Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Engaging Debut Novels You Might Have Missed

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Each week a new theme is suggested for bloggers to participate in. I wasn’t quite feeling this week’s prompt, which is Things I’d Have at My Bookish Party, so I decided to share engaging debut novels you might have missed instead.

Hello Readers! We’ve made it to May. April was a weird month, so let’s just not talk about it. Since I’m a newbie blogger, there are a lot of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) I read before I started blogging and never got to talk about here–many of them debut novels. I decided to highlight some that I don’t see mentioned very often, but that impressed me. (In no particular order.)

(Link to Goodreads synopsis through book title.)


Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke

From My Goodreads Review:

“I loved this book! It’s been awhile since I gave out 5 stars, but this one is well-deserved. Loved Jane, loved all the other beautifully flawed characters, and I loved watching them change. It’s a book that is witty, timely, thoughtful, and laugh-out-loud funny. I was sad to see it end.”

I would also add, the blurb on this book doesn’t do it justice.

Recently expelled from high school, Jane Sinner grudgingly enrolls in community college, a situation made slightly more bearable when she joins a student-run reality show. House of Orange is her chance to start over—and maybe even win a car (used, but whatever)—and no one there knows what she did in high school. What more could she want? Okay, maybe a family that gets why she’d rather turn to Freud than to Jesus. But she’ll settle for using HOO’s growing fanbase, and whatever Intro to Psych can teach her, to prove to the world—or at least viewers of substandard television—that she has what it takes to win.


The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

From My Goodreads Review:

“Jellyfish are fascinating and mysterious creatures. Whenever I see them washed up on the beach or encounter them in the ocean or gawk at them through glass at the aquarium, I am intrigued, but mostly afraid. The idea that something so delicate can be so dangerous is one of the perplexities of nature. I loved this book. I loved twelve-year old Suzy. I loved her innocence and her flaws. I loved how the author came to write this book–from a failure. Sometimes the best things come from adversity and disappointment, and this heartfelt book illustrates that beautifully.”

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting–things don’t just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory–even if it means traveling the globe, alone. Suzy’s achingly heartfelt journey explores life, death, the astonishing wonder of the universe…and the potential for love and hope right next door.


The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

From My Goodreads Review:

“I enjoy books set in the 1980s, being a child and early teen during the 80s, and this one brought back memories of freedom. Freedom to roam the neighborhoods, freedom to get into trouble, and freedom to get yourself out of it. Sometimes. My children are growing up without these luxuries. The characters are engaging and the story is heart-warming. This one is a fun throwback!”

The Impossible Fortress begins with a magazine…The year is 1987 and Playboy has just published scandalous photographs of Vanna White, from the popular TV game show Wheel of Fortune. For three teenage boys—Billy, Alf, and Clark—who are desperately uneducated in the ways of women, the magazine is somewhat of a Holy Grail: priceless beyond measure and impossible to attain. So, they hatch a plan to steal it.


Life After Coffee by Virginia Franken

From My Goodreads Review:

Life After Coffee was a satisfying surprise! When I read the synopsis for this one, it reminded me of other novels with the same premise: Working mom loses fulfilling job and must become a stay-at-home parent. But this one had me laughing and nodding and shaking my head too. The characters are real, with quirks and flaws, and they make mistakes. Big mistakes. Once I got to the half-way point, I couldn’t put this one down.”

High-powered Amy O’Hara’s career as a coffee buyer sends her around the world for weeks at a time—until she gets laid off. Now neither she nor her husband, a talented but unemployed screenwriter, are earning any income. For the first time in her life, Amy faces the daunting responsibilities of being a stay-at-home parent—and quickly realizes two things: she may be the world’s most incompetent mother…and she’s going to need a lot more caffeine.


The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley by Jeremy Massey

From My Goodreads Review:

“A dark book, full of twists, turns, and shocking surprises gives the reader an inside look into the lives of undertakers and their grisly, but necessary jobs. Paddy Buckley is quite familiar with death, you might even say comfortable; he’s been on both sides, as an undertaker and a mourner. But when a mistake has him mixed up with the Irish mob, his own death seems imminent. The Last Four Days of Paddy Buckley is an edge-of-your-seat page-turner that reads like Six Feet Under meets The Sopranos!”

Paddy Buckley is a grieving widower who has worked for years for Gallagher’s, a long-established—some say the best—funeral home in Dublin. One night driving home after an unexpected encounter with a client, Paddy hits a pedestrian crossing the street. He pulls over and gets out of his car, intending to do the right thing. As he bends over to help the man, he recognizes him. It’s Donal Cullen, brother of one of the most notorious mobsters in Dublin. And he’s dead.


Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Ed Tarkington

From My Goodreads Review:

“A coming-of-age book, this beautifully written novel has a bit of everything: humor, suspense, heartbreak, and hope. Young Rocky idolizes his older brother, Paul, but when strife within the home leads to Paul’s disappearance, Rocky is left with more questions than answers. Rocky leads the reader down a twisting tale of his life, and how the people who come in and out of it shape the man he ultimately becomes.”

