Archive for the ‘Characters’ Category

Possessive, check. Jealous, check. Volatile, check.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Mr. BigIt’s no mystery that the Alpha-Male character type has dominated romantic fiction. Nearly any romance you pick up will feature one of these tough, rugged, manly men out to woo their lady of choice with their muscular body and chiseled looks. I don’t mind indulging in this type of fantasy at all when reading romance, although I do enjoy the sweet, Beta-Male as well. However, lately, I’ve noticed that the trend has shifted away from the standard Alpha, which is normally a beefcake with a heart of gold, to what I like to call the Alpha-Douche. This guy is possessive, volatile, jealous, and borders on stalking the lead female. I have to wonder, why is it that this type of man has gotten so popular recently? (more…)

Not Your Ordinary Hero

Friday, June 6th, 2014

logan-veronica-marsI’ve spent the past few weeks watching the TV show Veronica Mars (I so love Amazon Prime.) I’d seen it when it first came out but my husband hadn’t. When the movie came out this year, I thought it would be fun to check out Veronica and her pals in Neptune again.

There are many things to love about Veronica Mars–Kristen Bell’s adorable snark, the stinging accuracy of its portrayal of class, the haunting and hip soundtrack, just to name a few. But the thing that strikes me the second time around is how unusual a hero Logan Echols (played brilliantly by Jason Dohring) is.

Logan is the son of two spectacularly screwed-up movie stars played by real life spouses Harry Hamlin and Lisa Rinna. Logan’s grown up with money, fame, and access. In the first half of the first season he is an unmitigated ass. And yet…

By the end of the first season, he’s a man in love, a guy who most of the time, I find myself cheering for even as I struggle to define him.

If you listen to Logan without seeing him, he sounds like an obnoxious, overly confident alpha male. And if you turn the sound off, and just watch him, his mien is that of a beta guy. His body leans away as he speaks, his facial expressions are gently mocking. He routinely holds up his hands as if to say, don’t mind me, I’m backing away. But he’s never really backing away. His laid-back schtick barely hides the rage that undergirds his character . He finds his own path, one that almost always leaves him on top of the proverbial high school heap. I find him fascinating.

The hero in romance novels who most reminds me of Logan is  Sebastian Verlaine, the hero of Patricia Gaffney’s controversial historical romance To Have and to Hold. Like Logan, Sebastian is, when the reader first encounters him, an awful person. And yet, midway through the book, he’s the hero of the piece, a man I trust. Sebastian, like Logan, is neither a villain or a hero. He’s something else entirely–a complicated man whose actions belie his admitted sins.

I’d like to encounter more such men in my reading. Who are the heroes who defy easy categorization? And do you like them? Or do you find that some sins are too grave for you as a reader to overcome?

Dabney Grinnan

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Books with Characters Who Read

Monday, May 26th, 2014

tumblr_lcwupgBQRR1qb8ugro1_1280Last week I was walking past a used bookstore that had a number of books displayed on a shelf outside the store. One of the books – The Library by Sarah Stewart – caught my eye. I spent over 10 minutes thumbing through this children’s book (illustrated by David Small) and ultimately bought it. It’s now sitting on my coffee table where I can look at – and smile at – the cover featuring a young girl with her nose in a book dragging a wagon filled with books behind her. (more…)

When Strong is a Stereotype

Monday, March 10th, 2014

THE OUTLAW  Poster for 1943 film with Jane Russell directed by Howard HughesI recently came across this wonderful piece by Sophia McDougall called “I hate Strong Female Characters.” McDougall is not referring to female characters with physical and emotional strength (for instance, she likes Buffy and Jane Eyre). Rather, she means the archetypal Strong Female Character, who establishes her “tough” cred through arbitrary rudeness, punching, slapping, kung fu, gunshots, etc. (McDougall calls it “behaviour that, in a male character, would rightly be seen as abusive (or outright murderous)”). Men are more powerful in Hollywood, on which McDougall focuses, but the female-centric world of romance has its share of SFCs, most famously in Lord of Scoundrels but also in some of my recent review books, such as Jo Beverley’s Seduction in Silk and Lilith Saintcrow’s The Red Plague Affair. But what about our heroes? Do we do the same token oversimplification of the other gender that male writers do? Are they strong, or are they Strong? (more…)

I’m Never – No, Never! Getting Married

Friday, September 27th, 2013

no-weddingNick is a romance hero. He’s never – no, never! – going to get married. You can see why, of course; you need conflict to drive a plot forward, and if Nick sees Elizabeth, falls in love with Elizabeth, proposes to Elizabeth, and marries Elizabeth without a hitch you’ve got one short (and probably not all that interesting) book. A hero (or somewhat less frequently, heroine) who is never – no, never! – going to get married can provide that hitch in the relationship that makes for a good conflict and interesting reading. Well, except when it’s totally lame. If there is one knee jerk conflict that authors like to turn to, this is it. I see it more often in contemporary novels, likely because birth control is widely available and modern sexual mores more permissive. But if pops up fairly often in historicals too, usually for different reasons. I can hardly open a book without running into Nick or one of his ilk. Since the my most recent read with a marriage phobic hero got on my last nerve, I decided to provide this helpful list of acceptable and unacceptable reasons to never – no, never! get married. (more…)

Fifty Shades of Lighten Up

Friday, September 13th, 2013

50Shades Even if you aren’t a fan of the book phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey, you have perhaps heard about the brouhaha surrounding last week’s announcement of the casting of the future movie. Apparently fans of the book are so upset at the prospect of actors Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson taking on the roles of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele (respectively, of course), they are actually trying to force a change via online petitions. Rather, they’d envision Matthew Bomer and Alexis Bledel as the perfect Christian and Ana, despite the fact that neither of these two actors appears to be interested in participating in this particular book-to-film adaptation.

