Book Club Recommendations

Book Club Recommendations


This book club recommendations list contains old and new books of various genres that I think have wide appeal and provide compelling discussion topics for your book club.

For additional book club recommendations, check out my:
Coed Book Club Recommendations
Short Book Club Recommendations (300 pages or less)

Latest Addition(s) (October 16, 2018)

A Well-Behaved WomanA Well-Behaved Woman by Therese Anne Fowler
Historical Fiction (Release Date: October 16, 2018)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: To save her family from financial ruin, Alva Smith finagles a marriage to the extremely wealthy, but socially shunned William K. Vanderbilt, but it doesn’t turn out to be everything she’d hoped.

My Thoughts: I absolutely adored Fowler’s 2013 novel, Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (my review)…so, A Well-Behaved Woman had big shoes to fill. While I liked A Well-Behaved Woman, it was a lukewarm like and it didn’t come close to filling Z‘s shoes. Alva is interesting, but not nearly as dynamic a character as Zelda. I liked that Alva was a modern woman in some ways (i.e. her desire to have a hobby beyond social obligations, her belief that husbands shouldn’t be allowed to treat their wives badly, etc) and had a sassy side. I liked the fact that it made me think about class, the working rich vs. the inherited money rich, and women’s roles in society and the household. 

Loving FrankLoving Frank by Nancy Horan
Historical Fiction (Released August 7, 2007)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: A novel based on the true story of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s epic affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, one of this married clients. 

My Thoughts: While this story is about an epic love affair, it goes much deeper than that. It’s also about a woman’s journey to find herself in a time (the early 1900’s) when women weren’t supposed to have their own identities or interests. It’s about women’s roles in society and marriage and losing your identity through marriage and motherhood. Neither Mamah nor Wright is an entirely sympathetic character. The many layers and shades of gray to this story make it an excellent book club selection. PS – do NOT Google the real story of Frank and Mamah before you read the book…you do not want to spoil the ending for yourself.

Witch ElmThe Witch Elm by Tana French
Fiction – Mystery (Release Date: October 9, 2018)
464 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: After lucky golden boy Toby gets beaten in his apartment during a burglary, he goes to Ivy House (his ancestral home) to recover and care for his dying uncle Hugo…but, a skull is found in the trunk of a massive elm tree in the garden.

My Thoughts: I consider Tana French a “mystery” author, but The Witch Elm doesn’t start out with a “mystery” feel. It’s more of a family drama / mystery hybrid, which I knew was absolutely up my alley once I aligned my expectations. It’s a mystery with a level of complexity and character development generally uncharacteristic of the genre…and that’s a good thing! It’s a story filled with shades of gray…the characters aren’t entirely likable or dislikable, the revelations about the mystery aren’t entirely blame-worthy or understandable, and there is no obvious honorable path to take. P.S. – make sure your book club is cool with 500 page books!

Book Club Recommendations

A SeparationA Separation by Katie Kitamura by Katie Kitamura
Fiction (Released February 7, 2017)
240 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A young woman’s mother-in-law asks her to travel to Greece to find her estranged husband, who has stopped communicating, resulting in a rumination on the state of her marriage and the secrets they’ve been keeping.
My Thoughts: A Separation has catastrophically been described as a “whodunit” (by Elle Magazine) and “the literary Gone Girl of 2017″ (by The Millions). It is NOT either of those things. It is, however, a gorgeously dark rumination on a troubled marriage. It’s most definitely a “style” book (i.e. don’t look for a fast-moving plot), but I immediately adored the narrator’s voice and tone. Continue Reading…

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn GreenwoodAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood
Fiction (Released August 9, 2016)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer father and addict mother, witnesses Kellen’s (one of Wavy’s father’s “employees”) motorcycle accident, he takes her under his wing, leading to an unlikely relationship.
My Thoughts: I was all over the place with my feelings about All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, but I ended up in an emotionally invested and somewhat surprising (to me) place. I immediately loved the voice of Amy, Wavy’s cousin, and the storyline of Wavy’s integration into her extended family’s normal way of life the first of many times she stayed with them. Then, I became thoroughly creeped out by the story’s direction once Wavy returns to her parents at the ranch (her home and the site of her father’s meth cooking business). Continue Reading…

An American Marriage by Tayari JonesAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Southern Fiction (Released February 6, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When Roy goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit only a year and a half into their new marriage, Celestial must figure out how to cope with his absence and shape her life in the face of this massive upheaval.
My Thoughts: An American Marriage is an intimately written novel that tackles a number of weighty current issues (marriage, race, class, incarceration, love, friendship, family, grief, fidelity, recovery) in an organic way…and is my favorite novel of 2018 so far! I loved the writing. It’s not “gorgeous” in the traditional sense, rather it’s casual, intimate, and has personality. Continue Reading…

Based on a True Story by Delphine de ViganBased on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan
Fiction – Thriller (Released May 9, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon 
Plot Summary: Based on a True Story (a smash hit in France already) is the memoir-style story of a writer’s toxic female friendship…and how it essentially destroyed her.
My Thoughts: Though the book is technically fiction, the main character shares the author’s name and general background. The story begins with a titillating Prologue and continues with a creepy, Single White Female vibe that left me dying to know how things would play out. It’s incredibly emotionally tense and de Vigan’s gorgeous writing helps accomplish this. The entire time I was reading, I understood that Based on a True Story was completely messing with my head with its “is this story true or isn’t it?” vibe. Continue Reading…

BeartownBeartown by Fredrik Backman by Fredrick Backman
Fiction – Sports (
Released April 25, 2017)
432 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.

