Literary matchmaking: what you love, what you hate, and my first attempts at setting you up with the right book

Literary matchmaking

literary matchmaking, personal shopping for books

When I tossed out the idea for literary matchmaking/personal shopping for books/whatever you want to call it two weeks ago, I was afraid nobody would be interested.

I needn’t have worried–there are 148 comments on that post, not counting the ones that are floating around in cyberspace due to Wednesday’s hosting transfer. (If your comment isn’t showing up, that’s why. Don’t worry, it’s not lost forever: it’s just in the wrong place at the moment.)

People ask me for book recommendations all the time, but it’s hard to recommend the right book to the right reader if you don’t know that person’s taste. So I asked you to tell me 3 books you loved, 1 book you hated, and the last book you read

Some interesting common themes emerged. Readers mentioned the following genres repeatedly: some loved them, some hated them:

• Literary fiction
• Sci-fi/fantasy
• Historical fiction
• Mystery

I consider more than genre when recommending books. Your comments indicated you care about:

the page-turner factor. (Do you want a plot-driven book, or one that’s slow and gorgeous?)
the f-bomb factor. (Can you tolerate a little profanity, or is that a deal-breaker?)
the zany factor. (Are you okay with off-the-wall plot lines?)
the squeamish factor. (What topics are off limits for you?)
the page number factor. (Does 700 pages sound delightful or impossible?)
the loose ends factor. (Some people hate books that don’t resolve. Are you one of them?)

(I’d love to hear what you would add to these two lists in comments!)

With those factors in mind, I’m trying my hand at matching the first 3 readers with books. (Whitney, Bea, Jen–thanks for being the guinea pigs.)

I tried to avoid doing a straight tit-for-tat–Oh, you liked Harry Potter? Read Outlander next!–but take all 5 books (3 love, 1 hate, 1 current) into consideration. And to hedge my bets, I’m choosing 1 mainstream pick, 1 eccentric pick, and 1 YA pick for each reader. (Or more, if I can’t help myself.)

Literary matchmaking

Here goes:


Love: Fangirl, Harry Potter, The Giver, The Hunger Games, A Wrinkle in Time, anything Dan Brown
Hate: historical fiction
Last read: Daring Greatly and Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

My picks: 

Mainstream: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Eccentric: Out of the Silent Planet (Book 1 of C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy)
YA: The Age of Miracles

Whitney and I have similar taste. Judging from her picks (and even though she listed 6 “loves,” that’s still a small sample), she likes plot-driven books, enjoys fantasy, and reads a good bit of YA. Jamie Ford’s novel moves quickly and tells a great story, and the eccentric and YA picks have a lot in common with what she’s loved. No historical fiction!


Love: The Quilter’s ApprenticeThese Happy Golden Years44 Scotland Street
Meh: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. I wanted to like this book, but I think there were to many characters and literary references and I got a bit overwhelmed.
Last read: Birds of a Feather by Jaqueline Winspear (and I loved it!)

My picks: 

Mainstream: Gaudy Night, or any Dorothy Sayers mystery, or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Eccentric: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
YA: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley (book 1 of the Flavia de Luce series), the Betsy-Tacy series

44 Scotland Street brought Dorothy Sayers immediately to mind, and Bea’s book-in-progress supported this. I chose Gaudy Night because it’s my favorite. Miss Pettigrew is a quirky, lighthearted novel that seems to fit Bea’s taste, as do Guernsey and Betsy-Tacy. Since she loves Laura Ingalls Wilder and at least one British mystery series, I chose Flavia.      


Loved: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, The Fault in our StarsThe Hunger Games
Loathed: The Casual Vacancy
Last read: Witches of East End
Currently: The Red Tent

My picks: 

Mainstream: Attachments: A Novel
Eccentric: Maisie Dobbs
YA: Wonder

Jen and I seem to have similar taste. (I haven’t read The Casual Vacancy, but I did stare at it for 3 weeks before returning it to the library unread.) I picked enjoyable, easy-reading novels that still made you think. I highly recommend Wonder to anyone who loved TFIOS, Maisie and Attachments are wonderful picks for Guernsey fans, although for different reasons.    

