I belong to a book club that is comprised of neighborhood ladies who attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Occasionally, someone not religious or of another faith will join us. Regardless, we all have a strong desire to enjoy clean books every month. None of us likes to be surprised with strong language, sexually explicit scenes, or things that make us cringe. That said, we’re not taking time each month to read boring fluff. Reading is our personal escape to challenge our minds and go places. We want books with good plots, strong characters, and realistic experiences.
Book Clubs, rev your engines. And don’t worry about nasty surprises in the great reads suggested here.
Below is a list I compiled with help from friends. I share a brief synopsis of the books I have read personally. The rest come highly recommended and include links for easy reference and/or ordering.
God’s Smuggler, by Brother Andrew. Nonfiction account of Brother Andrew as a missionary, sneaking Bibles to countries behind the Iron Curtain after WWII. Read of the many miracles he experienced as he totally turned His life and mission over to Jesus Christ.
The Shoemaker’s Wife, by Adriana Trigiani. Step into historic Italy with this compelling story of two brothers whose mother becomes ill from depression and leaves them under the care of nuns. They live in a monastery until life takes them on different paths. One brother, with his handsome Italian features, does have several relationships with women, but details aren’t shared. He finally settles down with his true love–after his life and hers take many different paths. Women characters are strong in this book, which our book club always applauds. 🙂
These Is My Words, by Nancy Turner. This is always a book club favorite and has been suggested or read in every group I’ve attended. The main character, Sarah Agnes Prine, is a tough frontier woman. Self-educated, she learns to read and eagerly explore the world around her, despite the many challenges she faces in a hard life. There are some tough scenes in this book: loss of love, abuse, death. But the language is clean and overall the book is one you can’t put down.
Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by Fannie Flagg. One minute Elner Shimfissle is alive and well, picking figs from her tree; the next minute she’s . . . well, in heaven. But her version of heaven is humorous–and a little off-beat. Enjoy this book from the first page to the last. Every story has to have conflict, so just know there’s an attempted rape and killing for self-defense, though no details are shared. Just enough is shared to give the idea and lend suspense to the overall story. Elner will make you want to live life to the fullest. Every bug, every spec of nature is a delight. Enjoy this read.
The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. You have most likely read this book, but just in case you haven’t, it’s on our list. Set in South Carolina, young Lily Owens needs closure for her mother’s death. Her life journey takes a sudden turn when she frees her “stand-in” black mother, Rosaleen, from local racists and escapes with her to Tiburon to live with Rosaleen’s sisters. This small town holds the secret to Lily’s mother’s past–and a secret life of bees unfolds. This book goes deep. Suicide happens. The struggles of life are real. But this book won’t leave you shocked because you accidentally read something that goes against your reading standards.
Bomb, by Steve Sheinkin. My son’s eighth grade English class just read this, and I had read it before him in book club. We had some great discussions, and he also interviewed his grandfather, who remembered a great deal about the making of the first atomic bomb. With this read, you’ll learn the history of the era and race to make and steal the weapon that changed the modern world.
The Orphan Keeper, by Camron Wright. Based on the true story of Taj Rowland, this book will introduce the world of India as you’ve never read it before. Raised in a loving family, young Chellamuthu is suddenly kidnapped at age 7 and sent to live in a Christian orphanage, from which he is later adopted by parents in the US. Over the years, he struggles to adapt to American life, even changing his name to Taj, something people can pronounce. Though his past is buried deep in his mind, glimpses come back. Eventually, he falls in love with a young woman from India. Learn how he discovers bits and pieces of his past–and eventually returns to India, seeking his family.
The Rent Collector, by Camron Wright. Daily survival in one of Cambodia’s largest waste dumps is no life for anyone. But it is reality for Ki Lim and Sang Ly–and thousands of others who sort through the scraps to piece together earnings for a meager existence. No matter how hard they work, it’s never enough. And then The Rent Collector takes a huge chunk every month. Crusty, loud, rude–and often very drunk, she is the area’s tyrant who comes, again and again to collect her share. Yet Sang Ly is courteous and respectful, and an unusual teacher-student relationship forms when Sang realizes her ill-tempered rent collector can read. Not only can she read, but she has a story, a past life. Life in the dump shows that many things deserve a second chance to be repurposed–including an illiterate peasant and a seemingly stubborn, heartless woman.
The Fixer, by Jennifer Barnes. This is YA fiction, but don’t discount it. I stayed up until 3 am reading it. Some of the main characters are teens; some are the parents. You’ll discover surprising twists as young Tess Kendrick finds out that her big sister, Ivy, is a notorious “fixer” in Washington, D.C., someone who fixes “problems” for people of political affluence. There’s suspense as you learn about each character and how Tess inadvertently follows in her sister’s footsteps to solve a high-profile problem at the White House.
Life of Pi, by Yann Martel. I didn’t like this one for many chapters. But the ladies in my book club a few years ago insisted I ignore my “two-chapter rule” and keep going. The son of a zookeeper, young Pi becomes stranded on a boat at sea with a few surviving, wild creatures from his father’s one-time zoo collection. A story of survival, the book wraps up with two surprise endings. I know which one I believe. Read it and see which one you believe.
The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. This is a memoir, based on the author’s experience growing up with two parents who can’t ever get their acts together. They move from place to place, always on the run, eventually becoming homeless. Jeannette grows up to be a successful reporter, living in New York on the upper east side. Occasionally, she sees her mother on the streets and learns that there’s actually a substantial inheritance that would have kept them financially comfortable all those years on the run. In this book, truth is stranger than fiction.
