Monday, March 30, 2015

5 Incredible Debut Novels

Let me start by telling you what great first novels I didn't put on the list: Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone (doesn't need the publicity); The Hobbit (same reason as before); Gone With The Wind (I never read it); The Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man (I'm still not sure what was going on, but everybody else seems to like it);To Kill A Mockingbird (I have already written three blogs about this book and even I am getting tired of talking about it.)

Ok, which books did I select? There are so many great debut novels I love, but I can only choose five (the title of the post says so!) So, here they are. If you feel like I left an important debut novel out, I am sure you are right: Please correct the omission by writing the title in under the comments. I have started something called the Debut Novel Review on PeterHogenkampWrites and the Fiction Writers Anonymous Community on Google+, as well as The Library, a Facebook group dedicated to reading. I plan to post at least one (and potentially many more) debut novel reviews per month.

Why I am I doing this? Because debut authors by definition don't have the name recognition, and have more trouble getting reviewers to take an interest. I also believe that in order for a debut book to be published, it has to be very good--it's too easy for a publisher to pass on it otherwise--and is therefore deserving of the attention. So, time for the main event:

1) The BFG by Roald Dahl. I know what you are thinking: The BFG is a children's book, and that should make it ineligible, right? Well, #1, The BFG is is one of those books (like Harry Potter) that adults love as well as kids, and, #2, no one said anything about children's books being ineligible. The only criteria is that the selected debut books are incredible, and what could be more incredible than a dream-catching giant that subsists entirely on snozzcumbers and frobscottle (which causes whizpopping.) If you haven't read a Roald Dahl book, go to your Local Independent Bookstore and buy The BFG; Dahl is a master of language and characterization, and his books are just plain fun to read.

2) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier. True Story. I tried to read this Civil War love story three times before I was successful. The first two tries were short-lived; I never made it past page 50 in either attempt. On the third try, I found the same prose which I previously found dense and impenetrable to be fluid and poetic. The story I had found to be slow-moving and uninteresting was now gripping. The characters went from dull and two-dimensional to complex and rich. If you have not tried this well-written book, give it a try. If you--like me--tried and and didn't get anywhere, try again.

3) A Time To Kill by John Grisham. Grisham made his name with The Firm; it was only after The Firm made it big that A Time To Kill was published. This is sad, because A Time To Kill is the better book, but it does go to show you how important commercial appeal is in the publishing industry.

Why is Grisham's debut novel so good? In my opinion, it features his best characters, ones that are sympathetic and real. I wasn't able to get through The Firm: sure, the story is good and everything, but the characters tasted like plastic and the writing lacked the passion found in his first book. A Time To Kill dripped with passion, and Grisham knows how to write setting. If you have never read this fantastic debut, Get After it!

4) The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larrson. Why should you read debut authors? Steig Larsson is why. Oh my word!!! The man not only wrote a damn good book, he created his own genre, the Scandinavian Crime Novel--a genre which is now busting at the guts with copycats and lookalikes. You can say what you want about Larrson's never-ending prose and the almost complete lack of editing (they do have editors is Scandinavia, right?) it's the fantastic characters and the riveting story that make #TGWTDT a must read. In a few words, LisBeth Salander is the bomb. Read it and see.

5) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. If you are like most people, you have never heard of this book. I only came across it by happenstance, in the process of doing some research for the first book of my Jesuit Thriller series. It turns out that the main character of The Sparrow is also a Jesuit priest, and Mary Russell chooses a Jesuit priest to be the main character of her first novel for many of the same reasons I choose a Jesuit priest to be the main character of mine--but the parallels stop there. The Sparrow is ostensibly a work of Science Fiction, but I think it is more of a literary novel with pyschological undertones.

Now that I have piqued your curiosity, The Sparrow is the story of the disastrous exploration mission launched by the Jesuit Order to a planet in the solar system which has been emitting radio signals thought to be musical in origin. I know, it sounds like SF/F, but it isn't--it's literary. What makes it literary and not SF/F? The Sparrow is character driven--the exploration of a new world is the setting, not the main focus of the book. Whatever the genre, it's a great book, thought-provoking, well-written and very unique. Read it.

Okay, thanks again for your support! And speaking of debut novels, the Prose&Cons own Jan Moran is the proud author of her first book, Scent Of Triumph. Jan's debut novel will be reviewed on the Debut Novel Review shortly after it is launched on March 31, 2015. Please look for the review on one of the above venues.


Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at



Sue Coletta said...

A Time To Kill is one of my all-time favorite movies. Haven't read the book. Guess it's time to pick it up. Thanks, Peter!

Lynn C. Willis said...

Totally agree with COLD MOUNTAIN. I tried twice, made it to page 20 or so and returned it to my book case. The third time was the charm and awakened me to the beauty of the way words can work together. It still takes my breath away.

Lisa said...

A time to kill really took my breath away. Awesome read, and movie. One of the few I think where the film did justice to the novel. Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @

Peter Hogenkamp said...

I agree, Lisa, the movie did do justice to the novel, and having Sanda Bullock and Matthew McConnaghey didn't hurt! Cheers

Peter Hogenkamp said...

Lynn, that is so interesting that you had the same experience as I did with Cold Mountain. I go back to the book on occasion just to read the prose.