I think we all have specific things that we look for in the books we read and they aren’t necessarily the same from person to person. My list is simple, only five things, but without these things I won’t be satisfied with a book and I likely won’t seek out anything else by that author.
1. A heroine that doesn’t make you want to poke your own eyes out.
I love romance novels. I’ve been reading them since I was 10 or 11 years old. I started out with Barbara Cartland and have progressed to erotica. One thing unites all the novels I read – a good heroine. Nothing makes me put down a book faster than a woman who wines, feels sorry for herself, refuses to solve her own problems or routinely makes bad decisions. This isn’t to say I want a stereotype “strong” woman. I’m very open, in fact I enjoy flawed characters, they are much more believable. One of the things I enjoy about the Harper Connolly series by Charlaine Harris is that Harper doesn’t always do what I expect and sometimes I disagree with her. But, there comes a point where a character goes too far. She crosses that line into inane or weak and meek and I just can’t stomach that. I need a relatable woman that I can champion.
Bad characters drive me crazy. I’ve been known to scream at books the same way I scream at the TV when I’m not happy with what a character is doing. The more a character makes me want to put out my own eyes, the less likely I am to finish that book.
2. A hero that makes your heart race even as he melts it.
I’m a huge fan of what I call the warrior poet. A man who can kick ass and take names right before he utters the words that melt your heart and make you weep. I need the heroes of the books I read to have an edge of unpredictability and just a hint of danger. They don’t need to be bad boys, but I need to know that they can be relied on in a tight spot. I want my heart to race as I question will they? Won’t they? How could they? Then, I want my heart to melt when they do something so sweet and tender that you can’t help but get damp-eyed.
I’ve had this happen in real-life and it’s an aphrodisiac unlike any other. My freshman year of college, I was stalked by an ex-boyfriend around the same time I met my daughter’s father and longtime partner. He faced down the man following me. It was a tense situation and I was scared to death. Later that night, I took him home with me and saw him with my new kitten, Rex. He let Rex crawl all over him, laughed at his antics and slept with that kitten curled up next to him. I was hooked immediately. My badass boyfriend was a sucker for kittens. I knew then that I wasn’t going anywhere.
It’s the same way with the books I read. I need complicated men with big hearts.
3. A compelling conflict.
Personally, I need more than “he had his heart broken before.” That’s just not enough for me. We’ve all had a broken heart, that just isn’t enough reason to resist love, so I find those stories boring. I want to bleed right along with the characters. This may sound harsh, but I’ll read a story about a couple working past her rape, or his past abuse, faster than I’ll read about a woman having to overcome her ex cheating on her. It’s a rare “broken heart” storyline that grabs my attention.
4. Great, believable sex.
Nothing throws me out of a story faster than ridiculous, unbelievable sex. As both a writer and a reader, I want smoking hot, relatable sex that leaves me breathless and anticipating more. Bad sex, like bad characters, will ensure I don’t finish a book. Recently, I was reading a paranormal romance about a vampire couple. Everything was going well. The storyline was compelling. I genuinely liked the couple and the settings were rich and exotic. Then, they had sex on the ceiling. Now, I get vampiric abilities and all that, but sex on the ceiling was just too much for me. Levitation! During sex! I put that book down and didn’t finish it.
Even worse are the clinical sex scenes that read like medical recitations. Yes, our genitalia are correctly called “penis” and “vagina” but those aren’t words I want to see when I’m supposed to be getting hot and bothered because my couple are finally about to do the deed. You might as well talk about mammary glands and areolas rather than breasts and nipples. Clinical sex is a major turn off and quick way to make me never read another story by that author.
5. A satisfying ending.
The end of the book is probably the most important part. It’s the last impression you have of the story. A bad ending will send a reader running the other way faster than you can say “boo!” Now, I don’t personally need a happy ever after or even a happy for now ending, but I do need the ending to make sense within the framework of the story I’ve just invested my time and energy into reading.
As an example, my favorite book of all time, Dragondoom by Dennis L. McKiernan, has a very sad ending, yet it is extremely satisfying within the context of the story. In the story, Elin and Thork, embark on a quest and through the adversity they share, they fall in love. The couple doesn’t have a happy ending. I cry every time I read that book. But, there was no other way I can see that story ending. It just wouldn’t have made sense. Despite the sad ending, this is my favorite novel and one I highly recommend.