Julie Hale

From ants to whales, these inviting nonfiction books offer eye-opening perspectives on animals.


In Fathoms: The World in the Whale, Rebecca Giggs considers the background and mythology of the mighty whale. Tracking the creature across centuries through a spellbinding survey of history, science and art, Giggs evaluates the whale’s enduring importance and shows how its relationship to the environment has altered over time. With stops in Australia and Japan, Giggs’ fluid account will captivate readers, and questions related to species’ extinction and environmental degradation will spark inspired dialogue among book clubbers.

Beloved naturalist Edward O. Wilson became intrigued by ants as a boy in Mobile, Alabama. That interest developed into a lifelong preoccupation, and in Tales From the Ant World, he shares personal anecdotes and scientific insights related to the insect. From the fire ant to the uncommon New Caledonian bull ant, Wilson looks at 25 different species. His book is packed with fascinating ant-inspired trivia and research stories, and Wilson’s always absorbing voice makes potentially dry subjects such as biodiversity, the world’s ecosystems and scientific methodology endlessly fascinating.

Patrik Svensson’s The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World sheds new light on an elusive animal. Although research studies related to the eel are plentiful, scientists still know very little about the fish. For example, eels have never been observed giving birth or mating, and they inexplicably swim back to the ocean near the end of their life, even though they spend the majority of their time in fresh water. Svensson chronicles the eel’s remarkable existence through a synthesis of history, science and memoir. Readers will find plenty to talk about in his compelling narrative, such as evolution and the limits of scientific research.

Jennifer Ackerman investigates avian traits in The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think. Providing a fresh take on our fine-feathered friends, Ackerman analyzes recent scientific research into bird habits related to communication, reproduction and feeding practices. She takes a multifaceted approach to her subject, creating a narrative that will cause many readers to revise their perceptions of birds as simple creatures. Book clubs can dig into rich topics such as animal cognition and species development.

From ants to whales, these inviting nonfiction books offer eye-opening perspectives on animals.

These four provocative nonfiction books offer fresh perspectives on our nation.

A first-rate collection of essays gathered from Southern Living and Garden & Gun magazines, Where I Come From: Stories From the Deep South by beloved memoirist Rick Bragg provides unique insights into the author’s corner of America. In these brief but powerful pieces, Bragg’s curiosity ranges far and wide as he reflects upon personal interests (pickup trucks, Southern cuisine, country music) and more universal matters (race and religion). Offering a kaleidoscopic look at the contemporary South, this colorful compilation is sure to inspire rousing discussions. 

David Gessner takes readers on an unforgettable tour of the nation’s monuments and parks in Leave It As It Is: A Journey Through Theodore Roosevelt’s American Wilderness. Gessner gives an overview of the life and conservation work of Theodore Roosevelt and also shows how that work remains significant today as he visits Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon and other sites. Subjects such as environmentalism and the future of public lands will get book clubs talking, and Gessner’s humor and incisive observations make him a wonderful traveling companion.

In Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood, Margot Mifflin delivers a fascinating historical survey of the Miss America pageant. Using the contest as a gauge of the advancement of women in America, Mifflin traces its evolution from a tourist attraction in Atlantic City in 1921 to a scholarship contest 100 years later. Her brisk, spirited narrative will entertain readers even as it presents fruitful material for discussion, with topics as wide-ranging as the #MeToo movement and the role of pageants in society.

Ojibwe author David Treuer gives a fresh account of Native American history in The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present. Blending history and reportage with personal narrative, Treuer sets out to show that, contrary to the story told in books such as Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Indigenous culture was not destroyed in the late 19th century. Rather, it is still alive and vibrant today. Authoritative yet accessible, his book is rich in talking points, including contemporary depictions of Native Americans in popular culture and the impact of the American Indian Movement.

These four provocative nonfiction books offer fresh perspectives on our nation.

These four multifaceted mysteries are perfect summer book club picks.


