Discover, discuss and debate the top book club books for 2021

Whether your book club is coming together in person for the first time in 2021, or sticking to online meet-ups, these gripping books will spark thoughts and opinions from everyone around the real – or virtual – table. 

by Tom Meadows
3 minutes to read
Multiple books against a paper background, including The Lamplighters, The Prince of the Skies, and The Cat Who Saved Books

From memoir to mystery and literary to lifestyle, it's easy to feel overwhelmed when choosing a new book for your book club. Picky readers, be they genre-philes or lovers of literary, make it more difficult still to find a book that will appease everyone and keep the conversation flowing. That's why we've collected our favourite new books from 2021, as well as previous releases, to help you find the perfect book to keep readers engaged and provide multiple different angles for group discussion.

We've also included books that are of broad enough interest to appeal to any variety of book club members: new releases to the award-winners, a crime novel with plenty of jazz, a mysterious and romantic ghost story, and a Booker Prize-winner so powerful that it'll leave you checking all of this year's shortlists . . .

The best new book club reads from 2021

The Prince of the Skies

by Antonio Iturbe

Book cover for The Prince of the Skies

Writer, romantic, pilot, hero. Antoine de Saint Exupéry has one dream, and that's to be a pilot. Despite his aristocratic origins, nothing can keep Antoine grounded with his determination to take to the skies.

From the bestselling author of The Librarian of Auschwitz, Antonio Iturbe, comes an incredible novel based on the real life of Antoine de Saint Exupéry and his mysterious death. Together with friends Jean and Henri, Antoine pioneered new mail routes across the globe and changed aviation forever. At the same time, Antoine began work on The Little Prince, a children's story that would go on to reach millions of readers around the world – despite the looming shadow of war.  

Bound to move every one of your book club readers, The Prince of the Skies is a tale of love and companionship, war and heroism, and the power of the written word. 

The Cat Who Saved Books

by Sosuke Natsukawa

Book cover for The Cat Who Saved Books

A natural fit for any book club, international bestseller The Cat Who Saved Books follows Rintaro as he struggles to keep his grandfather's tiny secondhand bookshop open after his death.  When it appears that there's no choice but to close the shop, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks for Rintaro's help. Only a true book lover like Rintaro is suitable to join Tiger on his mission. Together, this strange duo will go on three adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned or mistreated them. 

A heart-warming story about courage and caring for others, Sosuke Natsukawa's tale will resonate with anyone who knows books to be so much more than words on paper.

The Lamplighters

by Emma Stonex

Book cover for The Lamplighters

A BBC Radio 2 Book Club recommendation and a Sunday Times bestseller, The Lamplighters is a mystery, a love story and a ghost story all at once.

Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week. What happened to the three men, out on the tower?

Twenty years later, the women they left behind have been driven apart by the tragedy. Still struggling to move on, Helen, Jenny and Michelle are approached by a writer who wants to know their side of the story. But by confronting the past, dark fears and hidden truths begin to surface...

Inspired by real events, Emma Stonex weaves a suspenseful mystery with an unforgettable story of love and grief.

Sixteen Horses

by Greg Buchanan

Book cover for Sixteen Horses

Near the dying English seaside town of Ilmarsh, local police detective Alec Nichols discovers sixteen horses’ heads on a farm, each buried with a single eye facing the low winter sun. After forensic veterinarian Cooper Allen travels to the scene, the investigators soon uncover evidence of a chain of crimes in the community – disappearances, arson and mutilations.

In the dark days that follow, the town slips into panic and paranoia. Nothing is as it seems. Anyone could be a suspect. And as Cooper finds herself unable to leave town, Alec is stalked by an unseen threat. The two investigators race to uncover the truth behind these frightening and insidious mysteries – no matter the cost.

Sixteen Horses is the debut literary thriller from an extraordinary talent, Greg Buchanan. A story of enduring guilt, trauma and punishment to keep your book club readers gripped until the last page.

Circus of Wonders

by Elizabeth Macneal

Book cover for Circus of Wonders

Set in a glittering circus in the pleasure gardens of Victorian London, Circus of Wonders is a story of fame, power and secret love that will leave your book club discussing it long after the story ends. 

