Anatomy of a Dealbreaker

Facepalm-Bear Note: There may be spoilers of some of the various books discussed in this column. I find A books easy to recognize: basically, everything has to go right. Fs are likewise relatively straightforward. But what about the B, C, and D books, in which something has gone wrong, but not everything? The book has a solid, if cliched, plot, but the writing is catastrophic: is that a C or a D? Can a great hero and interesting writing save an unlikeable heroine? And what if, God forbid, somebody kills a dog?

The AAR staff worked to define these elements, which I call dealbreakers. We generally agreed that dealbreakers (unlike pet peeves) must be big or repetitive, must be outliers from the general quality of the book, and are by definition personal and subjective. As Blythe wrote, “Something like ‘I can’t read books with violence against animals’ or ‘I simply won’t tolerate a book with adultery.’ The nature of the term implies that it’s something that drives you nuts but might not even bother someone else at all.”

The most common dealbreakers cited by AAR Reviewers fell into four categories: characters, writing, plot, and research.



Many reviewers listed abusive heroes as dealbreakers. Pat says, “If what he does should land him behind bars… I say put him away and don’t bother me with his story.” Rike hates the emotionally abusive hero “who constantly distrusts the heroine, and harasses her and accuses her of all sorts of wrongdoings because deep down, you know, he’s just so attracted to her…. Why should any woman with a grain of sense accept such a jerk, even in romanceland?” I agree, and add the hero who obsesses over the heroine’s fidelity. After all, if she slept with him, she must sleep with everybody! (The front desk is paging Clayton Westmoreland of Whitney, My Love…)

Yet everybody puts the line between “possessive” and “controlling” in a slightly different place, so one person’s dealbreaker is another’s sexy alpha. And Wendy once had a dealbreaker hero who wasn’t strong enough: “One of the worst books I’ve read was about the downtrodden wife of a powerful, evil nobleman falling in love with one of her servants. The hero was so helpless, bowing and scraping until it made me shudder.”

And then there’s the faithless hero. Lynn Spencer found Mary Balogh’s Dancing With Clara to be a dealbreaker because of the hero’s inability to promise to be faithful to the heroine. “I closed the book wondering when he was going to start cheating on poor Clara, and that just didn’t feel like enough of an HEA for me, even though they had gotten together at least for the time being.”

For heroines, the most-cited dealbreaker characteristic was stupidity. Pat wrote, “If she’s doing something completely stupid (from having unprotected sex with a stranger to stepping in a basket of rattlesnakes), she’s not the heroine for me.” Rike’s out if she encounters a pregnant historical heroine who refuses a marriage offer “because she loves [the hero] too much to trap him.” (Rike muses, “As if damning your child to bastardy was such a noble gesture.”) Lee can’t stand a heroine who loses her professional competence around the hero. Caz calls this type of behavior “emotionally TSTL.”

Maggie, however, says, “I have liked TSTL heroines… What pulls a grade down for me is the writing – did the author think through her trope and realize the effect it would have on people’s lives? Did she give us motivation? Did she create someone both a little TSTL and a whole lot likable?”

When I was writing my first-ever AAR review for The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl, I was paralyzed by the fact that the heroine was a subjective dealbreaker for me. I hated her not for her stupidity (which she had in spades), but her rude, bratty personality. In her very first conversation with the earl, she nicknamed him “Mike” instead of Micah. Um, no. I don’t care if you’re dealing with an earl or a waiter, you call a stranger by the name he calls himself. I wanted to put the book down after that scene, which to me, says that the book is a D or D- But I wasn’t confident that this would irritate all readers the way it irritated me, and I had to admit that most of the other aspects of the book were in the low C range. I compromised by giving the book a D+ and putting a disclaimer in the last paragraph, but if I had it to do over again, I might stick by my original lower grade.

Caz summed it up by saying, “I don’t care how clever the plot is, if I don’t like the characters or can’t work out their motivations, then the book is unlikely to work for me.”


