1. To kill a mockingbird, Harper Lee
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel—a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. (amazon)
2. The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz
Living with an old-world mother and rebellious sister, an urban New Jersey misfit dreams of becoming the next J. R. R. Tolkien and believes that a long-standing family curse is thwarting his efforts to find love and happiness.
3. The girl who played with fire, Stieg Larsson
Two reporters responsible for a sex-trafficking exposé are murdered, and the fingerprints on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander, prompting the magazine's publisher, Mikael Blomkvist, to launch his own investigation to vindicate Salander.
4. Prodigal summer, Barbara Kingsolver
Prodigal Summer weaves together three stories of human love within a larger tapestry of lives inhabiting the forested mountains and struggling small farms of southern Appalachia. (amazon)
5. State of wonder, Ann Patchett
Researcher Marina Singh is sent by her boss at Vogel, a drug manufacturer, to the jungles of Brazil following the death of a co-worker. It is there that the company is looking into a miracle drug based on a tree bark used by a native tribe. Upon her arrival, Marina must find out the circumstances of her colleague's death, as well as find out why work has slowed to a crawl on the drug. That means dealing with Annick Swenson, a determined researcher who Marina has a complicated relationship with.
6. The secret life of bees, Sue Monk Kidd
When Lily's fierce-hearted black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the town's most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. (amazon)
7. The Girl who kicked the hornet's nest, Stieg Larsson
While recovering in the hospital, Lisbeth Salander enlists the aid of journalist Mikael Blomkvist to prove her innocent of three murders and identify the corrupt politicians who have allowed her to suffer.
8. Bad luck and trouble, Lee Child
From a helicopter high above the empty California desert, a man is sent free-falling into the night…. In Chicago, a woman learns that an elite team of ex–army investigators is being hunted down one by one.... And on the streets of Portland, Jack Reacher—soldier, cop, hero—is pulled out of his wandering life by a code that few other people could understand.
9. Lost memory of skin, Russell Banks
In a modern day version of limbo, the young man at the center of this morally complex new novel must create a life for himself in the wake of incarceration.
10. The maze, Catherine Coulter
Full of karate, pistol-whipping, and other malevolent mayhem, Catherine Coulter's The Maze could be described as a junior-varsity version of Silence of the Lambs.