In 1866, Nell lives in a coastal village in England, cast out by the community because of the birthmarks that cover her skin. But when Jasper Jupiter's Circus of Wonders arrives in the village, she is sold by her father, promising Jasper Jupiter his very own 'leopard girl'. Despite the pain of betrayal, Nell finds her fame growing as she finds friendship with the other performers. Soon enough, she wonders if joining the circus was the best thing that ever happened to her. 

After she is proclaimed as the eighth wonder of the world, she falls in love with Jasper's gentle brother Toby. But as her fame begins to eclipse Jasper's own, will her love for Toby survive the terrible secret that binds him to his brother?

The Ophelia Girls

by Jane Healey

Book cover for The Ophelia Girls

An intoxicating option for your next book club read, The Ophelia Girls is a visceral, heady exploration of desire, infatuation and the perils and power of being a young woman.

In the summer of 1973, teenage Ruth and her four friends are obsessed with pre-Raphaelite paintings, and a little bit obsessed with each other. They spend the scorching summer days in the river by Ruth's grand family home, pretending to be the drowning Ophelia and recreating tableaus of other tragic mythical heroines. But by the end of the summer, real tragedy has found them.

Twenty-four years later, Ruth, now a mother of three, moves her family into her now somewhat dilapidated childhood home following the death of her father. Her daughter Maeve is officially in remission and can finally be a 'normal' teenager with the whole summer ahead of her. But when Stuart, a handsome photographer and old friend of her parents comes to stay, Maeve finds that there is something about him that makes her feel more alive than all of her life-saving treatments put together . . .

As the heat of the summer burns, how long can the family go before long-held secrets threaten to burst their banks and drown them all?

Literary masterpieces to captivate any reader

Shuggie Bain

by Douglas Stuart

Book cover for Shuggie Bain

Set in a poverty-stricken Glasgow in the early 1980s, Douglas Stuart’s blistering, Booker Prize-winning debut is a heartbreaking story which lays bare the ruthlessness of poverty and the limits of love. Agnes Bain has always dreamed of greater things, but when her husband abandons her she finds herself trapped in a decimated mining town with her three children, and descends deeper and deeper into drink. Her son Shuggie tries to help Agnes long after her other children have fled, but he too must abandon her to save himself. Shuggie is different, fastidious and fussy, and he is picked on by the local children and condemned by adults as ‘no’ right’. But he believes that if he tries his hardest he can be like other boys and escape this hopeless place.

The Mercies

by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

Book cover for The Mercies

A Richard & Judy Book Club 2021 pick and a BBC Radio 2 Book Club read for 2020, this evocative novel was inspired by the real Vardø storm and the subsequent witch hunt. 

When a catastrophic storm wipes out almost the entirety of the male population of the island, the women who are left, still grieving for their men, are forced to fend for themselves. Eighteen months later, the sinister new commissioner, Absolom Cornet, arrives with his young wife Ursa. Ursa sees independent women for the first time in her life and finds herself drawn to Maren, the young woman who helps her navigate life in this harsh new world. But Absolom is convinced that the women’s behaviour is ungodly and he must bring them to heel by any means necessary. . .

Dear Mrs Bird

by AJ Pearce

Book cover for Dear Mrs Bird

As bombs fall on 1940s London, Emmy dreams of assisting the war effort as a fearless Lady War Correspondent. Unfortunately, after a misunderstanding over a job advert, Emmy instead ends up as a typist for formidable agony aunt Henrietta Bird. But Mrs Bird won’t answer letters containing any form of Unpleasantness, so what can Emmy do but try to help these desperate women herself? 

A Richard & Judy Book Club Pick and Sunday Times bestseller, Dear Mrs Bird is a sweet and uplifting wartime tale of bravery, friendship and love. 

Read AJ Pearce on the inspiration behind Dear Mrs Bird.

What Strange Paradise

by Omar El Akkad

Book cover for What Strange Paradise

Omar El Akkad, the acclaimed author of American War, paints the global refugee process through a child's eyes in this dramatic, profound novel that will set your book club alight with debate and discussion.

More bodies have washed up on the shores of a small island. Another over-filled, ill-equipped, dilapidated ship has sunk under the weight of its too-many passengers: Syrians, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Lebanese, Palestinians, all of them desperate to escape untenable lives in their homelands. And only one made the passage: nine-year-old Amir, a Syrian boy who has the good fortune to fall into the hands not of the officials, but of Vänna: a teenage girl, native to the island, who lives inside her own sense of homelessness in a place and among people she has come to disdain. And though Vänna and Amir are complete strangers and don’t speak a common language, Vänna determines to do whatever it takes to save him.

