The Intense Pleasure of a Romantic Build-Up (and what makes a book my favorite)…

by Maryse on March 17, 2013 · 37 comments

in Editorial, My Favorites

After 4 years of expanding my “romance repertoire”, I’ve come to realize that my biggest book-crushes (my most intense reading experiences) involve the relationships that were not easy. Not easy for the main characters sure, but not easy for the reader, too. Obviously speaking, the author’s intent of a romantic relationship between two characters is there, yes. But there’s something about it that’s… subtle. Subconsciously, I find myself agonizing over the when? Wondering, “what if… never?

Mind you, many of the books that we’ve enjoyed have that “hard to get” theme (and encompass a few, if not many of the qualities I’ve listed below). The push and pull (girl resists bad-boy, or bad-boy resists girl), the break-ups and make-ups. Sure! Many have given me a few nice shivers.

But there’s just something *extra* when it comes to the book-guys (and their stories) that I totally fell for. I can’t actually put my finger on what has me so deeply entrenched in some, and not so much in others, other than, I LIVE it with them. Sure the “hard to get” has to be there (if not, it’s too easy), but with my favorites, there was that extra “oomph” that made me believe it, pine for it and worry about it.

What is that oomph, exactly? I don’t exactly know.

Is it the extra detail in a simple touch, nudge, or glance (and not just straight to the *big* kiss)? Is it the laid-back exploration of the “friendship” stage. The casual bouts of flirting that gives the main character hope and then right back to the nonchalant “friend” status?  I kind of (really) like it when I, as the reader through the heroine’s eyes, rightfully questions if he’s “just not that into me”. The possibility of misconstruing an interaction?

Is it the realistic internal musings that remind me of my own thoughts from back when I was dating? Seeing him carry on his interactions with other “romantic possibilities”? The tension, the struggle, the emotional heartache? Whether self-inflicted due to insecurities or for more obvious reasons, I need to relate to it.

Angsty but not overly so. Something where I can say, “Oh yes! I KNOW exactly what she/he is feeling!”, and I do it throughout. It plays out in a way that I’ve seen (or experienced) before and I connect 100%. Even if it has it’s moments of “over-the-top” (after all, this is fiction ;) ), the reasoning behind the angst is sound. Sound enough that it doesn’t distract me from my initial connection (mind you, I’ve indulged and enjoyed some over-the-top soap-style angst, but I’ve enjoyed it on a more “spectator-level”).

Oh!! And it’s the character’s themselves. Real. The way they think, speak, interact (in front of their friends, in private, in their heads) the little nuances in each person’s individuality is there. Their personalities and the way they interact, flirt, fight… shrug each other off, cling to each other… I can see them. They’ve been carefully (and lovingly) developed. If there are some personality cliché (ie: bad boy behavior), they don’t overly distract me. Sure, there are always some clichés (after-all, they exist for a reason) but I’m not bothered by them because the characters are not caricatures of themselves. They are real.

It’s a combination of many things. And it’s pretty much… all of it.

It’s in the build-up. The author’s detail during that crucial development of her characters and their story, is as important as the potential romantic relief. And oh yes! Can’t forget that clever twist that I didn’t see coming. Or that I did see coming, and yet still managed to surprise me.  There have been some twists that took me from really enjoying a book, to shocking me into “5-star-loving” the book (many thanks to those “evil genius” authors). ;)

Speaking of surprises… I know I crave more “like” my favorites, but what makes one a standout is when it surprises me, even in it’s familiarity. Shocks me out of my “familiar” zone and has it’s own “voice” despite similar qualities. One where I don’t find myself continuously comparing it. I just find myself living it.

I have a few favorites that cinched their #1 spot for me because of the eloquent writing, the attention to detail, the depth and the beautiful (or the gritty) love story. They were allowed to develop on their own time. I also love a clever reveal. That kicker that made me spontaneous jump up from my seat, with a sudden surge of adrenaline, and set me pacing (while simultaneously reading). Now THAT will get me every time, and I can name a few right off the top of my head that had me physically reacting (all for different reasons) and had me shouting my love for them from my blog’s rooftop.

And maybe it’s even more than that? There’s just something in the writing. There’s just *something* about that book. Magic? LOL!! I dunno, but let’s just say there’s a certain magic in the author’s storytelling, and it has me wondering if it actually happened. Not just that I lived it, but that the author has. This is her story. Whether it actually is or it isn’t, I take in as such. I believe it.

