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If You Like …. Stories About Women Unapologetic About Their Looks

Courtney Milan asked in the comments for titles of stories with women who were unapologetic about their looks and there were some great suggestions from commenters.

Contemporaries

Fools Rush In by Kristan Higgins (A | BN | K | S | HQN | ARE) recommended by Janet P

In came to my mind. Woman finishes medical residency and embarks on a weight loss, spiffy up program to snag the guy she always lusted after. Plans, of course, go awry.

Amber by Night by Sharon Sala ( A | BN | K | S | HQN | ARE) recommended by Susan

I haven’t read it in years, but Sharon Sala’s Amber by Night reminded me of Linda Howard’s Open Season when I first read it. One difference was that the hot version of the heroine was her secret alter ego–she became “Amber” at night to work in a club and turned back into Clark Kent for her day job. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan.Definitely not a romance but a black comedy, I loved the amazing Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. It was a wonderful book ruined by that piece of film excrement with Roseanne Whoever. (The BBC production was far, far better but is hard to get a hold of for American audiences.

Crazy On You by Rachel Gibson ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by Dabney

The heroine of Rachel Gibson’s latest novella has implants.

Might have made a few rash decisions—like the Lily tattoo next to her hipbone and her breast augmentation. But it wasn’t like she’d gone stripper-huge. She’d gone from a B-cup after the birth of her son to the full C she’d been before. Now she hated having spent money on a tattoo, and was also ambivalent about the money used on her boobs. If at a better place in her life, she might not have done it. If she’d had the confidence she had now, she might have spent the money on something more practical. Then again, Lily liked how she looked and didn’t really regret it.

True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson recommended by Dabney

Faith Duffy in Gibson’s True Love and Other Disasters is an ex-Playmate and proud of it. She’s even proud of her stripper heritage.

Open Season by Linda Howard ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by Sarah F

It does conform to the “hero was attracted to her before the makeover” trope, though.

Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips recommended by cleo

Natural Born Charmer by SEP has this. The heroine gives herself a makeover – iirc she dressed tough, wearing baggy clothes, as armor or camouflage and then showed up in something feminine (after already winning the hero). There’s a secondary romance with the hero’s estranged mother, who’s 50 something and pretty unapologetic about having a little work done (again, iirc – it’s been awhile, and she may keep it a secret). This is not my favorite SEP – she recycles a lot of plot elements from other books, but it’s not bad

The Bellini Bride by Michelle Reid recommended by Tabs

How about Michelle Reid’s The Bellini Bride? The beautiful heroine is notorious for having been a famous painter’s mistress/muse. Both the heroine and hero have to work through their various issues with shame in regards to the nude paintings. As a bonus, it also features one of my absolute favorite “grand romantic gestures” at the end.

Romantic Suspense

Snapped by Laura Griffin recommended by Annabeth Albert

The Heroine in Laura Griffin’s Snapped knows she looks good, loves clothes and shoes, and looking her best and really enjoys that and totally dresses to show that off, and she was refreshing for RS as she was neither the prototypical ugly duckling in manly clothing RS heroine nor was she the simpering-in-face-of-danger type.

Erotic Romance

Chasin’ Eight ( A | BN | K S ) and All Jacked Up ( A | BN | K S ) by Lorelei James recommended by Annabeth Albert

The heroine in Lorelei James’s Chasin’ Eight has breast implants, and slightly regrets getting them b/c of the loss of sensation but is otherwise completely unapologetic about being a close to 6? gorgeous amazon of an actress. She has a number of other heroines who are totally fine with their looks including Keeley in All Jacked Up who is totally fine with being a wild child and dressing for attention.



