Take a look at any of your favorite romances on Goodreads and you’ll see a wide array of varying opinions. Books that you thought were brilliant, others thought were crapola. So, one of the questions I get asked most here at Romance Rehab is: What makes a book hit your 5-star keeper shelf? For me, it’s really pretty simple:
The story has to keep moving along at a nice clip in order for me to award it a 5-star rating. If there’s a saggy middle, or the book drags on through lengthy descriptions of places and people and past events that don’t add anything to the overall story (which needs to focus on the main characters falling in love, no matter what else is going on in their lives at the time), the rating starts sinking quickly. Uneven pacing is a HUGE problem for me as a reader. (I have ADD, OK? If I start to get bored at any point in a story, I’ll DNF and move on to whatever is next up on my TBR list. Life’s too short for boring books!)
My shining stars of good pacing:
Nothing ruins a romance for me faster than crappy dialogue. Characters who never use contractions when they’re speaking, weird phrasing that doesn’t sound like anything normal people would ever actually say out loud, rambling paragraphs of literary diarrhea masquerading as conversation instead of the exposition dump that it is...it all ruins an otherwise good read. I’ve never rated a book with crappy dialogue higher than 3, even if everything else in the story was good. I need snappy, fun, clever dialogue in my 5-star romances.
My shining stars of good dialogue:
I need to actually like the characters in a romance in order to 5-star it. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters have to be “good people.” I’ve loved plenty of assassins, mafia leaders, bikers, alphaholes, and criminals in my favorite romances. What I need in order to like characters is for the author to let me really know them. Tell me their backstories, their motivations, their secret thoughts and feelings. Chances are, once I know that stuff, I can relate to them. And if I can relate to them, I can love them, root for them, and get invested in their HEA.
My shining stars of likeable characters:
Note that I didn’t say anything about explicit sex. I’ve read plenty of great 5-star reads that didn’t go into any explicit sexual detail. But good sexual tension, the old fashioned “will they/won’t”, push and pull in a romance...that’s essential.
My shining stars of sexual tension (and also GREAT explicit sex scenes):
I’ve read every single one of my 5-star reads multiple times. Every. Single. One. If I only ever read the book once, why bother giving it 5-stars?
My shining stars of readability: Carian Cole, Jill Shalvis, and Melanie Harlow.
I’m no grammar Nazi, but I can’t have an error-ridden book on my keeper shelf. Good editing is essential.
My shining stars of clean writing: Everyone listed above writes clean. (No errors, that is. “Clean” can be subjective when you’re talking about romance, if you know what I’m sayin’.)
And a few other odds and ends…
There are also 6 absolute deal-breakers for me that I can’t get past. My 5-star romances can’t have ANY of those things.
What about y’all? What’s the anatomy of a 5-star read in your opinion? Let’s discuss?