Jenna Bush Hager has been recommending great reads since 2019. The Read With Jenna book list is chock full of a diverse reads…and I mean that in the broadest sense. This Today Show book club list has books by authors of color with characters of color. There are strong female voices and a range of themes from family drama, mysteries, tragedy, historical perspectives and more.
She started the with Read with Jenna book club over at the Today Show as an expansion of her author interview series. She’s got some cred what with her English Lit major and a librarian for a Mom. Her enthusiasm for books is infectious we love that she’s such a book nerd.
Jenna knows how to recommend books that tap the zeitgeist and her book list is a great resource for book club pics, summer reads and for breaking a reading slump.
But where to start? Don’t worry, we’ll help you with that. We’ve complied a full compendium of the Read with Jenna book list. And we’re also providing the Goodreads ratings to help you find some excellent crowd-sourced reads.
Bookmark this page because we’ll keep adding to the list as long as the Jenna Hager’s list keep growing.
(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)
Top 10 Rated Books on Jenna’s Book Club List
Jenna’s book club picks a new book every month. If scrolling the entire multi-year list seems daunting, then perhaps you can narrow your options by looking and the most well-rated books as a starting point.
These are the top 10 books on the Jenna Bush Hager book club list….ranked by Goodreads ratings. All of them are 4+ star reads and you’ll find quite a mix of topic and genre on the list…so you are sure to find something you’ll like.
|4.45||Remarkably Bright Creatures|
|4.44||The Girl With the Louding Voice|
|4.30||The Four Winds|
|4.26||The Lincoln Highway|
|4.26||A Woman is No Man|
|4.24||These Impossible Things|
|4.15||Chain Gang All-Stars|
2023 Read with Jenna Book List
Amazing Grace Adams, Fran Littlewood
- Recommended: September ’23
- Ratings: 3.6
Grace used to be amazing…”polyglot of the year”…and everything. Now, she’s on the backside of 40, sporting a fresh set of divorce papers and stung by a teenage daughter who won’t speak to her. Well, today is the day that she puts a stop to the unraveling of her life. Grace abandons her car in traffic and starts marching toward putting her life back together again.
The story is told over the course of one day, with flashbacks that illuminate how Grace got to where she is today.
Summer Sisters, Judy Blume
- Recommended: August ’23
- Ratings: 3.9
Occasionally, Jenna’s book club will do a throwback to a book published in the before-time, and she’s done it again this month. Following on the heels of the Is That You God, It’s Me Margaret movie, Jenna has resurfaces one of Blume’s fun summer beach reads.
This coming of age story begins in the 1970s in Martha’s Vineyard. The story follows two friends, Victoria and Caitlin, over the course of several years. It’s full of flings, fraught friendship dynamics, humor and some bittersweet heartache.
Banyan Moon, Thao Thai
- Recommended: July ’23
- Ratings: 4.0
This sweeping family drama follows a fraught mother/daughter dynamic playing out against the backdrop of a crumbling gothic pile of a house, the death of the family matriarch and some dark family secrets.
As Ann and her mother Huong grieve the passing of Minh, they also have to examine their estrangement, find a way to move on from their (difficult) past relationship, to move forward in their individual lives
All three characters narrate their own backstory, which includes Minh’s migration from Vietnam and Huang’s upbringing.
The book is emotional, poignant and is great for fans of Pachinko.
The Celebrants, Steven Rowley
- Recommended: June ’23
- Ratings: 3.71
This book is billed as a modern retelling of “The Bill Chill”. It’s been 28 years since these friends have graduated college and they’re are due for their semi-regular retreat to Big Sur, where they re-commit to one another, help each other through life’s pains and also remember their friend who died too young.
This year, one of the friends is bringing a sobering diagnosis, which forces the group to face their own mortality and the fragility of their connections. This sharp-witted book is suffused with joy, compassion and sadness.
Chain Gang All-Stars, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
- Recommended: May ’23
- Ratings: 4.14
Adjei-Brenyah’s world imagines a future American prison system with a strong profit motive. The prisons have the Criminal Action Penal Entertainment (or CAPE) system which puts on gladiatorial fights to the death…for entertainment. Prisonors participating in (and surviving ) these gruesome contests can earn an commuted sentance.
Reviews are likening the book to the Hunger Games meets Russell Crowe’s Gladiator meets any movie by Jason Statham meets Squid Games. The book has strong world-building and razer sharp social commentary. But it’s also leavened with love, remorse, atonement, and hope from the various characters.
