Category: First Novels

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer is a first novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which won last year’s Pulitzer Prize for literature.  It’s a fascinating look at the Vietnam War and its aftermath from the perspective of the Vietnamese.  Right away it makes you realize how much Americans only see the Vietnam War from our own perspective, not those…

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The world feels very wrong right now. Between shootings, terrorism, and the horrible people that are governing our country with seemingly no ethics or empathy whatsoever. I’ve been trying to write a review of this book for a while, and it’s especially relevant right now with this week’s acquittal of Philando Castile. On top of…

The Power of the Debut Novel

Last month I read two fantastic books that were the authors’ debut novels (The Hate U Give and The Leavers). That got me thinking about other great first novels I’ve read, which got me to thinking: why are so many authors’ first novels their best ones? I think it’s because there’s a raw, emotional quality…

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

This is a really thoughtful, moving novel about a Chinese family that is torn apart in the United States.  Peilan grows up in China in a small village but dreams of exploring the world, so she travels to New York for factory work at better wages.  She has Deming while still very young herself, and…

The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan

Part of my Reading All Around the World Challenge, this is a book written by a chef in the U.S. who was born in Iran.  Café Leila tells the story of an Iranian family that experiences terrifying changes in the country after the revolution and establishment of the Islamic Republic in the early 1980’s. The…

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

I’ve seen mixed reviews of this book, but I really liked it.  Chang gives us a screwed-up family on a road trip, but she makes their story sympathetic, clever and at times funny.  I’ve seen this book described as hilarious, and I can’t say it reached that level for me, but then I’m not Chinese so…

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

I found this to be a thoughtful and entertaining take on the time travel story.  Time travel stories have plenty of tropes, and it seems like most of it’s been done before.  Mastai’s debut novel takes those tropes, mashes them together, and comes out with something that feels new.  I had a few issues with…

A Lady in the Smoke by Karen Odden

Readers of Anne Perry will enjoy this mystery set in Victorian England.  It’s a mystery that concentrates more on social and historical issues of the time, in this case railroad safety.  The characters are interesting and the story is fast-paced and engaging. Set in the 1870’s, Elizabeth Fraser is returning home from her “Fourth Season”…