So that’s what I’ve come up with. :D

My favorite book-crushes have burned themselves into me. Had me suddenly reading in slow motion as my mind reeled from what I was experiencing. Had me immediately re-reading a section or chapter to experience it again (or to make sure I read it right). Staying up all night because I couldn’t put them down. I was addicted. I was re-living the scenes in my dreams. They had me in a love-haze for days. Had me not wanting to pick up another book right away because there’s no way anyone could compare at that moment (unless it was another in the same series and then I was DEVOURING it to continue living in that world). My favorite book-crushes have set my book-crush bar so high, that it is rare to find another that makes the “group”.

And I’m so thankful to have experienced that kind of reading intensity. It is because of that awesome feeling (my addiction to that romance-read rush) that has me so in love with reading as a whole. Each new book I pick up has that potential. That in itself is my personal adventure. And when I come across that gem, I ride that feeling for days.

So many of you already know my favorites, but just for fun, I’ll list ‘em again, here. After-all. I’m still wholeheartedly addicted and it bears repeating.

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Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire <—- I’m starting to believe that Travis will forever be my #1. I’ve found a few that have made the #1 spot with him, but I guess he’s #1-plus! I dunno… there’s just something about Travis. He’s got all the “typical” bad-boy stuff but he just does it best. When he’s bad he’s totally believable. The fact that every girl wants him (and how he behaves with them)… totally believable, and when he’s emotional. GAH!!! MY HEART! Basically he is one intense guy and I felt every moment of this book.

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Lying Season (Experiment in Terror #4) by Karina Halle <— another totally believable cocky, arrogant guy that is so sure of his hot-self and (don’t tell him I said this) he has every reason to be (but can be such a JERK, too!!) I love it. Another one with that “real-guy” feel (not the perfect knight in shining armor, or at least, not our typical). The attraction is there between the two (obviously) but through the heroine’s eyes, oh we were crushing on him so much harder. This was a nice case of he loves me, he loves me not. And I love it. And what made this one that much better was the slow (but wonderfully consistent) build-up of that attraction through each book in the series. Talk about a delicious potential relationship tease. The author teases us alright, book after book BUT she always gives us enough to keep it eciting, addicting and have us anciously devouring the next book, hoping to get to that next level. This is one of my all-time favorite series ever, and to have experienced it in detail, in length through the entire series (not just in one book)… to have lived it as the heroine did, each day, week, month… WHOA. Perfection. I think I almost prefer a budding crush/romance over the length of a series than just in one (well… that is… IF the series is complete or almost complete. Tee hee! Nothing worse than getting to that crucial stage, dying for more, and realizing you have to wait). GAH AGAIN!

In fact, here’s a little snippet from a conversation on Facebook about how delicious a series romantic development is (using this series as an example):

Lisa: I love the way Karina is handling the tension between the two. If they got together in book one it wouldnt be as fun as it now. I am dying for them to hook up but love books that move slowly, he makes me angry sometimes but it just adds to my love for these books. Karina is the best.

Maryse’s Book Blog: YES!! Me too, Lisa! I love the building tension from book to book. Each book explores the romantic angle a little more but teases us and leaves us pining, just like most people do when they are into someone they work with but don’t tell them right away. Angsty fun, but realistic, too.

This one feeds that need, friends, and DEX is also at my #1 spot.

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Sidenote: “Urban Fantasy paranormal series” have alot of that. Romance (or romantic potential) that progresses in every book but is not the focus. Therefore, we get to experience a nice drawn out crush with moments of relief but just enough to keep us wanting more. Those were what got me hooked on reading. That desperate urge to find out if the next one was going to “finally be it”. I LOVE THAT!

Series like:

  • Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampire Mysteries) series by Charlaine Harris (Eric, anyone? Wow… the first half to 3/4 of that series was just fantastic for me).
  • Fever Series by Karen Marie Moning – Barrons or V’lane? The triangle itself was enough to keep me going, but Barrons is the baddest of ‘em all and was impossible to pin-down. Mostly a jerk and then… ;) The sexual tension is through the roof in this one, but OMG does the author make us work for it.
  • Night Huntress Series by Jeaniene Frost – Bones. It was obvious they were into each other, and even when you think it’s finally good… OUCH! Fantastic!
Anyway, let’s get back to my #1 crushes:
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Lover Awakened (Black Dagger Brotherhood, Book 3) by J.R. Ward <— since I was just on a paranormal kick, this is my “vampire Travis”. And really he is my biggest #1. You can’t get more bad-a$$ than this guy and he is soooooo rightfully tortured that I still wonder if he’s going to break again in future series installments. He resists 100% and you really find yourself wondering if he’s ever going to allow himself to love and be loved. This one is work and worth every moment of the emotional agony. Talk about pining over someone that acts like he wants nothing to do with you. My favorite!!!!
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Thoughtless by S.C. Stephens —> Kellan ranks right up there with Travis, for me. Totally different personality but… emotionally, the depth of his heart and his addiction to that one girl, addicted me. He’d sacrifice anything and everything for her. When he loves, he loves INTENSELY. When he hurts he lashes out, attempting to find solace in his old “player” ways. OUCH!!! But!! OMG he’s just sooooooo … amazing. Practically perfect overall. This is an example of one that could get over-the-top angsty, but totally worked. It was so well done that I didn’t care that it drove me crazy. The author took her time with this one and I could tell. This was about exploring the buildup (perfect!!) every emotion (perfect!), every subtle touch (perfect), every intense connection (OMG SO PERFECT!!). I was HOOKED from start to finish.

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Sweet Dreams (Colorado Mountain) by Kristen Ashley <— another one that had us working for his affection (i.e.: pining in private) while his bad-a$$ self had an obvious “something” on the side with a gorgeous girl. But while this one did come to us a bit easier eventually, it was his character, how he spoke, acted, got angry, demanded. I hadn’t ever seen that obnoxious side of a real-man in a book before. Perhaps there are plenty, but Tate was FRESH and so real I couldn’t help but fall head-over-heels with him. I was in a dreamy-fog for days with him.
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Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James <— I had never read anything like this before (other than the “intent on never falling in love due to a tortured soul” theme that I read with Zsadist – in Lover Awakened) But how Christian Grey found and struggled against “love”… how he dealt with it (all of the good and the bad) and that scene in book #2 BROKE ME… I will never forget that. Or him. The way I felt when reading this series (even though it’s been awhile, we’ve all read this one and many like it – the genre is now quite saturated), Christian Grey is my “first” and will forever be my favorite in this genre.
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Oh right!! The ones that had me physically reacting? These are stand-outs that are also burned into my brain for originality, fantastic writing, perfectly paced, real feel. Full body reactions with these!
  • Slammed (gasped in delighted shock at a certain reveal, and it also made me cry uncontrollably)
  • The Sea Of Tranquility (was emotionally addicting, darker… and also made me smile like crazy and gasp at the beauty of it as a whole)
  • The Edge of Never (swooned, smiled like crazy and sobbed even worse – full body tremors!)
  • Lying Season (had me swooning, shocked and furious – I got up and started pacing)
  • Flat-Out Love (exciting reveal! Had a physical a-ha!! moment while I was brushing my teeth and had me jump out of my seat with the reveal)
  • Hopeless (I saw stuff coming and it still managed to surprise me. GASPED at how clever I was for figuring it out, and gasped again when I realized I hadn’t guessed the extent of it)
  • The Host (sobbed like crazy, took a funny movie break, and sobbed like crazy again when I picked it back up. I was in physical pain for a portion of it.)

And if you’re interested in even more of my 5-star reads, I have them all listed here —> 5 stars (check out the 4.5 stars, too ’cause I loved them, almost just as much!)

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca Espinoza March 17, 2013 at 3:53 PM

Great list! Ugh..Lying Season, Lover Awakened, and of course, The Fever Series gave me that feeling too! I love books like that! The wondering and agonizing over whether things are going to come together for the MCs or not! This makes me want to read them all again.

Lise March 17, 2013 at 4:05 PM

What is also so exciting is that I would never have had Dex, Barrons, or any of the BDB vamps in my life if it wasn’t for your blog, Maryse and the friends and followers like Rebecca. She is the person that encouraged me to read the Fever series. Ohh.. and I believe Rebecca and I have a shared favorite book boyfriend from WAYYY Back… Jamie (hot scot) Fraser! ;-)

Rebecca Espinoza March 17, 2013 at 4:11 PM

Oh yeah, Lise! Jamie… who could ever forget that guy! I can’t wait for the next Outlander book to come out. :0)

arabella March 17, 2013 at 4:14 PM

Excellent post Maryse, I agree with everything you have said.

Maryse March 17, 2013 at 4:21 PM

I love Jamie, too!!

