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Alpha, Beta, Gamma, or The ABG’s of Romance Heroes

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When I wrote my post last week on what I’m calling Extreme Romance, it seemed to translate for some readers into the ballad of the “controlling hero.” In fact, several readers asked for more books in which the hero and heroine have an “equal power balance.”

While it is true that books that tend to push the genre envelope and place the power dynamics between the hero and heroine front and center often have OTT protagonists – the histrionic Dain from Lord of the Scoundrels always and immediately comes to mind – I wonder if when people refer to a “controlling hero” they mean that he is an alpha, an alphahole, or just a guy who likes to get his own way. Because “controlling” seems to have become elided with “abusive,” and therefore shorthand for bad (and not in a badass, super-sexy way), aka not heroic.

First, let me say that I think there are a number issues here to pick through: 1) What do we mean when we use the term “controlling”? 2) What is bad about a controlling hero? 3) What do we mean when we talk about “power” — are we talking about socio-economic power, intellectual power, physical power, emotional power? 4) What is bad about power imbalance between the hero and heroine? 5) Are all power imbalances bad, or just ones that play out in a certain way? And 6) When readers say they want a more “equal power balance,” what does that mean? (Note: because of the implied gender roles, I’m mostly referring to straight Romance here, although I think this discussion could be modified for m/m or f/f Romance)

I don’t have time to unpack all this, so I’m going to talk a little about my own reader preferences as a way of hopefully opening up a discussion about how power issues work for different readers.

I generally don’t have a preference between alpha, beta, and gamma heroes. However, of alphas, I generally prefer what I’d call the progressive caretaking alpha – that is, the alpha who may have overbearing tendencies, but who wants a strong heroine, loves her unconditionally for who she is, and wants to see her continue to grow into what she wants to be. While I don’t want a steady diet of battle-of-the-sexes type Romances, I prefer a couple who bickers or downright argues honestly about their relationship to a couple where one is lying to the other or isn’t as committed to the other. Not that these stories can’t work for me – just that I don’t think controlling is the equivalent of “abusive,” nor do I think a non-confrontational guy is necessarily more heroic.

Let me throw a couple of examples to illustrate the distinction I’m trying to make.

Let’s start with the commitment-phobic hero from Ruthie Knox’s Room at the Inn. Modeled loosely on It’s A Wonderful Life’s George Bailey, Carson Vance seems anything but a controlling hero. Indeed, Carson has gotten George Bailey’s wish and then some, traveling around the world and periodically returning to Potter Falls. This time, he thinks he’s in for another brief sojourn — to check up on his dad after his mother’s death (Carson didn’t go back for her funeral). Carson and his dad don’t get along, and Carson feels manipulated into having to look after the older man, whom he suspects has made his situation worse to lure Carson back to town. However, one benefit if being back is that he gets to see Julie Long, the woman he has a little carnal fun with every time he returns home.

Knox’s Julie, unlike her cinematic counterpart, Mary, hasn’t managed to wed her great love. In fact, even though she has dated other men, she knows that Carson has had her heart for a long time, even though he seems like a pretty unreliable custodian:

Maybe she thought he only looked like a territory-conquering slab of rough-and-tumble male charisma because he’d conquered her territory, tumbled her rough, and left her behind a long time ago.

Now he just stopped by every so often to replant his flag.

Exacerbating the problem is the fact that Carson can’t help but flirt with Julie every time he sees her:

He checked himself. It was a terrible habit, baiting Julie. He needed to knock it off.

She always messed him up this way, turning him into a version of himself even he couldn’t like. Not that she purposely transformed him into a giant walking penis when he got in her vicinity. It wasn’t her fault at all. It was just their past. More than that, it was her. He got edgy and turned on and irritable around Julie, and he always ended up doing the wrong thing. Arguing with her. Putting his hands on her just to feel that soft skin and all the heat they created. Getting lost in her body and the sound and smell of her.

Part of it was how much he hated the way she treated him now— just like when they had met at Alfred University. Three hundred miles northwest of Manhattan, well up in the boonies, and yet she’d been so snooty, a real-life New York City rich girl sitting next to him in class. He’d burned to know if she was like that all the way through to her bones, or if it was just an act. When he finally did get her talking to him, they’d bickered. A lot. Half the time, he’d picked fights with her purely for the pleasure of watching her eyes brighten and her skin flush.

Julie is an independent woman with a large social network. She’s a part-time librarian and is remodeling the “Inn” from the title, which used to be a huge old home (remember the abandoned house from It’s A Wonderful Life that Mary always loved?) in town. Carson has lived his own life, and this trip home he finds that he can’t resist Julie’s substantial charms. So, after more than fifteen years of getting his fill of her and then heading back out into the world, he decides he wants to make it permanent with her.

I think it’s safe to say that Julie and Carson have equitable power as individuals. And fans of their relationship might argue that they ultimately have equitable power romantically, because Carson does The Grovel and The Big Public Gesture and finally gives in to the feelings we all know he’s had for Julie for so many years. Readers who root for these two may be willing to forgive Carson for all the years (more than FIFTEEN) he took Julie for granted and used her sexually, because, well, he was fulfilling his own dreams, right? And it wasn’t like Julie didn’t have a choice. Still, for me, Carson’s selfishness and self-indulgence is impossible to get past. I didn’t trust his epiphany, felt his public gesture was manipulative (‘Hey, I must love you because I’m telling you in front of everyone, which, by the way, has the added benefit of making it impossible for you to reject me!’), and I wanted Julie to find a guy who could see her value right from the start and respect her by either cutting her loose completely or stepping up at least ten years earlier than Carson did.

Now take one of the books I discussed last week, Motorcycle Man. I think Tyra and Tack are also very much equals: they are both professionally successful; they both own their own homes; they both have employable skills and are responsible and good at what they do; they both have strong, wide social networks, including families. In Tack’s case, his family strength comes from his nearly grown children, for whom he is ultimately the sole (and devoted) custodial parent, and in Tyra’s it comes both from her parents, who are very loving, and from her extended family, including an aunt and uncle who make an unexpected and somewhat hilarious visit during the early stages of her courtship with Tack.

However, Tack and Tyra battle almost all the time. And they battle hard.

For example, when – at almost the very beginning of the book — Tack tells Tyra she can’t work for him because they’ve slept together, she tells him she’s staying in her job no matter what. When she later decides to quit, he tells her she’s a coward for running away from a job she stood up so hard to keep. He initially calls her “Red” and then insists he can’t remember her name, only to come up with it unaided a few minutes later as he introduces her to someone else. He tells her he likes playing games with her head and insists that she does, too. He even shows up one day at her house with pizza and beer, refusing to leave until she’s had dinner with him. He also insists she put on her favorite movie to watch, which happens to be The Color Purple, and he watches the entire film with her, comforting her when she cries.

At one point in the book, Tack’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Tabby, gets hit by her too-old boyfriend because she refuses to have sex with him. Tyra gets two of the Chaos motorcycle guys as back-up, then goes to rescue Tabby and teach the guy a lesson by pepper spraying and then slapping him down to the floor. Although Tack is angry that Tyra put herself and his guys at risk, that’s not his only response:

“You’ve only lived through one period with me,” I pointed out and his brows drew together.

“Say again?”

“I can be hell on wheels when I’m PMS’ing,” I shared.

His gaze went back to the view as he muttered, “You can be hell on wheels anytime. Like, say, how you’re gearin’ up to be now.”

“Tack!” I snapped and he again looked at me and he did it again grinning.

“What?”

“It goes like this,” I began to explain. “We get to know each other. We have a huge-ass wedding. We spend time just us and, um… Tab and Rush, of course. Then we start on a family.”

“Got it all scheduled,” he noted.

“Yes,” I returned.

“What’s a huge-ass wedding?”

“Don’t ask that,” I advised. “Just show up.”

His grin turned wicked and I liked it.

That was, I liked it until he enquired, “You askin’ me to marry you, Red?”

I wasn’t even sipping coffee and, still, I choked.

Then I pushed out, “What?”

“I accept.”

I shook my head and kept shaking it when I requested clarification, “Let me get this straight. Did you just accept my non-marriage offer?”

“Non-marriage?”

“I didn’t ask!” My voice was rising.

“So you just wanna shack up?” he asked but didn’t wait on my answer. “I’m good with that too.”

Gah!

“I’m getting my huge-ass wedding,” I declared.

“So you are askin’ me to marry you,” he noted.

Gah! Gah! Gah!

Sharp as a tack.

Someone kill me.

“When did you show last night?” I asked.

“Say again?”

“Last night, when I was going off on that kid, when did you show?”

“You’d just slapped him and asked, ‘How about that? Feel good?’”

Wonderful. He caught nearly the entire performance.

“So you saw most of the show,” I surmised.

“Reckon. Yeah.”

“Do you want some of that?” I asked sweetly and Tack grinned huge, wicked and sexy, leaned into me fast, hooking his hand behind my head and pulling me to him. “You think you could take me?” he asked softly.

“Only if I get to wield pepper spray,” I returned.

“No fuckin’ way,” he replied.

“Then no. But I’d give it a shot,” I retorted and he pulled me closer.

My breath started to escalate as his face, but mostly his mouth, got closer. It escalated further as his eyes moved over my face and it did this mainly because of the sweet, soft look in them.

Then they caught mine.

“Huge-ass wedding,” he whispered.

“Yeah,” I whispered back.

“That how you like it?”

“That’s always been my dream.”

“You didn’t settle for a man until you found the one you wanted, you keep settlin’ for nothin’ less, baby.”

My heart flipped.

I was going to get my huge-ass wedding.

To a biker.

Yay.

“Okay,” I breathed.

“Seein’ as you’re breathin’ and not through a tube, it’s all out there, you love me, lookin’ back on you kickin’ that motherfucker’s ass, gotta say, it was pretty hot.”

My belly fluttered.

“Yeah?” I asked softly.

“Yeah. You bein’ all riled up like that for my girl was hotter.”

“It was for Tabby as well as all womankind,” I corrected.

“So noted,” Tack muttered, lips twitching.

“But mostly, it was for Tabby.”

Tack’s eyes got sweeter and softer and his hand fisted in my hair.

Then he asked quietly, “You wanna move in with me?”

“Yeah,” I answered immediately.

