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Looking for a Good Book

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on February 5, 2013

Recently I read through a bunch of novels to judge for the RITA contest sponsored by Romance Writers of America. Out of the 7 books sent me, I truly liked only one. That’s not to say I didn’t attempt to be fair and to objectively evaluate the others according to the supplied criteria. But only one out of the seven books appealed to my taste as a reader.

This exercise made me realize what I like about my favorite genres, and also what factors I don’t like that will make me put aside a book.

DISLIKES

No plot: In many of these romances, the romance portion was beautifully done but not much else happened. Reading page after page of angst and relationship problems quickly lost my interest. Now keep in mind that my cup of tea may be your cup of coffee. You may be an avid fan of contemporary romance and love these types of stories. I am not.

I like adventure, danger, and intrigue along with my romance. Or at the very least, I like something to be happening other than the emotional rollercoaster of the main couple. My taste runs to historicals, scifi/fantasy, and paranormals. That’s why romance can delight everyone. Different subgenres broaden the appeal.

Of course, the opposite problem can also be a deterrent: too much plot and not enough emotion. Haven’t you read stories where you don’t get a feel for the people? The action keeps moving along but you want more reaction? Balance is the key.

Graphic Language: Erotica may be a hot selling genre, but I don’t get off on the f-word or other graphically depicted details. You don’t even need a plot when these people are in bed for most of story. Or they’re thinking of doing it. Where’s the falling in love when two people are hot to trot right from the start? I’d be happier with a Jane Austen novel.

Contemporary Settings: I like to escape reality when I read, hence I prefer historical romance or futuristic/scifi/fantasy settings, or a contemporary setting with a paranormal element. My reading pleasure is focused on escape and entertainment, not enlightenment on heavy issues or a rehash of societal woes. All stories reflect on society in some manner. I prefer my tales Star Trek style, i.e. in disguised parallels to humanity’s foibles. As for location, Texas doesn’t draw me in although it seems to be a favorite among readers.

Unlikeable Characters: If the people are too far out from what’s normal for me, too eclectic or weird or damaged or tortured, I am apt to not be engaged. I want people I can admire and aspire to be like, not whom are unpleasant so that I can’t wait for the story to end.

So if these were the main things I disliked, what do I look for in a story? You may ask yourself the same thing. What draws you to a certain type of writing? A certain genre or a time period?

LIKES

Out of Time/Place/Experience: As I said above, I like to escape the toils of daily living, and so historical settings or futuristic/fantasy stories appeal to me. Ditto these elements or a paranormal angle in a modern setting.

Humor: I’m a sucker for humor. In any kind of story, if you make me smile, I’m more likely to keep reading.

Strong Plot: I want something to matter other than the relationship. Let the main couple race to find an artifact, missing sister, stolen chalice, spear of Atlantis, or anything that adds suspense. Throw them into situations that make me turn the page.

Archetypes: While I’m not fond of reunion stories, I do like hidden identity, royalty, rags to riches, and certain other archetypes. Some of these turn me off, like cowboys. What about you?

Mystery: A smidgen of mystery, even about a character’s background, adds tension. If you know everything up front and the characters like each other right away, where’s the story going?

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Now that I’ve finished the books I had to read, I can’t wait to dive into my TBR pile. Adventure, romance, fantasy, mystery, scifi—here I come.

So what kind of stories do you gravitate toward and which types do you generally avoid? How much will you read before you put a book down?

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15 Responses to “Looking for a Good Book”

  1. Betsy said

    I like thrillers and suspense novels, maybe with a touch of romance or not. That said, a novel with all action, with tons of pink mist exploding from the back of heads and no character development will make me set the book aside. I look for strong characters that are well developed and to which I can relate, even when they are three-headed green aliens. If they have personality, if the plot is remotely viable and if the book isn’t set in Texas, I’m good to go.

    • I had to chuckle at your “if the book isn’t set in Texas.” I’d agree with you there. As you’re essentially repeating, balance is the key. I do like the emotional depth of a romance but you can find the same in well written books of any genre.

  2. I’m with you, Nancy, on the graphic language. Most writers don’t use it correctly. I am real tired the petite girl who wants to look tough so she spews the “f” word every other sentence.

    I’m a sucker for suspense. Keep me on the edge of my seat, and don’t do it with graphic violence. Psychological suspense is better.

  3. I like paranormals and books that require world building. Though not too far fetched or I can put myself there.
    I read to escape, to forget my problems, to forget who I am. If an author can take me away, she’s got me. I need imagery to picture it, and though I am not a fan of suspense or mystery, a plot other then just the romance, needs to grab me. I myself, of course, am always pro a man in a kilt, especially if one has to time travel to meet him.

  4. I have 5 books to read. I’m reading #4 right now. I’ve truly enjoyed one of the 4. The others, not so much. For me, it’s all about the characters first, and then the writing. Pet peeve based on what I’m reading is repetition. If you show me something, trust me to understand it. A reminder perhaps, but I don’t need to read the same thought processes of the characters over and over and over …

  5. dianeokey said

    You’re spot-on, Nancy, as are the women who’ve commented here. Tired of the same-old, same-old, repetition…as if the reader’s too dumb to get it the first, or second time, lack of original plots and/or conflicts. I want substance and depth, whatever the genre. Love historical, time travel, thrillers, mystery, and suspense. And the characters have to engage me. Want romance, not gratuitous sex–and humor’s always a wonderful thing!

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