Recommended Reads

Nancy Olson, owner of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, recommends these books for gifts or wish lists.

"A Love Affair With Southern Cooking: Recipes and Recollections" (Harper Collins $32.50) by Chapel Hill author Jean Anderson

I've spent hours poring over this fabulous new cookbook. Anderson has captured the essence of Southern cuisine, and I'm a credible judge having been born and raised in Virginia by a great cook (didn't get the gene, though). Last night I made Jean's Hot Skillet Cornbread -- delicious!

"Gentlemen of the Road" (Harper Collins $21.95) by Michael Chabon

Proves that the guy can write anything! This 10th-century swashbuckling adventure story is pure fun.

"Blonde Faith" (Hachette $25.99) by Walter Mosley

Mosley has outdone himself, so well written, so powerful, very affecting. The series began with "Devil in A Blue Dress" and is a window into the black culture of LA's Watts beginning after World War II. Each book chronicles the country's history from the black perspective into the '60s via the life of this smart, tough protagonist.

"Hearts of Horses" (Houghton Mifflin $24) by Molly Gloss

I'm a glutton for horse stories set out west. In this book, set in rural Oregon in 1917, a young girl leaves home to try to earn a living breaking horses. Because so many men are at war, she gets a job, her vfirst, with a kind, practical couple who persuade her to stay the winter with them. The story of her coming of age as a self-sufficient young woman is a good, satisfying read.

"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waq" (Penguin $24.95) by Junot Diaz

A brilliant, funny, tragic, profane first novel. His fiction first appeared in The New Yorker, which named him one of the 20 top writers of the 21st century. Our nerdy, overweight hero is so sympathetic and understandably dysfunctional after reading the story of his relatives' lives during Trujillo's brutal reign in the Dominican Republic before the family's immigration to New Jersey. Certainly a remarkable piece of writing.