The best novels that are character-driven

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been reading for 69 years, writing fiction for 43 years. I’ve read many more than 10,000 books. In my own writing, I begin with characters I create from combinations of traits and personalities I’ve met in life. I get to know them as friends. I then put them into the setting I’ve devised and given them free rein to develop the story. I know the destination, but the route is left to them. This involves much re-writing once the story is down on paper, but allows me to experience the excitement, concern, fear, love, and delights felt by the characters as I write the tale.


I wrote...

An Excess Of ...

By Stuart Aken,

Book cover of An Excess Of ...

What is my book about?

Six strangers escape a shipwreck and land on a deserted tropical island, isolated and without any means of contact with the outside world. From very different cultures and backgrounds, they must bury their differences and learn to cooperate if they are to survive. But passions, beliefs, superstitions, and developing relationships create a corrosive, divisive atmosphere laced with potential violence. Who will live to return to a world made unrecognizable by Covid and climate change?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Place Called Schugara

Stuart Aken Why did I love this book?

I write character-driven fiction and it is always the people and their relationships that most engage me in any story. I found the characters here complex, real, engaging, and, in some instances, foul specimens demonstrating that existence for survival alone is an inadequate way of life for any person. These are fully developed people, though they are mostly unusual individuals; archetypes rather than stereotypes. The people hooked me from the start. I cared what happened to these adventurers. I also cared that those who deserved retribution would receive it.

By Joe English,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Place Called Schugara as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A story of life, death, love lost and meaning found in Schugara and beyond.


Book cover of The Hermit of Blue Ridge

Stuart Aken Why did I love this book?

Character-driven romance is relatively rare, but this book, essentially a complex and deep love story, is seen entirely through the eyes of lovers. The people on these pages are both exceptional and real. We’re treated to their aspirations, frailties, courage, desires, truths, and lies. These are people I’ve met and been impressed by.

When young, gifted, and hauntingly beautiful Sarah enters the hideaway of best-selling reclusive author, Jeremy, both their lives are fundamentally changed. To supply any more details of the story would be to give spoilers, and the last thing I want to do here is spoil anyone’s read.

By Cary Grossman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hermit of Blue Ridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Author Jeremy Woods has found perfect isolation, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he can write in peace--until a strange, strikingly beautiful girl crashes into his cottage, and his life. Showing up at his door during the worst blizzard in recent history, the girl is half-frozen from exposure, with dangerously frostbitten fingers and toes. The roads to town are too inundated with snow to seek medical care for her--Jeremy's cottage rests 8000 feet high, with no other shelter for miles. How could the girl have survived the journey on foot? At first, Jeremy is intrigued; the girl displays remarkable…


Book cover of Self

Stuart Aken Why did I love this book?

This story begins in the first person in the company of a young boy. I lived with him through his early teens and schooling, a huge tragedy, and his fate as the isolated offspring of high-flying achievers, his early experiences, and the casual physical and mental cruelty associated with boarding schools.

Abruptly, I was plunged into the life of a young woman in her late teens, still in the first person. Surprisingly, this overnight transition, both physical and mental, caused me only a short pause to reflect on the nature of gender. I travelled with this developing young woman as she experienced love, sex, and the joys and sorrows life throws at a sensitive, intelligent, and creative soul who enters the world of writing. Her journey as a budding novelist struck a real chord with me, having travelled that difficult and demanding route.

By Yann Martel,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Self as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Edgy, funny and devastating, Self is the fictional autobiography of a young writer at the heart of which is a startling twist. This extraordinary life meanders through a rich, complicated, bittersweet world. The discoveries of childhood give way to the thousand pangs of adolescence, culminating in the sudden shocking news of an accident abroad. And as adulthood begins, indecisively, boundaries are crossed between countries, languages and people . . .


Book cover of Storm Girl

Stuart Aken Why did I love this book?

I have written speculative fiction, and the protagonist, Angel, a feisty, courageous, enigmatic, curious survivor is placed into such a setting. Climate change, one of my personal concerns, has wreaked havoc with the geographical, and therefore the political world, as we know it. It deals with the way elites take what they see as the necessary action to continue their privileged lifestyles.

The author managed to make me empathize with almost all the characters on some level, regardless how selfish, wicked, good, generous, or courageous they may be. I encountered elderly heroes and heroines, resourceful individuals and communities, victims, self-serving demagogues, cruel leaders, uncaring servants, unquestioning followers, and a group of talented and determined resistance fighters bent on turning a terrifying world into a just and equable future.

By Linda Nicklin, Ramon Marett (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Storm Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Linda Nicklin's eco-thriller Storm Girl charts a dystopian near future. Planet earth has largely drowned under rising seas, disease is rife, society has broken down. Everything is now owned by the super-rich and exploited for their own personal gratification, including the people still struggling to live on what land remains... Angel, the Storm Girl of the title, has been harvested by a gang of Reapers and is frantic to escape what she knows to be a death sentence. Her only way out is through the treacherous waters of a drowned city. From depths of despair, she begins to find glimmers…


Book cover of Catling's Bane

Stuart Aken Why did I love this book?

I'm a reader who loves books where characters determine the story arc. Plot-driven books generally leave me cold. This novel has a cast of players I found easy to empathize with; even the villains. They are drawn in fascinating detail with all their flaws and all their glories to make them real people who are easy to engage with throughout the story. In spite of some tough scenes, it's a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

The author introduces some thought-provoking and timely themes here. The story examines injustice, wealth inequality, gender discrimination, political intrigue, the fallibility of leaders, ethics, and morality, and the ever-present problems of prejudice driven by ignorance. All themes guaranteed to engage me.

By D. Wallace Peach,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Catling's Bane as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tiers of Ellegeance, the elite Influencers’ Guild holds the power to manipulate emotions. Love and fear, pain and pleasure, healing and death mark the extremes of their sway, but it’s the subtle blends that hook their victims’ hearts. They hide behind oaths of loyalty and rule the world.

A child born in the grim warrens beneath the city, Catling rues the rose birthmark encircling her eye. Yet, it grants her the ability to disrupt the influencers’ sway. Established methods of civil control disintegrate before her. She’s a weapon desired by those who reign and those who rebel.

To…


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I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

Book cover of I Am Taurus

Stephen Palmer

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Philosopher Scholar Liberal Reader Musician

Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. This book traces the story of the bull in the sky, a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull.

Each of the sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also a view of ourselves through the eyes of the bull, illustrating our pre-literate use of myth, how the advent of writing and the urban revolution changed our view of ourselves, and how even bullfighting in Spain is a variation on the ancient sacrifice of the sacred bull.

I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

What is this book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. In I Am Taurus, author Stephen Palmer traces the story of the bull in the sky, starting from that point 19,000 years ago - a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull. Each of the eleven sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Spain and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also an attempt to see ourselves through…


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