Read it for book club and use our Chain Gang All-Stars reading guide.
Camp Zero, Michelle Min Sterling
- Recommended: April ’23
- Ratings: 3.22
The world in this dystopic novel looks much like our own. Our own that is if we don’t take climate change more seriously. In far northern Canada, Americans have created a small camp to try and stake out a space for their citizens as the world warms. In the first of three narrative threads, Rose is seeking a place for her grandmother (and she’s also agreed to spy upon what the architect is up to in Camp Zero). Grant, a professor, is fleeing some dark family doings. And the women of White Alice are working a climate station.
The book marries the three threads together with book’s themes of societal disarray, desperation and the ever widen gap between the haves and have nots.
And if you like climate fiction, check out our whole list of Cli-Fi books.
Black Candle Women, Diane Marie
- Recommended: March ’23
- Ratings: 3.39
Four generations of Montrose women are living together under one roof, with their tinctures and their magic. And the youngest, Nickie, has just brought a boy home for the first time. But here’s the hitch– there’s been a lot of lying, sneaking and secrets in this house and one of those secrets is a curse looming over these women guaranteeing that whoever they fall in love with will die.
Author Diane Marie plucks at those secrets threads by toggling between modern day California and a voodoo shop in 1950’s New Orleans.
Maame, Jessica George
- Recommended: February ’23
- Ratings: 4.10
London-based Maddie’s overbearing mother spends huge chunks of time in her native Ghana, leaving Maddie to care for her very ill father. Her brother is MIA and her father’s Parkinson’s care requires a lot of emotional and financial resources, which Maddie handles from the insecure position of a cruddy admin job.
And yet despite these responsibilities, Maddie is naïve and inexperienced when is comes to being a young professional woman in the city. When her mom returns from Ghana, Maddie takes the opportunity to move-out, get a better job and start experiencing new friendships, romances and adulting.
Then a tragic event shakes her up and once again she needs to rethink things. This book offers a touching look at grief, dysfunctional family relationships, being the only Black face at work, and the hard work of finding happiness.
Here’s our Maame book club discussion guide.
Sam, Alegra Goodman
- Recommended: January ’23
- Ratings: 3.78
This bildungsroman asks the question “What happens to a child’s sense of joy and belonging–her belief in herself–as she grows up?”
The book follows the titular Sam as she grows up from the ages of 7-19. Her dad is more absent than present and her mom is struggling to to keep the household together. Sam develops a passion for climbing, but she’s also torn between what she wants and meeting the expectations that others have for her. This is a character-driven coming of age story which explores themes of acceptance and discovering your path.
2022 Read with Jenna Book List
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
- Recommended: December ’22
- Ratings: 4.17
Jenna tossed us a throwback to the early ’90’s with this classic book by Tartt. It’s a dark academia story that follows six students at Hampden College in Vermont. They come under the thrall of Professor Morrow, who teaches the Greek Classics. As they get further steeped into the classics, they attempt to commune with Dionysus by performing a Bacchanal. Things go terribly wrong and a death occurs.
The book is stuffed with secrets, race/class/culture dynamics, lies, blackmail, longing and jealousy.
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”
The Cloisters, Katy Hayes
- Recommended: November ’22
- Ratings: 3.53
Dusty old museum (check). Renaissance occult obsessions (check). Darkly gothic academia (check, check, check).
When Ann is offered the opportunity to work the summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she’s thrilled. But then she gets assigned to the dark corners of The Cloisters, which is a museum deep in the Bronx housing a medieval art collection and some arcane research on divination. Ann begins working with one of the researchers to put together an exhibit on divination and they uncover a mysterious deck of Tarot cards. Mystery and mayhem ensue.
A slow burn thriller ensues features a dangerous game of power, seduction, lies and ambition.
The Whalebone Theatre, Joanna Quinn
- Recommended: October ’22
- Ratings: 4.09
When a whale washes up on the shores of Dorset, England, Cristabel makes the most of it by turning the skeleton into a magical theatre. Her landowning family is partial to collecting bohemian hangers-on. And this motley crew of eccentrics help to shape Cristabel into a headstrong, independent young woman. When WWII breaks out, Cristabel and her siblings get drawn in in different ways and she finds herself doing clandestine work.
The book strikes a chord with vivid characters, a caring sibling story and coming of age at a difficult time.
