8 Dynamite Reads Known to Cause Spontaneous Book Club Discussions

August 24 2021
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Have you ever noticed a stranger immersed in a book you’ve recently finished and had the sudden inclination to talk to them about it? Do you find yourself looking for that one book you can recommend to anyone at any time and then beg them to let you know when they’ve finished it? Have you wanted to attend a book club but haven’t managed to find the time? Then this is the perfect book list for you, full of reads that will engage, challenge, incite, and surprise you, with plots and characters so intriguing that you won’t be able to keep from discussing and debating them with any reader you encounter.  

White Ivy
by Susie Yang

Every book club list needs at least one psychological thriller, and books in this genre make for some of the most compulsive reading and analyzing post-ending. Likely, everyone you talk to will have a different theory along the way, offering a fresh take on character motivations or plot outcomes. WHITE IVY follows young Ivy Lin, who’s taught to steal and impress; that is, until she’s caught and sent to China. Flash-forward to Ivy as a young woman in the U.S., reconnecting with people from her old life and inserting herself into a wealthy world with her own agenda. Ivy’s identity straddles countries and peer pressures, forming her desire for money and privilege, and the secrets she keeps.

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White Ivy
Susie Yang

“A truly addictive read” (Glamour) about how a young woman’s crush on a privileged former classmate becomes a story of love, lies, and dark obsession, offering stark insights into the immigrant experience, as it hurtles to its electrifying ending in this “twisty, unputdownable, psychological thriller” (People).

Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her.

Raised outside of Boston, Ivy’s immigrant grandmother relies on Ivy’s mild appearance for cover as she teaches her granddaughter how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, and her dream instantly evaporates.

Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when Ivy bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate.

Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners, and weekend getaways to the cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.

Filled with surprising twists and a nuanced exploration of class and race, White Ivy is a “highly entertaining,” (The Washington Post) “propulsive debut” (San Francisco Chronicle) that offers a glimpse into the dark side of a woman who yearns for success at any cost.

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Carry the One
by Carol Anshaw

An impactful event with long-ranging consequences is always a compelling way to start a novel. In CARRY THE ONE, it’s the night of Carmen’s wedding: on the late-night roads, there is a terrible car accident, and the life of a ten-year-old is lost. The book spans the next twenty-five years, watching the passengers grapple with guilt as they grow older, encounter other life events. There are so many choices to discuss, to reckon with, to expand upon, that suddenly talking to someone about the book becomes a discussion of your own lives, your own destinations. The passage of time is another theme of the story, how age and distance changes certain characters, and how little and how much there is to understand about ourselves.

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Carry the One
Carol Anshaw

Through friendships and love affairs, marriage and divorce, parenthood and family holidays, the modest calamities and triumphs of ordinary days, Carry the One shows how one life affects another, and how those who thrive and those who self-destruct are closer to each other than we’d expect.

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Klara and the Sun
by Kazuo Ishiguro

A new member actually joined our book club because of this book; a mutual friend brought him in after spotting him reading KLARA AND THE SUN in the park and hearing how eager he was to talk about the meaning of its unfolding events. Written from Klara’s point of view, this striking fable makes for animated conversations—in interpreting the world through her eyes, and in following the arc of her duties and goals as she understands them. Klara is an Artificial Friend, whose early scenes take her from a store window where she is displayed to becoming a sick girl’s companion. As Klara studies the behaviors of the new humans around her, she realizes her responsibilities may not be as simple as they once appeared. Desperately, she tries to form her own relationship with the sun, whose disappearances and perceived life-changing properties provide both a nod to climate change and an exploration of how much an AI can love.

