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.
I hope you find something YOU love today. Happy reading!
War, Love, and Friendship
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
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)
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.
The Secrets We Keep
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
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
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
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
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!