What makes a good book a great book, asks w&h books editor, Isabelle Broom...
One that you don’t simply read and then place back on your shelf to gather dust, but thrust into the hands of your friends and family, urging them that they must read it, too, because you are absolutely desperate to talk about it with someone. These are the stories that lend themselves perfectly to being great book club books.
These are the books that keep you up until the early hours, the ones which come to mind first when someone asks you what you have been reading recently, and they will invariably be well thumbed, dog-eared from being carried around in your bag, with pages folded down and perhaps even notes scribbled in the margin.
The thing is, some stories are just too big and important to stay inside the head of a lone reader – they were meant to be shared, discussed and debated. They do not simply make you feel, they make you think, too – perhaps about something that has not occurred to you ever before.
They have taught you a lesson about the world and how it works, but they will also have helped you to find something out about yourself. It is a wonderful kind of alchemy, and finding a story and set of characters that move or challenge or teach you something, never feels anything less than miraculous.
From ghosting to property fraud to hidden secrets, untold tragedies, death, love, depression, obsession and a glimpse into a frightening yet all-too fathomable future, these titles are packed with topical talking points, mind-bending twists, laugh-out-loud observations and characters that will stay with you long after reading.
Whether you’re a book club aficionado, keen to start a reading club with friends or simply looking for a title that is a cut above the rest, then this list of book club books is a very good place to start…
W&H’s top book club books
When a novel’s been chosen as Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick before it’s even been published, you know it’s going to be all sorts of incredible. Exploring themes such as motherhood, identity and the crippling weight of secrets, the story begins with the youngest child of the prominent Richardson family setting fire to their home, and continues to enthral throughout.
Have you ever held on to a resentment for so long that it ate away at everything you once held dear? Sisters Jess and Lily have allowed a family tragedy to keep them apart, but now their mother is dying and her wish is that they reconcile. A tender yet gripping story with endless themes just waiting to be unravelled.
Sarah and Eddie spend a perfect week together, and she knows this is it – the real deal. But then he never calls. Has she been ghosted, or is there something more sinister going on? The truth, when delivered, marks a turn that you won’t see coming – but it’s the ferociously real love in this story that makes it so unforgettable.
Set in both 1919 and the present day, this is a sweeping epic of a tale that unfurls the fates and fortunes of the Horner family, who lived in happy idyll at Nightingale House until one summer day changed everything. Arty, evocative, blissful and boasting a fabulous cast, it’s a mystery that you will want to share with everyone.
Imagine coming home one day to find that a stranger’s moved into your house. This is exactly what happens to the lead protagonist in this ingenious tale – but it’s by no means the most shocking thing. With TV rights now sold, the buzz around this fantastic book has reached crescendo level – and with good reason. It is, quite simply, perfection.
Compelling from the menacing opening line, Lullaby is guaranteed to elicit a strong reaction from all readers, but given the fact that it’s about a nanny who murders the children in her care, it’s not one for the fainthearted. There are, however, heaps of talking points around class, race and family, so it ticks both the thinking and feeling boxes.
The always-fascinating mother/daughter relationship is at the centre of the new novel from the bestselling author of The Keeper Of Lost Things. When Tilly was a child, she loved every moment of the time she spent at the Paradise Hotel, in Brighton so she’s distraught when her mother sends her away. Now a grown woman, Tilly’s back and seeking answers.
This is the captivating true story of a couple who embarked on a walk along the South West Coast Path. Raynor writes about losing her home and her husband Moth’s terminal illness with lyricism and poignancy, evoking the rich beauty of Britain’s coastline as she does so. While it is sad, there is tenderness here, and there is hope, too.
If you knew the day that you would die, how would you live the rest of your life? Quite the question, and one that’s sure to ignite any book club. All the Immortalists’ characters who are faced with this conundrum handle it in a different way, making it the perfect story to beat at the heart of a good debate.
So often when reading, you are confronted by a too-good-to-be-true ending, where all the issues are tied up in a neat bow. This can be frustrating, because life doesn’t follow those same rules. Thankfully, this brave and unnerving drama about a bereaved mother struggling to cope doesn’t shy away from the truth – and is all the more powerful for it.
In a world where Botox is now as commonplace as lipstick, and ‘perfection’ is a mere few filters away, this 2005 dystopian masterpiece has never felt more topical. Kathy, Ruth and Tommy all grow up at an English boarding school called Hailsham, but the real reason they’re there has little to do with learning. As terrifying as it is beautiful.
Alex copes with being a mum in the same way she does most things – she makes a list, checks things off, and bullies herself until she’s done. When her husband falls ill and needs a kidney, Alex is happy to help, but soon her carefully curated life is collapsing around her. A wise and warm story that feels wonderfully real.
Following the fates of three souls in France during WW2, this meticulously researched and faultlessly authentic tale reimagines the events that occurred around a real and devastating tragedy. The author has taken this foundation of truth and built an absorbing yet sensitive narrative, one which feels both believable and necessary. A real gem, and a must-read for historical fiction fans.
You can tell from the title of this mega-seller that there’s going to be lots to discuss once you’ve read it. In the aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses an attack, and she and her boyfriend Kit call the police, changing four lives in the process. Fast-forward 15 years, and Laura and Kit are living in fear – but why?
Comedian Adam Kay’s ‘love letter to the NHS’ has been gathering awards and acclaim ever since it was published last year, and if by some miracle you have yet to discover it, get yourself a copy at the earliest opportunity. The former junior doctor’s diary entries will make you cringe, chuckle and weep in equal measure – it’s a brilliant book.
A year before Big Little Lies came along and turned Liane Moriarty into a household name, she penned this taut and clever story about a well-to-do wife who accidentally uncovers her husband’s darkest secret. Faced with the awful truth, Cecilia must decide whether to stay loyal or shop him, but each choice comes with its own set of dark complications…
Nothing keeps the pages turning faster than a brilliantly executed anti-hero, and Lie With Me’s Paul represents everything that is so compelling about this type of character. Paul lies, a lot. He uses people. He is full of self-pity and motivated by self-gain, but he’s also impossible to loathe. Watching his life spiral out of control is so much fun.