If you ever feel your life is a little too drab, dusty, and filled with routine, these 11 reads contain just the right amount of intrigue, love, and magic to brighten even the worst of days.
1. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
If you haven’t discovered the lush writing of one of the great masters of all time then this novel is one of his finest. In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs — yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again. It’s the way almost everyone on the planet wants to be loved — passionately, as if they are the only person on the planet. Read and love this and you’ll be hooked on Gabriel García Márquez for life.
2. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The full title of this novel is: Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies. Earthy, magical, and utterly charming, this tale of family life in turn-of-the-century Mexico became a bestselling phenomenon with its winning blend of poignant romance and bittersweet wit. A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next 22 years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck, and fate finally reunite them against all the odds. Even that description does fully share with you the power of this novel, which you can read in one evening. This is a perfect selection for book clubs that have fun incorporating good drink and great food into their gatherings. Twelve members? Have each bring a recipe from a chapter and — voila! — you’ve got a party.
3. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
You may have heard this woman’s name for years and never managed to have the time to discover her work. Spanish authors have always known exactly how to incorporate the magic of life and death into great works of literature. This is a stellar example of doing just that. In one of the most important and beloved Latin American works of the 20th century, Isabel Allende weaves a luminous tapestry of three generations of the Trueba family, revealing both triumphs and tragedies. Here is patriarch Esteban, whose wild desires and political machinations are tempered only by his love for his ethereal wife, Clara, a woman touched by an otherworldly hand. Their daughter, Blanca, whose forbidden love for a man Esteban has deemed unworthy infuriates her father, yet will produce his greatest joy: his granddaughter Alba, a beautiful, ambitious girl who will lead the family and their country into a revolutionary future. The House of the Spirits is an enthralling saga that spans decades and lives, twining the personal and the political into an epic novel of love, magic, and fate. It’s a novel that will stay with you for the rest of your life, and that’s a very good thing.
4. Mermaids In Paradise by Lydia Millet
Sometimes you need your magic and suspense on the lighter side. This one has the humor that will keep you laughing aloud so that those family members glued to the TV keep turning and saying, “What? What is it?” and you just hold up Mermaids and explain to them with a patient tone, “It’s a book.” Actually, do this so often they get mad enough to read. Mermaids, kidnappers, and mercenaries hijack a tropical vacation in this genre-bending send-up of the American honeymoon. Mermaids in Paradise is Lydia Millet’s funniest book yet, tempering the sharp satire of her early career with the empathy and subtlety of her more recent novels and short stories. This is an unforgettable, mesmerizing tale, darkly comic on the surface and illuminating in its depths. We promise you’ll forget all about that person at work who is driving you batty over their paperclip shortage.
5. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Johnny Depp. Those two words are all we need to mention for fans of that dark-haired mysterious man who was perfectly cast in the movie adaption of Chocolat.
Joanne Harris’s New York Times bestselling novel Chocolat entranced readers with its mix of hedonism, whimsy, and, of course, chocolate. In tiny Lansquenet, where nothing much has changed in a hundred years, beautiful newcomer Vianne Rocher and her exquisite chocolate shop arrive and instantly begin to play havoc with Lenten vows. Each box of luscious bonbons comes with a free gift: Vianne’s uncanny perception of its buyer’s private discontents and a clever, caring cure for them. Chocolat‘s every page offers a description of chocolate to melt in the mouths of chocoholics, francophiles, armchair gourmets, cookbook readers, and lovers of passion everywhere. Curl up with the book and watch Chocolat on screen afterward. It’s just that good.
6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
This book became an instant craze upon its arrival and flew off the shelves of bookstores coast-to-coast. If you missed this wild literary romp through the fields of circus magic the first time, now is the perfect time to be transported by a story that surprises us with its originality and power. The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance. Heavy on magic, mystery, and romance, this novel does something totally surprising — it uncovers the places in our hearts that remain childlike, hoping for a magical place to call our own.
8. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
This authors name immediately conjures up a knowing with her dedicated readers that opening the pages will mean the words are beautiful, the story haunting, and the dimension of the world of our everyday grounded reality blended with magic. Practical Magic is a winning tale that amply confirms Alice Hoffman’s reputation not only as a genius of the vivid scene and unforgettable character but as one of America’s most captivating storytellers.
