I tend to think all book club selections should be on the short side to accommodate a variety of reading schedules for book club members. But, the books on this list are especially short…around 300 pages or less. Yet, they’re incredibly meaty and will spark lively book club discussions despite their brevity.

For additional book club recommendations, check out my:
Book Club Recommendations (general)
Coed Book Club Recommendations

Latest Addition(s) (December 27, 2020)

Good Morning MonsterGood Morning, Monster by Catherine Gildiner
General Nonfiction (Release Date: September 22, 2020)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Gildiner, who was a psychologist in Canada for many years before becoming a writer, shares the stories of her five “most heroic and memorable patients.”

My Thoughts: Gildiner explicitly chose five patients to profile whose stories ended well and were inspirational. There is a finite sense of closure with each patient, including a check-in years later in most cases, and I think readers will love this. The patients she profiles also had incredibly dysfunctional childhoods, so there’s a bit of a dysfunctional childhood memoir feel to the book as well. These stories will punch you in the gut, but leave you hopeful at the end. If you liked Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, here’s your next book! My Review.

His Only WifeHis Only Wifeby Peace Adzo Medie
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: September 1, 2020)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Afi lives in Ghana with her widowed mother and is offered the “opportunity” to marry a wealthy man she’s never met. He doesn’t show up at their wedding, sending someone else in his place. Nevertheless, the marriage goes through and Afi moves to a swanky apartment in Accra, but discovers her husband is in love with someone else.

My Thoughts: Peace Medie grew up in Ghana and is a women’s rights advocate who shines that lens on fiction in her debut novel. His Only Wife begins with this intriguing first line: “Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding” and, from there, explores the impact of Ghanian patriarchal culture on women through Afi’s story. It’s propulsive and reads easily, yet challenges cultural norms in Ghana. A great pick for fans of readable literary fiction! My Review.

Leave the World BehindLeave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
Literary Fiction (Release Date: October 6, 2020)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Amanda and Clay’s vacation in a Long Island rental house is interrupted when the home owners (a black couple) show up on their doorstep…saying that NYC is in the middle of a blackout. They must figure out what’s going on and if they’re safe where they are.

My Thoughts: This #readwithjenna pick is one of the most divisive books of the year. I thought it was immersive, dripping with emotional tension, and chock full of commentary on technology in the modern world. But, don’t give it to readers who need all their questions answered by the end. 

Short Book Club Recommendations

A Separation by Katie KitamuraA Separation 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…
Potential Discussion Topics: Marriage, plot vs. style centric books

All This Could Be YoursAll This Could Be Yoursby Jami Attenberg
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: October 22, 2019)
304 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When Alex’s father (a shady businessman) has a heart attack, she rushes to New Orleans to try to learn who he truly was and understand why her mother (Barbra) stayed married to him. 

My Thoughts: 2019 was a stellar year for family dramas and All This Could Be Yours may be the darkest of them all! The level of family dysfunction is high, but what makes it truly dark are the thoughts and feelings of each of these family members. If you need hope in your books, this probably isn’t the choice for you. 4.5 stars. Full Review.

Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan, psychosis, memoirBrain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released November, 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…
Potential Discussion Topics: Medical decision-making, family choices

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…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Grief, prejudice, parent/child relationships

Craigslist ConfessionalCraigslist Confessional by Helena Dea Bala
Nonfiction – General (Release Date: July 7, 2020)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The author shares personal stories from her project called Craigslist Confessional, where she asked strangers what they would “confess if you knew it would never get back to your spouse, your colleagues, or [their] family.” 

My Thoughts: These stories are the take-your-breath-away kind that I remember from Tiny Beautiful Things…just without the advice element (Dea Bala chose to strictly listen). They’re deeply raw and unfiltered and cover issues ranging from infidelity to addiction to racism to abuse to terminal illness to identity to mundane marriage issues. I was riveted. A 5 star book that came out of nowhere for me! P.S. – check out my podcast episode with the author! Full Review.