My Thoughts: I was hesitant to read Beartown because I abandoned Backman’s smash hit, A Man Called Ove, pretty early on. But, Beartown is an entirely different story and is one of my favorite books of the year so far! Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing it’s residents have to be proud of. Continue Reading…

The Beautiful Bureaucrat, Helen PhillipsThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Fiction (Released August 11, 2015)
192 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When Josephine moves to a new city with her husband and takes a job at a data processing facility, strange things begin to happen, leading her to further investigate the company she works for.
My Thoughts: Helen Phillips’ debut novel is a tiny ball of weirdness…reminiscent of a demented “Office Space”…that had me on the edge of my seat. I was on the edge of my seat virtually the entire time I was reading. I just had to know…what the heck is going on here?! The entire book feels like a riddle that the reader needs to unravel. And, once the the riddle of Josephine’s company has been solved, you’re left with much broader questions to ponder. Continue Reading…

Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina HenriquezThe Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez
Fiction (Released June 3, 2014)
286 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary:
The story of a group of immigrant families living in a nondescript apartment building in Delaware, centering on the relationship between two teenagers, Maribel and Mayor.

My Thoughts: This powerful book about the life of immigrants living in the U.S. is initially quiet, but I couldn’t put it down towards the end. It forces the reader to see life in America through a different set of eyes and is relevant to the current political climate. There’s lots to chew on here.

Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan, psychosis, memoirBrain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released November 13, 2012)
250 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The true story of 26 year old New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan’s unexplained “descent into madness” and her subsequent struggle to recover her identity.
My Thoughts: Brain on Fire is a fascinating medical mystery. Susannah’s first symptoms were flu-like (true of 70% of patients with her illness), which then spiraled into numbness, seizures, hallucinations, paranoia, memory loss, loss of motor skills, and catatonia. Continue Reading…

Burgess BoysThe Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction (Released March 26, 2013)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Summary: 
Three grown siblings, Jim (a successful New York City defense attorney), Bob (a NYC Legal Aid attorney), and Susan (Bob’s twin sister and a single Mom), from small town Maine reconnect when Susan’s son throws a pig’s head into a local mosque during Ramadan.
My Thoughts: I usually make notes about why I like or dislike a book as I’m reading to help me with the review. However, I didn’t for this book and enjoyed just reading. Continue Reading…

Circling the Sun, Paula McClainCircling the Sun by Paula McLain
Historical Fiction (Released July 28, 2015)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: A fictionalized story of the real Beryl Markham, a British woman raised on a horse farm in 1920’s Kenya, who went on to break the glass ceiling for women in horse training and aviation.
My Thoughts: A pleasant surprise for me! Marked by McLain’s gorgeous writing and one real-life, badass lady flouting convention in all kinds of ways, Circling the Sun has lots to discuss at book club. Beryl and her fascinating upbringing, unconventional life choices, and general badass ways are what really drive this story. She grew up as a wild and adventurous tomboy on her father’s Kenyan horse farm. A Baron and Baroness living in a mud hut were her nearest neighbors, she trained to be a tribal warrior with her best childhood friend, and tangled with a friend’s pet lion. She reminded me a bit of Scout Finch in her determination, from a very young age, to hang with the boys. Continue Reading…

Dear Fang With Love, Rufi ThorpeDear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe
Fiction (Released May 24, 2016)
303 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After a psychotic break at a party, seventeen year-old Vera accompanies her father (who has been absent for most of her life) on an European history tour to Lithuania, where her paternal grandmother grew up.
My Thoughts: It’s difficult to pinpoint what this book is truly about because it’s about teen angst, mental illness, and family history and relationships without being overly about any one of those things. They all kind of balance each other out into a story that ends up being about the people (mainly Vera and her father). I adored Vera. She’s precocious, insightful, quirky, troubled, yet sometimes comes across as the surprising voice of reason. Continue Reading…

