The (Not So) Magic Moment

oneformoney In her blog titled Stuart’s Coat, Sara’s Spectacles, and Jessica’s Glove , Sandy talked about “those hit-you-in-the-heart scenes. The kind you remember. The kind you share with other readers who very often respond “Yes!” The kind that make you feel what the characters are feeling.” In other words, the magic moments, the ones that define a love story.

Recently I’ve run across the opposite of the magic moment. This is a scene in which an author, with just a few lines, turns you against her hero or heroine. It’s an act or statement that makes you wish the other party would get with someone else, anyone else. It’s the I-can’t-get-over-what-just-happened blues. It can ruin a good book or at the very least, ruin the HEA.

They vary in type of course. My least favorite is the act of malice. I first came across such a moment in the Stephanie Plum series. At the very start of the popular love triangle, in One for the Money . For those unfamiliar with the series, unemployed Stephanie has just become a bounty hunter in a desperate attempt to evade eviction. Joe Morelli, with whom she has an interestingly convoluted history, is one of the men she is meant to bring in. They engage in numerous sparring matches, most of them funny till the moment Joe leaves Stephanie in a very compromising position, forcing her to call for help while fully naked. It crossed a line for me. The action was meant to humiliate. It was cruel. I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen the next time Joe got really mad at Steph. A bit of slapping around? I rooted for Ranger in the romance department from that moment on.

Another moment that ruins things for me is the petty act. Some small, mean spirited action that involves a nasty bit of one-ups- man-ship. For me, that moment came when Eric, of the Sookie Stackhouse series, tells Sookie the secret of Bill and the Queen. Sookie would have found out anyway but Eric chooses to tell her this at one of the worst possible times. While she is in a hospital, physically and mentally harmed already. It causes the maximum amount of anguish conceivable. This seemed so seventh grade to me, so beneath what a thousand year old powerful being should do, that it ruined Eric as a romantic hero for me. I know many root for him to be “the one” for Sookie but that moment will forever leave me cold to their love. And waiting for the next moment this grown man/vampire feels like acting thirteen.

The truly too stupid to live(TSTL) moment is one that happens far too often in romance. Most recently I encountered it in Sex, Lies and Valentines. When FBI Agent Danita Cruz goes on an undercover assignment, she apparently doesn’t bother with some kind of plausible cover. Instead, she tries to throw villains off her tail by purring a convoluted work history and background at them, figuring the combination of beauty, ditz and cleavage will have them thinking of other things. Seriously? I can buy an arms dealer falling for blue eyes and double D’s but not to the point that he wouldn’t do a simple background check. Especially not if the person he was talking to couldn’t answer simple questions like “What do you do for a living?” and “Where do you live?”. I was actually offended by this scene. Had the author not watched one moment of TV? Had she missed the crucial moments of MI-5 Season One when an agent tried this and tragically failed?

The final moment that can ruin a character for me is the selfish moment. It’s an act that shows that thinking beyond themselves just isn’t something they are going to be doing a lot of. I love Rachel Gibson but in Lola Carlyle Reveals All, there is a moment that yanked me out of the story a bit. After all their adventures together, all the love and loyalty shown by Max, Lola asks him to leave his job for her. It flew in the face of every pop-psychiatrist’s advice against changing your loved one and also just came across as petty. It had an “I mostly love you, let’s just start working on what I don’t” feel to it. That moment took a lot of the glow out of this particular book for me.

So what about you? Are there particular scenes or moments that just yank you out of the story? Any particular action that made you dislike a hero or heroine?

– Maggie Boyd

25 thoughts on “The (Not So) Magic Moment

  1. Yes! Can’t Stand the Heat by Louisa Edwards was like that for me. The heroine completely betrayed her lover and her friends by writing an over the top “tell-all” book and when they all found out, she got the equivalent of a finger shake, then it’s all HEA. I was so disgusted by her that I couldn’t appreciate one other thing about the book – which was, actually, quite good – and I refused to read the sequels. Hated her!

    • Cris: Yes!Can’t Stand the Heat by Louisa Edwards was like that for me.The heroine completely betrayed her lover and her friends by writing an over the top “tell-all” book and when they all found out, she got the equivalent of a finger shake, then it’s all HEA.I was so disgusted by her that I couldn’t appreciate one other thing about the book – which was, actually, quite good – and I refused to read the sequels.Hated her!

      I couldn’t agree more! I thought Miranda was a manipulative shrew. I was already having problems with the way she treated her almost 20 year old brother like a child, but when she decides to damage someone’s career, I was disgusted.

      I get dragged out of a book when the author includes too many snotty, unlikeable characters, especially if the characters are the leads, or are being set up for their own book(s) in the series. Susan Donovan was one of my favorite authors until she started writing books filled with unlikeable characters. The Dog Walker series, and now the series that starts with Cheri On Top are both people with characters I don’t care about. Ms. Donovan does too good a job convincing the reader of the flaws that the characters are never fully redeemable.