Most staff agreed that a few writing mistakes wouldn’t be dealbreakers, but what Blythe terms “repetitive language issues” can take a book down over time. Grammatical errors, typos, basic continuity errors, over-writing (such as excessive similes or metaphors), and cheeseball accents/dialects all have gotten our reviewers at one time or another. But AAR’s pollster Cindy reports that grammar doesn’t bother her much.

Personally, I have rarely in romance found a book which was good or excellent in all elements except writing – typically, I find people who write poorly (or have been edited poorly) have other problems as well and would probably be C-range regardless. I find that this problem occurs more often in digital or self publishing.

The plot

Bessie reports, “If the pet dog or cat is killed, I can’t make myself read the book.” Succinctly put.

The Big Mis is, if you’ll pardon the expression, divisive. Some of us can’t stand it. Pat says that when “the misunderstanding is easily dispatched with a simple conversation which doesn’t materialize right away but drags on and on as if the author is trying to complete a page count, then I’m unhappy. In this case, I want to slap the author, hero, and heroine upside the head and yell, ‘Just talk to each other!’” But Caz and Wendy both felt that some Big Mis plots are enjoyable if the author does something deft with them. As Dabney wrote, “In the hands of a fabulous writer almost anything can work.”

Sex could be a dealbreaker. Wendy cited “Inappropriate timing for sex. The protagonists are on the run, or desperately searching for a missing family member, or under a deadline to save the world and they’re so horny they have to stop and scrump? Whatever.” Caz said she’d rather have no sex scenes at all than sex scenes in which she “can’t see why, other than physical attraction, they are having sex.”

Both Wendy and Lynn specifically referenced “skanky villain sex.” Sometimes this is some sort of BDSM/homosexual/alternative sex preference in which the entire point of the sex scene is essentially to harrumph that if they enjoy that, well, they must be the villains! At other times, it seems intended to underscore the eeeeeeevilness of the characters. I remember bailing on George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones over the incest plot, which just seemed over the top.

Caz also nominated “something which would actually make me stop reading a book and not want to touch anything else by that author with a barge-pole: child abuse.” It’s one of those positions one really never expects to be controversial, and yet Caz reports reading a non-romance historical in which a ten-year-old character was gang-raped. Caz didn’t object to such an event existing in the story, as it may have been historically accurate. Her dealbreaker was the fact that it was explicitly narrated to the reader. Wendy recalled that the villainess in Robin Schone’s Awaken, My Love, was sexually abused as a child, and although it is not narrated during the story, it is graphically described by the character to the heroine (who switched bodies with the villainess as part of a time-travel plot).

This is where child abuse meets skanky villain sex, as part of what makes this woman the villain is her inability to provide the hero (her husband) with a satisfying sex life. Yes, she’s also insane. But truthfully, when you hear what she went through, it’s hard to blame her. I also read this book and wished that the author had been more understanding of what the villainess had gone through. Spoiler alert – wouldn’t it have been nice for the villainess to have been the heroine of a modern-day sequel, in which she underwent therapy and formed a new relationship with a new body, instead of flipping out and being killed? The poor woman deserved better.

And then there’s racism (including anti-Semitism). None of the reviewers I polled mentioned it specifically and I hope this is a positive sign, that maybe we’re not encountering these attitudes as frequently. However, they still happen, both in rereleases of old favorites (like anti-Semitism in the otherwise enjoyable Georgette Heyer) and in some less-enlightened modern works. I have no American Civil War DIKs on my keeper shelf precisely because no author I’ve read has dealt effectively with slavery. I get so frustrated by the former plantation belle heroine, and how sorry we’re supposed to feel for her because she’s lost everything. Well, sweetie, that’s what happens when “everything” is based on the blood, sweat, and tears of someone else. Deal with it.

Racism also pops up frequently in contemporary or historical sheikh romances, wherein the hero’s alpha, Harlequin Presents attitude is explained as a product of his “primitive” culture. Even worse is when that’s referred to as the hero’s “true nature,” or what exists “when the veneer of civilization has been stripped away.” Arabs are not werewolves. Save it for the paranormals, please.

The research

This is a dealbreaker near and dear to my heart. Both Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels and its heroine, Jessica Trent, consistently rank well in polls for books and heroines, with some people calling it the best romance novel ever, and yet I can’t stand it. My dealbreaker in this book is the part many fans love most: the scene in which Jessica shoots Dain.