Between Tack and Carson, Tack is definitely more “controlling.” He tells Tyra from the beginning that once she steps foot onto his territory (literally, his territory – the bike club’s area, Chaos), she plays by his rules. However, it eventually becomes clear that this is mostly because there are some Very Dangerous People who have it in for Chaos, and Tack needs to be able to ensure Tyra and everyone else’s safety. But he does not tell her this at first.

Still, for me, Tack and Tyra’s relationship feels much more equal and satisfying than Carson and Julie’s. Yeah, Carson is not the kind of guy who will tell Julie what to do, but in some ways I think he’s worse: he’s a guy who had no issues taking what she had to offer and then walking away, even though he knew she cared about him. Tack may be more of a superficial jerk, but he is not a cheater; he is a very devoted parent; he has no issues telling the people in his life how much he cares about them; and he stands up for the people he loves. He doesn’t avoid family responsibilities (like Carson does), he absolutely worships Tyra and would lay down his life in a heartbeat for her; and he prefers to talk through issues than to walk away from them. He is honest about his feelings and when Tyra really wants to leave, he lets her have her space (of course she soon realizes she loves him and doesn’t want the relationship to end). If Carson is conflict-avoidant, Tack is the exact opposite. Still, I think Tack is a more honorable person, and the relationship between him and Tyra is, for me, both emotionally honest and mutually empowering. In fact, I think one of the ironies of the book is that despite the fact that Tyra has joined a world in which male authority is perceived to dominate, she actually has more authority, respect, and agency in that world than she did in the “normal” world outside the motorcycle club – and she has that as both Tack’s wife and as the woman who, among other things, single-handedly bested an abusive little punk.

The balance of power question in Romance is especially complex because you have an entire subgenre of Romance – Historical Romance – in which there is often an enormous gap in power between hero and heroine. And yet, one of the most powerful fantasies is the so-called Cinderella fantasy, by which the wealthy, titled hero somehow discovers the impoverished, often orphaned heroine, falls in love with her, and marries her. Maybe he gives her her first orgasm – and you know it’s the very best, because it’s hero-made. Or perhaps he thinks she’s a prostitute and angrily takes her virginity and then guiltily ensconces her in his home as his children’s nanny, even though his wife also lives there (a la Balogh’s The Secret Pearl). Or whatever. I certainly think that if we’re going to measure these power negotiations in terms of which relationships ultimately challenge the patriarchal status quo, that a beneficent beta is no guarantee of that, especially if his material power is still substantially greater than the heroine’s by the end of the story.

When we talk about “control” and “power,” I think it’s important to name our terms. For example, I find the intense humiliation of many of Susan Elizabeth Philips’s heroines to be incredibly troubling, and I feel like when it’s the hero doing it (like in Natural Born Charmer) it’s bad enough, but when the female characters and the whole town does it (Ain’t She Sweet), it just feels gross to me. And yet her books are often praised for their independent heroines. Again, I’d rather see a battle like the one between Tyra and Tack, which at least feels open, honest, and even, than to see a petty group of women reliving high school by intentionally trying to embarrass and humiliate the heroine. As much as I love Ain’t She Sweet, I think there’s something really disturbing about the way Sugar Beth is ground down before she gets her happy ending with Colin.

Not that these are the only choices; I am aware that there are many other permutations and variations of these relationships. However, as readers, we often have different interpretations of these dynamics, and what is subversive and liberating for one reader might be oppressive and demeaning for another. It’s one thing to designate a problematic issue (e.g. power), but another to dismiss a certain “type,” especially when there are substantial variations in its articulation throughout the genre.

In the end, I think every reader has a line (or lines) across which the hero cannot go with the heroine. One of mine is humiliation of the heroine and a persistent failure to recognize, value, and support her own individuality and power. What’s yours?

 

 

 

 

 

 

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

73 Comments

  1. Ana
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 05:41:24

    I just recently started reading KA, and Motorcycle Man was the second book of her I read. Initially I had a very hard time with her heroes, but especially with the often mysogynist or simply sexist culture they thrive in, but I ended up changing my mind about Tack and Tyra. I think you are right that they ended up in pretty even power situation even if they don’t seem to start out that way.

    I really like Ruthie Knox’s writing, but I had similar concerns but Carson, and his too long in coming wake up call. I do give him a pass on the public gesture because it wasn’t pre-planned. I adored her newest book, Flirting with Disaster.

    My favorite equal power balance story is Heart of Steel by Meljean Brooks. In that book Archimedes and Yasmeen, Lady Corsair face off and fall in love without her being overpowered. Prior to this book, Lady Corsair had thrown Archimedes off her ship into Zombie infested territory for daring to try to countermand her on her ship. It was a great contrast to the still great Iron Duke, whose hero Rhys is in the a-hole category.

    I am big fan of Lisa Kleypas’s historicals. I like her alpha heroes and the independent women she creates, because while they are strong, and determined they don’t take stupid risks in order make a point and understand how to play the power dynamic of that time.

    The contemporary series that has most troubled me in my recent reading has been Susan Mallery’s Fools Gold. While set in town that seemingly is proud of its woman centric culture, all the woman to woman interactions seemed to center on the need for a woman to find man. As much as I enjoyed the first romance, I found myself unable on finish the handful I tried after it.

  2. library addict
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 05:49:33

    I agree on the humiliation of the heroine. I would need a HUGE grovel and time for the hero to prove he’s changed to believe in a HEA (I can’t think of an example at the moment where the hero humiliated the heroine and did grovel enough).

    I don’t mind Alpha heroes or even Arrogant Ass Heroes provided they have respect for the heroine and aren’t trying to control what she can do and say.

    When I see people talk about a “controlling” hero that is where my mind goes; to a guy who tries to tell her what she can wear, who she see, where she can go, etc. So to me that’s not a good thing at all. But I can see where not everyone would say controlling and mean that.

    I have mad love for some old school romances where the hero starts off as a total jerk that if I hadn’t read these books earlier in my romance reading I probably would not have liked. I can still enjoy rereading these books as comfort reads, but I’m not sure I would have the patience if I were reading them today as a new-to-me books (if that makes any sense). Slow Heat in Heaven by Sandra Brown is a perfect example.

    The dominance issue in the Psy/Changeling series didn’t bother me for the most part except in Play of Passion. I wish the author had just left Drew as being outside the hierarchy and dominant, but less dominant than Indigo, rather than stating Drew will get more dominant every year. That took away from the story for me as I was left wondering why.

  3. Annamal
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 06:19:48

    A close friend of mine grew up on fringes of motorcycle gangs, based on even some of the milder stories he’s told me, the whole idea of setting romance novels inside them massively creeps me out no matter how feisty the heroine might be.

    So yeah that’s one of my lines in the sand.

  4. CD
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 06:27:14

    This is really interesting and I wish I had more time to post and feedback on the number of issues you raised. I haven’t read the Knox book and I tried MOTORCYCLE MAN and (metaphorically) threw it across the room after a few chapters. Although, from the sounds of things, it gets better…

    My issue is not so much a power issue between the hero/heroines but my personal issue in that I don’t tend to like controlling heroes. Whether or not the heroines are tough enough to stand up to them and/or has equal power, I just find them irritating both in real life and in fiction. In your description of the Knox book, it depends very much on how it’s done but I don’t really see a problem in how the hero behaved. Unless he’s misrepresented his ability to commit and/or knows very well that the heroine is in love with him and has been putting her life on hold because of him, then I can’t see how their relationship is problematic. The main issue to me is whether the heroine has agency herself. I think it’s just as problematic for a hero to end things with a heroine “for her own sake” – that just drives me crazy as it takes away her own agency and ability to make her own decisions about her life.

    With MOTORCYCLE MAN, I’m not sure if my problem with it was the power imbalance (if any) or more just because the screaming and fighting got on my nerves, and the hero is a type that really REALLY annoys me. The fighting and mind games just made them both seem like immature teenagers, and hero’s harassment of the heroine just made me want to slap him – and not in a good way. It’s all about him and his needs and – bloody hell, GROW UP!!!!! However, thinking of Dain from LORD OF SCOUNDRELS is an interesting because I don’t actually see him as controlling at all. He struck me as all bluster really – his attempts to control Jessica was endearing rather than annoying. Mostly because Jessica is amazing. So maybe it’s just the way things are written that makes behaviour in one book work and similar behaviour in another make you want to cut out their intestines with a spoon…

  5. Kati
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 07:21:06

    Oh I love me an alpha male. So much so that beta and gamma heroes almost never do it for me. Which is probably why I enjoy Kristen Ashley books so much. Like you, the Caregiving Alpha is my all time favorite. Jack Travis being the epitome for me. He’s evolved, smart, loving, and completely dedicated to wooing his heroine. He’s also bossy, can be domineering, and at times, overrides the heroine’s wishes.

    My biggest line in the sand for any and all romance is romance by deceit. I really, really hate when the hero pretends to be someone else (or vice versa) and then the other part of the couple falls in love. How do you forgive that?

    I agree also about humiliation or degradation of any sort. Not OK. But generally, the biggest thing that will turn me off a hero is pretending to be someone else in order to woo the heroine.

  6. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 07:40:46

    I just read Room at the Inn and had the same reaction to Carson…at first. What a jerk, I thought. I hate the “left behind” setup. A few chapters in, I was like, girll get away from him! Then the story magically turned around for me. Julie wasn’t staying because she hoped Carson would return. She was staying for herself. And Carson had a very compelling reason for avoiding commitment. The interactions with his father rang very true for me. I was won over on the couple well before the grand gesture. I loved the town, the hotel and both characters. The writing is superb.

    I haven’t yet tried an Ashley because of the writing. In that excerpt, I don’t see a sassy exchange between two strong characters, I see…lots of words used instead of “said.” Repetition of wicked grin.

  7. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 07:43:48

    Also, I was hoping your article would define Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

  8. Emma
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 08:10:36

    Yes! The problem isn’t the “type” of hero (and as you suggest, the categories we have are narrow and don’t account for all the deviations and complications present in any given character) but rather the power negotiations — or not — that we see. A hero paired with a very submissive heroine who gave on every issue and had no opinions would be a problem, even if he wasn’t an alpha it-has-to-be-this way, let-me-mess-with-your-professional-life type.