Dear Mr. M, Herman KochDear Mr. M by Herman Koch
Fiction (Released September 6, 2016)
416 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: M, an aging writer riding on the long-ago success of his bestselling novel based on the true story of a teacher’s murder involving two of his students (Payback) piques the stalker-ish interest of his neighbor, leading to a revisit of the crime at the center of M’s novel.
My Thoughts: While Dear Mr. M‘s politically incorrect social commentary, dislikable characters, and somewhat meandering nature mean it’s not for everyone, Koch’s distinctive writing style make it a winner for me despite some plot inconsistencies. And, its divisive nature would make it a fantastic book club selection. While I didn’t love Dear Mr. M quite as much as The Dinner (my review), it came dang close. And I thought it ran circles around Summer House with Swimming Pool (my review). Continue Reading…

Did You Ever Have A Family, Bill CleggDid You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg
Fiction (Released September 8, 2015)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: The story of June Reid, who loses her entire family (her daughter and her fiancee, her boyfriend, and her ex-husband) in a horrible tragedy on the night before her daughter’s wedding.
My Thoughts: The hype (both from bloggers and awards committees) surrounding Clegg’s debut novel made me nervous to read it…but, it surpassed all my expectations and is a contender for my favorite book of 2015! Did You Ever Have A Family is a mostly character-driven story about family (obviously), small-town life, prejudice, parent/child relationships, grief, heartache, and regret. Continue Reading…

The Dinner by Herman KochThe Dinner, Herman Koch
Fiction (Released February 12, 2013)
306 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Two brothers and their wives meet for dinner at an upscale, Amsterdam restaurant to discuss how to handle a situation involving their teenage sons.

My Thoughts: The Dinner had been on my TBR list for awhile, but I failed to pick it up because Koch’s 2014 novel, Summer House with Swimming Pool (my review), was hit and miss for me. I’m thrilled that I did because it ended up being one of the best books I read in 2015! Not much happens in the beginning of the story, but I was so busy reveling in Koch’s brilliant writing and biting social commentary that I didn’t even realize that the characters had merely arrived at the restaurant and ordered food. Continue Reading…

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng, fictionEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Fiction (Released June, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
When Lydia, the favorite teenage daughter of a Chinese-American family living in 1970’s Ohio, turns up dead, the family is forced to examine strains that have been lying just below the surface.
My Thoughts: Given the book opens with a doozy of a first line (“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet…”), I was expecting a thriller focused on how and why Lydia is dead. But, Everything I Never Told You is more a story of family dynamics with Lydia’s death as the catalyst forcing each member to examine themselves. It’s also a portrait of what it’s like to be immigrants (and a multi-racial family…dad James is Chinese and mom Marilyn is white) in a town where there is not any immigrant population to speak of.
 Continue Reading…

Fates and Furies, Lauren GroffFates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Fiction (Released September 15, 2015)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: The story of the marriage of Lotto, a gregarious aspiring actor from a wealthy background, and Mathilde, a mysterious model he met in college, told first from Lotto’s perspective, then from Mathilde’s.
My Thoughts: The first section (Fates) was a 2 or 3 star slog, but the second section (Furies) is unquestionably a 5 star read. Overall, pushing through the beginning was worth it for me. Continue Reading…

Female PersuasionThe Female Persuasionby Meg Wolitzer
Fiction – Literary (Released April 3, 2018)
464 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Summary: Greer is a shy college student still in love with her high school boyfriend when she meets Faith Frank, an icon of the women’s movement, who changes the trajectory of Greer’s life.
My Thoughts: The Female Persuasion is my second 5 star book of the year! In a letter to the reader at the beginning of the book, Riverhead’s Editor-in-Chief (Sarah McGrath) says The Female Persuasion is a novel about “female power, ambition, leadership, and mentorship […].” And it is, but those issues are secondary to what is ultimately a story in which the characters are the stars: Greer, her boyfriend (Cory), her best friend (Zee), and Faith Frank. I was completely enmeshed in these people’s lives and the issues this book addresses fit organically around the characters’ stories without overwhelming them. Full Review.

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
Nonfiction (Released September 10, 2013)
558 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: An investigative report into what happened during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center…including allegations that doctors intentionally sped up death for some of the hospital’s sickest patients that they thought wouldn’t survive an evacuation.
My Thoughts: Part portrait of a hospital trying to survive in the wake of disaster and part exploration of end-of-life care and euthanasia in the U.S., Five Days at Memorial reads like a thriller and is the first nonfiction book I’ve included on this list. Continue Reading…

Foe iain reidFoe by Iain Reid
Fiction – Literary / Science Fiction (Release Date: September 4, 2018)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Set in the near future, Junior is selected to participate in a partially government-run endeavor that requires him to leave his wife (Hen) on their isolated farm for a long time…but, the powers that be will make sure Hen is not alone in Junior’s absence.
My Thoughts: Part literary fiction, part page turner, part Sci-Fi (and definitely creepy), Foe is a genre mash-ups that dip their toes into Sci-Fi (e.g. Dark MatterThe Beautiful Bureaucrat). From the moment the book opened (and, really, well into the second half), I had no idea what was going on. It was clear that some omnipresent higher power had control over regular citizens and something wasn’t quite right with Junior’s wife, Hen. Outside of that, Foe had that “WTF is going on” vibe that permeated The Beautiful BureaucratFull Review.

