Books I Highly Recommend Books I've analyzed for writing craft or ideas
where I share the writing techniques that I learned, identifying how the author developed ideas/concept, built suspense, delivered voice and brought characters to life - and any other tricks that I can learn from. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org you have a book you'd like to see me analyze, or if you'd like to guest-blog an analysis of your own. If there is an * by the title, it means I loved it or was so impressed by it that I'd read it again.
All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr (literary): supercharged descriptions in this WWII story about two teenagers on opposite sides of the war
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart (YA contemp): the omniscient narrator in all her glory - and how she pulled it off. Frankie (a girl) secretly one-ups the exclusive all-boys prep school club by out-performing them in all their pranks.
Stolen Songbird, Danielle Jensen (YA fantasy): examples of excellent dialogue and repartee that really show character. Including examples from Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone*, Laini Taylor (YA fantasy): an epic story and a surprising twist on angels and monsters and wishes. How to start an epic story with atmosphere and character.
Alienated*, Melissa Landers (YA SF). Cara agrees to host an alien exchange student... but he has ulterior motives. Great example of using dual point-of-view to heighten tension.
Altered, Jennifer Rush (YA SF). A twisty book with a girl on the run with four boys who have been altered. Learned how to identify with the main character internally: that crucial scene where you get to the core of a character's longing and passion.
The Secret Ingredient, Stewart Lewis (YA contemporary). A great teen voice doesn't have to be snarky. What's unique about teen voice in this book, and also Burning by Elana K. Arnold, another contemporary.
The Art of Wishing, Lindsay Ribar (YA paranormal). A couple great twists on the "three wishes" theme, and genie mythology with an modern twist, too. I learned how to take a familiar trope and put a new spin on it.
The Summer Prince, by Alaya Dawn Johnson (YA SF). Using SF to explore controversial themes like body modification and cost of artistic expression. Girl of Fire and Thorns*, by Rae Carson (YA fantasy). Characters that have a long way to go: starting from an insecure character versus a confident character. The Archived*, by Victoria Schwab. (YA paranormal). All the implications you can get from a twist on something familiar, like a library. What if it's a library of living memories? Shadow and Bone*, by Leigh Bardugo (YA fantasy). Six ways to build a memorable character. The Iron Knight*, by Julie Kagawa (YA fantasy). I learned five ways to create contrasts in characters from this book. A faery-knight's unforgettable journey to find his soul and return to his true love. Seraphina*, by Rachel Hartman (YA fantasy). The best of the old things we love about dragons and new, original things that you make you sit up and smile. This book is a great example of defining character rules and then, at the end, breaking the rules for a powerful effect. A Spy Like Me, Laura Pauling (YA contemporary). Hooking with humor and six other ways you get hooked with this hilarious first chapter, where an American girl falls in love with a boy in Paris who might be interested in her father's Spy Games for more than just entertainment. Scarlet, A.C. Gaughen (YA historical). A twist on the Robin Hood legend - Will Scarlet is a girl in this version, and you'll love how she changes the dynamics of Robin Hood's gang. I really learned the power of a "gang" from this book. More detailed review.
The Blue Sword*, Robin McKinley (YA fantasy). Ten things that made me fall in love, including the wry tone and jumping around from one character's head to another - seldom done this exceptionally well.
When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead (MG). Seven ingredients of a prize-winning middle grade novel. The time-twist mystery was what initially intrigued me, but enjoyed discovering other delicious ingredients as well. Holes*, Louis Sachar (Middle Grade). Spicing a story with seemingly
unrelated "plants" that all come together at the end in unexpected ways.
The most unusual, scary, and satisfying summer camp-for-kids story ever.
Spindle's End, Robin McKinley (YA fantasy). When infodump works - worldbuilding that is itself an interesting character (imagine a world infested with wild, wayward magic!)
A Northern Light*, Jennifer Donnelly (YA historical): finding the purpose of each sentence in the first chapter. A sophisticated and gripping emotional journey set alongside a murder mystery at a resort in the Adirondack Mountains.
The Help*, Kathryn Stockett (literary): writing to the extreme. This white author takes a real risk writing in the voices of two black southern women - but she succeeds, and the voices of Aibileen, Minnie and Skeeter keep you laughing and crying all the way through.
Starcrossed*, Josephine Angelini (YA paranormal): plot reversals and cliche reversals. Oh my gosh, Helen's "kryptonite" is a completely hilarious reversal - I wish I could give it away but it's one of the best sneaky parts of this modern-day-superpowers-with-an-ancient-Greek-myth story!
Falling Under, Gwen Hayes (YA paranormal): breaking down what makes the first chapter addictive. As for the rest of the book: neat British voice transplanted into California for the MC, lots of other strong characters, amazing romantic tension, and a tough twist at the end.
Across the Universe*, Beth Revis (YA dystopian): getting the reader to bond with the main character in the first chapter. Exquistively plotted book with an eerie trapped-in-a-space ship setting.
Nightshade, Andrea Cremer (YA paranormal): your reader will see what your MC is seeing even better if she's processing it through other characters as well as herself
Ever, Gail Carson Levine (YA fantasy): the seven points of story structure
Shiver, Maggie Stiefvator (YA paranormal): a book really takes off when you raise the stakes. Hurry up and get them to fall in love, spend the rest of the story adding things that can tear them apart!
The Iron King*, Julie Kagawa (YA paranormal): filtering the characters through world-building. Comparing this to a near opposite, filtering the world through a character in Paranomalcy, by Kiersten White.
Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins (YA dystopian): how clever little details ramp up tension in a scene
The Hunger Games*, Suzanne Collins (YA dystopian): until the action starts, use tension and need to hook readers
My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Picoult (contemporary): how you can break the rules all over the place if you have a strong voice and a character in an emotionally wrenching situation
Dragon of Trelian, Michele Knudsen (MG fantasy): picking apart different character voices
19 Minutes, Jodi Picoult (contemporary): make your character do something unusual in an ordinary setting (taking a shower = ordinary. With scalding hot water that leaves marks = unusual).
The Luxe, Anna Godbersen (YA historical): the use of quotes, invitations, excerpts from newspaper articles and wills to drop mysterious hints that keep you reading
Avatar (yeah it's a movie, not a book, but it was still good to analyze)
My favorite writing books:
Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
Writing 21st Cenury Fiction, Donald Maass The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass
The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman Finding Your Voice, Les Edgarton
Word Painting, Rebecca McClenahan
The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, Evan Marshall
Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
Save the Cat, Blake Snyder