Sometimes you really just need to get out of your own life by getting into a book. A 600-page Russian drama? Not it. A thought-provoking nonfiction book that scares you into believing society truly is doomed? Not it. A cheery positivity book about gratitude? Overcompensating. What’s a reader to do?

Reach for a YA Fantasy novel, of course. Oh, and add in some fierce main characters, action-packed sequences that would look awesome on Netflix, and how about (since we have enough real-life entities to frighten us) a fictional beast that might actually be conquerable by the time we turn the last page. That will do nicely.

Imagery is powerful, and these authors deliver by letting their imaginations conjure up some wild and wondrous creatures. Glittering wings, gleaming fangs and chameleon-like colors are only the beginning. Get ready to unlock your inner tween and get swept away. Maybe that squirrel in your driveway turns into a soul-sucking demon when it disappears into the bushes. You never know, right?

If your January is feeling a little too dry, and looking ahead to February brings more cold, cold evenings, you need one or two or all of these in your life. Any of them will bring just the escape you’re craving, and many have sequels. Some of the authors even have other novels and series to discover as well. Check out these seven recommendations to get started making mundanity more magical and the animals worth a second glance. 

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

It seems like this book is everywhere right now, doesn’t it? Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times and internationally bestselling author flooding shelves with this popular page-turner. Meet 19-year-old huntress Feyre as she kills a wolf in the woods. Then, a terrifying creature appears before her. And it’s been angered. It abducts her to a land she knows about only from legends, where Feyre discovers that he’s one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world.

The creature’s name is Tamlin, and as she grows more used to her new home, she grows closer to him. But happy endings are a pipe dream; a primordial shadow is taking over and leaving death in its wake. Feyre has to destroy it or else Tamlin, and this whole land, will be wiped out. “Passionate, violent, sexy and daring … A true page-turner,” says USA Today. “Suspense, romance, intrigue and action. This is not a book to be missed!” agrees Huffington Post. Meanwhile, says a regular reviewer like you and me, “This book was the vacation I needed during COVID quarantine,” and that sounds like just the ticket. Read our review of another of her novels, House of Earth and Blood, here.

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Mortal Sight by Sandra Fernandez Rhoads

Cera Marlowe is plagued by panic attacks and can’t figure out why. Eventually, she learns about her connection to a dangerous netherworld. After a traumatic experience, she’s rescued from a pair of predatory and monstrous birds and spirited away by a guitar player to a safe house. In Cera’s presence, visions, music and cryptic messages decoded from Renaissance art and the poetry of John Milton all swirl together in an extraordinary pattern, revealing a history that helps explain the present. 

The door has been opened to a mesmerizing world. Cera finds herself in a place populated by the supernatural and tortured by blood-thirsty, shape-shifting beasts that only she can see, smell or even imagine. This winning debut puts a new twist on the popular “teenage girl saves the world” theme and is an intelligent offering influenced by both great literature and fresh contemporary spirit. Read our review here.

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Shadow of the Spider by Marianne E. Burgess

This book contains those magical elements of YA sci-fi/fantasy that make for a surefire winner when done with a deft pen: curses, prophecies and quests. Jamie and Jeremiah are ordinary teenagers with mostly-ordinary lives when a strange vortex appears and transports them to the land of Eleusia in another dimension. They are even more stunned when they learn that they were actually born in Eleusia but were hidden on Earth for their own protection. It doesn’t stop there: Jamie and Jeremiah are part of a set of triplets, and the third triplet has been living in this parallel land the whole time.

They must quickly adapt to a world where magic exists and fairytale and mythical creatures such as wizards, elves, dwarves, dragons, and Greek and Roman gods and goddesses exist. The triplets must save Eleusia from a goddess’ curse that will bring evil and darkness to the land … and they have only 20 days. Meanwhile, Spider, the shadowy creature spreading the curse, continues to terrorize and kill with its incomprehensible and demonic power. Can they pull it off? Read our review here

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The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

Our protagonist, named Moon, has felt like an outcast since being orphaned and completely devoid of family from a young age. He finds himself spending the majority of his life floating from one group to another, hiding his shapeshifting abilities from the tribes of land-dwellers that occupy the river valley in which he lives. He must be careful; his other form — a winged creature of flight — resembles the Fell, a race that has brought tremendous suffering to the Three Worlds. While Moon knows he’s not one of the Fell, that being said, what is he? 