Solito, Javier Zamora
- Recommended: September ’22
- Ratings: 4.51
Javier Zamora was nine when he made the long journey as an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador to join his parents in America. The trip that was supposed to take two weeks, ended up taking two months. Along the way, Zamora tried hard to be brave but he was forced to persevere way beyond his years.
“This is an unforgettable story of faith, love and perseverance that should be read by young adults as well as adults. It places the immigrant experience on a moving personal level filled with hope, cruelty and miracles.”
Read it for book club and use our Solito discussion guide.
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy, Jamie Ford
- Recommended: August ’22
- Ratings: 3.90
Dorothy Moy is our main character, but the story really goes back in time to tell the story of seven women in her lineage. They are all related by trauma, which keeps resurfacing, generation after generation. Each of them feels emotions from a past that they never experienced, and in Dorothy’s case, it manifests as depression.
She’s determined not to let the same happen to her daughter and so she seeks a radical treatment. She’s trying to proactively break the cycle, with the hope that ‘by no longer identifying as victims of the past, we are empowered to change the future.’
The timespan of the book ranges from 1836 to 2086 and it’s an interesting mix of both historical fiction and speculative fiction.
Read it for book club and use our Many Daughters of Afong Moy discussion guide.
The Measure, Nikki Erlick
- Recommended: July ’22
- Ratings: 4.08
If you received a mysterious box and the contents could tell you how long you had to live, would you open it? And if so, how would you respond to the knowing?
Erlick’s book tackles these questions when everyone over 22 receives such a box on their doorstep. The book follows eight main characters as their lives are changed by the knowledge. Reactions range from defiance to resignation with societal conflicts arising between the short-timers versus those long-timers.
This book would make a particularly good book club read– lots to talk about here– which you can do using our book club questions for The Measure.
These Impossible Things, Salma El-Wardany
- Recommended: June ’22
- Ratings: 4.23
This is a coming of age story following the lives of three Muslim women, Malak, Kees, and Jenna, as they navigate their way through adulthood, romantic entanglements and familial obligations while staying true to their deeply held faith. They are challenged with how to start adulting and craft their own lives, in the context of strong culture and societal norms.
And the difficult choices that they make, stress the bonds of both family and friendship.
Remarkably Bright Creatures, Shelby Van Pelt
- Recommended: May ’22
- Ratings: 4.45
Seventy-year-old Tova Sullivan works the nightshift as a cleaner at Sowell Bay Aquarium. She was recently widowed and also still mourns the loss of her son, who disappeared in the Puget Sound. Tova doesn’t really need to work, but she like to keep busy and she prefers to share her time with those who don’t ask a lot of questions.
Enter Marcellus. He’s a giant octopus who was rescued by the aquarium. However, he believes himself to be a captive. He fancies himself a pretty bright octopus and he keeps stretching the bounds of his tank by occasionally escaping…and Tova keeps finding him. Over time, the two develop a very special bond.
“This book warmed my heart! It was charming, wholesome, and thoughtful. This book explores themes of grief, healing, aging, loneliness, and friendship.”
Read it for book club and use our Remarkably Bright Creatures discussion questions.
Memphis, Tara M. Stringfellow
- Recommended: April ’22
- Ratings: 4.15
This moving debut charts the lives of three generations of black women. As it unfolds over 70 years, we see the sorrows, tragedy, poverty, violence, sacrifice, and heartbreak of these women, and also the repercussions for the generations that follow.
As the book opens, Miriam and her two children escape domestic violence and flee to her family’s ancestral home in Memphis.
“There is a mesmerizing quiet beauty in this story, while also sharing a darkness that permeates the lives of these characters.”
Groundskeeping, Lee Cole
- Recommended: March ’22
- Ratings: 3.59
Groundskeeping is good for Sally Roony fans. It features the story of two people from very different backgrounds and social classes who meet in a small Kentucky town. Owen is a student and groundskeeper at a small liberal arts college and Alma is a visiting writer on a fellowship. Owen and Alma fall in love easily but keep their relationship on the QT as they try to navigate their differences.
“Well written, this is an engrossing story, with good insight into the the different Americas that have been ripped apart by the politics of our times.”
Black Cake, Charmaine Wilkerson
- Recommended: February ’22
- Ratings: 4.14
Siblings Byron and Benny try to set aside their differences as they try to understand the mother who recently died. She leaves behind a traditional Caribbean black cake and an 8 hour recording that reveals some startling family secrets.
