Today I am absolutely thrilled to be a stop on the blog tour for Her Last Breath by J.A. Schneider. And I also have a guest post, that Joyce has very kindly written for you all, on what makes a book compelling. Welcome Joyce!
About this book…
A chilling psychological thriller about a woman caught between two men…Mari Gill wakes to horror in a strange apartment next to a murdered man, and can’t remember the night before. Accused of murder, she feels torn between her husband, a successful defense attorney, and a mysterious, kind man who wants to help. Can she trust either of them – or even her friends? Detective Kerri Blasco battles her police bosses believing Mari is innocent…but is she?
What Makes a Book Most Compelling? by J.A. Schneider
What constitutes the big, mysterious “tug?” That feeling – I call it the ping! – that pulls a potential reader to choose your book over the tsunami of others cramming book stores or Amazon’s pages without number? Is it the cover? The plot or characters?
I can only speak for myself, how I react to choosing the next book…especially if the author is new to me. My decision always seems to happen in three parts.
The cover is what first tugs.
Or doesn’t – no different from why the frosting on one cake looks more wonderful than the frosting on another cake. What’s inside the cake might disappoint, but like the frosting, the book’s cover is what first excites.
It all comes down to emotion.
Honestly, aren’t all our first reactions based on emotion, before we re-think or tell ourselves we shouldn’t or move on to the next thing? Authors have changed their covers multiple times, hoping that the newer, brighter colors or the half-naked guy’s torso will attract. Sometimes that works, but what to do when every romance cover has an amazingly buff male, or when every thriller/action cover has images that are kinda the same?
Again, emotion rules.
It’s what really grabs, whether the reader is male or female, and regardless of his or her genre preference.
The cover image must have something that pulls at you. Sometimes I’ve even stopped to stare at a cover I thought was ugly…but it was different, and that made it daring, told me something about the author’s voice inside, beckoning.
Her Last Breath is my eighth book, and I’ve never gotten such a response to any of my other covers. The close-up of that woman’s face…oh gasp…is she dying? Desperate? When I first saw her face, after many evenings scouring Shutterstock, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Other cover ideas beckoned, but that face kept haunting me.
And pulling me back.
The emotion of that cover is so focused, intense. Nothing too busy or muddled to confuse one’s emotional reaction. On Twitter I keep hearing, “Ooh, wow.”
It helps a lot if your cover has that “Ooh, wow” feeling.
Because feelings rule.
Character pulls me in next. If the character described in the blurb intrigues or tugs at my heart, I’m hooked.
Because of emotion again.
We all laugh, cry, feel stress and anxiety, and if I identify with the character’s trouble and how s/he deals with it – download!
Ditto the appeal of the antagonist – if what s/he is doing outrages or astounds, I definitely want to know more. (Am I the only one who felt a bit sorry for the husband in Gone Girl? He was a jerk – right, so divorce him! Don’t subject him and your family and everyone to such evil.)
But villains might be the most compelling characters of all. Imagine Peter Pan without Captain Hook: you’d have a bland nothing. Then there are the never-ending parade of serial killers. How to make them astounding? What makes Hannibal Lecter rise above all others in his monstrosity? That in itself could be the subject for a thesis, starting with the fact that Thomas Harris’s writing is so incredibly great.
Which brings us to…
The hardest job of the writer – the one we all struggle with – which is to go deep, explore and develop our characters as fully as possible. Make them emotionally compelling, different, wildly colorful even if they’re bad. THAT is the real challenge, the thing that elevates good writing from depicting mere caricatures.
The plot should work. It really should, but if it doesn’t and if the writing has been fabulous, we are more likely to forgive…a little, depending on the reader. Somewhere I read that Stephen King just doesn’t know how to end a book, whereas he has described the plots of Ira Levin (Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys From Brazil, The Stepford Wives) as having “the brilliance of a Swiss watch.”
For me, the best, most satisfying reads combine numbers 2 & 3. A really satisfying ending after a story of fascinating, different characters, deeply explored and developed…
That plus cake. Make mine chocolate, with fudge frosting.
My review of Her Last Breath…
Although billed as book #2 in a series, this is very much a standalone novel and anything you need to know about Kerri and her backstory is covered very well. But after reading you will probably be such a big fan of the lovely Kerri that you will be seeking out her first case anyway! The main character here in this book is actually Mari but Kerri plays her role well as police detective with a heart and an instinctive nose for the truth.
Now I’m pretty sure that we have all had times where we have had a few drinks too many and the next day things are a little bit….fuzzy? Well imagine that you have woken up unable to remember a thing about the previous night but you are laying next to a dead body! And even worse, the police think that you murdered them! This is the horrific situation that Mari finds herself in after a party. The man is a famous fashion photographer but Mari has no recollection of meeting him EVER! Thankfully, her estranged husband Ted is a defence lawyer and as they parted on good terms he comes to her rescue. Along with Jay, the witness who discovered Mari in the dead man’s apartment when he saved her own life, they try to clear Mari’s name.
I really enjoyed this murder mystery with a twist and the fact that it was set on the streets of New York gave it an added thrill for me as I adore books set there. It felt like Alfred Hitchcock had taken over a Mary Higgins Clark book! And I love books featuring strong female characters so to have two in one book was a double whammy for me! I was caught up in Mari and her dilemma straight away from the first page when she wakes up and her strength of character and personality became an integral part of the plot for me. I would have gone to pieces but Mari pushed through her self doubts to put herself in the path of further danger. And Kerri was able to put aside her heartbreaking personal problems to stick to her principles and trust her gut instinct.
I think I surprised myself in how much I enjoyed this book which has been written by a new author for me. There was a real sense of realism in the characters and also the settings that showed a depth of research and a concern for the fictional personalities she was creating for us the readers. I will be very happy to see what Kerri does next both in her career and her personal life. A gripping and compelling thriller that should come with a warning to have absolutely no plans for a social life until you have read that last page!
I received my review copy of Her Last Breath from the author.
About the author…
J.A. (Joyce Anne) Schneider is a former staffer at Newsweek. Once a Liberal Arts major (French Literature), she has become increasingly fascinated with medicine, forensic science, and human psychology. She lives with her family in Connecticut, USA.