What’s the best part of a memorable book club meeting? The wine served or the book discussion generated? Be honest. A glass, or two, of a good wine may get a discussion flowing, but for me, a successful meeting comes down to how many different comments and viewpoints surfaced. Yet, how do you find the perfect book that will make a lasting impression on your group? The stress is real. You want a plot and characters who stay with you. A story you’re not hesitant to blurt out whenever you’re asked for a recommendation. An opportunity to learn and expand your perspective on people who drive issues and shaped history.
I’m here to help. Through a series of surveys fielded to avid readers and book club members, I’ve assembled the following list. I hope you discover a new author or title which prompt great thought-provoking discussions. Each title is linked to Amazon to read fuller reviews. I’ve also read most of these on my own or with a book club, you can search for my Reviews by typing the title into the space that opens next to the magnifying glass (top right corner, next to the Contact button).
Feel free to bookmark this page, sign up to follow the blog for future updates, share this list out to your entire group, or copy and paste the listing into your own handy Word document. I also have lots of helpful tips for planning Book Club meetings (in-person, virtual, themed, and more). Themed book clubs are FUN! Especially October meetings with the chance to dress in costumes to fit with a read of Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts (a top pick from the survey), Monster: The Story of a Young Mary Shelley by M.R. Arnold, and Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin.
The following authors appeared multiple times in the survey with several different titles. One idea is to read a couple by the same author and then compare and contrast. Was each story unique, or did they become formulaic? Has the author’s writing style evolved from earlier works? Which one deserves a sequel? (Tell the author! They love to hear from readers.)
- Fredrik Backman – I’m glad my personal bias didn’t affect the list. Happy to report a lot of other people love Backman’s characters, their developments and quirky approaches to life. A Man Called Ove is one of those books that will stay with you, especially among those caring for aging parents, or advancing into that age category themselves. Beartown (on my list due to its youth hockey tilt – proud hockey mom of 20 years!) and his most recent, Anxious People, also surfaced from multiple respondents. I agree 100% with Anxious People.
- Kristin Hannah – Could The Nightingale, published in 2015, be one of the pivotal novels which spurred the WWII craze? Given its continued popularity, I contend it may be. And, while many others have tried, few have succeeded to the level Hannah found when she introduced us to sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, and their paths taken during the war. The Great Alone also slid into one of the top spots from the survey. Another entry, The Winter Garden, is my favorite by Hannah. Her ability to draw a reader into a character’s emotional depths is masterful. While not on the list, yet, I expect her newest novel, The Four Winds, will be bubbling up soon. One of my book clubs selected it for our September read. I look forward to tackling the 500+ pages. Speaking of compare and contrast, you may be interested in the parallel lines I identified between The Great Alone and Where the Crawdads Sing.
- Jojo Moyes – The Giver of Stars generates much discussion as it released around the same time period as The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson (which also is a top recommendation). With both set in Appalachia Kentucky during the Depression with characters who work as pack-horse librarians. I’ve read Bookwoman on my own. My work book club is reading Stars for May. Check out my Q2 2021 Book Review Roundup in June to see if I’ve scribbled out a Venn Diagram. Me Before You is Moyes other popular choice, a more contemporary woman’s fiction about life and living.
- Kate Quinn – The Huntress and The Alice Network. Although both are WWII based, which many readers and groups report a wear-out effect, I was pleasantly pleased with my Historical Fiction and local book club’s choice of The Huntress this January. The backstory of one of the character’s involvement in the Russian Army’s “Night Witches” as daring aviators and bombers was fascinating, coupled with the post-War plotline of Nazi hunting made for a speedy, enthralling read and worthy of a top pick. Quinn’s newest release, The Rose Code, is also buzzing, especially with the recent passing of Prince Philip who appears as character in the story of the women code breakers of Bletchley Park, England.
- Lisa See – Three entries from one of my favorite authors. And, she’s a treasure to join your club’s discussion. My group saw her speak about The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane and subsequently scheduled her to join us via Skype for more information about The Island of Sea Women. We also read my personal favorite and a Top 10 all time read of mine, Snowflower and the Secret Fan. Steeped in Asian histories, her research is meticulous to add a richness to each book as she travels through the lives of strong female protagonists as they struggle within their societies and global events. Tea Girl would also make a great choice for May tied to Mother’s Day, or a Mother’s Day gift for someone special.
- Amor Towles – A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility. “No two people read the same book.” A Gentleman in Moscow falls into my limited DNF (did not finish) pile for its slow pace. But, with a large majority of survey respondents proclaiming they loved both of Towles’ novels, what do I know?
Book clubs love fiction, especially historical fiction over other sub-genres like romance or mysteries and thrillers. Non-fiction in the terms of biographies and autobiographies are also often chosen to mix up the choices and are popular with co-ed clubs. The first group were top picks in each genre (five or more mentions). The second group are titles mentioned more than twice. All books are listed alphabetical; not in order of poll votes. If you’ve read any of them, let me know – drop a comment.
