Julie Hale

Feature by

Set in India, Parini Shroff’s The Bandit Queens tells the story of Geeta, who struggles to earn a living as a jewelry maker after her violent husband leaves her. Gossiping villagers believe that she killed her husband, and Geeta realizes she has entered dangerous territory when other women approach her for help in getting rid of their abusive spouses. Shroff’s compassionate portrayal of oppressed wives is enlivened by touches of comedy. Themes like domestic violence and the dynamics of marriage and family will inspire thoughtful dialogue among readers.

In Soon Wiley’s When We Fell Apart, Min, a young Korean American man, seeks clarity after the sudden death of his girlfriend, Yu-jin. When Min learns that she apparently committed suicide, he is determined to find out why. A dedicated student with bright prospects, Yu-jin seemed to be thriving, but she had secrets. As Min delves into her past and the circumstances surrounding her death, he comes to terms with his own sense of self. Wiley’s hypnotic thriller is a standout thanks to nuanced characters and a rich portrayal of the experience of being caught between two cultures.

Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo is narrated by Lila Macapagal, a young woman who returns home to Illinois to help with her aunt’s Filipino restaurant, Tita Rosie’s Kitchen. A disagreeable food critic—and old flame of Lila’s—has been giving Tita Rosie’s bad reviews. When he dies after eating there, suspicion falls on Lila. With the backing of her meddlesome but well-meaning aunts, Lila tries to solve the mystery of his death. The first entry in Manansala’s delightful Tita Rosie’s Kitchen series, Arsenic and Adobo is seasoned with humor, drama and tasty culinary references.

In Kismet by Amina Akhtar, sinister goings-on at a glamorous wellness retreat cause an uproar in the community. Ronnie Khan’s life changes when she meets wellness influencer Marley Dewhurst, who convinces her to leave New York and spend time at a retreat in Sedona, Arizona. At first, Ronnie enjoys the healthy lifestyle, but her visit takes a terrifying turn when local influencers are murdered. Akhtar crafts a clever thriller that’s also a funny sendup of wellness culture. Book clubs will enjoy exploring topics such as self-image and ideas of perfection.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! In honor of the occasion, we’ve gathered four mysteries by AAPI authors. Book clubs will love digging in to these suspenseful reads.
Feature by

This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew by Daniel Wallace is an electrifying look at how to navigate loss. Wallace considers the nature of grief and connection as he tells the story of his brother-in-law William Nealy, who died by suicide at 48. After his death, Wallace grapples with unresolved feelings and troubling questions about Nealy’s life. Writing with compassion, reflection and self-scrutiny, he explores his own personal demons and the boundaries of friendship.

In A Dutiful Boy: A Memoir of Secrets, Lies and Family Love, Mohsin Zaidi recounts the challenges of his conservative upbringing in London. Raised by traditional Muslim parents, Zaidi has a difficult time coming to grips with his sexual identity. As a student at Oxford, he is able to live an authentic life as a gay man, but he finds himself at a turning point when his father and a witch doctor attempt to alter his sexuality. Exploring family, community and self-love, Zaidi’s bold, revealing book will spark inspired dialogue among readers.

Leta McCollough Seletzky investigates the complex life of her father, Marrell McCollough, in The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. McCollough belonged to the Invaders, a Black militant group in talks with Martin Luther King Jr. prior to his assassination, and he was on the scene when King was killed. Yet he led a surprising double life: He was also a police officer secretly charged with gathering information on the Invaders. In this powerful memoir, Seletzky struggles to accept the truth about her father and to reconcile it with her identity as a Black woman.

In Normal Family: On Truth, Love, and How I Met My 35 Siblings, Chrysta Bilton examines the remarkable circumstances of her parentage. During the 1980s, Bilton’s gay mother, Debra, decided to have children. With a handsome man named Jeffrey Harrison serving as a sperm donor, she became pregnant and gave birth to Bilton. Decades later, Bilton makes disturbing discoveries about Harrison, who harbored secrets about his donor experiences. Discussion topics such as identity, honesty and traditional parenting roles make this a standout pick for book clubs.