While I try hard not to judge anyone’s passion, I simply cannot understand what seems to me to be a rather extreme reaction to a movie about fictional people. Instead of rending garments and ranting in cyberspace about how Hollywood is obviously determined to destroy something sacred and beloved, I advocate a wait-and-see approach.

Because, after all, it’s happened before. (more…)

Special Title Listings: The Bad Girls

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

spear_of_summer_grass Bad girl heroines hold a special fascination for many romance readers because these women go against the grain of what we expect in a romance in a number of ways. They are aggressive, they take the lead, they act selfishly or irresponsibly, and they may even be without remorse. They don’t mind using their charm and attraction for their own advantage, and they even use their bodies to get what they want. Often they are outcasts, be it from choice or from necessity. However, as many of them are strong, independent characters, they are highly interesting to read about.

There are several special title listings at AAR that contain such heroines.

The Tormented Heroines are at odds with their role in society, and this results in their acting against the rules of sweet and caring womanhood. They may be cynical, eccentric, manipulative, selfish, or any combination of these. In any case they are mad, bad, and dangerous to know, and it takes a very special hero to bridge their defenses and let them find happiness. With these heroines, it is often clear that even the happy ending is only a single step forward in a battle of wits that will last for and enrich their entire lives. No conventional happily-ever-after here! (more…)

Oh, the Mary Sue

Friday, August 30th, 2013

marysue Oh, the Mary Sue. Frequently the bane of my existence. The few books I actively hate have Mary Sue characters as the leads. But what is it about the Mary Sue that enrages so many readers? And what is it about her that many others really enjoy?

So first, who is Mary Sue? Well, you know you’re reading a Mary Sue novel if your heroine (or your hero, known to some as Gary Stu):

  • has no real faults as a person/characters, except those that are “adorable”

 

  • is liked or loved by every member of the desired sex (whether male or female)

 

  • is only hated or disliked by the bad guys or people who are jealous

(more…)

Just Not My Type

Monday, August 5th, 2013

gypsyheiress Do you ever find certain types of characters difficult to like? I wouldn’t say that any particular type of hero or heroine is completely a “no go” for me. I firmly believe that, in the hands of a good author, just about anything can be made to work. However, when I come across certain character types on a book blurb, the description is not going to have me clamoring to pick up the book – often because it’s something I’ve seen handled less than skillfully way too many times before.

Pirates definitely fall into that category for me. I don’t know if it’s my background of having studied European and Middle Eastern history, but nothing I know about pirates makes them terribly romantic to me. Most historical accounts I have read make them sound uneducated and brutal, and conditions onboard ship sound filthy and unappealing. While I will admit that Jennifer Ashley’s pirates worked for me, the first pirate hero I remember encountering came in Joanna Lindsey’s somewhat infamous A Pirate’s Love. If you look up “rapey ‘hero’” in the dictionary, you just might find an image of Tristan there.

Other pirate/privateer novels I read over the years tended to have similar issues. However, even among the ones that didn’t feature rapist “heroes,” I just couldn’t move beyond the difficult life of a pirate to see the story as particularly romantic. Various authors, including Meagan McKinney, wrote pirates or privateers that one could consider dashing, but Jennifer Ashley was the first author I found who managed to humanize that sort of hero and make him truly appealing.

On the heroine side, while I haven’t found too many in recent novels, I used to run across gypsy heroines in older books and I have to admit that they have yet to work for me. As any of us who cut their teeth on Barbara Cartland novels knows, Cartland had a huge interest in gypsy culture that extended to founding several gypsy camps in England. This interest seems to have extended to a hugely romanticized view of gypsies in her novels. (more…)

Updated Special Title Lists – Suspense & Mystery, and Heroes in Pursuit

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

newimproved As we said several weeks ago, we were simply bombarded with submissions when we opened these two lists up for your nominations, with over 150 recommendations for each. We have now posted the revised lists at AAR, but have a few issues to raise as you’ll see below.

Suspense & Mystery List. We’re afraid that the Suspense & Mystery list – as currently constituted – may have outlived its usefulness. This list was created in 1997, long before the power search was available at AAR. We believe that the Special Title Lists should provide something different than the power search feature. For example, we don’t have a Special Title list for Medieval Historicals or European Historicals or Contemporary Romances. So does it make sense to have a Special Title list with part of its definition as Romantic Suspense? We don’t think so, but we’d like your thoughts. (more…)