March 17, 2018

First Novelists Fall 2007: Telling it Well

By Barbara Hoffert

Everybody has a story to tell, but not everybody can tell it well, which it why some first novels jump to the best sellers lists and others fade away. This year’s crop of successful first novelists come from all walks of life—there’s journalist Vanora Bennett and historian Alison Weir, dance critic Anita Amirrezvani and financial analyst manqué Dana Vachon. But they share a way with words that allows them to deliver incandescent stories that could change your life.

Alarcón, Daniel. Lost City Radio. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-059479-4. $24.95.

Alarcón fulfills the promise of his acclaimed collection, War by Candlelight, with this “formidably accomplished first novel” (the Independent). A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. (LJ 12/06)

Allison, Will. What You Have Left. Free Pr: S. & S. ISBN 978-1-4165-4139-4. $23.

Allison hit the up-and-comer’s triple crown, winning Booksense, Discover Great New Writers, and Borders Original Voices attention for this account of life with grandfather. (LJ 6/15/07)

Amirrezvani, Anita. The Blood of Flowers. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-06576-4. $23.99.

A No. 1 Booksense pick in June, Amirrezvani’s account of a spirited girl in 17th-century Iran was pitched as “the most beautiful book, bar none” by Borders exec Ann Binkley in USA Today‘s summer book preview. (LJ 3/1/07)

Avery, Ellis. The Teahouse Fire. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). ISBN 978-1-59448-930-3. $24.95.

A Kiriyama Prize notable book, Ohioana Library award finalist, Booksense and Borders pick, and Lambda Literary Award winner for lesbian debut fiction, this tale of 19th-century Japan clearly set some readers on fire. (LJ 11/15/06)

Bennett, Vanora. Portrait of an Unknown Woman. Morrow. ISBN 978-0-06-125183-2. $24.95.

A BOMC, Literary Guild, and Doubleday Book Club featured alternate that was honored by Booksense and Discover as well, this debut “breath[es] life into…a turbulent period of European history known as the Protestant Reformation” (LJ 3/15/07).

Berlinski, Mischa. Fieldwork. Farrar. ISBN 978-0-374-29916-3. $24.

“It’s a quirky, often brilliant debut, bounced along by limitless energy…. You wonder what Berlinski will write next.” That’s a dream quote for any first novelist—and it’s from the relentlessly critical New York Review of Books. So stay tuned. (LJ 1/07)

Brinkman, Kiara. Up High in the Trees. Grove. ISBN 978-0-8021-1847-9. $23.

Here’s one of those lucky few (debut or not) to get singled out for Booksense, Discover, and Borders accolades. Generally strong reviews, including a full-page People encomium (“an inventive, emotionally arresting debut”), pushed this account of a child’s grief into a second printing. (LJ 6/1/07)

Clinch, Jon. Finn. Random. ISBN 978-1-4000-6591-2. $23.95.

“Nothing short of revelatory” (Washington Post Book World). That’s the word on this reimagining of Huck Finn’s wayward father, a Booksense pick that won some stellar reviews and has already gone through three printings. (LJ 1/07)

Danford, Natalie. Inheritance. St. Martin’s. ISBN 978-0-312-34902-8. $23.95.

Initially shipping 5000 copies, this little sparkler doubled its availability after a second printing and was also a Discover pick. “An overall achievement in storytelling” (LJ 12/06).

Darwin. Emma. The Mathematics of Love. Morrow. ISBN 978-0-06-114026-6. $24.95.

News flash: Charles Darwin’s great-great-granddaughter is among this season’s top debut novelists, penning a “compelling literary blend of war history and romantic relationships” (LJ 1/07). Booksense and Borders sat up and noticed, and’s “Meet the Writers” book club also featured the author.

Davies, Peter Ho. The Welsh Girl. Houghton. ISBN 978-0-618-00700-4. $24.

A good showing for acclaimed short story writer Davies, this sensitive World War II drama netted Discover acclaim and was longlisted for the Booker Prize. (LJ 11/15/06)

Ferris, Joshua. Then We Came to the End. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-01638-4. $23.99.

“Fabulous” (Chicago Tribune). “Wonderfully comic” (O magazine). And a New York Times Book Review cover story to boot. This account of the contemporary workplace earned four printings and plenty of space on best sellers lists nationwide. (LJ 1/07)

Ghelfi, Brent. Volk’s Game. Holt. ISBN 978-0-8050-8254-8. $23.

