8 Unique Picks for a Book Club Ready to Branch Out

January 4 2022
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Is your book club struggling to find their next enticing read? Are you looking to step outside the box and dive into something a little unusual? It can be difficult to pick out your next read, especially when everyone has different tastes and opinions. But that’s also what makes book clubs so amazing, and of course, we’re here to help. These eight unique reads are sure to create meaningful discussion and would be perfect for just about any club looking to branch out from their usual picks!

The Last Dance of the Debutante
by Julia Kelly

Personally, I think that historical fiction is always a great choice for book clubs because they give everyone a chance to research history on their own while drawing conclusions and similarities to today. However, if you’re looking to step outside of some of the typical historical fiction periods, then you’ll want to select THE LAST DANCE OF THE DEBUTANTE. In 1958, Queen Elizabeth announced that this would be the final season that debutantes were presented a court. A long-standing tradition for the wealthy elite to announce their eligibility to society, families and young women flock to the palace in hopes of gaining an invitation. Despite aspirations to go to university, Lily Nichols agrees to appease her mother and participate. Throughout the never-ending balls and parties, Lily befriends two very different women and soon uncovers a dark family secret. In this wonderful story of female friendship, Lily will have to choose either her family’s history or her future.

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The Last Dance of the Debutante
Julia Kelly

The author of the “sweeping, stirring, and heartrending” (Kristin Harmel, author of The Room on Rue Amélie) The Light Over London returns with a masterful, glittering novel that whisks you to midcentury Britain as it follows three of the last debutantes to be presented to Queen Elizabeth II.

When it’s announced that 1958 will be the last year debutantes are to be presented at court, thousands of eager mothers and hopeful daughters flood the palace with letters seeking the year’s most coveted invitation: a chance for their daughters to curtsey to the young Queen Elizabeth and officially come out into society.

In an effort to appease her traditional mother, aspiring university student Lily Nichols agrees to become a debutante and do the Season, a glittering and grueling string of countless balls and cocktail parties. In doing so, she befriends two very different women: the cool and aloof Leana Hartford whose apparent perfection hides a darker side and the ambitious Katherine Norman who dreams of a career once she helps her parents find their place among the elite.

But the glorious effervescence of the Season evaporates once Lily learns a devastating secret that threatens to destroy her entire family. Faced with a dark past, she’s forced to ask herself what really matters: her family legacy or her own happiness.

With her signature “intricate, tender, and convincing” (Publishers Weekly) storytelling, Julia Kelly weaves an unforgettable tale of female friendship amid the twilight days of Britain’s grand coming out balls.

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I Miss You When I Blink
by Mary Laura Philpott

I honestly think about this book all the time. Mary Laura Philpott genuinely made me laugh and cry throughout her essays, and even though I haven’t experienced the same things in life, I could relate to everything she was feeling. We are constantly reinventing ourselves throughout the daily grind and anxiety-riddled tasks of everyday life. In her memoir of essays, Philpott explains that she did everything “right,” but everything in her life felt wrong. She had the house, the husband, the job, the kids—but instead of finding happiness, she was met with anxiety and the desire to run away from it all. Join Philpott as she explores her crisis and the string-pull toward creativity and rediscovering yourself. Everyone will find a piece of themselves in her writing and I MISS YOU WHEN I BLINK is a great read for any book club!

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I Miss You When I Blink
Mary Laura Philpott

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

A charmingly relatable and wise memoir-in-essays by acclaimed writer and bookseller Mary Laura Philpott, the modern day reincarnation ofNora Ephron, Erma Bombeck, Jean Kerr, and Laurie Colwinall rolled into one (The Washington Post), about what happened after she checked off all the boxes on a successful lifes to-do list and realized she might need to reinvent the list—and herself.

Mary Laura Philpott thought she’d cracked the code: Always be right, and you’ll always be happy.

But once she’d completed her life’s to-do list (job, spouse, house, babies—check!), she found that instead of feeling content and successful, she felt anxious. Lost. Stuck in a daily grind of overflowing calendars, grueling small talk, and sprawling traffic. She’d done everything “right” but still felt all wrong. What’s the worse failure, she wondered: smiling and staying the course, or blowing it all up and running away? And are those the only options?

Taking on the conflicting pressures of modern adulthood, Philpott provides a “frank and funny look at what happens when, in the midst of a tidy life, there occur impossible-to-ignore tugs toward creativity, meaning, and the possibility of something more” (Southern Living). She offers up her own stories to show that identity crises don’t happen just once or only at midlife and reassures us that small, recurring personal re-inventions are both normal and necessary. Most of all, in this “warm embrace of a life lived imperfectly” (Esquire), Philpott shows that when you stop feeling satisfied with your life, you don’t have to burn it all down. You can call upon your many selves to figure out who you are, who you’re not, and where you belong. Who among us isn’t trying to do that?

“Be forewarned that you’ll laugh out loud and cry, probably in the same essay. Philpott has a wonderful way of finding humor, even in darker moments. This is a book you’ll want to buy for yourself and every other woman you know” (Real Simple).