Girl Who Smiled BeadsThe Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 24, 2018)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Clemantine was six years old when she and her older sister (Claire) were separated from their family during the Rwandan genocide and spent the next six years as refugees before being granted asylum in the U.S., and in Clemantine’s case, going on to get a degree from Yale.
My Thoughts: The Girl Who Smiled Beads was one of my April Book of the Month selections and it came with rave reviews. The story is told in alternating timelines (Clemantine and Claire’s time as refugees and their later childhood / early adulthood in the U.S.) and the refugee portion is as heart-wrenching as you’d expect. What they went through is appalling. However, the U.S. portion was incredibly intriguing to me as Clemantine struggled with her conflicted feelings about her identity and the help she received in the U.S. (she was taken in by a white, suburban family and supported through high school before heading on to Yale). Continue Reading…

Going ClearGoing Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
Nonfiction (Released January 17, 2013)
430 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The story behind L. Ron Hubbard’s (LRH) founding of Scientology, its links to the entertainment industry, and the current state of the “religion”.
My Thoughts: I found it tough to separate my thoughts on this book from my thoughts on Scientology itself, so I will include both here. First, the book. If you’re using a Kindle, do not be alarmed at the very slow rate your “% completed” rises…the actual book ends before 70% (the rest is acknowledgements and sources). Continue Reading…

Great SantiniThe Great Santini by Pat Conroy
Fiction (Released April, 1976)
536 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Ben Meecham and his three siblings (Mary Anne, Karen, and Matt) grow up under the thumb of their larger than life, volatile fighter pilot father, Bull.
My Thoughts: 
I recently discovered that Conroy is writing a nonfiction memoir (The Death of Santini, due out in October) about his real-life relationship with his father, the inspiration for The Great Santinis Bull Meecham. I first read Santini in high school and remember loving it, but I didn’t remember enough detail to write about it for this site. Continue Reading…

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J YatesGrist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates
Fiction (Released January 9, 2018)
352 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Two and a half decades after Patrick, Hannah, and Matthew were involved in a childhood crime in their hometown of Roseborn, NY, they meet again in New York City and have to grapple with what happened years ago.
My Thoughts: Though Grist Mill Road wasn’t perfect and I didn’t love it as much as Black Chalk, I couldn’t put it down. It’s the kind of book I could’ve read in one sitting if I had the time. It’s part coming of age story (reminiscent of My Sunshine Away) and part psychological thriller, while managing to remain literary (well…until the overly thriller-y ending). Continue Reading…

Golden State by Stephanie KeganGolden State, Stephanie Kegan
Fiction (Released February 17, 2015)
308 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
When Natalie Askedahl’s daughter is coincidentally on the Stanford campus during the latest “Cal Bomber” explosion, she is forced to examine the similarities between a letter from her genius older brother (Bobby) and the bomber’s “manifesto”.
My Thoughts: Loosely based on the case of the “Unabomber”, Golden State has been compared to William Landay’s Defending Jacob (which I loved). So, I expected a suspenseful crime drama from the accused side’s perspective. I was surprised to find that Golden State is a much quieter book focusing on the emotions involved when a family member is associated with unspeakable crimes. Continue Reading…

Guest Room, Chris BohjalianThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction (Released January 5, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The aftermath of a bachelor party that married Westchester investment banker Richard Chapman hosted for his younger brother upends the lives of all the attendees and their families.
My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian is one of my go-to authors and The Double Bind (my review) is one of my all-time favorite books, so I was ecstatic to hear he had a new novel out this year! The topic of this one sounds frivolous and sleazy (and parts of it are sleazy by necessity), but he deals with the ripple effects of the consequences of this bachelor party in a very serious and thoughtful way. Continue Reading…

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas by Angie Thomas
Fiction – Young Adult (
Released February 28, 2017)
444 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary:  When Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her friend, Khalil, by a police officer, straddling between her life in the poor neighborhood where she lives and her life at the fancy school she attends becomes even harder.

My Thoughts: Highly readable, super compelling, and heart-breaking. This debut novel is an “issue” book that happens to also be, at its heart, a flat-out great story about a family. I can see why people are buzzing about this one. Don’t be scared away by the YA label…I don’t generally like YA, but this one is an exception!