4 intriguing memoirs explore the nature of family secrets.
Feature by

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s Independence chronicles the lives of Bengali sisters Deepa, Priya and Jamini beginning in 1947, during a period of upheaval in India. Deepa looks for fulfillment in marriage, while Priya hopes to become a doctor like their father, and Jamini focuses on family and duty. When their father is fatally shot during a riot, their lives are turned upside down. During the Partition of India and Pakistan, each sister is forced to make a life-changing choice. At once a tender family portrait and a powerful exploration of Indian history, Independence is a rewarding book club pick. 

Dust Child by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai tracks a diverse cast of characters whose lives are impacted by the Vietnam War. Phong, a Black American Vietnamese orphan, searches for his parents and dreams of immigrating to America. Dan, an American helicopter pilot haunted by his experiences in the war, goes back to Vietnam, aiming to lay the past to rest and mend his marriage. This stirring novel offers a nuanced look at how the country was affected by the conflict, and Nguyễn’s examinations of PTSD and racism will get book clubs talking.

Regina Porter’s The Travelers tells the story of two very different American families whose lives become interlaced over the course of several decades, beginning in the 1950s. James Vincent, a prosperous white lawyer, struggles to bond with his son, Rufus. Tensions mount after Rufus marries Claudia Christie, a Black woman. Through flashbacks, Porter provides a poignant account of Agnes, Claudia’s mother, who was raped as a young woman in Georgia. Porter masterfully spins the detailed stories of other family members as she explores the meaning of kinship and connection. The end result is an epic yet intimate tale teeming with humanity.

In Salt Houses, author Hala Alyan follows the Yacoubs, a Palestinian family displaced by the Six-Day War. The conflict splinters the family, as sisters Alia and Widad settle in Kuwait, and their mother goes to Jordan. Despite a troubled marriage, Alia and her husband, Atef, raise three children, two of whom move to America. Through skillful shifts in perspective, Alyan compassionately portrays the lives of the Yacoubs and their experiences across the years. Tradition, identity and assimilation are among the book’s many rich discussion topics.

Journey from India to Palestine, from Vietnam to midcentury America in these stellar reads.
Feature by

Ilyon Woo’s Master Slave Husband Wife: An Epic Journey from Slavery to Freedom tells the story of Ellen and William Craft, an enslaved husband and wife who—thanks to a courageous plan—fled Georgia in 1848. Ellen disguised herself as a white enslaver, while William pretended to be her captive, and together, they traveled to the Northern free states while successfully evading the authorities. News of their escape made them famous even as they faced new obstacles. Thoroughly researched and beautifully executed, Woo’s narrative explores themes of loyalty, courage and identity, making it a rewarding pick for book clubs.

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad by Pulitzer Prize winner Eric Foner traces the development of the antislavery movement in the early 1800s, especially in New York City, which gave rise to the underground railroad—the secret system that allowed scores of enslaved people to escape the South prior to the Civil War. Foner writes with authority and an eye for detail. Drawing upon new source materials, he documents the efforts of underground railroad agents, courageous abolitionists and determined freedom seekers to provide a revelatory look at a seminal chapter in American history.  

In Be Free or Die: The Amazing Story of Robert Smalls’ Escape from Slavery to Union Hero, journalist Cate Lineberry chronicles the extraordinary achievements of Robert Smalls. In 1862, Smalls, an enslaved man in South Carolina, took over a Confederate ship in Charleston Harbor, secretly brought his family members aboard and delivered the boat to Union forces, thereby securing their release from slavery. Smalls later participated in naval actions and went on to serve in the House of Representatives. Lineberry pays tribute to a remarkable leader in this meticulous account of Smalls’ life.

Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War assesses the rise of slavery and the rift it caused across the nation, demonstrating that freedom seekers were instrumental in bringing attention to the horrors of the institution. Delbanco looks at watershed moments, like the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850, offering fresh perspectives on how they affected the country. Reading groups can dig into rich discussion topics like the notion of justice and slavery’s lasting impact on society.

