Reading for your book club and socializing with your group members is a lot of fun, but sometimes it can be tricky to find a book that no one has read yet and everyone will enjoy. Maybe you’ve already read The Help, The Lovely Bones, Water for Elephants, Cutting for Stone, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society . . . and you’re looking for books that go beyond the obvious picks (as much as we love those tried-and-true book club favorites).
Here are 20 suggestions for unlikely book club picks. Bonus: They’re all available in paperback!
Readers: What titles have provoked interesting discussion in your book club? Let us know in the comments.
AWAIT YOUR REPLY by Dan Chaon
Ballantine | $15
The verdict: A rewarding novel thanks to rich characterization, innovative plotting and prose that’s poetic yet edgy.
BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell
Back Bay | $14.99
Josh Bazell’s debut is a fast-moving mystery filled with humor, smart dialogue and unpredictable plot twists. It stars Peter Brown, an unassuming doctor (and member of the Federal Witness Protection Program) who is a former hitman.
The verdict: This is a very funny and entertaining novel—perfect for groups who like slightly screwball storylines.
THE BELIEVERS by Zoë Heller
Harper Perennial | $14.99
The verdict: Heller refuses to whitewash her characters or embroider reality, and her fearlessness makes this a fascinating read. A chilling portrait of a family on the edge.
CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT by Laurie Viera Rigler
Plume | $15
This charmer features Courtney Stone, a 30-something career woman who’s struggling to get over a bad breakup with her fiancé. Courtney seeks solace in literature—specifically, the novels of Jane Austen—and wakes up to find that she’s gone backwards in time, to the England Austen chronicled in her books.
The verdict: Laurie Viera Rigler writes skillfully about two very different eras, bringing both to convincing life. A page-turner!
THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman
Dial | $15
Set during the dot-com boom of the late ’90s, Allegra Goodman’s latest novel is a smartly constructed romance starring two very different sisters—the CEO of a data-storage company and a philosophy student who works in an antiquarian bookstore.
The verdict: This is a delightful romantic comedy that asks big questions about success, betrayal and the nature of ambition.
FIELDWORK by Mischa Berlinski
Picador | $14
Set in Thailand, this suspenseful thriller features a fictional young journalist named—like the book’s author—Mischa Berlinski, who finds himself at the center of a mystery involving the death of an American anthropologist.
The verdict: Berlinski writes with wonderful command about Thailand and its customs. A rich, complex and satisfying narrative.
FINAL EXAM by Pauline W. Chen
Vintage | $15
The verdict: A perceptive look at what it’s like to wrestle with life and death issues. Fans of Atul Gawande will savor this precisely crafted account of a doctor’s life.
FLOWER CHILDREN by Maxine Swann
Riverhead | $14
Maxine Swann offers an impressive novel about a pair of hippie parents and the children they raise in the Pennsylvania farm country during the ’70s and ’80s—an idyllic existence until the children mature and become self-conscious about their unorthodox upbringing
The verdict: A bittersweet story that raises provocative questions about the strengths, weaknesses and contradictions that defined a controversial generation.
HOW TO READ THE AIR by Dinaw Mengestu
Riverhead | $15
The verdict: A beautifully constructed family drama that draws on timeless themes of identity and alienation.
THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman
Dial | $15
Set in the not-too-distant past, Rachman’s shrewd novel focuses on an English-language newspaper in Rome. Capturing the hectic pace that characterizes a newsroom, the novel unfolds in short chapters, each of which is centered on a different employee.
The verdict: A newspaperman himself, Rachman knows whereof he writes. This is a skillfully executed portrait of a culture that may soon be obsolete.
IN THE KITCHEN by Monica Ali
Scribner | $16
In the Kitchen is set in London’s Imperial Hotel, where executive chef Gordon Lightfoot oversees a staff of eccentric characters. The day-to-day routine of his kitchen, rendered in prose that’s wonderfully vibrant and precise, is turned upside down by the brutal murder of a hotel porter.
The verdict: Using the hotel as a microcosm for modern Europe, Ali skillfully examines such timely topics as gender, immigration and class.
KAFKA ON THE SHORE by Haruki Murakami
Vintage | $15.95
A surreal coming-of-age novel from the author of 1Q84. Included therein: talking cats, a ghost in the guise of Colonel Sanders, torrential showers of fish and leeches—and a pair of unlikely protagonists (a 15-year-old runaway and an elderly man who can communicate with cats).
The verdict: Idiosyncratic in style and reminiscent of the work of Thomas Pynchon in its mix of comedy and fantasy, this is a novel that pushes the boundaries of storytelling.
LIVES LIKE LOADED GUNS by Lyndall Gordon
Penguin | $18
The verdict: An irresistible investigation that makes a distant figure seem more accessible and human. A must-read for fans of the poet.
A MOUNTAIN OF CRUMBS by Elena Gorokhova
Simon & Schuster | $15
This smart, funny memoir offers a revealing look at life in 1960s Leningrad during Brezhnev’s oppressive tenure. Elena Gorokhova recounts the events of her life in a style that’s both frank and intimate.
The verdict: Gorokhova’s story of maintaining her personal identity in the face of an invasive government makes for fascinating reading.
AN OBJECT OF BEAUTY by Steve Martin
Grand Central | $14.99
Steve Martin—the virtuoso actor, musician and writer—returns with his third work of fiction, an intriguing look at the contemporary art world. The heroine is an up-and-coming art dealer in New York City who will do almost anything to reach the top.
The verdict: Martin’s many fans will not be disappointed by his insider portrayal of the art scene.
OUT STEALING HORSES by Per Petterson
Picador | $14
The verdict: The novel’s first-person narration—forthright, simple and tinged with melancholy—makes for rewarding reading. A poignant tale.
THE PATTERN IN THE CARPET by Margaret Drabble
Marine | $14.95
In her charming memoir, British novelist Margaret Drabble provides a look at her remarkable past while documenting the evolution of the jigsaw puzzle, a source of challenge and amusement that has figured prominently in her life since girlhood.
The verdict: Blending her intimate story with the history of jigsaw puzzles, Drabble has produced a fact-filled, multifaceted narrative.
SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray
Faber & Faber | $16
Set at a Catholic boys’ school in Dublin, Paul Murray’s second work of fiction is about Daniel “Skippy” Juster, a 14-year-old whose death occurs early in this comic-ironic novel—a classic tale of adolescence.
The verdict: Filled with the requisite (and witty) references to sports and sex, technology and religion, Skippy Dies is a delight from start to finish.
THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU by Jonathan Tropper
Plume | $15
Judd Foxman is sent reeling by the end of his marriage and the termination of his job, both of which occur after he catches his wife in bed with his boss. He then returns home to sit shiva with his kooky family—and becomes immersed in their problems.
The verdict: This is a delightful (and hilarious) family portrait that will resonate with any reader whose relatives are a bit dysfunctional.
THE WIDOWER’S TALE by Julia Glass
Anchor | $15
The fourth novel from National Book Award winner Julia Glass is an intricately structured family saga with a gruff yet appealing protagonist—Percy Darling, a retired librarian whose life is turned upside down when a preschool moves into a barn in his backyard.
The verdict: This is a graceful novel filled with twists and turns and realistic, complicated family relationships. An insightful, memorable work.
Book descriptions by BookPage book clubs columnist Julie Hale.