The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon. Oh this is a good book. I would give up several (nonvital) organs to write half as well as Chabon. In case you don't know, it takes as its jumping-off point a (real) US suggestion back in the late 1930s that the Jews of Europe be given a homeland in Alaska. That piece of legislaion was defeated in Congress, but in Chabon's book the Congressman who defeated it is run over by a truck before he can do so, and the refugees from the Holocaust arrive in Sitka, Alaska, not Palestine. The Jews who do go to Palestine are basically decimated.
It's a wonderful piece of work. The Federal District of Sitka has only been granted to the Jews for sixty years, after which it has to be handed back. Which is a month or so from the point at which the action of the book takes place. It concerns the investigation by Meyer Landesman, a Sitka detective, of the murder of what seems at first to be a down-and-out heroin addict. The investigation widens out to involve Jewish gangsters and geopolitics, but I don't want to talk about the plot and spoil it for you, because you have to read this book.
Chabon's use of language is extraordinary, offhand, funny. His characters are bright and real. The Jews in Sitka decided to use Yiddish rather than Hebrew, so the thing reads as if Jackie Mason, Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen decided to write a hard-boiled detective novel. And it's proper science fiction, a parallel world story in the same way as Len Deighton's SS-GB is a parallel world story. Marvellous. Liked it enormously.
Next up is The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds. Al writes what I suppose you could call `hard space opera,' and he does it wonderfully well. The Prefect sees him returning, after two (very good) stand-alone novels, Century Rain and Pushing Ice (which I loved) to the background of previous novels like Chasm City and Revelation Space. It's a huge book. Not in physical size, although it is satisfyingly chunky, but in the number of stories it collides. There's an attack on a space habitat, insane machine intelligences, space battles...it goes on and on and it's great.
And then there's Shakespeare by Bill Bryson. A slim book because, as Bryson notes, we know next to nothing about Shakespeare. Although we know more about him than most of the other dramatists working at the time. We don't even know when he was born. Bryson sets out to tell us why we can't possibly know all the things scholars pretend to know about the Bard, and instead he tells us what we do know. On the way, he tells us stuff we didn't know about the age Shakespeare lived in and debunks some theories, and he does it all with the eye of a sub-editor, the heart of a journalist, and great wit, common sense and decency. Thoroughly recommended.