Maryse March 17, 2013 at 4:21 PM

Thank you, Arabella! :D

gracie March 17, 2013 at 4:50 PM

Love Travis, but Gavin is right up there too!!

Jamie March 17, 2013 at 4:58 PM

Love this! Travis, I think, is my ultimate favorite as well, but its hard because there are soo many great. I also have a few more to add to my tbr from reading this post as well. (As if it wasn’t long enough, lol.) Great Post!

Lindsay C March 17, 2013 at 5:28 PM

Love this post. I stumbled on your blog because I was looking for something to read after BD ( that book started my reading obsession). Travis was my first fictional BF but Kellan will definitely be my all time favorite. Thanks for all of your lists! I always look forward for all of your reviews! :)

Annie March 17, 2013 at 5:55 PM

THanks for this great post Maryse! I haven’t dived into the black dagger brotherhood yet but have purchased a few on your recommendations! I am so glad that you sobbed with the Host-That was the first book that actually made me cry! I am so happy that I found your blog and have hence become addicted to those booksmthat grab your by the colllar and don’t let go!!!!! Thank you for bringing Travis, Kellan, and Mr. Grey into my life!!!

Sherry :D March 17, 2013 at 6:29 PM

I like your *BIGGEST* #1…way to throw that in there ;)

Awesome post Maryse :D

Kylie Griffin March 17, 2013 at 6:44 PM

Maryse, you mentioned your reactions to certain books in this post a lot and not being able to put your finger on what these books had that sucked you in.
Could it be the emotional intensity and the impact it had on you? Emotional intensity comes in the slow build up of tension between the characters and doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual in nature (ie. you mentioned a touch, a look etc.). :-)
I think emotional intensity is the key to a great book, a keeper. The reader becomes to engaged with the character/s, so emotionally connected that it’s as if they’re right there beside them, it’s “real”.

Maryse March 17, 2013 at 7:10 PM

Hi Kylie,

Yep! Exactly! The emotional intensity and my personal connection to it is key. :)

Lauren March 17, 2013 at 7:42 PM

What a wonderful post, Maryse! I have many of the similar reactions to so many of these books! Travis, Kellan and James Cavendish, oh my!! Thanks for all you do keeping me tuned in on all our favorites!!

Angie H. March 17, 2013 at 8:27 PM

Yep, an original love story that’s just enough of a fantasy to keep us dreaming, guessing, biting our nails and up all night, but all too real to dismiss *sigh* You know how to pick ‘em, too :)

kari March 17, 2013 at 9:10 PM

I was just thinking about this yesterday while reading Beyond Shame. YES I was squirming in my seat but didn’t have that raw, gut clenching emotion. I know when I am still reeling a couple days later and can’t start the next book in the series until I have decompresseed that the book has that ‘it’ quality, like Lying Season. Can’t believe Terrible is not on the list! Just reread the last chapter of City of Ghosts to make sure…yeah, stil have Terrible fever:) Thanks for helping me work through this myself!

Barbara March 17, 2013 at 9:11 PM

Loved your list Maryse…I have read a few new books that I would put into group as well….I am loving the Sins & Needles series (Javier v. Camden). I also recently enjoyed Leo, After Math (Tucker) and The Lonely….But of course I will forever have a special place in my heart for Christian, Travis and Kellan.

Barbara (AKA Scorpio118)

LucyLou March 17, 2013 at 9:39 PM

Loved your post. I’m right there with you Maryse; that’s why your my favorite blog in the whole world!!! Love You!!!

Carly March 18, 2013 at 6:26 AM

Totally agree with you. It’s that intensity and the slow build, the angst and the drama with the sweetness and pain. Gah. It’s a fine line some authors just manage to walk perfectly and those characters invade my thoughts and dreams. Takes me out of my calm little world for just a little while. Ahhh. I do love me some angst.

Jenn March 18, 2013 at 8:41 AM

Excellent post. I totally understand. Sometimes after finishing a book I will re-read it right away.

Lisa @silverlight00 March 18, 2013 at 8:45 AM

YES!! So many I agree with!
I just finished Slammed last night, OMG I cried like a baby- 3 am in the morning, trying to snuffle my crying so the hubs couldn’t hear!

Bones my first love, hmmm. he rocked my paranormal world, and still does with his accent, swagger, and cockiness -who couldn’t love that utterly swoonworthy vamp!

