I'll have to start with Neil Gaiman's Graveyard book--because it feels so Christmasy and all.
The Golden City, by J. Kathleen Cheney
Set in historic Portugal and teeming with magic, this book was a refreshing change from predominantly British inspired historic fantasy. Both fascinating and whimsical, it follows the story of Oriana as she navigates life as a banned Sereia (inspired by merfolk) and spy in a hostile city and quietly makes her way amongst the elite nobility of the city. With a little romance, a lot of magic, and a strong dose of the detective story, this book left me anxious to get my hands on the second book, and has stayed with me since setting it down. Smoothly written and evocative, it's not a book you'll quickly forget.
Assassin's Apprentice, by Robin Hobb
I first read these books at the insistence of some good friends, and though I consumed them faster than ice cream on a hot day in summer, I wasn't sure when I finished them if I liked them or not. The end to the first trilogy, which begins with Assassin's Apprentice, was frustrating to me. That was close to a year ago. I've recently begun and read my way through most of the sequel trilogy which begins with Fool's Errand, and must admit now that I either love these books or am a serious sucker for punishment. A gripping tale of high fantasy, the world of the Farseer monarchs is beautifully detailed and so artfully crafted that you will find yourself believing beyond any doubt that somewhere these people and this world exists. Complexity of plot and political intrigue are balanced by deep characterization, and combine to make a series that can easily stand alongside the Wheel of Time books or Game of Thrones.
Dave Barry Is Not Taking This Sitting Down, by--who else?--Dave Barry
A rather abrupt change of focus, I know, but there's always a chance that you might have a reader on your list who isn't a fantasy lover. I've heard they exist...though I'm not sure I've met one. But whatever your reader's preferences, there's a good chance they'll love this book if they like to laugh. It's not his latest book, and in fact I only picked it up because I wanted to know what the 'big wigs' of humor were writing and our library had a copy. But, it's funny! So I'm recommending it. A few topics touched on are low-flow toilets, school science fair projects, celebrity diets, and cruise ship buffets. In other words...life, as it happens to us all.