Hillbilly Elegy, J. D. VanceHillbilly Elegy by J.D.Vance
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June 28, 2016)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Vance’s hybrid memoir of his childhood growing up poor in an Ohio town (Middletown) / social analysis of the plight of poor Appalachians.
My Thoughts: Before reading Hillbilly Elegy, I’d heard it compared to Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle (which I loved) and I agree that the memoir portion does bear some resemblance. But, Vance takes  to the next level (5 star level for me!) by seamlessly blending in social analysis of why the poor, white working class is failing to achieve upward mobility. Continue Reading…

How To Walk AwayHow to Walk Away by Katherine Center
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released May 15, 2018)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After Margaret is in a tragic accident the night she gets engaged, she must figure out how to move forward and who she is post-accident.
My Thoughts: How to Walk Away is about a very serious topic, but it’s handled in a light-hearted way…and it reads like brain candy. It reminded me of a less ugly-cry spin on Me Before You. There’s a number of likable characters that I was rooting hard for, some romance, some humor, family drama, and a hopeful, inspirational tone. Continue Reading…

Imagine Me Gone, Adam HaslettImagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
Fiction (Released May 3, 2016)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A multi-generational family saga of the impact of depression and mental illness on a family.

My Thoughts: Incredibly sad, but poignant, this 2016 National Book Award Long-Lister is beautifully written and captures the frustration, resentment, and crushing sense of responsibility and worry that come with having a family member who suffers from mental illness. While extended sections from Michael’s perspective are hard to read and nonsensical at times with long tangents on esoteric music, they serve a distinct purpose (allowing the reader inside mind of someone suffering from depression). And, the second half flows beautifully toward the inevitable, yet still drama-filled conclusion.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste NgLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Fiction (Released September 12, 2017)
384 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When nomadic artist Mia Warren and her daughter (Pearl) rent an apartment from Elena Richardson in Shaker Heights, Elena’s entire family becomes enmeshed in the Warrens’ lives, resulting in uncovered secrets, unanticipated consequences, and a raging debate about what it means to be a mother.
My Thoughts: Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told You. I’m a bit hard-pressed to pick out specific things I loved about it…yet, I loved the book as a whole. Continue Reading…

Missoula, Jon KrakauerMissoula by Jon Krakauer
Nonfiction (Released April 21, 2015)
386 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Krakauer explores rape and the justice system on college campuses through a look at several acquaintance rape cases at the University of Montana in Missoula.

My Thoughts: Krakauer’s incredibly readable investigative journalism had me turning the issues of rape and the justice system over and over in my head and was almost a 5 star read for me (only a tedious final section prevented me from giving it that last half star). Continue reading for book club discussion questions…

The Mother, Yvvette EdwardsThe Mother by Yvette Edwards
Fiction (Released May 17, 2016)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When Marcia Williams, drowning in grief following the murder of her sixteen year-old son, faces his teenage killer at the trial, she is forced to make sense of how something so horrible could happen to her son.
My Thoughts: This novel kicks off with an incredibly powerful first chapter that pulled me in immediately, even though it was obvious this would be an emotionally difficult read. The Mother is part story of a mother’s grief, part courtroom drama, part portrait of grief’s impact on a marriage, and part statement about race, poverty, and what happens to people born into a rough life on the streets. Continue Reading…

The Mothers, Brit BennettThe Mothers by Brit Bennett
Fiction (Released October 11, 2016)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: While seventeen year-old Nadia Turner is mourning the shocking loss of her mother, she starts a relationship with Luke Sheppard, her pastor’s son, resulting in an unwanted pregnancy.
My Thoughts: The Mothers was one of the most hyped books and the big debut novel of this Fall (author Brit Bennet is only 25 years old and was named to the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35). And, it completely lived up to the hype! The first page is one of the best first pages I’ve ever read and I highlighted three passages before moving on to Page 2. Continue Reading…

My Sunshine Away, M.O. WalshMy Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Fiction (Released February 10, 2015)
326 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When fifteen year old track star, Lindy Simpson, is raped on the sidewalk in front of her house in an idyllic Baton Rouge neighborhood, the dark side of suburbia begins to surface.
My Thoughts: Finally – I’ve found the first “blew my mind” book of the year! And, go figure, it’s a debut (I also had great luck with debuts last year – see my Best Debuts of 2014 list)! My Sunshine Away is a heartfelt, honest, and beautifully written coming of age story with some suspense thrown in for good measure. It was also one of my top 3 books of 2015. Continue Reading…

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
Fiction (Released March 5, 2007)
400 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: The story of a Columbine-esque school shooting told from the perspectives of various characters’ involved (the shooter and his mother, the high school jock, the judge presiding over the trial, and the shooter’s former childhood friend).
My Thoughts: Although Nineteen Minutes is a typical Jodi Picoult novel centered around a moral dilemma, I think it’s her best one. She makes you question what initially seems black and white and feel for characters you never thought you would. Continue Reading…

Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire FullerOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Fiction (Released March 17, 2015)
382 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: When eight year old Peggy Hillcoat is taken to live in a remote cabin in the woods (die Hutte) by her survivalist father (James), she discovers the reason he told her they had to leave London is a lie and sets about to discover the truth.
My Thoughts: This is a gorgeously written story that starts out quietly, but takes a suspenseful turn and will leave you dying to talk to it over with someone…making it a perfect book club selectionContinue Reading…