First, I’m bothered by the idea that shooting someone is an appropriate, funny, and for some reason feminist way to solve problems. We would never tolerate such violence from a hero (see “abusive heroes” dealbreaker), yet a gun is equally powerful in the hands of either sex. Why can a woman shoot a man, when a man shooting a woman would cause most people to chuck the book out the window?

But getting back to the research problem: this is a terribly inaccurate scene. In the early 1800s, you couldn’t aim a pistol. Even today, with more accurate guns, how could you shoot at a live and presumably dodging human, and be completely confident that you would hit an arm and not the lung right next to it? And just for fun, let’s pretend for a moment that you could aim perfectly. Historical death rates from bullet wounds are frequently determined not by bullet placement but by infection, for which there were no antibiotics. Jessica was not such a good shot that she could shoot around bacteria. Essentially, if she pulled the trigger in Dain’s general direction, she had to have accepted that he might die. Since nothing Dain had done to Jessica merited that, I couldn’t see her as anything but a violent sociopath. I was done with her, and I was done with the book.

Contemporary authors can fall into the research trap too. For Heather, it’s a dealbreaker if “the hero or heroine behaves with a disregard for professional ethics. This includes cops destroying evidence, becoming intimately involved with a suspect, or failing to recognize a massive conflict of interest when it is presented.” Other commenters found it annoying when authors made mistakes of setting. LinnieGayl read a book in which the heroine lived in Chicago, and the only setting detail (a stop for the L train) was actually incorrect, as the L does not stop at that location. I’ve heard many DC residents complain about the mythical “Georgetown Metro stop.”

So, remembering that they are subjective, significant, and unusual, what are your dealbreakers? Did I miss some here, or do you share them with AAR reviewers? Have you ever read a review you disagreed with because it had a dealbreaker for the reviewer which you didn’t share, or vice-versa?

– Caroline Russomanno

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54 Responses to Anatomy of a Dealbreaker

  1. Paola says:

    In Wuthering Heights Heathcliff kills a dog. After that I couldn’t care less about his feelings and never read again the book.

    • Jenna says:

      Me too! I have never been able to understand why WH is almost universally beloved because as a hero, Heathcliff is the worst. I don’t care how miserable and tortured your past is, only serial killers kill innocent animals. He was a wretched human being. Glad I’m not sitting alone over here in my WH is horrible corner. :)

  2. pamelia says:

    “Since nothing Dain had done to Jessica merited that, I couldn’t see her as anything but a violent sociopath. I was done with her, and I was done with the book.”
    I think, if you’re going to go with historical accuracy, he actually did do something heinous to her in that he ruined her reputation. Unless I’m mis-remembering?

    On the topic as a whole I really don’t have any deal-breakers plot-wise. I’ve been fortunate enough to read really really well-done books that take what I used to consider unforgiveable actions and redeem them over the book. A great writer can do just about anything it seems!
    Writing/grammatical problems can get to me, but only if the story doesn’t grab me. I adore FSOG and Kristen Ashley’s books, but “On Dublin Street” didn’t engage me and every last writing/editing error was like nails on a chalkboard for me in that one.

  3. maggie b. says:

    I love your look at sexism in readers regarding Lord of Scoundrels. I’ve felt that way before about certain scenes – that we would never tolerate the behavior in a man – but wasn’t able to articulate it anywhere near as well as you did.

  4. lauren says:

    I simply don’t continue to read a book if I find it overly offensive, however, that is a matter of opinion and it since many of the books I read are also based on history I really don’t have any deal-breakers with what I read. Even an offensive book can be well written.

  5. Theresa says:

    This is really interesting blog, Thanks Kristen!
    I wonder if authors make some of these mistakes because they’re used to reading/ writing in other genres where those readers are more tolerant of other things . . . say suspense readers being more tolerant of serial killers killing animals?

    I agree that most of these issues like bratty, rude heroine or questioning philandering hero–are common mistakes. Child abuse, gang rape, heroine TSTL, obvious things that make the plot unbelievable—running for life, but taking a sex break, inaccurately researched work . . .should be easily avoided.

