Ok then. Two books. Or four, depending.
Lauren Willig - The Garden Intrigue
I love love love Willig, as I believe I have said previously. This is the most recent of the Pink Carnation books, and I think the series is actually coming to a conclusion. Willig's grad student framing character is struggling to finish her research, and we've returned to Paris. I think, probably, the next book will find love for the Pink Carnation herself, or perhaps the book after that. Unless Willig is going to push to the end of the Napoleonic War, in some romantic counterpoint to Sharpe's Rifles - that would be interesting as well, actually, but it would mean several more books, since she's only up to 1804. It would probably mean a radical shift in scene as well, perhaps, because the action would be in Spain and, ultimately, in Russia. Either way, it will be interesting to see where Willig goes next.
Willig's books continue to be delightfully well researched while remaining light and fluffy, and just a little zany. Her characters sparkle and snap. Her romances are a little formulaic, but not in a bad way. And, periodically (as in this one) they don't result in climactic sex, but conclude with passionate kissing - which is, of course, period accurate. I'll be sorry to see the end of the series, but also satisfied.
If you skip the framing narrative, I think you could safely start reading the series here, but it won't be as much fun as if you start at the beginning. So you should start there.
Suzanne Collins - The Hunger Games Trilogy
I've been putting these off, but some friends bought the books, and my wife read them and insisted that I had to as well. I'm glad she did, they lived up to their hype, and were surprisingly meaty books for how quick they are to read.
If you've been living under a rock, you don't know about these books, so. Katniss Everdean lives in a post-apocalyptic world where The Capital rules over 12 regions of North American (Panem). Once a year, the Capital demands that the 12 regions send one boy and one girl between 12 and 18 to fight in the Hunger Games. This reminds the 12 regions of an attempted rebellion almost 100 years previous, and of the power that the Capital has over the regions. The last one surviving wins - they get to live a life of luxury for the rest of their lives, with enough food on a regular basis. They also get to train the "tribute" for the next year. Katniss volunteers to take the place of her 12 year old sister in the games - and that's the first book. In a fine nod to Chekov, Collins introduces a corrupt regime in the first book, which means it must fall by the end of the third book - if you don't see a rebellion building through the first book, I'm sorry, you've been reading the wrong sorts of books. So, book two gives us the beginning of the rebellion, and book three gives us the culmination. Other authors might have handled the rebellion in a little more detail, with a little more front line action - Collins focuses on Katniss (Katniss narrates), and Katniss is not allowed to serve as a front line fighter - too valuable as a symbol. Still, there's plenty of front line action.
Two things that Collins does very very well - world building, and realistic character outcomes. The nasty, brutish world that Collins creates is very well done. It is internally consistent, even if it's hard to see how we would get to there from where we are. Collins doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about that - these aren't intended to be a direct commentary on our current situation (although, there is a little of that there too). I liked the naming conventions, and I liked the way that the various regions interacted. I would have loved a little more description there - perhaps some narration from a different point of view - but that's not the way that Collins chose to write it, so.
The other thing I liked is that Collins' characters come out of their war badly damaged, physically and emotionally. This felt realistic - also depressing, but realistic. Collins shows, again, that there are things going on in YA fiction that simply aren't there in non YA genre fiction. These books have a very mixed ending - it's not a sad ending, but it's not really a happy ending either. I buy it. It works.
If you've been putting off reading these because you aren't sure if they live up to the hype - they do.