Tell Me More by Kelly CorriganTell Me More by Kelly Corrigan
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 9, 2018)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Corrigan’s memoir is organized around the “12 hardest things she’s learning to say,” including “No,” “I don’t know,” and “I Was Wrong.”
My Thoughts: I absolutely adored (it’s my favorite 2018 release I’ve read so far!) this memoir that spoke to me in a “yes, that’s exactly how it is” way. She kicks things off with an essay that will touch the conflicted hearts of overtaxed moms everywhere and moves on to cover many big life issues (marriage, motherhood, illness, religion, friendship, grief, and loss) in a relatable and irreverently funny way. Continue Reading…

Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel LevyThe Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released March 14, 2017)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: A searing memoir of self-examination by a current New Yorker staff writer (also a native of my current town).
My Thoughts: I immediately fell for Levy’s writing as she takes a brutally raw and honest look at her life including love, massive loss, and bad decisions. It’s a risky thing to market a book as “for readers of Cheryl Strayed” and, while I’m not putting Levy on equal footing with the giant, the comparison is not unfounded. Continue Reading…

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
Fiction (Released September, 1992)
559 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A group of intellectual, eccentric students at a small New England college are bound together with a morally questionable professor by a shared tragedy and end up in a second appalling situation.
My Thoughts: 
The Secret History is a dark and, some (including me) would say, “messed up” story. However, it was fascinating and, like a horrific car crash, I couldn’t pull myself away. Continue Reading…

Shelter, Jung YunShelter by Jung Yun
Fiction (Released March 15, 2016)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After a tragic incident forces Kyung Cho’s parents to move in with him and his young family, they are forced to confront Kyung’s unhappy childhood and address long-simmering family resentments.
My Thoughts: Shelter is the perfect balance between action-packed story, well-developed characters struggling with real issues, and gorgeous writing with lots of social commentary…and it was my 3rd 5 star book of 2016! I love dysfunctional family books and Shelter is certainly one of those, but in a dark and serious way. This is decidedly not the “rich siblings fighting over their trust fund” type of family dysfunction (i.e. The Nest). Continue Reading…

The Sleepwalker, Chris BohjalianThe Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
Fiction – Thriller (Released January 10, 2017)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When Annalee Ahlberg, a notorious sleepwalker, disappears from her home in the middle of the night, her husband and two daughters try to piece together what happened.
My Thoughts: Chris Bohjalian’s most recent books are giving him quite a reputation for coming up with mysteries…with more. They have the who-done-it/why-done-it elements of your run-of-the-mill mystery, but he layers on something deeper. In 2016’s The Guest Room, it was sex-trafficking, and in The Sleepwalker, it’s parasomnia. I found the parasomnia angle fascinating…it’s much more than the book’s title suggests. Continue Reading…

Standard DeviationStandard Deviation by Katherine Heiny by Katherine Heiny
Fiction (
Released May 23, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When Graham and his bubbly second wife (Audra) become friends with Graham’s introverted first wife (Elspeth), Graham begins to ponder the state of his marriage and his family (including a ten year old son with Asberger’s).

My Thoughts: Standard Deviation is one of those novels where not a ton happens, but the “yes, that’s exactly how it is” writing and spot-on commentary about marriage, introverts and extraverts, and parenting carry the story. It’s an honest rumination on a not perfect, but not completely dysfunctional marriage. Continue Reading…

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Fiction (Released June, 2011)
353 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Dr. Marina Singh is sent to the Amazon to gather information on the mysterious death of a colleague and the status of a fellow doctor’s (Dr. Annick Swenson) groundbreaking research with the Lakashi tribe, where the women give birth well into their seventies.
My Thoughts: People had been telling me to read this book for awhile and I kept procrastinating because I thought Patchett’s “much acclaimed” Bel Canto was one of those “literary” darlings that was actually pretty boring. What a mistake! I loved this book! Continue Reading…

Station Eleven, Emily St. John MandelStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Fiction (Released September, 2014)
353 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: 
A post-apocalyptic story of what happens to civilization after an outbreak of a virulent flu (the Georgia flu) and how the survivors make due in their new world.
My Thoughts: I gave Station Eleven a shot because people had raved about it (and it’s a National Book Award Finalist) and it was making a fair number of “Best Books of the Year” lists (it will now be on mine as well!), but I frankly expected it to be a DNF (does not finish) for me. Boy, was I wrong! I was immediately hooked by the first chapter, which is a heart-stopping account of the initial flu outbreak. Continue Reading…

Swimming Lessons, Claire FullerSwimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Fiction (Released February 7, 2017)
356 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Swimming Lessons tells the story of the volatile marriage between famous author Gil Coleman and Ingrid…through letters Ingrid hid in Gil’s books prior to her disappearance and their daughters’ returns home to care for their ailing father.
My Thoughts: Though Swimming Lessons didn’t immediately grab me, its steady revelations about the Coleman marriage and increasing complexity eventually pulled me in. The publisher’s blurb makes Swimming Lessons sound like it will be a mystery, but it’s actually an exploration of a troubled marriage. The “mystery” part of the story is somewhat ancillary and, once I wrapped my head around that, I enjoyed the book much more. The potential discussion topics of marriage and motherhood and various interpretations of the ending give Swimming Lessons its book club appeal. Continue Reading…