In Lucy Foley’s The Guest List, TV celebrity Will Slater marries editor Julia Keegan in a sparkling ceremony on an island off the Irish coast, but a series of ominous incidents undermine their nuptials. Julia receives an alarming anonymous note about Will, and a dead body is discovered not long after the wedding. Reading groups will enjoy unraveling Foley’s stylish, atmospheric mystery and delving into the questions she raises about identity, integrity and truth.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line, Deepa Anappara’s mesmerizing literary mystery, is narrated by 9-year-old Jai, a clever, funny boy who lives in a slum in India and is obsessed with detective shows. After a classmate goes missing, Jai, inspired by what he sees on TV, undertakes an investigation with the help of friends. As more youngsters disappear, Jai is drawn into a world of danger. Both a suspense-filled adventure and a meditation on Indian society, this is a rewarding selection for any book club.

Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers takes place at Tranquillum House, a mind and body-focused health resort where nine guests‚ including struggling romance novelist Frances Welty, hope to cure what ails them. But Masha, Tranquillum’s magnetic director, seems to be hiding something, and the atmosphere at the retreat soon turns sinister. Moriarty turns up the tension in this dark yet often humorous tale, which features a wonderfully wide-ranging cast of characters. Themes like self-improvement, power and the nature of community make this thriller a great book club pick. Pick it up in time to watch the TV adaptation, which streams on Hulu later this month, as a group! 

Set in 1940s New York City, Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favors the Dead introduces readers to private eye Lillian Pentecost and her assistant, former circus knife-thrower Willowjean “Will” Parker. The pair is trying to solve the murder of wealthy Abigail Collins, who was bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball during a wild Halloween party. The case becomes more complex and possibly more dangerous thanks to Will’s attraction to Abigail’s daughter, Becca. Spotswood’s fresh spin on the hard-boiled whodunit will give your group plenty of topics to discuss, including gender, female friendship and the author’s use of historical detail. 

These four multifaceted mysteries are perfect summer book club picks.

No Tudor England here—these four novels transport readers to less familiar but no less fascinating historical settings.

In Asha Lemmie’s debut novel, Fifty Words for Rain, young Nori Kamiza—daughter of a well-born Japanese woman and her lover, a Black American soldier—is raised by her abusive grandmother in post-World War II Japan. Kept in the attic because her grandparents are ashamed of her, Nori becomes accustomed to a lonely existence. But her world widens when she bonds with her half-brother, Akira, and senses the possibilities for a new life. Lemmie constructs a moving, dramatic narrative that examines family, loyalty and prejudice through both Nori’s coming-of-age and her experiences as a biracial woman.

Call Your Daughter Home by Deb Spera is an unforgettable tale of female friendship set in the small town of Branchville, South Carolina, during the 1920s. Single mother Gertrude is desperate to provide for her children. She’s aided by Annie, a member of a powerful local family, who gives her a job, and by Annie’s Black housekeeper, Retta, who offers to look after Gertrude’s children. The novel’s Southern backdrop and indomitable female protagonists will draw readers in, and Spera’s exploration of race, class and history will provide plenty to talk about.

Set in 1918 Dublin, Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars tells the story of Julia Power, a nurse struggling to help pregnant female patients who have become infected and subsequently quarantined during the influenza epidemic that devastated the city. Julia’s narrow life of work and survival is forever changed by the arrivals of volunteer Bridie McSweeney and Dr. Kathleen Lynn, a possible Irish nationalist who may be wanted by the authorities. Donoghue’s compelling, compassionate novel unfolds over three days as the women face incredible challenges together. With its themes of female bonding, Irish politics and the nature of identity, this novel makes for a rewarding book club selection. 

Christina Baker Kline’s The Exiles is a powerful tale of female friendship set in 19th-century Australia. After being falsely accused of theft, London governess Evangeline Stokes—pregnant and alone—is sent by ship to the Australian penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land. Facing a future of uncertainty and hardship, Evangeline connects with Hazel Ferguson, a teenage midwife, and Mathinna, a young Aboriginal woman adopted by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. From the intertwined stories of the three women, Kline spins an epic saga that book clubs will savor, with excellent discussion topics such as female agency and the rights of Indigenous communities.