    I’ve come to think that the problem might be the scene a faire in romance doesn’t allow for the kinds of negotiations that real couples face. The conflicts that have to be worked out in novels are almost allows inherent to the plot — a murder to be solved, a kidnapping victim to locate, an inn to renovate — or to whether the h/h will get together. We rarely see, at least in a sustained way, conversations about having and raising children, who’ll do the bulk of the housework, who’ll manage the money, etc. I guess I’m not really craving fights about the proper way to fold dish towels, but I do think that’s where the proverbial rubber meets the road in real relationships. And I think the inclusion of such scene is why Kristen Ashley is interesting. Perhaps because her books tend to be sooo long, we get to see these more quotidian, but perhaps more meaningful, debates.

  9. DB Cooper
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 08:11:50

    Speaking of defining terms, I want to ask everyone here (Kati, especially, since you proclaim such a love for the Alpha):

    What do you guys define as being Alpha? Beta? Gamma?

    I was surprised at how much I saw “Alpha” being tossed around the romance world when I discovered DA. And, as I believe Janet was mentioning with the term “controlling”, I feel like different readers (and writers) have used the same terms with different examples in their mind.

    So, I’d like your personal definitions/categorizations/feelings if you don’t mind satisfying my curiosity. … especially on Beta and Gamma.

    I’m no ethologist, but personally, I think my definitions probably fall close to my understanding of (a generalized) animal hierarchy. Namely:

    Alpha – Controlling, demanding, get my way, asshole does NOT make Alpha for me (these may be the end results). To me, it’s about being on top, about priority, and in return, catching all the flak. I tend to think of “Eat first, mate first, decide when to go and when to stay.” An Alpha’s life is filled with struggle, if not outright fights. They’re under constant pressure to demonstrate their superiority because there’s always someone below them to knock them off their perch.

    Betas – These aren’t “the competent nice guys” in my mind. These are the strong ones that didn’t win. If the Alpha dies, if the alpha makes too many mistakes, if the alpha is constantly hurt and recuperating, these are the ones that make a move to take over–sometimes after a vicious fight among themselves.

    Gamma – I’ve always written off as someone who is a “member of the pack.” You hunt, you eat, you do your share. You respect the order because it’s all around you.

    Omegas – This is the poor one at the bottom. When things go wrong, the Alpha usually blames the Omega, and everyone follows suit. Oh, and the Omega lacks the agency (or the capital) to change that. In terms of chickens, everyone pecks this one, and the omega gets to peck no one.

  10. library addict
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 09:32:59

    I’ve always defined an alpha male as the individual in the community whom the others follow and defer to. Someone with natural leadership abilities who has confidence and charisma.

    Arrogant Alpha Heroes are simply a sub-group within Alphas. Some AAH are simply jerks, but some are lovable jerks. The point being not all alphas ARE jerks. They can be kind and caring, quiet and patient, and show a whole range of emotions and behavior. I don’t know how arrogant, controlling, etc came to be synonymous with alpha within the romance community.

    Betas are more go with the flow. Not wimps, but not guys who always stand out in the crowd. “Nerd” heroes sometimes fit this description.

    I don’t usually define heroes as Omega.

  11. marjorie
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 09:37:40

    I too need a definition here. I still haven’t read all that many romance novels. I’m pretty clear on what an alpha male is (from, you know, LIVING ON THIS PLANET), but what’s the distinction between beta and gamma?

  12. DB Cooper
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 09:49:54

    @library addict:

    Thanks. I can definitely see what you mean by that.

    Also, LOL, yes, I don’t typically define heroes or heroines as omega. I think I just kept going on with my hierarchy classifications rather than hero classifications.

    Not that they haven’t featured as central protagonists in other genres (?), but I think for the most part in the romance world, omegas need to climb out of their pit and improve their station in order for them to be compelling/satisfying leads.

  13. Darlynne
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 10:40:00

    Humiliation of any character is a brick wall for me, one I’m not interested in exploring and Ain’t She Sweet was a horribly perfect example of that. I didn’t get the same sense from Natural Born Charmer, however, and it remains the only SEP I thoroughly enjoyed; maybe I need to look at it anew.

    I’ve stayed away from Motorcycle Man for that and a number of reasons, but you’ve almost convinced me to give it a try. @Emma’s observations as well concerning how and what we argue about are nudging me in that direction. Thanks for another thought-provoking discussion.

  14. Mary Beth
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 10:52:38

    First, this was an interesting essay. I do love Ruthie Knox’s writing and I agree with Jill Sorenson that Juliet stayed in Potter Falls because she loved the town and the people. She did not feel like ‘a lady in waiting’ to me! On the other hand, after reading two Kristen Ashley books, I simply had to give up. She understands story telling, however I find her writing style difficult to read.

    Finally, I do think that the Balogh title you are referring to is The Secret Pearl and not A Precious Jewel. They were both great reads for me, but I am a true Balogh fan!

  15. Willaful
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 10:56:07

    @Ana: Ana, you might try All Summer Long, which was a real standout in that otherwise pretty meh series. The heroine is far less conventional than usual and her relationship with her mother is important to the story.

    I so love Archimedes and Lady Corsair! Gorgeous use of power balance. Anna Cowan’s Untamed has a great one too.

  16. Janet
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:04:12

    @Mary Beth: Finally, I do think that the Balogh title you are referring to is The Secret Pearl and not A Precious Jewel. They were both great reads for me, but I am a true Balogh fan!

    Yes, thank you! I always, always, always, mix those two up, even though I love one and hate the other.

  17. Janet
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:13:18

    @Jill Sorenson: Also, I was hoping your article would define Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

    I intentionally avoided defining the terms, because part of what I’m trying to get at is that they are so diversely defined by people that I was afraid the discussion would narrow to a debate of the terms themselves. I was hoping instead to focus on specific characteristics of different hero types.

    I did almost post the link to this video that explains why the terms alpha and beta don’t really apply to wolf behavior, though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNtFgdwTsbU

  18. Isobel Carr
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:15:42

    @DB Cooper: Deb Stover invented the Gamma hero moniker, and she defines it as “One who doesn’t fit the image of the macho Alpha male, or the easygoing Beta either. He’s a combination–a mutation?–of both types of man, and makes a hero to die for … Tom Selleck, who comes across as almost Beta at times, though still has enough Alpha to make him appeal to readers who prefer a tougher hero. Also Harrison Ford would fall into this description. He’s definitely Gamma material in Star Wars!”

    Betta is generally used to cover “nice guy” heroes (best friend, boy next door, etc.). Not in the classic Greek or Huxley way of Alpha, Beta, Gamma as a descending scale of power or worth.

  19. marjorie
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:18:30

    Thanks, Isobel — exactly the info I was hoping for. (I could not FATHOM what gamma might mean! More passive than beta? Uh, THAT sounds appealing…)

  20. Isobel Carr
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:29:35

    @marjorie: The philosophy major in me likes to get the semantics out of the way so actual discussion can take place.

  21. Ana
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:40:40

    @Willaful:

    I loved Untamed! I was lucky enough to read an advance reader copy through NetGalley. I thought the power dynamics in that book were fascinating, because of Cowan explicit subversion of traditional gender roles.

    In lots of Historicals, the Rake character is a social and sexual threatening to the heroine, endangering their virtue and social standing and that is often then bound up with also being physically stronger, handsome and powerful. I loved that in Untamed, Darlington is huge threat to Kat, without being physically stronger.

    Darlington is Duke, and socially, politically and financially incredibly powerful in comparison to Kat, but she is both physically and emotionally stronger than he is and ends up wielding the power in their relationship because of his emotional vulnerability.

    I will consider looking at All Summer Long once I burn through KA’s Rock Chick series, I am enjoying the zany humor in those. But what I really need is for Julie James and Shannon Stacey to write faster!

  22. marjorie
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:44:59

    @Isobel — I was a folklore & mythology major. I understand the sentiment. :)

  23. leslie
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 11:53:56

    @Janet: It’s been awhile, but I don’t recall any “intense humiliation” in Natural Born Charmer.

  24. Janine
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 12:01:08

    I don’t know which I prefer between Knox’s Room at the Inn and Ashley’s Motorcycle Man, neither of which really worked for me. I think my biggest problem with Room at the Inn was the disconnect between what we were told about Julie (that she stayed because she wanted to) and what we were shown (actions that contradicted that, and which for me, boiled down to that scene of Disney’s Snow White singing “Someday my Prince will come.”)

    I fall in on the Julie waited for Carson side, even though I’m not sure that’s what the author intended. The portrayal of Julie (rather like that of Adam from The Secret Pearl!) was muddled.

    Carson struck me as a jerk as well — I wished his reasons for staying away had been revealed much sooner. To CD’s point above I would say that partly because of the disconnect in Julie’s portrayal, it was impossible for me to believe that Carson didn’t know that Julie was in love with him. He used her and strung her along, I agree, and even if underneath it all he loved her, it was a selfish love because he didn’t put her first.

    OTOH, I adore Knox’s writing, which, geared toward telling and specific details, brings her characters and their world to life so well in each of her books. The scenes of Carson stripping the ceiling of Julie’s inn have stayed with me visually, in a way that no scene from Motorcycle Man does.

    I do agree that the balance of power was better in Motorcycle Man, but I put that down to Tyra standing up for herself better than Julie did, even moreso than to Tack. Tack annoyed me too much for me to give him a lot of credit.

    I get micromanaged enough in my own life that I don’t really want to read about it in the pages of a book. I understand that power negotiations are necessary in any relationship and I enjoy them a great deal when they feel relevant. But having to fight Tack about whether she wants to eat pizza or wants to watch a movie just then feels like something Tyra shouldn’t have to do.

    To me it doesn’t matter that much that Tyra enjoyed the pizza or that it was her favorite movie. I’m not in the mood for my favorite movie at any given time so it still felt presumptuous on Tack’s part to try to boss Tyra into it. And while I didn’t feel that Tyra was forced into it, exactly (much of the time I was reading I felt she did exactly what she wanted to do), I do feel that fighting that much is exhausting. I prefer characters who choose their battles to those who bicker incessantly over minor things.

    Perhaps if I’d been clear on the danger the motorcycle club was in from earlier on, I would have had more patience for Tack. But the whole “You’re on my territory, you play by the rules” schtick really annoyed me. One person shouldn’t have to conform more than the other. Tyra hadn’t agreed to join the club, she only took a position working there.

    Whereas I love Knox’s writing, I like Ashley’s more mildly. I read the self-pubbed version of MM. My issue with her writing was not the run on sentences (those I actually found refreshingly different) but rather, two related problems: that it took Tyra a long time to get to the point and that the book felt long. I read roughy 300 pages, which is longer than some books, and yet I wasn’t even halfway through MM when I quit. I’m used a faster pace, for good or ill.