The Truth and Other Lies, Sascha ArangoThe Truth And Other Lies by Sascha Arango
Fiction (Released June 23, 2015)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: “Dark, witty, and suspenseful, this literary crime thriller reminiscent of The Dinner and The Silent Wife follows a famous author whose wife—the brains behind his success—meets an untimely death, leaving him to deal with the consequences.” – Amazon
My Thoughts: The Truth And Other Lies is the first summer book to blow my mind (and, it’s a translated debut)! It’s a tightly packed, demented thriller that kept me guessing from page one through the end. Continue Reading…

Underground Girls of Kabul, Jenny NordbergThe Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
Nonfiction (Released September 16, 2014)
350 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: Investigative journalist Jenny Nordberg exposes the “unofficial” custom of girls pretending to be boys (called bacha posh) in present day Afghanistan.
My Thoughts: The Underground Girls of Kabul is an extremely readable, yet heart-breaking and eye-opening immersion in a culture that is brutal to women. This is one of those books where you learn a ton, but don’t realize it. I felt like I was just reading a story, but I might as well have been taking a course on life in Afghanistan (particularly for women), Islam, the Taliban, and the affects of war on regular Afghans. Continue Reading…

Unraveling of Mercy Louis, Keija ParssinenThe Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen
Fiction – Southern (Released March 10, 2015)
341 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: “In this intricate novel of psychological suspense, a fatal discovery near the high school ignites a witch-hunt in a Southeast Texas refinery town, unearthing communal and family secrets that threaten the lives of the town’s girls”, including Mercy Louis, the star of the local high school’s state championship contender girl’s basketball team. – quotes from Amazon

My Thoughts: The Unraveling of Mercy Louis is one of those books that is incredibly hard to categorize…which is a good thing in my view! It’s a mash-up of coming of age, suspense, sports, economic tension, Southern culture (it’s set in Texas, but feels more like Louisiana), and religion gone wrong…all gorgeously written. It completely surprised me and I loved it, mainly because it included five things that I’m a total sucker for. Continue Reading…

The Wife, Meg WolitzerThe Wife by Meg Wolitzer
Fiction (Released March, 2003)
228 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: On a flight to Helsinki to watch him receive a prestigious literary prize, Joan decides to leave her famous novelist husband, Joe, after a decades long marriage.
My Thoughts: The Wife is easily one of my favorite books I read in 2014 and would have been a contender for my Best Book of the Year had it been published in 2014. Why? Because of the absolutely gorgeously perfect writing (and, yes, it needs 2 adverbs and an adjective)…that’s why! Continue Reading…

This Is How It Always Is, Laurie FrankelThis Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Fiction (Released January 24, 2017)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: When Claude, the youngest son of a family of five boys, starts to realize he wants to be a girl, the family must learn how to best support Claude and adjust to the situation.
My Thoughts: This Is How It Always Is is an accessible story about a weighty topic that had me feeling a whole range of emotions…it’s the kind of book many people will enjoy, yet will also provide excellent discussion for book clubs. It’s heart-warming, but also heart-breaking. It’s unexpectedly funny, sad, inspirational, and made me angry at times. Continue Reading…

 

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My best recommendations to spark lively book club discussion!

14 Responses to “Book Club Recommendations”

  1. DeeAnn Robbs

    Wow! This is great! I agree with you totally on the books that I have read–and can’t wait to read your suggestions. I would add to my all time favorites ‘Middlesex’ by Eugenides . Thanks
    .

    • Georgia

      These are such great recommendations – thank you!! I need to pick a book for an upcoming book club – the group is mostly older (our parents’ generation, Sarah), and I’m curious whether you think Hillbilly Elegy would be a good choice? We mostly read historical fiction in our group, but Hillbilly Elegy looks like an incredibly captivating/important/thought-provocing read. Thoughts? xx

      • Sarah Dickinson

        I do…as long as they don’t mind a heavy dose of bad language. Drugs and bad language come along with the dysfunctional childhood part of this memoir. But, I recommended it to my mother-in-law, who is in her 70’s, and my mom. I think it’s exceptionally applicable to this election and also entertaining. Great potential for discussion. Thanks for stopping by!

        • Georgia Hunter

          Thanks, Sarah! I recommended it – and just finished it. Wow. Loved. Really made me think. Hopefully my book club will see past the profanity and Vance’s deeply moving and honest story will inspire some interesting (and as you say, timely) discussion 🙂

          • Sarah Dickinson

            Yay – I’m so glad you loved it and I hope the book club discussion goes well. JD Vance is an interesting Twitter follow too…he’s obviously been making the media rounds even more since the election.