Welcome to Spencerville, Virginia, 1977. Eight-year-old Rocky worships his older brother, Paul. Sixteen and full of rebel cool, Paul spends his days cruising in his Chevy Nova blasting Neil Young, cigarette dangling from his lips, arm slung around his beautiful, troubled girlfriend. Paul is happy to have his younger brother as his sidekick. Then one day, in an act of vengeance against their father, Paul picks up Rocky from school and nearly abandons him in the woods. Afterward, Paul disappears.

Seven years later, Rocky is a teenager himself. He hasn’t forgotten being abandoned by his boyhood hero, but he’s getting over it, with the help of the wealthy neighbors’ daughter, ten years his senior, who has taken him as her lover. Unbeknownst to both of them, their affair will set in motion a course of events that rains catastrophe on both their families.


My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

From My Goodreads Review:

“This is the story of a young teen who feels she is forced to take matters into her own hands, setting off a chain of events that alter multiple lives. There was something so compelling about this novel. The point of view shifts between several characters, and each character had a clear and distinct voice, leaving no confusion about who was ‘speaking.’ It succeeds in giving the reader empathy, especially for Venus and her brother.”

Venus Black is a straitlaced A student fascinated by the study of astronomy—until the night she commits a shocking crime that tears her family apart and ignites a media firestorm. Venus refuses to talk about what happened or why, except to blame her mother. Adding to the mystery, Venus’s developmentally challenged younger brother, Leo, goes missing.


A List of Cages by Robin Roe

From My Goodreads Review:

“A List of Cages is hard to read at times, excruciatingly real, with well-developed characters and a story I couldn’t put down. But it’s also a story of friendship and love and hope. I know this one will stick with me for awhile.”

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.


A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry

From My Goodreads Review:

“This imaginative debut novel from Samantha Mabry was unlike anything I have read before. Set on the lush and stormy island of Puerto Rico, Mabry’s beautifully descriptive language had me swatting at mosquitos and smelling the salty ocean.”

Everyone knows the legends about the cursed girl–Isabel, the one the señoras whisper about. They say she has green skin and grass for hair, and she feeds on the poisonous plants that fill her family’s Caribbean island garden. Some say she can grant wishes; some say her touch can kill.

Seventeen-year-old Lucas lives on the mainland most of the year but spends summers with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. He’s grown up hearing stories about the cursed girl, and he wants to believe in Isabel and her magic.


The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan

From My Goodreads Review:

The Summer List was the perfect summer read. The only thing that could have made it better was if I had read it while relaxing in the mountains near a lake. This sweet story kept me turning pages, smiling, and even tearing up. At its heart, it’s a story about friendship, and how true friends can change your life. I was quite impressed with the author’s ability to weave such an intricate story. I didn’t want this one to end, and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more from Amy Mason Doan.”

Laura and Casey were once inseparable: as they floated on their backs in the sunlit lake, as they dreamed about the future under starry skies, and as they teamed up for the wild scavenger hunts in their small California lakeside town. Until one summer night, when a shocking betrayal sent Laura running through the pines, down the dock, and into a new life, leaving Casey and a first love in her wake.

Have you read any of these books? Did you add any to your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Wandering!

24 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Engaging Debut Novels You Might Have Missed”

  1. Great list, Dedra! I’m still thinking about whether I want to do this week’s prompt or not because I feel like my imagination has been sucked completely dry and I don’t know if I can conjure up a list. Love the topic you’ve done though! I’ve only heard about A List of Cages and that it’ll completely wreck your emotions, so I’m obviously excited to read it 🤣 Will check out some of these others too!

    1. I wasn’t feeling creative at all this week, either. But after seeing all the bookish themed party ideas everyone else is coming up with, I’m wondering why I couldn’t think of that?? Ha! A List of Cages will wreck you, but it’s worth it. 😉

    1. Oh yay!! Someone else who read it! The synopsis doesn’t do it justice. I wish it would have gotten more attention. 🙂

    1. Oh yay!! I’m not a big middle grade reader, but that is one I loved. It’s great for every age. <3

  2. Uh! Before the whole pandemic thing, I saw Nice Try, Jane Sinner at the book store and was going to get it, but didn’t. Now I kinda wish I had. Lol
    Gonna see if I can buy it on Kindle.

    The cover of A List of Cages reminds me of the Little Prince illustrations. 😀 It must be the stars and white background.

    1. Oh no! I hope you get to pick up a copy. I think it’s so underrated.

      It does, doesn’t it?? And it’s kind of a sad book, too. 🙂

  3. I’m so glad I’m not the only one that doesn’t feel prompts and twists them sometimes. xD Love the shout-out to these debut authors! I haven’t heard of any of these, so now I’ve got a lot of great books to look into. The Thing About Jellyfish sounds really good, especially!

    1. You’re not alone! Party planning just doesn’t come naturally to me. Even a bookish one. 😉

      The Thing About Jellyfish is amazing! It’s middle grade, but any age would enjoy it, I think. <3

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