Reading lists

The perfect reads for your book club

This list of modern masterpieces and timeless classics is guaranteed to stimulate a lively discussion this season.

Penguin editors
Selection of book covers next to a piece of paper and highlighter on an orange background
Image: Flynn Shore/Penguin

After a tough winter, there’s something joyous about knowing that the sun won’t set before 6pm for the next six months. And there's no better way to celebrate than rounding up the book group from hibernation, cracking the spine of a fantastic must-read and having a good discussion.

We’ve rounded up some of our favourite new titles, as well as books from the past few years and older classics, that will demand your attention and keep you hooked until the last page. There's plenty to chew over, along with whatever nibbly bits you serve up. So, whether you're looking for a modern romance or a literary classic, there's something for everyone in our list below of the best book club picks for 2024.

Complex characters and family dynamics

Themes: Coercive control, second chances, starting over

Taking the concept of walking a mile in someone’s shoes wonderfully literally, this reinvention of the filmTrading Places sees two 40-something women's lives change when they accidentally swap bags and shoes. Londoner Sam Kemp, now wearing a pair of custom designer heels, finds new confidence in dealing with her colleagues, depressed husband, and spiteful boss, while visiting American Nisha Cantor, now in Sam’s flats, finds herself locked out of her hotel and bank accounts by her husband, who gives her the ultimatum of finding the shoes or forfeiting a divorce settlement, while she secretly works in the hotel where she was once a guest. There’s plenty to discuss about Moyes’ typically entertaining and thought-provoking story.

Themes: postwar life, family dynamics, LGBTQ+ love  

The Safekeep is a reading experience where the story unfolds and unravels while your brain works overtime to make all the connections. It follows the story of Isabel over a sweltering summer in her family's country pile in a rural Dutch province.

Isabel’s desire for order soon unravels as she begins to understand herself, and her brother's girlfriend Eva, in a completely new light. With themes including war and its devastating after-effects, sexuality and acceptance, home and belonging, there's much to discuss about this 1960s-set novel.  

Themes: Romance, mid-life, family legacy

Miranda Cowley Heller may be a debut novelist, but she’s no stranger to good stories. A former books editor, she spent a decade as Head of Drama Series at HBO. No wonder, then, that The Paper Palace is a gripping, devastating read. Told between the mid-'50s and the passing hours of a contemporary summer in a New England beach backwater, The Paper Palace hooks you in until the end – when events reach a climax that you’ll be desperate to discuss.

Themes: Resilience, menopause, redemption

Menopause is a hot topic as much because of the appalling lack of time given to it by Britain’s medical services and the increased exposure it's getting thanks to celebrity filmmakers such as Davina McCall. Grace’s daughter hates her, and her husband is divorcing her. While on the way to collect a cake for her daughter’s 16th birthday party, from which she has been explicitly banned, something in Grace snaps – but instead of walking away from her life, she decides to walk towards it and make things right. Set over one day, and riffing on the 1993 Michael Douglas film, Falling Down, Grace’s march towards her family brings violence, humour, rage, and an untangling of how past trauma and present exhaustion have become wildly connected.

Themes: The nature of art and creativity, romantic and platonic love, video games

That Gabrielle Zevin’s new novel is being touted as a story about video games might be truthful, but it’s reductive too: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is about the very nature of creativity and human connection, a profound story about three friends who navigate growing up together and the ways that our childhood narratives and social identities can affect the rest of our lives, both for better and for worse. Deftly tying in themes of race and gender, ability and sexuality – fruitful book club topics, all – Zevin set out to write a book about three friends making video games, and wrote her masterpiece in the process.

Themes: Toxic friendship, boundaries, envy, money

Clare has left a difficult life in Paris and arrived at Edinburgh University ready to figure out who she is – and who she wants to be. She has her sights set on joining a rich, glamorous clique in her art history classes, led by the Waspy blonde Tabitha who has a plan that she wants Clare to get involved with. A co-dependent friendship forms and Clare soon discovers that joining the group was easier than leaving it – an engrossing topic for any book club to get into, with plenty of literary parallels.

Themes: Perseverance, coming of age, redemption

Inspired by the story of Iola, Colorado, which was destroyed to make way for a reservoir in the 1960s, Read’s book places us in the 1940s, where 17-year-old Victoria Nash runs the household of her family’s peach farm as its last remaining woman. A chance meeting with drifter Wilson Moon leads to her taking to heart his farewell, ‘Go as a river’ – and when the Gunnison River threatens all she knows, and sends her into the mountains, Victoria must channel that idea of fortitude to help her survive and grow up. A fantastic choice for a season of life where we’re all feeling overwhelmed.

