- 1. Chronicles of Barset by Anthony Trollope. There are six novels in all: The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset, which is my favorite. The books mostly revolve around the lives of clergymen in Trollope's invented county of Barset. Any one of them can be read alone, but if you're like me you won't be able to stop there. The tales concern misappropriation of church funds, illegitimacy, theft and the rivalry between the low church followers of Mrs. Proudie--the Bishop's wife, a nasty piece of work, and high church partisans Even if you're not delighted by discussions of how many orphreys should be on a clergyman's chasuble, as I am, you'll love the books for their characters. Quite simply, they live.
2. The Carl Wilcox mysteries by Harold Adams. Wilcox is a former convict and itinerant sign painter who travels around small towns in 1930s South Dakota trying to sell his services and, inevitably, getting involved in murders. The books are spare, almost terse, and that's a good thing. With a couple of words, Adams brings to life a lost world of farmers on the brink of despair, of steamy nights at dance halls and frigid South Dakota winters.
3. Another Wilcox, James Wilcox, takes his readers to the fictional town of Tula Springs, Louisiana in a series of books beginning with Modern Baptists, North Gladiola and Mrs. Undine's Living Room--all of which I can recommend without reservation. Wilcox strayed from Tula Springs in one novel, Plain and Simple, which took place in New York City, and he never quite recovered his sparkle thereafter. And although I enjoyed his later works, they don't hold a candle to the first three.
4. Lee Child's books featuring former Army MP Jack Reacher are my current favorite mysteries. Reacher, a drifter who owns nothing but the clothes on his back and a toothbrush, is 6' 5" and apparently invincible. He's an irresistible hero in the Jack Bauer mode, though Reacher makes Bauer look like a chatterbox and a flibbertigibbet.
5. In making her list OGIC was giving succor to Harry Potter addicts who have finished the series, so I'll add a dash of children's literature to finish off. I won't go with the obvious choice--the Narnia books--instead I pick the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. There's nothing particularly magical about the life of the Ingalls family. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to eke out a living and they never really succeed. Unlike the insipid TV series, these books are not all sweetness and light. In The Long Winter, the family only manages to avoid starvation by eating their seed corn. Yet the books aren't depressing and they offer a glimpse into a world that's as unlike our current world as anything found in Harry Potter.