This list is designed to entice you away from the bestseller lists just for a while. Follow me into the stacks, and discover some fresh, lesser-known, surprising literary pleasures.
1. Sharon Shinn is a writer much admired by both readers and critics for her clear prose and rich imagination. Her most recent novel is a departure from the high fantasy she's written before. It's being touted by Publisher's Weekly as a good alternative to Fifty Shades of Grey, but it's infinitely better written. The Shape of Desire is, technically, urban fantasy, but it fits that genre only in the way The Time Traveler's Wife fits the genre of science fiction--in other words, the fantastic is accepted as normal by the characters involved. It's a story of people who search for a way to love each other despite the insurmountable challenges of their natures. I like all of Shinn's work, but I like this one best of all.
2. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A. S. King, is ostensibly a young adult novel, but like many books in that genre, it's as complex and sophisticated as any adult novel, and a complete joy to read. It's on many recommended reading lists for teens this year, but it belongs on adult lists too, for the sheer pleasure of a terrific story with a great protagonist. Beautifully written, paced, and voiced!
3. In the Woods, by Tana French, is a fabulous psychological thriller in the tradition of Elizabeth George's mysteries. It works as a police procedural as well as a character study, and offers an intriguing glimpse into Irish life. Tana French is a writer to watch, and fortunately, there are more novels with these wonderful characters.
4. The Practice of Deceit, by Elizabeth Benedict, is one of those books that sneaks up on the reader. Its cast is full of subtleties and fascinations, and the mystery and drama at the heart of it aren't obvious from the beginning. It is both thriller and psychological study--and with a real psychologist!
5. I love old books, and so at least one classic has to be on my list. Nine Coaches Waiting is by far my favorite Mary Stewart novel, and it sent me off on a quest to read her entire list. First published in 1959, it is the epitome of the Gothic romantic thriller, written in Stewart's elegant, unaffected prose and with a mystery that holds the reader in thrall right to the end. Read all of Mary Stewart, but read this one first!