    This has nothing to do with the power balance in the relationship, but I think the appeal of an author’s writing or the lack of it can go a long way toward helping me tolerate things I might find intolerable in another book. The same is true of pacing.

    I wonder if these things are in the mix for other readers as well — I wouldn’t be surprised if they were, for some at least.

  25. Lorenda Christensen
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 12:05:28

    Someone earlier mentioned the Psy/Changeling series. I’ll be the first to admit I love those books, but I remember the Faith/Vaughn book bothered me. Vaughn’s casual disregard of Faith’s frequent requests not to touch her really irked me.

    The whole attitude of “oh, honey, trust me I know what you need” coming from Vaughn crossed a line somewhere for me. I don’t mind general alpha behavior (for the most part it makes an enjoyable read), but something about crossing the physical line was too much.

  26. Jen
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 13:33:46

    Interesting that you make the point about humiliation and inappropriately public groveling in Room at the Inn, because I just read Knox’s About Last Night and had the same reaction. I was pretty into it until the humiliation started, and then the story just lost it’s steam for me. (And actually, there was some of that in Knox’s Along Came Trouble too.)

  27. Tessa Dare
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 14:14:25

    I think most great romance heroes are strong leaders. It’s just a style difference. To me, an alpha is a hero who calls the shots by virtue of his standing or rank. People have to obey him. A beta hero is a persuader. He leads by convincing people they want the same things he does. Both types can be insufferable or sexy as hell, depending. And both have the potential for power imbalance.

    “Gamma” makes me think radioactive mutant gamma rays! I like to call the mashup hero a “torbelpha” – hard alpha shell, gooey beta center, dark torture ripple. That’s my favorite kind of hero.

  28. Miss Bates
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 15:26:52

    Hmmm, fascinating discussion and convincing article, as always. Many thanks to RobinReader for launching the debate. I’m going to go out on a limb here, I think … one that’ll have me dangling over a precipice very likely. I may be digressing from the discussion at hand, but here it goes.

    The romance novel, by definition, posits, maintains, and/or ultimately ensures the triumph of the domestic sphere (never alpha territory; hence, the discomfort with the mild-mannered hero of “Room At the Inn”), a sphere that may be traditionally represented by the heroine, or female character(s), but not necessarily. In the wonderful permutations that romance has undergone in the past 200 years+ since Austen, that domestic sphere has an advocate in every romantic narrative and that advocate need not be the heroine; the hero might advocate for a household based on love, friendship, family, etc. and it’s the heroine who needs to be convinced that she wants to be a part of this. “Alphas” may be brought to heel, yes, but so might a commitment-phobe heroine, or one skittish about deviating from a life-plan, career, etc.

    I draw the line in the sand between romance as a genre where hero and/or heroine are domesticated (in the best sense of the word, a household of give and take and sacrifice for the other) and, for example, erotica where relationships are not based on the eventual, possible, or actual creation of a new household. (This might be argued for women’s fiction, or chicklit, genres as well.) So, a novel like Cara McKenna’s AFTER HOURS may have the “trappings” of erotica, explicit love scenes, an alpha hero who appears “controlling,” etc., but ultimately, ye shall know them by their “ends.” AFTER HOURS “ends” on that very note of the possible establishment of a mutual household and its advocate, in this case, is most definitely not the heroine. In a romance, the role that the hero and heroine exhibit initially, alpha, or beta, kickass, or wilting flower doesn’t matter as much as whether they “buy into” the domestic sphere, or household by its conclusion.

  29. Virginia Kantra
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 16:22:49

    This caught my eye because I did a recent guest blog on heroes that concluded, “Maybe the most seductive quality of a romance hero is his ability to see the heroine’s true self, both her best self and all her weaknesses, and to commit passionately to her. The vision of the beloved through the eyes of the lover – this is at romance’s heart.” Which reframes the question. Not, What kind of man is he? but, Who is she/who can she become if she is with him? Will he challenge and support her to become her best self? If I believe that, I can accept almost anything else.
    Jack Travis is totally swoon-worthy because he “gets” Ella. Whatever letter of the alphabet you apply, what ultimately makes the best lovers, the best heroes, is their ability to understand, accept, and support the heroine. And that’s true in fiction and in real life.

  30. cleo
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 16:25:33

    This is really interesting. One of my lines is when the hero treats the heroine like she’s a possession not a person. I think that plays into my dislike of a constant “oh honey I know what’s best for you” attitude. Because it feels like the hero doesn’t see her as a real person, with her own agency.

    Another, related line is possessive jealousy. In Julie James’ first DA/FBI book the h/h are evenly matched in terms of personal and professional power. But the hero is way too jealous for me. In the most recent book, he was threatening her coworkers not to bump into her while she’s pregnant. It’s played for laughs but it takes me out of the story because I start thinking about how that kind of jealousy is a red flag for pontential abuse.

  31. Madeleine
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 16:30:17

    I’m a big fan of the alpha, it’s just the model of hero that works best for me and yes, Tack is a particular favourite.

    Something that just struck me is that for me Kristen Ashley is the new Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I was always a huge SEP fan but KA manages to emulate the crackalicious alpha males but actually have empowered heroines with back bones, interesting and equal friendships and not just secondary romances, just all together better written, better realised books.

    For me, fangirl though I may be, KA is one of the best things to happen to the genre in years. I was suffering from ennui of Eloisa, SEP , Kleypas can’t write fast enough and Julia Quinn is just plain bad these days and there suddenly is this brash, self published author with an enormous backlist and books that are thoroughly original and very special. Love her.

  32. Jody W.
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 16:45:28

    @Jill Sorenson: Yeah, that was a lot of wicked grinning. I am intolerant of certain style and grammatical foibles. I do realize that’s my personal preference, though, due to the “extreme” popularity of that author!

    As for controlling heroes, not a huge fan. By controlling, I mean the hero decides for himself how he wants things to be and then forces it on the heroine, whether through manipulation or more overt action. Hero “knows best”. Anytime hero “knows best” and the heroine is portrayed as less intelligent, wise or insightful, stamping her little foot and having some temper before giving in, it’s not my favorite. So often the hero doesn’t bother to explain why he knows best, he just treats her like she’s the child and the answer is “because I said so”….a phrase I wore the HELL out on the 14 hour car trips I took with my kids last week, hehehe. Then again, if he does logically explain why she can’t run about to find the killer without backup and she does it anyway (without a believable reason to think she doesn’t need backup), then the heroine’s “independence” is as annoying as when a hero treats the heroine like a child.

  33. Robin/Janet
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 17:13:25

    @Darlynne and @leslie: For me it started when he picked her up in the beaver costume. He refuses to help her in the car because it’s more fun to watch her struggle. That whole scene is told from Dean’s POV and it’s all at Blue’s expense. He wants to keep her broke and then manipulates her into staying in his room with him and plays that whole little power game with her over her sketches and his body.

    Throughout the book he wants her to be at his mercy and dependent on his support, and their first sexual encounter in the gypsy wagon was very much about him taking control and literally wanting to physically dominate her. He likes making her uncomfortable, and he seems most comfortable when she’s feeling awkward, off balance, and at his mercy.

    I think Phillips tries to balance it out with Blue’s smart mouth (there’s even a point early on when Dean realizes he’s being kind of a “bully” but he doesn’t feel bad because she’s so sarcastic), but to me her sarcasm is always defensive. She’s been victimized over and over by her own mother, treated like crap by her ex boyfriend, and then Dean comes along and keeps turning the screws.

    In fact, now that I think about it, another big difference between Tyra, in Ashley’s book, and a heroine like Blue, is that Tyra is a kick-ass woman on her own. She’s strong, stable, and not crippled by insecurities. When a hero is pushy with a heroine like that, it doesn’t necessarily bother me, because I know she doesn’t really feel that she HAS to do anything. But the way SEP’s heroines are often in a position of dependence on the hero in some way, that makes the power plays of the hero seem much more manipulative and icky to me.

    I think, though, that SEP is such a great craftsperson and the banter between her protags is often so witty, her books are extremely readable. Sometimes I don’t realize how frustrated I am by what goes on until after I’ve read one of her books all the way through.And in some cases, I still *enjoy* the book, even though I find parts of it uncomfortable.

  34. Kelly
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 17:22:32

    I try to avoid these hero type generalizations (mostly because the term Alpha Male just makes me think of Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and not in a good way) and approach characters and stories on an individual basis. That said, I do go a bit gaga for the hybrid sort that @Tessa Dare mentioned.

    I agree that humiliation, abuse, and unmitigated douchebaggery on the part of either main character tends to kill my enjoyment of a story, but my “uggg” response can be tempered by the attitudes and wishes of the other (the humiliated or abused) character. For instance, in Room at the Inn, while Carson’s my least favorite of Knox’s heroes, his douchebaggery didn’t completely kill it for me because (1) he recognized it on his own, grovelled almost appropriately, etc., (2) Julie wasn’t without other options, and (3) I have a pie-in-the-sky fantasy that he never takes her for granted ever again.

    Honestly, the main thing that impacts my ability to enjoy (or to hate) a story is the heroine’s response to the hero’s behavior. If the hero is taking his knuckle-dragging, Neanderthal self all seriously and the heroine goes along with it as par for the course, it’ll probably bug the bejeezus out of me. But if the heroine gives him the side-eye and pushes back, demanding better treatment, etc, then I’ll probably love the book (or at least that part of it). In a sense, I expect my romances to mirror healthy relationships: folk aren’t always going to be perfect — sometimes they’ll be downright awful — but a good relationship includes the room to talk about problems, address expectations, and challenge each person to be a better version of him or herself. That’s what I want in a romance, and sometimes I get it.

  35. Shelley
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 17:23:44

    @leslie:

    “@Janet: It’s been awhile, but I don’t recall any “intense humiliation” in Natural Born Charmer.”

