The best novels built on an inspired premise

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m struck by the narrative elegance of a premise-based novel. Here’s the premise, now what happens? These stories succeed when the premise catches your attention and leads plausibly and compellingly to what the characters think, feel, and do next. Apocalyptic novels are premise-based (apocalypse!) but not all premise-based novels are apocalyptic, e.g., Elevation, Mystic River, and own Ghosts on the Red Line. My experience writing Ghosts on the Red Line has provided me with a good sense of how authors Perrotta, King, Lehane, Miller, and St. John Mandel went about building on their inspired premises to create their unforgettable stories. 

I wrote...

Ghosts on the Red Line

By Peter David Shapiro,

Book cover of Ghosts on the Red Line

What is my book about?

Riders see their Departed on Boston's Red Line trains. As word spreads about the ghostly visitations, seekers crowd the Red Line, disrupting transit service. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority hires consultant Harry West to investigate. When Harry discovers the source of the visitations, the MBTA acts to put an end to them. Harry’s ex-wife Alexandra has a brilliant idea: Replicate in “Visitation Rooms” the ghost-welcoming attributes of Red Line train cars so people can continue to meet their loved ones. But the Archbishop of Boston condemns Visitation Rooms as sacrilegious and pushes to get them banned. And a notorious gangster frets that his victims might reappear in the Visitation Rooms, pointing accusatory fingers. He warns Harry and Alexandra: Drop the Visitation Room project, or else.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Leftovers

Peter David Shapiro Why did I love this book?

Two percent of the population suddenly disappears. No one knows where they went or why, which doesn’t stop people from speculating. Building on this inspired premise, Tom Perrotta explores how the people who are left behind deal with their traumatic loss. Some join cults. Others try to hold things together. I was struck by how, in this masterful novel, even the survivors’ weirdest behaviors make a kind of sense given their situations and the culture that we share.

By Tom Perrotta,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Leftovers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers—now adapted into an HBO series—is a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?

That's what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out.…

Book cover of Station Eleven

Peter David Shapiro Why did I love this book?

A famous actor dies on stage during a performance of King Lear, marking the arrival of a pandemic that kills more than 99% of the world’s population. The modern world collapses: No more electricity, Internet, cellphones, airplane flights, or any motorized transportation. How do the survivors cope? Some, including one of the actor’s ex-wives, his son, and his best friend, are trapped with a few dozen others in a small airport and learn to live together. Some journey on foot and in horse-drawn wagons to perform Shakespeare plays in small settlements along their route. Some join a cult, or revert to a feral existence living in the wild. A graphic novel written by the actor’s first ex-wife links each of the major characters. A powerful story that stayed with me long after I read its last page.

By Emily St. John Mandel,

Why should I read it?

25 authors picked Station Eleven as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Best novel. The big one . . . stands above all the others' - George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones

Now an HBO Max original TV series

The New York Times Bestseller
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award
Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction
National Book Awards Finalist
PEN/Faulkner Award Finalist

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in…

Book cover of A Canticle for Leibowitz

Peter David Shapiro Why did I love this book?

I read this apocalyptic novel many years ago, and found it as unforgettable as it was depressing. In the midst of death, disease, and anarchy after nuclear war destroys civilization, there remain small self-contained settlements that resemble monasteries in the middle ages. These settlements are the only pockets of knowledge in the devastated landscape. People who live in them struggle to understand formerly-common technologies, such as record players and other artifacts from the civilized world. One thing they do understand is that nuclear technology is dangerous and any development in this area is absolutely forbidden, under pain of death. But gradually, gradually, over centuries, the survivors learn, and eventually, the nuclear genie is once again summoned out of its bottle.

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked A Canticle for Leibowitz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the depths of the Utah desert, long after the Flame Deluge has scoured the earth clean, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz has made a miraculous discovery: holy relics from the life of the great saint himself, including the blessed blueprint, the sacred shopping list, and the hallowed shrine of the Fallout Shelter.

In a terrifying age of darkness and decay, these artifacts could be the keys to mankind's salvation. But as the mystery at the core of this groundbreaking novel unfolds, it is the search itself—for meaning, for truth, for love—that offers hope for humanity's rebirth…

Book cover of Elevation

Peter David Shapiro Why did I love this book?

Elevation grabbed me from its starting premise until its last memorable scene. A flabby protagonist reveals to a doctor friend that his weight, as shown on his scale, is steadily dropping despite his unchanged appearance. In effect, he is less and less affected by gravity. Because his muscles have adapted to manage his large size, as his gravitational weight decreases he gains disproportionate agility and stamina, to the extent that he becomes a formidable marathon runner which amazes everyone who sees him. He develops close bonds with two women with whom he previously conflicted and they and his doctor friend help him to deal with his situation which becomes perilous as his weight approaches zero. 

By Stephen King,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From legendary master storyteller Stephen King, a riveting story about “an ordinary man in an extraordinary condition rising above hatred” (The Washington Post) and bringing the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine together—a “joyful, uplifting” (Entertainment Weekly) tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences, “the sign of a master elevating his own legendary game yet again” (USA TODAY).

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want…

Book cover of Mystic River

Peter David Shapiro Why did I love this book?

Beautifully written, I found this tragic story almost operatic in its intensity. A working-class girl in South Boston is murdered. Her violent ex-con father vows revenge. He focuses his suspicions on a former friend who was sexually molested as a boy and subsequently was shunned as damaged goods. Meanwhile another of the ex-con’s former boyhood friends, now a cop, races to solve the crime before the father takes justice into his own hands.

By Dennis Lehane,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Mystic River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This New York Times bestseller from Dennis Lehane is a gripping, unnerving psychological thriller about the effects of a savage killing on three former friends in a tightly knit, blue-collar Boston neighborhood.

When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened—something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever.

Twenty-five years later, Sean is a homicide detective. Jimmy is an ex-con who owns a corner store. And Dave is trying to…

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Blood of the White Bear

By Marcia Calhoun Forecki, Gerald Schnitzer,

Book cover of Blood of the White Bear

Marcia Calhoun Forecki Author Of Blood of the White Bear

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author History hound Polyglot Bookworm Neatness averse Yoga beginner

Marcia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Virologist Dr. Rachel Bisette sees visions of a Kachina and remembers the plane crash that killed her parents and the Dine medicine woman who saved her life. Rachel is investigating a new and lethal hantavirus spreading through the Four Corners, and believes the Kachina is calling her to join the work against the spreading pandemic.

She finds Eva Yellow Horn, a medicine woman with the key to fighting the pandemic. When Eva demonstrates ancient healing powers beyond science, Rachel recognizes her as the medicine woman who saved her life years before. Eva reveals that Rachel’s father was investigating the 1979 nuclear disaster in Church Rock, when his plane crashed, killing her parents. Now, Rachel undertakes a new investigation, but she is not alone.

Blood of the White Bear

By Marcia Calhoun Forecki, Gerald Schnitzer,

What is this book about?

“Visions of kachinas guide doctor to spiritual healing in pandemic.”

2014 Finalist in the Willa Literary Award

This is a book that once closed and last line read, my mind wandered to explore certain character motivations and potential follow-up responses. I don’t think an author has to answer every possibility, art comes into play best when the reader’s own imagination can wander within the story.

Dr. Rachel Bisette is drawn to the Four Corners to lead the search for a vaccine against a lethal pandemic. One elusive indigenous woman, Eva Yellow Horn, carries the gift of immunity. In her search…

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