When the beautiful and precocious sisters Sally and Gillian Owens are orphaned at a young age, they are taken to a small Massachusetts town to be raised by their eccentric aunts, who happen to dwell in the darkest, eeriest house in town. As they become more aware of their aunt’s mysterious and sometimes frightening powers — and as their own powers begin to surface — the sisters grow determined to escape their strange upbringing by blending into “normal” society. But both find that they cannot elude their magic-filled past. And when trouble strikes — in the form of a menacing backyard ghost — the sisters must not only reunite three generations of Owens women but embrace their magic as a gift — and their key to a future of love and passion. Funny, haunting, and shamelessly romantic, Practical Magic is bewitching entertainment.
9. The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton
The magical touch in novels comes in all shapes and sizes. If you are looking for serious, heavy, heady books that touch seriously on all that it is to be human, this one might be your perfect cup of tea. Don’t get us wrong — it’s pure magic — but it’s the kind solidly grounded in the more serious nature of being human, of myth, and of living legends. This story perfectly fits the genre of magical realism with its lyrical prose, and the pain and passion of human love haunt this hypnotic generational saga. Foolish love appears to be the Roux family birthright, an ominous forecast for its most recent progeny, Ava Lavender. Ava — in all other ways a normal girl — is born with the wings of a bird. In a quest to understand her peculiar disposition and a growing desire to fit in with her peers, 16-year-old Ava ventures into the wider world, ill-prepared for what she might discover and naive to the twisted motives of others. Others like the pious Nathaniel Sorrows, who mistakes Ava for an angel and whose obsession with her grows until the night of the summer solstice celebration. That night, the skies open up, rain and feathers fill the air, and Ava’s quest and her family’s saga build to a devastating crescendo. First-time author Leslye Walton has constructed a layered and unforgettable mythology of what it means to be born with hearts that are tragically, exquisitely human.
9. Swamplandia by Karen Russell
This novel unveils the old Florida, the one full of dark story and wild magic. It’s through the eyes of 13-year-old Ava Bigtree, who has lived her entire life at Swamplandia, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. (See, you probably thought that was a stretch of the imagination, but no, it was like that.) When illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness. As Ava sets out on a mission through the magical swamps to save them all, we are drawn into a lush and bravely imagined debut that takes us to the shimmering edge of reality. Lyrical, dark, and haunting, it’s no surprise that the New York Times chose Swamplandia as one of their best books of the year. If you’re searching for a book whose lyrical, dark prose is so lush it carries you downriver in the first line, this is your go-to. We loved it.
10. The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
There is nothing like the American Wild West. Not the one that was portrayed for years on spaghetti westerns and shootouts but the true one of the mystical lands of the Native Americans. It’s something you can truly feel if you walk the mesas of the Anastazi ruins or venture onto the sacred lands of 1,000-year-old pueblos. You can feel magic rise up from the ground to meet you. You really can. But if traveling to the Southwest isn’t possible for you tonight, do the next best thing and pick up a novel from a true Native American author who gets his magic right. Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high lonely place — a corpse with a mouth full of sand, abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues. Though it goes against his better judgment, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn cannot help but suspect the hand of a supernatural killer. There is palpable evil in the air, and Leaphorn’s pursuit of a Wolf-Witch is leading him where even the bravest men fear, on a chilling trail that winds perilously between mysticism and murder. There is something deeply likeable about Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and no matter how spooky murder may be, we sense we can trust him to walk us safely through to the last page.
11. The River Witch by Kimberly Brock
This little novel may have slipped through the rocks and escaped your notice, but we’re resurrecting it for your pleasure. Grandmothers and heartbreak, romance and new beginnings carry the story along to its very satisfying conclusion. Broken in body and spirit, a promising dancer secludes herself in the mystical wilderness of a Georgia island after an accident that can’t be repaired. This novel captures the old songs, old ways, and the gentle magic of the river people in the Deep South. If you’re from the area, you’ll recognize the truth captured in these pages. If you’re from all other places, you’ll welcome a chance to dive into the islands of the deep south in all their mystical glory.