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Second Glance
by Jodi Picoult

Picoult has written many book club–worthy books, but if you are looking for something different that still embodies her ability to capture complex emotions on the page, then this might be the perfect pick. Strange supernatural events plague the town of Comtosook after a piece of land. that the Abenaki Tribe claims is sacred burial ground goes up for sale. In an attempt to prove that the property is not haunted, the developer hires a ghost hunter. Ross arrives in Comtosook with seemingly nothing to live for after the death of his fiancée and has spent eight years longing to see her again. Despite driving his car into a lake, being mugged, and struck by lightning, Ross is still tied to this mortal plane. While in town, Ross meets Lia, a shy woman desperately searching for her own answers in the supernatural. Picoult weaves an incredible story of love and loss with an eerie look at a dark moment in American history that is sure to bring out loads of great discussions.

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Second Glance
Jodi Picoult

This breathtaking novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult asks: Do we love across time, or in spite of it?

“Sometimes I wonder....Can a ghost find you, if she wants to?”

An intricate tale of love, haunting memories, and renewal, Second Glance begins in current-day Vermont, where an old man puts a piece of land up for sale and unintentionally raises protest from the local Abenaki Indian tribe, who insist it’s a burial ground. When odd, supernatural events plague the town of Comtosook, a ghost hunter is hired by the developer to help convince the residents that there’s nothing spiritual about the property.

Enter Ross Wakeman, a suicidal drifter who has put himself in mortal danger time and again. He’s driven his car off a bridge into a lake. He’s been mugged in New York City and struck by lightning in a calm country field. Yet despite his best efforts, life clings to him and pulls him ever deeper into the empty existence he cannot bear since his fiancée’s death in a car crash eight years ago. Ross now lives only for the moment he might once again encounter the woman he loves. But in Comtosook, the only discovery Ross can lay claim to is that of Lia Beaumont, a skittish, mysterious woman who, like Ross, is on a search for something beyond the boundary separating life and death. Thus begins Jodi Picoult’s enthralling and ultimately astonishing story of love, fate, and a crime of passion.

Hailed by critics as a “master” storyteller (The Washington Post), Picoult once again “pushes herself, and consequently the reader, to think about the unthinkable” (Denver Post). Second Glance, her eeriest and most engrossing work yet, delves into a virtually unknown chapter of American history—Vermont’s eugenics project of the 1920s and 30s—to provide a compelling study of the things that come back to haunt us—literally and figuratively. Do we love across time, or in spite of it?

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No Land to Light On
by Yara Zgheib

NO LAND TO LIGHT ON contains amazing prose and is sure to leave a big emotional impact on you. It is definitely the kind of book that makes you want to call up your friends so you have someone to discuss everything with, therefore making it a perfect choice for book clubs everywhere. Hadi and Sama, a young Syrian couple living in Boston, celebrate their love and can’t wait for the birth of their son. They are determined that he will grow up safe and free and away from the hardship they faced in Syria. But when Sama is five-months pregnant, Hadi’s father passes away. Despite fleeing the civil war, Hadi must fly back to Jordan for the funeral. While Sama is waiting for Hadi at the airport, a protest breaks out. Meanwhile, Hadi has been detained at the border for questioning, and suddenly the future they dreamed of for themselves seems to crumble around them.

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No Land to Light On
Yara Zgheib

Exit West meets An American Marriage in this breathtaking and evocative novel about a young Syrian couple in the throes of new love, on the cusp of their bright future…when a travel ban rips them apart on the eve of their son’s birth—from the author of the “absorbing page-turner” (People) The Girls at 17 Swann Street.

Hadi and Sama are a young Syrian couple flying high on a whirlwind love, dreaming up a life in the country that brought them together. She had come to Boston years before chasing dreams of a bigger life; he’d landed there as a sponsored refugee from a bloody civil war. Now, they are giddily awaiting the birth of their son, a boy whose native language would be freedom and belonging.

When Sama is five months pregnant, Hadi’s father dies suddenly in Jordan, the night before his visa appointment at the embassy. Hadi flies back for the funeral, promising his wife that he’ll only be gone for a few days. On the day his flight is due to arrive in Boston, Sama is waiting for him at the airport, eager to bring him back home. But as the minutes and then hours pass, she continues to wait, unaware that Hadi has been stopped at the border and detained for questioning, trapped in a timeless, nightmarish limbo.

Worlds apart, suspended between hope and disillusion as hours become days become weeks, Sama and Hadi yearn for a way back to each other, and to the life they’d dreamed up together. But does that life exist anymore, or was it only an illusion?

Achingly intimate yet poignantly universal, No Land to Light On is the story of a family caught up in forces beyond their control, fighting for the freedom and home they found in one another.

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Inside the O'Briens
by Lisa Genova

Lisa Genova crafts incredible stories dealing with illness and disease and incredible characters who must face the turmoil of their lives and their bodies. INSIDE THE O’BRIENS is no exception as she dives into the harsh and cruel reality of Huntington’s disease. After a series of outbursts, uncontrolled movements, and cognitive issues, forty-three-year-old father of four Joe O’Brien finally agrees to see a neurologist. The diagnosis: Huntington's disease. And worse than the horrible reality that there is no cure, is the horrifying possibility that each of his kids has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease. Katie, his twenty-one-year-old daughter, struggles with her decision to take the test or live life with the risk of not knowing as she watches her father deteriorate. 