The story is about loss, about the decisions we make that we can never take back, and the sacrifices we’re forced to make. Some of the book’s themes include: fraught family dynamics, resentments and regrets, the cultural diaspora, regrets, race and identity and climate change.
Read it for book club and use our Black Cake discussion guide.
The School for Good Mothers, Jessamine Chan
- Recommended: January ’22
- Ratings: 3.56
In this chilling dystopia, a parent’s worst nightmare comes true when their children are taken to reform schools when the overreaching government has scrutinized their parenting skills…and found them wanting. Everything is at stake and the pressure to be perfect is extremely high.
Frida is struggling to be a good mother, and she gets caught out on a bad day. Now she needs to do everything she can to keep her daughter.
2021 Read with Jenna Book List
Bright Burning Things, Lisa Harding
- Recommended: December ’21
- Ratings: 3.35
Sonya Moriarty was once a successful Irish actress but her life has now spiraling out of control into alcoholism. She’s got a four year old son to take care of, but the family dog seems to be doing more for him than Sonya is. Follow Sonya and her son during a few earth-shattering months as Sonya is forced to confront her drinking problem and make it right.
The Family, Naomi Krupitsky
- Recommended: November ’21
- Ratings: 3.63
Sofia Colicchio and Antonia Russo are best friends who were raised together in 20th century Brooklyn. Both of their families belong to The Mob, and things get difficult when Antonia’s father tries to find another life for his family…and then disappears.
Strong Elena Ferrante vibes featuring a life-long friendship between two very different women.
The Lincoln Highway, Amor Towles
- Recommended: October ’21
- Ratings: 4.26
Much like the titular Interstate, The Lincoln Highway spans the country, connecting the stories of five young characters in Midcentury America, and presenting a slice of a time that was in no way simple.
This book is not a quaint portrait of a romantic era. Rather, The Lincoln Highway is a layered journey about the burdens of expectations, the grief of lost dreams, and the meaning of home.
Reading groups will appreciate discussing the books themes of ambition, privilege, metamorphosis and mental health.
Read it for your own book club and use our reading guide for the Lincoln Highway to drive the conversation.
Beautiful Country, Qian Julie Wang
- Recommended: September ’21
- Ratings: 4.19
Qian Julie Wang has written an eye-opening debut memoir told through the lens of her youth. The book is an incredible and often heartbreaking view of her life growing up as an undocumented immigrant in New York City. Her well-educated parents have to take menial jobs, just to survive. Qian teaches herself English through a combination of PBS programming and library books.
This book is heartbreaking, heavy and an unflinching look at immigration.
The audiobook get good marks for performance. And if you like audio memoirs, we have a list of great one that are read by the author.
The Turnout, Megan Abbott
- Recommended: August ’21
- Ratings: 3.14
Sisters Dara and Marie, and Dara’s husband Charlie all grew up dancing in the Durant School of Dance. It was run by Dara and Marie’s Mom, and it took up the top two floors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. The place became theirs after car accident took their parents’ lives.
A fire at the studio sets in motion a series of events that upset the balance, bringing their fragility, secrets and obsessions to light. It’s a “slow-burning sinister; a gothic suburban drama…featuring insular and codependent characters drifting between a crumbling house.”
Hell of a Book, Jason Mott
- Recommended: July ’21
- Ratings: 4.07
The protagonist is on a successful tour to promote his book: “Hell of a Book”. He has an unnamed condition that makes it difficult for him to understand what is real and what is a figment of his imagination. Something happened in his past which brought on this condition and its effect is to bring out his creativity while allowing for an “alternative” universe to occur. And because of this, the author experiences some pretty madcap moments.
There is also a historic back-story of an African-American boy named “Soot”, who is schooled by his parents to be as invisible as possible in order to avoid conflict in his racist town.
The book is a “moving meditation on being Black in America”, told by a masterfully unreliable narrator.
We’ve also feature this novel on our list of 20 books that feature books as a key driver of the narrative.
Malibu Rising, Taylor Jenkins Reid
- Recommended: June ’21
- Ratings: 4.09
The book follows the Riva siblings over the course of 24 hours, as they prepare to attend their famous sister Nina’s house party. These flawed characters come to the party packing a combustible brew of secrets, toxic relationships, betrayals and emotional family dysfunction.
By the end of the party, it all spills over and the house party (literally) ends up in flames.
Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead
- Recommended: May ’21
- Ratings: 4.14
The book has a dual timeline saga featuring two women: one is a pioneering aviatrix of the early 20th century; the other is a present day actress portraying the pilot in a biopic.
