The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell - This was an unsettling book. You know within the first several chapters that something very bad has happened but you don't know what or why or how. I found myself speed-reading trying to find out, and even worse, I felt anxious! I really enjoyed it though. The plot is interesting and unusual and the ending causes you to examine your spiritual beliefs very carefully. Without being preachy, the author presents her belief that although there is an all-powerful God out there, He is under no obligation to protect and preserve those who love Him. I'm now looking for the sequel to this, called Children of God. I can't wait to read it!
I heard about this book in The Book Club Cookbook (I think!). It was recommended as a good "first time" sci-fi book for people that are new to sci-fi. Personally I love sci-fi/fantasy, at least specific authors, but many of my friends do not. I read this with the intention of recommending it to them, but I'm not going to. Personally I don't think it's a good way to start someone off in this genre ... you'll just have to read it to see why.