    Do you think the authors ignored feedback from Beta readers and contest judges or just didn’t get the feedback or ignored it?

  6. Elaine C. says:

    What an interesting and thought-provoking column! A lot of research went into it. Thank you, Caroline. I need to think about it before I can write what my “dealbreakers” are and, maybe, I should read “Lord of Scoundrels” again since I starred it in my own bookkeeping/rating system.

  7. Sue Stewart says:

    Research … I have a book that I kept simply because it was the worst example of a poorly researched book I have ever seen. I admit it pushed my buttons — I’ve had horses for longer than I like to admit having been alive :), and that’s where the simple *idocy* of this author’s lack of knowledge disgusted me.

    Let’s just say, if she had watched even ONE major Thoroughbred race — there have been multiple races aired on the major TV networks every year since the 1950s — she wouldn’t have made half the ridiculous errors in this book (I wondered about the publisher’s reader and editor, too!). Or perhaps ready a children’s book on horses. Or SEEN a horse from a distance …

    I’m sure other readers, less focused on the equine element, may not have been quite as completely disgusted by this — but I bet the majority felt something was just not quite right. The point is that an author who doesn’t research a milieu s/he isn’t really familiar with isn’t going to write a good book in that setting unless s/he’s a really good guesser.

  8. Sue Stewart says:

    I forgot to thank you for calling out Whitney My Love — the “hero” forcibly RAPES the heroine, and then, horrified to discover she was actually a virgin — ABANDONS her and pursues another engagement. Excuse me? How is this even a romance in any sense of the term?

    At that point, poor Whitney has been so brutalized and brainwashed by this SOB that she actually wants him back. PUH-LEEZE.

    This book should be automatically DQed from any “best” list, unless it’s “Best Example of the worst possible”.

    • CarolineAAR says:

      That was one relationship I expected to end with a murder-suicide. Obsessive+possessive+irrational=DANGER.

  9. mb says:

    Interesting point about Jessica shooting Dain in Lord of Scoundrels. I always found it an obvious tribute to Heyer’s Mary Challoner in Devil’s Cub. In her case, I think the shooting was justified. It’s not like she didn’t give him warning either.

  10. Carrie says:

    You hit all my major dealbreakers, but I can come up with a few more. One is a heroine who keeps a child from the father. There are very few reasons I can think of to actively try to keep a man away from his child (abuse being a good one, but then the guy wouldn’t be the hero hopefully). I get insanely angry (Everyday, Average Jones) when this happens.

    Another more minor one that goes along with inappropriate timing for sex- sex in unsexy situations. In one popular romantic suspense book the hero and heroine are in the desert and there is a big deal made of the fact they have very little water. He spends several hours *under the sand* spying on the villains and then goes back to the cave and proceeds to have wonderful sex with the heroine. Without any water to was up beforehand. I literally couldn’t read the rest of the book. If an author can be so blaze about reality– heat, sweat and lots of sand aren’t sexy–then I don’t think the plot will be very realistic or satisfying either.

    • LynnAAR says:

      Yes! Inappropriate timing for sex scenes gets me, too. I can deal with it in the hands of a good author, so I wouldn’t call it a total dealbreaker, but it’s a definite pet peeve. I just read a historical where heroine’s brother dies and upon receiving the news, heroine(who has been flirting with hero up until this point) immediately tells hero that she is ready to lose her virginity right this very minute.

      • Gayathri says:

        The specific scenario Lynn mentions is not so much a dealbreaker for me. People react very differently to death. Sex when h/h are running for their lives or where they can be easily discovered (in a ball for eg) is hard for me to take.

    • Jenna says:

      In the same vein as keeping a baby a secret from a father with no legitimate reason (child abuse), I hate a heroine who refuses to accept help from a baby daddy because she’s trying to do it all on her own or doesn’t want to be beholden or some other such hogwash. Kids are expensive, and if a father is willing to step up and do his duty, she’s perpetrating a form of child abuse by denying that child that financial support.

