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    What Are We Looking For? Or You Say Potato I Say French Fries by Marisa
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  • Published: May 11th, 2009

What are we looking for?  Really, I’m curious.  What are we looking for when we pick up a book? What is it about a good book that makes us pick up the phone and call our friends and say “you’ve got to read this one”?  What about the books  we slog through with dispirted interest?  And then there are the  books that are  so bad that we can’t finish them? I’ve been trying to figure that out. I’ve gone to numerous web sites and read many reviews to try and discern what we’re  looking for in a book. What is that certain ‘something’ that speaks to one person and falls on deaf ears to another? Why do I love some books that you wouldn’t read even if you were sitting in an empty room chained to the floor with nothing but white walls surronding you? I’m curious. Really, really curious.  I’ve been searching the net and reading different reviews of the same book to find an answer. I found many differing opinions and I’m finding it  hard to believe these people read the same book.

I first read PJ’s review of Annie Solomon’s new release One Deadly Sin here at Romance Novel TV. PJ said:

ONE DEADLY SIN is a story filled with deadly secrets, snappy dialogue, steamy sex, heart-stopping suspense and enough twists and turns to keep me glued to the edge of my seat and devouring every word of this terrific thriller.

Then I read William’s review from Reading Romance Books

The…suspense made the book exciting and dark with a looming ambience that follows you through the whole story.

So far we have agreement, but then I read Madeline Muravchik’s review from Donne Tempo

It is billed as a romantic thriller. Yet there was very little suspense. How could there be, when much of the story is dedicated to clearing the main character, Edie Swann, of murder charges that readers know from the get-go she did not commit?…

She goes on to say:

Yet it is too little too late as far as a satisfying plot goes, especially when the far-fetched culprit is finally revealed. Instead of being satisfying the surprise ending is more apt to make readers groan, “You got to be kidding me.”

What did PJ and William get from this book that Madeline did not? What was Madeline looking for when she picked up Annie Solomon’s book? I’m not sure, I didn’t ask her – but I read her review and she definitely felt unsatisfied.

I can point to my own example – after reading J.R. Ward’s Lover Avenged it went directly to my keeper shelf. It was all that I was looking for and yet others were not so fortunate in getting their needs met.

I said:

For me, one element of a good romance is when the hero and/or heroine give unselfishly to the people they love, no matter what; and that is what Ehlena and Rehv do for each other. Romantic? Absolutely.

In Adventures in Katidom Kati wrote:

The story went in a few unexpected directions and I actually mostly enjoyed it. I think I attribute part of that to the fact that I just didn’t read it as a romance, and I expected next to nothing from the romance side of things, and the rest to the fact that I just don’t have high expectations for the series any more.

Nicola at Alpha Heroes says

So while, yes, I think the book qualifies as a romance, it’s not a *great* romance.

Jennie at Dear Author wrote

I will say that though I did not find Rehv’s and Ehlena’s relationship excessively romantic, by the climatic scene I did feel a little frisson at the thought of their HEA being in sight. (If I don’t get that feeling at some point near the end of a romance, I know it’s failed me; it means I really just don’t care about the characters at all.)

Then we have Kate’s take on the book. In Babbling About Books and More she wrote:

The past six books have been a whirlwind of action, suspense and romance. Some readers have begun to question about the changes Ward have written because the first few books were very much Paranormal Romance. But now she has changed the dynamics of her series and the front and center romance between the hero and heroine is not the most important reason in picking up these books. Ward has expanded this world to encompass many stories in one.

Reading a book is a very personal experience. When we read a book that touches us in some way we want to share that with others.  How do we express what ‘touches’ us? What do some books give us that others do not? How do some books seem to hit all the right notes for us, while others leave us cold?

Just yesterday we Posted PJ’s review of Jo Davis’ Under Fire

Davis once again has brought us a passionate love story with tightly woven suspense, a likeable hero and heroine, plenty of sizzling hot sex, secrets that must be faced head-on and obstacles that can only be overcome through trust and love.  Happily, the rest of the FS5 firefighters have plenty of face time in this book, though the primary focus remains on the hero and heroine, and the groundwork continues to be laid for their stories in future books – books that can’t come fast enough for this reader.

The flip side of how this book was received can be read at Adventures in Katidom. Kati says:

The book suffers from a terrible case of tell not show. If there weren’t so many returning characters from Trial by Fire, I’d think that a different author wrote it.

My advice? Buy Trial by Fire, and read and love it. Then pretend like this book never happened — that’s my plan.

