The Quest for the Perfect Book

holygrail As many of you know, I compose a list of all the books that I am looking forward to reading. It is like a security blanket or comfort item knowing that there are some books out there that I want to read. For the next three months I only have six books on my list, which is not good. There is not much security in that unless I plan on doing a lot of re-reads.

Years ago, I read The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold and loved it. That book is definitely an A book for me. After reading it I couldn’t stop talking about it, and recommended it to just about everyone I knew. But I lost the book, and forgot about the story, until someone on Speaking of Audiobooks posted that the audio book was on sale. Off I went and rediscovered the love. After I finished, I wondered why can’t I find books like this anymore: books not so much with tortured heroes or heroines, but imperfect human being facing tasks that require heroic efforts with an underlying theme of good against evil, with an underscoring premise that human lives have purpose. Then I thought of my upcoming list, Blythe’s blog and then Maggie’s blog.

What is the connection? At first glance there doesn’t seem much of one, since Blythe talks about supporting authors who are attempting to break out of some of the rigid imposed restrictions by publishers, damping or extinguishing the creativity in our genre. And while a little off topic, if you don’t think that it exists, just check out what Julie James says in her interview at Under The Covers Book Blog:

“One of the screenplays I wrote back in the day is a romantic suspense about a woman (an attorney) who goes on safari in Africa and discovers that one of the people on that safari is a hitman hired to kill her. There’s a really hot ranger in the story—but the heroine doesn’t know if she can trust him because he could very well be the hitman. I came up with the idea after going on safari in South Africa—that was the most incredible trip I’ve ever taken and would love to set a book there. I’ve pitched the idea, but have been told that books set in exotic locations don’t sell well. But I haven’t given up hope—maybe some day!”

But back to my light bulb moment. What I also took away from Blythe’s blog is to be a little more adventurous. When I first read her blog, I thought of myself as a pretty versatile reader. I read contemporary, women’s fiction, some science fiction and fantasy, and political intrigue and tiny bit of historicals. Then I read Maggie’s blog, where she talks about how one recipe can be completely different in two different authors’ hands.

All three concepts sort of converged in my brain, being adventurous, the recipe, and why I haven’t read a truly great book this year, and I realized that I follow a recipe in picking the type of books even with reviewing. It is not that I don’t venture outside my comfort zone. I am continually trying new authors. But I still use that recipe to pick a book. I want heroic not tortured, sexy, but with more story than sex, and in fact I can be perfectly fine with kisses stories. Forget the big misunderstandings, or the too stupid to live characters, and the blood drinking, which rules out most vampire stories. Ditto on the end of the world, unless the world is restored in the end, which I find highly unlikely. See what I mean. . .I have a recipe. It is ironic that in my last three forays into urban fantasy this year, I ended up with a heroine with a very large snake, (snake phobia), a TSTL heroine, and then a blood drinking hero. Since I am like a Pavlov’s dog in that if I go too long without a reward, I quit reading that type of story, I haven’t yet ventured back into urban fantasy.

And I haven’t found the perfect book this year. I have read some truly good books that have touched me, made me laugh or cry and just plain entertained me but I want that book with meaning. So, I am thinking that maybe I need to adjust my recipe. I know that this is a common affliction, since many readers participate in 11 in 2011 to get them out of their comfort zones . And I also see others posting on the boards asking for a certain type of story. So many of you are just like me.

So I have many questions for you. Do you have a recipe or photoype of books that you enjoy? Do you feel adventurous in your reading or you stuck in a rut? If have been in a rut before, how did you get out of it? Most of us find books through our preferred genre, word of mouth and reviews. Which one has been the most successful for you in getting you to try a new author or new type of book? And if you have found your perfect book this year, what is it?

