In my continuing effort to be more mindful of my reading choices, I’ve been thinking about the character types, settings, and themes that are common in the books I’ve loved over the years. I want to maximize my exposure to those things because I want to find more books to love rather than spending my reading time on books that end up feeling very average and/or forgettable to me. I’m good about knowing the very few things that I definitely avoid in my reading, so it only makes sense to be aware of the things that draw me into a book.
Last week’s Top 5 Wednesday topic was favorite buzz words, the words that make a book an immediate buy for you, and as I was watching videos on the topic, I thought it would be a great format for a blog post too. Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly discussion topic created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey on YouTube, and there is a Goodreads group with all the information about how to participate and the weekly topics. I don’t participate in that group, but I do watch several YouTubers who sometimes participate. Two of the videos I really enjoyed on the buzz words topic were this one from Samantha at Thoughts on Tomes and this one from Denise Marie.
The following words and phrases make me sit up and take notice when I read them in a synopsis, blurb, or review.
Beauty and the Beast
Fairy tale retellings in general call out to me, but I have a soft spot for Beauty and the Beast. It’s my favorite fairy tale, and I think it’s the source of my love for scarred heroes in romance. Some of my first books were fairy tale collections, so I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Beauty and the Beast, but it became my favorite fairy tale after seeing a 1946 French film adaptation. My local library did a summer event with a theme of fairy tales around the world, and for some reason, they showed this movie in French with English subtitles. It didn’t go over well with many of the other young viewers, but I was mesmerized. Not too long after that, I fell in love with Vincent and Catherine from the 1980s TV show Beauty and the Beast even though that ultimately didn’t end as happily as my romantic shipper heart would have preferred.
Immediately after seeing the French film, I began looking for books that either retold the fairy tale or gave me the same feeling. The first one I recall reading was Beauty by Robin McKinley, and that one remains a favorite. These days, I need only the barest hint of a Beauty and the Beast connection to grab a book, which is how I came to read and enjoy When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James and The Vixen and the Vet by Katy Regnery.
My love for Beauty and the Beast also extends to anything related to the story of Cupid and Psyche. Cupid and Psyche retellings seem to be less common, but one of my favorite books ever, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, is written from the perspective of Psyche’s older sister.
Once again we’re taken back to the 1980s for the beginning of my interest in time travel. I grew up loving the 1950s and 1960s and was especially obsessed with Elvis Presley for most of my childhood and teen years, so All Shook Up by Eileen Goudge about a girl going back in time to Memphis in 1956 in order to get a picture of Elvis with a particular guitar in order to authenticate it 30 years later fascinated me. The story itself was more than a little silly, but 11-year-old me was hooked on the idea of time travel. The TV show Quantum Leap came along a couple of years later, and I became an even bigger fan of time travel.
I’m not opposed to time travel that takes place in the future, but I’m most interested in time travel to the fairly recent past because I’m interested in those time periods. I think part of what I like about time travel in fiction is learning real history and experiencing the past from a modern perspective. There’s a fish out of water aspect that can make for fun stories as long as I don’t feel like I’m dealing with a stupid protagonist. Some of my favorite time travel books are Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis and The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers. Recent and upcoming books added to my TBR because of time travel references are Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, and Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor.
The idea of living at least part-time in a virtual world captivates me. If there’s some clear connection between massively multiplayer online (MMO) gaming and the virtual world, then I’m even more interested. This is probably why people who know me don’t understand why I haven’t read Ready Player One by Ernest Cline yet. I’m not even sure why I haven’t gotten to it yet because it’s been on my TBR list since its release date.
Like a lot of people, my first memory of being really interested in virtual reality comes from watching the movie Tron in the early 80s, and then my imagination was really sparked by the holodeck on Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’m sure no one familiar with science fiction will be surprised to see me mention Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson in this section because it gave us a language to discuss the idea of an Internet based on virtual reality. The Metaverse is populated by user-created avatars and corporate daemons, and your status comes from your ability to access restricted areas of the Metaverse and the sophistication of your avatar’s appearance. It’s a book I really should read again because it’s been years since I read it.
Although the Dream Park series by Larry Niven and Steven Barnes don’t take place in a virtual reality, I include them in this category because they combined cutting-edge technology with live action role-playing games (LARP) and reality television back in the 1980s. The books are set in the near future with the first book set in 2051, and the games take place in an amusement park. One thing I enjoy about these books is that they have multiple levels from the game story and mechanics to out-of-character relationships and often high-stakes conspiracies trying to hide behind the public games. Write about big-scale games mixed with technology, and your book will definitely end up in my hands at some point.
While I definitely had some of the typical bedtime story experiences as a kid, my favorite bedtimes were when my dad played his audio cassettes of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe. Something about Sherlock Holmes intrigued me, and though I’m probably not as big a fan now as I was as a kid, I still enjoy revisiting him through new stories. I think The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King was the first book I picked up solely because of the mention of Sherlock, but I’m many books behind in the series now.
I tend to have better luck with books that extend Sherlock’s story somehow by either giving him a wife as with Laurie R. King’s series or focusing on a sibling like Nancy Springer does with her stories about fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes. These days, I usually skip books that are just new cases that mimic the style of the original stories because they fall flat for me. Maybe one will surprise me someday though, so I don’t rule them out completely. I also get sucked in by books that have tenuous ties to Sherlock like the upcoming A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro where the great-great-grandson of John Watson and the great-great-granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes work together to clear their names in a student’s death.
There’s something about reading letters (or texts or emails or diary entries) that satisfies my curious nature. It’s the illusion of being let into someone’s private thoughts with no reason to feel guilty about it. Although newspaper clippings, blog posts, and other public writings don’t have that exact feeling attached to them, I include them in this category too because they add a different perspective and voice to the story you’re reading. Some of the epistolary novels I’ve read and loved are Dracula by Bram Stoker, Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster, The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, and Love, Rosie by Ceclia Ahern. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell is an interesting take on the epistolary novel because the emails between two best friends are being monitored by an IT guy as part of his job, and he falls in love with one of the women through her words. It could so easily feel creepy, but it never does to me, and because my husband and I met in the 90s through emails (to each other!), it gives me lovely feelings of nostalgia.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff is on my radar because it tells the story with so many bits and pieces of information from different sources. It just looks like such a fun and interesting book.