Seattle Mystery Bookshop’s Janine Wilson has proclaimed this tale of Russian intrigue the book of the year. Scottsdale’s Poisoned Pen Bookstore sold over 500 copies at a single event. The 75,000-copy first printing disappeared before publication. Sounds as if Ghelfi has a winner on his hands. (LJ 3/1/07)

Gomez-Juardo, Juan. God’s Spy. Dutton. ISBN 978-0-525-94994-7. $24.95.

Rights for this thriller have been sold to 35 countries, and with “a grisly story in the tradition of Thomas Harris” (LJ 2/15/07), it’s likely that American readers will be hearing from Spanish novelist Gomez-Juardo again.

Grossman, Austin. Soon I Will Be Invincible. Pantheon. ISBN 978-0-375-42486-1. $22.95.

Freelance game-design consultant Grossman scored nicely with this debut, starring supervillain Dr. Impossible. It was the No. 1 fiction title at Virgin in June, hit No. 8 on the San Francisco Chronicle best sellers list, grabbed an Amazon “Significant 7” spot, and was a Booksense pick as well. (LJ 6/1/07)

Hall, Steve. The Raw Shark Texts. Canongate, dist. by Grove/Atlantic. ISBN 978-1-84195-911-5. $24.

What can you say about a first novel that’s been sold to 32 countries, was pushed by authors as diverse as Mark Z. Danielewski and Chuck Palahniuk, and received front-page coverage in the New York Times business section? Hall is such a hit that the publisher won’t even reveal what he’s up to next.

Hay, Sheridan. The Secret of Lost Things. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-51848-2. $23.95.

Hay’s literary thriller was another Booksense/Discover/Borders triple-crowner, and directors at four Barnes & Noble stores even picked it as a “regional recommends.” Maybe that’s why it has gone through four printings, with over 40,000 books now available.

Holland, Travis. The Archivist’s Story. Dial: Random. ISBN 978-0-385-33995-7. $23.

A Stalin-era pencil pusher risks all to save two stories by Isaac Babel destined for the incinerator, resulting in strong reviews—the Moscow Times called it “gripping”—and nods from Discover and Borders. (LJ 4/1/07)

Jacobs, Kate. The Friday Night Knitting Club. Putnam. ISBN 978-0-399-15409-6. $22.95.

If Julia Roberts liked this book so much that she optioned the film rights, maybe you will, too. Enough people joined the club to put this debut onto the New York Times best sellers list.

Jenoff, Pam. The Kommandant’s Girl. Mira: Harlequin. ISBN 978-0-7783-2342-6. pap. $13.95.

Lucky Jenoff. Not every debut author finds herself a Quills romance nominee, competing with Luanne Rice and Nora Roberts. “Achingly beautiful” (, this novel was in its third printing before publication. (LJ Xpress)

Kyle, Aryn. The God of Animals. Scribner. ISBN 978-1-4165-3324-5. $25.

“Aryn Kyle seems poised to become one of America’s next great authors” (Parade). With praise like that—and it was pretty much all like that—it’s no surprise that this coming-of-age tale hit not only regional best sellers lists (after three printings) but the New York Times extended list, too. (LJ 12/06)

Lee, Min Jin. Free Food for Millionaires. Grand Central. ISBN 978-0-446-58108-0. $24.99.

Maybe this Korean coming-of-age story hasn’t made Lee a millionaire yet, but it was a No. 1 Booksense pick in May and took trips to the Boston Globe and New York Times best sellers lists. (LJ 3/15/07)

Lutz, Lisa. The Spellman Files. S. & S. ISBN 978-1-4165-3239-2. $25.

A mystery caper, this in-house favorite was cheered by staff as it hopped onto the San Francisco Chronicle best sellers list and New York Times extended list. “Addictively entertaining” (Glamour). (LJ 3/15/07)

McCarthy, Tom. Remainder. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-307-27835-7. pap. $13.95.

How many trade paperbacks make the front cover of the New York Times Book Review? How many debut novels? How many trade paperback debut novels? With “superb stylistic control and uncanny imagination,” McCarthy pulled it off.

Maltman, Thomas. The Night Birds. Soho, dist. by Consortium. ISBN 978-1-56947-462-4. $24.

“We all set our sights on the Great American Novel…[but Maltman] comes impressively close” (Boston Globe). This rethinking of the post–Civil War West was a Booksense and a Midwest Booksellers Association pick. (LJ 4/15/07)

Matar, Hisham. In the Country of Men. Dial: Random. ISBN 978-0-385-34042-7. $22.

