The best books in which reality and fantasy meet and meld

Who am I?

When I was six, my father, a tall, bearded naval officer, read me Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” I thought it might be autobiography. Ever since, I've been fascinated by stories where fantasy and reality meet and blend. I studied English literature, taught Dead English Poets to undergraduates, became an editor/writer for hire. Along the way, I canoed, hiked the Rockies, and learned to sail a traditional Nova Scotian schooner. I have two sons, to whom I read stories night after night when they were much younger than they are now. Since retiring, I write fantasy adventure novels set aboard real sailing ships and stories about dragons who talk to exceptional people.

I wrote...

The Laughing Princess

By Seymour Hamilton,

Book cover of The Laughing Princess

What is my book about?

My book is about dragons of great power and authority. While Petra and Daniel are on holiday, Daniel finds a curious stone that hatches into a tiny dragon who tells them stories about a young princess, a retired wizard, a blind man in love, a boy who can’t laugh, a thief-of-hearts musician, a fearsome warrior, a girl who asked for too much, a lonely poet, a dying witch, and a queen who faced a pirate. Each story involves a different dragon, some caring, some heartless, all bringing change to those who summon them.

It’s beautifully illustrated by Shirley, and there’s an audio version, free on, read by me. 

The books I picked & why

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The Tombs of Atuan

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Tombs of Atuan

Why this book?

The second of LeGuin’s Earthsea books is a story made of fantasy, adventure, horror, mystery, and myth. 

Tenar, the high priestess must choose between her lifelong training and her unexpected compassion for a thief named Ged, who she must execute in the Tombs of Atuan. Tenar leads Ged through darkness and terror to a place where she decides who she will become.

LeGuin’s prose is direct, evocative, and compelling. Read out loud, the story is spellbinding. It stays with me even though it’s years since my first reading. Each time I return to the fantastic yet entirely believable world she created, the characters I meet reveal some fresh insight into what it is to be human.

Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar

By Jess Wells,

Book cover of Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar

Why this book?

I love Jaguar Paloma and the Caketown Bar for its magic realism. For me, the story reads as real, even when it travels into the fantastic. Jess Wells’ writing is like music: it goes on singing in the back of my mind long after I’ve closed the book.

Jaguar Paloma is a larger than life woman in a setting that is more intense than everyday reality. Strong and vulnerable, audacious and cunning, Jaguar’s compassion inspires a splendid collection of men and women.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

By Patricia C. Wrede,

Book cover of The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

Why this book?

I was captivated by these stories from the moment I read the title of the first chapter: “In which Cimorine refuses to be proper and has a conversation with a frog.”

Cimorene is a young woman with no intention of being rescued by a knight in armour. She prefers the company of the dragon for whom she is princess in residence.  

These books re-imagine traditional princess stories through a woman’s eyes. Cimorene and her adventures are light-hearted, but as children (and parents who read to them) encounter wicked wizards, wonderful witches, magical carpets, swords, and castles they will celebrate this princess as the tough-minded lady Patricia Wrede has made her.

Darkover Landfall

By Marion Zimmer Bradley,

Book cover of Darkover Landfall

Why this book?

I have revisited Darkover Landfall often, but it never loses its hold on my imagination. It’s the Darkover novels’ origin story, telling what happens when an interstellar colonizing starship goes off course and crash-lands on an uncharted planet. In essence, this is Science Fiction, except that the earth-like planet has fantastic creatures, some of them with paranormal powers.

The castaways include a few hard-nosed scientific professionals who expect to lead many industrious generalists who plan to colonize a new world. All must recognize that the technology that brought them to Darkover will not sustain them unless they adapt, learn, and unlearn. It’s a story to make us wonder what we really need from our planet and each other.

The Hobbit

By J.R.R. Tolkien,

Book cover of The Hobbit

Why this book?

The Hobbit—the book, not the film—is the perfect story for a father to read to his children at bedtime. It begins outside Bilbo’s underground home in front of its round, green door on which Gandalf scrapes a secret mark to be read by thirteen dwarves. Like Bilbo’s road to adventure, the story goes on and on, pausing regularly for father to tuck us in to sleep, perhaps to dream. Thanks to the promise of Bilbo’s subtitle “There and Back Again,” we close our eyes without fear of nightmares about trolls, dwarves, elves, goblins, spiders, and dragons. Night after night, reading after reading, Bilbo Baggins returns to surprise us with his courage, and ingenuity born of common sense.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in planets, magical realism, and magic-supernatural?

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