    I think maybe it is according to perspective. I’m kind of a sucker for the down on her luck heroine though I do not want to see major humiliation myself. Most definitely many of SEP’s heroines commonly aren’t able to have their HEAs until they go through some major “downs” in their lives and eventually realize their full potential. In “Kiss an Angel” (my all time fave SEP) Daisy, was a party girl and though she didn’t necessarily hurt anyone, was basically wandering through life with no direction. She was definitely pushed around, first by her father then by the circus folks and even her MoC hubby for a while but she persevered and did eventually triumph as a strong, capable woman though some of it was definitely hard to read and I had to suspend some major disbelief a time or two. Same for Meg in “Call Me Irresistible”. There definitely was some majorly misdirected hate dumped on her by the townsfolk after she was accused of breaking up the wedding of the town’s most favored son and the former president’s daughter, Lucy. Just let me take a moment here to express how totally weirded out I was by the town’s slavish adoration heaped upon Ted, which I thought, was waaaay creepy. Meg did eventually get herself together and had her HEA. I did think the hate was OTT but maybe needed to highlight the abnormal attachment the citizens had to Ted who, disappointingly (or ironically?) did not quite live up to my expectations for some reason.

    @Kati:

    “Oh I love me an alpha male. So much so that beta and gamma heroes almost never do it for me. Which is probably why I enjoy Kristen Ashley books so much. Like you, the Caregiving Alpha is my all time favorite.”

    I love these types of alphas also but I also like betas because they don’t have to take on the entire weight of the world but can still definitely handle everything to my (and the heroine’s, hopefully) satisfaction.

    My favorite alpha right now is Curran in the Kate Daniels books by Ilona Andrews. Great caretaker in every way!

  36. Robin/Janet
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 17:41:23

    @Janine: I get micromanaged enough in my own life that I don’t really want to read about it in the pages of a book. I understand that power negotiations are necessary in any relationship and I enjoy them a great deal when they feel relevant. But having to fight Tack about whether she wants to eat pizza or wants to watch a movie just then feels like something Tyra shouldn’t have to do.

    I think for me, the fact that I would HATE this kind of relationship in RL is what makes it so fun to read about. That and the fact that Tyra is totally game for it. She tells Tack continuously that he “brings color into her world,” and her own independence in life means that she doesn’t have to do all that back and forth with Tack. But she really does enjoy it. I happen to know women like that, so it’s something I intellectually understand, even if it’s not my ideal relationship paradigm.

    If Tyra were insecure about herself, if she didn’t have her own resources and a strong sense of independence and a healthy relationship with her family and her friends, I’d be less confident in the autonomy of her choice to stay with Tack. But she’s so together as a person, that I never feel like she’s being forced or coerced into being with him. In fact, one of my favorite things about the way he responds to her is that he appreciates her complexity. He tells her often that he loves discovering new levels to her and “getting to the heart of her,” as he puts it. The trade-off is that those deeper levels of intimacy are often arrived at through their back and forth shuffle.

    I do, though, think that the timeline of their relationship gets a bit rushed by Tack (ironic given the length of the book), because Tack’s own relationship history is such that he has, in the past, lost a woman (to a friend) he though could make him happy. He doesn’t want to let that happen with Tyra, so I think he kind of crowds her in the beginning. Still, when he shows up for pizza, she has such a great time that she kind of gets irritated that Tack doesn’t pursue her for a few days after that. Unbeknownst to her, he’s letting her take the lead at that point, and when she doesn’t act, he eventually confronts her about it. So not all of it is about power; some of it is about the different expectations women and men may have and different communication styles. Someone called this a “battle of the sexes” book, and I think that’s a great description. But that dynamic is certainly not appealing to every reader (nor is every example of it).

    Perhaps if I’d been clear on the danger the motorcycle club was in from earlier on, I would have had more patience for Tack. But the whole “You’re on my territory, you play by the rules” schtick really annoyed me. One person shouldn’t have to conform more than the other. Tyra hadn’t agreed to join the club, she only took a position working there.

    I think the reader gets tested just like Tyra, and if the book isn’t working for the reader, the payoff later isn’t going to be worth it. For those readers who are willing to take that jump (like Tyra), the payoff is hopefully worth it (although there is no guarantee — many readers may have made it all the way through and still not liked how things were explained/resolved). I actually think this is a provocative narrative strategy, and it kept me hooked into the text and satisfied at the end, so for me it really worked.

    In regard to Tyra’s position in the club, she decided when she slept with Tack that he was The One. So it’s never as easy as her just taking a job, and Tack knows that, too. In fact, he pushes her initially because he wants her out of that job so he can continue to sleep with her, and it’s only when she digs in her heels and pushes back that he really gets hooked into her in a deep way. And at that point, she will have to come into the club to be part of Tack’s life, which complicates and intensifies things quickly.

  37. Lynn S.
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 18:04:28

    I agree with Tessa Dare that a man-candy amalgam makes for the best of heroes. Hewing too close to archetypes makes for caricature instead of personality.

    Ruthie Knox is incredibly strong in the novella format and I enjoyed Room at the Inn even though Carson was a Class A dinkus. The biggest hitch for me was when she felt the need to explain Carson, as he was such a refreshingly inelegant piece of man candy to that point. Sometimes people are just the way they are and wanderlust doesn’t need to be considered a defect or emotional scar to be healed. I feel his character would have been better served if the simple fact of sticking around long enough made the roots reach up and grab him, which is what really happened. You’d think he would have been smart enough to know he was toast the second he started stripping those tiles and well-done toast when he went all alpha over the potholder incident; but then again he was a dinkus.

    I’m currently reading Meredith Duran and love how, so far, her heroines are the heroes of their stories. I’m in the middle of Written on Your Skin and Mina Masters is certainly living up to her surname.

  38. Shelley
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 18:16:49

    @Madeleine:

    “Something that just struck me is that for me Kristen Ashley is the new Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I was always a huge SEP fan but KA manages to emulate the crackalicious alpha males but actually have empowered heroines with back bones, interesting and equal friendships and not just secondary romances, just all together better written, better realised books.”

    Uh, what? Sorry, but SEP and KA are not even in the same hemisphere. I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed a couple of KA’s books on occasion but to compare to SEP? KA’s writing style was semi-refreshing to a point and for a short while, but my brain just starts to hurt after a few chapters of reading ad nauseum, the clothing, hair, accessory, make-up, food, and vehicle descriptions. I lose interest way before the halfway point for the most part.

    Also, I’ve honestly not found that many of her heroine’s to have much of a backbone at all, most especially her Rock Chicks (with maybe an exception to the first one whose name I don’t remember). I actually started off really liking Law Man cuz I’m a sucker for a cop hero and I genuinely liked Mitch, who was definitely a caretaker alpha but if Mara “whispered” her dialogue one more freakin’ time, I was going to shoot myself.

    “Oh,” I whispered then went on stupidly, “I should probably have done that before
    I left for work this morning.”

    “Right,” I whispered, “of course.”

    “Okay,” I whispered.

    “I’m with you,” I whispered.

    “I’ll just go,” I whispered and turned to leave.

    “Right,” I whispered then tried and failed to rally. “Okay then, um…”

    “Some other time,” I whispered, whirled, turned my doorknob and flew into my
    house, slamming my door.

    “Sorry,” I whispered.

    I took in a breath, put minor pressure on my hands at his chest and whispered
    carefully, “Mitch, I really need to get to the kids.”

    “You’re just being nice,” I whispered.

    “Yes,” I whispered.

    And this was only in the first 4 chapters. Maybe that seems like a strong reaction to some but it was irritating to no end especially seeing as she was already an empowered woman who took care of herself and had even taken on the raising of her loser cousin’s kids. She should have been kicking ass. She was also really good at her job but refused to give herself any credit for it. Instead, she incessantly went on and on and on inside her head about how she wasn’t good enough for Mitch (she rated only a 1-3 on her hotness scale at any given time), she wasn’t in his league, he was too good looking and too well-dressed to notice her, his apartment was too nice, blah, blah, blah.

    I was a woman who had lived alone her entire adult life. I’d once had a long-term
    relationship with a Five Point Five that got nowhere near living together. This was
    because I was a Two Point Five, he was a Five Point Five and he wanted a Nine Point
    Five. Therefore, we were both destined for a broken heart. He gave me mine. He
    later found a Six Point Five that wanted a Nine Point Five. She got herself a breast
    enhancement and nose job which made her a firm Seven (if you didn’t count the fact
    that she thought she was a Ten point Five and acted like it which really knocked her
    down to a Six) who broke his heart.

    God! I was a dork! Why was I such a dork? Being a dork knocked me down to a
    One Point Five.

    I looked around his body and saw a stunning Nine Point Seven Five standing in his doorway, arms crossed on her chest,
    face pissy.

    I’ve got MM but haven’t read yet and don’t know if I will. I have read enough to know Tyra is not a whisperer so that may sell it for me. I am totally hating the MC trend in romance because I have a hard time reconciling that lifestyle with romance in any way.

  39. Lia
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 18:41:39

    @Jody W.:

    RE: “‘Hero “knows best’. Anytime hero ‘knows best’ and the heroine is portrayed as less intelligent, wise or insightful, stamping her little foot and having some temper before giving in, it’s not my favorite.”

    Can Jody be my new BFF? :)

    This. Exactly this. When the hero treats the heroine as though she is a child that needs controlling, this just pushes all of my buttons. All at the same time. I go into a book assuming (sometimes wrongly) that the heroine is an adult woman who won’t do something stupid to totally bungle up her life. As I’ve mentioned in previous comments, I don’t think that a male character who tells the heroine, “It’s my way or the high way” is a true Alpha male. This behavior reeks of major insecurity (and laughable braggadocio) and makes me think of the bratty neighborhood bully who just had to have it his way or else.*

    The only romance novel I can think of where I enjoyed the “controlling” hero was — and I’m taking you way, way back, kiddos! — Jilly Cooper’s “Octavia.” Cooper sets the scene by introducing a snooty, fashion model-esque, highly unsympathetic heroine who initially comes off as completely lacking character. Seriously, there were times when I wanted to pitch Octavia off the boat for being such a high-maintenace, conniving b*tch, and if Cooper weren’t such an entertaining writer, she couldn’t have pulled it off. The Alpha hero, Gareth — I had such a crush on this character, BTW — takes Octavia down several pegs (in fact, he ends up changing her entire way of life), but his purpose is to draw out her inner character and essentially make her a better person. The Octavia that emerges toward the end of the book is far more sympathetic, and you do want her to get Gareth in the end.

    *The neighborhood bully intentionally drank a sulfurous concoction from my chemistry set to display his bad-assness and had to go to the emergency room to have his stomach pumped. It was epic.

