Everyone knows what they're going to get if they pick up the latest Grisham, Nora Roberts, or (my all-time favorite) Sue Grafton. If you have someone on your list who's into surprises, here are some of my favorite recent reads which are a little different, but a lot satisfying.
1. Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion. This is the most curious of all the curious books on my list. Isaac is both charming and young, a native to the Pacific Northwest, and, in my view, prodigiously gifted. The film of Warm Bodies was in the works even before the novel was published to fabulous reviews. It's about zombies, but it's about zombies in the same way The Time Traveler's Wife is about time travel, which is hardly at all. It's funny, poignant, and beautifully written. If you have a really adventurous reader on your Christmas list, or a younger reader (no reason a teen can't read this book), take a chance! You may want to buy a copy for yoruself, too.
2. Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. In a period when we're all fascinated by costume dramas and historical pieces, particularly set in the two world wars, Shaffer's book is a triumph of voice and character, and an homage to book clubs everywhere. I wouldn't have believed the epistolary form could be so utterly compelling, but this is one of those books you hate to close when you reach the final page. Set on the Channel Islands during the German occupation, the novel gives a view of the period and its people you won't soon forget. The book has been wildly popular, but if you've missed it, you have a treat in store.
3. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King. Ostensibly a young adult novel, King's biting insight and sharp-edged humor make Vera Dietz a great read for anyone who likes contemporary, character-based stories. The audio version is particularly delightful. Choose this for mature teen readers (fifteen and up) or any adult who likes a fresh story.
4. The Unexpected Miss Bennet, by Patrice Sarath. I was convinced poor Miss Austen's work had been thoroughly mined out, but Sarath showed me otherwise. This novel is as fresh and bright as if Jane Austen had climbed out of her early grave and written it herself. If you follow the link, you can read an excerpt of this short, utterly entertaining book. It's perfectly acceptable for teenage girls, and also for any women who like historicals, romances, or Austen.
5. Still Life with Shapeshifter, by Sharon Shinn. The first novel in this series was on my Christmas list for last year, and this second one is, if possible, even better. It's on Publisher's Weekly's best-of-2012 list for fantasy, so it's not just my humble opinion! Shinn uses the device of the shapeshifter, a trope of urban fantasy, in a way that makes the reader feel shapeshifters might live right next door to us, and draws the reader into character's lives in such a way that you hate to be forced out when it's over. Shinn is famous for graceful prose, and this book is a fine example of her art. Give this to mature teenage girls (there is sexual content) or to anyone on your list who enjoys fantasy novels.