The only debut novel shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker Prize and a Booksense and Borders pick as well, this child’s-eye view of repressive Libya has appeared in 15 countries. “Intimate, realistic, and heartbreaking” (LJ 11/15/06).

Melman, Peter Charles. Landsman. Counterpoint: Perseus. ISBN 978-1-58243-367-7. $24.95.

A Civil War novel starring New Orleans gang member Elias Abrams, Melman’s Booksense/Discover doubleheader is in contention for the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Award. Melman was also featured on the Amazon Bookstore blog, which called his work “a full-hearted tale.” (LJ 5/15/07)

Mengestu, Dinaw. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). ISBN 978-1-59448-940-2. $22.95.

A best seller (Los Angeles Times) and a Seattle Reads pick for spring 2008, this novel got Mengestu named one of “5 Under 35”—five young authors to be honored by the National Book Foundation during its awards week. “A great African novel, a great Washington novel, and a great American novel” (New York Times Book Review). (LJ 11/1/06)

Penney, Stef. The Tenderness of Wolves. S. & S. ISBN 978-1-4165-4074-8. $25.

The publisher was really excited about this UK import, set in 19th-century Canada—and then it won the Costa Book Award (formerly the Whitbread). New York magazine’s advice about this startling, evocative read: “Buy it.” (LJ 5/1/07)

Portes, Andrea. Hick. Unbridled. ISBN 978-1-932961-32-4. pap. $14.95.

“Smart and sassy” (Oregonian). “Saucy and gritty” ( “Terrific and addicting” (Kansas City Star). Spiraling praise for a Los Angeles Times paperback best seller and a Booksense and a Midwest Connections pick. (LJ 6/15/07)

Rees, Matt Beynon. The Collaborator of Bethlehem: An Omar Yussef Mystery. Soho, dist. by Consortium. ISBN 978-1-56947-442-6. $22.

Proclaimed an “outstanding debut” by LJ‘s reviewer (LJ 11/1/06), this Middle East mystery also managed to scarf a Quills nomination, sharing the stage with folks like Michael Connelly and Laura Lippman.

Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle; Day One. DAW, dist. by Penguin Group (USA). ISBN 978-0-7564-0407-9. $24.95.

After the rave reviews (“the best fantasy novel of the past ten years,” the Onion) and the Booksense and Borders approval, it was really nice when first fantasy novelist Rothfuss was not simply nominated for a Quills Award but actually won. (LJ 1/07)

Sakey, Marcus. The Blade Itself. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). ISBN 978-0-312-36031-3. $22.95.

Sakey’s nail biter was plumped by Janet Maslin on CBS Sunday Morning and featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, which may explain why it was the fastest-selling title in independent mystery bookstores last January. (LJ 10/15/06)

Stott, Rebecca. Ghostwalk. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 978-0-385-52106-2. $24.95.

Signing with Ian McEwan at BEA may have helped Stott get her start, but great reviews (“a hypnotic brew,” Washington Post Book World) pushed her onto the New York Times extended best sellers list. All for a literary thriller involving Isaac Newton. (LJ 4/1/07)

Vachon, Dana. Mergers and Acquisitions. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). ISBN 978-1-59448-934-1. $23.95.

No triple crown here, but if media buzz counts for anything (see, for instance,, this tease on the sweet life in corporate New York was one big debut. The six-figure movie deal didn’t hurt. (LJ 3/1/07)

Weir, Alison. Innocent Traitor. Ballantine. ISBN 978-0-345-49485-6. $24.95.

With Innocent Traitor, noteworthy British historian Weir took a few big risks. She wrote her first novel, and she undertook her first full-scale American tour. The payoff? A nice little visit to the New York Times best sellers list.



Compiled by Ann Burns


Jami Attenberg. The Kept Man. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Dec. New York

Emily Benedek. Red Sea. St. Martin’s. Sept. New York. (LJ 8/07)

Charles Bock. Beautiful Children. Random. Jan. New York (LJ 10/1/07)

Junot Diaz. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Sept. New York (LJ 9/15/07)

Amy Holman Edelman. Manless in Montclair. Shaye Areheart: Harmony. Nov. New Jersey. (LJ 10/1/07)