      • Joane says:

        Yes, I do agree with that. I have never understood why so many heroines don’t want alimony for their children. What are they trying to say? That if you want money for your children you’re a gold digger or what?

    • Blythe says:

      Yes! Or sex in a bathtub when the hero has a broken leg. I wish I were making that up.

    • pwnn says:

      I loathe the secret baby trope. Basically it’s love me and then you get your child – step out of line or your love found wanting and then be denied your child. It’s never about the child (if it was about the child’s welfare then the hero wouldn’t be a hero) but always about the heroine – her pride, her feelings, her anger, her selfishness. She doesn’t care that this man she supposedly loves know about and raise his child. She doesn’t care that the child she supposedly loves know his/her father and receive not only financial but emotional support and love.

      The HEAs are also hard to believe. Why would this man deliberately denied his child trust or love this woman again?

      The only time this ever works is when it’s not deliberate, when the heroine can’t realistically find the hero (it’s a historical and the information is just not available, not because she too dumb to contact a lawyer or get on Google) or she thinks he’s dead.

  11. mari says:

    For me its the insta lust, sexy feelings when either the hero or heroine is sick or wounded in some way. Sorry but when you are in bed, sick or puking your guts out, now is not the time for “aching groin” or “feminine moistening.” Its just so wrong on so many levels.

  12. MEK says:

    A big turnoff for me is teenage sex, especially in contemporaries. It somehow is so wonderful (and appropriate – NOT!) it cements the future relationship of the couple when they meet again later in life. Puleeze! A sixteen year old having sex is not a great idea under any circumstance. My favorite author Pamela Clare did this in one of her I Team books. I was not happy. I did forgive her, though!! LOL

    • Carrie says:

      MEK- I agree! I don’t find reading about teens having sex very sexy. In fact, i find it voyeuristic. They’re not adults! Fine–I know teens have sex, but I don’t want to read about it because, like you, I don’t think 16 yr olds having sex is a great idea. Plus, I roll my eyes when I read descriptions about how great the 17 yr old male lover is and how amazing the sex is! Yeah, right. I was sexually active in my teens, and I don’t remember any teen boys who knew much about what they were doing. It was mostly awkward discovery for everyone. It got better. ;-)

      Of course, every hero we read about is a great lover, many due to the fact that they had this convenient “older woman” who was happy to teach them everything when they were young.

    • Alissa says:

      I’m glad to see this bothers other people. I started an interesting semi-medieval fantasy series and gave up because of the descriptions of the older hero and others desiring the young-teen heroine. Ick. Teen relationships seem common in this sort of fantasy and while they may be appropriate to the sort of culture the author is creating, I’d rather not read all about them.

    • CarolineAAR says:

      It feels borderline illegal to me.

  13. Tracy says:

    Deal breakers huh? If a story is told well and holds my attention, it’s a good book to me. I think all stories regardless of the the story matter should be told. It’s a chance to dip into the life of someone else. A life you don’t you don’t have to agree, enjoy, or want to go out an emulate, but a different life, warts and all. That’s the reason I love to read.
    A deal breaker for me is the same story being told over and over, where the only thing that changes are the names, and everybody is a Duke, or a heiress in hiding. If a novel is written to be historical accurate, that alone would make it offensive to most. Not a particularly kind time for women, children, dogs, and for anyone who wasn’t part of royalty had loads of cash.
    So give me a good story with no limitations and if I do find it repulsive I wont read it again. But I will probably tell my friends about it.

  14. Hy that article was simpley awesome many thanks for those insights!

  15. PatW says:

    I think this was a very thoughtful article. One thing I am always appreciative of in AAR reviews is that the reviewers are good about saying what has bothered them about a book so that if the same kind of plot/characters, etc are not problematical to us as readers we can decide to read anyway. The reviews also often call out some of the major potential “dealbreakers” noted in the column.

    BTW – you got most of mine. TSTL heroines, especially the historical ones who refuse marriage when compromised (or pregnant) sort of head my list.

  16. Suzee says:

    Regarding Lord of Scoundrels.

    I would like to point out that no one seems to mind that pistols at dawn would have been perfectly acceptable for the way Dain treated Jessica. The fact that her brother was too much of an idiot to make the challenge made her actions ok in my book.

