I would recommend The Healing, by Jonathan Odell. Why? Beautiful writing, complex characters and a wonderful story. Entertaining and enlightening both. SUE WAY, Minneapolis

Just wanted to recommend the book Duffy: The Tale of a Terrier, by Gary Porter, for your holiday book suggestion. It's a great family read for anyone who's loved and/or lost a pet. Also great for all ages! The author is local, and is such a wonderful man as well, which is an added bonus. ANNE VANDERVEER, Woodbury

I'd like to recommend The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe as a holiday gift book. It is beautifully written, poignant and sad, but not so sad that you don't want your best friend to read it, too. It's the ideal gift for anyone with whom you share a love of books and reading. KALEN R. LANDOW, Denver, Colo.

My top book pick of the year would make a moving and meaningful gift. I am recommending Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo. Nonfiction readers will appreciate her close observations of life in Mumbai dump cities. Fiction readers will appreciate Boo's fine writing and the book's big heart. A fine reminder of our many blessings as we approach a religious season dominated by secular distractions and consumerism.

Laura L. Hansen, Little Falls, Minn.

This year I will be giving Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Not only is it a gorgeous book with great-sounding recipes, I love that it is a collaboration between Jewish and Arab natives of Jerusalem -- perfect example of peace in the holiday season.

LIZ LESNICK, New York City

If I was giving someone an actual book for the holidays (instead of, say, socks or an iPod), I'd assume that they were an avid reader, so I'd recommend Penelope Lively's newer book, How It All Began. I've actually been recommending this all year, but it is truly a book for readers. The jacket copy would have you believe it is a book about chance -- how one event (a robbery and a broken hip) can change so many lives. But the book is really about how we need and use stories, reading and narrative to make sense of our lives -- and its sometimes random, painful, happy chaos. Lively is a good storyteller, too, so she's the perfect person to write about this. She describes one of the story's main characters -- an Eastern-European émigré trying to start over again -- as a man with "glimpses of castles and forests in his eyes." RACHEL COYNE, Lindstrom, Minn.

How about The Red House, by Mark Haddon. Why? Ambitious, moving, audacious structure, memorable novel.

Ron Charles said in the Washington Post, "It's Haddon's peculiar structure that raises this family drama to something exceptional. He's perfected a constantly shifting perspective that keeps our sympathies from taking root in any one of these characters."


Other Heartbreaks, by Patricia Henley (Engine Books). The characters, like Alice Munro's remarkable women, are people so psychologically and emotionally complex, you'd swear you know them. This is literary writing at its finest.

NAN CUBA, San Antonio, Texas

When the Killing's Done: T. Coraghessan Boyle is the master of disaster. The first 35 pages of this book spin the tale of a shipwreck off the California coast, and it's some of the most riveting prose I've ever read, and the rest of it's pretty good, too.

Best nonfiction: The Big Roads: An engaging and witty book about what might seem like a (ahem) pedestrian topic as Earl Swift surveys the history of the world's biggest public works project ever, construction of America's interstate highway system.

CRAIG PITTMAN, St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Girl in the Blue Beret, by Bobbie Ann Mason. Compelling story, evocative scene-setting and exquisite writing.


I would give The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman. The title sounds like a polemic, but it is not. It is an economic history of the United States from about 1890 through today, and it is a history we really need to understand. It explains many of the political and economic forces at work and why the middle class has a lot riding on who governs us. It is written from a liberal point of view but is grounded in really solid economic data and observations. I wish everyone would read it and really grasp what it says. JIM BOYD, Grand Marais, Minn.

As an amateur Kennedy historian who has long waited to hear former Secret Service agent Clint Hill's version of the JFK assassination, I was keen to read Mrs. Kennedy and Me. It was worth the wait. MARY STANIK, Minneapolis

The Time in Between, by Maria Dueñas, would satisfy readers who enjoy historical fiction with a touch of a thriller set in other lands. Dueñas created such strong female characters I couldn't put the book down through my own travels ... in Wisconsin.


It's not fancy, splashy, gifty, but I love Lucy Wood's Diving Belles. I don't usually find short stories compelling, but here's the exception to the rule. ELLEN SUGG, Vadnais Heights

Cookbooks may not count. But I found one in a discount bin, A Year in My Kitchen, by Skye Gyngell. It is magical, inspiring, beautifully photographed and it taught me so many new skills, tastes and possibilities. I own 100 cookbooks and this one makes me think differently. Once I researched it, I found that it has won major awards in the EU, where it was published. It is sophisticated but never snobbish. Tonight? Parade of slow-cooked onions with Gruyère, perfect, amazing, special. And, it will be in the stockings of my foodie friends!