1."The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.
This story takes place in Mississippi in the early 1960s during the civil rights movement. This isn't a depressing novel about racism, though. The author managed to capture the irony and hypocrisy that defined that era yet still come out with an uplifting story that had me laughing hysterically at times, and in tears at others. One of the best 'first novels' ever written.
2."The Blue Bistro" by Elin Hilderbrand.
This easy-to-red novel takes place on Nantucket Island off Massachusetts. It revolves around the owners, employees and patrons of 'The Blue Bistro', a cozy upscale restaurant that comes to life during the summers. If you love food, sophisticated romance, and would like to know the ins and outs of running a restaurant, this is the book for you!
3."The Postmistress" by Sarah Blake.
Set in the 1940s in the middle of World War II, Blake follows the lives of three women; a postmistress in Franklin, Massachusetts, a young doctor's wife, and a reporter in Europe. The book was beautifully written, but for some reason it was a bit too slow for me. Not one to stop reading in the middle of a book, I finished it after a couple of weeks. It left me feeling heartbroken and empty. Apparently I don't read enough literature with sad endings.
4."The Prince of Mist" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
I can only find one word to describe this book; magical. This novel for young adults was originally written in Spanish in the early 1990s but was only released in English this year. It portrays the adventures of a young boy, Max, who escapes to a seaside retreat with his family during the war. As a sucker for magical realism and a great fan of Zafon's work, I enjoyed this book very much and would recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Philip Pullman and J.K Rowling's work.
5."Island Beneath the Sea" by Isabel Allende.
Set in the Caribbean island of Saint Dominigue (now Haiti) in the late 1700s during the slave uprising, this heart-wrenching masterpiece of a historical novel will entrance you from the very first page. Definitely the best read of 2011.
6."The Bean Tree" by Barbara Kingsolver.
I first discovered Kingsolver's books when I read 'The Poisonwood Bible', her brilliant award-winning novel. This short-read which takes place in Arizona is hilarious and the characters come alive from the very first paragraph.
7."The Trouble with Islam Today: A wakeup call for honesty and change" by Irshad Manji.
This nonfiction book caused uproar in the Muslim world a few years ago when it was first released. After reading it, I honestly don't see what all the fuss was about. Irshad is simply a young woman who grew up in a fundamentalist Pakistani community. She has some very valid points and reserves the right to express her own opinion. Definitely an interesting read.
8."Bridget Jones' Diary" by Helen Fielding.
Ultimate chick literature. I read this on a long haul flight across the Atlantic during the summer. Deeply amusing and perfect for long flights or a day at the beach when you're feeling mindless.
9."The Diviners" by Mararet Laurence.
I first read this novel ten years ago. It follows the life of Canadian feminist writer, Morgan Gunn who lives in a log cabin in Eastern Ontario. We are taken through flashbacks of her childhood, painful marriage to a Native Canadian Indian, and difficult relationship with her teenage daughter. Published in the early 1970s, this book is about a woman's search for meaning and identity. It's the kind of book I like to re-read after a few years because it touched me on a deeper level.
10. "Committed" by Elizabeth Gilbert.
I enjoyed reading Gilbert's bestselling novel 'Eat, Pray, Love' but for some reason I was able to identify more with this sequel. This non-fiction book is basically a skeptic's take on marriage and commitment. Witty, wise and hilarious. It's on my list of books to re-read at some point.
11. "The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill.
This award-winning novel had me in tears from the very first chapter. It follows the story of Aminata Diallo, an eleven-year-old who was taken from her village in West Africa at the peak of the slave trade. When I first picked it up, I wasn't able to put it down for four hours. It's one of those books you should never pick up on a week night because you'll be sleep deprived at work the next day. I lost and regained faith in humanity a hundred times while reading this book. Heartbreaking, uplifting, and eye-opening.