Historicals

Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas ( A | BN | K | S ) recommended by Laura Florand

Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel (A | BN | K | S ) recommended by Kaetrin

To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt ( A | BN | K | S ) recommended by gabrielle

I just finished Elizabeth Hoyt’s “To Seduce a Sinner” in which the heroine is not only plain and dresses unassumingly, but both she and the hero acknowledge it and do nothing about it. I kept expecting a transforming visit to the modiste but ended up appreciating much more that the obligatory makeover never appeared and that the characters were appreciated in other ways.

and from Annabeth Albert

I think Elizabeth Hoyt was already mentioned but To Seduce a Sinner was so fabulous because there was no makeover. She desperately needed one by some accounts, but she was fine with who she was and in later books where she makes a passing appearance, she’s still that same woman–not magically transformed by love.

Beast by Judith Ivory ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by Janine

Not exactly the same thing but Beast by Judith Ivory is a great book with a heroine who is fully aware of her beauty and not the least bit apologetic for it.

The Dangerous Viscount by Miranda Neville ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by infiniteh

Miranda Neville’s THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT has a confidently attractive heroine and a geeky, bookish hero.

Black Silk by Judith Cuevas aka Judith Ivory ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by Ruthie

The heroine of Judith Ivory’s BLACK SILK, Submit Channing-Downes, is described as funny-looking on more than one occasion. She’s kind of hairy, with crooked teeth, and a lot of the hero’s friends find her creepy. She isn’t bothered about how she looks, and there is no obligatory makeover. The hero is attracted to her because he’s attracted to her. Aesthetics don’t much come into it

Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by Darlene Marshall

I liked the heroine of Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous because she kept thinking of herself as attractive enough, but not at a level to capture the hero’s interest. She was comfortable in her own skin and her unfashionable clothes.

Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by Laura Florand

I can’t believe we haven’t thrown out Loretta Chase’s play on the “French modiste-Cinderella motif” with Silk is for Seduction. (Where there heroine IS the modiste, who wants to make over the hero’s fiancée.) And definitely glad to take ownership of her own looks and use them to her best advantage.

Honestly, I think that others finding–and revealing–beauty in a heroine who doesn’t have that faith in herself will always be appealing, for so many reasons, (don’t we all have days of doubt and wish that our beauty would shine through to others?), but I am definitely glad to see so many more alternatives to that mindset these days. Cinderella is my absolute least-favorite fairy tale. I can’t stand her allowing herself to be downtrodden, and then saved by a pretty dress. But it is a huge favorite for many.

A Perfect Wife by Jane Goodger ( A | BN | K S ) recommended by Susan

On a final note, I just wanted to throw out Jane Goodger’s A Perfect Wife as an example of a female MC who is responsible for her own physical/outward transformation. Can’t believe I forgot that one when I first posted. (It’s kind of a bittersweet story for me, tho.)

The Charm School by Susan Wiggs recommended by Annabeth Albert

Susan Wiggs has a number of heroines who are totally fine with being plain–my favorite is The Charm School because the heroine comes more into herself, but she never becomes a raving beauty at all, she just stops trying to be something she’s not.

More of a makeover story:

The Man Who Could Never Love by Kate Hewitt ( A | BN | K | S | HQN | ARE) recommended by Ros Clarke

The Bride’s Awakening (think it has a different title in the US, sorry) has a woman who not only rejects the hero’s attempts to give her a makeover, she then takes control and decides to have a makeover on her own terms, for her own reasons. Meantime, he falls in love with her in her work clothes – grubby jeans and shirt, if I remember rightly. It’s really awesome.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

37 Comments

  1. Ruthie
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 09:26:48

    The heroine of Judith Ivory’s BLACK SILK, Submit Channing-Downes, is described as funny-looking on more than one occasion. She’s kind of hairy, with crooked teeth, and a lot of the hero’s friends find her creepy. She isn’t bothered about how she looks, and there is no obligatory makeover. The hero is attracted to her because he’s attracted to her. Aesthetics don’t much come into it.

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  2. Darlene Marshall
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 09:36:00

    I liked the heroine of Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous because she kept thinking of herself as attractive enough, but not at a level to capture the hero’s interest. She was comfortable in her own skin and her unfashionable clothes.