Gripping crime & thrillers to keep you guessing until the end

People Like Her

by Ellery Lloyd

Book cover for People Like Her

Another Richard & Judy Book Club Pick, this smart debut thriller from husband-and-wife writing team Ellery Lloyd takes a compelling look at the dark side of social media and influencer culture. 

Emmy Jackson is better known to her online fans as Instagram sensation Mamabare, famous for telling it like it is when it comes to modern parenthood. But not everything you see online can be believed, and someone out there knows the truth about Emmy and intends to make her pay . . . 

Emily Noble's Disgrace

by Mary Paulson-Ellis

Book cover for Emily Noble's Disgrace

After trauma cleaner Essie Pound makes a gruesome discovery in an abandoned Edinburgh boarding house, she quickly meets a young policewoman, Emily Noble, who has her own hidden reasons for solving the case. 

As the duo journey deep into the heart of a forgotten family, fragmented memories of their own traumatic histories are thrown up by the investigation – something Emily has spent a lifetime attempting to bury, and Essie a lifetime trying to lay bare. 

Introduce a Scottish crime-thriller like no other to your book club with the third novel from Mary Paulson-Ellis, bestselling author of The Other Mrs Walker.

The Axeman's Jazz

by Ray Celestin

Book cover for The Axeman's Jazz

In the jazz-filled, mob-ruled streets of 1910s New Orleans, a ruthless serial killer called the Axeman stalks the city, demanding that people must play jazz or risk becoming his next victim. Three individuals set out to catch and unmask him, each for their own reasons. 

Detective Michael Talbot heads up the official investigation, but is left struggling for leads and battling his own grave secret. Former detective Luca d'Andrea, now working for the mafia, just as much need to solve the case as the authorities. And Ida, a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency and dreaming of a better life – until she stumbles across a clue that leads her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, into terrible danger . . .

Unique books unlike anything else

She Who Became The Sun

by Shelley Parker-Chan

Book cover for She Who Became The Sun

The Sunday Times #1 Bestseller, She Who Became The Sun is a vivid reimagining the rise of Zhu Yuanzhang – the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty plain, a seer shows two children their fates. For a family’s eighth-born son, there’s greatness. For the second daughter, nothing.

In 1345, China lies restless under harsh Mongol rule. And when a bandit raid wipes out their home, the two children must somehow survive. Zhu Chongba despairs and gives in. But the girl resolves to overcome her destiny. So she takes her dead brother’s identity and begins her journey. Can Zhu escape what’s written in the stars, as rebellion sweeps the land? Or can she claim her brother’s greatness – and rise as high as she can dream?

The Sin Eater

by Megan Campisi

Book cover for The Sin Eater

Set in a thinly disguised sixteenth-century England, Megan Campisi’s debut novel is a wonderfully woven tale of treason and treachery, women and power. When fourteen-year-old May is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread she is sentenced to become a Sin Eater, a devastating sentence that will see her shunned by society and exiled to the edge of town. 

For a Sin Eater hears the confessions of the dying and eats their sins as a funeral rite, and is believed to be stained by these sins. When May is called to hear the deathbed confessions of two of the Queen’s courtiers, she hears whispers of a terrible rumour that her newfound invisibility allows her to investigate.

Read Megan Campisi on the truth behind her novel The Sin Eater.

The Office of Historical Corrections

by Danielle Evans

Book cover for The Office of Historical Corrections

Widely acclaimed for her blisteringly smart voice and X-ray insights into complex human relationships, Danielle Evans isolates particular moments and interactions in the lives of her characters in a way that allows them to speak to larger issues of race, culture and identity. 

In The Office of Historical Corrections, Black and multi-racial characters experience the universal perils of lust, love and grief – all while Danielle explores the way in which history haunts us, personally and collectively, provoking analysis of the real truths of American history. 

A short story collection guaranteed to stimulate debate for any book club, discover the extraordinary ways Danielle Evans provides vital observations on modern life that dissect twisted attitudes about race, culture, history and truth.