What makes a good book a great book club book, asks novelist, Isabelle Broom and w&h books editors Zoe West and Emma Shacklock...
A great book club book is 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 the very best book club books.
These are good 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.
MORE: The Best Books of 2020
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, challenge or teach you something, never feels anything less than miraculous.
From ghosting to property fraud to hidden secrets, untold tragedies, death, love and romance, 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 summer read or title that is a cut above the rest to read on your Kindle, then this list of book club books is a very good place to start...
W&H's top book club books
Liar by Lesley Pearse
Set in 1970s London, Pearse’s latest dark tale follows Amelia White, whose ambitions to become a reporter might just become reality when she discovers a murdered woman’s body. Determined to report the truth amid a media frenzy, more bodies begin to pile up, pushing her to the absolute limit.
The Sight Of You by Holly Miller
This entrancing and beautifully written novel follows Joel and Callie, brought together, as if by fate. Only Joel doesn’t want to let anyone close. Haunted by dreams of what is going to happen to the people he loves, it’s no different when he meets Callie. He knows exactly how this ends. The question is – does he carry on living regardless? A big-hearted book showing just how fragile life truly is.
The Curator by M. W. Craven
Christmas may be the time for loving and giving, but when a sadistic serial killer begins displaying body parts across Cumbria, things get a whole lot darker. The National Crime Agency’s Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw now face a case that is as disturbing as it is difficult to unravel. Jaw-droppingly shocking and intense, there’s no escaping this novel’s tense narrative and tightly woven mystery.
The Hidden Beach by Karen Swan
Karen Swan transports us to the historic city of Stockholm and the beautiful Swedish coast in this epic tale, where Bell Everhurst is working as a nanny for Hanna and Max. Looking after three children, life is ticking along, until Bell receives a call to say Hanna’s first husband has woken up from his coma, sending shockwaves through the family. This story of forgiveness will soon have you swept along and dreaming of Sweden.
The Last Wife by Karen Hamilton
Marie has always envied her best friend Nina’s perfect life – a life that could have been hers. Now, following Nina’s death, Marie might just have her chance again and she’ll do anything to get what she wants. A dramatic and intense psychological read.
The Summer We Ran Away by Jenny Oliver
Julia is desperate to try and fit in with Cedar Road’s Queen Bee, Lexi. But when her private messages concerning Lexi’s handsome husband fall into the wrong manicured hands at Lexi’s summer party, all Julia can think about is escape. This is warm and relatable from the very first page.
Spirited by Julie Cohen
Incorporating the supernatural into a beautifully realised historical setting, Julie Cohen brings us Viola and Henriette, a pair of Victorian women bonded together by love and courage. Following the loss of her father, Viola’s grief is lifted only by photography, though her pictures appear to pick up spirits that are otherwise invisible. Meeting Henriette, a spirit medium, only draws her further into this other world. Wonderfully written and evocative.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
After running away from their small, southern black community, the Vignes twins’ paths diverge dramatically. Ten years later, one sister lives in very the town she left, while the other passes secretly for a white woman. This is a truly thought-provoking read that reflects American history and society.
Where We Belong by Anstey Harris
Anstey Harris may never flinch from shining a light on difficult situations, but she always does it with warmth and compassion. Cate is a mum and a wife, but both roles have brought major challenges. When her life changes beyond recognition, she has to draw on all her reserves to secure a future for herself and her son. With a crumbling museum, a Mrs Danvers-like guardian and simmering romance, it’s a beautiful story of love, loss and resilience.
The Authenticity Project by Sarah Pooley
Lauded as the feel-good novel of 2020, Pooley quickly introduces us to a group of intriguing characters –none of them quite what they seem. Stricken with guilt about his past, flamboyant artist Julian Jessop wants to share his truth. But from the moment he writes it in a notebook and leaves it for someone to find, he couldn’t have imagined the impact it will have. This heartfelt and joyous read shows what it means to embrace who we really are.
This Lovely City by Louise Hare
In her debut novel, Louise Hare transports us to post-war London. It’s 1950 and jazz musician and new arrival Lawrie has taken lodgings and fallen in love. Touring the music halls of Soho by night, by day he works as a postman. But when he makes a terrible discovery, he becomes the prime suspect. It soon becomes clear that the new arrivals from the Caribbean may not be as welcome as they’d been led to believe. A thought-provoking mystery.
Saving Missy by Beth Morrey
In what’s been described as a ‘coming of old’ story, we meet prickly Millicent (Missy). Grieving for her husband, with a son living in Australia and a daughter she hasn’t spoken to for a year, she is lonely. That is until she meets two very different women who help her realise it doesn’t have to be that way. Featuring a cast of flawed but lovable characters, this is a story of friendship and having a second chance at life. This is one to savour.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
A gripping novel for our times, this confirms – again – that Allende is a consummate storyteller. Starting at the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939, and ending in 1994, we follow two remarkable characters – Roser and Victor – as they flee Franco’s dictatorship and board a ship to Chile, commissioned by the poet Pablo Neruda. Historical fact is exquisitely interwoven with personal stories. This is a stunning portrayal of love, courage and hope.
Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen
Rounding off this quintessentially Irish trilogy with effortless humour and warmth, these authors really know how to lift your spirits. Following country girl Aisling as she approaches her 30th birthday, with a new business, a new man and a hen do to plan for her friend, things soon get hectic. And in typical Aisling fashion, saying no and letting people down is not an option, leading to much hilarity, many tears and an ending that is incredibly heartfelt.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Unique, inventive and stylish, this accomplished novel about a rock ’n’ roll band in the 1970s follows the rise of songwriter, Daisy Jones, and The Six, the band she is asked to join. In an interview-style novel, you uncover why the band split at the height of their popularity. Featuring believable characters, it’s hard not to think this was an actual band, although you may find yourself listening to Fleetwood Mac while reading it.