Commemorate Black History Month with these odes to freedom.
Feature by

In the wake of a difficult divorce, Maggie, the 29-year-old heroine of Monica Heisey’s Really Good, Actually, tries to find her place in the world. As she adapts to the single life, she experiments with dating apps and enrolls in creative writing classes. But processing the divorce proves to be difficult, and Maggie finds herself on a downward spiral. Heisey uses humor to brighten the story of a woman who is mourning her marriage, and the result is a wry, probing breakup book that’s sure to resonate with readers.

In Mona Awad’s All’s Well, Miranda Fitch hits rock bottom after an accident puts an end to her marriage and her dreams of becoming an actress. While coping with chronic back pain, she faces challenges as the director of a university theater where she hopes to produce Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Miranda’s life takes an extraordinary turn when a trio of men—all strangers—tell her they can help her manage her pain. Fitch’s exploration of identity, female desire and, of course, the work of Shakespeare makes this whimsical novel a rewarding choice for book clubs.

Candice Carty-Wiliams’ People Person follows Dimple Pennington, a London-based social media influencer who’s adrift in the world. At the age of 30, she’s living with her mother, hoping to grow her online following and struggling to keep her volatile boyfriend, Kyron, in check. When she is unexpectedly reunited with her half siblings—Lizzie, Prynce, Danny and Nikisha—and their unpredictable father, Cyril, Dimple is reminded of the power and complexities of kin. Carty-Williams touches upon themes of race and self-acceptance in this intense, funny family tale.

Weike Wang’s Chemistry is narrated by an unnamed female student working on a doctorate in chemistry at Boston University. The narrator’s future looks bright until her boyfriend proposes and she’s paralyzed by doubts about their relationship. Faced with stressful lab work and the expectations of her Chinese immigrant parents, she suffers a mental collapse. Wang’s portrayal of the narrator’s emotional unraveling and path back to normalcy is powerful, compassionate and at times comic. Topics like family conflicts, the importance of work-life balance and the pressures of academia will prompt lively dialogue among readers.

Dodge the New Year hustle with these four novels featuring lovably floundering protagonists.
Feature by

In Lynn Steger Strong’s stirring Flight, siblings Kate, Henry and Martin struggle to make it through the holidays after the death of their mother. Assembling at Henry’s home with their respective families for Christmas, they try to be cheerful while sorting out big issues like whether to keep their mother’s house. When the daughter of a friend disappears, the siblings offer support, and the crisis transforms each of them. Strong’s powerful novel features a range of discussion topics, including grief, inheritance and the bonds of family.

Set on the border between Texas and Mexico, Everyone Knows You Go Home by Natalia Sylvester chronicles the marriage of Isabel and Martin. Martin’s late father, Omar, deserted the family when Martin was a boy. But every fall, on the Day of the Dead, Omar’s ghost visits Isabel and begs her to convince Martin and the rest of the family to forgive him. As the novel unfolds, Isabel learns more about Omar and his past, and her discoveries threaten her happiness. Themes like loyalty, memory and the Mexican American immigrant experience will spark spirited dialogue among readers.

In Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball, Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt, successful writer of Christmas romances (an occupation she conceals from her Jewish family), is asked to pen a love story set during Hanukkah—an assignment that proves daunting. Rachel finds Hanukkah lackluster compared to Christmas, and she hits a wall while dealing with chronic fatigue syndrome. In need of motivation, she helps organize a Hanukkah celebration called the Matzah Ball, reconnecting with an old flame along the way. Meltzer mixes humor with romance to concoct a delightful holiday frolic.

December takes an unexpected turn for the Birch clan in Francesca Hornak’s Seven Days of Us. Emma and Andrew Birch look forward to spending Christmas at Weyfield Hall, their country house, but when their daughter Olivia, who’s a doctor, returns from Liberia where she was exposed to a dangerous virus, the family is forced to quarantine for a week. Despite rising tensions and the reveal of a huge family secret, the Birches become closer than ever during their Yuletide lockdown. Poignant yet festive, Hornak’s novel is a treat.

There’s nothing more fun than gossiping about fictional characters with your book club.
Feature by

In The Book of (More) Delights, poet and essayist Ross Gay continues the practice of recording everyday pleasures that made his 2019 volume, The Book of Delights, an award-winning bestseller. In Gay’s hands, the habit has become an exercise in ecstasy, a way to cultivate gratitude and develop a spirit of inquiry.   