The whole Thoughtless series wrecked me! Thoughtless was my first dip into reading New Adult Romance, and totally won me over! <3, <3 KK

BDB #3 was my ultimate fav. too! Z is my fav. of all the brothers!
Fav. quote ♥ I was dead until you found me, though I breathed. I was sightless, though I could see. And then you came… and I was awakened. ~Z,

Alicia March 18, 2013 at 9:05 AM

So, I’ve never read any of the Black Dagger Brotherhood books. Just wondering, can I read Lover Awakened (#3) as a standalone or do I need to start at the beginning? I’ve just heard so much about that particular book that now I really want to read it!
Love the list, Maryse!

Shannon March 18, 2013 at 9:17 AM

The way you put it is so dead on! I love that there are so many of us out there who get drawn into books to such a real degree- thanks for the commradery and understanding guys! Before reading this blog I’d never met anyone who felt the same way I do <3

Stevie Kisner March 18, 2013 at 9:38 AM

Totally spot-on with the perfect balance of well-written books, Maryse! I think the best compliment I can give an author is that they stole my sleep time.

Alicia ~ you CAN read Lover Awakened first (all of the BDB are stand-alones) but you’ll get far more out of it if you start at the beginning. The first one is a one-dayer. I have them all in hardcover (they stand up to the re-re-re-reads so much better) or I’d offer to lend them to you.

Maryse March 18, 2013 at 10:21 AM

Alicia, I agree with Stevie about the BDB.

The reason I recommend reading the first ones, is that you get an idea of how volatile “Z” can be. How angry and how the others (his BDB brothers) warn visitors away from him. You get to “know” him just a bit, through their eyes.

And then at the end of book #2 you get a good idea of who he is (eeeeeeep!!!), and once you start his book (#3), WOW!!! You are in for something BIG!!

Rebecka March 18, 2013 at 10:34 AM

Dammit Now I want to read the BDB series all over. LOL I can’t wait for Lover At Last to come out next week. Gahhhh!!! Those two have been torturing me and each other for too long. It’s that whole slow build thing you talked about. I really hope it is everything I need it to be.

Angela March 18, 2013 at 11:11 AM

Great List! I have one to add…not sure where I came across this book but it is so totally angsty I stayed up all night trying to get to the part where they finally hook up but sleep over took me. I can’t wait until lunch today so I can get back to it. Wait for you by J.Lynn and Jennifer L. Armentrout! Loving me some Cam!!

Alicia March 18, 2013 at 12:50 PM

Awesome, Thanks for answering my question, Stevie and Maryse! Looks like I have a new series to read :) My TBR just keeps growing every day…I don’t think I’ll ever be able to catch up!

Angela – I just read Wait for You also…I loved it! I would totally eat some of Cam’s cookies, hehe

Irene DOnovan March 18, 2013 at 2:17 PM

“I was re-living the scenes in my dreams. They had me in a love-haze for days. ” Sooooo true!

I was at the Boston Author Event this weekend and your name came up a few times reagrding good recommendations. I get all mine from you. : )

Tricia March 18, 2013 at 3:11 PM

Just read Wait for You. Loved it.

Sam March 18, 2013 at 3:17 PM

Great list! Travis and Kellen are my all time favorites *swoon* so amazing

day March 18, 2013 at 3:19 PM

i think at peace by kristen ashley really fits that list. as well

Maryse March 18, 2013 at 5:08 PM

@Day I LOVE Joe!!!

Thanks Irene!!! That event looked like SO much fun!

Shana March 19, 2013 at 7:17 PM

Black Dagger series…. Should I start with book one or can I just read 3? I’ve had The Host in my kindle forever!! Can’t bring myself to read it! I’ve got to read Hopeless again. I just did not like it like everyone else did.

Erin M March 19, 2013 at 8:38 PM

Omg because of your list I am reading Sweet Dreams….hello!!! How have I not read this…..and Tate…yummy!!

Thank you!!!

Kahea March 19, 2013 at 11:09 PM

I just finished Beautiful Disaster last night and I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with your #1 spots for Travis and Dex. I am right there with you with the love of the slow build-up. SO GOOD. I’m about to read Thoughtless, so we’ll see if it makes my list too!

Mitzi Smith March 20, 2013 at 8:31 PM

I completely agree with your list. Dex stole my heart from his first cocky grin and I eagerly anticipate each new installment. Karina is my favorite author and has yet to write something I don’t love, but I have a soft spot for Dex. :-)

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