Do you ever just look at stuff that you wrote years ago and think, “Wow, what on earth was I talking about?”
I have that experience pretty often. I’ve had this blog for almost five years, you know. But this post isn’t about how cringeworthy I might have been when I first started this blog – in fact, it’s actually about one of my favorite posts I wrote in the early days of Maggie’s Musings.
Even as a high school student, I had a bone to pick with story tropes. Not much has changed in that regard, at least. I wrote a post about my “Book Blurb Blacklist,” 15 things that would immediately turn me off from reading a book. It was a delightfully snarky post, and looking back now, I still agree with pretty much all of it.
However, there’s a question that has gone unanswered for far too long: What are the things – tropes, phrases, whatever – that make me actually want to read a book?
I aim to answer that today.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: most of the stuff on my list won’t appear clearly in a book blurb. It’s not like books come with labels like “This contains Found Family and Fake Dating tropes!” (both of which I adore, by the way). Sometimes you gotta read between the lines or dig into the reviews to find what a book is really about.
1) Inspired by mythology and/or folklore
Examples: Literally everything Rick Riordan has ever written, Spin The Dawn by Elizabeth Lim
Raise your hand if you were surprised by this. Anyone? Yeah, I figured as much. I am nothing if not predictable.
What fascinates me the most about these kinds of books is that a hundred different authors could each recreate the same myth, and each of their stories would be different. I love seeing what different authors and creators choose to focus on in writing their retellings. They’ve also opened the door for me to learn more about folklore and myths from around the world!
2) Close friendships
Example: The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater
Every book has its ship (or so it seems), but you know what I think is underrated? Stories that focus on friendships. Friendships between girls (instead of making them rivals), friendships between guys (instead of being cold loners so they appear “manly”). Friendships between characters that don’t have any romantic attraction to each other.
3) Pirates (or any other seafaring types)
Example: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
Maybe it’s the fact that stories of pirates and sailors are so seemingly rare, but every time I see one, I go “I MUST READ IT IMMEDIATELY.” There’s just something extra magical about the ocean and its sea-crets (haha, sea what I did there?).
Basically, are there boats and morally ambiguous seafarers? Congrats, I’m reading your book.
4) Unlikely teams
Examples: Legend by Marie Lu, Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa
This sometimes gets wrapped up with the “enemies to lovers” trope, but there doesn’t have to be romance! Basically, if you have two or more characters who are supposed to hate each other but, by some twist of fate, end up having to work together… I’m sold. The tension, guys! It’s beautiful.
Example: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
I watched one episode of Leverage many years ago and it changed my life. Nothing quite beats the joy of watching a carefully plotted scheme come together before your eyes. I love watching each piece fall into place, and the tension that comes when things inevitably go wrong? FANTASTIC. More books about people stealing things, please.
Example: The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter
If heist stories are about schemes, then spy stories are about secrets. They are similar in some respects – both can involve specialized teams and nifty gadgets – but with spies, we’re watching the truth become unraveled, bit by bit. There’s a lot of room to experiment with this formula, too, like having a school for spies in training in Gallagher Girls or following the life of an ex-spy in the TV series Burn Notice.
7) Video games (or anything properly geeky, I guess)
Example: Warcross by Marie Lu, Slay by Brittney Morris
This one pretty much explains itself. I want more (good) books about people who play video games. Granted, this has backfired on me before, so I’ve learned to be careful. Before I pick up a gamer book, I ask myself: was this written by someone who actually understands how games work and isn’t just banking on nerd nostalgia?
(Looking at you, Ernest Cline). If the answer is yes, then I’m all for it.
8) Stories told in letters or journal entries
Example: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
I devoured books like this when I was younger, but they seem so much harder to find as an adult. This is a unique method of storytelling that allows the writer and the reader to get really, really intimate with the characters, and it also creates a lot of opportunities for unreliable narrators and all sorts of other fun devices.
9) Road trips (or any long journey)
Example: Paper Towns by John Green
Do most of stories feature a journey or quest? Absolutely. Not as common, I think, are books where the journey is the story. Every adventure starts with some kind of end goal in mind – but sometimes, when we reach that goal, we realize that it wasn’t the point of the story.
(I’m also just a sucker for road trip tropes)
10) Nonfiction (or fiction!) about women’s roles in important historical events
Examples: The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan, They Fought Like Demons by DeAnne Blanton
Alright, I know this post was supposed to mainly be about novels, but I couldn’t help myself. I love nonfiction about women’s history in particular. I mean, I took an upper-level history course in college on the subject just for funsies. And yeah, seeing books with taglines like “the untold story of…” is a little cliche, but let’s be real: they usually are untold stories. And it’s about time we heard them.
11) Antihero masterminds
Examples: Vicious by V.E. Schwab, Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
I mean GOOD antiheroes, all right? None of this “he’s a jerk but he loves her!” nonsense. But that’s a topic for another day.
It’s weird to tell people you like antiheroes. It’s like, “Look, I don’t approve of their actions, but they’re really cool and way more interesting than the actual heroes.” Would I ever do the same thing? No. But there is something fascinating about watching characters make their own rules and morals in order to accomplish their goals.
12) Steampunk vibes
Example: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
I left most of my steampunk phase back in 2012, but every so often I see a book cover with rusty gears and smudgy goggles and I’m like… yes please and thank you. I’m always impressed with the worlds authors come up with, and of course, I love the blend of historical fiction thrown in there too.