    There are some books you have to read more as a fairy tale than real. It is more of a problem when you read a book with a certain tone and then it changes. Such as Laura Kinsale’s “Uncertain Magic”. You’re gliding along in a humorous paranormal and then you get landed into the guts and gore of the Irish revolt. It would have been different if the tone had been more realistic at the beginning. It’s jolting.

    • pwnn says:

      Pistols art dawn means the other person is armed and shooting back. Shooting an unarmed person make one a coward and a potential murder. Jessica was as responsible for her own ruination as well – she was all into it before she got caught. As for a duel, why should anyone have to be shot to protect a reputation she didn’t care to protect in the first place? I think it’s nonsensical and rather abhorrent.

      That’s the problem with independent feisty heroines in historicals. They don’t want to follow society’s rules until it blows up in their faces and then they want the benefits of patriarchal protection.

      In Barbara Samuel’s Dark Angel she showed how unfair it was that the heroine’s very consensual headless affair ended in her brothers having to protect her “honor” and how it meant exile for them and ruined lives. How is that fair?

      Regardless, if the positions were reversed no one would countenance those actions. Look at Sherry Thomas’s His At Night. The heroine deliberately compromises him to try and gain marriage and he unlike Jessica is in no way complicit. Yet there were readers upset with the hero for not being nice enough to her after the forced marriage. How would they have felt if he just shot her to protect his reputation? Would readers cheer him on like they do Jessica? Would they think it’s cute let alone justified?

      Back to dealbreaker storylines. I have many and yet a good author – and that includes good writing not just good storytelling can make almost any scenario work for me. It all depends on how it’s explored and dealt with.

      • pwnn says:

        er The Black Angel.

        And not for the first time, I wish the comment section had an edit function. :p

      • Suzee says:

        The point is not what we consider rational now but what was considered customary at the time.

        • Suzee says:

          I’m not so sure the original assertation as to weaponry accuracy was right either. It was common for bucks to shoot wafers at Mantons in London in that era.

        • chris booklover says:

          Um … in early 19th century Britain (or France) it was NOT considered customary for women to shoot men who had compromised them. If Dain had pressed charges Jessica could have been hanged, especially considering that he was a peer.

          • pwnn says:

            Exactly. Duels happened though they were illegal. Shooting unarmed peers was a huge no no. Not only was there NO honor in it, Jessica would more likely be hanged or deported than married.

          • Libby says:

            Actually, if I’m correct (fact checking needed here), the last woman hanged in England shot and killed her lover. She was pregnant with his child, she miscarried due to a punch in the stomach from him and she shot him. He was a “public school boy” (upper crust) and she wasn’t.

  17. Katie (kat) says:

    My #1 dealbreaker is animals being abused or killed. I can’t read it. I probably wouldn’t have ever started the Harry Potter series, which I love, if I had known Hedwig wasn’t going to make it so I’m glad I didn’t know.

    I’m an animal rights person. I’ve read a lot of graphic stuff about the ways animals are abused in our society. I’ve also seen quite a few documentaries that gave me nightmares. I don’t ever need to pick up a book of fiction that I’m reading for enjoyment where an animal is hurt.

    My friends & family always think to get me some cute animal story and I won’t read them. They always end with the animal dying and I hate that. I cried soo hard I was sick after reading The Dogs Who Came to Stay (true story of the way 2 Harvard professor’s lives were changed by 2 dogs) because even though I loved the story, of course, the dogs died.

    I couldn’t get through Lisa Marie Rice’s Midnight Man which people rave about. The hero is a hunter. I can accept hunting to some degree in historicals but a modern day hero who hunts disgusts me. I’ve throw quite a few books in the trash because of the hunting issue. The one exception is Linda Howard because I was a fan before it became an issue. I will skip over things in her books I don’t like.

    I am picky about romances. I won’t read a romance with a beta hero, one where the heroine is pursing the hero rather than vice versa, friends becoming lovers, old flames reuniting years later (high school sweethearts = blech) and any story where the hero is wishy washy about wanting the heroine.