  2. Interestingly enough I just finished a book that falls in this category. While the whole relationship is off, and just seems unhealthy the nail in the coffin is when the hero behind the heroine back after over ten years together has a vasectomy because he feels he is genetically flawed .

    Any type of hitting and now days it is usually the heroine that is slapping the hero, brings me out of the story. Nora Roberts (sorry I don’t remember the book) in one of the Irish books has the heroine break the hero nose, and she feels great satisfaction.

    I don’t remember the name of the book again – it was the last in the series by Madeline Hunter but the hero has a dinner party and along with the meal provides tents so his friends can go off and copulate with their wives.

    I am sure that there are many more but I haven’t finished my first cup of coffee. Maybe after that I can remember!

  3. I agree 100% about the scene from One for the Money. The first time I read that book–the series was four books long at the time–I took all four books to the used book store. Years later, I forgot about that scene, read book five, thought it hilarious, and went back to reread the others. And rediscovered that scene. Ugh. I continued reading the series for a while, until the stories all started sounding the same to me, but to this day, I still remember that scene and how it put me off Morelli for good.

  4. I had that moment in Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s “Call Me Irresistible” and it was a total deal breaker for me. I can’t/won’t read any more of her books ever!

    The entire town is trying to pimp the heroine out to a gross businessman in order to get a golf course for the town. And not only does she buy into it all the while hating the guy, she even takes back her accusations when he tries to rape her!!! This was a total WTH moment for me. Women’s issues mean a great deal to me and this author was choosing to write this as a part of the plot! I threw away the book rather than donate it. And I see where it is supposed to be recommended as a book of the year by the Library Journal. Ugh.

  5. Sarah R Shaber wrote a great mystery series of five books about Professor Simon Shaw who is a contemporary man investigating old (some more than 100 years old) mysteries.

    I was rooting for a HEA between him and Julia. THEN: In book two, Julia, who is a police attorney – an officer of the court – hands over her sidearm to Simon so he can check out the bad guys. Really? If he shoots at someone won’t there be huge consequences for her and her job within the police department? It was treated as though she had let him drive her car. I lost all respect for the character and could not wait for her to be out of the series.

    It wasn’t a deal breaker. The series is beautifully written (terribly formatted on Kindle- get the paper versions) but it threw me out of the story and came as such a disappointment from an author who puts so much research and so many fun facts into her work.

    As you say Maggie, it was a little thing, but it stays with the reader and leaves a bad feeling about the character’s, um, character.

  6. This brings to mind Marjorie Farrell’s The Perfect Scoundrel. The “hero,” is a second son, spoiled, self-centered and whinny. He is strong armed into marrying a woman not of his choosing—though she loves him—and hates her for her part in it. He proceeds to rape her on their wedding night in a drunken fit of rage and then cruelly banishes her to his run-down country estate the next morning; glad to be rid of her. The “hero” doesn’t regret his actions and goes about his dissolute life unchanged by his marriage. This is vividly written and you are utterly appalled and unsympathetic to his situation. Months later he is forced to visit his wife in the country. He arrives as the same self-centered, whinny, and spoiled man she married. I must admit now, that this is one of my favorite books. Because it is a story of redemption and this is where his redemption begins. It is a tough and long road for someone who never gave a thought to anyone but himself. A mirror is a hard thing to look into with open eyes, but he attempts it, if slowly, and finds himself sorely wanting in the worth department. He slowly, and ineptly at first, earns the tolerance and then respect of his farm workers. As he learns to look at events and situations as other than solely revolving around him, he uncovers a little bit of humanity and that he does actually possess a thread of a conscience. He discovers shame for the first time in his life and that one’s actions are the key to one’s character. Theirs is a bumpy road. He seeing himself unworthy of love while she must decide if she can trust the person he is trying to become. She trusts too easily, for my tastes, and events take over and they are forced to depend on each other; and this time he surprises even himself. It is a wonderful story about what makes one worthy of love and respect. It has to start with yourself and it is like being a recovering addict; it is one day at a time.

  7. Usually, what touches me off is infidelity and physical abuse. A scene from Paullina Simon’s, The Summer Garden has to do with physical abuse. It is the 3rd book in a wonderful series. Tatitiana and Alexander are years into their marriage and at this point they are having difficulties. He reaches a point where his anger is at an all time high, and he hauls off and hits her in the face. He is going in for another blow but his son pulls him off his mother, or at least distracts him enough to stop. Tatiana is braced for another blow after being thrown to the ground. 5-10 pages later she is in bed with him after making love….with a black eye. Nice. I had loved Alexander up to that point. Simons threw in quite a bit of reality in a book that is not technically a romance novel, but still it hurt to see he had that rage for his beloved Tatia inside himself.