Gay’s guidelines for compiling delights—“write them daily, write them quickly, and write them by hand”—has resulted in a collection of 81 essays that span a year. His newest enthusiasms (yellow jackets, Snoopy, paper menus) may seem simple at first glance, but they yield arresting complexities under his observant eye. Each piece in the book is a snapshot moment of relished experience that emphasizes discovery and revelation. 

Gay’s images are precise and poetic (garlic sprouts look like “little green periscopes”; a favorite spoon has “a slight impression—as though touched by an angel—on the handle”), and his reflections on aging, relationships and the passage of time are heartening. Informal yet inspired, off-the-cuff yet beautifully composed, his essays reveal the riches hidden in quotidian experience. With a reading list of works that have influenced Gay’s process, The Book of (More) Delights provides abundant avenues to appreciate our world.  

In his gem of a memoir, Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener, Gay Talese takes stock of his working life as a journalist and author—a remarkable run of roughly seven decades. Now 91, Talese entered the business as a copy boy at the New York Times. Over the course of his career, he helped define contemporary nonfiction narrative through innovative magazine pieces and books like Honor Thy Father (1971), which featured the novelistic techniques of New Journalism. 

Bartleby and Me finds Talese focusing on his early years and inspirations, most notably his fascination with the “nobodies” of the world—figures reminiscent of Herman Melville’s reticent character Bartleby, who toil in obscurity and usually never make the news. These unassuming yet oddly intriguing individuals (to wit, “a seventy-eight-year-old grandfather’s clock of a man” named George Bannon, who rings the bell during boxing matches at Madison Square Garden) have long served as subject matter for his work.  

Talese also shares anecdotes related to writing and research and reconsiders classic works like his 1966 Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” For the most part, his backdrop is New York, and the volume reads as a tribute to the city as a place of endless evolution. Wistful, understated and urbane, Bartleby and Me is vintage Talese—the exemplary work of a gentleman journalist. 

Fans with an insatiable appetite for the mysteries of Martin Walker will savor Bruno’s Cookbook: Recipes and Traditions from a French Country Kitchen. Bruno Courreges, the clever, self-possessed hero of Walker’s popular series, serves as police chief for St. Denis, a rustic village in the Périgord region of southwestern France. Bruno is an exceptional detective and accomplished cook, and in each book in the series, the ritual of mealtime, whether it be a leisurely lunch or convivial dinner, proves to be an important component of his daily routine. 

Inspired by his gastronomic passion, Bruno’s Cookbook, which was co-authored by Walker and his wife, Julia Watson, has more than 90 recipes neatly categorized according to the suppliers of the ingredients, from the winemaker (le vigneron) to the fisherman (le pecheur). The volume is packed with handsome photos, insights into the food culture of the Périgord and dishes to please every palate, including intriguing menu items like Snails in Garlic and Butter, Bruno’s Meatballs with Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes and A Most Indulgent Chocolate Cake. (Of interest to the canine diner: a recipe for Balzac’s Best Dog Biscuits.) Easy-to-follow cooking instructions and copious Bruno-related anecdotes make this a delicious gift for the well-read epicure.

Transporting readers to the green moors of Yorkshire, The Wonderful World of James Herriot: A Charming Collection of Classic Stories provides a detailed portrait of the beloved veterinarian and author.

Herriot, whose real name was James Alfred Wight, published his first book, If Only They Could Talk, in 1970. In that volume, he adopted the narrative approach that made his work so popular, writing from a first-person perspective that blended fact and fiction as he detailed his rounds as a country veterinarian, all in a voice that was poetic, affable and expert. His subsequent books, including All Creatures Great and Small, served as the basis for two PBS TV series of the same name.

The Wonderful World of James Herriot is a sampler of stories from Herriot’s works with lively supplementary text by his children, Jim Wight and Rosie Page. Featuring chapters on Herriot’s career, family life and the Yorkshire region, it offers fresh perspectives on the man and his work. Herriot aficionados needn’t fret—Siegfried and Tristan Farnon put in plenty of appearances. Brimming with personal photos and enchanting illustrations, it’s a perfectly cozy collection from start to finish.

