The Help by Katharine Stockett
In the midst of the racial tension of the 1960's, a young journalist in Birmingham, Alabama named Skeeter decides to expose the truth about what goes on behind closed doors between the African American hired help and their employers, the well-off local families. The clandestine interviews in her published book open up a hornet's nest. The stories told by the help reflect the pain of the racial struggles occurring in that time and place, yet their wonderful humor will make you laugh out loud.
The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
Actually one of a series of books about best friends growing up in the 1960's, following their hilarious high jinks and devastating disasters into their elderly years. Every girly girl will recognize their own besties in Teensy, Carol, Necie and Siddalee, the characters that make up this circle of friends, and will identify with the experiences of coming-of-age, through to middle age and beyond. Truly highlights the importance of friendship and staying connected for our happiness and well-being, and to help make sense out of this life.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency By Alexander McCall Smith
Another series of novels, this focusing on the founder of a detective agency in Botswana, Precious Ramotswe. A wonderful array of characters with adorable quirks and simple everyday situations that somehow turn into great adventures are a trademark of McCall Smith's novels (his other series are delightful, as well), as are protagonists who are driven by their sense of morality and ethics in a not-so-moral-and-ethical world. The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency has been produced as a series on HBO and is available on video.
Quentin's and Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
Two novels that you'll hate to finish because they start to feel like home. Quentin's, a popular restaurant in Dublin, is a hub for good food, personal drama and celebration. Both the staff and customers have a story to tell. So does the restaurant itself. The Brennans, who run Quentin's, have their own struggles, too. Quentin's also features in the book and movie, Tara Road, a story about two women, one in America and one in Ireland, who switch homes to get away from their troubles. Reading and watching what goes on in Quentin's is like hunkering down in your own favorite eatery, people-watching, eaves-dropping on the gossip, and catching up with old friends. The late author was a master of creating endearing characters that become old friends (some actually will be, as you may have met them in a previous Binchy book).
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Nursing home resident Mrs. Threadgoode befriends Evelyn, a woman struggling with menopause and a mid-life crisis. She tells Evelyn a story about two women, tomboy Idgie and her friend, Ruth, who ran the Whistle Stop Cafe in 1930's rural Alabama. The story serves up a large helping of laughs, tenderness and even a murder. As Mrs. Threadgoode's story unfolds, its effects on Evelyn's life become profound. I've watched this a hundred times and could watch it a hundred more. Towanda!
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Vianne and her young daughter arrive in a quiet, uptight little French town to open a chocolate shop, and turn the town upside down. Vianne's uncanny ability to read and fulfill her customer's desires with divine chocolate creations lead the residents to succumb to all sorts of temptation. Meanwhile, Vianne succumbs to her own temptation with a gypsy lad (played by Johnny Depp in the film). This story and the movie are truly delicious treats!
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
After watching this movie at the theater, I drove straight to Kmart and bought the book. Liz Gilbert's life came to a crossroads and a screeching halt. She had had everything she wanted. But divorce kicked her in the head, making her question what is truly important in life, and sent her on a journey of self-discovery that went far beyond her comfort zone. She ate her way through Italy, prayed in India, and learned about love in Bali. An enviable quest, and a delightful story!
Anything Can Happen by George Papashvily
Published in the 1940's, this book is such an oldie but goodie that it's out of print. I was fortunate to find it on the family bookshelf, but you can find it at libraries and Amazon. Papashvily was a Georgian immigrant who came to the US only to discover that things weren't quite as he thought they'd be. But he learns that anything can happen, and it does. He meets people who help him assimilate to a foreign culture, and his cheerful optimism buoys him along the way to create a new life for himself. A touching memoir of life as an immigrant, and a very quick and enjoyable read. I haven't seen the movie yet, but it's gotta be as sweet and heartwarming as the book.