Vision in White by ‘go to’ author Nora Roberts  also has readers divided. It resonated with some readers while others were left feeling a bit disappointed

In Babbling About Books and More Jen said

One of the biggest problems with this romance is that the hero and the heroine spend most of the book apart. There are more and longer scenes listing tedious details for weddings we never see involving people we don’t know or care about than there are love scenes between the main characters. Mac spends the entire book resisting the idea of Happily Ever After until one day she decides to go with it. Not because of anything Carter says or does. He spends the entire book patiently waiting for her to come around.

Jane from Dear Author said:

I loved the girl power relationship Mackenzie had with her three friends. I also appreciated that they fought and made up.  It wasn’t halcyonic storybook friendship, but real and authentic.  Again, it was Carter, blushing, sweet, earnest and hot Carter, and his hilarious conversations that made the story for me.

Then there are those books we all seem to agree on – what is it about those books?

Let’s look at Always a Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch.

Andrea Williamson of Romance Novel TV said

Suzanne Enoch is a master at crafting notorious, bad boy heroes and Always a Scoundrel is a perfect example of that.  The way she skillfully combines a cynical rake, a respectable lady, loyal secondary characters and a sadistic villain is nothing short of magical.  Always a Scoundrel has joined the first two books of Ms. Enoch’s Notorious Gentleman series on my keeper shelf and I suggest you make room on yours, because you do not want to miss this one!

Jane from Dear Author seems to agree.

I’ve really enjoyed this Notorious Gentleman series which started with After the Kiss and ends with Always a Scoundrel, a book that csquared deemed one of your best in years. I agree. This is a book that had my emotions in my throat nearly the entire time. It was dark, evocative, and moving.

And so does Jean Wan from AAR  who gave it Desert Isle Keeper status

The last time I gave a DIK to Suzanne Enoch, it was London’s Perfect Scoundrel, about a seriously bad boy scoundrel (duh) who falls for a proper lady and rescues her from her uncaring, exploitative family. Now, normally when I encounter repeat plots I start thinking the author’s run out of juice, but when the book is a) significantly different from the last one, and b) damn good, you forget the similarities, stop nitpicking, and just enjoy the ride.

Scandal, by Carolyn Jewel is another book that we all seem to want to read.

Kate loved the book and in her review she wrote

WOW. Simply, wow. That is the only word I can use to describe this masterpiece. It has been such a long time since I have read such a rich, emotional and tension filled romance. Not only did Scandal have me hooked from the very first page, but this is the first book, in a very long time, where I had to read straight through into the wee hours of the night because I couldn’t put it down. When an author can write such a book, that book is destined for greatness. I wouldn’t be surprised if Scandal becomes one of the favorites of 2009, and perhaps placed on most reader’s lists for all time favorite historical.

Janine from Dear Author

I couldn’t agree more. I loved the smoothness and elegant simplicity of your writing. There was a seamless quality to it that, along with the emotional aspects of the story, made the book wholly absorbing, and I stayed up until 3 AM in the morning to finish reading it.

Casee from Book Binge

This historical was amazing. I don’t quite know what I was expecting, but whatever it was, it didn’t come close to what I actually got. Carolyn Jewel is an amazing historical writer. I read her paranormal, My Wicked Enemy, and thought it was very good. It doesn’t hold a candle to Scandal.

So many different opinions. So I’m asking, what are you looking for when you pick up a book?  What about it makes it a book  you want to keep reading?

14 Responses to “What Are We Looking For? Or You Say Potato I Say French Fries by Marisa”

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  1. Stacy ~
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 6:50 am

    Wow, not a tough question at all *g* I guess the main thing, at least for me, is to have my emotions engaged. It seems more and more stories are steering away from that side of the relationship and throwing in a lot of other elements to keep readers interested, and I feel myself longing for the days of old when a story was about 2 people who were falling in love. Still, I think even paranormal stories can be done well if the romance is not forgotten about.

    I recently started reading Kresley Cole’s paranormals, and I admit that I’ve almost had to be dragged in kicking and screaming into the paranormal genre, but once I started reading Kresley’s books, I saw that a strong romance can be written in with a whole lot of action going on. The author just can’t lose touch with the couple and then scribble in their HEA as an afterthought. I’m anxious now to discover other authors who do this well. I think Lara Adrian is another author that a lot of people talk about. I read the first, but haven’t continued.