    As for One For The Money. That scene didn’t bother me in the least. To me, those books are humorous and not to be taken seriously. I’ll admit to being a Joe fan rather than Ranger, and I realize Joe behaved like an ass sometimes in the first couple books. But that scene set the laugh up for Ranger when she calls him to rescue her. He does, but only after she tells him she is naked. *I’ll be right there*. Of course you will! The scene was well played in the movie too…exactly as in the book.

  8. The first 5 books by Evanovich are priceless! Plum series is not to be taken seriously! It’s for laughs and it’s fun. Geez!!!!
    What really irks me is the kind of physical and emotional abuse that goes on in the Romance Genre these days. Like having the heroine gang raped in the prologue and making “sweet love” or “raunchy love” by chapter 3!! This is popular in paranormals. Or the couple is so hateful and verbally abusive, but then they fall madly in love, live happily and monogamously ever after in the end. Give a break! I always hope in that situation that one of the couple will chuck the other and meet someone else before the end of the story!! Can you imagine the hero or the heroine saying “You’re too abusive I want to break up” by chapter 11?
    I completely agree with Ginny about SEH’s “Call Me Irresistible” I hated that book. Another book that so turned me off was Elizabeth Hoyt’s “Scandalous Desires” yet both books were voted best in the reader poll. Don’t get it!!!????

    I remember reading my mother’s paperback romances back in the 80′s they were “scary”, full of sexism, abuse and down right misogyny. I am seeing it coming around again and it worries me. Language shapes consciousnes

    • Leslie: The first 5 books by Evanovich are priceless! Plum series is not to be taken seriously! It’s for laughs and it’s fun. Geez!!!!

      See, that’s what really bothered me. Had the book been serious, the characters all hard bitten ex-cops and bounty hunters embittered by the dark side of life they had been exposed to, the scene would have just been one more nasty moment in the underbelly of crime fighting existence. Instead, it is treated like a joke. That’s what sort of made it appalling to me – that it took their back and forth banter to a whole new level.

      I still enjoyed the first several novels in this series. And I loved her NASCAR series! This was just one of those yank you out of the book moments for me.

  9. I would disagree about Gibson’s Lola. I enjoyed the book and liked the fact a hero was willing to give something up for the heroine. I also think Lola thought Max really did not like what he was doing and was continuing to do it because he did not see that he had something better to do. His life did not really matter to anyone.

    Thanks for the warning about Sex, Lies and Valentines. I was thinking about buying it and the whole poor cover story would have been a book killer for me. I work in law enforcement and I have to be really careful the books I pick associated with police, FBI etc. Most of them don’t get it and the details pull me out of story and I can’t finish them.

  10. My issue is when there’s not enough grovelling. Linda Winfree has the grovelling done perfectly in WHAT MATTERED MOST.

    In contrast, I recently read an ARC of Maya Banks’ new Desire book, and I loved the story up until I realised the hero tricking the heroine into marriage and then abusing her emotionally was going to be “fixed” by only ONE afternoon of grovelling! It was not enough, and I was angry with the heroine for taking him back so soon.

    I was completely turned off Stephanie Plum for years because of the beginning of the first book. Deliberately running a man over with your car is at least as bad as what Joe did to Stephanie later on.
    Years later I forced myself to continue, and by then I’d realised the books aren’t romance (they’re really not) and I don’t actually have to like the characters. Once I realised that I became a fan of the series. The books probably aren’t keepers, but they’re fun.

  11. Back to Charlaine Harris and Sookie: That’s why I wasn’t ever for Eric or Bill, but Alsace. Having Joe M play the part makes me even more in his camp. Darn Debbie Pelt anyway!

    Not So Magic Moments? For some reason there seem to be more and more of them, and since I’m at the granny age, I figured it was just me with old morals. Glad to hear it’s not!

  12. Part of their “interesting” back story is that Stephanie deliberately ran over Morelli with her father’s truck and broke his leg and you’re worried about his slapping *her* around in the future when she’s the one who’s shown to be vengefully violent? Even in a genre where heroine’s routinely hit and injure heroes (and it’s oh so deserved and *cute*) her actions are a bit much. Then again Jessica shot Dain in LOS and that’s been #1 for a decade of polls so maybe not. :-/

    • pwnn: P Even in a genre where heroine’s routinely hit and injure heroes (and it’s oh so deserved and *cute*)her actions are a bit much.Then again Jessica shot Dain in LOS and that’s been #1 fora decade of polls so maybe not. :-/

      And pwnn, you just scooped the one I was going to come in with. Other people love LOS specifically for the Jessica shooting Dain scene. I found it horrifying. Guns are not jokes, and even in modern times she couldn’t have guaranteed a clean shot with no infection. I lost all sympathy for a heroine who was willing to play games with the hero’s life.

