If you catch her on a certain day, Jackie might say her favorite book is The Last Unicorn. She’s a Gemini and a Slytherin, and her life’s quest is to secure all the books and secure the grand library. She lives with an evil cat named Thorn, and she loves sleeping and writing poems and singing while washing the dishes.
Walton describes Among Others as being about a science fiction reader who has fantasy problems. Set in the heydey of scifi, 1979, Mori is at boarding school coming to terms with her sister's death, through books and fairy magic. The magic here is grim and disturbing, but the book itself manages to maintain a painfully sweet emotional depth.
Like Mori says, “it doesn’t matter if it’s magic or not, anything you do has power and consequences and affects other people.”
Originally published in 1976, the Riddle-Master trilogy is one of the great masterworks of fantasy literature. Mckillip writes epic fantasy that almost reads like poetry. Quests, romance, magical harps, magical beasts, prophecy, etc, it's all here, but it isn't anything you've read before.
Read it if you need a break from rereading Earthsea and Lord of the Rings.
Kelly Link, recipient of the 2018 Macarthur Genius Grant, is a writer's writer. This collection of short stories changed my understanding of what fiction can do.
A classic of fantasy literature and one of the best retellings of the old Scottish ballad about fairy kidnapping. Dean places the story on a college campus.
Read this for a subtle, smart fantasy, and be prepared for Janet's story to embed itself into your brain and pop up at you in the odd hours.
This middle-grade book of Transylvanian folkore somehow manages to be a retelling of 12 Dancing Princesses plus Princess and the Frog PLUS witches and vampires. My favorite bits are Jena's relationship with Gogu, her magical pet frog and the midnight dances in the faerie realm. Read it! It's fun!
Fire and Hemlock is DWJ's interpretation of the Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer ballads. It's one of the strangest books I've ever read, and what I mostly remember is being so affected by Polly stating, "I'm never getting married, I'm going to train to be a hero instead," that I thereupon decided to view my life as a series of obstacles in my own hero-training.
This book is all things DWJ (author of Howl's Moving Castle) -- wholesome, funny, magical, essential -- its meditative and packed with allusions, layered and structured intentionally to mirror TS Eliot's Four Quartets. I love it deeply and apologize for being unable to recommend it as it deserves.
The Essex Serpent is one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time. Every word seems at once carefully chosen and naturally occurring -- risen up from the deep, glowing center of the story. I remembered why I love literary novels as I savored every page, and paused, entranced by each new scene of Cora, traumatized by abuse and equally bewildered by the beauty of experiencing the world after the cause of the pain has gone away.
Her grief echoes throughout the book, but always in conversation with this lovely, sly joy. I didn't even care that they kept the monsters and the magic in the margins, always just out of sight.
I remember this particular moment, just a couple of chapters into my first reading of The Raven Boys, when I had to stop and look at the front of the book again, amazed by what I was reading, and how this fiercely odd, eerily mythological little gem of a book was hiding tucked into the YA section. Read about these four friends and their quest to find a 15th century Welsh king they believe to be sleeping under the Pennsylvanian hills, so they can ask him for an enchanted favor. Also includes: dream magic, tarot, bees, teenage angst, predicted death
I discovered Kelly Link because she ALWAYS had a featured recommendation blurb on my favorite books. I thought, "well there's a person with excellent taste!" So when I saw she had a book of short stories called Magic for Beginners, I jumped on it and obviously fell, hard, in love. Pretty Monsters is a collection of short stories aimed at YA readers, including many of the best stories from Magic for Beginners, including the namesake story as well as The Faery Handbag, which is one of the greatest short stories of all time.
Link treads the line of fantasy and magical realism -- and occasionally dives off the sides into weird fiction or slipstream fiction. She's gloriously strange in the best way -- everything is nonsense and everything makes absolute, pure sense in a way the actual world never seems to get exactly right.
She wields oddness like a sharp tool, poking under the surface of daily life to reveal the unknown glimmering beneath, or cutting up and rearranging what's there in unexpected and sometimes unsettling combinations.