    Another thing? To stop being so predictable. The “big bad” ends up being something easily figured out, and easily resolved. To me, the stories that are the most memorable are the ones that break your heart a little. Not “rip it into shreds and set it on fire” destroy, mind you, but ones that have you flipping the pages, maybe even getting a little teary-eyed because the H/H have been kept apart for a valid reason and you ache to see them together. I think there are ways to push the envelope without throwing in dealbreakers (i.e. one or both characters temporarily ending up involved with other people for part of the story – hate that!!!)

    To stop copying other successful authors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read stories that are practically a play-by-play of another I’ve already seen done. Yes, I get the genre has a limited amount of plotlines to tell, but come on, think outside the box. Look at a Nalini Singh or a Meljean Brook and how they’ve managed to create smart, intriguing, pulse-pounding stories. It can be done.

    Okay, jumping down from the soapbox cuz I have to head off to work. Can’t wait to get home and read what others have to say.


  2. PJ
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 7:25 am

    I’m on my way out the door so, with apologies to Stacy for my lack of originality, I’ll just say “ditto” for now (you said it beautifully, Stacy) and pop in with my own thoughts when I get home tonight.

    Very thought provoking blog, Marisa!


  3. katiebabs
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 8:39 am

    I always look for the emotional connections between the two main characters, the world building and the poetry of the words from the writer. I want to read more books that are “out of the box” and not the same old reads that someone will write just because they think they will sell well.


  4. Kati
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 8:47 am

    Terrific post, Marisa!

    Like Stace, I want my emotions engaged. I want to empathize with one or the other of the characters. I want fully drawn characters. Ones that capture my imagination. I want the world they’re living in to be fully realized and drawn. If the book is historical, I want the flavor of the time period. I want to *feel* the connection between the hero and the heroine. And I think MOST importantly, I don’t want you to tell me it’s a romance IF IT’S NOT. That’s a lot of “I wants”.

    It’s the intangible for me that is harder to capture. I want the authors whose work I love to live up to the standards they’ve set. I think that is why I was so harsh on Under Fire. I fell so hard for Trial by Fire. I was gobsmacked to be so let down by Under Fire. Now I realize that many, many other reader reactions will vary from mine. I tend to put incredibly high expectations on the authors I truly love. And I think I probably react more strongly when they write what I perceive as a clunker than when an author whose work I’m not familiar with does.

    It’s a tough position that I put my best loved authors in. They don’t have many chances to “mess up” (in the world of Kati) before I begin to get really upset. JR Ward is a direct recipient of that fact. She SO engaged me with her first three books that I was terribly upset to read Lover Revealed and have SO many problems with it. Stacy can tell you, she and I exchanged a number of emails over how upset I was that the book didn’t live up to my lofty expectations. But now, I’ve just kind of come to peace with the idea that the subsequent books are NOT what the first three were: romances. They are something else. I still find the world engaging and entertaining. I’ve just stopped expecting a romance. And since I’ve done that, I’m happier.

    I’m tough on my beloved authors. Because having read a loved some of their work, I *know* they can do better. You know? I’m absolutely not saying it’s right. It’s just — um, how I am. *sheepish*


  5. Laura
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 9:31 am

    Hi Marisa,
    Your ? is simple for me. – What are you looking for when you pick up a book?- I look for a undercurrent of undeniable attraction between the main characters. It has to be there from the start, even if they can’t stand to be in the same room with each other. That’s what makes me keep reading the story, because I want to see how they “get there”. For the second ? -What about the book keeps you reading it?- It’s the same answer as the firrst. I read romance for simply the fact that it’s romance. I love, LOVE. If I didn’t, I would be reading westerns, of science books.

    Now, I have to say something about the BDB series. I loved Z’s story. It was the first I read in the series. It made me by all the other books in the series. I just got done reading Lover Avenged, and I liked it. I didn’t say I loved it, I said I liked it. And here is why: It all goes back to your original ?. This book had love in it, but not ROMANCE. I love being transported to a different world in Ward’s series. She does it beautifully. She’s probably one of the best at it, but this book lacked romance. There was not enough build up between Rehv and Ehlenea, for that fact, there just wasn’t enough about the tow of them period. I liked them together, but I wanted more of them and less of Wrath and Beth.(There story was already told back in Dark Lover)


  6. Maria Lokken
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 9:48 am

    One of the MAIN things that engages me in a book is the dialogue. I’m put off by long expositions, lots of paragraphs, and no white space. It’s the dialogue that gives me the flavor of the characters and sets the tone.