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 Hillbilly Elegy 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…
Potential Discussion Topics:
Current political climate, poverty, upward mobility

I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura PhilpottI Miss You When I Blinkby Mary Laura Philpott
Nonfiction – Memoir / Essays (Release Date: April 2, 2019)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Mary Laura Philpott had an enviable life by conventional standards (i.e. happy marriage, children, career, house, etc), yet she still felt unsettled and unsatisfied. These essays are about her experience trying to navigate that.
My Thoughts: I’ve been on a kick with “women who get women” memoirs over the past few years and Mary Laura Philpott is an excellent addition to my club of go-to authors (also including Anna Quindlen and Kelly Corrigan). Philpott writes about this unsettling stage of life with openness, humor, and relatability. If you enjoy “maintaining your identity through marriage and motherhood” books, I Miss You When I Blink should be next on your list! Full Review.
Potential Discussion Topics: Women’s identity, marriage, motherhood, perfectionism, mental health

Normal People by Sally RooneyNormal Peopleby Sally Rooney
Fiction (Release Date: April 16, 2019)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Irish teenagers Connell and Marianne are first drawn to each other in high school when Connell’s mother works as Marianne’s parents’ housekeeper…and, their relationship becomes confusing as they navigate the social dynamics of both high school and college.
My Thoughts: Normal People (which has been long-listed for the2018 Man Booker Prize) is the kind of relationship book that is utterly riveting, but also made me feel a little uncomfortable in the best way possible (like White Fur and Tender). Connell and Marianne’s relationship is far from straightforward and is downright maddening at times, but I was rooting hard for them and completely engrossed in their story. 5 stars! PS – I should tell you this story involves a fair amount of sex and also does not use quotation marks for dialogue (neither of those things bothered me, but they might bother some people). Full Review.
Potential Discussion Topics: Relationships, high school, fitting in, class

Out East by John GlynnOut Eastby John Glynn
Nonfiction – Memoir (Release Date: May 14, 2019)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Amid an anxiety-filled time in his life, Glynn joins a Montauk share house for the summer and finds friendship and love for a man.
My Thoughts: You might expect a memoir about a Hamptons share to be 100% debauchery (think Bravo’s Summer House) and Out East certainly contained a lot of that, but it’s one of the most heartfelt and emotional memoirs I’ve ever read about friendship and love. Glynn perfectly captures that unsettled feeling you can get in your mid-twenties when your friends are at very different stages of life. By the end of the book, I was frantically turning the pages late into the night dying to find out what would happen with John and the man he fell in love with. Full Review.
Potential Discussion Topics: Sexuality, friendship, mid/late 20’s, loneliness

Perfect TunesPerfect Tunes by Emily Gould
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: April 14, 2020)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: Laura moves to New York’s Lower East Side to pursue her music dreams, but her life is turned upside down by a love affair with a flaky fellow musician.
My Thoughts: If the theme of women struggling to pursue their dreams while being mothers and wives appeals to you (and you like character-driven novels), read this book. The story begins with a toxic relationship that reminded me of the one in Sweetbitter (my review) and turns into an exploration of motherhood and balancing time and attention to children with pursuing a dream of your own. Perfect Tunes packs a lot of themes and a long timespan into a small package, but the story and characters still feel fleshed out. Full Review.

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…
Potential Discussion Topics: Marriage, being a woman, grief, religion, friendship

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 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…
Potential Discussion Topics: interpretations of the meaning of this book

The Book of Unknown AmericansBook of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez 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.
Potential Discussion Topic: Immigration

The Dinner, Herman KochThe Dinner by Herman Koch
Fiction (Released February 12, 2013)
306 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
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: 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. But, rest assured, the action does pick up. Continue Reading…
Potential Discussion Topics:
how far you would go to protect your children, dislikable characters

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…

Potential Discussion Topics: Refugee crisis, genocide, American support of refugees, identity, family

Nickel BoysThe Nickel Boysby Colson Whitehead
Historical Fiction (Release Date: July 16, 2019)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Elwood Curtis is sent to the notoriously brutal Nickel Academy after being in the wrong place at the wrong time (based on the real life Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, FL).

My Thoughts: The subject matter is horrifying, especially since the crux of the story is based on real life, but Colson Whitehead writes about it in simple, yet hauntingly beautiful language. The ending is heart-wrenching and brilliant. The Nickel Boys isn’t the type of reading experience where I was saying “oh my gosh, I absolutely love this book” while I was reading it, but it made me face tough issues and still has me thinking…it’s one I can see being taught in schools for a long time. Full Review.

Other Wes MooreThe Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released April 27, 2010)
233 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Army Captain, traces his story about growing up in inner city Baltimore alongside the story of “the other Wes Moore,” a child from the same neighborhood (with the same name) who ended up serving a life sentence for killing a police officer.

My Thoughts: The structure of this book is a powerful and effective way for Wes Moore to make his point. The two men’s stories are pretty similar up to a point, at which they drastically diverge. It’s incredibly readable and I blew through it in a couple days. Full Review.

Inheritance by Dani ShapiroInheritance by Dani Shapiro
Nonfiction – Memoir (Release Date: January 15, 2019)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Shapiro’s memoir about her experience discovering her father was not her biological father through an online DNA test.

