The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
young adult, fantasy
I'm starting to realize, as I go on with this list, how much of it was established from third through sixth grade. Here's another one off the third grade list. The Dark is Rising series is about a young English boy who discovers he's actually part of an ancient race of magical warriors who exist to prevent evil from taking over the world. I like it because most of the challenges he faces are well-described, with plenty of physical details to help you understand what's happening. (This is by no means the norm in "good versus evil" type fantasy novels.) Also because Will, the hero, is so likable.

"'The Walker is abroad,' he said again. 'And this night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining.'"

Deerskin by Robin McKinley
fantasy, fairy tales
This book established McKinley as one of my favorite writers of all time. I read it while trapped in a wonderful waterfront house during a snowstorm with a bunch of my relatives. At one point I reluctantly offered to come join the conversation, but my mom, in one of those wonderful intuitive moments of hers, saw how engrossed I was in the book and told me to stay put, so I got to finish it with the snow falling on the Sound outside and a huge plate of homemade gingersnaps at my elbow.

Uh. None of this will help you decide whether you want to read the book. It's McKinley at her lushest, language-wise: the sentences wrap around and around until you're dizzy, but somehow you never lose track of the story. Which is about a princess forced to flee her home with her faithful dog, and about the recovery process the two of them go through, strongly influenced by their relationship with one another. And the dog, Ash, is extremely, pleasingly doglike.

WARNING: This book contains a brutal rape scene near the beginning, which is what you spend the rest of the book recovering from with the princess and her dog.

"If a dog could have a sense of humor, as Ash manifestly did, could she not also have a sense of irony? Lissar knew that at heart she believed that a good dog was capable of almost anything..."

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
fantasy, humor
Hysterical. If you liked The Hitchhiker's Guide but thought it could do with a few less spaceships, try this. If you're shaking your head in bafflement, thinking "Less spaceships? Do you want to ruin the whole thing, woman?" try this. If you've never read any Douglas Adams at all, try this. If you like things that are good, try this.

On the other hand, I am pretty sure Michele hated it, and she does often like things that are good, so maybe it's not for everyone. But try it anyway.

"He was rounder than the average undergraduate and wore more hats. That is to say, there was just the one hat which he habitually wore, but he wore it with a passion that was rare in one so young. [...] By means of an ingenious series of strategically deployed denials of the most exciting and exotic things, he was able to create the myth that he was a psychic, mystic, telepathic, fey, clairvoyant, psychosassic vampire bat.

"What did 'psychosassic' mean?

"It was his own word and he vigorously denied that it meant anything at all."

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman
Beware of books with two authors unless they're Good Omens. And beware of books based on role-playing games. And beware of fantasy novels that contain lots of Capital Letters about Good and Evil and Gods With Unpronounceable Names. And beware overly comical dwarves.

But if you can handle all that, and you're new to fantasy, and Tolkien's books don't have enough strong lady characters for you, and you're eleven years old, I highly recommend this trilogy. (But be warned: this is a franchise series, so there are several billion Dragonlance books now. Be sure you read the original series only.)

"'We are the spirits of those poor souls Flint Fireforge left on the barroom floor. Did we die in combat? [...] No! We died of shame, cursed by the ghost of the grape for not being able to outdrink a hill dwarf.'"

The Dubious Hills by Pamela Dean
Beyond question, one of the strangest fantasy novels I've ever read that was still good. In the Dubious Hills, everyone has one specialty of knowledge -- and no one knows anything outside his or her speciality. For example, if your speciality is plantlife, then you know without being taught and with absolute certainty about the properties and uses of plants. But having that kind of inborn certainty about one thing makes you unsure of everything else. So you are aware that fire will burn you if you touch it, because the person who knows has explained this to you, but you don't feel you really know it.

The slow pacing in this reminds me of a drawing-room novel. There's a lot of visiting and discussing with other characters as the heroine, Arry, tries to solve the mystery of her parents' disappearance. If you need quick action (or any action), give it a miss, but if you like a lot of conversation between sensible people -- oh man I am making this sound duller than it is, sorry -- then give it a try.

"According to Halver, today was the first day of May in the four-hundredth year since doubt descended. According to Wim, it was the second hour after dawn. But since dawn in its wandering way moved about, back and forth over the same small span of hours like a child looking for a dropped button, some of the leisured scholars at Heathwill Library (according to Mally they were leisured, according to Halver they were scholars, according to Sune there was indeed a structure called Heathwill Library) had named all the hours of the day from their own heads without regard to the shifting of the sun."