  40. CD
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 19:07:24

    @Janine:

    “To CD’s point above I would say that partly because of the disconnect in Julie’s portrayal, it was impossible for me to believe that Carson didn’t know that Julie was in love with him. He used her and strung her along, I agree, and even if underneath it all he loved her, it was a selfish love because he didn’t put her first.”

    If he did know and did not make an effort to discuss this with the heroine, then he sounds like a wanker to be honest. My job used to involve a huge amount of travel, and I have consequently had “let’s hook up when I’m/you’re in town” type relationships. The main rule is to make sure that everyone’s on the same page and that you break things off if you or the other person is likely to get hurt. However, to me it’s more the heroine’s fault for staying in that situation for over a decade (?) – I mean, how far do you expect people to take responsibility for your own feelings? So yes, the guy was inconsiderate and selfish and probably needed to express some sort of remorse over that in order to have a shot at something more meaningful. However, I wouldn’t have thought that that behaviour would require more grovelling than Tack’s clear sexual harassment…

    “I get micromanaged enough in my own life that I don’t really want to read about it in the pages of a book. I understand that power negotiations are necessary in any relationship and I enjoy them a great deal when they feel relevant. But having to fight Tack about whether she wants to eat pizza or wants to watch a movie just then feels like something Tyra shouldn’t have to do.”

    Maybe your own personal experience is the crux of it. I’ve dealt with my fair share of “alpha”-type personalities at work – people completely convinced that they are right and their way is the only way, and usually for the best of reasons. However, it’s bloody exhausting to negotiate. I really don’t want to have to read about that in my down time and in relation to personal relationships. Particularly not when the power play is about whether or not to order pizza…

    @Robin/Janet:

    “I think the reader gets tested just like Tyra, and if the book isn’t working for the reader, the payoff later isn’t going to be worth it.”

    That’s really interesting. From the sounds of things, after I stopped reading, the relationship between the two becomes less him ignoring all boundaries and becomes a bit more balanced. Still, I do get a bit iffy about heroes who know the heroine better than she knows herself, so maybe it’s just as well I failed the test!

    @Lynn S.:

    “Sometimes people are just the way they are and wanderlust doesn’t need to be considered a defect or emotional scar to be healed.”

    Ouch!!! Is that how Carson’s travelling portrayed? I was just about to order the book as this discussion has really peaked my curiosity. But if his wanderlust is seen as something “to be cured”, then I think I’ll pass.

    @Miss Bates:

    “The romance novel, by definition, posits, maintains, and/or ultimately ensures the triumph of the domestic sphere”

    That’s definitely an interesting perspective. What exactly do you mean by “the domestic sphere” though? Canham’s THE IRON ROSE has the hero and heroine sail off into the sunset on a pirate ship (she’s the captain) so not exactly the traditional domestic set up. However, it is domestic in the sense that they commit to each other and intend to grow old together.

  41. Willaful
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 19:52:44

    @Kelly: “he term Alpha Male just makes me think of Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and not in a good way.” Is there a good way to be reminded of him? ;-)

  42. Janet W
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 20:23:46

    Just read and very much enjoyed the new Anne Calhoun–which ended w/another couple sailing into their future, with the hero signing up for first mate duties. Who says an HEA needs to embody domestic bliss. Maybe, or maybe not. Room at the Inn didn’t work for me, I really found the heroine’s actions over a decade very odd indeed. As for the public proclamation of devotion, I *mostly* can’t bear that. Why? It hurls me back to Working Girl where a devastatingly gorgeous but rotter Alec Baldwin publicly asks Melanie Griffith to marry him. She won’t give him the answer he wants and when he peevishly asks why, she says, “If you want a different answer, ask a different girl.”

  43. Kaetrin
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 21:04:42

    @Emma: Yes, this, exactly.

  44. Lia
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 21:07:27

    @Janet W:

    I’m on board with a nontraditional HEA. I just want the bliss — let’s skip that “domestic” part. My Best Half and I are (gasp!) childless by choice, and I often surmise that what I’m looking for in a romance is a fictional reduplication of our relationship dynamic, which is disgustingly egalitarian.

    (I actually quite liked Melanie Griffith’s comeback in that scene.)

  45. Fiona McGier
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 22:45:30

    You asked where is the line the hero can’t cross for me? Any abuse of the heroine and I stop reading. Yes, I’ve been told that some crave domination, so BDSM should be read as such: 2 people discovering that they have the perfect cravings to fit together. But I never liked it when my Dad spanked me, and no man since him has ever tried. I don’t even want my hair pulled, though I don’t mind a little bondage…So for me, abuse, either physical or mental or emotional, ruins any hero for me. All the power is in his hands.

    To that end, I detest virginal heroines, since by definition, since she has no idea what sex is like and no way to know what her own preferences are, he could be the crappiest lover that ever lived, but she’d be apt to agree with him that he’s wonderful. To me any man that seeks a virgin or a much younger woman hasn’t been able to please the women equal to him, so he seeks to have the balance of power securely in his corner. That whole imbalance turns me off.

    And thank you for pointing out what I thought was obvious about the Susan E. Phillips books, and why I stopped reading after 3 of them…the heroine always has to be taught to heel. The first time I saw that in fiction was when I was just a kid and watched as John Wayne beat up Maureen O’Hara through the whole town at the end of McClintock. My parents thought it was amusing…as does my husband. I was appalled that he hit her and it was seen as “cute”. I’d have cut his hands off. Bitch or no bitch, no adult woman or man “deserves” to be hit.

  46. Janine
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 23:03:25

    @Shelley: Tyra does do her share of whispering, actually.

  47. Robin/Janet
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 23:15:14

    @CD: I don’t think it’s a test everyone should want to pass, lol.

    I never thought the relationship was unbalanced; I just thought Tack came off as a jerk at first. Tyra was really the star of the book for me — I just loved her and I loved how strong and together she was. Also, Tack appears in one of Ashley’s earlier books, Mystery Man, and in that book he gives refuge to Gwen (before she goes back to Hawk). In that book, he comes off as a caring, respectful, nurturing guy, so maybe reading that helps with Tack in the early part of Motorcycle Man? I don’t know. All I know is that I found their relationship fascinating, even though the MC is very much a fantasy world (I think Elyssa Patrick’s analogy to PNR is really apt).

    @Lia: The Alpha hero, Gareth — I had such a crush on this character, BTW — takes Octavia down several pegs (in fact, he ends up changing her entire way of life), but his purpose is to draw out her inner character and essentially make her a better person. The Octavia that emerges toward the end of the book is far more sympathetic, and you do want her to get Gareth in the end.

    I haven’t read this book, so I don’t know how it would read to me, but I am very, very wary of these kinds of scenarios, especially if the book tries to put the reader in collusion with any agenda to take the heroine “down several pegs.” There can be a kind of misogyny in that agenda that can really trouble me, depending on how it’s handled by the author.

    One of my favorite contemporary authors is Molly O’Keefe, and one of the reasons is that she tends to write really difficult, sometimes downright unlikeable heroines. But IMO she always creates a rich backstory for them, such that you understand how they are where they are, and at least for me, it creates a lot of sympathy for them, and instead of wanting to see them suffer more, I root for them pretty much from the beginning. I read one review of her latest book that basically blamed the heroine for the hero’s ahole actions toward her, and it really irked the hell out of me. Why can we find a million reasons to excuse ahole hero behavior, but the heroine has to walk such a narrow line of likeability?

    @Lynn S.: I want so much to like Knox’s books more than I do. She’s such a strong writer and obviously smart, but I’ve had issues with the ones I’ve read. Some of it is that they feel studied to me, although I’m not sure if I’m explaining that right.

    Ashley’s skill as a writer is so much less developed, but it’s like she’s fearless — she just goes balls to the wall with her books, in so many different directions at once, and her storytelling voice can be really interesting and compelling, even when I don’t love the book itself. If only that kind of unrestrained, exuberant magic (and without the slut shaming and persistent ex-wife from hell type) could be relayed by a writing master, there would be soooooooooo many happy readers (including me!).

    Oh, and I totally agree about Meredith Duran. Also Meljean Brook, who @Ana mentioned. Two authors who definitely deserve a wider readership.

    @Darlynne: I’ve been pondering the question of whether to encourage you to go back to MM or not. Have you read her first fully Hachette-edited book, Own the Wind? It’s Tabby’s book (Tack’s daughter), and it’s much shorter and cleaner than her self-pubbed books. I also like At Peace, Sweet Dreams, and The Gamble, albeit for different reasons. Still, I think Motorcycle Man has my very favorite heroine, and I do tend to read for the heroine. The Gamble is all about the caretaker alpha, but what’s interesting there is that the heroine is wealthier than the hero (who was himself a widower before he was 30, and his marriage was a happy one). Also, her brother committed suicide (PTSD after fighting in Afghanistan), and there’s another suicide plotline in the book that I think is handled really well. Also, one of the secondary characters is in a wheelchair, and she HATES the way people treat her differently for it, which becomes another interesting secondary storyline. In At Peace, the hero is a commitment-phobe, and the heroine (a widow with two teenaged daughters) eventually gets fed up and actually undertakes a relationship with another guy. It even become sexual (!).

    @Shelley: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but the Rock Chick series is “inspired” by Stephanie Plum (there’s even one where the heroine refers to her “too haw,” which tipped me off, even before I had read Ashley’s blog post on it: http://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/1765492-family). To me they kind of read like Stephanie Plum fan fic, and are some of her weakest books, I think, especially as the series drags on.

  48. Kate
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 23:46:07

    (I love this series!) But, I really was surprised to see the crowd definition of “gamma male”. I’ve always thought of it as the lone wolf character– very strong in the way an Alpha might be but consciously choosing NOT to be a “leader of men”, too separate himself from society/his culture/his tribe. Clint Eastwood plays this type a lot, and actually I would think Han Solo’s character fits too– but not because of any latent beta or delta-ness (depending on if you go with Beta= all-but-alpha, or Beta=number 2 guy, always the wing man, Anthony Edwards/Goose in Top Gun AKA a Delta). I googled this again, thinking maybe I had forgotten story craft/critical theory /semiotics/whatever class it was after so many years, but this seems to be a pretty common construct/hierarchy. So many men, so many archetypes.

    But this also made me curious about some comments above– are there any romance novels with Omega heros? I can think of a few Beta or Beta/Delta heroes in Romance novels off the top of my head, but not an Omega hero. And/or a huge recommendation for a Romance novel with a Gamma (in my definition) hero? This seems like an archetype that’s used more in mystery than romance.