I've been on a huge mermaid kick and To Kill a Kingdom is definitely the most fun of the mermaid/siren/selkie books I've read. The two main characters, Lira and Elian, are stubborn and infuriating, but they'll charm your socks off and leave you wishing you could keep hanging out with them after the book is over.
It's a romantic romp PLUS undersea folklore (mermaids vs sirens) PLUS a quest for a magical talisman . . . what more can you ask for? The answer is NOTHING.
"It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die."
The Scorpio Races is Maggie Stiefvater's favorite book she's written and it's my favorite she's written, too. I love visiting the wild, craggy Irish sea, alive with bloodthirsty faerie horses, and rooting on defiant, tender Puck with her little mortal mare as she takes them all on. The island of Thisby feels both weathered and cozy, homey in the way only desolate places can be.
Like all of Maggie's books, this book is strange as strange. It's fierce and sad and unafraid of endings. Reading it every November gives my year-weary heart a dose of bravery to make it through the last of the months.
You know those singularly serendipitous moments that happen to you as a reader? When you find just the right book you need for that moment in your life? Discovering Aimee Bender was like that for me -- 15 years old, loitering in a bookstore for fun, when I stopped and randomly pulled a book off the shelf, her first collection of short stories, and was hooked from the first sentence. She says the things about yourself that you don't know you're thinking, describes the impulses you have that go unnoticed. She treads the uncanny in a way that's familiar and so that much more unsettling. She writes about growing potato babies in a pot, a kid born with a steaming iron for a head, desire, loneliness, hopefulness. She introduced me to magical realism and made me into a different kind of reader, and for that I love her forever.
Sabriel is the first in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom trilogy, the hero of which is a young girl who is thrust into the role of Abhorsen (think reverse necromancer). In this series Nix has accomplished some of the most original and inventive world-building in epic fantasy that I've ever encountered. The magic is unusual and believable because of how specifically mechanized it is and the way it is integrated into the world. The characters are quirky and heartbreaking and real.
I think Sabriel's journey and resultant coming of age would make for a perfect Studio Ghibli movie adaptation, especially when you factor in Mogget, the snarky demon soul trapped in the form of an angry little white cat.
This is a perfect novel. From the opening paragraph, Cassandra is an instantly compelling, insanely lovable protagonist -- goofy, sweet, wise, perceptive.
Here's a quote: "Why is sumer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?"
For all of The Name of the Wind's size and popularity, I still think of it as an intimate, personal book, and what I love best about it is that it is at its heart a fairy story, but extremely detailed in the telling. This is a book about storytelling, the folly of heroes and the duplicity and danger of faeries; it's got a school for magic and a nomadic theatre troupe, an imperfect but cocky protagonist, and all kinds of heart. I would read it a thousand times if I could.
Michelle Tea, poet and author of Valencia, researched Polish folklore and the mermaid of Warsaw to write this odd, visceral, YA book. I love this gritty, offbeat fairytale, and came away with an intense desire to eat handfuls of salt, steal into Baba Yaga's perilous enchanted garden, and dive into the nearest body of mucky water to see if I might grow fins. Read it! Join me!
Angela Carter's collection of sharp, wise, scary little fairy tales is forever perfect and forever in my heart. If you've read it, you know. If you haven't, you're going to remember this moment for the rest of your life. I know I remember the first time I saw a copy of it, and asked, wide-eyed 'WHAT'S THAT?', fell headlong into its pages, then emerged with delicate, elegant cuts all over from its perfect, pointed words. Every story is better than the last and the first one is the best.
Uprooted has all the right things: a magical and menacing wood, detailed world building rooted in fairytales, lushly described spellwork, a mysterious wizard, a satisfying romance, a protagonist that feels like the best version of yourself, the you that exists in an ideal world. Maggie Stiefvater said, "Reading Uprooted was like rediscovering a favorite old sweater, familiar and beloved." Couldn't agree more.
Set in 1960's Chicago, and written from the perspective of a young kid investigating the murder of her upstairs, neighbor, this book is framed as the personal notebook of Karen Reyes. The art is breathtaking and the story is both touching and compelling. There's so much in this book to love and invest in, but the most lovable of all is Karen, and her funny, clever, and wise perspective as she grows up and learns about the world.