99 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. An opportunity to learn and expand your perspective on people who drive issues and shaped history.
Through a series of surveys fielded to avid readers and book club members and posts in social media reading groups, I’ve assembled those 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 2021. I'll be updating again in mid-2022.
For later in 2022 / early 2023, perhaps you’ll consider The Unlocked Path which releases August 2022. Read a few excerpts or check out the synopsis 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 for September – December 2022 or early 2023.
The following authors (alphabetic sort) appeared multiple times within the Top 99 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.)
- Geraldine Brooks – A couple of older titles are always a good book club choice giving the members a chance to pick up a library copy or even find a used copy online or at a thrift shop. I have to believe our current pandemic may have influenced the multiple mentions of The Year of Wonders about a plague that ravishes a small England town in 1666. Brooks’ other entry, People of the Book is also a masterful storytelling following the history of a single book as it moves through various hands across the centuries.
- 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.
- Kristin Hannah – No surprise that Hannah’s newest novel, The Four Winds breaks into the Top 10, tied with her previous blockbuster, The Great Alone. Two of my book clubs selected Winds for our September read. Controversial issues always spur discussion and Winds didn’t disappoint on that front. 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. 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.
- Martha Hall Kelly – Success can be marked when two out of three parts of a trilogy make a “top” list. Kelly fictionalizes generations of women based on extensive research of a single family committed to helping others through heroic and selfless acts. Beginning with Lilac Girls, the first in the series of the Woolsey-Ferriday women with presentation of the Ravensbruk concentration camp; each title in the trilogy stands on its own as well. While her next prequel, Lost Roses, didn’t make the list, it’s still a good read, traveling back to the Russian Revolution. The most recent and last installment, Sunflower Sisters, popped on the list. I’m looking forward to discussing it with my online HF group in a couple of weeks. Kelly also offers great accompanying materials for book clubs to enhance a meeting, from recipes to maps.
- Sue Monk Kidd – Nothing like addressing religion to stimulate a discussion! Kidd’s 2020 hit does just that with her latest novel, The Book of Longings and consideration of a woman involved with Jesus. The Invention of Wings – a personal favorite – travels to the US South during the abolitionist movement and the involvement of the Grimke sisters from South Carolina.
- Jodi Picoult – Picoult never shies away from issues-driven stories which provoke excellent discussions. Her Small Great Things broke the top 5 spot on the listing and can be considered a good choice if you’re also looking to discuss race relations. Another choice which has perhaps been influenced by our current events is Nineteen Minutes focused on the tragedies of school shootings.
- Kate Quinn – 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. WWII is still hot as evident by The Huntress and The Alice Network, both continuing to sit on the Top 99 list. Suffering from WWII burn-out, 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 participation 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. And even though it’s yet another WWII, I’ve entered a GoodReads giveaway for Quinn’s next release (man is she prolific!), The Diamond Eye, releasing March 2022.
- 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, 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.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Spring 2018
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 voting order of poll votes.
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. 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 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 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.
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.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – Top 5 Pick. Soon to be 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 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.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson and The Giver of Stars by JoJo Meyers both set in Appalachia Kentucky during the Depression with characters who work as pack-horse librarians. May be worth reading both for the same month and discussing via a Venn Diagram!
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? I haven’t read his latest, The Lincoln Highway either, but it’s getting some buzz. May be a good Audible choice for long car rides.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell A personal favorite.
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 Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai – A personal favorite to learn about the history of Vietnam leading up to and covering the War.
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – A personal favorite. Check out a guest blog review on the prequel, The Evening and the Morning.
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 actually 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.
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.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey OK, my opinion here. Treat yourself to the Audible version to hear Matthew narrate with his entertaining Texan drawl.
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!
Columbine by Dave Cullen The event in 1999 which elevated the horrifying instance of school shootings, bringing the issue to the forefront of national discussions. Combine it with Jodi Picoult’s Nineteen Minutes for a robust analysis.
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.
Empire of the Southern Moon by S.C. Gwynne A look at the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe of North America.
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.
When Books Went to War by Molly Manning 120 million paperbacks printed and distributed to US troops during WWII. Wow, I need to check this one out. I wonder if my Dad had any shipped to him in the South Pacific.
FOR CONSIDERATION OF RACE & GENDER ISSUES
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (fiction) Morrison’s first novel which set her path for poetry and prose alike in telling stories of the human condition
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (non-fiction)
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (biography)
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (fiction)
OTHER POPULAR TITLES / CLASSICS
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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