  49. Janine
    Jun 11, 2013 @ 23:49:15

    @Robin/Janet:

    I think for me, the fact that I would HATE this kind of relationship in RL is what makes it so fun to read about.

    I think I know what you mean because I have had books I’ve felt that way about. I can go for a lot of different types of heroes, including some who I would run away from in real life. The issue I have with Tack is not that I don’t personally want to be involved with someone like him, but rather, that I can’t imagine someone like him being good for anyone, even for someone as strong and independent as Tyra.

    When I was reading Motorcycle Man, I had to view the book as a comedy, because Tyra being so gaga for Tack when she could do so much better for herself was absurd. There was a lot of humor in her standing up to him, but I saw him as a cartoonish figure in which certain characteristics were so exaggerated that he was basically a caricature.

    I can’t really imagine anyone falling in love with a caricature — or maybe I could in a paranormal, but it’s harder in a book that’s set in my own world. I know you’ve said the MC is its own world, but I never accepted it as such, no matter how much Tack insisted it was so. So that was another way the book didn’t work for me.

    That and the fact that Tyra is totally game for it.

    I was never sure whether or not she enjoyed the bickering and his attempts to impose his “Tack knows best” vision of her life on her. I mean, it was clear she found him attractive, enjoyed him in bed, and felt more alive, but that doesn’t mean she enjoyed arguing for its own sake. I don’t recall that she said she did in the section I read, but maybe she did and I missed it.

    She tells Tack continuously that he “brings color into her world,” and her own independence in life means that she doesn’t have to do all that back and forth with Tack. But she really does enjoy it.

    You know, I don’t recall how long Tyra was single before she met Tack, but I put that down to her life having been a little empty before he showed up. Yes, she was successful in her own right, had loving friends and family members, etc., but some people are happier as part of a couple than not. I never felt she was lessened by her relationship with Tack, but I also didn’t feel he gave her something she couldn’t find with a hundred other guys.

    I felt she wanted sex, affection, kids, but I also felt that she was so much smarter and more together than Tack, that it seemed it must have been her earlier loneliness that made life seem so colorful with him in it.

    I happen to know women like that, so it’s something I intellectually understand, even if it’s not my ideal relationship paradigm.

    Women like what? Can you clarify? Are you saying women who who want more adventure, sex, romance, and kids? Or women who enjoy constant arguing to the point where they want to be told what to eat? I’ve met many women who fit the former description but none who fit the latter. And I think Tyra could have gotten the things in the first description from someone who actually deserved her.

    If Tyra were insecure about herself, if she didn’t have her own resources and a strong sense of independence and a healthy relationship with her family and her friends, I’d be less confident in the autonomy of her choice to stay with Tack. But she’s so together as a person, that I never feel like she’s being forced or coerced into being with him.

    I didn’t feel she was being coerced either. But I did feel she was settling, even if she didn’t know she was. I felt she had self confidence, independence, etc. but maybe not wide enough horizons to recognize that even though he fulfilled a lot of her needs, even more of them could be fulfilled by someone else, and without the constant fighting.

    If memory serves, in the section that I read, Tyra thought about leaving Tack and/or tried to quit her job more than once. She also did a lot of that whispering thing that Shelley mentioned, and every time she whispered, I felt that was intended to convey that she was scared or hurt. I’m not saying she wasn’t also fulfilled but Tack wasn’t such a prize that I was sure that she was making a good decision.

    In fact, one of my favorite things about the way he responds to her is that he appreciates her complexity. He tells her often that he loves discovering new levels to her and “getting to the heart of her,” as he puts it.

    A lot of that felt patronizing to me. You can’t get to the heart of someone by rushing them into a relationship and telling them how things are going to be. You get to the heart of someone by letting that person see your own vulnerabilities, by asking that person what s/he needs from you and making compromises to ensure those needs are met. Also by being there for them when they are having bad days as well as good ones. I saw Tyra doing more of that than Tack did.

    I do, though, think that the timeline of their relationship gets a bit rushed by Tack (ironic given the length of the book), because Tack’s own relationship history is such that he has, in the past, lost a woman (to a friend) he though could make him happy. He doesn’t want to let that happen with Tyra, so I think he kind of crowds her in the beginning.

    You can say that again. I felt the relationship was more than “a bit” rushed.

    Still, when he shows up for pizza, she has such a great time that she kind of gets irritated that Tack doesn’t pursue her for a few days after that. Unbeknownst to her, he’s letting her take the lead at that point, and when she doesn’t act, he eventually confronts her about it. So not all of it is about power; some of it is about the different expectations women and men may have and different communication styles.

    I read all that. Yeah, I agree there were communication issues, but, maybe because Tyra was a better communicator or maybe because were were situated only in her POV, it seemed to me that Tack’s communication skills weren’t up to par. He was often not very forthcoming about his reasons for insisting Tyra do this or that.

    His character also felt fake to me, and because he didn’t read like a real person (his speech patterns were a contributing factor here, and even his being called Tack) even when he was intended, I think, to be read as sincere, I read him as artificial on one level, and therefore, somewhat patronizing.

    He was always in this heightened, dramatic, but therefore artificial gear, and in the three hundred pages I read he never completely switched gears to realness. What I’m saying is that because I never completely bought the portrayal, I wasn’t ever fully sold on his feelings either.

    In regard to Tyra’s position in the club, she decided when she slept with Tack that he was The One. So it’s never as easy as her just taking a job, and Tack knows that, too. In fact, he pushes her initially because he wants her out of that job so he can continue to sleep with her, and it’s only when she digs in her heels and pushes back that he really gets hooked into her in a deep way. And at that point, she will have to come into the club to be part of Tack’s life, which complicates and intensifies things quickly.

    I read all that. But I disagree with this phrase : “And at that point, she will have to come into the club to be part of Tack’s life[…].” Why? Why does she have to? What if she doesn’t want to? Maybe he should leave the club and come into her world instead? Why is that not under consideration at least as much as her joining him in his world?

    This is one of the things that most irritated me about the book and about discussions of it. There is this presumption that Tyra should have to make this huge compromise of joining Tack’s world in order to date him, and very little consideration of anything like the reverse.

  50. MaryK
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 00:26:12

    @Robin/Janet: @Janine: Y’all’s point by point discussion here is fascinating and entertaining (in a good way!). I haven’t read MM so I have no interpretation of my own and seeing each of you interpret the same things in different ways is really interesting. It’s a good illustration of how what the reader brings to the story impacts/changes the story.

  51. Janine
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 00:27:42

    @CD: I thought Julie was as much to blame for that situation as Carson, but I don’t agree that it’s “it’s more the heroine’s fault for staying in that situation for over a decade” — I think it’s fifty-fifty. I think we can’t totally control who we fall in love with or why or how long those feelings last. We can control what we do about it but not how we feel. Julie’s feelings made it easy for Carson to tempt her into sleeping with him when he was in town.

    As for Carson’s wanderlust, I wouldn’t say it was portrayed as a defect but rather, it was revealed not to be wanderlust at all. It comes out toward the end of the novella that he was running away from something. I was disappointed by that and I think I would have enjoyed the novella more had his wanderlust been wanderlust or had the real truth been hinted at more strongly earlier on.

    If you want to try Ruthie Knox, she has much better books than this one. I recommend starting with either Ride with Me or About Last Night. The latter is my favorite, but since it’s set in London and she’s an American author, you might prefer Ride with Me. I also enjoyed the novella that launched her current series very much, but I think that one of the novels I listed above might be a better bet for you.

    I’ve dealt with my fair share of “alpha”-type personalities at work – people completely convinced that they are right and their way is the only way, and usually for the best of reasons. However, it’s bloody exhausting to negotiate. I really don’t want to have to read about that in my down time and in relation to personal relationships. Particularly not when the power play is about whether or not to order pizza…

    That’s exactly how I feel too.

  52. MaryK
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 01:11:38

    @Fiona McGier:

    To that end, I detest virginal heroines, since by definition, since she has no idea what sex is like and no way to know what her own preferences are, he could be the crappiest lover that ever lived, but she’d be apt to agree with him that he’s wonderful. To me any man that seeks a virgin or a much younger woman hasn’t been able to please the women equal to him, so he seeks to have the balance of power securely in his corner. That whole imbalance turns me off.

    I don’t really know what to say about this. Except, hey Robin, you missed one! “3) What do we mean when we talk about “power” — are we talking about socio-economic power, intellectual power, physical power, emotional power?”

    Actually, I will say that the whole argument for “equal power balance” bothers me. Can two people ever really be equal? Two people with the same social power, same bank balance, same IQ, same physical condition, same mental condition, and same sexual experience? That’s something that totally clobbers my suspension of disbelief. Even if they’re not all required conditions and they’re each taken singly, I have problems with each one. Equal power precludes a lot of romance themes: “across the tracks,” interracial, handicapped characters, the majority of historicals, every HP ever written.

    Sometimes in these imbalanced relationships, what each person brings to the relationship is something the other person needs. The important thing to me is that the hero and heroine genuinely care for each other. Once in a relationship, I think the power each person has should sort of meld together into a whole which they share in equally.

  53. MaryK
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 02:10:20

    @MaryK: It occurred to me that some people might be offended by my list of “unequal” romance themes, especially the interracial one. My point was meant to be that unequal can be very much a matter of interpretation and can vary depending on time period, setting, whether the reader is the judge or the fictional society is the judge, etc.

  54. Shelley
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 09:00:07

    @Janine:

    “@Shelley: Tyra does do her share of whispering, actually.”

    GAH!!!!

  55. Lia
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 09:00:39

    @Robin/Janet: I’m going to have to check out Molly O’Keefe now. Personally, I like difficult heroines who aren’t completely “sympathetic” (at least in the beginning). And you touched on something that I would love to see you write about in greater depth: “Why can we find a million reasons to excuse ahole hero behavior, but the heroine has to walk such a narrow line of likeability?” Just MHO, but I personally think that romance as a genre can attribute its success to the Mary Sue-ness of these characters. The question is, why must women feel like they have to give their nod of approval to every action the heroine makes? That suggests a hive mentality when in fact, some of us find some romance novel heroines totally unsympathetic. The “secret baby” trope will lose me every single time without fail. I mean, really –? This is the kind of stuff I’m talking about.