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Klara and the Sun
Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Startup Wife
by Tahmima Anam

This was a roller coaster of a book, starting with Asha’s abrupt transition from PhD student to app builder, with the land of tech startups unfolding and disrupting rhythms, and creating new ones. Asha’s new husband, Cyrus, is an enigma, but he receives growing respect as the face of WAI (We Are Infinite), to the point where he becomes a cult-like figure with more power than anyone had intended. WAI allows people to develop unique rituals inspired by their hobbies, desires, and needs. Watching this fictional segment of society emerge around an app and evolve with a series of manifestos, hierarchies, traditions, expectations, and demands is gripping and, at times, terrifying. The story follows Asha’s trajectory as she becomes overshadowed by Cyrus and isolated from the app she created. Between the complexities that surround technology and its benefits—and the disparate feelings it engenders in its characters—processing this novel without talking about it with other readers is nearly impossible.

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The Startup Wife
Tahmima Anam

“Tahmima Anam deftly uses humor to explore both start-up culture and the institution of marriage in an utterly charming and genuinely thoughtful way.” —Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind

Newlyweds Asha and Cyrus build an app that replaces religious rituals and soon find themselves running one of the most popular social media platforms in the world.

Meet Asha Ray.

Brilliant coder and possessor of a Pi tattoo, Asha is poised to revolutionize artificial intelligence when she is reunited with her high school crush, Cyrus Jones.

Cyrus inspires Asha to write a new algorithm. Before she knows it, she’s abandoned her PhD program, they’ve exchanged vows, and gone to work at an exclusive tech incubator called Utopia.

The platform creates a sensation, with millions of users seeking personalized rituals every day. Will Cyrus and Asha’s marriage survive the pressures of sudden fame, or will she become overshadowed by the man everyone is calling the new messiah?

In this gripping, blistering novel, award-winning author Tahmima Anam takes on faith and the future with a gimlet eye and a deft touch. Come for the radical vision of human connection, stay for the wickedly funny feminist look at startup culture and modern partnership. Can technology—with all its limits and possibilities—disrupt love?

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Miracle Creek
by Angie Kim

This novel has the type of plot that keeps you guessing, with each character seemingly tangled up in the tragic events. Two people inside a pressurized submarine for daily medical treatments have died in an explosion, and one woman is on trial for their murders. Told from multiple points of view, MIRACLE CREEK takes readers through the events leading up to the life-changing day of the deadly fire, examining mental states and missed connections, heartbreaking isolation and newfound friendships. Until the book’s final pages, it could be anyone or everyone who caused the fatal fire, inspiring deep questions of blame and responsibility, as well as a reckoning with loss and jealousy and sense of place. Among the most memorable narrators is Young Yoo, the mother in a family who has come to America from Korea; they were in charge of the submarine sessions, and therefore have the most to lose. With the number of personal stories recounted and emotions explored, every reader you talk to might have connected to a different character. Their interpretations will most certainly add to your experience of and engagement with this engrossing story.

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Miracle Creek
Angie Kim

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Little Eyes
by Samanta Schweblin

I can’t stop raving about this novel. Kentukis, small devices on wheels shaped like stuffed animals, are the new craze. You can either purchase a kentuki to own as a pet, not knowing who may be observing you through its eyes, or choose a code to log into the technology inside a kentuki in order to experience a bird’s-eye view of a stranger’s life. Though there’s no obvious way for a kentuki dweller to contact its owner, methods of communication begin to evolve. A black market for selling pre-tested kentukis emerges, followed by a resistance movement. Suddenly readers have a fascinating front row seat to the shaping of societies and movements, and an exploration of meaning in future technologies. Chapters are narrated by a vast array of people, giving insights into a plethora of experiences and the depths of accountability, along with the risks and benefits of allowing another set of eyes into your home. I’ll be thinking about the novel’s events for a long time, the scenarios vivid enough to discuss with any reader at any time.

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Little Eyes
Samanta Schweblin

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Water Witches
by Chris Bohjalian

WATER WITCHES is set during a time of horrible drought, where Patience tries to hone her dowsing skills to find the water the state of Vermont needs. Controversially, a ski resort is looking to take precious water for snowmaking, drawing concern from environmentalists and worried residents. There are many personalities and fears at work, all driving toward big changes that could permanently impact a community. Watching each character react to the drought and learning about dowsing in the process is sure to ignite controversial discussions and topical conversations.

