Debut Novels 2013



We Need New Names: a novel by NoViolet Bulawayo

Zimbabwe! Early 21st century!  Darling is 10 years old.  She spends her days with friends, raiding guava trees in the white people’s enclaves, playing games like “Find bin Laden.” There is no school because the teachers have fled the country.  They live in shantytowns with oxymoronic names like Paradise, because their corrupt dictator Mugabe bulldozed entire towns in a drive to root out so-called political opponents.  Doctors and nurses are on strike and the witch doctor and faith healers are the only source of health care.

Darling achieves her ambition of moving to the U.S. to live with her Aunt Fostalina, a nurse, in Destroyedmichygen.  We witness the life of immigrants:  there’s the culture shock as when Darling is confronted by the never-ending snows of a Michigan winter; the menial jobs, the obligation to send money home, the impossibility of trips home for the "illegals.”

There is also the surprise at the variety and abundance of food and actually being asked to choose what you want to eat.  Shopping trips to the mall.  Laptop computers.  Skype.  There wasn’t running water or indoor plumbing in Paradise.

By using the voice of ten-year old Darling, Bulawayo tells all with a droll humorous, almost light tone belying the tragedy of Zimbabwe and the wrenching sadness of leaving parents and friends and the country of your birth.  Darling thinks she will be able to go back to visit but later she learns the bitter truth when Aunt Fostalina tells her “…home costs money. . . besides you came on a visitor’s visa, and that’s expired.”
This semiautobiographical debut novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  Bulawayo won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2011.
Zadie Smith
Monica Ali

Grace O’Connor, West Islip Public Library

The Gravity of Birds by Tracey Guzeman

Famous, reclusive artist Thomas Bayber engages the help of two art historians because he wishes to sell a painting that has never appeared in his cataloged works.  Discovering that this work is one of a triptych leads the historians on a quest for two sisters whose lives were tragically changed the summer, decades ago, that they both fell in love with Bayber.  The story is complex, and beautifully written.  Besides those who are fascinated by troubled family dynamics, readers who are interested in the art world will be drawn in to the story. Guzeman’s characters feel real, and will live with you a long time.  Though some reviewers felt that too many plot lines were involved, I think this is a very accomplished debut, and look forward to her next book.

Author read-alikes include Jane Smiley, Julia Glass, and Barbara Kingsolver.  Novelist Plus suggests Atwood’s “Blind Assassin” as a title read-alike, for its subject matter, intricate plot and the leisurely pace of the tale.

Tracy Guzeman lives in the San Francisco Bay area. She has been published in several literary magazines: “Gulf Coast”, “Vestal Review” and “Glimmer Train”.

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library

Ghostman by Roger Hobbs

  A $1.2 million Atlantic City casino heist gets botched and a man known only as Jack is called in to clean it up.  This is what Jack does – he has no identification trail so he flies under the radar and is an ideal “fixer.” As reluctant as Jack is for this assignment, he owes this to Marcus Hayes for not killing him because of a screwed up robbery in Kuala Lumpur five years earlier. 

The clock is ticking, however; the missing $1.2 million will explode in 48 hours and if that isn’t pressure enough, Jack has to avoid one deadly situation after another and the FBI.

 Written during the author’s senior year at college, Ghostman is quite a thrilling ride.  Fast-paced and violent, it’s a perfect recommendation for fans of Greg Iles, Preston Douglas and Raymond Khoury.

Other similar reads include The Killing Floor by Lee Child and Backfire by Catherine Coulter.

Cathi Nashak, Deer Park Public Library


Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
An early 20th Century journey to the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar and present day London are juxtaposed and lead the reader on two intriguing adventures.  Lizzie and Eva (Evangeline) travel to the remotest area of Westernmost China as missionaries but Eva has an ulterior motive , she has been commissioned by a publisher to write a guide for lady cyclists in the Kashgar Region.  Soon after their arrival a woman gives birth to a little girl right outside the Kashgar gates and when none of the natives will help the woman a fellow missionary, Millicent delivers the baby and hands the infant girl to Eva.  The mother dies and the three women are charged with murder and placed under house arrest.