      • Tamara

        Hillbilly Elegy is a worthy read, with much to discuss. It’s well-written and a pleasure to digest. Will allow book club members to add their own backgrounds to the book’s story. Highly recommend this.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thanks so much for sharing and glad to hear your book club liked some of these!

  1. Book Review: Fiction Ruined My Family | Sarah's Book Shelves

    […] Fiction Ruined My Family by Jeanne Darst, Nonfiction – Memoir (Released September, 2011) Bottom Line: Read it. Summary: The youngest daughter of an alcoholic mother and a struggling writer father tells the true story of her childhood and of trying to avoid repeating her parents’ mistakes while trying to succeed as a writer herself. My Thoughts: Many reviews compared this book to Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle, and I do think the two books are similar (although this one is definitely funnier). Certainly, if you liked The Glass Castle, you will probably like Fiction Ruined My Family. It’s somewhat of a tragi-comedy – Darst is able to inject humor into a childhood that was pretty heartbreaking. She is honest and doesn’t sugarcoat any unpleasant experiences, both her own and her family’s. So much so that I wonder if any family members are still speaking to her after reading this book! She doesn’t spare any of them their most embarrassing moments being described in minute detail for the world to read! And, there are some doozies in there – i.e. if gross-out humor bothers you, probably best to avoid this book. Darst basically lives her adult life with the sole purpose of creating situations that may result in great writing material. This involves rarely holding a steady job, living in squalor, and acting like she is 22 well into her mid-thirties. But, her strategy worked and she got a very entertaining memoir out of it all! Though this is kind of a fun book, it is well-written and more than just a memoir of drunken escapades…it’s also going on my Book Club Recommendations List. […]

  2. Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? | Sarah's Book Shelves

    […] Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, Fiction (Released December, 2012) Bottom Line: Read it. Summary: Bernadette Fox disappears following a series of embarrassing incidents at home and issues with anxiety, sending her eighth grade daughter (Bee) on a quest to find her. My Thoughts: Finally…the first book I’ve read in 2013 that I’ve absolutely LOVED! This book is surprising, quirky, heartwarming, and suspenseful. At first, I thought it was going to be a flighty read about neurotic mothers in the carpool line. But, about a quarter into the book, you learn more about Bernadette…she’s a complex character and I was hooked on her after reading the ArtForum article profiling her former architecture career. Her complexity as a character is sort of shoved into a light and funny surrounding story, which gives the book great balance. I also loved Bee, Bernadette’s daughter. She reminded me of Becca Moody, Hank’s daughter on the TV show “Californication”…a calm voice of reason juxtaposed against a family full of turmoil. Beyond great characters, this book contains a quirky mix of topics that somehow all gel together…”crazy mother” dynamics, Microsoft corporate culture, mental illness, architecture, and Antarctica. It sounds scattered, but each topic has its logical place in the story…it just worked. Finally, I loved the structure of the book – the story is told through a combination of Bee’s thoughts, emails and letters between characters, news articles, and reports by various “officials” (I don’t want to say what types of officials for fear of giving away spoilers). You get lots of different perspectives of what’s going on and the structure illuminates the contrast between Bernadette’s self image and everyone else’s view of her, which gets to the heart of the story. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is going on my Book Club Recommendation List. […]

  3. Book Review: The Fault in our Stars | Sarah's Book Shelves

    […] The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Fiction (Released January, 2012) Bottom Line: Read it. Summary: The love story of two teenagers (Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters) who meet in a cancer support group. My Thoughts: This is one of those books that I kept hearing about and seeing on various “Best” lists, but just couldn’t force myself to read because the premise sounded totally depressing. The joke’s on me because I ended up loving it and understanding all the hype. There is some sadness (how could there not be with this type of story?), but it’s surrounded by enough humor and honesty to balance it out. This is a character-driven story and I loved Hazel and Augustus. They’re smart, witty, and playful despite being in horrific circumstances. Occasionally, their characters fall into the “Dawson’s Creek” trap of having conversations that are way beyond the language and thought process of your average teenager. And, these kids have read far more serious “literature” and poetry at age 17 than I’ve read at age 34. But, who wants to read 300 pages of “OMGs, LMAOs, and likes”, which I’m guessing might be closer to how a realistic teenager speaks today? I want to read smart, witty dialogue even if you sacrifice a bit of reality in the process. After reading the book, I discovered that John Green is also well-known for his video blogs and has a huge Twitter following. As a caveat to my thoughts on his book, I must say that I was not an established “John Green fan” before reading it (I’m not one of his Twitter followers and haven’t seen any of the video blogs)…I just loved the book for what it is. This one is going on my Book Club Recommendations List. […]

  4. Sara Lawhon | Information

    […] Book Club Recommendations – sarahsbookshelves.com – Book Club Recommendations. This list contains old and new books of various genres that I think have wide appeal and provide compelling discussion topics for your book … […]

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