It’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? Continue reading
I’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?
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I 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? Continue reading
Nick 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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
My workout playlist runs to guilty pleasures, and Whatever You Like is among the guiltiest. I prefer this more indie, Joan as Policewoman version to the TI original. In case you’re not interested in listening – or unfamiliar with the words – the message in a nutshell is “I find you attractive and want to sleep with you, so I will buy you stuff. Expensive stuff.”
I got to thinking about this during the summer when I read two books with uber-rich heroes back to back. Both of them are household names: Roarke from the long running J.D. Robb series, and Johnny come lately Christian Grey from Fifty Shades. Roarke is of course the classic. He owns half the planet and plenty of stuff off the planet. In the earlier books, he was always working, wheeling, and dealing. Lately he seems to have enough time to own the world and serve as expert consultant, civilian on Eve’s cases. It’s a nice gig, if you can get it.
In her recent review of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare, Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, mentioned something that caught my attention. A certain group of supporting characters who arrive in the heroine’s village, early in the novel, were seen by Sarah as being “a carriage full of sequel-bait…[not] so much individual as they are at times like an assembly of future characters and convenient plot devices.” This jumped out at me, because I have felt this sentiment before, reading various books by various authors.
For me, the carriage full of characters in A Lady by Midnight worked, and I personally did not feel that they were sequel-bait. (Incidentally, in a Goodreads chat to celebrate the book’s release, Dare mentioned that there are only two other planned stories in this series, a novella and a novel, neither of which will be about any of the carriage characters… Although Dare did not rule out the possibility of revisiting one of the characters at a much later date.) But I don’t mean this as a critique of either Sarah or Dare. Rather, this is just a recent example of a phenomenon that I have been experiencing myself – the expectation of sequels. In this case, I happened to read Sarah’s review just after reading Dare’s comment that she did not intend to write books for these new characters, and it got me thinking.
I have never read a book by Tana French and the first time I saw her name was in the Eagerly Awaited August Books where both Dabney and Lynn indicate that they are looking forward to her new release Broken Harbor. Then while surfing the Web, I came across her name again. She wrote an article for Publishers Weekly outlining her writing tips.
A few of them didn’t resonate, but this one did:
There’s no such thing as ‘men’ or ‘women’. There’s only the individual character you’re writing. One guy emailed me asking me how to write women, and I couldn’t answer, because I had no idea which woman he meant: me? Eleanor of Aquitaine? Lady Gaga? If you’re thinking of ‘men’ or ‘women’ as a monolithic group defined primarily by their sex, then you’re not thinking of them as individuals; so your character isn’t going to come out as an individual, but as a collection of stereotypes. Sure, there are differences between men and women on average – but you’re writing an individual, not an average. If your individual character is chatty on the phone or refuses to ask for directions, that needs to be because of who he or she is, not because of what he or she is. Write the person, not the genitalia.
Having had major surgery a few weeks ago, I was a little disconcerted when my next two review books featured protagonists in pain. I was immediately struck by the realization that physical pain is something that many authors don’t portray realistically at all.
We all know the cliché: Hero is shot, stabbed, beaten up, whatever, and his immediate thoughts turn to sex. Sex?! Having just been sliced open under the best sterile surgical conditions, I can say without a doubt that sex was the last thing on my mind. Adding a pain killer like the norco I’m taking doesn’t change my mind at all. General oral pain killers, it seems to me, mask the pain as long as you don’t probe the wound, but don’t totally kill it. You need a shot near the wound site for that.
But Victoria Dahl’s cowboy hero Cole in Close Enough to Touch, recuperating from having a horse fall on him and suffering from a broken tibia and pelvis is ready to roll at the drop of a hat. And does.