Books that are better together: 16 favorite novels for book clubs

Some books are better together, and this month we are sharing a whole bunch of purposeful pairings, or, as we call them around here, “book flights.”

It’s the time of year when sports fans—plus a whole bunch of people who, eleven months of the year, couldn’t care less—turn their attention to college basketball.

What’s so great about March Madness? The match-ups. As readers, we know all about the importance of a strategic pairing. So over the next four weeks we’re hosting our own Book Flight Bonanza to bring a whole bunch of great book match-ups—or, in our terms, book flights— your way. 32 pairings, to be exact, for a total of 64 fantastic books.

To stay on top of each week’s picks and get access to your updated printable “brackets” (to serve as your shopping/library list), subscribe below. Print your brackets, grab your highlighter, and start planning what you want to read next. Subscribers will get their printable book lists in their inbox automatically with each new Book Flight Bonanza post.

For today’s new “region” I’m sharing eight flights (that’s sixteen books) that match popular book club novels for an enhanced reading experience. (What makes a great book club novel? I answer that question right here, but the one word answer is: it’s discussable.)

Click here to read the first post in the series: 8 terrific novels paired with 8 illuminating nonfiction picks to elevate your reading experience.

Click here to read the second post: 8 hot new releases paired with 8 backlist titles that will have a much shorter library waiting list.

I hope you find something YOU love today. Happy reading!

War, Love, and Friendship

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

Doerr’s captivating Pulitzer Prize-winning novel features fascinating, well-drawn characters that are sympathetic and likable, and the book’s setting couldn’t be lovelier: much of the action takes place in Saint-Malo, France, a unique walled port city on the English Channel. This intricately crafted tale brings together two teens who would never meet if there wasn’t a war on, but whose lives intersect in dramatic fashion.

Think of Cleave’s WWII novel, published two years later, as All the Light’s snappy younger cousin. Through the eyes of his characters—four young, warm, wise-cracking friends in wartime London—Cleave addresses issues of wartime morality, race, and class while spinning an unputdownable story with big emotional impact. He brilliantly contrasts humor and the absurdity of war to punch you right in the gut, time and again.

Click here to buy All the Light We Cannot See: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy Everyone Brave Is Forgiven: Amazon | B & N

Stories in Many Voices

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

O’Farrell’s latest novel tells the story of an unlikely but successful marriage between a floundering American professor and a British film star who hated the limelight so much she faked her own death and disappeared … until an unexpected bit of news, twenty years old but newly discovered, threatens to unravel everything they’ve built together. The story is told through an interlocking series of narratives: we see events through the lens of numerous friends, family members, and strangers, an auction catalogue, even an interview transcript. (I should say: I LOVE this book.)

Pair this with Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize winner, which boasts similarly nuanced characters and true-to-life feel. The short story format feels strangely similar to the structure of O’Farrell’s novel, and also gently navigates fraught relationships.

Click here to buy This Must Be the Place: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy Interpreter of Maladies: Amazon | B & N

Small Town Crisis (and Cover-Up)

Beartown: A Novel by Fredrick Backman
Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Backman’s novel is set in a backwater Swedish town whose glory days are gone—except when it comes to hockey. Hockey is everything in Beartown, and the players on the boys’ A-team have god-like status. But this isn’t just a hockey story. One night after a huge win, the teens throw a raucous party to celebrate—and what happens there splinters the community.

In Beartown, hockey conquers all; in Alabama, football is king—with similarly disastrous consequences. Part love story, part murder mystery, and pure Southern fiction. After spending ten years in Chicago, hiding from her past, Arlene returns home to face a secret she’s been hiding since she fled town after high school, and introduce her black boyfriend to her racist mother. (Audiophile alert: Jackson narrates her own work, and she’s fantastic.)

Heads up on both these titles, readers: triggers abound.

Click here to buy Beartown: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy Gods in Alabama: Amazon | B&N

The Secrets We Keep

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Frankel’s novel tells the story of an endearingly quirky Seattle family that, years ago, started keeping a little secret. And, as secrets tend to do, it became bigger over time, implicating all the family members in its keeping, until it felt like the secret was keeping them.

Pair this with Bennett’s debut novel, a coming-of-age story that shows how grief predictably consumes a 17-year old girl growing up in a tight-knit community in Southern California, how two friends get pulled into the tangled aftermath, and the power a secret holds in a small community.

Click here to buy This Is How It Always Is: Amazon | B & N
Click here to buy The Mothers: Amazon | B & N

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom

In Colson’s imaginative, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the Underground Railroad of history becomes a subway—an actual locomotive, powered by coal and running on actual track below the surface. Whitehead drew inspiration from Gulliver’s Travels and real-life heroine Harriet Jacobs for his story of Cora, a Georgia slave who sets out on a heroic quest to find freedom in the North.

Pair this with a historical novel about the actual (that is, non-locomotive) Underground Railroad: Grissom’s follow-up to her bestselling novel The Kitchen House. (Reading both enhances the reading experience, but Glory can stand on its own.) Jamie Pyke is a man with a dangerous secret. He’s been living far from his plantation home in the relative safety of Philadelphia, but when the son of a dear friend is captured by slave traders and sold down to Virginia, he risks everything to find him.

Click here to buy The Underground Railroad: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy Glory Over Everything: Amazon | B&N

The Unlikely Friendships That Save Us

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I started Wood’s fantastic novel knowing nothing (because a trusted bookseller told me to read it) and I liked it that way, so I’ll just say it explores themes of love, loss, and identity through a quirky 11-year-old boy who loves making lists, a wily 104-year-old woman, an absentee father, a Boy Scout project, and the Guinness Book of World Records, and the unlikely friendship that saves a family in crisis.

