Think about your favorite authors, your favorite books . . . what is it about them that makes you love them above all the other authors you’ve read? The stories? The characters? The way they appear to relish the taste of words on the tongue? The way they’re unafraid to show the nitty-gritty of life? How they sweep you off to a new, distant place? What is it about those books and authors that makes them resonate with you in ways that other, perfectly good books and authors do not?
Great questions - what draws me to some authors and makes me run from others.... I love authors that tease a story out, with enough foreshadowing to keep my interest but not so much as to be obnoxious. Great examples are two I just finished reading: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood and The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell. Kazuo Ishiguro also does this brilliantly - it's like watching a slow strip tease (an elegant one, not one of those pole dances, ewww).
Well drawn characters are essential. Nothing is worse than getting to the end of a book and feeling like I don't know or don't like any of the characters (there are exceptions to the latter, e.g. Fingersmith, in which most of the characters have questionable motives and actions, but it makes for a wonderful romp).
I do love books that have some sort of morality message or that unveil human foibles - but again, the message must be subtle. Please don't bang me over the head with it (I felt that was the downfall of Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer, though I usually love her writing).
Other qualities I love: subtle humor, a unique story, I-did-not-see-that-coming twists, and, of course, well crafted writing. Authors I think accomplish these so well: Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich (I'll be starting her new book The Plague of Doves this weekend), Sarah Waters, Isabel Allende, Joanne Harris.