Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My favorite book: in 6 simple steps!

Over the years, I've agonized about what types of books I most love to read (and write). While I'm not a hard science chick, one of my favorite books ever is a space opera. I've been known to roll my eyes and snort at romance novels, but I don't mind the occasional sweet (or steamy!) love story. I read children's and adult fiction, I read literary and genre, I read serious and light.

But after reading a pure Anne-crack book this past week, it occurs to me it's really quite easy to identify a book I'll love. In fact, I've narrowed it down to six simple steps!

1. Give me a complex character. 

Contradictory elements, someone who grows over the course of a story, a character who acts in different ways given the situation, the people they're surrounded with...

Bonus points: I've got an unexplained soft spot for good guys. They may be damaged, or weird, or crazy annoying, but they care more about other people than themselves, and they'll do anything to help. Think Mr. Monk, or Dr. Hawkeye Pierce in MASH (did you notice the picture? Really can't resist!).

Extra bonus points if the main character's a tough woman (ass-kicking tough, stubborn as all get-go, seemingly vulnerable but with an inner strength, I'll take any and all of it!). 

2. A rich setting.

It can be contemporary world. It could be an intergalactic space cruiser or a made-up land. It could be the wild west, ancient Egypt, San Francisco's Chinatown. As long as it's full of detail, and you give me something to smell and taste, streets to explore, cluttered shops and varieties of people, I'm putty in your hands.

3. Magic.

It doesn't matter if it's spiritual, mechanical, or fantastical, if it's got magic, I'm captivated.

Bonus points if it's an ancient magic, something I've never seen before, perhaps immoral, but definitely creepy as hell.

By the way, have you seen the new covers for Holly Black's Curse Workers series?! I'm saving the final book, Black Heart, for a special occasion.

4. A twisty, turn-y plot.

A lonely orphan girl, taken in by a guardian with ulterior motives. She discovers her real mother, a wealthy lady, has abandoned her and regretted it ever since. A missing will, a long lost brother, a dangerous killer on the run with revenge on his mind. Oh, and make sure there's a reveal with every few chapters!

5. A driving goal.

It could be survival, it could be romance, it could be saving the world... as long as the character never stops pushing for it, I'll never stop reading.

6. And good writing. 

So good I don't even notice it, except for the occasional chapter-ending statement that makes me shiver because it's so true and terrifying, or the description that convinces me there's six feet of snow outside in the middle of summer.

So there you have it. The perfect Anne book in six simple steps!

Oh, you want to know what I read that inspired this whole post? Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers:

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae's most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Doesn't that sound wonderful? It was. Actually, to be totally honest, she had me at assassin nuns.

Do you know the recipe for your favorite books? And, given my recipe, got any book recommendations for me?!


  1. Love your recipe! I wish more books had all these elements. And assassin nuns?! Talk about twisty! - must add this to my "to be read" list


    1. Yeah, they're not exactly unique elements, are they? Rather, most of them are so very essential to good storytelling!

      Yep, assassin nuns! ;)

  2. Great elements that all writers should keep in mind. I am always a sucker for a story about sisters.

    1. It's funny knowing these things about ourselves, isn't it? No idea why my little heart beats for good guys! Perhaps because I'm married to one... ;)

  3. Just checked my WIP against your points, and found that I better get back to it ASAP... :( Thanks for reminding me of the missing ingredients. The cake won't rise without 'em. :)

    1. Ah, WIPs... they always ask so much of us! ;)

  4. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never stopped to figure out what I consider the ingredients to *my* perfect read. You've got me thinking now. But until I figure it out, I'll just borrow your formula. :)

    Oh and I'm adding Grave Mercy and Fingersmith to my TBR list right now. They both sound really good.

    1. Happy to share the pondering--definitely was an interesting thought process for me! And yes, you're welcome to the formula. Other than the magic, it's probably fairly universal!

      Ohhh, Fingersmith is one of my favorites of all time! Not nearly as well known as it should be! I should clarify, though. The little description I wrote under twisty turny plots doesn't describe Fingersmith... the beginning is Bleak House, and I just started throwing in random things. Hope you enjoy both it and Grave Mercy!

  5. Those look like some great books to put on my reading list. I'm especially intrigued by Graceling.

    1. Ohhh, speaking of strong, bad-ass female heroines! Love Graceling!

      Thanks for stopping by, Alice.

  6. I think you and I have the same type of formula. :) I want to get my hands on GRAVE MERCY because I love that author's writing. I read the first chapter in the bookstore and I like the voice.

    1. I kind of suspected we might have a similar recipe; I don't think you've steered me wrong on a book yet! And yes, I read the first 50 pages as a sample on my Nook, and before I had even hit page fifty I was madly stabbing the buy button! ;)

      I really like the idea of a female character who's been abused by in the past and has a chance to get some of her own back, which the beginning really highlights. I wish LaFevers had drawn that out even more later in the book, but that's a minor complaint.


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