Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Writer's World: Feel-Good Books, by Annie West

Do you have a favourite comfort read? One that you go back to again and again, maybe when you're feeling sick or in need of a boost, or just for fun?

Even if you don't have a book you reread, I'm sure you've noticed that some stories make you feel good so you want to wallow in the world the author has created and stay there as long as possible. One of the nicest compliments an author can receive is to hear from a reader who didn't want their book to finish. Learning that someone deliberately slowed their reading to make your book last, or alternatively, read it fast because they had to then read it again, slowly to savour, makes an author feel they've done their job!

Rather than post covers of my personal comfort reads I'm sharing photos I took on a trip away to a lovely country style cottage. It was comfy, elegant and cosy - rather like a bricks and mortar equivalent of the sort of book I'm describing. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

So what makes a comfort read?

I'm sure one factor is reading a book at just the right time to make maximum impact. For instance some of the books I read quite soon after discovering the joys of romance are still special to me. There's a touch of nostalgia, isn't there, about a story you loved as a teenager or even a child? Or the first book in a new genre you read, or perhaps the first book you read by someone who then became a favourite author.

As an author I'm more interested in some of the other factors that make a feel-good story, particularly a romance we want to come back to again and again. So, here are some of my random thoughts on what those factors might be:

Likeable characters. Why would you want to spend 120 pages or maybe several hundred, with people you didn't like or respect? Where's the fun or comfort in that? I don't mean the author has to craft sweet as sugar characters who never do the wrong thing or say a cross word. On the contrary, characters who make mistakes can be some of the most likeable. But even if they make mistakes, even if you've got a hero who zooms in, intent on revenge against the heroine, they must have something at their core that we can relate too. Maybe they're mistaken, maybe they do the wrong thing, but so long as they're redeemable and we understand and believe in what's motivating them (and it better be something good) then we can relate even to the most wounded or crabby of characters.

Memorable and real characters. Cardboard cutouts need not apply. For a story to resonate I need to feel the characters are real people, prompted by believable emotions and reactions to genuine circumstances. If they react to a situation in ways I personally wouldn't, so much the better - so long as I can believe they're reaction is believable in the circumstances. Feel-good books are always ones that take me on an emotional journey. Which leads me to:

A book with feeling. I don't need the author to spend chapters rehashing the heroine's angst or the hero's confusion, but I definitely need to feel their emotions as they feel them. I pick up a romance because I want a satisfying emotional experience. Simply telling me what the characters do and say without taking me into their emotions and letting me experience them, just isn't good enough.

A world I want to spend time in. Whether it's a cosy country village or a quaint European kingdom or an idyllic beach getaway, I want to spend my time somewhere pleasant. It need not be somewhere exotic or glamorous, though they can definitely fit the bill. Maybe it's a location with a wonderful sense of community provided by secondary characters. Maybe it's a challenging place that doesn't look too scenic, but delivers something the characters need.

A touch of the fairy tale. Not a fantasy setting, or impossibly good-looking and privileged characters, but a sense that this story has elements that, while real, are larger than life. A special something that resonates and makes it one of the best of its kind.

A positive attitude. Some books deal with the darkest of situations and emotions. Some make you dredge the depths before you emerge, rejuvenated, to celebrate the light. The important thing is the belief in the light after the dark - the holding out of hope and of a happy future for these characters. Killing off the protagonist in the last few pages just doesn't do it for me - not if we're talking feel-good romances.

A satisfying, happy ending. This sounds obvious, but it's so hard to deliver and I definitely won't reread if I feel the author has short-changed me with the ending.

Do you have comfort reads? Have you read a recent book that you'd class as a feel-good read? I'd love to hear some of your favourites and why they make the list. Or if you have other thoughts on what makes a stand out feel-good romance, perhaps you could share.

Annie is currently working on what she hopes will be her 20th book for Harlequin Presents/Mills and Boon Modern/Sexy. Look out in August for IMPRISONED BY A VOW (here are links to it at Amazon the Book Depository and Barnes and Noble. In the meantime her latest title is CAPTIVE IN THE SPOTLIGHT. You can read excerpts of Annie's books and some of her writing articles on her website where there is also a great contest running with free books to be won.


  1. my feel-good books are the "Hero" trilogy by Gina Wilkins. I go back to them time and time again! Nothing fancy, just a lovely romance series about three sisters called Spring, Summer and Autumn. Their heroes combined make my ideal man!

  2. Hi Manda.

    I don't know this series so I'll have to look out for it. Isn't it lovely to have a special series of books to go back to when you need them? I love the name Summer for a heroine and have been thinking for some time of using it. Maybe a little later on. Love the sound of those heroes!

  3. Hi Annie,

    I always turn to my Georgette Heyer collection when I need a comfort read. Those books always do the trick. Love them.


  4. Hi Claire. Snap! I pick up Georgette Heyer and reread from time to time. Aren't they terrific? In fact your email might just prompt me to go and pick up 'The Unknown Ajax' again.

  5. I have one book I reread every couple of years: Susan Mallery's THE SHEIK'S SECRET BRIDE (way back before they started spelling them as sheikhs instead, LOL). It's from 2000, so I've probably read it five or six times so far. (Perhaps because I'm 54 and forgetful I don't recall every detail year to year, but the truth is that I read so many romances that they all blend in together at times.) I like how this story always gives me sweet dreams, as I always envision myself as the heroine from my stories. I DO remember the beginning, and I DO remember the ending, but the middle parts also keep me coming back for more. Maybe part of it is because of what it says in the blurb: "Why would the sexy desert prince want a passably pretty schoolteacher from San Bernadino?" A girl can dream....

    1. Laney, that sounds like a perfect comfort read - one that gives you sweet dreams! I love picking up a well-loved book and reading the familiar opening and feeling like I'm visiting an old friend. And if you can't remember what happens in the middle of the book - all the better as you wait to discover how they get their happy ending!