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Inside the O'Briens
Lisa Genova

A New York Times bestseller ▪ A Library Journal Best Books of 2015 Pick ▪ A St. Louis Post-Dispatch Best Books of 2015 Pick ▪A GoodReads Top Ten Fiction Book of 2015 ▪ A People Magazine Great Read

From New York Times bestselling author and neuroscientist Lisa Genova comes a “heartbreaking…very human novel” (Matthew Thomas, author of We Are Not Ourselves) that does for Huntington’s disease what her debut novel Still Alice did for Alzheimer’s.

Joe O’Brien is a forty-three-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure, and each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.

Praised for writing that “explores the resilience of the human spirit” (San Francisco Chronicle), Lisa Genova has once again delivered a novel as powerful and unforgettable as the human insights at its core.

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The High House
by Jessie Greengrass

This book immediately fell onto my radar due to the premise. Having grown up on the coast, my father has both seriously and jokingly warned about the very real possibility of the sea reclaiming parts of the world. And having witnessed several “once-in-a-lifetime” disastrous floods and seeing the resurgence of community afterward, I knew I had to read THE HIGH HOUSE. When I think of book club recommendations, I don’t typically lean toward the post-apocalyptic. But THE HIGH HOUSE is different. With its lyrical prose, incredible characters, and deep human interactions, it makes for a chilling and intimate read. High House has a garden and supplies and, for the time being, is high enough to avoid the rising water that has destroyed almost everything else. Just before falling victim to a faraway disaster, Caro and Pauly’s parents urge them to leave London. When they arrive at High House, they must learn to live with the caretaker, Grandy, and his granddaughter, Sally. Full of love and sacrifice and the small moments of hope that four people can find at the end of the world.

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The High House
Jessie Greengrass

Shortlisted for the 2021 Costa Novel Award

In this powerful, highly anticipated novel from an award-winning author, four people attempt to make a home in the midst of environmental disaster.

Perched on a sloping hill, set away from a small town by the sea, the High House has a tide pool and a mill, a vegetable garden, and, most importantly, a barn full of supplies. Caro, Pauly, Sally, and Grandy are safe, so far, from the rising water that threatens to destroy the town and that has, perhaps, already destroyed everything else. But for how long?

Caro and her younger half-brother, Pauly, arrive at the High House after her father and stepmother fall victim to a faraway climate disaster—but not before they call and urge Caro to leave London. In their new home, a converted summer house cared for by Grandy and his granddaughter, Sally, the two pairs learn to live together. Yet there are limits to their safety, limits to the supplies, limits to what Grandy—the former village caretaker, a man who knows how to do everything—can teach them as his health fails.

A searing novel that takes on parenthood, sacrifice, love, and survival under the threat of extinction, The High House is a stunning, emotionally precise novel about what can be salvaged at the end of the world.

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Sparks Like Stars
by Nadia Hashimi

The author herself has recommended this book as a wonderful read for book clubs, with lots of historical debate and interpersonal discussion, and I couldn’t agree more. While this book is on the longer side, the pacing and prose will keep your eyes glued to the page as you follow the life story of Sitara Zamani. Set in the late 1970s, Sitara lives a privileged life in Afghanistan as the daughter of Sardar Daoud’s right-hand man. Under his leadership, the world shows promise and opportunity for its people. That is, until the communists stage a coup, murdering the president and Sitara’s entire family in the process. Ten-year-old Sitara is saved by one of the palace guards. She is then brought to an American diplomat who brings her to America and raises her as her own. Renamed Aryana, she dives into her work and her studies, becoming a renowned surgeon. She has separated herself from the trauma in Afghanistan—until she finds an elderly patient on her table. Shair, the guard who rescued her,and who also betrayed her family, plunges her back into a rage over what happened and rekindles a desire for answers and revenge.

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Sparks Like Stars
Nadia Hashimi

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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
by Elif Shafak

Beautiful, heart-rendering, and unusual—this is 110 percent the kind of book that you need to discuss with friends, colleagues, and club members. There is a lot to unpack in 10 MINUTES 38 SECONDS IN THIS STRANGE WORLD. Tequila Lila knows she’s dead. She knows she’s been murdered, and while her body has stopped, her brain is still firing, at least for the next few minutes. Each minute is full of memories, experiences, and emotions from her life as they all compound upon her in death. At sixteen, Lila ran away from home to Istanbul to escape an arranged marriage and is now a sex worker in the melting pot of Istanbul. Her memories strongly center around the friendships she made and those same friends who are desperately trying to find her, even though it’s already too late. The characters and the city come to life with Shafak’s language, and you can’t help but immerse yourself into Lila’s life and the bonds she’s formed.

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10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
Elif Shafak

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Photo credit: iStock / DmitriiSimakov

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