This is a topic that greatly interests me. I hope that you guys will weigh in. The primary question is: How important is it that you emotionally connect with the characters in a book? Does that matter to you? Or is it more important that the book be well-written? I think about this a lot. Let me give you some specifics.
I have read a considerable amount of romances. Some are better-written than others. Some of those authors are certainly more well-known than others. I recently read a romance by local author Nicci Carerra. She has not been recognized nationally yet. But I got caught up in the romance (and I definitely like the way she writes). I cared about the 2 protagonists and hoped they would end up together. Compare that to Save the Date, by national powerhouse Mary Kay Andrews. I read that last year. Was it well-written? Yes. Did I care about whether or not the 2 main characters ended up together? Not really. Why is one a national bestseller, and the other one is just getting off the ground? I don't really know.
Another prime example is Wisconsin native, Linda Abbott (who I met on LinkedIn), versus Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train. Linda has written her 1st book (and has written it well), Ten Days in Paradise. Some might call it a beach read (even though you know I don't like that term). But did I like the book? Heck, yes. In fact, I liked every character, and there were a bunch of them. I definitely got caught up in an affair similar to the one in the Showtime series, The Affair (Linda's book was 1st). As for The Girl on the Train, it's certainly a smash hit. Did I care about any of the 5 main characters? I didn't. Was it well-written? Very.
Did I not like Girl because it takes place in England? Nope. I gave JoJo Moyes' Me Before You a 4/4. That takes place in England. Am I opposed to well-written books? Nope. 3 of Pat Conroy's books are in my top 24 all-time. And he writes as well as any author I have ever read. It must be that I am philosophically opposed to best-sellers. Uh, uh. I just gave Orphan Train a 4/4. And I love every Daniel Silva book, including the ones that he wrote before he began the Gabriel Allon series. You already know what I think of Jeffrey Archer and Ken Follett. It must be that I only connect with characters who make me happy. A big ixnay on that one. I recently told you that a character in Dennis Lehane's The Given Day committed an act so heinous that I sat stunned. Was that happy? That would be no. Did I emotionally connect with the character? You bet your bippy (check out the old Laugh-In TV show). I detested that guy.
What the heck is it then? Beats me. I can't pinpoint it. All I know is that I either connect with the characters or I don't. I don't go into a book expecting to connect. It either happens or it doesn't. And it also has nothing to do with local author or out-of-the-area author. I have recently read 2 books by local authors in which I really made no connection at all. I don't know what it is. All I can say is that it's really important to me to make the emotional connection. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason why I do connect with some and not with others. But if I can feel it, then I'm going to enjoy it more.