Prize-winning fiction

Themes: Family tragedy, secrets, fate 

 Shortlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize, and winner of the Nero Book Award for Fiction, The Bee Sting is a tragicomic literary novel that is funny, thought-provoking and quietly devastating. It follows an Irish family navigating the emotional (and financial) fall-out of the 2008 financial crash, with each character wondering how their life could have been different.  

Despite being 650 pages long, the plot is so fast-moving, switching between each character’s perspectives, that you can easily speed through it in a few days.  

Themes: Family secrets, racial prejudice, loss

The winner of the 2021 #Merky New Writers Prize is a big, bold family saga focused on a mother and son from Harrow. Nik is a British Gujrati student who has moved from London to study at a very white university and is struggling with his mental health. Raised by his mother, Avani, he has always known not to ask about his absent dad, but when his grandfather dies, he takes the opportunity to find out more about his family’s past. The narrative is told from Nik and Avani’s points of view, giving us the opportunity to dive into Avani’s own history and, eventually, lead mother and son back to each other.

Themes: love, sex, generational divides, queer identity

To avoid the book club curse – people not doing the reading and trying to blag it on the day – try the most enjoyable book of 2019. On paper, the Booker-winner sounds like it could be a bit of a slog: a huge cast of characters spanning multiple generations, dealing with complex themes like gender identity and intergenerational conflict.

Yet from the first page to the last it is a palpable joy, such is the wit and verve of Evaristo’s prose, her ability to do heavy emotional digging with the deftness of touches. As the narrative breezes through the lives of twelve women, each is brilliantly and believably evoked. So much to enjoy; so much to talk about afterwards.

Crime & Mystery

Themes: True crime, teenage friendships, violence against women, family dynamics

It was her father's connection to Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed the Yorkshire Ripper, which seeded the idea for author Jennie Godfrey's debut novel. Since its release, the debut has spent weeks on the Sunday Times bestseller chart.

It follows two friends who are trying to find the Yorkshire Ripper to make their hometown safe again. As they begin their investigation, they inevitably uncover secrets about their small town and the people within it, with devastating consequences.

Themes: Trauma, isolation, freedom 

Sally Diamond thought she was following her father’s orders when she put his body out with the rubbish when he died. Now, as the reclusive Sally becomes the centre of a media storm, she learns about the traumatic past she had blocked from her memory.

This character-driven psychological suspense is heart-breaking but hopeful, as Liz Nugent skilfully weaves together the dark with the light. The book’s intriguing ending will leave you with plenty to discuss in your book club. 

Themes: Revenge, mystery, truth. 

Former movie star Lana Farrar invites seven guests to a private island. But what starts as a hedonistic holiday ends with murder, and everyone is a suspect.

The Fury is a captivating read that’s full of the plot twists you’d expect from the bestselling author of The Silent Patient. It has a unique narrative style that brings new meanings to the trope of the “unreliable narrator”, and blends entertainment with sharp psychological insight. 

Themes: Obsession, deception, control.  

Nothing gets the conversation flowing at a book club quite like a good mystery novel, where the motives and actions of the characters are as fun to dissect as the twists and turns of the action. There is no writer more perfect to fit this brief than Lisa Jewell, whose superbly-written psychological thrillers have been gripping readers for decades.

Jewell’s latest psychological thriller starts with a simple premise: a woman wants to tell her life story on a new friend’s podcast. But as the plot progresses, it spirals into a sinister exploration of obsession, the lies we tell ourselves, and the lengths people go to in their quest for perfection. Featuring two flawed, unforgettable female protagonists, and a shocking ending, this is a book you’ll be itching to talk about as soon as you’ve turned the last page.  

Love and romantic relationships

Themes: modern marriage, Black identity, domesticity 

Not to be confused with Sally Rooney’s Normal People, this realistic novel paints a portrait of a marriage that, 13 years in, is running dry. Evans has previously spoken of her ambition ‘to see the everyday in middle-class Black lives normalised and humanised’ and in Melissa and Michael’s Crystal Palace home, things seem gratingly familiar – until they don’t, and the otherworldly starts to unfold. 

For those who have a soft spot for classic novels, Evans has earned comparisons to Dickens and Tolstoy, such is her ability to create a complete and familiar world. Which means that, even if you don't want to discuss relationships, marriage or long-term love, there is the recent history of Barrack Obama's inauguration and the death of Michael Jackson to reconsider as a group.

Themes: Friendship, heartbreak, new beginnings. 

If your book club is in the mood for a funny but poignant romance, you can’t go wrong with anything written by Emily Henry – especially her latest, Funny Story.

Daphne thought she was happy with her fiancé Peter – until he left her for his best friend Petra. Desperate, she moves in with the only person who understands what she’s going through: Petra’s ex, Miles. They initially ignore each other but, after a night of too much tequila, form a plan to make their exes jealous. What could possibly go wrong? 

