What makes a GREAT book?

Lately I have been reading a ton of contemporary romance novels.  I am not quite sure why I am so into them right now compared to my love of historical romance, but I’ve read some really great ones.  That got me thinking about what makes a book a hit.  What is the intangible element that I try so hard to define?  What makes me love a story when some leave me feeling emotionally parched?

I have to preface this by saying that the vast majority of contemporary romance novels seem to feature very hot and graphic sex.  These men are alphas and animals in the bedroom.  While I recognize this is fantasy, I find that I love the scenes when there is an emotional connection to the characters.  Graphic sex scenes can be titillating, but the intimacy I feel towards the characters takes it from gratuitous to elemental.

So I came up with a few things that I think make these books so compelling:

Teasing and Flirting

In the books that I have read recently from Georgia Cates and Lauren Layne, the characters have the best witty banter.  I recently heard on the radio that the number one trait in a potential partner was a sense of humour.  The characters in these books are not comedians, but rather they tease, cajole, flirt and play.  I think that ‘play’ may be the best adjective to describe how I connect with the characters.  I adore when the female sets the man on his ass with a quick rejoinder, or the man playfully ruffles her feathers.  Flirting leads to touching and touch leads to sensuality which then makes sex more meaningful.

A perfect example of this is from the Beauty From Pain book by Georgia Cates:

“And how old are you, Miss Beckett?”

“Seventeen.”

“What!”  There is no way she’s seventeen.  I inspect her face, studying it intently, but don’t know what it is I hope to find.  Laugh lines maybe?

She watches my face.  “Is my age a problem for you?”

“Hell, yeah, seventeen is a problem.”  I throw my napkin on the table.  All of this has been a waste.  “Forget it all.  This whole thing is off.”

“I don’t act seventeen.  I’m very mature for my age.”

“No way.  You’re not even old enough to be drinking that wine.”  I lean in and whisper so no one will overhear.  “I’m almost twice your age.”

“I don’t mind.  I have daddy issues.”  She breaks into a huge grin and I hear a girlish giggle.  That’s when I realize she’s fucking with me and has the ability to lie with a straight face.  I’ll have to remember that for future reference.

Conflict

These books all have conflicts in them, but they aren’t about who left the dishes on the counter or didn’t take out the garbage.  They are much deeper than that and usually they are conflicts that us mere mortals wouldn’t have.  Stabbings, kidnapping, stalkers, shootings and more are the extreme conflicts that often happen.  Now, it would seem that these things divorce the reader from reality and possible a believable story, it is exactly these elements that set us free.  I don’t want to read about a couple that can’t agree on the movie they are going to watch on Friday night.  I want a couple that has a relationship that is otherworldly.  I don’t enjoy seeing characters get hurt obviously, but I want the conflict to be things that I can’t relate to.  It adds mystery to the story.  I can’t relate to sex after almost losing my life, so when I read about it, I am challenged by the author to experience it vicariously.

Look at the book Hero by Samantha Young.  While this book has become an all time favourite, it has some elements that most of us wouldn’t ever have to deal with.  But it makes the story so much better and it takes it away from the sweet and small trials that plague every relationship.

The Alpha Male

I referenced this earlier, but the men in these contemporary books are all testosterone and swagger.  I think their evolution is bigger than the journey the female takes.  In the majority of books, the male wants a casual relationship from the woman.  Likely heavy on the sex and light on the heart to hearts.  He demonstrates his prowess in the bedroom and displays mad sex skills.  As the reader, you are inclined to like him already because he is probably so charming.  I don’t think this stems from the old adage, ‘I’ll fix him’, but rather you know that he is going to get his comeuppance.  The higher and bigger they are, the harder they fall.  So for all those alpha males who select quiet, reserved women who seem like they couldn’t hurt a fly, it’s intoxicating to anticipate how they will be changed.  I personally don’t harbour a need to read about a woman change a man, but I want to see the man change because he wants to be worthy of the woman he has selected.  An alpha male is like the king of the jungle.  He bows to no one and is use to power – hence all the millionaires, billionaires and athletes featured in contemporary novels these days.  To see all his energy and focus directed towards protecting and providing for the woman he loves is a heady thing on the page.

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3 thoughts on “What makes a GREAT book?”

  1. These are all good qualities for a contemporary romance to have. For me personally, it’s equally important to present a realistic ending rather than “happily ever after.” The characters should have grown, but not achieved perfection. There should still be the potential for future conflict.

  2. “Lately I have been reading a ton of contemporary romance novels. I am not quite sure why I am so into them right now compared to my love of historical romance, but I’ve read some really great ones.”

    I seem to have a very obsessive personality. I’ll read a thousand books in one subgenre, then immediately get sick of it and move onto something else (and read a thousand of those).

    I was reading contemporary romance before historical romance (but my first love was historical fiction). My only problem with contemporaries is how sexist they can be. Sometimes I can’t believe a woman wrote it!

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