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Water Witches
Chris Bohjalian

From the bestselling author of Midwives and The Flight Attendant, a comic and life affirming novel of the clash between progress and tradition, science and magic: “one of the most elegantly philosophical, urgent—yet somehow timeless—novels of these perilous times” (Howard Norman, National Book Award finalist for The Bird Artist).

Vermont is drying up. The normally lush, green countryside is in the grip of the worst drought in years: stunted cornstalks rasp in the hot July breeze, parched vegetable gardens wither and die, the Chittenden River shrinks to a trickle, and the drilling trucks are booked solid as one by one the wells give out. Patience Avery, known nationwide as a gifted "water witch", is having a busy summer, too. Using the tools of the dowser's trade —divining sticks, metal rods, bobbers, and pendulums—she can locate, among other things, aquifers deep within the earth. In the midst of this crisis, Scottie Winston lobbies for permits to expand Powder Peak, a local ski area that's his law firm's principal client. As part of the expansion, the resort seeks to draw water for snowmaking from the beleaguered Chittenden, despite opposition from environmentalists who fear that the already weakened river will be damaged beyond repair.

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Three Women
by Lisa Taddeo

Every element of this nonfiction book is fascinating, layered, and raw. There’s nothing straightforward about a relationship, a marriage, a love story. Engrossed as we are in our own day-to-day thoughts, we might find it unfamiliar to experience and reflect on someone else’s realities, compulsions, or decisions. This is where journalist Lisa Taddeo comes in: THREE WOMEN is the result of her eight-year study. Lina, Maggie, and Sloane let the author observe their lives and write about what she saw—three very different women, in three very different romantic and sexual situations, with equally heightened emotions, uncertainties, boldness, and flaws. Taddeo makes even the smallest glance feel significant, full of interpretation. I remember chatting about the book with a friend who had also read it, and the next time we met, learning that two others in our group had also gotten a copy after overhearing our conversation. Suddenly it felt like everyone I knew was talking about THREE WOMEN, and no matter what the social situation, there was always time and a need to discuss it.

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Three Women
Lisa Taddeo

The instant #1 New York Times bestseller and one of the most talked-about books of the year, Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women is “the most in-depth look at the female sex drive that’s been published in decades” (New York) and a “groundbreaking...breathtaking…staggeringly intimate” (Entertainment Weekly) look at the sex lives of three real American women—based on nearly a decade of reporting.

Hailed as “a dazzling achievement” (Los Angeles Times) and “riveting page-turner that explores desire, heartbreak, and infatuation in all its messy, complicated nuance” (The Washington Post), Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women has captivated readers, booksellers, and critics—and topped bestseller lists—worldwide.

Declared “the best book of the year” by Elizabeth Gilbert and “a breathtaking and important book” by Cheryl Strayed, Three Women has won praise everywhere from Columbia Journalism Review (“deeply reported, elegantly written, almost uncomfortably intimate”) to Refinery29 (“the hype for Three Women is real; in fact, it’s insufficient”), from Esquire (“a heartbreaking, gripping, astonishing masterpiece”) to Time (“Three Women is a battle cry…For anyone who thinks they know what women want, this book is an alarm, and its volume is turned all the way up.”) In the words of The New Statesman, “This is an unusual, startling, and gripping debut. It feels to me like the kind of bold, timely, once-in-a-generation book that every house should have a copy of, and probably will before too long.”

In suburban Indiana we meet Lina, the homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks and, after reconnecting with an old flame through social media, embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming. In North Dakota we meet Maggie, the seventeen-year-old high school student who allegedly has a clandestine physical relationship with her handsome, married English teacher; the ensuing criminal trial will turn their quiet community upside down. Finally, in the northeast we meet Sloane, the successful, refined restaurant owner whose husband enjoys watching her have sex with other men and women.

Based on years of immersive reporting and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy. “A work of deep observation, long conversations, and a kind of journalistic alchemy” (Kate Tuttle, NPR), Three Women introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

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Photo credit: iStock / stefanamer

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