    Heroines who are tough as nails, uber confident, high-powered business people really turn me off as well and will get me to stop reading a romance.

    • Elizabeth Rolls says:

      Interesting about your #1 dealbreaker. Generally, I’m with you if the killing is simply gratuitous. I love animals, and got as far as the bit in The Godfather where the racehorse was killed and had to stop. I never read the rest and have never seen any of the movies. The horse did it for me. However I didn’t have quite the same reaction over poor Hedwig. To me that was part of Harry being stripped of pretty much everything he possessed in that book. Although I thought they handled it better in the movie, where Hedwig made her own decision to protect Harry. I cried over Hedwig in much the same way as I cried over Sirius, Dumbledore, Remus and Tonks – as a character. I’m not sure I was thinking over her as merely an animal.
      But there are times when the death of an animal is a major part of the plot, or you’d have to invoke a deus ex machina to avoid it, and then I just have to man up and get over it. Not saying that’s what you should do! We all have very different ways of reacting/responding to things.

      • Katie (kat) says:

        I understand your point but it’s like people who can’t watch children being abused which I don’t like either. Kids and animals don’t have the coping mechanism to understand why they are being hurt. In addition, since animals are legally abused in this society, it’s a raw nerve for me. I know too much about real life animal horrors in factory farms, used in scientific experiments and numerous other ways that people hurt them that is condoned.

        No matter how good a book is if an animal is going to be hurt I’m just not interested. That is not why I read. Do you ever see or hear Stephen Sondheim’s play Passion? There is a song in that play called “I Read” and here’s some of the lyrics that resonate with me:

        “I do not read to think. I do not read to learn.
        I do not read to search for truth
        I know the truth, the truth is hardly what I need.
        I read to dream.

        I read to live,
        To get away from life!

        I read to fly, to skim -
        I do not read to swim.”

        I’m really not interested in reality or sorrow in books I read for enjoyment. I’ll take the fantasy.

  18. Joane says:

    The worst, for me, is an abusive hero. I dislike rape and violence against children and women. And racism, of course.
    From a more personal POW, I dislike when I sense in the main characters an attitude of anglosaxon disdain toward all other cultures. Such superiority complex makes me grind my teeth. Or the way American writers tend to represent British people, I find it so unrealistic that I think they have never met anyone from the British Isles. But I agree those are very personal dislikes.
    I think that everything else (even purple prose or a badly reasearched book) can be forgiven if the story is good. I think those are dealbreakers for me.

    • CarolineAAR says:

      I took a look but was unable to confirm the type of weapon used beyond “gun.” There were some early rifled pistols at the time, I believe, but when I watched some Youtube videos of restored pistols the accuracy was inconsistent at best. I wasn’t able to become a firearms expert, but I believe the second two points (precision on a moving target and infection risk) stand regardless. That does not mean that anybody but me has to be bothered by it, but I am convinced it is accurate.

  19. Britta says:

    Always interesting topics on this site. I find myself looking for a specific books’ review and an hour later I am still browsing the site :-)

    I can’t stand a book where the “hero” for some poorly explained reason seduces the heroine and then hates her/turns on her, etc. I read a book once where the guy seduced the girl in a carriage and then she gets kidnapped and ends up in a harem in Africa, and he thinks she did it on purpose. I stopped reading after page 50 or so. I just can’t be bothered with BigMis’ like that. Life’s too short to read such a belabored plot.

    I, too, was extremely put off by the abusiveness scenes in Whitney and the continued control issues and self loathing. That’s not romance to me. I am an independent, confident woman, so I don’t get the whole enchantment with these type of plots. I did finish the book to see if there would be a redeeming quality to explain the “one of the best romances of all times” label, and also – foolishly – to see if Whitney would end up with the nice guy, her friend in Paris, I forgot his name. I hope he has his own book somewhere.

    While I like Lord of Scoundrels better than Whitney, I also don’t get the “best of…” status for this one. That shooting scene was so out of character for the heroine. She was so self assured, so strong and then she goes and let’s the guy rule her life like that.