We’ve collected a quartet of treats for the bibliophiles on your list.
Feature by

Mark Braude’s Kiki Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920s Paris takes an in-depth look at Kiki de Montparnasse, a painter and performer who served as a muse to a number of the era’s preeminent artists, including photographer Man Ray. Longtime lovers and creative collaborators, Kiki and Man Ray worked together to produce some of his most famous images. In this wonderfully detailed history, Braude spotlights Kiki’s background and unique genius, her turbulent relationship with Man Ray and lasting impact on popular culture. Readers who are fascinated with the Lost Generation will savor this atmospheric account of bohemian Paris. 

In her captivating historical novel Becoming Madame Mao, Anchee Min tells the coming-of-age story of Yunhe, who is born into poverty in rural China but defies expectations by becoming the wife of Mao Zedong. Yunhe leaves home with hopes of becoming an actress, changes her name, enlists in the Red Army and eventually marries Mao. Min mixes fact and fiction as she depicts their troubled relationship and Yunhe’s evolution into a woman of political influence. This beautifully executed novel offers rich discussion topics including Chinese history and politics, gender roles and female agency. 

With The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire, Jack Weatherford takes readers back in time to 13th-century Eurasia, when formidable women like Khutulun and Mandukhai the Wise helped to ensure the dominance of the Mongol Empire by developing commerce, supporting education and fighting in battle. Their stories appear to have been intentionally deleted from Secret History of the Mongols, an account of Genghis Khan’s reign that appeared in the 13th century. In this fascinating, well-researched narrative, Weatherford highlights their remarkable accomplishments while immersing readers in Mongol culture.  

Set in the 19th century and inspired by historical events, The Last Queen: A Novel of Courage and Resistance by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni chronicles the life of Jindan, a lowborn Indian girl who married Maharaja Ranjit Singh, ruler of the Sikh Empire. After the death of her husband, Jindan’s young son assumes the role of maharaja. Acting as regent, Jindan develops into a strong leader who is perceived as a threat by the British Empire. A bestseller in India, the book’s powerful themes of motherhood and female fulfillment provide great talking points for reading groups.

Behind every great man, there’s a woman—often with an excellent book about her.
Feature by

In Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, the titular character, who’s a successful wedding planner, and her brother, Prieto, who’s a congressman, are both prominent members of their Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn, New York. The two were brought up by their grandmother after their mother, Blanca, deserted them to become a political activist. Their lives are turned upside down when Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico and an unexpected family reunion ensues. Gonzalez enriches this funny, stirring story with themes of loyalty, honesty and forgiveness, and reading groups will find plenty to talk about in her provocative novel.

Kimberly Duffy’s remarkable mother-daughter tale, The Weight of Air, is set in the intriguing world of turn-of-the-century circus performers. It’s 1911, and Mabel MacGinnis, known as Europe’s strongest woman, is a member of the Manzo Brothers Circus. After the death of her father, Mabel decides to find her mother, an aerialist named Isabella Moreau. When the two finally meet, Isabella must come to terms with herself, even as she and Mabel adjust to their roles as mother and daughter. Past and present collide in Duffy’s fascinating chronicle of circus life.

In Chibundu Onuzo’s Sankofa, Anna, a middle-aged woman living in London, decides to find her father, whom she has never met. Anna comes across his diaries among the possessions of her late mother and learns that he pursued politics, becoming president of a tiny West African country. After discovering that he is still alive, Anna sets out to find him in what turns about to be the quest of a lifetime. Filled with humor and compassion, Onuzo’s novel is a rich exploration of race, identity and the nature of family.

Set in Quebec, Joanna Goodman’s The Home for Unwanted Girls is a moving portrayal of family dynamics in the 1950s. When English-speaking Maggie Hughes falls for a French-speaking boy and becomes pregnant, her parents insist that she give up the child: a girl named Elodie. Although she comes of age in a miserable orphanage, Elodie’s spirit and intelligence blossom. Maggie eventually marries, and when she decides to locate Elodie, her life is changed forever. Discussion topics such as motherhood and the meaning of home make Goodman’s novel a great choice for book clubs.