Meanwhile in present day London Frieda learns she has inherited the contents of an apartment belonging to a dead woman she has never met or heard of.  After visiting the woman’s apartment Frieda arrives home perplexed as to why she has been chosen heir to this random property, when she discovers a seemingly homeless man camped outside her apartment.

The reader wonders how these two parallel stories intersect.  This debut novel heralds the arrival of an author of note and we look forward to Suzanne Joinson’s next tale.
Peggy McCarthy, West Islip and Smithtown Public Libraries

What the River Washed Away, by Muriel Mharie Macleod

Inspired by real-life events, this is a story of inner strength and revenge.  Eight-year-old Arletta and her voodoo priestess mother Mambo, live in a shack in the backwoods of Louisiana in the early 1920’s.  Slavery has been abolished, but that doesn’t mean attitudes and discrimination have changed. 

Sometimes she sees the white men walking down the track toward her home and knows to hide. But sometimes she sees them too late.  She finds solace in a nearby creek and in a spirit that encourages her to find the strength to deal with the repeated sexual abuse.  Finally, one day she fights back with ferocity. The men never return, but Arletta is haunted, wondering whether she’s a murderer or not.

Years later, living in the city, she hears that another girl has been brutally attacked by the same men.  Past meets present and Arletta is compelled to act, plotting a revenge that will leave its mark on history.
About the Author:

Born and raised in Scotland.  Lives in England.  Is a distinguished artist and animation film producer.  Illustrated articles for the Scottish edition of the Times Educational Supplement.  What the River Washed Away is her first novel.
Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane
Property, by Valerie Martin

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library

Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

This is not chick-lit and not literary fiction, but something in between: a well written story with appealing characters in a situation that makes the reader think.  Twenty-seven year old Elsie is married a scant few weeks when her adored husband Ben is struck by a truck and killed while doing an insignificant errand for Elsie. 

Chapters move back and forth between the terrible dark days after Ben’s death, and the touching, beautiful days of their passionate love story.  Elsie has a wonderful, supportive friend in Ana, and develops a valuable relationship with Ben’s mother, after a decidedly rocky start.  Kindly old Mr. Callahan, a customer at Elsie’s library, also has lessons to teach, and to learn.  The book concludes with some thoughtful questions, about life, death and love that could be used for a provocative book club discussion.
Read-alike authors include Cecelia Ahern, Luann Rice and Elizabeth Berg who write character-driven, bittersweet stories about women’s lives and relationships.
Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist who has worked in education and entertainment. She lives in Los Angeles.

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library

The Girl from Long Guyland  by Lara Reznik
The novel opens in 2012 in Austin, Texas and Laila Levin (the girl from Long Island) is a happily married woman with a sexy husband and a successful career as an IT executive.  Out of the blue she receives a call informing her that her college roommate from 1969 has committed suicide and left an incriminating suicide note. In addition she learns that there’s an FBI agent waiting at her house to talk to her.  In a matter of days Levin’s life as she knows it seems gone forever.  

Read -alikes

While I was Gone by Sue  Miller

- Kathleen Carter, Retired, Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library


The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
An atmosphere similar to the one depicted in The Great Gatsby provides the backdrop for Suzanne Rindell’s debut novel The Other Typist. The story is told through the eyes of Rose Baker, a young woman who works in the typing pool of a NYC police precinct. Rose’s interest is aroused when a new typist, Odalie Lazare, is hired for the typing pool. Odalie is quite different than the other women in the pool—she’s flirtatious, she smokes, and her hair is bobbed. A series of portending events begins to unfold: Rose retrieves a fancy brooch from the floor and fails to return it to Odalie on the day of her interview; Rose befriends Odalie and accompanies her as she navigates the city’s underworld of bootleggers and shady characters; and Rose alters a transcript of a suspected murderer’s confession.
The novel begins depicting a transitional era in American society. But it becomes more of a literary thriller in the style Alfred Hitchcock. There are twists and turns, and suspense builds as the secrets and backgrounds of both Rose and Odalie unravel. The sense that something bad is going to happen—and it does—builds as the story grows darker and darker. The reader is kept guessing right up until the last page! This book is a page-turner and an easy read that will delight readers that enjoy a combination of historical, psychological, and mystery fiction.
Read-alikes may include: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith; Only Time Will Tell by Jeffrey Archer; An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin; Rules of Civility by Amor Towles; and of course, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library


Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
This debut novel takes place over the course of a long summer weekend on an island in the Northeast (think Nantucket).  Win Van Meter is the patriarch of an old New England family.  Win attended the right schools, married an appropriate woman, fathered two daughters and has lived the life that a man of his station is expected to live.  The Van Meters have gathered for the wedding of the oldest daughter, Daphne, to Greyson Duff.  This is an acceptable match and if the bride were not so heavily and noticeably pregnant, Win would be happy.  Livia, the younger daughter has had her heart broken, leaving her vulnerable to the attentions of the groom’s brothers.  Win, lobbying hard for membership to a club that does not seem to want him, is distracted by both the wedding preparations and the attentions of one of the bridesmaids. Biddy, the long suffering mother-of-the-bride, tries to keep everyone happy and on schedule.
As the weekend progresses, the strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and prejudices of the Van Meter and the Duff families emerge.  Character driven with a strong sense of place, this novel will set you smack in the middle of a blue-blooded enclave which is fighting hard against the changes of the 21st century.  Sometimes humorous, often poignant, you will sympathize with Win at the same time you want to berate him for his inability to empathize with those around him.  Seating Arrangements allows a glimpse into the WASP world of privilege, revealing that status and money do not guarantee contentment.


That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo
Villages by John Updike
Life’s a Beach by Claire Cook

Terry Z. Lucas, Rogers Memorial Library

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Set on Janus Island off the coast Australia, a young couple live a solitary life.  Tom is the lighthouse keeper on the island and Isabel his new bride.  The young couple wish nothing more than to have a family but after a series of devastating miscarriages and a stillborn baby, they begin to give up hope.  Almost simultaneously, a boat with a dead man and infant girl, alive and healthy, wash up on shore.   Isabel believes the baby was sent for them and is able to feed the baby from her breast due to her recent loss.   She somehow convinces Tom that the baby is a “gift from God” and meant for them and against Tom’s better judgment they keep the baby and name her Lucy.  Isabel flourishes as a Mom and she and Tom love the child no differently than if she was their own. But the decision constantly eats away at Tom and he is internally torn up about their decision.

After almost two years the family makes their first visit to the mainland to christen their Lucy and they learn how devastating their choice has been.  Lucy’s Mom is alive and devastated by the loss of her husband and supposed loss of her daughter.  Once again Tom tries to convince Isabel that they have to tell the truth about Lucy, but again she convinces Tom not to tell anyone and they return to their life on Janus. Tom struggles constantly with the decision they have made, it eats away at him night and day.  Unbeknownst to Isabel, Tom sends Lucy’s birth mom  a note to let the Mom know that her child is okay, cared for and loved.  This sets off a firestorm of events that changes everyone’s life in an instant.

This story raises a lot of questions about right and wrong and how far someone will go to protect a secret even at the expense of others. The characters are well developed and the story is suspenseful and riveting.   The Light Between Oceans is filled with twists and turns that leave the reader not wanting to put it  down.

Author Notes

M.L. (Margot) Stedman was raised in Western Australia and currently resides in London.  This is her first novel.  She started  writing in the 1990’s while working as an attorney in London.  She studied creative writing at the University of London and had three novellas published in the Apis Books anthology, Desperate Remedies (2008)

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
The Lightkeepers Wife by Karen Viggers
Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

Donna Brown, Northport-East Northport Public Library