    Another deal breaker is the “Stockholm Syndrom” one. Someone recommended gushingly a book to me where the heroine switched places w/her sister to go see what the hero was all about, he traps her in his castle on his island and forces her to have sex w/her – because he loves her/is obsessed with her! – and she eventually escapes but is so happy when he finds her and they ride off on his motorcycle into bliss. I don’t get that plot at all. This was a Sydney Sheldon book, a popular author I believe. Never read another one.

    All in all, I agree that all these deal breakers are completely subjective and I think they are informed by the readers/reviewers life experience.

  20. Lori Johnson says:

    My deal breakers are: modern phrases and motivations in historicals, Heroes who constantly refer to the heroine as “not quite pretty” and token sex scenes with no sexual suspense leading up to the sex. There should be an ongoing tension between the characters throughout the story for me to stay interested in them having sex or not.

  21. Tahyun says:

    I have a problem reading books set in Scotland. I think some authors, in an effort to remind us that the book is indeed set in Scotland, overdo it with cheesy lines and dialect. It just makes me shudder. I’ve read perhaps two books set in Scotland where the author didn’t “overdo it”. I remember clearly that there were little reminders and some of the characters even spoke in that “burr” in the dialogue, but somehow they had managed not to kill me with it.

    Another thing I cannot stand is too much sex. It was gratifying to see that others agree. My favorite aspect of a book is character development. So pretty much, if they are just having tons of sex, I am sitting there wondering when they are going to stop so that they can get on with becoming who they are going to become or advancing the plot. Now sometimes sex does this, so I like it, and well, who doesn’t like a little sex, right? It’s nice. But I think I decided that if the sex hits 4 times, I start to wonder. If the author manages to get it in there well enough that I am not even counting, that’s fine, but it’s a rare thing.

  22. Marianne McA says:

    Muderers, assassins and mercanaries. If Linda Howard’s book ‘Cry No More’ had been pitched as action adventure, that would have been fine, but not as romance. The hero is a killer and he then helps the heroine to kill someone. Someone who had personally profoundly wronged her, but it still was a dealbreaker for me. Why should I care if they had a HEA?

    And child abuse, but also other horrific things (torture, rape, murder, terrorism)- if you put the bad things in the book on one end of a seesaw and the good things on the other, the good needs to outweigh the bad. You know in life, sometimes you go through something difficult, but at the end you wouldn’t have that experience taken from you, because you’re better because of it? Has to be like that – the happy ending must redeem the suffering.

    And serial killers – why are they ever in romance?

  23. Minnis says:

    I dislike irresponsible, illegal or unethical behaviour in any form and, for me, irresponsible parenting is the ultimate deal breaker. I discarded Nora Roberts’ Local Hero when the heroine agreed to the hero minding her young son after school… on their second encounter. I can forgive a TSTL heroine who puts herself at risk, but not one who makes a potentially risky decision for her child.

    An imbalance of power between hero and heroine is also a deal breaker, as is a controlling hero or heroine, unless the issue is addressed as part of the growth of the characters.

  24. Minnis says:

    Not a deal breaker, but a hazard light: if the hero or heroine is described as “hot”, I ask myself whether I can face the tedium of the book. When I read romance, I expect a more subtle and convincing depiction of the attraction between hero and heroine.

  25. Lilly says:

    One dealbreaker for me that’s germane to the romance genre is ‘saying I love you’ as a major resolution to the story. The heroine gets her knickers in a twist because the hero hasn’t/won’t say he loves her. It’s like writing: show me instead of telling me! It’s all to easy to say the words, and men & boys do commonly enough that I just don’t get the heroines hang up on this.

    One dealbreaker not totally germane to the romance genre, and one I seem to stand alone on: abysmal technical details. If the author needs/wants to sprinkle something with fairy dust, I welcome them to do so, but I ask them to please not violate the laws of physics or rudimentary economics otherwise. Mundane examples of poor technological understanding abound in romance, the most egregious for me being the young miss who ‘knows her father’s industrial secrets’, like it’s a cupcake recipe. Honey, if you haven’t put on some dungarees and been out at the forge for a couple thousand hours, I doubt if you know anything a competitor cares about.

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