Books don't have to have wizards to make magic or cast a spell. The magical books I look for as a reader and reviewer create realities unlike my own so seamlessly, with such organic detail, that I live inside of them for days after having read them. I feel ensorcelled. All of life's troubles fall away and it's as if I have wings. Even more, I want to share them with every book lover I know. These books haunt and inspire me, make me proud to be a writer, glad to be a reviewer. Here are some of my favorites of the decade.
The Game by Laurie R. King. King's Sherlock Holmes series never gives off that odor of staleness you find in long-running hit series and The Game is flat-out astonishing. Set in a brilliantly evoked India of the 1920s, it features Holmes on a mission to find the Kim who inspired Rudyard Kipling's eponymous novel. The lush book glitters on every page, as well it should, and it's one of my favorites to use in writing workshops.
The Crimson Petal and The White by Michel Faber. It's fitting that this novel about Victorian prostitutes starts with a seduction -- of the reader! I can't recall ever being so grabbed by a novel's first pages. I couldn't stop reading except to note passages that left me in a state of wonderment, or to reread descriptions of London or people to my spouse. The book is a triumph of voice and vision.
Already Dead by Charlie Huston. The fiendishly clever author creates a New York underground divided among gangs of vampires who have great power, but whose anonymity is threatened by dumb, voracious zombies who are bad for PR. His cynical narrator is a zombie hunter/P.I., and every single detail of his world has been worked out with breathtaking ingeniousness.
City of Thieves by David Benioff. One of my grandfathers starved to death in the Siege of Leningrad along with hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens and I've always been fascinated by the story. Benioff turns it into the setting for a bizarre quest narrative, rooted in the unreal realities of war, starvation, disease, and terror. It's harrowing, funny, and crazy all at the same time--and unforgettable.
Bangkok 8 by John Burdett. Crime goes beautifully cross-cultural in this heady mix of Buddhism, corruption, murder, and unexpected comedy. The narrator is half-Thai and half-American, and his life in two different zones of reality anchors one of the strongest debuts of the decade. You'll feel you've been living in Bangkok before you're done, or long to go there.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Okay, there are magicians in this massive, wildly inventive novel that doubles as an academic spoof. But the real magician is the author, who creates an alternate England complete with its own history, wars, idols, and much more. A decade in the writing, it opens doorways into worlds you wish really existed. A perfect, mind-blowing winter book.
Check out my previous Huffington Post blog here.