    • pwnn: Part of their “interesting” back story is that Stephanie deliberately ran over Morelli with her father’s truck and broke his leg and you’re worried about his slapping *her* around in the future when she’s the one who’s shown to be vengefully violent? Even in a genre where heroine’s routinely hit and injure heroes (and it’s oh so deserved and *cute*)her actions are a bit much.Then again Jessica shot Dain in LOS and that’s been #1 fora decade of polls so maybe not. :-/

      I tend not to hold against a character what happened off page. and before the course of our story began. So I don’t hold against Joe his horn dog ways and I don’t hold against Steph the car issue. The naked scene happened on page, while both were adults, in the middle of their current relationship as it was being acted out in this particular story. That’s why it stuck with me. That’s a mostly rule of course – some events do impact my feelings, even if they happen off page.

      BUT, I totally get why others would have a different hot button there. That’s just the way hot buttons work :-)

  13. The entire town is trying to pimp the heroine out to a gross businessman in order to get a golf course for the town. And not only does she buy into it all the while hating the guy, she even takes back her accusations when he tries to rape her!!! This was a total WTH moment for me.

    I’m with you Ginny on CMI by Phillips. For me it wasn’t just this late scene in the book, it was all the punishment the heroine had to take throughout the book from the townspeople for something that was only very marginally her fault. I could almost have accepted everyone being horrible to her (including the hero) but some of the people who were doling out the terrible stuff (or condoning it) were characters who’d been the heroes/heroines in other of Phillips’ books. So not only did it sour me on this book, but it tainted the earlier books that featured those characters as well.

    Petty behavior and bullying are both big deal breakers for me. And both are present in SEP’s CMI to the nth degree. And even still she might have had me going along if only she’d allowed her heroine to make it clear how wrong it is. If her heroine had been a allowed some control, instead she takes it and takes it and listens when others tell her basically that she has to take it. There is no triumphant moment where she gets to say that their behavior is completely unacceptable and she doesn’t have to take it. And she never even really questions their right to abuse her.

    I contrast this with SEP’s earlier book Dream a Little Dream. In that book the heroine is ostracized by the townspeople and punished by the hero. But throughout it’s clear that Rachel is in control of her own fate and she always makes it clear what her choices are. Yes she’s desperate enough to do just about anything to survive, but she’s allowed agency in her own choices and destiny. Big difference for me.

  14. As my memory goes I can’t specifically tell one book or series but I know it happened not so seldom that an action or a statement by H or h made me put aside a book.
    The shooting of Dain was one of these scenes. As “everybody” was so enamored with the book I finally finished it after some time. The second part was better (in my eyes) but I just couldn’t forget the irresponsible shooting by the h. LOS therefor ranks not among my favorite novels.
    Also it can spoil my pleasure in a romance when the H or h expresses an opinion that is totally contrary to my own views. But it’s interesting: When the author explains how he or she came to have this opinion or attitude I can tolerate it, but not when only mentioned casually.

  15. Susan Elizabeth Philips has written a few heroes who came close to crossing this line for me (it was a near thing for Bobby Tom Denton, the juvenile prick), but so far only one of her heroes has completely lost me. I will never forgive Alex from Kiss an Angel for his reaction to finding out Daisy is pregnant. It ruined his character for me and pretty much ruined the book for me as well.

    • Hannah: Susan Elizabeth Philips has written a few heroes who came close to crossing this line for me (it was a near thing for Bobby Tom Denton, the juvenile prick), but so far only one of her heroes has completely lost me.I will never forgive Alex from Kiss an Angel for his reaction to finding out Daisy is pregnant.It ruined his character for me and pretty much ruined the book for me as well.

      I could say exactly the same about some of SEP’s heroines. Sugar Beth from Ain’t She Sweet, Jane from Nobody’s Baby But Mine and Molly from This Heart of Mine all come to mind. Rape and false accusations of sexual harassment (causing the hero to lose his job and be deported) are as bad as anything that SEP’s heroes do. And the heroes always end up groveling for their transgressions. The heroines – not so much. In fact, not at all.

  16. Oh good lord, the Plum books are all in good fun. If you can’t laugh at Stephanie running Morelli down or him handcuffing her to the tub than for all means don’t read the books. LOL!

  17. One such scene for me recently came in the otherwise brilliant book, “The Spymaster’s Lady” by Joanna Bourne. The English spymaster, Robert Grey, seems to love the girl who was ex-French-spy, but: (a) he never says it in actual words (though she does); (b) he sleeps with her while she is still being held as a captive in the spy headquarters. I mean, okay, she wanted it too, but it does feel that he was taking advantage of her situation. She points it to him herself at that point in the book, which makes him all self-righteously angry… but seriously, she has a point. Grey’s resignation from the service towards the end of the book may have been a ‘magical moment’ of true love, but he failed to redeem himself in my eyes. :(

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