  7. azteclady
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 10:52 am

    Heh, such a good question–with so many different answers.

    And I don’t have one answer to it, either, because it depends on the book. If I pick up a romance, I expect to care for the characters and to believe, by the end of the book, that their relationship will thrive in the future (whether it ends in HEA or the less formal HFN). If I pick a mystery, by golly I hope not to guess the identity of the guilty party within three pages.

    And so on and so forth.

    And yet, there are times when I pick up a mystery, and I do guess the identity of the killer pretty much immediately, yet the writing is so engaging, the characters so likable, that I enjoy it as much (if not more) than a mystery that’s better at keeping me guessing.

    Clear as mud?


  8. heidenkind
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 3:21 pm

    Very interesting post, Marisa. Although I do have say… um, I hated Scandal. =/ I didn’t finish it; nothing happened during the entire course of the book (the part that I read, anyway), and I hated the heroine. So there you go–there’s always SOMEONE who doesn’t like a book.

    I think there are certain storylines that resonate with individuals, and they’re probably going to like any book or movie with those plot elements, even if it’s not the best. Also having characters you can connect with is important to making people like a book. But overall the things that make people love certain books are really ephemeral, I think. Like in a book I just read, Charles Dickens said drawing people into a story is like putting them into a mesmeric trance–as readers, we want to be completely transported into the world of the book. But our ability to do so doesn’t rest solely with the author, but also extraneous elements like our mood and our receptivity towards the story. I think everyone has had the experience of trying to re-read a book that we know we love, but we can’t get into it. That’s not the book’s fault, it’s the reader’s.


  9. Kati
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 3:46 pm

    I think everyone has had the experience of trying to re-read a book that we know we love, but we can’t get into it. That’s not the book’s fault, it’s the reader’s.

    GENIUS point, heidenkind!

    I have a stack of books that are DNF’s for me that I refuse to get rid of because I *know* that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when I tried to read them the last time. That is a really, really good point.


  10. PJ
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 6:21 pm

    I think everyone has had the experience of trying to re-read a book that we know we love, but we can’t get into it. That’s not the book’s fault, it’s the reader’s.

    Excellent point! I totally agree!


  11. Marisa
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 6:55 pm

    Wow, thanks so much for such thoughtful responses.

    Stacy, I’m in agreement with you – all the books on my keeper shelf, the ones I re-read, have all engaged my emotions. And I think that sort of lets me know why we all have such different reactions to a book. We all have different emotions/baggage we carry around and those don’t go away when we enter into the world of fiction.

    I also agree that when a book ‘surprises’ me – in other words, when it isn’t so predictable – well, they’ve got me. The genius of being creative, innovative and one of kind is hard to do, but when an author achieves that!… well, I’m buying their next book.


  12. Marisa
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 7:03 pm

    Katiebabs – yes, emotional connection between the characters is always a plus for me when reading a book. And like Kati, I want my emotions engaged.

    Kati when you wrote I want the authors whose work I love to live up to the standards they’ve set. I thought, YES! I totally understand how you feel. I think I was a little afraid to say that, even to myself. After reading that it surprised me how much that resonated with me. I do have a lot of expectations from certain authors and I wonder how fair it is of me to judge an author’s individual work against their ‘body’ of work. But there it is. When, as an author you’ve captured my attention, I want that same experience over and over again. And yet, books are ‘living’ documents, they have a life of their own as each one of us picks it up. What we bring to it colors how we read it. I think that there is a contract we enter into with each book with read. Depending on my mood and what’s going on in my life will definitely inform what I think about the book- Heidenkind pointed that out so brilliantly.


  13. Marisa
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 7:05 pm

    Laura – one of my favorite parts of any book is the journey – ‘seeing how they get there’.

    azteclady – crystal clear!


  14. PJ
    on May 11th, 2009
    @ 7:08 pm

    I’m looking for a connection with the main characters. I want good dialogue between them. I want to like them though, if the writing is very good, I have in the past enjoyed books while being lukewarm about the main characters. Like others have mentioned, my emotions need to be engaged. Whether they make me laugh, cry or just sigh there needs to be that emotional investment in their story. I like new and different storylines (Kantra’s Children of the Sea is a good example) but I also enjoy tried and true storylines if they are well-written. Mainly I just want to be entertained. :)

    I think we all bring our life experiences and our personal likes/dislikes to the books we read and that’s a good thing. It sure would be a boring world if we all liked the same stuff. Vive la difference!