange’s multigenerational, multivoiced novel offers a nuanced glimpse into contemporary Native American life in Oakland, Calfiornia through the experiences and perspectives of twelve wide-ranging characters. As they prepare for the city’s first Big Oakland Powwow at the Oakland Coliseum, the lives of Orange’s diverse characters become intertwined: an aspiring filmmaker, a man who’s taught himself traditional Native dance with YouTube videos, a woman traveling to meet her grandchildren for the first time—on the condition that she remains sober. Orange says he wrote this novel to “try to honor and express fully all that it entails to be Native and be from Oakland,” and the early reviews say he nailed it.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
This slow-burning debut about an Indian-American Muslim family skillfully probes themes of identity, culture, family, and generational change. "I am to see to it that I do not lose you," reads the epigraph (Whitman), and the story wonders if, despite our best intentions, one might nevertheless wound someone they love deeply enough to lose them forever. The story opens with the oldest daughter’s wedding: the bride scans the crowd for her beloved yet rebellious brother, hoping he'll appear despite being estranged from the family for years. Through a series of flashbacks, and in rotating points of view, Mirza examines the series of small betrayals that splintered the family, skillfully imbuing quotidian events—a chance meeting at a party, a dinner conversation about a spelling test—with deep significance, showing how despite their smallness, they irrevocably alter the course of the family’s life. The last section is a stunner, but grab the tissues first. For fans of Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed and Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart.
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop