10 reasons why a book is a good read?

A good read

Yep, it’s an old question, but a good one. Choosing and enjoying a book is very personal and each reader’s view is subjective. This is why reviews of any one book can vary so much!

I read across many genres – historical, thriller, crime, literary, romantic, sci-fi – you name it –plus all their various sub-genres.

Here’s my personal take on what makes a good read for me (YMMV).

A strong story – Well-paced, with a solid, hopefully clever plot. I need to be intrigued, entranced, captivated so I’ll read to the end. Stories should have a purpose, otherwise why tell them?

Good style – Clean and clear so that the story unfolds without me feeling puzzled. I don’t mean super-clever or self-referential or so clipped you don’t know where you are. Some stories unfold piece by piece, others go straight to the point, but all need to be well-written. Poor grammar, punctuation, sloppy construction and misuse of vocabulary jolt me as a reader out of a story. And as for those linguistic anachronisms… 🙄

A plausible world – Not necessarily real, but authentic for its supposed time and place. Whether it’s the 1980s City of London, a Mars colony or 4th century Rome, the characters should talk, work and act appropriately and not just be early 21st century people in shoulder pads, spacesuits or tunics.

However… (Makes a change from ‘but’)

Detail vs. info-dump – Enough detail to trigger my imagination, some small things to set the scene, but NOT a blow-by-blow description of every brick in every house in every town, known inelegantly as an info-dump. Details should be dripped in or woven into the book’s world so that the reader hardly notices, but accepts without question as they become immersed into that world.

Characters – Ones I can identify with, so I can find some common attitudes, experiences and feelings. They’re not me and I’m not them, but I want to connect. I’m not terrifically fond of being inside a sadistic serial killer’s head – although it could be interesting in one way – but I want to read characters who have different aspects to their personalities. A goody-two-shoes can be just as wearing as a continuously snarling villain. Will somebody please throw a bucket of water over the first and treat the second to a psychotherapy session or induce a love of kittens, I shriek! Characters should have off days, feel frustrated at traffic jams, forget a password or turn up late as well as save the world.

Dialogue – Yes, please and lots of it! Lively dialogue not only carries the story forward, it illuminates characters’ attitudes, motivations and inner conflicts. If we ‘hear’ a character ‘talking’, we feel we are in the room with them. My favourite is Elizabeth Bennet’s demolition of Darcy’s character. I find myself flinching and cheering at the same time. Jane Austen is the mistress of great dialogue.

Showing me, not telling me – This is where the story leads me and shows me what the characters do and how they react, rather than the author just telling me. Sometimes a story has to let some time go by, but clever authors will do this in one or two sentences: ‘Later that summer,’ or ‘This continued for the next few weeks.’

Change – I don’t mind whether characters are comfortable or not with their lives as long as they have made some change or developed in some way by the end of the story. Lack of knowledge or education, flaws, temper, uncertainties and vulnerabilities are all fine to start with, but please, not TSTL (Too stupid to live) or I’ll chuck the book in the bin. But most importantly, I like a character to develop from where they started in Chapter 1. They may acquire knowledge, learn to open up to others, leave one life behind, accept new realities.

Moral balance – Some characters do the right thing for the right reasons, even if it’s against ‘the rules’. But they can definitely be a bit naughty and do some morally dubious things as long as they get to the honourable goal without wrecking too much on the way. As humans, whatever is happening in the world, we like to hope a story will end in a satisfactory resolution. I haven’t used the word ‘happy’ as there is often at least a touch of sadness or loss in the course of any story.

That’s nine things. Over to you. What’s your tenth?

(Updated and republished)

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA,  Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, starts the Foundation stories. The sequel, EXSILIUM, will be out in February 2024.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email update. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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