As a book blogger I spend a lot of time reading books, thinking about books, reading about books and reviewing books. I have read some books that changed my perspective and read some that I thought about long after I finished reading them. When I review books I rate them and discuss what I liked and didn’t like, so I’ve had a lot of time to consider what makes a good book.
But lately I haven’t read many books that I would consider 5 star reads and I have been searching for a book that will blow me away. It got me thinking…
What am I looking for?
What qualities do I love in a book?
What is it about certain books that make me gush about them for months or even years later?
What makes me return to a series or pick up every book by a certain author?
In my search for the next great 5 star read I decided to look back on old 5 star reviews and see what made these books so special so I can find more like them. Now obviously this is my opinion on what I think makes a good book and everyone has different opinions, I would love if you would share yours in the comment section below!
Right off of the top of my head, without looking at my past reviews I thought of some of my favorites and what they had in common. Strange the Dreamer, The Black Witch and The Poppy War were all fantasy novels over 500 pages with great character development and a good plot. Strange the Dreamer and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea both had really gorgeous and poetic prose.
I think that great character development is pretty important for me and it keeps me coming back to a series to see what happens to the characters that I love. I also think that in books over 500 pages the author more time to really develop the characters well, so I think that these two might be related.
So why do I tend to shy away from books over 400 pages?
I am not going to lie, I am almost always hesitant to pick up a book that is over 400 pages. I think that is because I feel like it is a bigger time investment and I rarely do not finish a book once I start it. When looking through author requests or review copies from authors that I don’t know or books that I haven’t seen reviewed by friends I almost always turn away if I see that it’s over 400 pages. I don’t want to spend that much time reading something mediocre.
Now I wonder if I should stop doing this or not because when I do pick up a book over 400 or 500 pages most of the time it is because it is by a favorite author or other bloggers have raved about it. But I also wonder if I would come across more 5 star reads if I gave more longer books a chance.
So what did I find looking back at my 5 star reviews?
There were a lot more contemporaries than I expected.
I don’t read a ton of contemporaries so it was shocking that 22% of my favorite books were contemporaries. When I took a closer look I noticed that all of the contemporaries on the list invoked an emotional reaction from me. Either they were funny or they made me cry and focused on heavy topics. Every contemporary that I had given me 5 stars was an emotional read.
Every single book on the list had great character development.
Character development might not always be the best part of the book, but in order for a book to be a favorite I must love the characters. There are so many differences between the books that are listed. There are slow and fast paced books, character and plot driven books, sad books and funny books, books where I finished it in one sitting and others that took me a week, but the one thing that they all have in common is really well developed characters.
I noticed that two thirds of my favorite fantasy novels were over 400 pages, but for other genres there didn’t appear to be many long books on the list.
So I think that I should give more fantasy novels over 400 pages a chance since the majority of my favorite fantasy novels are on the longer side. The fantasy books under 400 pages all seem to be books by two of my favorite authors, Holly Black and April Genevieve Tulcholke. That’s interesting now, isn’t it? Outside of their books it seems that the longer fantasies are my favorites. Before looking at past reviews I did know that a lot of my favorites were long fantasies, but I had no idea that it was such a large percentage.
My favorite mysteries have great plots and kept me turning the pages.
I love mysteries that have a fresh perspective or is told in a new way. I tend to lean more towards thrilling or suspenseful stories over books that keep me guessing, not that I don’t like those. A 5 star mystery, for me, has interesting characters, is always plot driven and is hard to set down.
As far as fantasies go it seems that I like to have three components to be done well and those are; character development, plot and world building.
Obviously the balance between these three is different in each book, but the best books seem to have those qualities in a specific way, they have amazing characters, then a good plot and then world building seems to be the least important. The other thing that I love in a fantasy is either a steady pace or a fast pace, if pacing feels too slow or it jumps around I tend to rate the book less than 5 stars. There are a lot of variations among the fantasies that I love, which I expected. I love fantasies that feel possible and by the end of a lot of my favorites I felt like I knew the characters.
The other thing that I love is morally grey or dark characters and/or heavy or gritty topics, regardless of genre.
I love characters that cross lines, that steal things, that are mentally ill or have suffered extreme loss. I love the dark and gritty. I want to read about the stuff that people don’t tend to talk about. I love the books that deal with hard issues. Books that grab me by the heart through heavy topics are important to me. I don’t think that there can be enough of these kinds of books.
If you know a book like this please recommend it in the comments!
So what do you think?
What makes a great book? What qualities do you look for in books? What do your favorites have in common? Do you have different preferences for different genres? Make sure to comment below so we can chat about opinions of what makes a great book.