Posted by: Kathleen Mix | February 3, 2014

Two from my Keeper Shelf

Like most writers, I tend to be a critical reader. While I’m reading a novel, I study the author’s craft and techniques, making note of the good and the not so good.

When I come across a book with fascinating characters, a well-crafted and complex plot, a heavy dose of conflict, strongly motivated character actions, and a well-described and unusual setting, I put that book on my keeper shelf so I can read it again.

I’ve recently pulled two books off that shelf and given them a second read. In each case, the second read was as enjoyable as the first. My first read may be fast if the story is a page-turner. But when I know how the story will end, I can slow down and appreciate the details that give a book deeper meaning, and I can better understand why the stories resonate.

One of the books I reread was Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The first time through, I fell in love with the protagonist and was fascinated by the author’s descriptions of circus life in the early 1900s. The second read showed the book to be a wonderful study in character development and building reader empathy.

The second book is The Impersonator by Mary Miley. This is a mystery set in the days of vaudeville and prohibition. Like Water for Elephants, the time frame and setting was unusual and made the book stand out from the hundreds of other cozy mysteries published each year.

The protagonist of The Impersonator is flawed, but we understand her actions and don’t judge her harshly. She does what she has to do to survive, and we root for her to succeed. The character was developed perfectly for the first book in a series, because readers will want to spend more time with her after the last page and will want to follow what happens in her life.

Writers can learn much from analyzing the work of others. But whether you’re a reader or a writer, don’t miss either of these books. Study them or just enjoy the ride. Read them once or twice. You’ll love them every time.

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