Themes: Compromise, family secrets, fulfilment

The Summer of Love has long been overly-idolised, and Hadley’s novel brings it to earth with a bump. Suburban housewife Phyllis has entered her forties in a state of reasonable contentment until she encounters a young bohemian poet at a dinner party who reawakens her desire for sex and change. Her decision to leave her family for him has ramifications for them all, and the contrast between her conservative self and new world shows that nothing is as clear-cut as she imagined.

Hadley’s beautifully atmospheric writing brings the 1960s to life, not least in the disparity between the young white people playing at being outsiders, and the black Britons who would remain so after they had cut their hair.

A New Life by Tom Crewe (2023)

Themes: Personal freedom, history and identity, private vs public

Historian Tom Crewe takes the real-life story of the writers Havelock Ellis and John Addington Symonds and the trial resulting from their 1897 book on homosexuality, Sexual Inversion, and fictionalises it to make an outstanding story with parallels between the sexually conflicted 19th century and our own, not vastly improved, modern day.

Through his leading men, both in marriages of convenience (although not always so for their wives), Crewe asks questions about patriarchal structures, the importance of the women’s movement, and the very real moral dilemmas posed by reducing human life to theory.

Themes: Family dynamics, inherited wealth, new directions

This absorbing drama about a family of one-per-centers living in and around their ancestral brownstone on the titular New York street piles on miscommunication and concealment in glorious ladlefuls.

Sasha has newly married into the clan, but her refusal to sign a pre-nup has her sisters-in-law looking at her with new mistrust. Elder daughter Darley has given up her career and future inheritance for a simpler life with her husband and family, and younger daughter Georgiana is trying to find a way of using her wealth for good. Eavesdropping, gossip, and family tradition weigh heavy on all three women – and that’s before husbands, parents, and more in-laws enter the equation.

Historical fiction

Themes: Crime, female trafficking, Jazz Age

Atkinson turns her meticulous eye for historical research to the 1920s. Nightclub impresario Nellie Coker (based on Kate Meyrick) has just come out of prison and returns to her empire and six adult children, keeping watch for potential betrayal. High and low class rub shoulders at Nellie’s clubs, but the criminal world is simmering closer than anyone could expect – and it proves all too easy for girls to go missing. An exhilarating dance through the grimmer parts of an age that has all too often been wiped clean by history, with female crime at its heart.

In Memoriam became a runaway success last year, spending weeks in the Sunday Times bestseller list, winning the Waterstones Debut Fiction and Novel of the Year awards and, most importantly, being voted by Penguin readers as one of the best debut novels of 2023.

Inspired by her research into Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon, Winn's novel follows two friends who are unable to express their love for each other, and are torn apart when they are enlisted to fight in the trenches. There, against the horrific spectre of death and wartime, their romance blooms. It's a must-read for fans of Birdsong and Pat Barker's Regeneration series.

Themes: memory, loss, rural life, the lost golden age of England

Not for nothing did the much-lauded literary podcast Backlisted make this 1980 Booker-nominee the subject of its first-ever episode. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect novella, nor one so strangely overlooked. It tells the deceptively simple story of a single, rejuvenating summer spent uncovering a mural in a village church by Tom Birkin, a restoration expert and war veteran escaping London in the wake of a failed marriage. 

A Month in the Country richly and gently evokes rural English life – both its scenery and cast of eccentric characters – without ever getting misty-eyed or glib.

Themes: women in STEM, 1960s America

Lessons in Chemistry tells the story of Elizabeth Zott, a talented chemist in 1960s America who, even as a member of the prestigious Hastings Research Institute team, constantly feels the insistent weight of patriarchy. But when she suddenly finds herself the host of a televised cooking show – where her chemistry expertise proves revolutionary – Zott’s atypical approach to cooking begins to spark bigger change than she’d anticipated.

Punctuated by debut novelist Bonnie Garmus’s wit and a plethora of endearing characters, Lessons in Chemistry was practically built for book clubs.

Themes: Hysteria, desire, fictionalised history

Mackintosh’s third novel has a fantastic premise: the 1951 Pont-Saint-Esprit mass poisoning, which saw 250 people poisoned (seven fatally) in an incident originally blamed on ‘cursed’ bread.

Elodie the baker’s wife longs to be remarkable rather than ignored, and when the ambassador and his wife arrive in town for the summer, she tries to get as close to them as possible. But in the background, a strange hysteria is taking over the townsfolk while a series of bizarre events makes things feel very wrong indeed.

Gothic & Fantasy

Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan (2021)

Themes: feminism, history, structuralism

The third novel from Jenni Fagan is a marvel. A thorny, gripping tumble through a century, and a towering Edinburgh tenement building, that places a dozen outsiders in the tight fist of the events that have happened before them. How much does our past shape us, how much agency do we have in changing our fates and what power do women have in a world built by men?

