Let me give you the names of some people who are important parts of my life. I don't know them, but they have helped me through vacation and depression; insomnia and delight.
In no particular order, the following is a list of some of the authors I read, who provide outstanding escapes into the realms of fantasy. I wish you many happy hours of discovery:
Tanya Huff Possibly best known for the Blood series starring Vicki Nelson (P.I.) and Henry (romance-writing vampire). The series was aired on Lifetime television as Blood Ties. I loved that series, but I was an even bigger fan of her Smoke Trilogy, starring Tony (reformed street kid from the Blood series). The Smoke Trilogy begins with this book. Ms. Huff has many, many other delicious titles. Yum.
Mira Grant (a/k/a Seanan McGuire) Oh, boy. I only discovered this writer a couple of years ago. It didn't take long before I was completely enchanted by her talent. You probably know her as the author of the Newsflesh Trilogy, a critically-acclaimed series that juxtaposed news writing and a postapocalyptic world filled with political problems and zombies. Sadly, the living are still the most frightening creatures. That series begins with this book. As Seanan McGuire (and also here and here), this author has created the acclaimed (and also wildly popular) October Daye series.
Robin Hobb has written so many marvelous books that I don't know where to begin. I discovered her Liveship Traders trilogy first, so there lies my bias as to where a new reader could begin. Don't stop there, by any means. There is still the Royal Assassin series, as well as the Tawny Man series, and....well. Let me sum it up by saying: Just keep reading.
Mercedes Lackey needs no introduction from me! I think I discovered her writing first by reading either this book or this one--I don't remember which. I was going through a very difficult period, and felt utterly alone. These books made a big difference for me. (I have to admit: I am still a little bummed that this book, which is one of my all-time favorites by this author, is not available for Kindle.) Of course, then I was hooked by her style and her sense of adventure, and went on to read...well...everything else. (Almost.)
Elaine Viets Okay, this author doesn't actually write fantasy. She is a mystery-writing friend of the talented Charlaine Harris, and her books are quite a bit of fun. I am a particular fan of her Dead-End Job mystery series, as I have held a number of dead-end jobs in my time, and this writer really seems to understand the experience!
Jim Butcher I think I picked up my first Jim Butcher novel because Charlaine Harris had written a blurb for the cover. In her blog, she discusses the contest that she and Jim are waging, to see who can make his characters suffer the most (which, she acknowledges, Jim won). I am a fan of the Dresden Files (both on and off the screen), featuring Chicago wizard Harry Dresden and a well-drawn cast of supporting characters. It is worth mentioning that most of the audiobooks were narrated by the gifted James Marsters (also known as Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel).
Alex Hughes is a recent discovery. I stumbled across Clean, the first book in the Mindspace Investigations series, at the end of an intensely busy period of travel, when I was trying to get used to sleeping in my own bed, and becoming reacquainted with going down to the kitchen to cook food instead of calling a restaurant. The breathtaking realism with which she writes the narrator's struggles is incredibly uncomfortable, and feels achingly true as a result. After this, be sure to read Payoff (the novella that was released between books) and Sharp, the next in the series.
Charlaine Harris I remember picking up Dead Until Dark, the first book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, from an endcap created by a thoughtful librarian. It was love at first page. I love Charlaine's snarky sense of humor, her transparent characterization, and consistent worldbuilding. After this series, I went on to read all of Charlaine's other titles. This includes the Aurora Teagarden mysteries--which aren't fantasy, but are delightful reading--the dark, brooding Harper Connelly series, which begins with Grave Sight, and...well, I did say the rest. You know what that means. Ms. Harris's popularity soared with the release of True Blood, the Alan Ball-created television series about the world of Sookie Stackhouse, made with Charlaine's characters. I have also played the hidden object game based on Dahlia, one of the characters in the Sookieverse. It's called Dying for Daylight, and I thought it was a lot of fun.
Richard Kadrey is the creator of the deliciously violent and impulsive Sandman Slim, whose sense of justice is always entertaining. Charlaine Harris, who wrote a blurb for the front cover, led me to this author as well.
Lilith Saintcrow is a writer of a number of dynamic fantasy series. I think the first thing I read by this author was one of her Dante Valentine series, but I will admit to falling for The Hedgewitch Queen (and sending a Kindle copy to my niece). Start here to learn more.
Holly Black is an author whose work I thought I first encountered in the anthology titled Teeth. When I looked at my digital copy, though, this author was credited for a different title. Undaunted, I checked By Blood We Live, the anthology where I discovered Garth Nix--but "The Coldest Girl in Coldtown", the short story I had fallen in love with, wasn't there. When I felt an urgent read to lay my eyes on the tale again, I bought The Poison Eaters and Other Tales, an anthology of Holly Black's well-written stories. There, I fell hard for "The Coat of Stars", a tale crafted so exquisitely that I found myself sobbing aloud before the story's end.
Garth Nix is one of two authors here whose work I have read the least. I included him on this list because I was so impressed by "Infestation", his story in By Blood We Live.
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of Delirium, and the second of two whose work I have seen very little of. She is included here because I so enjoyed the aforementioned title.
Neil Gaiman is the creator of the Sandman graphic novel series, which introduced the Eternals, a family of immortal creatures embodying human characteristics. Possibly, the two best-known of the family are the Sandman and Death. Mr. Gaiman has authored a number of beautifully complex tales, including Coraline (which was taken to the big screen in 2009), American Gods, and many, many others. The author was the winner of the World Fantasy Award in 1991 for Sandman #19, "A Midsummer Night's Dream". Rumors insisted that the rules for the award were changed after a graphic novel was announced as one of the winners. For more information regarding Mr. Gaiman's works, see this page on the author's site, or this site.
Long may they all write on.