BEST PICKS FOR BOOK CLUB DISCUSSIONS
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 surface. 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, characters and issues who stay with you. A story you’re not hesitant to blurt out whenever you’re asked for a recommendation.
Through a series of surveys fielded to avid readers and book club members and posts in social media reading groups, I’ve assembled titles which were mentioned multiple times and suggested as promoting great discussions. That doesn’t mean the book was universally liked, but rather there were enough topics to stimulate ideas and opinions. No list is ever complete, but I hope this one helps your club find undiscovered titles to fill in a few months. List is current as of December 2022. Sign-up for my newsletter if you'd like to receive updated recommendations based on what my three book clubs are reading each month.
For 2023, I hope your club will consider The Unlocked Path. Read a few excerpts to learn more. I’d love to join your club for an author chat in person or via Zoom. I promise a lively discussion and to share more background on how and why I wrote this piece of historical fiction. Sign up HERE to get on my planning calendar.
The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan. I highly recommend this one, too. My husband and I listened to it on Audible and it captivated us every one of our 1,500-mile car trip. Sullivan's prior novel, Beneath a Scarlet Sky has also been a top choice by book clubs.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. Several folks noted the discussion on this one was heated - some loved it, some not so much, which makes for a great discussion.
The Book Woman's Daughter by Kim Michele Richardson. Richardson' best-seller and popular book club choice, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, created a groundswell of demand as readers embraced and enjoyed this well-done sequel.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. Benedict continues to be a book club favorite author. Other titles by her often mentioned include: The Only Woman in the Room to The Mystery of Mrs. Christie and The Other Einstein. The Personal Librarian would be a great choice for a club’s February meeting during Black History Month to learn more about Belle daCosta Greene, a black woman who passes as white to secure and keep a position as J.P. Morgan’s librarian for his private collection. Benedict also has TWO books coming in 2023 to keep your eye one: The Mitford Affair (Jan) and The First Ladies (Jun), also co-authored with Victoria Christopher Murray.
The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel. Evidence that WWII is still popular with readers.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles Towles thrills readers with a quest adventure of a coming-of-age travelogue. An older Towles title, A Gentleman in Moscow, also remains a book club favorite.
The Viola Factor by Sheridan Brown
Horse by Geraldine Brooks Pull out your fanciest hats and put Horse on your list for May - Kentucky Derby month. Brooks has several other titles book clubs have enjoyed, including March, The Year of Wonders and People of the Book.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd Need a choice for the spring around Passover/Easter season? An imagined story about the wife of Jesus will prompt many discussions.
Note to Self... For my next book, consider including "book" in the title. Maybe it helps with popularity.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni. His venture into character development shines in Sam Hell (a personal favorite of mine) and his more recent, The World Played Chess, which offers up a platform for discussion of the Vietnam War and its veterans. Sons play pivotal roles in both novels.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley Another new favorite and great choice for June, Pride Month.
The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd
The Measure by Nikki Erlick. I haven't read this one yet, but the blurb reminds me a bit of another club favorite, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.
The Nature of Fragile Things by Susan Meissner Personally, I love all of Meissner's work in historical fiction. Her Fall of Marigolds is a poignant dual timeline of 1911 and 2011 centered in New York City, featuring Ellis Island and 9-11. A good choice for September. Add some fun and have a door prize using a beautiful scarf with a marigold print.
The Ride of Her Life by Elizabeth Letts. Who would have thought two books centered around horses would make the best of list? Maybe so many book club members, like me, went through a horse phase when they were younger. Another great choice from Letts - Finding Dorothy.
West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge - Also a newer entry. Definitely a lighter read about the Depression, especially compared to Kristin Hannah's The Four Winds which has been a popular pick, too.
In addition to the authors listed above, several other authors (alphabetic sort) appear multiple times in current and past surveys. 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 – A Man Called Ove and Beartown You may want to consider a movie night and pair A Man Called Ove with the upcoming release of Tom Hanks in A Man Called Otto.
- Diane Chamberlain – Necessary Lies, Big Lies in a Small Town and The Last House on the Street.
- Kristin Hannah – The Four Winds, The Great Alone, The Nightingale, and The Winter Garden, my favorite by Hannah. Her ability to draw a reader into a character’s emotional depths is powerful.
- Jodi Picoult – Small Great Things and Wish You Were Here. One of the first books my club read was Picoult's The Pact. I'm still haunted by that one. Her books always prompt great discussions centered around the social issues she explores.
- Kate Quinn – The Diamond Eye is also buzzing, especially with the turmoil in Ukraine. The Rose Code and The Alice Network, have staying power as great choices.
- Lisa See – The Island of Sea Women, Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, and Snowflower and the Secret Fan. I had the good fortune to meet Lisa with my book club at an all-town read and then had her join us over Skype to discuss Sea Women. She loves to connect with book clubs. Visit her website for more info. Her next book, Lady Tan's Circle of Women releases June 6, 2023. Read the blurb - does it remind you of another book?
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Spring 2018
Need more recommendations?
Book clubs love fiction, especially historical fiction with literary and thrillers rounding out top sub-genres. Non-fiction and memoirs can mix up your choices to broaden topics for discussion and are popular with co-ed clubs. Here's another 25, including a few older titles which may be more readily available from libraries. All books are listed alphabetical, not in any results of voting order, but they have been mentioned many times over the past couple of years I've been compiling these lists.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
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. I was fortunate to join a CA book club discussion over Zoom which made for an even more valuable discussion as I heard from folks who live where the immigrant population from Mexico and South America is more prevalent than in New England.
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate - There’s a companion non-fiction book out, too, Before and After.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah - Audible version comes highly recommended with Trevor narrating. (Memoir)
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! (Non-fiction)
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - Also a good choice for February and Black History Month. (Non-fiction)
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede- Looking north to our friends in Newfoundland, Canada and their caring actions softens the memories of that tragic day on September 11, 2001. Great choice for September as a remembrance. (Non-fiction)
Defending Jacob by William Landay Now an Apple TV mini-series. My club had an extensive discussion around “What would you do?”
Educated by Tara Westover – Lots of discussion stems from learning about her family’s reaction to the book. (Memoir)
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman Or is she? I listened on Audible. There's a great scene shift that the narration makes you jump.
The Giver of Stars by JoJo Meyers Consider a compare and contrast exercise and read The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - Similarities between Educated and Hillbilly Elegy. (Memoir)
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell - A personal favorite. Maybe toss in a re-read of Shakespeare's Hamlet, too
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – One of my Top Ten favorites of all time. I wish we still had red tents.
The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner- How a blurb can draw you in…”The thirty-ninth of her father’s forty-two children.” A polygamist family in rural Mexico – sure to be an incredible discussion. (Memoir)
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan - Plan a trip to Savannah with your group. My online club has discussed it as an idea. We’re spread across the States and Canada. Would be a great way to meet in person.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – pair with The Personal Librarian for February, Black History Month
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – Staying strong in popularity with the movie release. 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 complete with themed food (The Help with fried chicken and chocolate pie – just don’t use Minnie’s recipe, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo with Swedish meatballs).
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