My Thoughts: Inheritance was an emotional and interesting look into a new phenomenon brought on by the simple and cheap online DNA test. It went places I wasn’t expecting (good!), but did go over the top with theological and philosophical theory at times. Still, it’s 4 stars! 

Potential Discussion Topics: Ethical and moral issues surrounding the new phenomenon of the cheap and easy online DNA test

StrayStray by Stephanie Danler
Nonfiction – Memoir (Release Date: May 5, 2020)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: The author of Sweetbitter (my review) returns to her hometown of Los Angeles from New York City after selling her debut novel and faces her traumatic childhood including alcohol and drug addiction (in sections called “Mother” and “Father”)…and an unhealthy relationship (in a section called “Monster”).

My Thoughts: Danler’s memoir hit me in my core, but it’s one of those books I don’t think will be for everyone. It’s super dark and one of the most raw memoirs I’ve ever read, yet immersive and riveting. Ultimately, she’s scarred and bearing those scars for the world to see. 4.5 stars! Full Review.

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…
Potential Discussion Topics: poverty, crime, grief

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 Bennett 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…
Potential Discussion Topics:
religion, life choices, teen pregnancy, grief, friendship

Natural Way of Things, Charlotte WoodThe Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Fiction (Released June 28, 2016)
208 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: This book about a group of girls being held captive (and forced to do manual labor) on a remote Australian farm has gotten raves within the book world. Aside from a delicious “WTF is going on here?” feeling similar to the one I got from The Beautiful Bureaucrat, I have to admit I didn’t quite get what all the hype was about through the first half. But, things picked up in the second half and I ended up thinking the turnaround was quite brilliant. It left me with many questions…some I wish had been answered and some I was fine with leaving open-ended.
Potential Discussion Topics: Treatment of women, interpretations of the ending

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…
Potential Discussion Topics: Grief, marriage, dislikable characters

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…
Potential Discussion Topics: Woman’s role in a marriage, women’s careers, marriage

Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: September 25, 2018)
192 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: After Eden returns burned over every inch of his body and barely alive from his second deployment in the Iraq war, his wife (Mary) keeps vigil at his bedside waiting for him to die.

My Thoughts: Normally I roll my eyes when publishers exaggerate in their marketing descriptions, but this one was no exaggeration: “a breathtakingly spare and shattering new novel.” Particularly the word shattering. That’s exactly what this novel is (plus, gut-punching). The first chapter absolutely gutted me. I recovered a bit during the second chapter, only to be gutted again at the very end of it…and again and again. If you’re the kind of reader who likes stories that make you acutely feelWaiting for Eden is a must read. Full Review.
Potential Discussion Topics: War, end of life decisions, marriage.

Want by Lynn Steger StrongWantby Lynn Steger Strong
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: July 7, 2020)
224 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: When aNew York City teacher (Elizabeth) with a husband, kids, 2 jobs, and a graduate degree finds herself completely overwhelmed and financially underwater, she reconnects online with an old friend who is also struggling.

My Thoughts: I figured I’d be able to relate to Elizabeth as a mother who often feels overwhelmed (which I did, to a certain extent). It’s about wanting more out of life in general, but also about the feeling that people constantly want and/or need something from you (hello, moms!) and being so overwhelmed that you don’t have the brain space to worry about other people. And, the book overall is bleak, but it also felt 100% accurate. Full Review.

When Breath Becomes Air, Paul KalanithiWhen Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 12, 2016)
208 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: At the age of thirty-six and on the verge of becoming a full-fledged neurosurgeon, the author is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In his memoir, he explores the questions of living and dying.
My Thoughts: I was looking for something to hit me emotionally when this library hold came in. It’s about death, but more about humanity. And, I’m glad I was alone when I got to the final chapter because I was sobbing! I won’t review it since I’m so late to this train, but it’s definitely one of my favorite nonfictions of the year so far.
Potential Discussion Topics: Dying, end of life choices, how to live with a terminal illness

Wild GameWild Game by Adrienne Brodeur
Nonfiction – Memoir (Release Date: October 15, 2019)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

Plot Summary: Brodeur’s story of her role as facilitator of her mother’s affair with her stepfather’s best friend starting at the age of fourteen.

My Thoughts: I flew through this 5 star memoir in two days! Malabar (“Rennie’s” mother) is a vibrant, but highly manipulative character and she has her tentacles wrapped tightly around her daughter…and all this impacts Rennie’s adult life. But, this isn’t what makes this memoir shine. Brodeur can write…and the Cape Cod setting comes alive through vivid descriptions of the water, the wildlife, and the food. Full Review.

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