The best fantasy books that plunge us into alternate worlds of power, magic, betrayal, and love

Why am I passionate about this?

I think I was in my twenties before, with great sadness, I had to accept I was never going to be granted three wishes or activate my flying prowess. Any book that shows me maybe I was wrong or I just didn’t look hard enough fills me with hope. I love to be pulled into worlds that are so real and yet the magic is right there, in front of us, unseen, or where a parallel world is just a side-ways step or the opening of a door away. I read and write to reinforce my belief that it is all still possible.


I wrote...

Shared Skies: Complete

By Josephine O'Brien,

Book cover of Shared Skies: Complete

What is my book about?

What if you could make people do what you wanted simply by thinking about it? What if your grandparents disappeared so completely that even their house was gone? What if they turn up after eleven years, want you to live with them, and you're the only person in the world who remembers they were ever gone?

What if the first time you fall in love you're not sure if they're even human?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Josephine O'Brien Why did I love this book?

Engrossed and enthralled, I was swept into the Harry Potter world from the first chapter. I didn't want to leave, I was involved, I was part of it! A magic world is revealed to a lonely twelve-year-old Harry. A move to a boarding school for students of magic! Friends, feasts and foes, and a school year that brings him face to face with danger. My lifelong feeling that magic, mystery, and enormous possibilities were at our fingertips was echoed in this book nothing in this story was predictable or stale and it never became so in this amazing seven-book series.

By J.K. Rowling,

Why should I read it?

39 authors picked Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

Galloping gargoyles ... 2022 is the silver anniversary of J.K. Rowling's magical classic Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone!

The boy wizard Harry Potter has been casting a spell over young readers and their families ever since 1997. Now the first book in this unmissable series celebrates 25 years in print! The paperback edition of the tale that introduced us to Harry, Ron and Hermione has been updated and dressed in silver to mark the occasion. It's time to take the magical journey of a lifetime ...

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping…


Book cover of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Josephine O'Brien Why did I love this book?

Could there be anything more ordinary than a wardrobe? Yet, in this novel, there's a door at the back of one which leads unsuspecting Lucy into the extraordinary world of Narnia. A world of talking creatures, of magic and evil, a world where ordinary children can become kings. A book where the journey from one world to another is as simple as opening a door. Published seventy years ago, the writing style can seem old-fashioned but the story is alive, exciting, and involving.

By C. S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

30 authors picked The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

Lucy steps into the Professor's wardrobe - but steps out again into a snowy forest. She's stumbled upon the magical world of Narnia, land of unicorns, centaurs, fauns... and the wicked White Witch, who terrorises all. Lucy soon realises that Narnia, and in particular Aslan, the great Lion, needs her help if the country's creatures are ever going to be free again...


Book cover of The Golden Compass

Josephine O'Brien Why did I love this book?

Although set in Oxford, in England, this book opens with eleven-year-old Lyra living in a world which has a degree of magicaliity in it already. There are the daemons, shape-changing manifestations of their inner selves that children are bonded to and can communicate with which remain with them for the rest of their lives. In common with the other books on this list, I was whirlwinded into another world. A world where everything normal was a smokescreen for the workings of power-hungry adults and where childhood friendships stand strong in the face of magic, deceit, and danger. Like the Harry Potter series, it is impossible to stop reading at book one.

By Philip Pullman,

Why should I read it?

28 authors picked The Golden Compass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The first volume in Philip Pullman's groundbreaking
HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy, now a thrilling, critically
acclaimed BBC/HBO television series. First published
in 1995, and acclaimed as a modern masterpiece, this first
book in the series won the UK's top awards for children's literature.

"Without this child, we shall all
die."

Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live
half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford.

The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands
of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight.

Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences
far beyond her own world...



This…


Book cover of The Magicians

Josephine O'Brien Why did I love this book?

This book very definitely takes a step from YA towards A. The protagonist, Quentin, is a high school student and the story contains sex, swearing, smoking, and mental health issues, and yet... It also has a letter swept by the wind into the bushes of a neglected, winter New York park and when Quentin pushes through to grab it he is now standing on the vast, sunny grounds of a Hogwartsesque college. What’s not to love? Obviously, my desire for there to be more to life than we can see made me fall in love with this book. 

By Lev Grossman,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Magicians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestselling novel about a young man practicing magic in the real world, now an original series on SYFY

"The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea. . . . Hogwarts was never like this."
-George R.R. Martin

"Sad, hilarious, beautiful, and essential to anyone who cares about modern fantasy."
-Joe Hill

"A very knowing and wonderful take on the wizard school genre."
-John Green

"The Magicians may just be the most subversive, gripping and enchanting fantasy novel I've read this century."
-Cory Doctorow

"This gripping…


Book cover of Assassin's Apprentice

Josephine O'Brien Why did I love this book?

A wonderfully written Fantasy that is filled with sorcery, betrayal, war, and love. I read this book so often I had to replace it several times!  In a medieval-type world, a six-year-old boy is dragged from home to live with the animals in the stables of the royal castle. Against great odds, he discovers his powers which are forbidden and have to be hidden. Royal rivalries and attacks on the country from outside lead to the boy, now named Fitz being put in a group of students being trained to use their powers (sound familiar??) to help save the kingdom.

By Robin Hobb,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Assassin's Apprentice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Voyager Classics - timeless masterworks of science fiction and fantasy.

A beautiful clothbound edition of Assassin's Apprentice, the first book in the critically acclaimed Farseer Trilogy.

In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals - the old art known as the Wit - gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if…


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The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

Book cover of The Woman at the Wheel

Penny Haw Author Of The Invincible Miss Cust

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Storyteller Dog walker Dreamer Runner Reader

Penny's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cäcilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love—with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his plans, a dicey move since they alone believe in the machine. When Carl's partners threaten to withdraw their support, he's ready to cut ties. Bertha knows the decision would ruin everything. Ignoring the cynics, she takes matters into her own hands, secretly planning a scheme that will either hasten the family's passage to absolute derision or prove their genius. What Bertha doesn't know is that Carl is on the cusp of making a deal with their nemesis. She's not only risking her marriage and their life's work, but is also up against the patriarchy, Carl's own self-doubt, and the clock.

Like so many other women, Bertha lived largely in her husband's shadow, but her contributions are now celebrated in this inspiring story of perseverance, resilience, and love.

The Woman at the Wheel

By Penny Haw,

What is this book about?

Inspiring historical fiction based on the real life of Bertha Benz, whose husband built the first prototype automobile, which eventually evolved into the Mercedes-Benz marque.

"Unfortunately, only a girl again."

From a young age, Cacilie Bertha Ringer is fascinated by her father's work as a master builder in Pforzheim, Germany. But those five words, which he wrote next to her name in the family Bible, haunt Bertha.

Years later, Bertha meets Carl Benz and falls in love-with him and his extraordinary dream of building a horseless carriage. Bertha has such faith in him that she invests her dowry in his…


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