The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung
Katherine has always felt like an outsider in her community, both as the child of an interracial relationship and as a gifted mathematician. Guiding the reader deftly through her family history, Katherine’s own life becomes the ultimate puzzle as discoveries lead her to examine who she really is. A truly spellbinding read well worth checking out.
Gone by Leona Deakin
A dark, psychological story that questions the nature and position of psychopaths in society. Dr Augusta Bloom is a private detective, drawn into a complex game. People are missing, but there’s no evidence of abduction, so what, or who, is the cause of the sudden disappearances? Clever and well plotted, this is a true original that will stay with you long after its chilling close.
The Confession by Jessie Burton
It’s hard not to fall in love with Jessie Burton’s hypnotic prose, and The Confession is no exception. In this absorbing tale of self discovery successful writer Constance Holden and Elise Morceau meet by chance in 1980. When Elise follows Connie to glamorous LA, it’s not long before Elise makes a decision that changes everything. Sure to resonate with anyone who’s ever questioned who they are or the decisions they make, this is a wonderful, compelling book you’ll want to read again the minute you’ve finished!
Do Not Feed the Bear by Rachel Elliot
Sydney is freerunner and always on the move, never quite coming to terms with a tragic event that took place in her past. As her forty-seventh birthday approaches, her partner Ruth wants them to celebrate together, but instead Sidney is standing on a rooftop in St Ives preparing to jump. Facing up to her guilt and grief, she soon encounters the kindness of strangers. Beautifully written, Elliot’s unique and mesmerising voice pulls you along effortlessly.
Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel by Ruth Hogan
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.
Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant
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.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
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.
The Flight Of Cornelia Blackwood by Susan Elliott Wright
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.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
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.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
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…
This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Kay
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.
If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman
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.
He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly
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?
The Silent Hours by Cesca Major
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.
The Rest Of Me by Katie Marsh
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.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
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.
Lullaby by Leila Slimani
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.
Our House by Louise Candlish
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.
The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh
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.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
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.
The Garden Of Lost And Found by Harriet Evans
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.
Blurred Lines by Hannah Begbie
This is a debut novel where the premise is not only timely, but compelling. When Becky catches her boss, Matthew, with a woman who isn’t his wife, she says nothing. After all, she owes him. But when the woman accuses Matthew of rape, she questions what she saw. Making sense of her own past and the need to protect her teenage daughter, the lines very quickly become blurred. Perfectly paced, the twists and turns are executed with precision.
Us Three by Ruth Jones
It’s 1976 and three best friends swear an oath that they’ll always be there for each other. But life has a habit of getting in the way and when a devastating turn of events occurs, their friendship is put to the ultimate test. In this poignant novel about friendship and forgiveness, Jones expertly guides her readers through the complications of life.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
What if you had the chance to open a book and try another life you might have lived? In this life-affirming read, Nora Seed does just that when she discovers the secret power of the Midnight Library. Now she gets to see what could have been if she’d taken that job, joined her brother’s band or stayed with that man, by selecting one of its many books. Thought-provoking and compelling - you’ll soon be swept along for the ride.
Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
This exquisite novel set in 1950s post-war London, follows the journey of discovery taken by features writer, Jean Swinney. Her world is turned upside down when she is sent off to investigate Gretchen Tilbury’s supposed ‘virgin birth’. Before long, her life becomes intertwined with the Tilburys – and there will be a price to pay. A stunning novel that will quickly steal your heart.
Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce
It’s 1950 and after giving up her job in a moment of realisation, Margery Benson seeks a companion as she makes plans to travel to the other side of the world in the hopes of finding a beetle that may not even exist. In Enid, she finds an unlikely assistant, but the adventure that looks set to unfold will be one they’ll never forget. With its brilliant focus on female friendship and fearless spirit, this is a heart-warming literary read.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Sittenfeld has crafted a brilliantly smart reimagining of the life of a woman at the heart of American politics, asking the question – what if Hillary Rodham had never married Bill Clinton? The alternative history that unfolds makes for an intriguing read that is sure to capture your imagination.
The New Girl by Harriet Walker
Walker’s gripping thriller is against the backdrop of the — crazy, but realistic — fashion industry. This psychological narrative explores friendship, motherhood, grief and betrayal. This has already been optioned as a film, so you can just imagine how brilliant it is for someone willing to take it to Hollywood.
Girl by Edna O'Brien
This fictionalised version of the experiences of Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram is haunting. But O’Brien’s empathy shines through with thanks to her extensive research, interviews and the first-person lyrical prose keeps you hooked. O’Brien highlights the deep injustices women face with a sharp focus on their emotional lives. It's wonder it was in The Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist.
How to Fail by Elizabeth Day
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Michelle never sought to be a political celebrity and she arguably lives in the shadow of Barack’s status. But her career is equally as impressive and the memoir — latterly — details the journey of how she used her status in advocating for change and how brilliantly she did so. But it was not a fairytale trajectory — IVF, miscarriage, relationship counselling, family death as well as career and familial struggles are all shared. But her formidable intelligence, humour, courage and humanity shine through.
Toast by Nigel Slater
If you grew up in the 60s then this is the book for you. Slater’s exquisitely vivid writing of food in that era takes you right back there. This coming of age biography told through food is endearing, heartbreaking, brave and so lovely. His childhood in suburban England was not an easy one, but food was a constant.