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Here are my top recommendations for people who have a hard time getting into magic, myth, futurism and life among the stars. Most of these are for young readers, but I've seen them all go over fantastically with adults:
1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, if you haven't already read it. It's mystery, schoolboy adventure, humor and heroism packed into a splendid tale with just a hint of romance. Magic is merely the backdrop, and it's mostly comic.
2. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Every English-speaking reader should at least get through The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at some point in his or her life. Adventure, beautiful prose, fun and a little poignancy, and besides, it's short.
3. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. They're psychological, intellectual, and powerful, as Card takes an intense and deeply empathetic look at humanity through the eyes of a child genius. Not to be missed.
4. The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. A short and beautifully told adventure, magical but ecumenical. My book club doesn't do much fantasy, but everyone in our group loved it.
5. The Goose Girl or Princess Academy by Shannon Hale. Girls, you want a little pure-hearted young romance? No one does it better than Shannon, who also pulls off humor, artistic prose, self-discovery and magic so clearly described that it feels real. Also, you'll never have to sit through long expositions on ancient weaponry.
6. Beauty by Robin McKinley. It's a short and exquisitely written read, a lovely introduction to the world of fairy tale retellings.
7. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. The entire Space Trilogy is good, but this third installment stands well enough alone and features two basically normal protagonists. Science fiction and fantasy elements blend in a character-driven, relational drama. More character-driven and relational than Out of the Silent Planet or Perelandra, by the way, which is the short explanation of why I've always loved it more.
8. The Host by Stephenie Meyer. Didn't like Twilight? It doesn't matter. Don't like science fiction? That probably won't matter either. What you have in this story is two women with strong, differing feelings sharing the same body, dealing with both adventure and romance in that awkward state. The fact that Wanda is an alien doesn't particularly detract from her relatability. Highly recommended.
9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Classic Gothic romance all the way, but that entire story balances right on the verge of the supernatural—and at one point, it steps all the way in. If you bought all that, you're ready for a true foray into faerie.
10. The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Everyone believes in otherworldly things a little bit around Christmas, right? This tale is so moving and expressive that it would take a reader quite hardened against the supernatural to get entirely hung up on the ghosts.
What books would you recommend to friends who don't usually go for science fiction or fantasy?