Janice Eidus. The War of the Rosens. Behler. Sept. New York

Pamela Erens. The Understory. Ironweed. Sept. New Jersey

Stephen H. Foreman. Toehold. S. & S. Oct. New York

Jeff Garigliano. Dogface. MacAdam/Cage. Jan. New York

Carol Gilligan. Kyra. Random. Jan. New York

August Gold & Joel Fotinos. The Prayer Chest. Doubleday. Oct. New York

Karl Iagnemma. The Expeditions. Dial: Random. Dec. Massachusetts

Ken Isaacson. Silent Counsel. Windermere. Sept. New Jersey

Jessica James. Shades of Gray. Patriot. Jan. Pennsylvania

Rebecca Johnson. And Sometimes Why. Putnam. Jan. New York

Porochista Khakpour. Sons and Other Flammable Objects. Grove. Sept. New York. (LJ 8/07)

Martin Langfield. The Malice Box. Pegasus. Sept. New York

Anthony Lappé & Dan Goldman. Shooting War. Grand Central. Nov. New York

Larry Moniz. Inside Story. Swimming Kangaroo. Nov. New Jersey

Christine Pisera Naman. Christmas Lights. Doubleday. Oct. Pennsylvania (LJ 10/1/07)

Kim Powers. Capote in Kansas. Carroll & Graf. Oct. New York

Dax-Devlon Ross. The Best of Intentions. OTB. Sept. New Jersey

Bob Smith. Selfish & Perverse. Carroll & Graf. Sept. New York. (LJ 8/07)

Scot R. Stone. The Hollows of Candlewick. Behler. Sept. Vermont

Pamela Thompson. Every Past Thing. Unbridled. Sept. Massachusetts

Diane Vadino. Smart Girls Like Me. St. Martin’s. Sept. New York

Michelle Valentine. A Girl’s Gotta Eat. St. Martin’s. Nov. New York

Eugenia Lovett West. Without Warning. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Dec. Connecticut

Tod Harrison Williams. Knifeboy. S. & S. Sept. New York


Christopher Barzak. One for Sorrow. Bantam. Sept. Ohio

Laura Benedict. Isabella Moon. Ballantine. Sept. Illinois. (LJ 9/15/07)

Gerry Doyle. From the Depths. McBooks. Nov. Illinois

Matthew Eck. The Farther Shore. Milkweed. Oct. Missouri. (LJ 9/15/07)

Geoffrey Edwards. Fire Bell in the Night. Touchstone: S. & S. Sept. Illinois. (LJ 9/15/07)

Eileen Favorite. The Heroines. Scribner. Jan. Illinois. (LJ 9/15/07)

William C. Hammond. A Matter of Honor. Cumberland House. Oct. Minnesota

Douglas W. Jacobson. Night of Flames. McBooks. Oct. Wisconsin. (LJ 8/07)

Julie Klassen. Lady of Milkweed Manor. Bethany. Jan. Minnesota

Jeffrey Leever. Dark Friday. Capital Crime. Sept. Missouri. (LJ 10/1/07)

Julie Lessman. A Passion Most Pure. Revell. Jan. Missouri

Jon Loomis. High Season. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept. Wisconsin. (LJ 8/07)

Craig McDonald. Head Games. Bleak House: Big Earth. Sept. Ohio. (LJ 8/07)

Paul Martin Midden. Absolution. Millennial Mind. Oct. Missouri.

Carlos T. Mock, M.D. Papi Chulo. Floricanto. Sept. Illinois

Michael Pritchett. The Melancholy Fate of Capt. Lewis. Unbridled. Oct. Kansas. (LJ 9/1/07)

Jennifer Rardon. Once Bitten, Twice Shy. Orbit: Hachette. Sept. Illinois. (LJ 9/15/07

Anastasia Royal. Undoing I Do. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Nov. Illinois

Richard Thompson. Fiddle Game. Poisoned Pen. Jan. Minnesota


Mary Andrews. The Fireborn Chronicles. Swimming Kangaroo. Oct. Texas

Barbara Anton. Egrets to the Flames. Oceanview. Nov. Florida. (deceased)

Barbara Bergin. Endings. Sunstone. Nov. Texas

James Collins. Beginner’s Greek. Little, Brown. Jan. Virginia. (LJ 10/1/07)

David Fuller Cook. Reservation Nation. Boaz. Nov. North Carolina

Tino Georgiou. The Fates. iUniverse. Oct. Florida

Edie Hand with Jeffery Addison. The Last Christmas Ride. Cumberland House. Sept. Alabama

Joe McGinniss Jr. The Delivery Man. Grove. Jan. Washington, DC

Derek Nikitas. Pyres. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Oct. Georgia

Fritha Robinson. An Errand for the Goddess. Swimming Kangaroo. Nov. Texas

Terry Shaw. The Way Life Should Be. Touchstone: S. & S. Sept. Tennessee

Michael Wiley. The Last Striptease. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Oct. Florida