Fagan's ambitious novel tackles these swaggering themes with passion and flair, as quirks from real history collide with a heady gothicism. Luckenbooth is a swift-to-read novel that will keep you in its grip long after you shut the covers.

Read more: How I wrote it: Jenni Fagan on Luckenbooth

Themes: Gothic, history, womanhood

Alexis Henderson's electrifying debut won a suitably cult audience upon its release. The Year of the Witching follows Bethel, a young woman with prophetic abilities powerful enough to lure her away from her puritanical upbringing and into a war of a scale she could never have imagined.

A dark and compelling tale, The Year of the Witching has won comparisons to The Handmaid's Tale, if Atwood's fundamentalist dystopian state was set in the time of the Salem witch trials instead. Escapist and thrilling, it's bound to be a read that your group has plenty to say about.

Pine by Francine Toon (2020)

Themes: spiritualism, isolation, motherhood

Francine Toon’s chilling debut found its place on plenty of breathless preview lists before its release in January 2020, but there are better reasons than mere hype to bring a new release to a book club.

Pine works deceptively hard. Toon’s elegantly minimalist prose immerses the reader in a remote and tight-knit Highlands community, steeped in silence and superstition. We find it through the lens of 11-year-old Lauren and her struggling, borderline-alcoholic single father, around whom increasingly unsettling things start to happen. Masterfully, Pine never fully clarifies who is tidying their gloomy little house, nor what leaves the scent of ‘something rotten, like meat left in the sun’ - which means there’s all the more to be explored as a group.

Short reads

Themes: race, masculinity, young love

At just 160-odd pages, Caleb Azumah Nelson's debut novel is a slip of a thing, but the heartache it manages to contain within its pages is enormous. This is a book about the near misses of love, love too intense for the life it stumbles upon. Set against a richly drawn backdrop of contemporary South London, music, books and institutional racism colour the experience of our hero. A vital and beautiful story. 

Themes: complexity of love, grief, desire 

At 144 pages, this small but complete novel – which had lingered in a Texan archive for 10 years after the death of Nobel Prize-winning Gabriel Garcia Márquez – has finally been published. It tells the story of Ana Magdalena Back who, every August, travels to her late mother’s resting place to lay flowers but also to spend the night with a man who isn’t her husband. Despite it's small size, it asks some big questions about the messiness of love, desire, freedom, and identity.  


Themes: PTSD, womanhood, aging and mental health

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Quite a lot of people, it seems. Depending on the book club, to raise Mrs Dalloway as next month's option might well be accused of being anything from trite to pretentious, such is the reputation of Modernist literature’s leading lady. Cast away those presumptions, though, and Woolf’s searing portrayal of crumbling domesticity – and London in a post-pandemic word, in the wake of the First World War – has the potential to conjure all manner of conversations on matters that still resonate today.

There's also the opportunity to bed in with Woolf's famed stream-of-consciousness writing style, which radically changed the literary form we read today and, like only the best books, holds new meaning for every age.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962)

Themes: isolation, domesticity, horror

Always controversial, long loved by other writers, Shirley Jackson has enjoyed something of a (posthumous) revival among modern readers over the past decade. Her sparse prose is brilliantly engaging, her images and ideas are chilling and her characters are unforgettable. At a time of information overload, there is something irresistibly simple about the dark worlds Jackson creates. Where better to start with unsettling story of sisters, We Have Always Lived in the Castle?


Themes: Girlhood, violence, desire.  

Olivia Gatwood is a thrilling new feminist voice in poetry, who writes with empathy and anger about the exciting and terrifying experience of growing up as a young woman. 

Influenced by the explosion in true-crime documentaries, as well as real-world experiences, this poetry collection is an unflinching exploration of the everyday violence that often shapes young women’s lives, and the many ways fear can become internalised in a woman’s psyche. 

The Home Child is inspired by the true story of Liz Berry’s great-aunt Eliza Showell, one of thousands of so-called “Home Children” who, in 1908 – at the age of just 12 – was taken from her native Black Country in England’s West Midlands to work as an indentured servant in rural Canada.

A lyrical story that explores themes of belonging, home, and the cruelty of historical injustice, Eliza’s journey unfolds like any great novel ­– only in verse form. 

Manorism by Yomi Sode (2022) 

It takes a special kind of writer to weave references to Caravaggio, Love Island and Piers Morgan into one coherent volume the way Yomi Sode does in Manorism. An accomplished spoken-word poet and performer, Sode’s first written collection of poems tackles an array of complex topics at the intersections of masculinity, Black identity, fatherhood, music, art and more.

His direct style of writing and zeitgeisty references to pop culture and momentous recent events make Manorism profound yet accessible.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more