Well, since I’ve been trying to promote my own book [if you missed the launch of my short story collection, The Memorial Tree, last week where were you?!], I’ve been considering what it is that makes us love the books we rave about. Isn’t it every authors dream to hear readers say that they enjoyed their story, believed in their characters, and admired their effortless writing style? As much as I like sitting at my desk and making things up there’s something magical about discovering that someone has been moved by the words that I’ve put together. I’ve already been lucky enough to receive a 5* review for The Memorial Tree, and I’m so grateful that this reader took the time to mention how she felt the stories were well written and had her hooked!
So, what is it about certain books that pull us into the story and keep us reading? To try and work this out, I’ve looked at five books I absolutely love – all chosen for their very different styles – and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
- Little Women, Louise May Alcott
Typically, I am not a fan of the ‘British classics’, but this American one totally has my heart – as many of you who may have followed me for some time already know. Her characters are so well sketched and go through such mesmerising changes, that I almost believe I grew up with Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth, and Laurie myself! I must have re-read this more than twenty times, and each time I sob, laugh, and smile with wistful joy at their lives. I find Alcott’s writing plain and honest, and as such believable, so I immediately cherish their family and the ways they try and do good.
- The Gideon Smith Series, David BarnettSteam Punk. I thought it was a flash in the pan and didn’t pay it much notice until David attended one of our events for Huddersfield Literature Festival (he was actually seconded in when another guest became ill, so a bit serendipitous considering I’ve become a massive fan of his work!). I think I bought the first one because David was so warm and friendly during that event and I wanted to support him as an author. Thankfully I dived straight into his book and barely looked up until I’d finished. Then it was a painstaking wait for the second and third titles each to be released. These stories aren’t just Steam Punk mixed with a bit of historical fantasy, they’re purposefully reminiscent of the old ‘penny dreadful’s and provide a raucous adventure of alternative British Empire in the 19th Century. Fun, fast-paced, and with surprisingly sympathetic characters it’s difficult not to be impressed by how well the author deftly plots his way through so many action-packed scenes. I loved the series so much, I recommended it to my Dad – and he’s now just finished his second read of all of them!
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
I was ‘forced’ to read this for my A-Levels, but was eventually pleased to realise that I had judged it far too quickly. I didn’t appreciate the narrative drive utilised by the Captain’s letters to his sister, then Frankenstein’s account, and then the creature’s story, followed again by Frankenstein and then the Captain’s final letter. But, after reading it again, I now see it as an ingenious way to lull the reader into accepting the horrors that follow with a suspension of disbelief, allow Shelley to practically have us believe that these things really, truly happened – or at least could happen! If at any point you’ve tried reading Frankenstein and didn’t finish, give it another go – I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
- The Princess Bride, William Goldman [*spoiler alert about the book!]How many people knew this was a book before the movie in 1987? I hadn’t heard of it until my OH – when we first met – said how much he loved the movie. Of course, I discovered it was based on a book and immediately chose to read this before watching it, and I’m so glad I did! The thing I love the most about it is not the adventure story (which my OH is drawn to), but rather how much William Goldman completely swindles his readers – not just about the fiction of his grandfather reading him only ‘the good bits’ – remember Colombo aka Peter Falk as the grandfather? – but of the sequel: Buttercup’s Baby. The final section in The Princess Bride book is the first tantalising chapter of this ‘novel’ where Fezzick jumps off a cliff with the aforementioned baby. My OH was devastated when he discovered that no such book exists, or will ever exist, and that even Goldman’s foreword is all part of the fiction he built up around this story. I suppose I didn’t help matters when I laughed at his disappointment and called Goldman a genius, but to be able to carry off such a convincing fiction – that has to be great writing.
- The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
I remember discovering this in a bookshop whilst I was at university and devouring it in a single weekend. I called up my Mum – also a book lover – and raved about it thinking she’d be delighted I’d found such a gem. How foolish did I feel when she admitted she had read the book years earlier when it first came out in the late 1970’s?! Not only that, but there had been a popular miniseries all about it! Granted, I was disappointed by the TV miniseries but I still adore the book. I’m not usually a family saga type of person (Little Women excluded) but, again, I was drawn into the narrative, and started to almost admire the characterful ways of Meggie, and then the fate of her children. Such a sweeping melodrama can only be successful if you create realistic and likeable characters, I think – because you have to be able to root for them across the length of their entire lives – or, rather, an entire book. I think McCullough did this really well, alongside the beautiful description of the Drogheda outback farm where Meggie grows up and meets Father Ralph. Such complex characters can only be built up through time, and in The Thorn Birds I never felt the story dragged. If anything, I never wanted it to end.
Through these five – quite different – books I’ve realised what I love most are character-driven stories that teach me something about the human condition. I want to put down a book and feel that I’ve learned something about the characters, whilst also recognising something in myself that the story has touched upon. What I need to see for a book to interest me enough to recommend it is a character journey – those characters I start the story with should have changed by the end. I like my novels to be meaningful in some way – even if only to me – and to convince me that they could be real, even if they’re fantastical.
Perhaps that’s why I write the fiction I do: this is probably the way I want my readers to feel too. They do say, write the book you’d love to read, after all.
Want to know if my fiction IS like this? Why not download my short story collection from Amazon? You don’t need to own a Kindle – most phones and tables have a kindle app that you can sign in with using your Amazon account. If you do decide to purchase, once you’ve read it – please leave a review if you can.