The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. 1962 Jackson, Mississippi. Aibileen, a black maid. White folks. This isn’t just any story about whites and blacks in the south, though. It’s told with a twist, a white lady who doesn’t fit in with society either. Educated and accomplished, Skeeter is a single woman in a time when that was taboo. Aibileen’s and Skeeter’s lives intertwine as this story unravels.
I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzi. A memoir by the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, this book provides so much material for a great discussion. Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban.
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. One of my very favorites, this book is set in 1939 Nazi, Germany. Young Liesel Meminger manages to scratch out a meager living, with her foster parents. Despite tough times, her foster-father helps her learn to read. You’ll be amazed at his creative teaching techniques and her tenacity to learn. Together, they endure bombing raids and care for a Jewish man hidden in their basement.
The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. I read this book many years ago. What most stands out in my mind is it’s poignant example of zealous religion gone bad. An evangelical minister takes his wife and children to the Congo to “save” the residents. No one wants to listen to him, but he persists. Finally, their life is so in danger that the family leaves, minus Dad. I remember the story is told from the children’s point of view. It’s interesting to watch how innocence turns into questions and eventually realism.
The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. I read this fabulous classic in high school with one of my all-time favorite teachers, Mrs. Stewart. A group of us even watched the movie with her at her house! Years later now, I’ve seen the play several times. It’s always a favorite. If you have never read this fictional account of the French Revolution, stop what you’re doing and pick up a copy. It’s a timeless novel set in 1792. Learn about the reign of terror during that time, when the aristocracy were guillotined routinely. The secret Scarlet Pimpernel comes to the rescue of innocent victims. Enjoy the story, while at the same time learning about an important time in history.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca SKloot. Who? Who is Henrietta Lacks? You may not know her name, but her cells live on. Taken without her knowledge and permission, a small sampling of her cells became key to medical discoveries and gene mapping, developing the polio vaccine, and more. Learn how a poor black woman, virtually unknown to anyone but her family, was the source for cells that have earned the medical industry billions of dollars, yet many of her living descendants can’t afford insurance. This true story helped me to think about bio-ethics in a way I had never considered before.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I’ve read this book at least twice, watched the movie with Gregory Peck, and attended a theatrical performance–and I love the story every time! This Pulitzer Prize winner is a story of race and injustice. But it’s not just any story. You’ll fall in love with Miss Jeanne Louise, better known as Scout, as her father-attorney Atticus courageously tries to defend a black man, whose complete innocence will never be recognized as not guilty. By the way, don’t bother reading Go Set a Watchman, published in 2015 but written before To Kill a Mockingbird. It ruins the story of the first, beloved classic.
Big in Japan, by Jennifer (Stewart) Griffith. Yes, her mom was the favorite English teacher who introduced me to Scarlet Pimpernel. I’m also friends with Jennifer; we were college buddies at Utah State University. But that’s not the sole reason I recommend her book. Having lived in Japan for a time, Jennifer tells this story with heart. Buck, a big, beefy Texan whose life in the U. S. is ho-hum, travels to Japan for a vacation. All of a sudden his 300-pound stature is esteemed, and his life is changed forever. Learn all about sumo wrestling and the Japanese culture as this beefy blonde suddenly becomes skilled, famous–a HUGE somebody in Tokyo.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. When someone asks me to share my all-time favorite book, this is the one I go to. I love stories where girls teach themselves to read and love literature. Young Francie Nolan, a second-generation, impoverished Irish-American, has guts. She does what it takes to survive and thrive. Much like the tiny sapling outside her apartment window that struggles to push up through cracks in the concrete, Francie makes a good life for herself, despite all odds.
Books I Haven’t Read But That Are Highly Recommended:
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller
Al Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko
Austenland and Midnight in Austenland, by Shannon Hale
Behind Closed Doors, by B. A. Paris
Children of the Promise series, by Dean Hughes
Edenbrooke, by Julianne Donaldson
Entwined, by Heather Dixon
Fablehaven series, by Brandon Mull
Five Kingdoms series, by Brandon Mull
For Darkness Shows the Stars, by Diana Peterfreund
Jane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Patillo
Heaven Is Here, by Stephanie Nielson
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
Inside Out And Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
Letters in the Jade Dragon Box, by Gale Sears
Letters to the Lost, by Iona Grey
Little Princes, by Conor Grennan
Roots, by Alex Haley
Sarah’s Key, by Tatian de Rosny
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman
The Lightning Thief series, by Rick Riordan
The Lord of the Rings series, by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Lymond Chronicles series, by Dorothy Dunnett
The Mermaid’s Sister, by Carrie Anne Noble
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
The Passion of Dolssa, by Julie Berry
The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton
True Sisters, by Sandra Dallas
Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, by Beth Hoffman
Unbroken, by Lauren Hillenbrand
Whistling Past the Graveyard, by Susan Crandall
Without You There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of the North Korean Elite, by Suki Kim
Some Profanity But Still Favorites:
A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. This book grew on me. In the end, I liked Ove, even though he’s the kind of curmudgeon living next door who would drive you nuts. I like how his character has multiple layers, each revealed a little at a time. I also like how his neighbors step in and literally save him from his multiple suicide attempts. We all need each other. This book proves it.
Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. Be forewarned that this book drops the f-bomb half a dozen times. I still read it though. I wanted to know what it’s like for someone with a brilliant mind to know what they undergo with the growing challenges of Alzheimers. I picked up this book when my mother-in-law first received the diagnosis. Reading it helped me to understand a little of what she might be going through and would go through.
Have a book you want to read but aren’t sure if it’s clean? Read my related post about how to find clean books to read. You’ll learn some great tips for checking out a book before you buy it. .