Sunshine, Robin McKinley
Kushiel's Dart, Jaqueline Carey
American Gods, Neal Gaiman
The Doomsday Book, Connie Willis
The Garden of Iden, Kage Baker
Altered Carbon, Richard Morgan
Sunshine: this book is about vampires ... well, no, it has vampires, but it's really about learning to accept who you are. And it has some really insanely suspenseful scenes and a cool new magical world set up, but it's written in a mundane reality mode that almost comes off like magical realism. Of course, I've enjoyed everything I've read by her (except The Outlaws of Sherwood), so this book's excellence is no surprise.
Kushiel's Dart is set in an alternative past that looks like pre-Renaissance France but with a different system of gods, one in which courtesans are highly valued. Our heroine is a masochist courtesan spy. While you'd expect the occasionally racy text to be what makes this book so entrancing, in fact, it's the dynamic plot and our "perils of Pauline" heroine that holds your interest. After I gave up sorting out the families that take up a lot of the first two or three chapters, I was sucked in and never let go. The other two books in this series aren't as great as this one, but Kushiel's Dart is so stellar that it's no shame to shine less brightly when held in comparison against it.
I can never thank enough the person who gave me American Gods. It's basically set in the now, very matter of fact, and I can remember the exact moment when I was reading this book that I was pulled in and not allowed to let go (it's the first death in the book, which almost had me in tears - what a bastard, to set the reader up like that). Our world is one in which the old gods and the new gods are fighting for power, and our protagonist, our Everyman, is being yanked between the two. Every person I've lent or given it to has thanked me for it, and it introduced me to Neil Gaiman. I got a lot of good reading in that summer, yep.
The Doomsday Book is another just-a-little-in-the-future book, very matter-of-fact in style if in ten years we had time machines and they were being very routinely used to send academics back in the past to do field work. In this case, the student in question is researching the dark ages. Right at the moment of sending, the shit hits the fan, and you are caught in a race against time on both sides of the clock. I cried at the end of this book because the characters had become so real to me that losing one of them hurt, and we're just talking looking at frigging little black marks on paper. And they made me cry. I have another book by her I picked up and didn't manage to get past page 20, and recently got To Say Nothing of the Dog. Hopefully it will catch my eye.
I think the The Garden of Iden is out of print, but Kage Baker's first book in the company series had me hating myself for falling for some sappy assed love story disguised as an SF novel. I love stuff set during the Elizabethan period, and the character (and world) Baker constructs - of a world in which the time travellers of the future recruit agents to steal (er, "hide") them things in the past - was utterly believable. Again, this was written in a matter-of-fact, modern voice, but it was gorgeous and the emotional arc sucked me in very hard. It's been four more novels since then (and a collection of short stories) and I still don't know what great disaster is going to take place in the future world she constructs during this series - but getting there has been a great ride.
Finally, I read Altered Carbon last month. Rarely do I find books so intense that they imbed themselves in my subconscious and bubble up in my dreams. Patricia McKillip does this constantly, but no cyberpunk author has - until this one. I was promised a hair raising detective story that would pull me in from the moment the protagonist awakes in the new body he's been given for his current assignment - and it did. (Woken Furies didn't manage to capture me in the first forty pages, but perhaps his second book will ... if I had a copy.)
Right, so your gift to me: recommend to me a book I will not be able to put down. I dare you.