These unforgettable novels explore the drama and devotion bound up with family ties.
Feature by

Tomiko Brown-Nagin pays tribute to a history maker in Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Born in Connecticut in 1921, Constance Baker Motley studied law at Columbia University and went on to serve as a federal judge, becoming the first Black woman to do so. She was instrumental in ending Jim Crow and in arguing Brown vs. Board of Education. Brown-Nagin’s richly detailed narrative chronicles Motley’s working-class background and her rise in law and politics. Book clubs will enjoy digging into complex topics such as gender, social justice and the nature of power.

The Woman They Could Not Silence: The Shocking Story of a Woman Who Dared to Fight Back by Kate Moore is a fascinating look at the life of Elizabeth Packard, who was wrongfully sent to an Illinois insane asylum by her husband in 1860. During her confinement in the asylum, where living conditions were appalling, Packard found other women who had been unfairly institutionalized. Determined to stand up for herself and her sister inmates, Packard advocated for their rights against all odds. Packard is an extraordinary figure, and Moore brings her to vivid life in this haunting book.

Dorothy Wickenden’s The Agitators: Three Friends Who Fought for Abolition and Women’s Rights focuses on a trio of formidable women from the 19th century—Harriet Tubman, Frances A. Seward and Martha Coffin Wright—each of whom worked to further the causes of freedom and equality at a critical time in America. Wickenden documents the lives of these groundbreaking women, showing how their controversial work impacted their personal relationships and social standing. Themes of loyalty, family and feminism will inspire rewarding dialogue among readers.

In The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II, Judith Mackrell spotlights a roster of unforgettable journalists who forged their own paths as war reporters despite red tape, gender-based prejudice and the hardships of international conflict. Mackrell tells the personal stories of Martha Gellhorn, Clare Hollingworth, Lee Miller, Sigrid Schultz, Helen Kirkpatrick and Virginia Cowles while exploring their remarkable contributions to history. Thoroughly researched and briskly written, Mackrell’s salute to a group of intrepid writers captures the spirit of an era.

Celebrate Women’s History Month with your reading group by picking up a book that honors overlooked female trailblazers.
Feature by

Barbara Chase-Riboud’s The Great Mrs. Elias is based on the life of Hannah Elias, a Black woman who made a name for herself in early 20th-century New York City real estate, accruing enormous wealth along the way. But in 1903, a murder takes place at Hannah’s opulent home, and her carefully constructed existence changes forever. The narrative flashes back to recount her difficult childhood in Philadelphia and her decision to take on a new identity—a choice that has grave repercussions. Atmospheric and richly detailed, Chase-Riboud’s novel provides a compelling portrait of a remarkable woman. 

Famed sniper Mila Pavlichenko is the heroine of Kate Quinn’s The Diamond Eye. A librarian and single mother, Mila serves as a sniper for the Soviet Union during World War II and becomes well known thanks to her exploits, including a body count of more than 300 soldiers. When she’s wounded and sent to America to bolster support for the war, Mila finds a kindred spirit in Eleanor Roosevelt and makes new connections, but she also faces danger from a former adversary. Quinn’s use of historical sources and the role of women in war are among the novel’s rich discussion topics. 

The Last Confessions of Sylvia P. by Lee Kravetz examines poet Sylvia Plath and the writing of her 1963 novel, The Bell Jar, through three narrators: Ruth Barnhouse, Plath’s real-life psychiatrist; Boston Rhodes, a jealous, competitive poet who serves as a stand-in for Anne Sexton; and the fictional Estee, a curator who comes across what might be the original manuscript of The Bell Jar in 2019. Each narrator offers a deeply personal perspective on Plath, womanhood and the creative process, with Estee’s quest to find out the truth about the manuscript serving as the suspenseful centerpiece of this mesmerizing novel. 

In Take My Hand, author Dolen Perkins-Valdez takes inspiration from an infamous 1973 lawsuit to create the fictional story of Civil Townsend, a Black nurse in Alabama in the 1970s. Civil becomes involved in the lives of India and Erica Williams, sisters who Civil discovers have been surgically sterilized by the clinic where she works. The girls, ages 11 and 13, come from an underprivileged Black family, and their circumstances haunt Civil as the years go by. This electrifying novel’s powerful exploration of racism, family and civil rights make it a rewarding choice for book groups.

