I was very surprised to see that it had already been so long since the last time this topic came up! My original list on this topic was all the way back in April 2019, and it’s a good thing I checked that list first, since many of my buzzwords are still the same. I’ve definitely read more books that would fit into each of those original 10 categories by now and likely have some stronger recommendations overall, but it was fun to look back and see if my reading tastes have changed at all since then. If anything, I would say that my tastes have likely become even a little more specific since then, which is not surprising given that I’ve read somewhere around 650 more books since then. A lot of the process of coming up with my new list involved looking at some of my favourite books and picking out what I liked about them that made me seek out other similar books, and also looking at some my 5-star predictions to pinpoint what it was that drew me to them. There are a few items that made my list this time that I’m actually surprised I didn’t think to include the first time around, although it’s possible that I just hadn’t read enough of them at the time to count them. As with my original list, I’m going to include just a few recommendations of books I’ve read that fit each category, and list a few examples that I have not read yet but want to because of these tropes or elements. If anyone has any recommendations that might fit any of these categories, please feel free to let me know!
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.
1) Dark Academia – I was very surprised to see that this didn’t make my original list, but I guess it makes sense since the trend really took off after I’d made my original post. I love dark academia because of the whole university and/or boarding school setting, which often has creepy elements like secret societies, a mystery, and sometimes explores the lengths characters might go in pursuit of knowledge or success. These books might also focus around the dark side of academia in general, or a some kind of unseal or even illicit activities. For me, it combines my interest in books with academic settings with a Gothic or mysterious atmosphere, and usually some very morally grey characters. I also like that thrillers, fantasy, and even some realistic fiction could fit into dark academia so there’s some good variety.
Some Examples: Ninth House, If We Were Villains, Vicious, The Maidens
On My TBR: The Whispering Dark, A Lesson in Vengeance, Ace of Spades, Babel
2) Podcasts – I’ve only very recently started listening to some podcasts myself, but it’s an element that I’ve really enjoyed in a lot of books already! It’s a bit of a spin-off of my original list where I mentioned books that included a focus on social media. I still love those in general as well, but I’ve definitely noticed that a mention of a podcast, especially a true crime podcast, in the synopsis is very likely to draw my attention. I’m not even sure why I tend to love books that involve podcasts since I read most of my books physically, and I feel like a podcast element would naturally fare better in an audio format, but it catches my interest every time. I suspect it has something to do with the idea of characters pursuing the truth about a specific story, and I often like how the authors incorporate the interviews or episode scripts as a kind of mixed-media element (which, ironically enough, is another item I was surprised to see I’d left off my original list!).
Some Examples: All The Dangerous Things, The Night Swim, Sadie, The Children on the Hill
On My TBR: I Hope You’re Listening, I Killed Zoe Spanos, The Last Housewife, Things We Do in the Dark
3) Haunted house – I used to actively avoid anything involving ghosts because of how easily they creeped me out, but over the past few years, I’ve discovered that I absolutely love most haunted house stories! I especially love the ones that play with the idea of whether the house is actually haunted or if it’s all in the character’s head. I’m taking the “house” part of this kind of loosely since it can really apply to any kind of haunted building. What I love about these stories is ultimately the thing that initially put me off them — they are often so creepy and tend to stick with me for a long time afterwards. However, some of my favourite books over the past few years have been haunted house stories so I think it’s time so switch it from something I avoid to something I’d actually seek out.
Some Examples: Home Before Dark, White Smoke, The Sun Down Motel, Delicious Monsters
On My TBR: How To Sell a Haunted House, The Spite House, A House With Good Bones, Just Like Home, The Invited
4) “Is my family member a monster?” – I’m not really sure if there’s a name for this kind of trope (if there is, please let me know!), but what I’m referring to are books where family members are grappling with the question of whether their relative could have done something horrific. I’m not necessarily thinking of literal monsters, although I guess that could be the case too. This is one of my favourite premises because it often leads to very complex character dynamics, especially when different family members take sides about whether they think the person could have actually committed such a horrific crime. Many of the books I’ve read along these lines so far are about parents facing the possibility that their children have done something bad, but it could also go the opposite way.
Some Examples: Defending Jacob, We Need to Talk About Kevin, A Flicker in the Dark
On My TBR: The Push, All That Is Mine I Carry With Me, Apples Never Fall, Saving Noah, The Perfect Son
5) Fairy tale retelling/fairy tale vibes – I love fairy tales and I can easily remember being shocked to find out how gruesome many of them actually were when I read the originals years later. Even now, I love books that are either actually retellings of fairy tales or else have that kind of fairy tale-like atmosphere. I’ve read several books over the years that remind me of fairy tales, especially those that actually involve elements like bargains, the “rule of three” or fairy tale creatures like fae, goblins, etc. I love when books capture that kind of fairy tale-like feeling in a completely new and unique story.
