Every year I collect the recommendations that local readers send in during the year and dedicate a column to "cleaning out the mail bag." I've divided the recommendations into fiction and non-fiction categories to help you find a book in your favorite genre.
One of the books most often mentioned this year was "The Help," by Katherine Stockett. The story takes place in the early 1960's in Jackson, Mississippi. Three ordinary women, one white and two black, come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk.
Diane Briggs recommends "Time is a River," by Mary Alice Monroe. Mia Landan, a breast cancer survivor, returns to Charleston, N.C., after a fly-fishing trip and finds her husband in bed with another woman. She retreats to the mountain cabin of a friend and finds the diary of a controversial woman ahead of her time who lived in the cabin and also fly-fished.
Reta Washam notes that writers will like "Breakable You," by Brian Morton. Adam Weller, an aging reprobate who has left his wife for his ambitious young mistress, sees a chance to revive his literary career when an old friend dies and leaves behind an unpublished manuscript, which Adam decides to publish under his own name.
Another favorite of Reta's was Richard Russo's sixth novel, "The Bridge of Sighs," which continues his theme of examining life in American small towns by following three families and the intersection of their lives over 50 years.
Trudi Shannon comments that if you liked "Seabiscuit," you will probably enjoy "Horse Heaven," by Jane Smiley. Smiley chronicles two years in the lives of horses and horse people.
My husband, Bill, and I were pleased to find a new book by one of our favorite Southern authors, Tim Gautreaux, this year. "The Missing" tells a tale of life on a Mississippi steamboat in the 1920s as Sam Simoneaux searches for a missing girl who was kidnapped under his watch.
Dr. Bob Schaeffer recommends "Red Sky at Morning," by Richard Bradford, as an excellent coming of age story set during World War II. Josh Arnold and his mother are forced to move to a small town in New Mexico when his father enlists.
If you haven't read Ken Follett's "Pillars of the Earth" and the sequel "World Without End," Terri Trick recommends them. Both books are long, historical thrillers that chronicle the lives of a cathedral building family in 12th Century England and their descendents 200 years later.
Terri also recommends "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society," by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows, an historical fiction novel set in England and the Guernsey Islands just after World War II.
Barbara Colburn recommends "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga. Set in India, Balram, a chauffeur, murders his employer, justifying his crime as the act of a "social entrepreneur."
Kristen Harvey liked "Cutting for Stone," by Abraham Verghese. Marion and his twin brother, Shiva, were born from a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Addis Ababa in 1954. Fifty years later, Marion sets out to piece together his past.
Keith Eckblaw writes that he has been fascinated by the recent financial crisis and read two books that explain what has happened. CNBC correspondent David Faber's "And Then the Roof Caved In" is a very readable account of the situation. David Wessel's "In Fed We Trust" shows how the Federal Reserve has evolved into a fourth branch of our government.
Sue Osterman comments that besides "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortensen, there are some other great books about Afghanistan. One is "The Places in Between" by Rory Stewart which recounts his journey on foot across northern Afghanistan in 2002 just after the Taliban had fallen. Another favorite is "Under a Sickle Moon: A Journey Through Afghanistan" by Peregrine Hodson, a Brit who was there during the Afghan war with Russia.
"River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze" by Peter Hessler, chronicles his teaching experience as a Peace Corps volunteer. Sue Osterman reports that both she and husband, Norm, learned so much about "ordinary" Chinese people from this extremely well-written book.
Next month: More recommendations from local readers.