    @MaryK: On the subject of equality, I agree with you to an extent. All things considered, no couple is ever truly “equal.” I am more highly educated than my Best Half; he makes more money than I do (not a whole lot, but more). I think it’s fine to have these inequalities in romance and to use them a springboard to create plot tension. As long as the inequalities aren’t glaring. The whole “billionaire” trope has me concerned. Is this what women want? Money? I want to tell these heroines, “Honey, get out and make it yourself.” Don’t marry into it, for god’s sake. Whenever certain “inequalities” are promulgated to the extent that the hero makes up for the heroine’s deficiencies in a magnanimous, improbable way, that’s when I put down the book.

  56. Shelley
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 09:15:58

    @Robin/Janet:

    “@Shelley: I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but the Rock Chick series is “inspired” by Stephanie Plum (there’s even one where the heroine refers to her “too haw,”

    Oh boy. I have not read any Stephanie Plum but did break down and buy the first one after seeing the less than stellar movie. Now I don’t know if I even want to mess with it. I did think the Rock Chick books had promise but by the time I started the third one, I was just sick and tired. Definitely should have stopped after the first, I guess. :O) Thanks for the link.

    @Fiona McGier:

    “To that end, I detest virginal heroines”

    I’m kinda digging the virginal HEROES lately, myself, though it takes a very skillful author to make it believable once the protags get together. I thought Laura Kinsales’s The Shadow and the Star was awesome in this respect. Virginal but plucky heroine and tortured, abused-as-a-child hero with excellent chemistry both in and out of bed. This remains my favorite historical to this day.

  57. Janine
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 12:58:50

    @MaryK: Thanks.

    @Shelley: Do you have any other virginal heroes besides Samuel to recommend? Or rather, virginal hero books?

  58. Lynn S.
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 13:00:54

    @Robin/Janet: @Robin/Janet: I understand your problem with Knox feeling studied. I’ve read Ride with Me and About Last Night and found them a bit too deliberate for their own good. I haven’t read any of the Camelot series yet, so I don’t know if that feeling will persist. Maybe her novellas work better for me because she doesn’t have as much space to over think things or the deliberation doesn’t have enough time to wear on me. I absolutely adored Big Boy.

    You’ve finally made me curious enough about Ashley’s style to give her a try. Hopefully Tack doesn’t end up being too tough for me to chew.

  59. cleo
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 13:18:50

    @Janine: Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair is SFR/space opera with a virgin hero. I love this book – it’s an enemy to lovers story with a straightlaced, cyborg hero and kickass, ignore the rules when you need to heroine. He’s been secretly in love with her for a long time – there are a couple times when he almost veers into creepy stalker territory, but his character worked for me.

  60. Ana
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 13:32:16

    @Janine:

    I really liked Mark in “Unclaimed” by Courtney Milan. He is a virgin for personal reasons, and has written a book about chastity that has inspired a movement that rather appalls him but at the same time has made him incredibly popular in Victorian England. There are those who want to embarrass him and discredit him and pay bounty to a courtesan to seduce him.

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10301090-unclaimed

  61. Janine
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 16:00:43

    @cleo: Read and enjoyed Games of Command years ago. I even reviewed it here!

    @Ana: I still need to catch up on most of Milan’s Un- series. Thanks for this reminder.

  62. Evangeline
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 19:15:28

    Nothing gets me steamed more than a hero (or rather male protagonist) who polices the heroine’s agency. I can handle a lot of misbehavior (due to the gist of Kaetrin, Liz, Las, Robin/Janet, and Erin Satie’s tweets last night about viewing hero through heroine’s eyes), but I seriously see red when the “hero” makes decisions for the heroine around “for her own good”. I’m (trying) to read a book where the super experienced and studly hero wants to stay away from the just-as-attracted heroine because she’s “innocent,” and I’m thisclose from deleting it from my hard drive. I had to DNF Lisa Kleypas’s Crystal Cove because I wanted to reach between the pages and strangle Jason Black.

    Ahem. LOL

    But these terms to describe heroes always stymie me because I respond–both in reading and writing romance–to them as individual characters. When I try to shuffle my heroes into general characteristics of Alpha, Beta, or Gamma men, both my characterization and my plot fall apart!

  63. Shelley
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 20:06:11

    @Janine:

    “@Shelley: Do you have any other virginal heroes besides Samuel to recommend? Or rather, virginal hero books?”

    * Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt – some reviewers thought his skill in the bedroom was a little too skillful too soon, if ya know what I mean. It was pretty sexy with very little awkwardness, but I liked it anyway.

    * Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh – reading this one right now and the hero is a virgin but so far there has been no awkwardness whatsoever. Caressed by Ice’s hero was a virgin also.

    * Under Fire by Jo Davis – contemp I read last year and it was ok.

    * Demon Angel by Meljean Brook (which is my favorite of this series) – loved this hero to pieces! Modest, manly, and sexy all at once. Think I’m going to have to drag this one off my keeper shelf.

    * After the Crux by Dani Worth – set in a dystopian world and is also a menage (m/m/f) which was good if a tad rushed (it was a pretty short story).

    It seems the heroes in anything except the contemp setting are generally still virgins for more dramatic purposes in that they are fighting battles, either against an arch enemy or themselves and generally have a higher purpose like Samuel in TSATS or Hugh in Demon Angel or Winter in Thief of Shadows or because they pine for one special person and no one else will do such as Ross in After the Crux who wanted BOTH the other hero and heroine. In general, they all seemed pretty believable.

  64. Shelley
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 20:09:09

    @Ana:

    “I really liked Mark in “Unclaimed” by Courtney Milan. He is a virgin for personal reasons”

    Oh yeah! I really, really liked this guy! Wasn’t sure if I would at first but I ended up loving it!

  65. Willaful
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 20:41:06

    The Mistress Deception by Susan Napier has an unusual situation for a virgin hero. He’s even a virgin widower! :-) Some slight gender-bending too. It’s one of my favorites.

  66. MaryK
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 21:44:43

    Also, Napier’s Secret Admirer.

  67. library addict
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 22:12:22

    Jennifer Greene’s Ain’t Misbehaving has a virgin hero. I remember liking the paperback way back when. (I’ve bought the revised version from Carina but haven’t read it yet. I’m still irked they felt the need to “update” all of her old Jove books before releasing them. I read Linda Howard will be doing the same with some of her old Silhouette titles, too. But that’s a rant for another day.)

    Speaking of the Psy/Changeling series, Walker is another of her virgin heroes. He’s the secondary romance in Kiss of Snow and then the main character in the novella Texture of Intimacy

  68. Janine
    Jun 12, 2013 @ 23:08:23

    Thanks everyone. I appreciate the recommendations but I also want to apologize for derailing Robin’s thread! And with the goal of going back to the topic, I’m going to answer Robin’s question:

    In the end, I think every reader has a line (or lines) across which the hero cannot go with the heroine. One of mine is humiliation of the heroine and a persistent failure to recognize, value, and support her own individuality and power. What’s yours?

    I don’t know if every reader has a line or lines across which a hero cannot go with the heroine. If I have such a line I don’t know what it is. I have many pet peeves and there are lines authors cross that annoy me regularly. Often times this boils down to the text not acknowledging that a character’s behavior is problematic, when in my eyes it clearly is.

    Take your example of Adam in The Secret Pearl moving Fleur into his house, under his wife’s roof, after he’d slept with her. I hated the way Balogh tried to make him out to be a saint for doing so.

    But if I feel the text sufficiently acknowledges an issue really is an issue and treats it seriously, if there is a process whereby a character atones for his (or her) transgressions, then I’m often all over it. The thing is that I want to believe that we human beings can learn from our mistakes and make growth steps, even if that process is two steps forward one step back. I’m likely to cut characters a lot of slack if I believe they are sincere in their remorse and will make every effort to do better next time.

  69. Shelley
    Jun 13, 2013 @ 15:47:13

    @Janine:

    “I don’t know if every reader has a line or lines across which a hero cannot go with the heroine. If I have such a line I don’t know what it is. I have many pet peeves and there are lines authors cross that annoy me regularly. Often times this boils down to the text not acknowledging that a character’s behavior is problematic, when in my eyes it clearly is.”

    I’ve got a couple of books by Skye Warren, Trust in Me and Keep Me Safe that place the h in extremely debased circumstances and the H is required to “rape” her in order to protect her from the bad guys. So yes, to me, this line can be crossed. This stuff is definitely not for everyone, that’s for sure.

    ETA: Sorry also, to get off topic.

  70. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Leapin’ lizards, linkity!
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 02:01:34

    […] “Alpha, Beta, Gamma, or the ABG’s of romance heroes“. […]

  71. DB Cooper
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 06:43:32

    Wow, still going!

    I love getting to see how people think, so I just wanted to say thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts, especially on the whole ABG thing. It really is interesting to hear some of your definitions!

    Also, thanks Janet, for providing such wonderful fodder for discussion, even if we did get off topic. :)

  72. Molly O'Keefe
    Jun 14, 2013 @ 08:27:38

    I’ve been thinking a lot of about this post. A lot.
    Motorcycle Man is a book that didn’t work for me on a lot of levels – but holy hell it lives on in my head – which would indicate that it worked on really important levels. And I think someones comment that KA is the SEP was really interesting – she is a gigantic breath of fresh air in the genre. She pushes a lot of buttons, makes readers ask questions about power struggles much in the same way SEP does in her earlier book (Heaven, Texas? Remember that scene when he humilates her in front of everyone? That scene tears me apart. APART) Someone touched on one of the lines in the sand for me is that when one character (particularly the woman) has to assimilate totally to the hero’s world. Yes, she gets hot sex and a tribe of people around her she really likes – but that there’s no reciprocation of compromise. So, that was a big part of Motorcycle Man. But KA doesn’t make it easy and I like that in her books. Love and sex are at the beginning of the book but not the HEA, that comes much later. She really convinces readers that those characters will work out. They seem very alive. Very real.

    I thought Knox’s depiction of an on again/off again relationship was spot on. Reading that description of how each of them feel about the other and what they do to each other was amazing. Bittersweet and full of guilt and a little shame – but they couldn’t help themselves. Julie read as a 50/50 partner in that.

  73. Gender, power, and m/m romance
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 04:02:07

    […] posted a shorter version of this post a while back at my now-defunct personal blog. Robin's post on gender and power raised the question of how these issues play out in m/m, so it seemed worth bringing it to Dear […]

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