If your book club is looking for new recommendations, we’ve collected a list of heartbreakingly good book club books that will stay with you long after you’ve finished them. Featuring emotionally-driven stories of family, friendship, love, and war, these books are guaranteed to inspire thought-provoking book club discussions. Take a look at our recommendations below, complete with publishers’ descriptions.
The Stolen Marriage by Diane Chamberlain
One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever.
It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, 23-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.
The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.
When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behavior and find the love — and the life — she was meant to have?
A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
Early on a grey November morning in 1941, only weeks after the German invasion, a small Ukrainian town is overrun by the SS. This new novel from the award-winning author of the Booker Prize short-listed The Dark Room tells of the three days that follow and the lives that are overturned in the process.
Penned in with his fellow Jews, under threat of deportation, Ephraim anxiously awaits word of his two sons, missing since daybreak. Come in search of her lover, to fetch him home again, away from the invaders, Yasia must confront new and harsh truths about those closest to her.
Here to avoid a war he considers criminal, German engineer Otto Pohl is faced with an even greater crime unfolding behind the lines, and no one but himself to turn to. And in the midst of it all is Yankel, a boy determined to survive this. But to do so, he must throw in his lot with strangers.
As their stories mesh, each of Rachel Seiffert’s characters comes to know the compromises demanded by survival, the oppressive power of fear, and the possibility of courage in the face of terror. Rich with a rare compassion and emotional depth, A Boy in Winter is a story of hope when all is lost and of mercy when the times have none.
We Were Strangers Once by Betsy Carter
On the eve of World War II Egon Schneider — a gallant and successful Jewish doctor, son of two world-famous naturalists — escapes Germany to an uncertain future across the sea. Settling into the unfamiliar rhythms of upper Manhattan, he finds solace among a tight-knit group of fellow immigrants, tenacious men and women drawn together as much by their differences as by their memories of the world they left behind.
They each suffer degradations and triumphs large and small: Egon’s terminally acerbic lifelong friend, bestselling author Meyer Leavitt, now wears a sandwich board on a New York street corner; Catrina Harty, the headstrong daughter of a dirt-poor Irish trolley driver, survives heartbreak and loss to forge an unlikely alliance; and Egon himself is forced to abandon his thriving medical practice to become the “Cheese Man” at a Washington Heights grocery. But their spirits remain unbroken, and when their little community is faced with an existential threat, these strangers rise up together in hopes of creating a permanent home. With her uncanny ability to create indelible characters in unforgettable circumstances, Betsy Carter has crafted a gorgeous novel that will resonate with anyone who has ever felt adrift and longed for home.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
In Jesmyn Ward’s first novel since her National Book Award–winning Salvage the Bones, this singular American writer brings the archetypal road novel into rural 21-century America. Drawing on Morrison and Faulkner,The Odyssey and the Old Testament, Ward gives us an epochal story, a journey through Mississippi’s past and present that is both an intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. Ward is a major American writer, multiply awarded and universally lauded, and in Sing, Unburied, Sing she is at the height of her powers.
Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When the white father of Leonie’s children is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.
Sing, Unburied, Sing grapples with the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power, and limitations, of the bonds of family. Rich with Ward’s distinctive, musical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic new work and an essential contribution to American literature.
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover
“Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.”
The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.
Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.
Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.
Poignant and powerful, Without Merit explores the layers of lies that tie a family together and the power of love and truth.
The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson
From New York Times bestselling author Eleanor Henderson, an audacious American epic set in rural Georgia during the years of the Depression and Prohibition.
Cotton County, Georgia, 1930: in a house full of secrets, two babies-one light-skinned, the other dark-are born to Elma Jesup, a white sharecropper’s daughter. Accused of her rape, field hand Genus Jackson is lynched and dragged behind a truck down the Twelve-Mile Straight, the road to the nearby town. In the aftermath, the farm’s inhabitants are forced to contend with their complicity in a series of events that left a man dead and a family irrevocably fractured.
Despite the prying eyes and curious whispers of the townspeople, Elma begins to raise her babies as best as she can, under the roof of her mercurial father, Juke, and with the help of Nan, the young black housekeeper who is as close to Elma as a sister. But soon it becomes clear that the ties that bind all of them together are more intricate than any could have ever imagined. As startling revelations mount, a web of lies begins to collapse around the family, destabilizing their precarious world and forcing all to reckon with the painful truth.
Acclaimed author Eleanor Henderson has returned with a novel that combines the intimacy of a family drama with the staggering presence of a great Southern saga. Tackling themes of racialized violence, social division, and financial crisis, The Twelve-Mile Straight is a startlingly timely, emotionally resonant, and magnificent tour de force
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
A brilliant and immersive, all-consuming read about one fourteen-year-old girl’s heart-stopping fight for her own soul.
Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.
Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.
Shot through with striking language in a fierce natural setting, My Absolute Darling is an urgently told, profoundly moving read that marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.
A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Evelyn is a Creole woman who comes of age in New Orleans at the height of World War Two. Her family inhabits the upper echelon of Black society and when she falls for a no-name Negro, she is forced to choose between her life of privilege and the man she loves.
In 1982, Evelyn’s daughter, Jackie, is a frazzled single mother grappling with her absent husband’s drug addiction. Just as she comes to terms with his abandoning the family, he returns, ready to resume their old life. Jackie must decide if the promise of her husband is worth the near certainty he’ll leave again.
