What keeps you turning the pages?

We all want to hear the response – “it was a real page-turner.” As readers, such an endorsement from friends and other sources offers a promise that a novel will be worth the time and effort invested. As writers, we love hearing from readers who describe our stories that way. And this writer, when hearing a book described as a page-turner wants also to understand what makes a book stand out in this fashion.

Often page-turners are plot-driven with fast pacing and lots of twists and turns and unexpected – though very satisfying – climaxes. In my recent reading, All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker and The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn fit this category. I could also mention The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Pompeii by Robert Harris.

Sometimes a page-turner contains characters whose worlds we eagerly inhabit and whose absence, when the story ends, create a great hole in our hearts. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn and Mary: Tudor Princess by Tony Riches come to mind. But I could equally mention The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick or Mary Called Magdalene by Margaret George or The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett (even though the sequel was much less appealing), or The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner.

In my case, many are historical fiction 🙂

Some time ago, I wrote a few posts about Hit Lit: Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers by James Hall. Hall itemizes twelve features of best-selling books. The first feature he calls “An Offer You Can’t Refuse”, which he further describes as a novel that:

  • entertains
  • engages readers in a compelling, simple and dramatic premise
  • offers an unfolding story with “one complication after another”
  • includes characters “of deep conviction and fervent, stubborn resolve, capable of passions that rise well beyond the normal range of human experience”
  • makes the story worth the readers’ time by forging a “powerful emotional bond … composed of one part pity, one part fear”
  • minimizes backstory
  • creates “some form of serious peril” very early on
  • enhances the tension with “the power of the ticking clock”.

You can read two other posts based on Hall’s book: More Features of Hit Lit and Hit Lit: The Final Six Features. I wrote them in 2012, no doubt full of deep intention to incorporate these features into my novels. But did I?

In the last six years, I’ve learned a lot about writing and had modest success. And yes, some readers have used the phrase page-turner to describes one or more of my novels. But, as Robert Frost is so often quoted: “These woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.”

I’d love to hear what keeps you turning the pages and novels that you’d describe that way.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

A Year of Reading 2016

40 books in 2016 – several for research purposes, a number for reviews or articles, and a good number for pleasure – have to have some of those! Some were superb, others I did not finish.

four-novels-read-in-2016

I suspect I’m a ‘hard marker’. Here’s the rating system I used in 2014 and 2015: LR = light, enjoyable read; GR = good, several caveats; ER = excellent, few caveats; OR = outstanding; DNF = did not finish; NF=Non-Fiction; NMT = not my type.

The following are from January 2016 to May. I’ve included links to blog posts and reviews where appropriate. I’ll share the balance in a few days.

Jan Girl on the Train Paula Hawkins DNF Wanted to see what all the fuss was about; after 15% I no longer cared
The House I Loved Tatiana de Rosnay GR Not nearly as captivating as Sarah’s Key
Paris Reborn Stephane Kirkland ER Narrative non-fiction about the rebuilding of Paris; superbly written
Feb At the Existentialist Café Sara Blakewell GR The lives and ideas of famous philosophers like Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Heidegger
Pillars of Light Jane Johnson GR The siege of Akka in the time of Richard Lionheart
The Lost Sisterhood Anne Fortier GR A young scholar risks her reputation to prove that the legendary women known as the Amazons existed
Call to Juno Elisabeth Storrs ER Last of her trilogy set during wars between Rome and the Etruscans
Diary of the Besieged Resident in Paris Henry Labouchere NF A journalist’s diary during the 1870 Prussian siege of Paris
Mar France Since 1870 Charles Sowerwine NF For research purposes
Courtesans Katie Hickman NF For research purposes
Accessories to Modernity Susan Hiner NF For research purposes
The Rosie Project Graeme Simsion LR Very funny; a man with Aspergers conducts a project to find a wife
The Lady of the Tower Elizabeth St. John ER Compelling story of Lucy St. John, wife of the Lieutenant of the Tower of London in 17th century
Apr Tobias Prue Batten NMT Set in the waning years of the Byzantium Empire
Runaway Peter May GR A crime novel set in 1965 and fifty years later
The Ladies Paradise Emile Zola DNF Read to get a feel for 19th century Paris
With Violets Elizabeth Robards GR Based on the premise that Berthe Morisot and Edouard Manet were lovers
May The Nightingale Kristin Hannah ER Two French sisters play their parts in WWII
Wulfsana E.S. Moxon DNF Set in AD433 Britain
The Sands of Kedar Diana Khalil DNF a strong-willed girl in the male-dominated society of pre-Islam Arabia
Oswald: Return of the King Edoardo Albert GR The second book in the author’s Northumbrian Thrones trilogy

Looking back it seems that I was heavily into research during the first few months of 2016 as well as being involved in reviews for the MM Bennetts historical fiction award.

A Year of Reading 2015 – Part 1 and Part 2

A Year of Reading 2014 – Part 1 and Part 2

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.