Have you ever had someone try to tell you a joke...only to forget the punchline? It's frustrating, annoying, and ultimately it's sort of like an itch you can't quite reach.
In the perfect romance, the HEA (happy ever after) is a flawlessly delivered punchline. It makes us laugh or cry or sigh deliciously and wish for more.
Of course, it doesn't have to be the main plot line that carries the punchline. I'll never forget one of Linda Howard's books that ended with the words "What were the odds?" Those four words perfectly rounded out the book and resolved a plot line. They made the book.
Not too long ago, I wrote a book that made it all the way through self-edits, revisions, submission, edits and finally to the final line editor. Three pages from the end, she pointed out a paragraph with the note, "I loved the book until this point. This paragraph ruined the book for me..." and followed it with a detailed explanation of how I delivered the punchline too early--and out of synch.
In effect, the punchline was the end of the book and I telegraphed the ending. Unintentionally.
When I first read the note, I didn't see what she was talking about. Then I went back and read that last chapter, purposely blocking out that paragraph.
She was absolutely correct.
Without that paragraph, the inevitable reunion scene had far more punch and significance. It let the reader sigh and think, "Awwww."
For me (as a reader), the ending can make or break a book. I can deal with poor punctuation and grammar, plot holes big enough for a truck, illogical actions on the part of the hero and heroine, almost anything else if the ending is great. Conversely, it can be a beautifully written book, but if the ending is "meh", I'll put it down wondering why I spent so much time reading it.
How about you? What makes the book for you?