Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
Good morning! It’s a cloudy Tuesday here, but I hope you find yourselves with an enjoyable day so far regardless of what the weather is like. I worry sometimes with the busyness that is my new job that I will have less time to read and blog as I get more incorporated into my new role. I’m also trying to adopt a dog into my home which also means less time for other hobbies, but I do enjoy reviving this blog after my hiatus in 2019-2020.
Today’s topic is one that made me think and was a great topic to discuss. I apologize for the length, but I just had so many things to say about some of the best reads I love and why I loved them so much. I have also linked all my reviews for the books I mentioned below in case you do get interested in their stories to see for yourself.
Let me know in the comments below if you love reading for any of these reasons too!
I am happiest when I feel like there is substance to the book I read, which may be why I lean towards more fantasy and sci-if than contemporary or romance when I have first pick of books to read. When it comes to plotting, I appreciate books that clearly have their plots mapped out by their authors, such as little details early on that seem insignificant but turn out to be important.
A good pace or intensity also demonstrates how well thought out a book is and what was important to expand or make more concise to keep readers interested. I love authors who can do this well (of course, with the help of amazing editors!).
The Host and City of Bones are both great examples of amazing plots to me. Both are rather long books, particularly the former, but it doesn’t feel super long when there’s a good plot that really captures you into the story and what is happening to these characters we’re reading about. I’m invested because things are happening that excite or elicit some sort of strong emotion in me, and I just want to see what happens to them.
2. World Building
Point #1 ties into point #2. Plotting, particularly in fantasies, require an element of world building. Do I believe in this place? Can I picture it? How much do I understand from what the author has explained to me so far? These are all questions I ask myself as I go along in a book.
Sometimes it takes a while to fully grasp the world, and perhaps some authors fall into the trap of overloading information at the beginning, but a good book does it in a way that explains without it being pages of just technical jargon to catch us up to speed quickly. It does so organically. And at the end of it, I feel I know this place like I would love to walk down those roads (if they have roads) and I know who I’d meet and what to expect.
Tolkien’s LOTR series and Leigh’s newest series, Ninth House, both showcase excellent world building in different ways. LOTR is a high fantasy that is non-existent outside of our world and society, but he crafted beautiful (and scary) places that have captured people’s imaginations and yearning to visit Rivendell or relax in the Shire. Ninth House is an urban fantasy set in Yale, but the world building comes not in location but the magical system and houses she has described and built a history upon that’s interlaced with the Yale campus. I can imagine what both are like outside of the characters and specific locations/plot lines in the story. That is a mark of good world building to me.
I’m a HUGE sucker of mysteries so it goes without saying that I appreciate excellent twists I do not foresee coming in the plot. While this is something that is more characteristic in mysteries, that’s not saying other genres cannot have unpredictable endings or unexpected plot elements. To me, this is basically writing a story that isn’t simply formulaic and overdone by many other people in the genre. Yes, there are many tropes everyone uses at the end of the day, but it is adding that extra something to the tropes that is uniquely your creative thinking that may catch most (doesn’t have to be all) off guard from the expected route.
I have so many book examples of excellent twists, mystery or not, but I will highlight Karen M. McManus’ One of Us is Lying because this still tops the New York Times list for a reason. A common trope, yes (think Breakfast Club but with murder as an end result), but not in the way that is easily guessable and definitely had a special, murderous spin to it. That was an interesting twist I will never forget.
By touching, I mean touching to the heart. It’s those warm feelings I get when happy endings arise and characters are getting everything they deserve while I cheer on from the sidelines. I know some people love sad, tragic stories, but I love my happy (or at least hopeful) endings. Life is already full of unhappy, unfair events, so why read more of those and cry for characters who face such things and end in hopeless situations? If that’s your thing, I’m glad it works for you, but unfortunately it doesn’t for me.
This fits into most genres for me, but I lean towards contemporaries when I really want a dose of happy/hopeful stories. Love, Life and the List and Since You’ve Been Gone are some of my favourite contemporaries over the last decade that still stick out to me for this reason. Whether it’s best-friends-to-lovers (my favourite, I’m sorry if you like enemies-to-lovers more) or the bond between best friends who’ll do anything for each other, these stories tug on my heartstrings and perhaps may bring out a tear (or many tears).
And of course, sometimes I just want books that are fun. Some of these I might classify as guilty pleasures because I wouldn’t ordinarily read them all the time. Others have great plots but also keeps it entertaining. It is probably why I love YA the most because it balances the seriousness and the fun that works best for me compared to MG or adult books.
