In her post on Sunday, Jilly talked about the kinds of things that would be an immediate turn off when considering a new book. Judging by the comments, we all have pretty strong ideas about what doesn’t work for us when it comes to our choice of reading material. The discussion got me to thinking about the flip side: what would get me to take a chance on a new book?
In the McDaniel program we talked about how an interesting cover can be a great way to catch a reader’s attention (harder for eBooks, but still possible). At the recent RWA conference I noticed that I was drawn to a number of book covers featuring cupcakes or cake (it’s possible I was hungry at the time) while other covers caught my attention with interesting titles and artwork. Regardless of what caught my eye initially, it was the story teaser on the back cover and the first few pages of the story that helped me decide what books I put back down and which ones I was willing to schlep all the way back home.
Looking at the stack of books in my TBR pile, as well as the books on my keeper shelf, I’ve noticed a few common elements. Here then, in no particular order, are some of the things I like in my stories:
Snark and Humor
Life is serious and sometimes downright discouraging, so my favorite stories are infused with humor and very frequently include snarky heroes/heroines. I just finished re-reading Jenny Crusie’s Bet Me, and the opening scene where our girl Min is thinking of ways to do away with the no-good boyfriend who is dumping her is laden with humor and snark. That scene alone would have convinced me to read the book even if I knew nothing else about the story or author. Julia Quinn’s books are generally infused with humor as well, making them engaging and entertaining, even when dealing with serious story lines.
I definitely have weakness for series books that feature a connected group of characters, whether they are family members, schoolmates, regiment members, or just people living in the same area. The Company of Rogues stories by Jo Beverley are some of my favorites. Each story is stand-alone with its own hero/heroine, but there is just enough cross-over of characters to give the books a strong feeling of family and community. The books are also interesting because the timing of the stories overlaps, so in different books you get a different perspective of common events. Like anything else, of course, there can be too much of a good thing. On series that I read a few years back featured members of a particular family and now, 20 or so books later, it’s still going on. I wandered away after about a dozen books because the characters all started to run together. I like a strong sense of community, but in moderation. 🙂
A heroine I can relate to
When it comes to the heroine of the story, I like her to be someone I can relate to, someone who is not perfect but has qualities that are believable and endearing. The heroines in the last two Kristin Higgins stories I read both loved dogs and hair that tended to take on a life of its own when not tamed by industrial strength styling products – both things I can relate to. Being able to make a connection to the heroine helps me get invested in the story and makes it more likely that I’ll want to see it through to the end. In Seduction, by Amanda Quick, the heroine Sophy was always coming undone somewhere – either her hair was falling out of its pins or her sleeve was unraveling. It made her seem very human and made her very likeable and engaging. Her hero, the Earl of Ravenwood was not so charming, but she made up for his lack.
A charming hero
Since most of what I read is romance, the stories that catch my attention need both a heroine and a hero that catch my interest. The most interesting heroes are not the “most handsome man in the world with a great job and lots of money” types. That would be kind of boring, or annoying, or something. I like my heroes to be a little flawed. Rupert Carsington, from Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible, is a good example of the kind of hero that appeals to me. He’s good looking and capable, but also gets into a fair amount of trouble. He’s extra endearing because he recognizes the intelligence of the heroine and doesn’t try to diminish her.
An appealing setting
One of the books I picked up during my RWA wandering was An Early Wake by Sheila Connolly. It’s a cozy mystery set in County Cork, Ireland (where I was last fall), in a pub (I visited a number of those), and features some Irish musicians (what’s not to like?). I associate the setting with happy memories, which makes the book an appealing read for me. Books set in the Highlands, like Suzanne Enoch’s Mad, Bad, and Dangerous in Plaid, or the canals of Venice, like Loretta Chase’s Your Scandalous Ways are equally likely to be given a chance.
An interesting structure
This last element, an interesting story structure, applies more to books outside the romance category. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was told as a story, within a story, within a story. Wilkie Collin’s Woman in White was told like testimony in a court case. 84 Charing Cross Road was told via series of letters. The unusual structures give these stories an extra layer of appeal. When used carefully, a non-standard structure can change a common plot into something fresh and different, which makes for an appealing read.
So, those are some of the things that will cause me to give a book a chance. What about you?