    ReplyReply

  3. Dabney
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 09:54:18

    Hey! What about Jessica in Courtney Milan’s own Unclaimed? She’s a hottie and pretty proud of it.

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  4. Las
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 10:01:43

    How can women who undergo weight-loss or a makeover during the course of the story be considered unapologetic about their looks?

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  5. Dabney
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 10:07:07

    Zoe in Liz Carlyle’s Wicked All Day is at ease with her allure as is Mina in Meredith Duran’s Written on Your Skin. Annabelle in Kleypas’s Secrets of a Summer Night knows she’s beautiful and loves how hot that makes Simon for her. Faith Duffy in Gibson’s True Love and Other Disasters is an ex-Playmate and proud of it. She’s even proud of her stripper heritage. And Phoebe, the heroine in SEP’s It Had to Be You is proud of her looks and her knock-out body… most of the time.

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  6. Courtney Milan
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 10:40:44

    @Las: I think the conversation morphed quite a bit. My original comment was based off the “you can always tell the bitchy Other Woman because she gets plastic surgery,” and I noted that the flip side of this was that if the heroine has a makeover in a romance, it’s foisted upon her by someone else–friends, mother, the hero–as if somehow, a woman isn’t supposed to want to be pretty.

    There’s a standard trope that I keep coming back to about the historical heroine whose friend/mother pulls her decolletage down, while the heroine flutters her eyelashes closed and says, “No! Not to THERE.”

    So what I asked about was stories about women who don’t feel like getting a makeover is something to be ashamed about–women who take a good look in the mirror and pull their own necklines down, so to speak.

    Because getting a makeover is not something that women should feel ashamed about, or have to have imposed on them by others. Body image and shame are superimposed in a lot of weird ways, and just as there should be no shame associated with not having the “right” body, we also shouldn’t shame someone who wants to learn to flaunt what they’ve got, or even to get something to flaunt.

    I question the claim that someone who is getting a makeover/losing weight must somehow be apologetic about how they look. People get makeovers for a lot of different reasons: change in professional status, for instance, or to try on a fantasy and see what it’s like, or just to shake things up.

    Change does not have to imply shame for what came before.

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  7. Sam
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 11:16:26

    Quick note; The links on the Rachel Gibson Novella are wrong..they are linking to the Kate Hewitt book.

    ReplyReply

  8. Meri
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 11:18:52

    What about Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas? Liberty’s high school friend Lucy takes her out to get a makeover, and not only does she love it, she eventually ends up studying cosmetology because she likes making people look good and feel good about themselves.

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  9. HelenB
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 11:36:02

    I could not stand Fay Weldons She Devil book, the whole presmise is that a woman turns herself into another woman by plastic surgery – extreme plastic surgery. How is that being happy with one’s looks. I agree that “having a little work done” should not be shorthand for “she’s a ho” but that book is not a good example. I liked the US version much better, because in that the women did not need a man to validate their lives. It was far more empowering than Fay’s original which just made me very angry.

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  10. Las
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 12:15:10

    @Courtney Milan:
    So what I asked about was stories about women who don’t feel like getting a makeover is something to be ashamed about–women who take a good look in the mirror and pull their own necklines down, so to speak.

    Okay, the suggestions make a lot more sense, then.

    I have nothing against makeovers and much prefer a heroine who gives in to her vain side. I had assumed that the call for recommendations for women who were unapologetic about their looks meant you were looking for heroines who weren’t conventionally attractive or didn’t conform to current fashion trends and didn’t see the need to change themselves. Because of that, reading:

    In came to my mind. Woman finishes medical residency and embarks on a weight loss, spiffy up program to snag the guy she always lusted after.

    and:

    a woman who not only rejects the hero’s attempts to give her a makeover, she then takes control and decides to have a makeover on her own terms, for her own reasons.

    was really jarring. Those examples don’t sound like women who feel fine in their skin and just want to shake things up.