My current plan is to tackle these recommendations a few at a time. Got a better idea? I’m all ears.

What categories would you add to the book selection criteria? And how did I do with Whitney, Bea, and Jen–what books would YOU recommend to them?

PS. Grouping books like tasting wine, and 7 books that changed my life.

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Leave A Comment
  1. This. Is. Fabulous. I never made it over to add my list to the other post but I’m going to find lots to love here anyway, reading your recs for others who like the same things I do! Thank you for doing this!!!

  2. Joslyn says:

    I love this idea and would be interested to see what book you’d give me! The one factor I’d add is whether the book is well written or not and not just grammar and voice being well done and consistent but just whether it is has a well thought out plot and characters. My loathe book is a perfect example, Eragon. I had such great hopes for this book as I was 18 or so when it came out and I myself write so I wanted it to be good, to show myself and the world that teens could have talent. I was so disappointed I couldn’t even finish it. He never stayed in a consistent voice, his grammar was atrocious, the plot was convoluted and hard to follow and on top of that his names and plot points had been all but plagiarized from the greats like Tolkien and Lewis, even Star Wars! It was an embarrassment. This is the kind of stuff that makes of breaks a book for me.

    To Whitney I’d recommend Inkheart!

  3. Liza Lee Grace says:

    Whitney sounds like me in reading tastes. I love all of her loves and am not a fan of historical fiction! You recommended The Age of Miracles, a book I just finished and loved. Good call on that one.

  4. SoCalLynn says:

    I’m confused. For Whitney, you say “no historical fiction”, and her reading favorites are mostly fantasy, and yet your recommendation is The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, which I would consider WWII historical fiction? Did I read this wrong? I think this is a wonderful idea, but a lot of work for you! 😉

    • Anne says:

      Ha! Of course you’re right. I had it categorized in my head under “books that tell a great story” and not “historical fiction,” but of course it is. Good catch! {{sheepish}}

  5. Dianna says:

    For me, the fluff factor is very important. I just don’t appreciate books that are too frivolous, except about once every other year if I can manage to happen upon the right book at the right time.

  6. Bea says:

    Thank you for the recommendations! I am excited to try Dorothy Sayers as her books have been recommended to me before, but I was never sure where to start.

    Funnily enough, I’ve tried to read the Flavia de Luce series multiple times and just can’t get into it. I’m not sure why, as it seems to fit my interests well on paper (I even majored in chemistry in college!)

    Thanks for taking the time to make recommendations!

    • Louise says:

      Gaudy Night is my favorite Lord Peter book (and one of my favorite books overall, in any series or genre), but I would echo Melissa’s advice about starting with a different one. Gaudy night is the second-to-last in the series, and you miss out on a lot of its richness if you haven’t followed the characters along their development in the earlier books. If you don’t want to start with the absolute first, Unnatural Death is where Sayers really hits her stride with Lord Peter, I think, and Strong Poison is our introduction to Harriet Vane, and Murder Must Advertise is both hysterically funny and dreadfully poignant all at once.

    • Anne says:

      What I really wanted to recommend was Wildwood, by Colin Meloy, but I’m only on page 30 and that didn’t seem like a good idea. Maybe when I’m finished with it. 🙂

  7. Whitney W says:

    I was so excited to see your recommendations for me! I am downloading all three now, and I will definitely follow up with how I like each one. Thank you so much!

  8. Gabriela says:

    This is a great idea. You should start your own bussiness and create a literary-matchmaking website. I think your idea has a lot of potential.

  9. Robin says:

    I would suggest that anyone who likes Maisie Dobbs (post-WWI mystery, set in England) might enjoy Charles Todd. “He” is a mother-son writing team with two series going concurrently: Bess Crawford and Ian Rutledge. Both are set in England, during and/or immediately after WWI, they are murder-mysteries, and are ‘clean’ in terms of language and adult situations.

