93 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 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, 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 June 2022. I'll be updating again in January 2023. Sign-up for my newsletter if you'd like to receive updated lists.
For later in 2022 / early 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 following authors (alphabetic sort) appear multiple times within the Top 93 list. 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 is his other entry on the list and one that's been sitting in my TBR pile. Time to get to it!
- Marie Benedict – Catapaulting onto the favorites’ list with four choices from her examination of Heddy Lamar’s spy work during WWII in The Only Woman in the Room to The Mystery of Mrs. Christie and The Other Einstein, to her latest and greatest, The Personal Librarian, co-authored with Victoria Christopher Murray. 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 at J.P. Morgan’s librarian for his private collection.
- Diane Chamberlain – Intriguing explorations of lives, secrets and lies. My book club read her Necessary Lies several years ago and I still recall it was a great discussion. Big Lies in a Small Town also captures readers’ interests and provokes What If questions.
- Robert Dugoni – Dugoni’s venture into character development shines through with both The Extraordinary Life of 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.
- Kristin Hannah – No surprise that Hannah’s newest novel, The Four Winds remains in the Top 10. Controversial issues always spur discussion and Winds didn’t disappoint on that front. The Great Alone is close behind in the #12 spot. Could The Nightingale, published in 2015, be one of the pivotal novels which spurred the WWII craze? Given its continued presence on the Top 10 10 list, 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. We’re all anxiously awaiting the movie adaptation which seems to have been in production forever. Another entry, The Winter Garden, is my favorite by Hannah. Her ability to draw a reader into a character’s emotional depths is powerful.
- Jodi Picoult – Picoult never shies away from issues-driven stories which provoke excellent discussions. Her Small Great Things captures a Top 10 spot and can be considered a good choice if you’re also looking to discuss race relations. Her most recent release, Wish You Were Here, may hit too close to some with its setting revolving around a pandemic shutdown; it's certainly timely for discussions of how we would react.
- Kate Quinn – Quinn’s newest release, The Diamond Eye is also buzzing, especially with the turmoil in Ukraine. Keeping with the ever-popular WWII genre, Quinn's' The Rose Code and The Alice Network, have staying power as great choices.
- Lisa See – Two entries from one of my favorite authors. And, she’s a treasure to join your club’s discussion. My group had her join us via Skype for wonderful insights about The Island of Sea Women. We had previously met Lisa at a local event and were excited to connect with her again. One of our earlier reads, Snowflower and the Secret Fan is a personal favorite and also a selection for book clubs. Steeped in Asian histories, her research is meticulous, adding a richness to each book as she travels through the lives of strong female protagonists and their struggles within societies and global events.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Spring 2018
- Mark Sullivan – Both titles from Sullivan are great choices for co-ed book clubs with the right mixture of WWII action, male protagonists, family relationships, and a touch of romance. When you add in the fact each one is based on true stories of European families and the novels present the best part of historical fiction – facts which bloom through storytelling fiction. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, set in Italy and The Last Green Valley, set in Ukraine/Poland/Germany.
- Amor Towles – An older favorite, A Gentleman in Moscow, remains a Top 5 choice while his newest, The Lincoln Highway, thrills readers with a quest adventure of a coming-of-age travelogue.
Book clubs love fiction (literary and thrillers are top sub-genres), especially historical fiction. Non-fiction and memoirs mix up genres to broaden topics for discussion and are popular with co-ed clubs. All books are listed alphabetical, not in any results of voting order. Each book is linked to Amazon for ease of checking out more reader reviews.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins – Top 5 Pick. 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.
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 Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni – a personal favorite
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah - I've identified many parallels between The Great Alone and Where the Crawdads Sing. Send me a note if you'd like to read the essay.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley - Another new favorite and great choice for June, Pride Month.
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus - SOARED onto the Top 10 list. I need to pick this one up soon. Set in the 1960s this one could be considered HF, but as a child of the sixties, I can't bring myself to think that time period is now historical!
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig My online club had a great discussion around the paths not taken, or those taken and why we were satisfied with them, or not.
Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt A recent release which popped on to the list.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett – pair with The Personal Librarian for February, Black History Month
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – Top 5 Pick. Staying strong just as the movie releases. 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).
Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan - Also a good choice for a co-ed club. My husband and brother-in-law both loved it.
Easy to get the next few confused!! Oh, the importance of picking a unique title.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson - Set in Appalachia Kentucky during the Depression with characters who work as pack-horse librarians. May be worth reading The Giver of Stars, too for the same month and discussing via a Venn Diagram! Many groups have also followed up with the recent release of The Book Woman’s Daughter, also by Kim Michele Richardson.
Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera – Excellent choice for May with a mother-daughter theme throughout generations and across races.
The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn - Consider pairing with The Last Green Valley by Mark Sullivan for a discussion on Ukraine history
Finding Dorothy by Elizabeth Letts - My book club had so much fun with this one as an October choice – complete with costumes!
Costume Fun for Finding Dorothy
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Top 5 Pick. “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 it, what do I know?
The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati – And a comparable read for The Unlocked Path by Janis Robinson Daly
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell - A personal favorite. Maybe toss in a re-read of Shakespeare's Hamlet, too
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert - I read this one years ago about the leper colony in Hawaii with my local book club. I just re-read for my Historical Fiction club; I’m glad I did.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – One of my Top Ten favorites of all time. I wish we still had red tents.
Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan - Maybe 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.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger - Mark Twain would approve of a modern-day re-telling of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge - Also a newer entry. Definitely a lighter read about the Depression, especially compared to The Four Winds.
My FB HF group has had many authors join us for Zoom discussions, including the lovely Sadeqa Johnson for Yellow Wife. We're excited or a great Fall 2022 line-up, too. Come join us! Historical Fiction Fans – Join Us over Zoom with Facebook’s Third Thursday of the Month Club
- The Next Ship Home WITH Heather Webb - Thursday, July 21 @ 9 pm EST / 6 pm PST
- The Last Green Valley WITH Mark Sullivan - Thursday, September 15 @ 9 pm EST / 6 pm PST
- The Last Grand Duchess WITH Bryn Turnbull - Thursday, November 17 @ 9 pm EST / 6 pm PST
- The Unlocked Path WITH Janis Robinson Daly - Thursday, December 8 @ 9 pm EST / 6 pm PST (bonus book for December).
BIOGRAPHIES & MEMOIRS
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah - Audible version comes highly recommended.
Educated by Tara Westover – Top 5 Pick. Lots of discussion stems from learning about her family’s reaction to the book.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - Similarities between Educated and Hillbilly Elegy.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot - Biographical medical research. Not the medical field’s finest moment.
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.
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. If you’re in a co-ed club, non-fiction choices are often a good 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!
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - Also a good choice for February and Black History Month.
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 as a remembrance.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - Any title by Larson, in my opinion, could be considered for a book club; his non-fiction reads like fiction. 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 dizzy 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.
I hope you find this list useful and your book club has many more great meetings filled with discussion, drink, and friendship. And tell me – which one(s) are you going to suggest to your group?
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