Some Examples: Uprooted, The Lunar Chronicles, A Curse So Dark and Lonely, The Folk of the Air series, Girls Made of Snow and Glass
On My TBR: Six Crimson Cranes, Gilded, For the Wolf, An Enchantment of Ravens, The Sisters of the Winter Wood
6) Interviewer, author, or caregiver uncovers a (usually dark) secret past – Again, I’m not sure if there’s a proper name for this trope, but I had several books that fit quite clearly into it. Essentially, what I mean by this premise is a person is brought into the life of someone, often an older and/or reclusive person, and through their work with them, uncovers a secret that they have been holding on to. In most cases, this happens because the person has decided that they are finally ready to share what happened, but only with that specific person. Often, these characters are some kind of interviewer or biographer, but in other cases, they might be a caregiver or employee of some kind. Many of my favourite books have fallen into this pattern, and it is a plotline that immediately catches my attention every time I see it. If anyone knows if there is a name for this trope, please let me know!
Some Examples: The Book of Cold Cases, The Thirteenth Tale, Verity, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
On My TBR: The Only One Left, The Wife Upstairs
7) Academic pressure/rivalry – This one may be a little randomly specific, but it is definitely something I look for. Even though it’s been years since I’ve been in school myself, I like books that focus on academic pressure because it’s something I found wasn’t really addressed much in the past. I was thinking specifically of books that involved self-imposed pressure, but I would even open it up to those that focus on characters who are pressured by those around them too, including rivalries with other students competing for the same opportunities. I definitely relate strongly to the perfectionist kind of character who pushes themselves to do well/feels anxious when they don’t! I think I’ve read more books in general that focus on this at the high school level, but it could certainly apply to college/university too.
Some Examples: Enter Title Here, Instant Karma, Radio Silence, I Kissed Shara Wheeler
On My TBR: This Is Not a Personal Statement, Today Tonight Tomorrow, The Gifted School, We Regret to Inform You, What’s Not to Love
8) Closed circle mysteries – I alternate back and forth between calling these “closed circle” vs “locked room” mysteries since there is quite a bit of overlap, but I think closed circle seems the most accurate overall. These are mysteries that take place, typically in a relatively isolated setting, where there is only a limited number of possible suspects who all had motive and opportunity to commit the crime (usually murder). The characters must figure out who among them could be the killer before more people fall victim. Many of my favourite thrillers involved this premise! I love them because it’s fun to try to figure out who the culprit is alongside the characters, and there are often some very interesting twists.
Some Examples: And Then There Were None, Reckless Girls, The Hunting Party, One of Us Is Lying, The Writing Retreat
On My TBR: Daisy Darker, The Guest List, Guess Who, No Exit, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six
9) Hard-hitting YA contemporary – I very strongly considered making this one “anything by Tiffany D. Jackson” but I decided to broaden it a bit to include a few other authors as well. I don’t necessarily read quite as much YA as I used to, but when I do, I tend to prefer books that have something a little more to them than just a fluffy romance, although I do enjoy a good romance sometimes too. Many of my favourite YA books are hard-hitting contemporaries that tackle all kinds of difficult topics. These books tend to be more emotional and stick with me a lot. Many of the examples listed below are books that I read a few years ago, and have stuck with me ever since!
Some Examples: Monday’s Not Coming, The Astonishing Colour of After, The Cost of Knowing, Early Departures, Harley in the Sky, A List of Cages, The Nowhere Girls
On My TBR: Dark Room Etiquette, Far From the Tree, I’m the Girl, Off the Record
10) Returning home or reuniting with friends/family to uncover the truth – Again, I’m sure there’s an actual name for this trope, but I’m not sure what it is. What I mean by this is books where the main character was either involved or witness to some kind of crime or traumatic event in their past, and circumstances force them to return back home years down the line. Often, this puts them back in contact with their estranged family or a group of their friends who might also know what really happened. Something may be happening that indicates that their understanding of their past may have been wrong, and they must confront and/or uncover the truth before history repeats itself or someone comes after them to stop them. That probably seems extremely specific, but it’s a great fit for so many of my favourite thrillers, and it’s a plotline that always draws me to a book.
Some Examples: What Lies in the Woods, The Family Plot, The Family Upstairs, The Shadows
On My TBR: Such a Quiet Place, What Have We Done, Sharp Objects, Black Mouth