Pair this with Divakaruni’s novel-in-stories, which tracks three generations of Indian women and their fraught relationships. The title comes from a chance encounter one of these women has with a stranger, which is fitting because my favorite parts of the story deal with the small moments that change the course of a person’s life, and the unlikely friendships that do the same.

Click here to buy The One-in-a-Million Boy: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy Before We Visit the Goddess: Amazon | B&N

Girls Growing Up

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

In Watson’s engaging coming-of-age story, we meet Jade, a 16-year-old African American girl struggling to find her place in the world—but the process of creating her unique art does help. This is a nuanced but easy read about feeling out of place, coming into your own, and the perils of good intentions. This was called an “overlooked” book of 2017; don’t let this one pass you by.

Pair this with Smith’s classic about Francie Nolan, a young girl growing up with her Irish Catholic family is struggling to stay afloat in the Brooklyn slums, in the midst of great change at the turn of the century, while her charismatic but doomed father is literally drinking himself to death. Like Jade, Francie is young, sensitive, imaginative, and determined to make a life for herself.

Click here to buy Piecing Me Together: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Amazon | B&N

Families Left Behind

Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

In her debut, Gowda smoothly writes about adoption, heritage, and cultural divides, tracking two families who are linked by a baby girl across decades. In 1984, an Indian woman gives birth to a baby girl—and baby girls are a luxury a poor family can’t afford. Only the sons survive. The mother can’t bear for her husband to kill this daughter like he did her first, so she quickly places her for adoption, and her baby ultimately finds a home with a California family. Twenty-five years later, that girl, now a journalist, returns to India in search of her birth parents.

Wingate’s latest historical novel also explores adoption, secrets, and the enduring power of family bonds. Wingate loosely bases her story on the real-life Tennessee Children’s Home Society scandal, in which children were stolen from their families and offered up for expensive adoptions. The story shifts between past and present: in 1939, 12-year-old Rill and her siblings are taken from their family and placed in new families. In the present day, successful lawyer Avery discovers her family’s past is not what it seems, and her search connects her to Rill.

Click here to buy Secret Daughter: Amazon | B&N
Click here to buy Before We Were Yours: Amazon | B&N

Which pairing are you most excited to read? Can you think of any great match-ups to add to this list? Please tell us about them in comments!

P.S. What makes a great book club novel? Plus check out Book Club 101 and 40 great book club novels.

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Leave A Comment
  1. Dee says:

    This group of pairings really hits home! I want to read all of them. They all sound like just the kind of stories I like.

  2. Vincent Michael Giordano says:

    I lead a book club at my library with the first Game of Thrones book. It went over really well!

  3. Amy says:

    Thank you Anne! As always great recommendations! Question, I have a niece that’s 11 and she wants a MMD for her age group. Is there anything like this that you know of? Would you ever consider this??? It’s such a hard age to find books for as her reading level is high enough to handle more advanced books yet with that comes a lot of complicated content!! I need your help!!!

  4. Mandy says:

    I just added the books on the Many Voices and Small Town flights to my library lists! Thanks for including some backlist choices for those of us who don’t buy many books – I’m trying hard to cut back!

  5. Amy M says:

    Really excited about the Secret Daughter and Before We Were Yours pairing. I love all things India and work with orphans.
    Bonus: my library has both books!

  6. Eva says:

    So excited for more suggestions! My husband is away and I’m just plowing through book after book, huddled under my comforter at night! So delightful. I’ms just about to begin How to Murder Your Life, but I’m looking forward to getting to some of you suggestions later this week!

    Eva |

  7. Jen says:

    A note of encouragement to read The Kitchen House before you read Glory Over Everything. You don’t need to read them in order but you won’t regret it!

    • Barbara S Atkins says:

      Jen- these are two of my favorite books and I loved the Anne’s podcast that featured the author Kathleen Grissom as a guest.

  8. Andrea says:

    Any suggestions of what to read after Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine? Not sure if it’s because I’m a foster momma or what, but I adored Eleanor and was so sad when the book ended. I haven’t felt that way about a book in such a long time.

  9. Karen says:

    I read Longbourne at the same time I was listening to Pride & Prejudice via CraftLit. It made for a great paring – but did require a few renewals…

  10. Sharon says:

    What age do you think Piecing Me Together is appropriate for? Do you think it is a good read aloud for 13,12 and mature 9 and 8? Thanks!

  11. Amy says:

    I love these pairings! I would add: The Moviegoer and Goodbye, Vitamin (introspective narrator), The Snow Child and the Bear and the Nightingale (amazingly folktale-ish), and West with the Night and Circling the Sun (women and flight).

  12. Kris Bauers says:

    Anne, thank you for such a comprehensive list! I teared up reading your review for your Families Left Behind pairing, adding to my list!!
    Our book club just finished a great historical fiction piece, it would be fabulous paired with another book featuring a strong female historical figure. The book is, The Secret Life of Mrs. London. It’s about Charmian London, the wife of famed writer Jack London. It shares her story, her struggles, sacrifices and throws in a very tricky love triangle. We loved it! Found it here,

  13. Christine says:

    Hi all! I just read Under the Banner of Heaven and am reading The Sound of Gravel now. These would make a great book club pairing (even if the group doesn’t want to discuss religion, they could certainly talk about family, parenting, history – what do we consider fact vs. fiction, how our environments growing up shape us, what leads people to do good vs. bad things…).

      • Christine says:

        p.p.s. Sorry, Anne! This is what happens when you’re so excited to comment, you read the original post second. Thanks for already giving me what I asked for! 🙂

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