What better way to start a new year than by reading new writers? Here are excerpts from our reviews of some of the most exciting debuts being published this month, two first novels and a book of short stories:

Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke: “In this aptly named story collection by an Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean heritage, people living in various countries struggle to build better lives for themselves....Clarke fully inhabits the voices of her characters—a masterful feat given their wide range of age, gender, race, country of origin, and country of residence. While many of the stories explore the lives of immigrants, the characters are not stereotypes or stand-ins to further a political ideology; they are simply people caught in situations ranging from the desperate to the more mundane, trying to live their lives the best way they know how. A tremendous new voice.”

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich: “Ruskovich’s debut opens to the strains of a literary thriller but transforms into a lyrical meditation on memory,  loss, and grief in the American West. Ann, a young music teacher, falls in love with Wade Mitchell, the father of two girls in her school, over Idaho Cover piano lessons. That summer, Wade’s family is ripped apart by a tragedy that leaves one daughter dead, another missing, and Wade’s now-ex-wife, Jenny, serving a life sentence for murder. Against all odds, Ann and Wade marry, and she tries to soothe her new husband’s insurmountable grief by piecing together what happened that day….A provocative first novel filled to the brim with dazzling language, mystery, and a profound belief in the human capacity to love and seek forgiveness.”

The Patriots by Sana Krasikov: “An idealistic young American heads for the Soviet Union in 1934, with consequences that reverberate through three generations in Krasikov’s ambitious and compelling first novel. The grim saga of Florence Fein’s education in the realities of Soviet life is punctuated by her son Julian’s sardonic first-person account of his return to Moscow in 2008 to facilitate an American-Soviet oil project, during which he also takes jaundiced looks back at his fraught relationship with his mother….Krasikov skillfully intertwines multiple narratives and time frames in a sweeping drama that is both a touching affirmation of the enduring bonds of family and a searing examination of the ghastly moral quandaries faced by the subjects of a totalitarian state.” Laurie Muchnick is the fiction editor.