- Leigh Davis

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18 Responses to “The Quest for the Perfect Book”

  1. lauren says:

    I love medevials through early 19th century…my “to read list” is stacked in closet in my office/library and is about 100 books. I tend to get distracted from my stash when I read a revue or recommendation from a website blog, so I also have a stash of books from the library (usually 6+) at any given time. Thank goodness for email reminders from libraries since I tend to borrow from more than one and cannot for the life of me keep track of whats due when. I have drifted to the paranormal (with historical story lines) from time to time and enjoy them. I do read a book all the way through regardless of how bad it is…you know the “you start something you must finish something”, and often I have been surprised. I tend to drift more often to series rather than stand alone books…I really enjoy the development of the writer and the characters he/she creates.
    As far as the perfect book, no I haven’t ever found one…some have come very very close to being the perfect book for me, and I am sure its out there…I do have several authors I love and tend to wait with baited breath for the next in their series to come out.
    I do have the perfect bookstore…my local resale paperback store that I can drop a pretty penny on 2x a year with their 1/2 off sale and do so without remorse. :)

  2. DabneyAAR says:

    I have experienced several “perfect” books. All of them hit me like a bolt of lightening when I read them and I have reread them all at least once. I’ve never found THE perfect book that would forever and always be THE one. Here are some of my perfect reads:

    The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
    The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
    Dreams of Sleep by Josephine Humphries
    The Invisible Circus by Jennifer Egan
    Trinity by Leon Uris
    The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
    Possession by A.S. Byatt
    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
    Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow

  3. bungluna says:

    I pick up books for my to-be-read list from recommendations and reviews on-line. I have reviewrs whose taste is opposite of mine; if they pan it I’ll love it. I have others who have similar tastes and their recommendations I add to my list. I’ve found some interesting books this way, but very few “Perfect Book”s. Some books that have caught my attention this year:

    1. Gini Koch’s Alien series.
    2. Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s “Shut Up and Wear Beige”
    3. Barbara O’Neal “How to Bake a Perfect Life”
    4. Thea Harrison’s new series
    5. Jim Butcher’s “Ghost Story”

    While not ‘perfect’ these books have caught my attention enough to make me re-read them soon after the first time and glom the new-to-me authors.

  4. maggie b. says:

    The best thing for me to do when stuck in a rut is to switch genres or do a reading challenge. For example, this year I was reading my usual YA novels which included dream books, vampires, historicals and whatnot. All coming up C’s. Which isn’t awful, it just ins’t good. Then I did the YA debut author reading challenge. That limited my choice to about 100 books. (That’s a ton but it is way less than the whole market). Out of the 9 I read two were A’s, one led me to another A (recommended by the author)ers. Because I was challenging myself I read really different things - Across the Universe wasn’t my usual style but I wound up loving it and Starcrossed was actually about greek gods (which I hate) but I wound up loving it.

    Challenges also introduced me to inspirationals, a market I actually despised at one point (if you had read the book I had you would have hated it too! ;-)
    Anyway, because there was no other subgenre of romance I didn’t read fairly regularly that I was even willing to try, I read inspirationals as part of my challenge. I loved several of them and it started me on a glom.

    So, this rather lengthy post is to say – use your library and try things out you think you will never like. That’s how I break out of ruts.

    I also use recommendations. If it sounds good, my library hears from me. If I don’t like it in the first few chapters, I return it. Nothing lost but maybe an hour of time.

    maggie b.

  5. RTD says:

    I have to admit I’m frustrated when readers stick to only one or two subgenres and then can’t find anything new to read. Romantic suspense is by far my favourite, but I read everything from historical romance to paranormal to straight contemporaries to time travel to as many category romances I can fit in.
    When it comes to perfect, I’ve read some amazing books by Kaylea Cross and Cindy Gerard in recent months.

    It seems the forums here are heavily dominated by old school Regency readers, but I couldn’t fathom surviving solely on the same “wallflower meets eligible gentlemen at house party” day in and day out.

    I’m not a huge fan of historical romance unless the author’s name is Lisa Kleypas or Sara Donati, but when I do read them I generally enjoy them, and it makes my favourite subgenre that much better when I return to it.