Your book club will love these fascinating fictional takes on real figures and events.
Feature by

Blood Will Tell by Heather Chavez zeroes in on the complicated relationship between Frankie Barrera and her younger sister, Izzy. Frankie always stands by her sister, even when Izzy makes questionable decisions, but things change when Frankie is wrongfully implicated in a child abduction case—a crime that may involve Izzy. When a dark incident from the past resurfaces, Frankie is forced to face difficult truths and the sisters’ bond is tested to its breaking point. Enriched by themes of family, duty and commitment, this captivating thriller will spark lively dialogue among readers. 

Rita Todacheene, the protagonist of Ramona Emerson’s Shutter, is a crackerjack forensic photographer with the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police. Brought up on the Navajo Nation Reservation by her grandmother, Rita has become disconnected from her past, in part because the ghosts of crime victims torment her. While Rita is photographing a suicide case, the victim’s ghost reveals that she was murdered and urges Rita to find the culprits. Things take a dangerous turn when Rita is targeted by a violent cartel. A multilayered work of crime fiction, Shutter will electrify readers. 

In Dervla McTiernan’s The Murder Rule, Hannah, a law student at the University of Virginia, lives with her troubled mother, Laura. Hannah works for the university’s chapter of the Innocence Project, researching cases in which people were convicted of a crime but maintained their innocence. As the novel unfolds, McTiernan incorporates entries from Laura’s diary that describe the death of her lover years ago, with a connection between that incident and a case Hannah researches adding a chilling twist to the narrative. Book clubs will find plenty to discuss in this complex novel, such as the difficulties of true justice and the nature of memory. 

Chris Pavone turns up the tension in the compelling Two Nights in Lisbon. During a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, Ariel’s younger husband, John, vanishes without a trace, leaving her alone in a strange country. John can’t be reached by phone, and the authorities are unable to find him. Frantic and frightened, Ariel comes to realize that John himself is a mystery, and his disappearance draws her into a web of danger. A consistently suspenseful tale, Two Nights in Lisbon explores the secrets that can separate husband and wife

Bring some suspense to your reading group with these impossible-to-put-down titles.
Feature by

William Alexander delivers a tasty culinary chronicle with Ten Tomatoes That Changed the World: A History. With authority, humor and an instinct for flavorful anecdotes, Alexander tracks the evolution of the tomato from its first cultivations in the Americas to its first encounter with Europe via the Spanish in the 1500s to its current widespread popularity. Along the way, he considers tomato-related innovations such as the creation of ketchup and the rise of hybrid tomato specimens. Alexander touches on themes of contemporary farming practices and food production that will provide great talking points for book clubs.

Joshua Specht’s Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America is a surprisingly dramatic account of the rise of the beef industry and how the meat came to be an American favorite. Focusing on the 19th century, Specht explores the cattle ranches of the American West and the Chicago meatpacking industry and looks at how urban expansion affected production. His shrewd analysis of meatpacking practices, factory conditions for workers and labor developments underscores the impact of beef on American business. Specht’s nuanced account sheds new light on a mealtime mainstay.

In Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, Mark Kurlansky traces the science, history and mythology behind the life-giving liquid. Fans of the author (who has also dedicated books to salt and cod) will welcome this study of a beverage that, as Kurlansky demonstrates, transcends cultures and eras. From milk production and dairy farming to the role of milk in economics and its significance in countries across the globe, Kurlanksy presents a multifaceted look at the vital beverage. Ever attuned to the offbeat factoid, he writes with typical crispness in a book that’s sure to intrigue readers.

Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World by Mark Pendergrast delves into the fascinating past of a controversial crop. Millions of people around the world rely on the coffee industry for their livelihoods, and Pendergrast takes stock of how the little bean has shaped international commerce and politics over the centuries. He brews up plenty of tantalizing coffee lore, assesses the dominance of Starbucks and explores the worlds of coffee snobs and fair-trade advocates. Global economics and the centrality of coffee to our daily lives make for rich discussion topics.

Psst . . . pair them with thematic snacks and/or drinks!

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features