I read a lot, not just crime fiction but also so-called “literary” novels and non-fiction. In one recent year, I read almost nothing but non-fiction because one book after another read like a novel and kept me speeding through the pages. Here are three of my favorites: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie and Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, which is about the life and assassination of President James Garfield. Not all of our friends love the same books we do but all of the books listed
above were recommended to me by readers I've come to trust.
What makes readers buy books? Some are swayed by reviews. Others depend on word-of-mouth. A few love blurbs by their favorite authors or stunning cover art. To me, the perfect novel has great writing, characters I care about, an interesting setting and maybe some other thing that’s personal to each of us. For me, that would be humor. Sometimes a book seems to have all that but it just isn’t enough and nobody knows why. We have all read books heaped with praise by big-name reviewers that are rejected in the marketplace. Other books are panned as poorly written or worse but the character or the story ignites the imagination of readers and the book zooms to the top of every best-seller list.
The last few books I’ve read have not made my heart sing. That has caused me to reflect on what makes me pick a book out of a stack of other books on my skyscraper high To Be Read list. Better yet, what makes me love it? I consider myself an average reader, so here are a few of my average-reader thoughts:
Keep it real:
I just forced myself to finish a novel, which shall remain nameless. The writing was adequate. The setting didn’t appeal to me but that’s not what stood in the way of a full-throated endorsement. One of the characters challenged my “willing suspension of disbelief.” Once that happened, it was hard to take the book seriously. Hint: Unless the book is comedic, don’t have a law enforcement officer in the middle of a gunfight look at his female partner and think, Gawd, that babe is so HOT.
I couldn’t finish a recent book I picked up. The writing was accomplished but the main character was not someone I wanted to follow through an entire novel. I’ve loved books starring crooks, flawed heroes and all manner of unconventional characters, but the main character in this novel didn’t have any spark of humanity that resonated with me, that made me care. Maybe that came later, but it didn't come in time for me.
Blurbs do matter:
Many years ago I got an ARC (Advance Reader's Copy) of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in a book bag at one of the mystery fan conventions. The description of the plot didn’t appeal to me but I read the book anyway because one of my favorite authors had given it a blurb. Despite a torrent of negative criticism about this book, I enjoyed it because it told a story I hadn’t heard before.
Sometimes I’m just not in the mood:
I read a recent book review in the Los Angeles Times that awarded high praise to a novel. I had never heard of the author, so I went to my local independent bookstore and bought the book. The prose was indeed lovely but the set-up and theme were similar to at least four other books I’d read recently. After several chapters, I put the book away because I wasn’t interested in revisiting that place. Maybe I’ll give it another try but I doubt it. My reaction in no way detracts from the praise the novel has received. I bring it up only as an example of the vagaries of the reading public.
It goes without saying that I read and love the novels written by my fellow Naked Authors. Below are some other recent books I’ve loved:
Tribulations of the Shortcut Man by p.g. sturges.
My favorite review quote: “Shortcut Man is a glorious read: powerful, clever, suspenseful, and filled with enough dark humor and shady characters to satisfy the most rabid noir fan, and convert those who aren’t already.” —Associated Press
Cliff Walk by Bruce DeSilva (second novel after “Best First” Edgar Award)
My favorite review quote: “...The story is by turns chilling and hilarious, the characters and sense of place are authentic, and the writing displays a master’s understand of the genre.” —David Morrell, NYT bestselling author of The Shimmer and the creator of Rambo
Sunset by Al Lamanda
My favorite review quote: “…an exciting thriller filled with tough but sympathetic characters who draw you breathlessly along to the final scene.” —Kirkus Reviews, *starred review*
What makes you pick out a book and more importantly, what makes you love it? Can you articulate the reasons or do you just know it when you read it? What are some books that make your heart sing?