With 2015 coming to a close, there are plenty of “best of” lists to help you catch up on anything you might have missed. But if you’re starting to think about some great books to read with your book club in the new year, here are 13 of this year’s best book club books, along with their publishers’ descriptions.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six- year-old Jean Louise Finch — “Scout” — returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past — a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.
Why it’s a great group read: This was the number one most buzzed-about book in 2015, and there is plenty to discuss: how the characters changed, how it stacks up to To Kill a Mockingbird, and which tale you prefer. The possibilities are endless when Harper Lee releases a book after 50 years!
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France… but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.
Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious 18-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can… completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.
Why it’s a great group read: Lost love, war-torn France, and heartache — there is a lot happening in Kristin Hannah’s bestseller. It’s much easier to unpack and discuss with a group!
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life — as she sees it — is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?
Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.
Why it’s a great group read: This page-turner is hands down one of the best books of the year, and it’s roller-coaster ending will leave you dying to discuss. Perfect for a book club read!
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
“Wake up, genius.” So begins King’s instantly riveting story about a vengeful reader. The genius is John Rothstein, an iconic author who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, but who hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel.
Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime. Decades later, a boy named Pete Saubers finds the treasure, and now it is Pete and his family that Bill Hodges, Holly Gibney, and Jerome Robinson must rescue from the ever-more deranged and vengeful Morris when he’s released from prison after 35 years.
What makes it a great group read: It’s Stephen King, so there are plenty of twists, turns, and chilling moments you won’t want to experience alone! Not to mention, a decades-old mystery is best unraveled together.
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Fates and Furies is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation. A dazzling examination of a marriage, it is also a portrait of creative partnership written by one of the best writers of her generation.
Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of 24 years.
At age 22, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.
Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.
Set against the majestic landscape of early 20th-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.
Why it’s a great group read: This one is perfect for comparison to McLain’s first book, The Paris Wife. Additionally, book club members can research Beryl’s actual life and experience, and discuss her portrayal in McLain’s piece.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible — and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.
With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…
Career of Evil is the third in the highly acclaimed series featuring private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott. A fiendishly clever mystery with unexpected twists around every corner, it is also a gripping story of a man and a woman at a crossroads in their personal and professional lives.
Why it’s a great group read: It’s a page-turner, a mystery, and it’s written by J.K. Rowling (under a pen name, of course). Is there any better book club pick? Probably not!
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
The Whitshanks are one of those families that radiate togetherness: an indefinable, enviable kind of specialness. But they are also like all families, in that the stories they tell themselves reveal only part of the picture. Abby and Red and their four grown children have accumulated not only tender moments, laughter, and celebrations, but also jealousies, disappointments, and carefully guarded secrets.
From Red’s father and mother, newly arrived in Baltimore in the 1920s, to Abby and Red’s grandchildren carrying the family legacy boisterously into the 21st century, here are four generations of Whitshanks, their lives unfolding in and around the sprawling, lovingly worn Baltimore house that has always been their anchor.
Why it’s a great group read: Complicated families make for the best discussions, don’t they?
Last One Home by Debbie Macomber
Growing up, Cassie Carter and her sisters, Karen and Nichole, were incredibly close — until one fateful event drove them apart. After high school, Cassie ran away from home to marry the wrong man, throwing away a college scholarship and breaking her parents’ hearts. To make matters worse, Cassie had always been their father’s favorite — a sentiment that weighed heavily on her sisters and made Cassie’s actions even harder to bear.
Now 31, Cassie is back in Washington, living in Seattle with her daughter and hoping to leave her past behind. After ending a difficult marriage, Cassie is back on her own two feet, the pieces of her life slowly but surely coming together. Despite the strides Cassie’s made, she hasn’t been able to make peace with her sisters. Karen, the oldest, is a busy wife and mother, balancing her career with raising her two children. And Nichole, the youngest, is a stay-at-home mom whose husband indulges her every whim. Then one day, Cassie receives a letter from Karen, offering what Cassie thinks may be a chance to reconcile. And as Cassie opens herself up to new possibilities — making amends with her sisters, finding love once more — she realizes the power of compassion, and the promise of a fresh start.
Why it’s a great group read: Debbie Macomber is a classic book club author, and Last One Home is a natural book club choice. If your book club is mainly women, this is the perfect read to discuss your own sisterly relationships.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life explored the possibility of infinite chances and the power of choices, following Ursula Todd as she lived through the turbulent events of the last century over and over again.
A God in Ruins tells the dramatic story of the 20th century through Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy – -would-be poet, heroic pilot, husband, father, and grandfather-as he navigates the perils and progress of a rapidly changing world. After all that Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge is living in a future he never expected to have.
An ingenious and moving exploration of one ordinary man’s path through extraordinary times, A God in Ruins proves once again that Kate Atkinson is one of the finest novelists of our age.
Why it’s a great group read: If your book club read and loved Life After Life, this is the perfect follow-up. How does Kate Atkinson change things in this companion novel? Which do you like better? The discussion questions write themselves!
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
In his most stunning novel yet, the voice of Music narrates the tale of its most beloved disciple, young Frankie Presto, a war orphan raised by a blind music teacher in a small Spanish town. At nine years old, Frankie is sent to America in the bottom of a boat. His only possession is an old guitar and six precious strings.
But Frankie’s talent is touched by the gods, and his amazing journey weaves him through the musical landscape of the 20th century, from classical to jazz to rock and roll, with his stunning talent affecting numerous stars along the way, including Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Carole King, Wynton Marsalis and even KISS.
Frankie becomes a pop star himself. He makes records. He is adored. But his gift is also his burden, as he realizes, through his music, he can actually affect people’s futures — with one string turning blue whenever a life is altered.
At the height of his popularity, Frankie Presto vanishes. His legend grows. Only decades later, does he reappear — just before his spectacular death — to change one last life.
Why it’s a great group read: Frankie Presto is a fascinating character to discuss: Is he like a fictional Elvis? Which real-life artists did he bring to mind? There is plenty to discuss in any Mitch Albom novel, and here he proves that to be true once again.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome — but that will define his life forever.
In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance.
Why it’s a great group read: You’ll probably need some emotional support after finishing this one, and it’s best read with a group of people.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men — bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?
Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son — and readers — the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.
Why it’s a great group read: If your book club is looking for a moving work of nonfiction, look no further than this National Book Award winner. Incredibly culturally relevant, this is one full of issues to discuss with your fellow readers.
Has your book club read any of these this year? Tell us in the comments!