Two more books that I recommend:
Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers is an odd choice to be one of the six books short-listed for the 2011 Booker Prize.
Not that it isn't good, it's a hell of an entertaining read. It's just that The Sisters Brothers is this unusual mash-up. It's a picaresque Western, a thriller with a heavy dash of noir and a meditation on morality and the meaning of life.
It's the story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, two 19th Century hitmen. They're bound to the gold fields outside Sacramento with a contract on gold miner Hermann Kermit Warm. Warm has gotten crosswise with the Sisters brothers' boss, the Commodore.
The Sisters Brothers reads like a Coen brother film. Think Blood Simple. It's dark and comic and wildly inventive.
(BTW, the cover of the English edition of The Sisters Brothers is absolutely cool.)
In 2009, Maile Meloy published a short story collection, Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It, that was nothing short of terrific.
Now she's written The Apothecary, a novel for young reader. It's terrific too.
The Apothecary is told by 14-year-old Janie Scott. It's 1952 and Janie and her parents have just moved from California to London. Janie's mom and dad are screen writers and they've fled Hollywood to avoid an investigation by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Little do they know that the move will plunge Janie into far more dangeorus circumstances.
Janie's schoolmate, Benjamin Burrows, is the son of the local apothecary. He's doing more than mixing elixirs to ease symptoms of the common cold. Benjamin's dad is part of an international network committed to using ancient transformative elixirs, compounds and tinctures to undermine tests of the nuclear weapons that are proliferating as Cold War tensions heighten.
The Apothecary is spell-binding with the right balance of evil teachers, young love, magical spells (or science masquerading as magic) and heroic acts by the youthful cast.
Young readers who are fans of Harry Potter will enjoy Meloy's first venture into juvenile literature.
That goes for older readers too.