No Tudor England here—these four novels transport readers to less familiar but no less fascinating historical settings.

Lee Fiora is a teen from South Bend, Indiana, attending the high-status Ault School on scholarship. Ault’s well-heeled student body includes some familiar figures a Barbie-ish blonde (named, affluently enough, Aspeth Montgomery), a hunky basketball star and a lonely gay student but Sittenfeld’s novel is more than a collection of stereotypes. With this unique and powerful coming-of-age novel, she tells the tale of an outsider who learns as she goes along how to cope in an unfamiliar world.

Lee’s decidedly middle-class upbringing is revealed when her mother and father arrive at the school for Parents’ Weekend in their shabby old Datsun. The weekend proves a catastrophic one for the humiliated Lee, providing her with a new perspective on the way families work. When she becomes involved with basketball hero Cross Sugarman, the experience is not quite as grand as Lee imagined. The growing pains set in as through various friendships and romances Lee comes into her own. As a narrator, she is endearing and awkward, with her own idiosyncrasies and obsessions, and the reader is drawn to her a loner in a world of wealth and social status.

Sittenfeld’s portrayal of this sensitive, tormented youth has won her comparisons to J.D. Salinger. Prep is a witty and wise debut novel that perfectly captures the essence of adolescence, but goes beyond the teen experience to encompass larger themes like identity and family.

Lee Fiora is a teen from South Bend, Indiana, attending the high-status Ault School on scholarship. Ault’s well-heeled student body includes some familiar figures a Barbie-ish blonde (named, affluently enough, Aspeth Montgomery), a hunky basketball star and a lonely gay student but Sittenfeld’s novel is more than a collection of stereotypes. With this unique and […]

These four out-of-this-world science fiction and fantasy novels are perfect for book clubs.

Kacen Callender’s Queen of the Conquered tells the story of Sigourney Rose, whose family was killed when her native islands—and many of their inhabitants —were colonized by the Fjern. As the king of the islands prepares to select a successor, Sigourney focuses on avenging her family. Using her psychic gifts, she fights to survive in an atmosphere of suspicion and political intrigue. The first volume in the Islands of Blood and Storm duology, Callender’s novel is a fast-paced, epic tale that examines political oppression and the nature of power. 

In Unconquerable Sun, Kate Elliott introduces readers to Princess Sun, daughter of the daunting queen-marshal Eirene and next in line to lead the Republic of Chaonia. As she comes into her own as a leader, Sun is targeted by foes who want her out of the way. Inspired by the life of Alexander the Great, Elliott spins a suspenseful, imaginative sci-fi story with an unforgettable heroine at its center. With themes of gender, identity and loyalty woven throughout, this first installment of the Sun Chronicles has much to offer reading groups.

Inspired by a song from the rap group clipping., Rivers Solomon’s The Deep focuses on Yetu and her people, the wajinru, who are descended from pregnant African women who were cast overboard by slave traders while at sea. The wajinru live beneath the sea, and Yetu serves as their memory-keeper, recalling a tragic past that her sacrifice allows the rest of her people to forget. When the memories overwhelm Yetu, she heads to the surface—a decision that has fateful repercussions. Solomon explores individual agency and collective trauma in this beautifully rendered fantasy. 

In Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, Mahit Dzmare, ambassador to the Teixcalaanli Empire, finds herself embroiled in a political plot after her predecessor dies. As she sets out to learn the truth behind the previous ambassador’s death, Mahit grapples with the customs of the Empire and faces a mystery that could bring about the complete destruction of her home space station. The first book in the Teixcalaan series, Martine’s novel immerses readers in a fantastical world of conspiracy and intergalactic exploits. Cultural differences and the importance of home provide a rich thematic underpinning, making this an excellent pick for book clubs.

These four out-of-this-world science fiction and fantasy novels are perfect for book clubs.

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