What Makes a Book Good

Today’s post is brought to you on behalf of book review responsibilities. I’ve signed up to read several books for review and I’ve had one of them on my nightstand, reading a chapter a night for about a month. Or at least that’s what I shot for. Imagine my shock when I realized I was not even halfway through a comparatively short book! I’m afraid I find all sorts of reasons not to read it before I go to bed. It’s too late, I’m tired, I have to get up early in the morning and write my own stories. The real reason is, the book has endless chapters where nothing happens. This was brought home to me last week when I picked up a different review book to take with me while I’m on errands. This second book, “Hidden Voices,” (if you’re interested in music or Renaissance Italy, take a look at it. I will have a full review up within a week at Historical Novel Review, but not here because of the setting) is a joy to read. The characters are so well done and the author clearly knows Venice and music. So I’m faced with the juxtaposition of these books and I know why I dislike one and have devoured the other. But I enjoy other books for different reasons, which does lead to this week’s question:

What are must-have points for you in a good book? One of my best friends and I discussed this a while back. For one of us, setting was important, but another wanted stronger characterization. I wanted some sort of plot if either one of these weren’t a strong-point, but she didn’t care. For me to love a book, I need to identify with or admire the characters and be lifted up emotionally by them. So what draws you in?

12 Responses to “What Makes a Book Good”

  1. Laurel Garver says:

    Great question. Setting isn't as essential to me as caring about characters–ones with flaws, ones who do stuff that rearranges their belief system, not just sit around thinking witty things.

    Ironic word verification: unpuread. Unpure-read?? LOL.

    BTW, I'm holding a contest and giveaway at my blog–$30 amazon card, critiques and editorial help as prizes. Check it out!

  2. Karen Lange says:

    What I like best is a good MC, one I like and sometimes even relate to. Then it would have to be the plot, for to keep me interested, they both have to work well so I'll keep reading. Good question!

  3. Victoria Dixon says:

    I think I want the setting to be its own character in the novel. I want to be immersed enough I come away speaking the book's lingo and thinking about it. This was why Harry Potter was so profound, incidentally. But the story DOES need to have more than just great setting for me to continue.

    Karen, I have to agree. What I want most of all is to love the MC's heroism, sense of humor or intelligence. Preferably all three. LOL The plot is something I want, but I'm willing to see where a strong character takes the story if the plot isn't evident. For that to happen, though, the characters AND the setting have to be outstanding for me, though.

    Sounds like characters are critical to all of us. ;D

  4. Janet Johnson says:

    I need characters I can identify with (and believe) AND a good plot. Though characters I suppose come first. . . . still without that plot . . . Gah! too hard to choose.

    Great question!

  5. catwoods says:

    Setting means nothing to me if I don't love the characters. I need to connect with the MC in the first page–two max–or I'm gone. I don't care what the plot promises, I'm not slogging through a book with someone I don't like.

    It would be like going on vacation to my dream destination with my back door neighbor's kid. Everything I'd do and see would be tainted by him and his less than *stellar* character.

    Call me a snob, but character connection trumps all for me lately. Not that great plot and a fabulous setting don't help keep me there…

  6. Barbara Ann Wright says:

    Characters are almost everything to me. I can forgive a lot of plot holes if the author can make me care about the characters

  7. Rachna Chhabria says:

    A good plot and a believable character hook me big time. And if the pace is a bit fast, it is all the better. Long chapters where nothing happens bugs me and I need to put the book down at that time.

  8. Medeia Sharif says:

    Characters come first for me, then plot.

    I've read slow-moving stories, but the characters kept me riveted to the book.

  9. Natalie Aguirre says:

    For me, I want strong characters I like and a strong plot where things are happening. Setting isn't as important to me. In fact, I'll confess I sometimes skim over the descriptions if they are long.

  10. Victoria Dixon says:

    Sometimes I hate blogger. I haven't been able to comment on this. It's like everytime I try, I'm blocked! Grrr.

    Okay, enough ranting. I'm not necessarily talking about description. After all, Rowlings' books have a living breathing setting, but she doesn't use Gormenghastian descriptions. LOL That living atmosphere is the sort of setting I love and crave. That said, if I can't connect with the characters, I'll pine over losing that escape, but I won't read the book. Characterization must come first. But for me, plot can come last if everything else is there. It sounds like some of us like plot more than setting, but everyone agrees on the primary importance of strong characterization! 🙂

  11. Susan C. says:

    I need to be drawn into the world of the novel, and I don't mind if that unfolds slowly as long as I feel that draw.
    BTW, I had the opposite experience from you recently. I had to review a book I didn't think I'd be keen on, but found myself hooked by the second chapter and spent the whole day reading! (It's Partitions by Amit Majmudar, by the way, set during the 1947 partition of India.)

  12. Victoria Dixon says:

    Thanks, Susan! I'll have to post that in the Asian group's library. ;D

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