    • Louise says:

      Ooh, yes to the Charles Todd suggestion! The Bess Crawford books are a little more straightforward, while Inspector Rutledge tends to delve a little more into psychology, but both are really brilliantly written.

      Laurie R King’s Mary Russell series is also excellent for historical mysteries, as long as you don’t object to anyone but Conan Doyle writing Sherlock Holmes. King does it better than most. The earlier books are stronger than the most recent spate, but all are good.

  10. Kelty says:

    Woohoo!!!! Thank you for all your time to do this. I’m very much looking forward to you getting to me, but oddly, I’m just as excited about eavesdropping on all your other personal recommendations. What fun!

  11. Mil says:

    I’m pretty OCD. Is. It possible to read Peter Wimsey out of order? I hate not having the background necessary. I read Miss Pettigrew on your recommendation and loved it

    • Louise says:

      You CAN read the Lord Peter books out of order without being tremendously confused, but I think one appreciates them better if they are read at least mostly in order. Especially the ones featuring Harriet Vane – Strong Poison first, then Have His Carcass, then Gaudy Night, and finally Busman’s Honeymoon. The rest of them can really be enjoyed any which way.

  12. You did a great job for me – two are already on my mental TBR list and the other (Maisie Dobbs) sounds right up my alley! Thanks!

    (and I’ll confess, I opened at least half the links for the other books you recommended for Bea and Whitney, too. I have very broad taste in books and a literary appetite that knows no bounds!

    As for your other questions. For me:

    • the page-turner factor – I go a lot of different ways here – I think I tend to prefer character driven books with people I can root for but I’ll break that rule for a book that truly excels at either plot driven or gorgeous prose.
    • the f-bomb factor. I’m not super squeamish with this but I’d rather not have it in excess, you know?
    • the zany factor. (Are you okay with off-the-wall plot lines?) absolutely
    • the squeamish factor. (What topics are off limits for you?) Sometimes death of kids or parents is too much for me to handle – but it depends on how consuming it is emotionally to the book. For instance, loved a Fault in Our Stars so its obviously not a deal breaker.
    • the page number factor. (Does 700 pages sound delightful or impossible?) It would definitely be daunting for me – I’d have to REALLY want to read the book to pick up the big and heavies.
    • the loose ends factor. (Some people hate books that don’t resolve. Are you one of them?) Kinda… The ending is pretty important to me, but it won’t completely ruin a book necessarily. Sometimes loose ends are the only way to go.

  13. The reason I love this post so much is that I never thought about WHY I loved certain books. These categories really make sense to me!

    And, have you ever done a post on what your mind goes through while reading a book? Or how you read a book? Like, for me, I explore the cover, read the back, form a schema. The book always starts slow – almost like I need to learn the language, familiarize myself with the style, etc. before I can start reading faster. Etc.

  14. Kim says:

    This is a great idea; I think book pairings would be helpful as well. For instance, last year I read a Dan Ariely book (not sure which one, but truth and honestly were the themes) and The Light Between Oceans, by M. L. Stedman. The books complemented each other and provide a deeper understanding of honesty and integrity. Currently, I am reading Franny and Zooey and just finished Outliers and The Power of Habit. For some reason, these, too, feel like companions. Perhaps it is just my mind trying to make links and since habits are on my mind right now, the “praying without ceasing” idea resonated. I may have to find The Way of a Pilgrim to read next.

  15. Nancy B says:

    Anne, are you familiar with NovelistPlus? It’s a super cool database that offers lots of readers’ advisory services such as read-alikes, discussion guides, genre lists, and suggested reading for various ages. It’s common at public libraries. I can access it at home using my library card. Just go to your public library website and click on the database list (sometimes libraries call it “online resources” or “research tools” or similar). If your library sorts databases, you’ll probably find Novelist under language and literature. I promise, you’ll love it.

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