If you've never read a book by Melina Marchetta, do not pass go, do not collect $200, go straight to the library/bookstore/internet and get yourself one of her books. Marchetta started out writing contemporary young adult books, but has branched out to fantasy as well and does each beautifully. I think the key is in the skillful way she creates characters and her ability to make me feel all the emotions ever. When I recommneded Froi of the Exiles to a fellow fantasy-reading friend (i heart aliteration!), I described it as a fantasy book that just punches you straight in the gut in the best possible way. There is darkness and sadness, but there is also hope and joy.
The Spellman Files/Lisa Lutz
I've also started the second book in this series, and it truly makes me laugh out loud repeatedly. The Spellman family runs a private investigation business, but that's just the framework for this crazy, hilarious family. You've got a "perfect" older brother who left the family business for law school, the-classic-rebel-is-my-middle-name middle child who is a born private eye, and the "surprise" baby sister who has negotiation down to a fine science. Only in the Spellman family do you learn how to tail someone before you graduate high school, and only in the Spellman family do you hone your investigative skills by spying on each other. But despite it's craziness, the books manage to not be cliche, cheesy, or slapstick.
44 Scotland St./Alexander McCall-Smith
In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that Edinburgh is one of my favorite places, hands down. I've been meaning to read Alexander McCall-Smith for years, so naturally when I saw this book (and subsequent series) set in Edinburgh I snatched it off the library shelf. It's a book that was originally written as a serial in a Scottish newspaper. McCall-Smith mentions in the forward that the challenge was writing each chapter with enough content to be read alone, but enough momentum to move the story along without too much of an episodic feel. I think he accomplished this beautifully. In addition to the excellent pacing and sence of place, the major strength of the book is the characters: unique, yet familiar; people you want to get to know, or at least get to know more about. This book was lovely and comfortable and the kind of book you want to savor.
The Paris Wife/Paula McLain
The Paris Wife tells the story of Ernest Hemingway, his first wife Hadley and their years together living in Paris. Told from Hadley's perspective, the novel begins when the two meet in Chicago and ends almost five years later with their divorce (although there is a bittersweet epilogue that fasts forward to the time around the end of Hemingway's life). This was a book club selection, and I must admit that I wasn't looking forward to reading it. Books about adultery, distructive relationships, and people who just keep on making terrible decisions really aren't my thing. However, kudos to Ms. McLain for bringing heart and humanity and empathy to what could be a sordid and seedy story. So, it's a mixed bag for me. I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book, even if I don't see the glamour in getting drunk or living the bohemian Parisian lifestyle. But during the last third of the book all I could think about were the stupid decisions being made, the complete and utter selifishness displayed by Ernest Hemingway, and how it would have been so easy for things to have turned out differently (see: Ernest Hemingway behaved like a [insert bad word here]. I'm definitely looking forward to our book club discussion!