Hot British Boyfriend already sounds like a hilarious and fun adventure to the UK from its title alone, and it definitely delivered on that front in its plot as well. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is now a more common household name after its Netflix movies but when I first picked this up when it first came out, the concept of accidentally sending love letters to all her crushes just seemed crazy and the perfect set up for some wild consequences. These books aren’t comedic alone as they do achieve a serious tone in places, but they’re the kind of books I want to take on vacation with me to read with that kind of mood and atmosphere.
Speaking of vacation, escapism is another key thing I enjoy about books. When life gets kind of heavy and I just want to forget or go away to some place else for a while, books had always provided this for me since I was a child. Whether it be actual travelling in the stories or just to escape my own life by “living” someone else’s, this aspect of reading never grows old.
Love & Gelato is a great example of travelling a country through a book. I haven’t been to the places in Italy the book covers, but with the help of Google and opening up many tabs about the food and the tourist locales, I felt like I was seeing Italy even when stuck at home (in a pandemic lockdown). Caraval is an example of escapism in another way, such as to another fantastical world where I can live the events happening to someone else. A good author really draws you into what is happening to their characters as if I am there with them, and Stephanie Garner is amazing at doing this. I honestly wish I could visit Caraval.
I know this category sounds broad but this encompasses character development and characterization. Character development, alongside with a good plot, are two halves of a story I look for. One without the other would make for a tiring read. I want to be invested in these characters – after all, I’m stuck with them for the next however many pages – so the question is, why should I care what happens to them? So what if they get bitten by a venomous snake?
Characterization is another element I use to help pick books that sound interesting to me personally. For example, I love fairy tale re-tellings. Absolutely ADORE them. My favourite is definitely the Cinderella story (the Disney version, not the Grimms’ version because that’s just a bit too much for me), and I love how authors take the elements in this tale and make it their own. No other re-telling has ever stood up to Cinder in my opinion. An Asian, cyborg mechanic as our heroine who is kickass and someone I can totally root for? It was everything I didn’t know I needed.
8. Learning New Things
Another great thing about reading is the amount of knowledge we gain, particularly from genres that require a lot of research on the author’s part. This may show more heavily in historicals if the author wants to be accurate to the time period of their choosing they’re writing in. But this can also be the case of contemporaries, such as how a particular job is done or scientific/mathematical facts that should still be grounded in some fact. Either way, I appreciate an author who puts in the effort to really know the area they’re writing about instead of just guessing without doing the work to research or ask those who are experts in such fields.
I have put out 2 of my favourite historical fictions of all time as examples of learning new things. The Last Magician taught me a lot about 1920s Manhattan and the world of speakeasys, gangs and the way the society worked. The Rose Code was such a well-researched book on WWII, using real life people as inspired characters in the story and places/events that really took place while crafting a fictional story around these things. It takes more time than just creatively imagining everything and how it works/relates to one another, but a book that does this well really shows and it makes me love it more.
9. Growth in Character
I also particularly like books that have real-life applications for me. This may extend to more non-fictional books – which I do read on the occasion – but that’s not to say elements in fiction don’t teach us good lessons that are helpful in life. I think even seeing how a character grows over the course of their story, or seeing the hardships a character that is very unlike the kind of person we are in life face, is eye-opening and can be used to shape how I see the world around me and how I interact with it.
For example, when trying to educate myself more about the Black experience and the hardships they face in brutality and racism, I tried to read more books from authors who do know what that is like so that I can learn and do better. Punching the Air was a great read for this reason and definitely brought a lot of discussion points when Fives and I talked about it together.
10. Shared Passion
Last but not least, as with us all, I think it’s safe to say one thing about reading we all love is the community and shared passion of reading that is also enjoyable. I always grew up reading alone because not many of my friends read books, or read the same books as I do. When I started this blog, it was because I wanted to share my love for certain books I enjoyed so much that I didn’t want to keep it all to myself. I’m so glad that I have found this community because I wouldn’t want to trade it away.
I put up the first buddy read that Fives and I read together, The Woman in the Window, and thoroughly discussed as an example of this. I rarely did buddy reads before, but this was such an amazing experience, especially over a book we both loved and were super into. Whether you do book clubs or buddy reads or just simply comment on blogs in this wonderful community, I hope this is a reminder to us why reading isn’t necessarily solitary at all and it can in fact bring us together in ways nothing else can.
If you have gotten here, thanks for reading this super long post. I guess I just had a lot to say because reading still means something to me after all of these years. I have grown up reading and sometimes felt like no one else in my life understood why I enjoyed it so much and continued to choose to do so in my adult years. I hope some of these reasons resonated with you too.
Happy TTT, everyone!