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.
They are 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 (or well thumbed in your best eReader), 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.
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.
They are the books that spark hours of conversation at your book club, and stay with you for a long time after you've closed the page. 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 pick of the best book club books
Best feel-good books
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. The Authenticity Project by Clare 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.
5. 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.
Best crime/thriller books
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant
Genre: Psychological drama
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.
Best literary books
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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!
16. Do Not Feed the Bear by Rachel Elliot
Genre: Literary fiction
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.
17. 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.
Best historical fiction books
18. Spirited by Julie Cohen
Genre: Supernatural/historical fiction
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.
19. A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
Genre: Historical fiction
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.
20. This Lovely City by Louise Hare
Genre: Historic fiction
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.
21. The Silent Hours by Cesca Major
Genre: Historical fiction
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.
22. Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
Genre: Post-war fiction
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.
23. The Garden Of Lost And Found by Harriet Evans
Genre: Historical mystery
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.
Best real-life/autobiographical books
24. The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
Genre: True story
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.
25. 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.
26. 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.
27. 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.
How can you watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's Oprah interview?
It's the interview we've all been waiting for
By Sarah Finley •
Glossybox launch their sell-out Easter beauty egg - worth £80
Another reason to look forward to Easter
By Sarah Finley •
Chrissy Teigen's defends Meghan Markle and shares worries about her health
She's not the only famous friend supporting the Duchess
By Sarah Finley •
The Queen won't watch Meghan and Harry's Oprah interview
The show will air tonight in the US and tomorrow in the UK
By Sarah Finley •
Louise Redknapp says she was snubbed by her celebrity pals after divorcing Jamie
Louise Redknapp has thanked Jimmy Carr for his friendship after her other famous pals snubbed her
By Robyn Morris •
Kate Middleton rewears £5 Accessorize earrings for latest video appearance
Kate Middleton has reworn a bargain pair of earrings she first debuted last year
By Robyn Morris •
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's Sussex Royal charity 'under review from charity watchdog'
Meghan and Harry's charity is being reviewed amid concerns on how it was run before it was shut down last year
By Robyn Morris •
What does Jennifer Aniston's 11 11 tattoo mean? The star reveals special meaning
Jennifer Aniston has finally shared the meaning behind her wrist tattoo
By Robyn Morris •