  6. Ell says:

    Perfect book? That’s a tough one, but I know exactly what you mean. For me it involves a lot of “nots”. Eloisa James has a new book coming out soon, and although many of her books are on my keeper shelf, I can tell already her new one will not be. (both h and h are impossibly gorgeous, and their “cute meet” makes me want to knock their heads together)

    Yes, I want something different, something that surprises me, but still manages to feel true, or at least plausible within the parameters of the story. I can’t think of any books like that that I’ve read this year, but here are a few that I would recommend: Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, Tanya Huff’s Fifth Quarter (this one has a strong romantic element to it, but it is way, way, WAY out of the box), pretty much anything by Sarah Addison Allen, and absolutely anything by Patricia Briggs. Carol Snow, Rhys Bowen, Lisa Lutz (LOVE those Spellman’s) and I recommend The Hunger Games Trilogy to everyone. Yes, it is a YA book, and yes, he romance in it is subtle, still great books are great books wherever we find them.

  7. Susan says:

    I don’t have an idea of what my perfect book would be, but I have read many stories that I consider five star books.

    I like to mix it up. I hop from historical romance (and I love love LOVE exotic, non-British locatioins), to contemporary, to romantic suspense to paranormal romance. I also take some side trips into mystery, fantasy, and science fiction.

    I tend to look for books that are a bit unsual. Historicals in unusual settings or time periods, a new twist on shifters or vampires, etc. Show me something different; I’ll keep an open mind.

    Like RTD, I don’t get those folks who have such a fierce devotion to just one type, or make so many demands from the books they read before they even finish the first page.

    All I want from any book is to be well written and engaging. I’m perfectly content to be entertained after that. Does that make me too easy?

  8. farmwifetwo says:

    I’ll read most anything as long as it’s possible.

    I detest stupidity so TSTL male or female… will DNF.

    I like a reasonable plot which is why I’m fussy on my UF/PNF. K.I.S.S. is a very important rule in my world.

    I also detest “woe is me’s”… wallow and whine.. get enough of that in autism-land online and RL… I’m outta there.

    I don’t read many historicals anymore. But someone dumped their last years hqn historicals at the UBS and I got “Butterfly Swords” which has had a lot of reviews of late… looking forward to trying it.

    Perfect book this year??? Closest are “Big Bad Beast” Shelly Laurenston but you really need to read the other’s first. Over the Edge – last year – Ilona Andrews. I really enjoyed the first Roxanne Claire – her new series – the 2nd was awful the 3rd better. Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound – as we discussed on this blog the 2nd didn’t measure up to the first. I enjoy Cynthia Eden’s RS and PNR’s. But there’s nothing that really stands out so far this year.

  9. Carrie says:

    Reading challenges and book clubs help me get out of my comfort zone. This year I’ve participated in Wendy the Super-Librarian’s TBR Reading Challenge (I’ve now read 60 books that were on my TBR list before Jan 1, 2011), 2011 SFR Reading Challenge (I’ve read 10 out of 15 for my “Moon” level of the challenge), SOA 2011 Listing Challenge (13 of 15 categories finished) and I belong to a Romance Lover’s book club founded by last-year’s RWA Librarian of the Year, Jennifer Lohmann. For the book club, Jennifer picks two books, generally based around some theme or time period, and we get together to discuss them.

    I tend to like contemporary, RS, SFR, and some UF. I used to have to be pushed to read historical romances. this past year I’ve read several I’ve really enjoyed, and while it may never be my favorite genre, I’m happy to explore it more thoroughly. I’ve now read a few PNR books due to the urging of friends and reviewers, and have enjoyed several.

    A few “near perfect” books I’ve read (romance genre only):

    The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook
    The Outsider by Penelope Williamson
    Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews (should read the others first–all good)
    Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer
    Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold (audiobook)
    Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro (audiobook)
    Beguilement and Horizon (Sharing Knife #1 and #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold
    Fallen from Grace by Laura Leone
    Butterfly Tattoo by Deidre Knight
    Cry No More by Linda Howard
    Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
    No Such Thing as a Free Ride by Shelly Fredman (4th of a series, all good)

  10. jml says:

    Totally Off Topic:
    I’m always a little confused when authors say they have a wonderful story but when they pitch the idea they’re told that those books don’t sell well. If they have the plot and place and characters already set in their head why not write the book and pitch the finished product? Sounds just a little like ‘if I were only 8 inches taller and 20 pounds lighter I’d be a Supermodel’.