Marian Graves (the aviatrix) was orphaned as a child and raised by her uncle in Montana. She became a barnstorming pioneer before disappearing on a circumnavigation of the globe in 1950’s. Hadley (the actress) is caught in the confining prison of Hollywood typecasting and is hoping to use this role to break out of it.
Good Company, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
- Recommended: April ’21
- Ratings: 3.39
Flora thinks she’s lucky. She’s watched other marriages disintegrate but her marriage to Julian is strong and stable…or so she thinks. When she finds the wedding ring that he claims to have lost years ago, it makes her question what’s really going on.
The books covers Flora and Julian’s early marriage, their friendship with successful Margot, their ups, their downs and the inevitable messes that occur when a marriage lasts as long as theirs.
What’s Mine and Yours, Naima Coster
- Recommended: March ’21
- Ratings: 3.58
Race, addiction, social class, and relationships are just some of the subjects the author tackles in this book. It follows Gee (whose Black) and Noelle (whose half-Latina but whose mom thinks of her only as White) as they collide in an integrated school. Their Moms have fierce devotion for their kids, with some with antagonistic results that play out over 20 years.
Send for Me, Lauren Fox
- Recommended: February ’21
- Ratings: 3.46
When Clare stumbles upon a trove of her grandmother’s letters from Germany, she learns about the great sadness and sacrifice her grandmother took when immigrating to Wisconsin on the eve of WWII.
Annelise didn’t want to leave Germany, nor did she want to leave her mother and father behind. But the increasing pressures against Jews in the run-up to WWII forced the closure of the family bakery and she had little choice.
This is a moving, character driven story of family bonds, regret and difficult choices.
The Four Winds, Kristin Hannah
- Recommended: February ’21
- Ratings: 4.30
It’s the depression and the dust bowl drought has ravaged Elsa’s farm. The crops and farm animals are dying and then her son takes ill. Elsa has to decide whether to stick it out, or like so many others, take a perilous journey and migrate to California.
This book is not an easy journey for readers and the themes of tough times, tough women and survival will make for great conversation fodder for any book club.
Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour
- Recommended: January ’21
- Ratings: 3.76
This absurd satire pokes hard at the tenacious racism that persists in corporate America. “Buck” joins the sales team at New York’s hottest start-up and quickly finds himself their face of diversity (simply because he’s the only Black hire). He adapts to the high octane culture, becoming an aggressive, money-minded salesperson. But a tragedy at home forces him to rethink his priorities.
2020 Jenna Book Picks
The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
- Recommended: December ’20
- Ratings: 4.09
White Ivy, Susie Yang
- Recommended: November ’20
- Ratings: 3.58
Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam
- Recommended: October ’20
- Ratings: 3.22
Transcendent Kingdom, Ya Gyasi
- Recommended September ’20
- Ratings: 4.13
The Comeback, Ella Berman
- Recommended: August ’20
- Ratings: 3.76
Friends and Strangers, J. Courtney Sullivan
- Recommended: July ’20
- Ratings: 3.67
A Burning, Megha Majumdar
- Recommended: June ’20
- Ratings: 3.74
All Adults Here, Emma Straub
- Recommended: May ’20
- Ratings: 3.60
Valentine, Elizabeth Wetmore
- Recommended: April ’20
- Ratings: 3.79
Writers & Lovers, Lily King
- Recommended: March ’20
- Ratings: 4.06
The Girl with the Louding Voice, Abi Daré
- Recommended: February ’20
- Ratings: 4.44
Dear Edward, Ann Napolitano
- Recommended: January ’20
- Ratings: 4.09
Jenna’s Book Club List: 2019
Here’s an archive of the older Jenna’s Book Club picks.
Late Migrations, Margret Renkl
- Recommended: December ’19
- Ratings: 4.30
The Dearly Beloved, Cara Wall
- Recommended: September ’19
- Ratings: 4.08
Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn
- Recommended: August ’19
- Ratings: 3.91
Evvie Drake Stars Over, Linda Holmes
- Recommended: July ’19
- Ratings: 3.84
Searching for Sylvie Lee, Jean Kwok
- Recommended: June ’19
- Ratings: 3.66
The Unwinding of a Miracle, Julie Yip-Williams
- Recommended: April ’19
- Ratings: 4.09
The Last Romantics, Tara Conklin
- Recommended: March ’19
- Ratings: 3.73
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