Ed Yoder. Lions at Lamb House. Europa Editions. Sept. Washington, DC


Jack Adler. Ditzy & Champion. Swimming Kangaroo. Nov. California

Douglas Atwill. The Galisteo Escarpment. Sunstone. Oct. New Mexico

Julie Buxbaum. The Opposite of Love. Dial: Random. Jan. California

Steve Carlson. Almost Graceland. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Nov. Oregon

Jennifer Lee Carrell. Interred with Their Bones. Dutton. Sept. Arizona. (LJ 8/07)

Kathryn Cushman. A Promise To Remember. Bethany. Oct. California

Leslie Davis. Keeper’s Child. Hades. Oct. Washington

Molly Dwyer. Requiem for the Author of Frankenstein. Lost Coast. Jan. California

Amanda Goldberg & Ruthanna Khalighi Hopper. Celebutantes. St. Martin’s. Jan. California

Lisa McKay. My Hands Came Away Red. Moody. Sept. California

Kate Maloy. Every Last Cuckoo. Algonquin. Jan. Oregon

Andrea Meyer. Room for Love. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Sept. California

Craig Nettleton. Rocks in My Bed. Sunstone. Sept. New Mexico

Sheila Ortego. The Road from La Cueva. Sunstone. Sept. New Mexico

Jeffrey Overstreet. Auralia’s Colors. WaterBrook: Random. Sept. Washington

Ann Pancake. Strange as This Weather Has Been. Shoemaker & Hoard: Avalon. Oct. Washington. (LJ 9/15/07)

Sheila Roberts. On Strike for Christmas. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Nov. Washington

Lara Santoro. Mercy. Other. Sept. New Mexico. (LJ 8/07)

Dona Sarkar. How To Salsa in a Sari. Harlequin Enterprises. Jan. Washington

L.J. Sellers. The Sex Club. Spellbinder. Oct. Oregon

Tori Warner Shepard. Now Silence. Sunstone. Dec. New Mexico

Courtney Thorne-Smith. Outside In. Random. Sept. California

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga. Midori by Moonlight. Griffin: St. Martin’s. Sept. California

Spring Warren. Turpentine. Grove. Sept. California. (LJ 9/1/07)


Karen Miller. The Innocent Mage. Orbit: Hachette. Sept. (LJ 9/15/07)


Leighton Gage. Blood of the Wicked. Soho Crime. Jan.


Denysé Bridger. As Fate Decrees. Hades. Sept.

Liam Durcan. Garcia’s Heart. St. Martin’s. Nov.

Jennifer Rahn. Longevity Thesis. Hades. Sept.


Hamdy el-Gazzar. Black Magic. American Univ. in Cairo. Oct.

Ibrahim Farghali. Smiles of the Saints. American Univ. in Cairo. Nov.


Peter Bourne. The Deserter. Macmillan UK. Dec.

Roopa Farooki. Bitter Sweets. St. Martin’s. Nov. (LJ 9/1/07)

Elena Forbes. Die with Me. MacAdam/Cage. Oct. (LJ 9/1/07)

Gregorio Kohon. Red Parrot. Karnac. Nov.

Nikita Lalwani. Gifted. Random. Sept.

Sonia Lambert. Three Mothers. Berkley: Penguin Group (USA). Jan.

Kay Langdale. If Not Love. St. Martin’s. Jan.

Philip Palmer. Debatable Space. Orbit: Hachette. Jan.

Marie Phillips. Gods Behaving Badly. Little, Brown. Dec.

David Thewlis. The Late Hector Kipling. S. & S. Nov.


Tod Wodicka. All Shall Be Well. Pantheon. Jan.


Sylvia Sellers-Garcia. When the Ground Turns in Its Sleep. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Dec. (LJ 10/1/07)


Cora Harrison. My Lady Judge. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Sept.

Isle of Man

Chris Ewan. The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Nov.


Evan Fallenberg. Light Fell. Soho. Jan.

Ron Leshem. Beaufort. Delacorte. Dec.

The Netherlands

Carol Anne Lee. The Winter of the World. Perennial: HarperCollins. Oct.

New Zealand

Russell Kirkpatrick. Across the Face of the World. Orbit: Hachette. Jan.


Brian Ruckley. Winterbirth. Orbit: Hachette. Sept. (LJ 9/15/07)


John Ajvide Lindqvist. Let Me In. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Oct.

Author Information
Barbara Hoffert is Editor and Ann Burns is Associate Editor, LJ Book Review