    On topic: I really don’t have perfect books since my reading mood changes so often. What I love today might not be perfect for me tomorrow. I do have perfect authors. NOT that they always write perfect books but their voice and the rhythm of their writing almost always hits a good note for me.

    If I had to choose one perfect book it would be Pack Challenge by Shelly Laurenston since it didn’t follow any recipe or prototype I’ve read before or since. It was a surprise in every way so I guess that makes it perfect.

  11. Leigh says:

    Jml, from what I understood, Julie James has the screen play already written, it just needs to be changed into a novel. Her time is better spent on books that she does have contracts for. Although I do understand what you are saying. . .

    Carrie, I like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, but it didn’t blow me away like The Curse of Chalion did. Still she definitely is an author I watch. Nature Born Charmer is one of my favorite books.

    Farmwifetwo. . . lol on K.I.S.S. Yeah, I hate plot holes. . . and the more complex they make it sometimes the bigger the holes. I stand in awe when someone is able to make all the puzzle pieces fit together.

    Susan, at times I wish I was so easy. I think part of my problem is I want the hero and heroine to be heroic and so I don’t have much patience with tortured or T.S.T.L. When I do find an author that I love, I am very loyal for a very long time until I finally I give up. But I don’t give that loyalty easily

    Ell I don’t remember the cute meet on the James book but I might have missed the excerpt. Eloisa James is one of my few auto buy historical authors.

    Maggie, your enthusiasm and Rachel’s got me started on YA books. It never crossed my mind to read them before. I really like that typically the emphasis is on the story, and not the immediate physically attraction between two characters. They remind me of the early romantic suspense books

  12. Carrie says:

    Leigh~ I just started Curse of Chalion on audio. I love the narrator so far. If you haven’t read Shards of Honor I highly recommend it on audio. Amazing book, great narration.

  13. Leigh says:

    Lauren, I haven’t read a medieval book in a long time. I just got tired of most historicals. Like you I wait anxiously for books by certain authors.

    bungluna, I am not even going to ask whose reviews are the exact opposite of your taste for fear it is me. Kidding aside, I have had the same thing happen. I knew if the reviewer loved the book, then there was a good chance I wouldn’t. Glad you have found someone that has similar taste in books. And it works out that someone has the opposite taste too. She/he recommends it and you avoid it.

    RTD I really enjoyed the first three books by Sara Donati. Typically I am not good with series books. I have made it to book 13 on the Virgin River, which I think is a record for me. I do understand when you are in the mood for a certain type book, and nothing else appeals because that happens at times to me. I started a cute book, but after reading the first page, I realized that because what is going on in my life right now, it is not what I want to read.

    Dabney, I hated Presumed Innocent. . . It had no happy ending. I have this obsessive need for HEA. . I haven’t read any of the others. . .

    I want to thank you guys for your contribution.

  14. Leigh says:

    Thanks Carrie. . . The narrator nailed the character of Caz. I don’t know if I would have picked up on so many things. I had a little problem visualizing the names. I am not good with pronunication so I rely on visual. The names of the two women kept running together for me but the story is awesome.

    I have three credits, so I am off right now to check out Shards Of Honor.

  15. Susan says:

    But but but the tortured hero is my favorite!!! It’s how he gets through his experiences to the other side that makes the book for me. But then I like highly emotional books in general. It must be the English major in me. What’s love without a little (a lot…) of tragedy.

  16. Jen says:

    Outlander is my go to favorite whenever I’m in a rut. It has everything and I absolutely adore Jamie Fraser. It’s as close to perfect that I’ve ever found.

  17. Diane Farr says:

    JML wrote: “I’m always a little confused when authors say they have a wonderful story but when they pitch the idea they’re told that those books don’t sell well. If they have the plot and place and characters already set in their head why not write the book and pitch the finished product?”

    Sometimes we do — if it’s a “book of the heart” that we just can’t get rid of any other way. But frankly, once you’ve been told point-blank that a book won’t sell, it’s hard to justify pouring a couple of years of your life into writing it.

    And yes, I speak from experience. Bitter, bitter experience. [grin]

    Diane

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