Whether you’re meeting in-person or Zooming into the rest of 2021, I hope you find a few selections from these lists.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins I sat in on a Zoom author chat with Jeanine and am glad I did. She provided a personal perspective on the controversary which never came through in the press. My online book club had a great discussion made even more valuable for me as this club is located in CA where the immigrant population from Mexico and South America is much more prevalent than in New England.)
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano Slated for one of my online clubs later this year.
Defending Jacob by Wiliam Landay Now an Apple TV mini-series. My club had an extensive discussion around “What would you do?”
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett Highly recommend the Audible version with Tom Hanks narrating.
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh Fun tip from a book club on this one: We had everyone bring their favorite flower and we placed them around the food.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens While I enjoyed Crawdads, I’m a bit surprised it captured one of the top spots. Apparently it’s being made into a movie, too. Always a good idea to read a book first and then see how well the adaption turns out. My book club has enjoyed several movie nights for favorite books. I also found many similarities between Crawdads and The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (see above). Check out my notes on the parallels. Note: some spoilers.
FICTION (Historical) Added setting information in case you’re looking for something outside of the over-populated WWII genre.
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan (Italy, WWII) Also a good choice for a co-ed club. My husband and brother-in-law both loved it.
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert I read this one years ago about the leper colony in Hawaii with my local book club. Looking forward to reading it again with my Historical Fiction club. (Hawaii, 1890s)
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant One of my Top Ten favorites of all time. I wish we still had red tents. (Middle East, Biblical times)
Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay The movie adaptation is well done. (France, WWII)
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger Mark Twain would approve of a more modern-day re-telling of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Minnesota, 1930s)
BIOGRAPHIES / MEMOIRS
Becoming by Michelle Obama (Audible version comes highly recommended)
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (Audible version comes highly recommended)
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls Similarities between Educated and Hillbilly. My choice of the three is The Glass Castle.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Biographical medical research. Not the medical field’s finest moment. The Radium Girls (below) would be a great companion read.
Not to be sexist, but it seems most book clubs are comprised primarily of women. From Bible circles in the 1700s, to high-brow literary circles of the 1800s to consciousness-raising discussions of the 1960s, women love to come together to discuss their opinions. However, there are many co-ed clubs in local communities and among families. Non-fiction choices are often a safe choice for broad appeal.
Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown Who knew the sport of rowing could be so interesting? Layer in The Depression and the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and voila – you bet it is!
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede For anyone who lived through September 11, 2001, looking north to our friends in Newfoundland Canada and their caring actions softens the memories of that tragic day. Would be a great choice for September 2021 for the 20th anniversary as a remembrance.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson Any title by Larson, in my opinion, could be considered for any book club: The Splendid and the Vile, Isaac’s Storm, Dead Wake, etc. etc. Yet, when you combine the Chicago’s World Fair and a serial killer on the loose – look out Windy City and readers. Strap yourself in for a ride as dizzying as the Great Ferris Wheel which debuted at the Fair.
Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann I am fortunate to have read Flower Moon with my book club, chosen by our hostess who is a member of the Osage tribe. A disturbing read which accentuates and reinforces the incomprehensible treatment of Native Americans in our US history.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand My sons’ high school chose Unbroken as an all-school summer read and I read right along with them to learn the story and lessons of Louie Zamperini’s life. I wish the school had opened up an ensuing assembly at the start of the school year. They were able to Skype with Louie from his CA home. An incredible memory for my boys.
For consideration of Race issues
Many book clubs, including my own, made the conscious choice to raise the question of racial equality as a result of the Black Lives Matters movement’s advancement in 2020. Several titles lead to excellent discussions on the topic.
Americanah by Chimamandi Ngozi Adichie (fiction)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (considered YA, but excellent read for any age)
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (biography)
Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (fiction)
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (fiction)
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni – a personal favorite
The Help by Kathryn Stockett – a personal favorite and a fun movie night, complete with fried chicken and chocolate pie (disclaimer: don’t use Minnie’s recipe)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – a personal favorite
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – a personal favorite
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom – a personal favorite
News of the World by Paulette Jiles – a personal favorite
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – a personal favorite and check out a guest blog review on the prequel, The Evening and the Morning
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – make a combo with a movie night.
The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks – a personal favorite
I hope you find this list useful and your book club has many more great meetings filled with discussion, drink, and friendship. Don’t see a favorite title on this list you recall as a great discussion for your group? I’m keeping the survey open to gather more titles and will update this list again when there’s another fifty more new ones mentioned.
And tell me – which one(s) are you going to suggest to your group? Share and comment below.
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