Jamie asked: My mother's favorite authors are James Michener, John Jakes, Edward Rutherfourd, Sara Donati and Diana Gabaldon. She loves thick multi-generational books or books that are in a series. She likes historical romance (not Regency period) and detests anything with vampires or werevolves like Anne Rice or the "Twilight" series.
Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano, which follows an Italian-American family's move to New York's Lower East Side, and the unwelcome attention they received from the "Black Hand"--the precursor to the Mob. It's rich with historical detail, and many of the locations in the book can still be visited today.
Finally, there's A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, which follows the lives of four people -- a young widow, a student, and two exiled tailors -- in the 1970s India, all of whom are forced to share one cramped apartment. Between them, they deal not only with their personal losses but also the casual cruelty of corrupt local officials and the turmoil of a society in the middle of a great social upheaval. Though dark at times, it's also an uplifting mediation on how people can endure what seem like unendurable circumstances, and find friendship out of initial distrust. It's beem compared to Dickens and Solzhenitsyn in terms of its tone and its sheer scope -- and it was an Oprah's Book Club pick. What more could you ask for?
Karin K. asked: My brother-in-law passed away very recently, he was 42 and suffered from a rare degenerative autoimmune disease for ten years. He left behind a wife (high school sweetheart) and two daughters, 9 and 11. My sister-in-law is a remarkably strong person who shared the same positive take on humanity as her husband and had countless friends. I have never known my sister-in-law to be without a good book, and she asked me the other night to recommend some good ones to help get her through this. Evidently books on death and the after life are being sent her way. She needs and desires, engrossing, good reads right now. She has always been a fan of psychological thrillers and as Joyce Carol Oates Can you recommend books that will keep her occupied in her down time that are not down and depressing?
From our editor Seira: "The most recent novel that I couldn't stop reading was our April spotlight pick, 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson. If she's never read it, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is also amazing."
For a nonfiction option, maybe she would enjoy the vicarious thrill of accompanying celebrated chef Gabrielle Hamilton on her culinary journey of discovery in Blood, Bones, and Butter -- our Spotlight pick for March. Anthony Bourdain called it "Simply the best memoir by a chef ever. Ever."
The Help by Kathryn Stockett is just out in paperback. It's a great story about two women who decide to compile the stories of black maids that work for white families and the dynamic between them and their employers. Even though it touches on some heavy issues, including the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the book isn't down, depressing, or heavy-handed -- in fact, Kathryn Stockett has a great sense of humor and a sense of sympathy and compassion for each of her characters, even the more unsavory ones. It's a perennial reading group favorite and was a New York Times bestseller.
And finally, even though you wanted to avoid something down, there are two memoirs about losing one's spouse that might help your sister-in-law find her way through her grief. There's Joyce Carol Oates's A Widow's Story, and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. From Mari, about The Year of Magical Thinking: "More than any book I've ever read, it captures the immense strangeness of the grieving a spouse. Didion's memoir is intimate and universal."
Keep those questions for us (and recommendations for your fellow Omni readers) coming!