When he finally figures out his true identity, he’s on the run once again. This time, he runs right into another winged shapeshifter, Stone, who may hold the coveted answers to Moon’s identity. Stone reassures Moon that there is an entire community of creatures like him, which is good news indeed, but he leaves out the catch: Moon’s reentry to their society will cause a seismic shift that only he can take responsibility for. A finalist for the Hugo Award, “It’s that rarest of fantasies: fresh and surprising,” notes critically-acclaimed author N.K. Jemisin. “The Cloud Roads has wildly original worldbuilding, diverse and engaging characters, and a thrilling adventure plot.”

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A Lair of Bones (Curse of the Cyren Queen Book 1) by Helen Scheuerer

This series is marked as “dark fantasy not for the faint-hearted,” so readers beware (though I know the disclaimer will probably entice, not discourage.) The author falls just slightly under the radar but has been compared to Sarah J. Maas of prior mention, so she might be your next big discovery. It’s the first book in a quartet, so if you get too entangled to escape, never fear. Visit a world of powerful creatures called cyrens, who have controlled the ancient realm of Saddoriel for centuries. One cyren enters a competition to win the role of the next ruler, but this is a dangerous game indeed.

From the moment she came into the world, Roh, the daughter of a notorious criminal, has been shunned and hated. Restricted to the Lower Sector and forced to work as a bone cleaner, she can’t shake the feeling that she deserves a better life in a higher position. To achieve her ambitions, she decides to undergo the Queen’s Tournament, a treacherous set of trials that could win her the ultimate prize: queenship. Up against the most cunning, dangerous cyrens in all the realms, does Roh stand a chance? And what is she willing to do to amplify that sliver of a chance?

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An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Isobel’s work as a portrait artist is in high demand by an extremely demanding set of clients: the darkly powerful fair folk, immortal creatures who cannot bake bread, weave cloth, or put a pen to paper without dissolving into dust. Thus, they lust after what they cannot have, and are willing to exchange invaluable enchantments for Isobel’s creations. It’s a big deal when she welcomes her first royal patron — Rook, the autumn prince — but she messes up inexcusably by painting mortal sorrow in his eyes, a weakness that could cost him his life.

Naturally, the prince is concerned. He immediately whisks her to the autumnlands to stand trial for her crime. Their journey, however, is set upon by the Wild Hunt’s ghostly hounds, the tainted influence of the Alder King and horrifying monsters risen from barrow mounds. The duo forms a compulsory alliance that becomes trust, then perhaps, even forbidden love: the emotion would violate the fair folk’s ruthless Good Law. Isobel has to decide whether to give up her Craft or use it to defy the ancient malice of the fairy courts, because Craft may hold enormous power over the fair folk. Read our review of Vespertine, another of Rogerson’s novels, here

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The Night Weaver by Monique Snyman

Allow us to highlight our very own social media expert who also happens to be a very talented author. Sure, we may be biased, but we’re in the majority: check out the litany of stellar reviews by people who aren’t us. In her unique concoction of horror, fantasy and adolescent angst, children in a small town keep disappearing, and nobody seems to care enough to do anything about it. Determined young Rachel Cleary tries to make sense of the weird occurrences in Shadow Grove and the even weirder (non)reactions before too many (and maybe she herself) are lost. 

Her quest leads her deep into the eerie forest teeming with chilling creatures who are changing citizens into zombie-like caricatures of themselves. Upon further investigation, the creature may be a horrifying entity known as the Night Weaver, likened to the Black Annis of English folklore. It’s a boogeyman figure with a taste for human flesh, and it’s up to Rachel to figure out the legends in time to save her town from destruction. In case you need more convincing, it was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award. Read our review here.

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