All fiction is fantasy. An author asks, "What if?" and writes an imaginative story. Speculative fiction writers take it one step further and introduce an unreal element -- a strange setting or an event that never happened. Some "spec-fic" is high fantasy or hard science fiction, but many titles are great for readers of realistic fiction.
If you like hard-boiled detective stories, try Jim Butcher's series "The Dresden Files." Harry Dresden conducts investigations and consults for the local police department. As a wizard, he can take these investigations further than most private eyes. Start with "Storm Front," the first in the series.
Fans of heists or adventure will love "The Lies of Locke Lamora" by Scott Lynch. Locke, an orphan in a fantastic city, has an extraordinary gift for thievery. Sold to a local con artist, he grows to lead his mentor's band of tricksters. No wealthy noble is safe from their delightfully outrageous confidence games.
Alternate history is an easy fit for history lovers. This genre examines what might happen if historical events had happened differently. In "The Man with the Iron Heart" by Harry Turtledove, a post-World War II Nazi group launches terrorist attacks against occupying Allied forces. "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon follows residents of a Jewish refugee settlement in Alaska established during World War II.
History buffs and thriller fans will enjoy the parallel plots of Ann Benson's "The Plague Tales." In 14th-century Europe, Jewish doctor Alejandro Canches works to cure the Black Death, keeping a detailed journal. In a dystopian near-future, Dr. Janie Crow finds the aged journal and uses it to deal with a new outbreak of the plague.
Political enthusiasts should check out "Wicked" by Gregory Maguire. A green-skinned, sharp-tongued college student named Elphaba takes on the dystopian dictatorship of Oz. A far cry from the original Oz stories, Wicked tackles myriad social and political issues in a fantastic setting.
J.D. Robb's "In Death" series will thrill romantic suspense readers. In "Naked in Death," Eve Dallas is a New York homicide detective in 2038. She's asked to investigate a murder committed with a gun -- an outlawed weapon available only to licensed collectors.
Romance readers will love "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon. A World War II nurse is hurled two hundred years into the past, away from her new husband and into the arms of a passionate Highland warrior. Also try "The Time Traveler's Wife," a strange, sentimental love story in which Henry DeTamble and his wife cross paths -- and timelines -- in unusual ways.
Looking for another classic? Gabriel Garcia-Marquez popularized the Latin American genre of magical realism, a subtle form of fantasy, with "One Hundred Years of Solitude." This family saga is grounded in reality, but strange things happen in the village: the entire town is afflicted with insomnia, a woman ascends to heaven while hanging laundry, and a suicide defies the laws of physics.
Laura Hayden is a fantasy-loving reference librarian at the Beaufort Branch of the Beaufort County Public Library, at 311 Scott St., Beaufort.