Jackie’s son, T.C., loves the creative process of growing marijuana more than the weed itself. He finds something hypnotic about training the seedlings, testing the levels, trimming the leaves, drying the buds. He was a square before Hurricane Katrina, but the New Orleans he knew didn’t survive the storm, and in its wake he was changed too. Now, fresh out of a four-month stint for possession with the intent to distribute, he decides to start over–until an old friend convinces him to stake his new beginning on one last deal.
Wilkerson Sexton has written an urgent novel spanning three generations: a grandmother’s lush and teeming early life; her adult daughter’s fight for her broken family; and her grandson’s fraught and all-too-familiar entanglement with the law. For the grandmother, Jim Crow is an ongoing reality, and in its wake new threats spring up to haunt her descendants. A Kind of Freedom explores this legacy of racial disparity in the South in a moving and redemptive family history.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.
Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash
The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood.
Twelve times a week, 28-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners — the newly arrived Goldberg brothers — white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find.
When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement — a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town — indeed all that she loves.
Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.
Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early 20t-century America — and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.
The Good People by Hannah Kent
Based on true events in 19th century Ireland, Hannah Kent’s startling new novel tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue child from a superstitious community.
Nora, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumours begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Determined to banish evil, Nora and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.
Set in a lost world bound by its own laws, The Good People is Hannah Kent’s startling new novel about absolute belief and devoted love. Terrifying, thrilling and moving in equal measure, this follow-up to Burial Rites shows an author at the height of her powers.
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
The wait is over! John Green, the #1 bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars, is back.
It all begins with a fugitive billionaire and the promise of a cash reward.
Turtles All the Way Down is about lifelong friendship, the intimacy of an unexpected reunion, Star Wars fan fiction, and tuatara. But at its heart is Aza Holmes, a young woman navigating daily existence within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
In his long-awaited return, John Green shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity.
The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst
The dazzling debut about family, home, and grief, The Floating World takes readers into the heart of Hurricane Katrina with the story of the Boisdorés, whose roots stretch back nearly to the foundation of New Orleans. Though the storm is fast approaching the Louisiana coast, Cora, the family’s fragile elder daughter, refuses to leave the city, forcing her parents, Joe Boisdoré, an artist descended from a freed slave who became one of the city’s preeminent furniture makers, and his white “Uptown” wife, Dr. Tess Eshleman, to evacuate without her, setting off a chain of events that leaves their marriage in shambles and Cora catatonic–the victim or perpetrator of some violence mysterious even to herself.
This mystery is at the center of C. Morgan Babst’s haunting, lyrical novel. Cora’s sister, Del, returns to New Orleans from the life she has tried to build in New York City to find her hometown in ruins and her family deeply alienated from one another. As Del attempts to figure out what happened to her sister, she must also reckon with the racial history of the city, and the trauma of destruction that was not, in fact, some random act of God, but an avoidable tragedy visited upon New Orleans’s most helpless and forgotten citizens.
The Floating World is the Katrina story that needed to be told–one with a piercing, unforgettable loveliness and a nuanced understanding of this particular place and its tangled past, written by a New Orleans native who herself says that after Katrina, “if you were blind, suddenly you saw.”
Release date: October 17
The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
For the past six months, Arthur Moses’s days have looked the same: He tends to his rose garden and to Gordon, his cat, then rides the bus to the cemetery to visit his beloved late wife for lunch. The last thing Arthur would imagine is for one unlikely encounter to utterly transform his life.
Eighteen-year-old Maddy Harris is an introspective girl who visits the cemetery to escape the other kids at school. One afternoon she joins Arthur—a gesture that begins a surprising friendship between two lonely souls. Moved by Arthur’s kindness and devotion, Maddy gives him the nickname “Truluv.” As Arthur’s neighbor Lucille moves into their orbit, the unlikely trio band together and, through heartache and hardships, help one another rediscover their own potential to start anew.
Wonderfully written and full of profound observations about life, The Story of Arthur Truluv is a beautiful and moving novel of compassion in the face of loss, of the small acts that turn friends into family, and of the possibilities to achieve happiness at any age.
Release date: November 21
A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay
From the author of the highly acclaimed The Railwayman’s Wife, called a “literary and literate gem” by Psychology Today, comes an emotionally resonant and profound new novel of two families, interconnected through the house that bears witness to their lives.
When Elsie Gormley leaves the Brisbane house in which she has lived for more than sixty years, Lucy Kiss and her family move in, eager to establish their new life. As they settle in, Lucy and her husband Ben struggle to navigate their transformation from adventurous lovers to new parents, taking comfort in memories of their vibrant past as they begin to unearth who their future selves might be. But the house has secrets of its own, and the rooms seem to share recollections of Elsie’s life with Lucy.
In her nearby nursing home, Elsie traces the span of her life–the moments she can’t bear to let go and the places to which she dreams of returning. Her beloved former house is at the heart of her memories of marriage, motherhood, love, and death, and the boundary between present and past becomes increasingly porous for both her and Lucy.
Over the course of one hot Brisbane summer, two families’ stories intersect in sudden and unexpected ways. Through the richly intertwined narratives of two ordinary, extraordinary women, Ashley Hay uses her “lyrical prose, poetic dialogue, and stunning imagery” (RT magazine) to weave an intricate, bighearted story of what it is to be human.
Release date: November 28
Which of these books does your book club want to read? Share in the comments!