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  11. Tabs
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 13:53:18

    How about Michelle Reid’s The Bellini Bride? The beautiful heroine is notorious for having been a famous painter’s mistress/muse. Both the heroine and hero have to work through their various issues with shame in regards to the nude paintings. As a bonus, it also features one of my absolute favorite “grand romantic gestures” at the end.

    ReplyReply

  12. Lada
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 13:58:53

    Rachel Gibson must like this trope since she also uses it in See Jane Score. Jane is a smart, geeky journalist and pretty comfortable with her “business” attire but decides to spruce up when her job entails going to a dressy event. Her BFF just happens to work in fashion and has been waiting (and praying) for this opportunity and the make-over does result in the hero seeing her differently (though the attraction was already simmering).

    One of my favorite things about Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me was how it never became about Min losing weight and trying to fit her mother’s unrealistic expectations. It was about not hiding her curves and learning to dress to highlight her figure. She may not have had the highest self-esteem but she was never a wilting flower either and knew what her assets were.

    I completely agree with @Courtney Milan: it’s fun to see people get make-overs on television so why not in books? It often starts off for the wrong reasons (to attract someone) but if done well, can lead to real character growth.

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  13. Lazaraspaste
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 14:21:30

    Ugh! I just bought and started to read Fools Rush In while I was in Boston and I hated it. I didn’t finish it precisely because of the reasons the heroine was getting a makeover: as a part of her campaign to stalk her long time crush and get him to fall in love with her. I thought she was the opposite of unapologetic! But who knows? Maybe I was disgusted by the general sense of reading the first person account of an arrested adolescent.

    I’m trying to remember other books but I’m struggling. I’d like to see more of a balance between makeovers where the heroine is all “I shall wear these hideous rags for I am worthless!” and makeovers where the heroine is all “I am a hideous, fat rag and no one will love me. I must lose weight/dye my hair!” I’d like to see more of the, “Hey, this current look is not working for me. Perhaps some new dresses, yes?” type makeovers.

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  14. Lazaraspaste
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 14:30:39

    @Las:

    Those examples don’t sound like women who feel fine in their skin and just want to shake things up.

    Yeah. I was thinking the same thing. Especially since we live in a very fat-phobic culture that often obsfucates the desire for beauty under the banner of “health” I’m often suspicious of heroine’s reasons for getting makeovers because it often seems connected with them getting/acquiring love, which I a trope I heavily (ha!) dislike.

    That said. I love makeovers, because to quote from Clueless: Cher’s main thrill in life is a makeover, it gives her a sense of control in a world full of chaos.

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  15. cleo
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 14:56:20

    Natural Born Charmer by SEP has this. The heroine gives herself a makeover – iirc she dressed tough, wearing baggy clothes, as armor or camouflage and then showed up in something feminine (after already winning the hero). There’s a secondary romance with the hero’s estranged mother, who’s 50 something and pretty unapologetic about having a little work done (again, iirc – it’s been awhile, and she may keep it a secret). This is not my favorite SEP – she recycles a lot of plot elements from other books, but it’s not bad

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  16. JoannaV
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 15:09:52

    Interesting recommendations as always here, I am most intrigued by the Sharon Sala. Good thing some of these older titles are now available as ebooks!

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  17. gabrielle
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 16:46:12

    I couldn’t honestly think of a book where the heroine leads her own, unapologetic, makeover (but then I mainly read historical). I like the growing list of examples where the heroine or other positive character is beautiful, knows it and knows how to use it. Unclaimed and Silk is for Seduction come immediately to mind.

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  18. Ros
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 17:38:27

    @Ruthie: I’m still struggling to come to terms with the idea of a woman called ‘Submit’.

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  19. Moriah Jovan
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 17:39:35

    @Ros: It’s a Puritan name.

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  20. Susan
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:06:23

    Yep, some of these books are about ugly ducklings who remain ugly ducklings, and others are about women who initiate their own transformations (rather than have someone else initiate them).

    For an ugly duckling story, there’s always Jo Beverley’s Deirdre and Don Juan. It’s one of those old-fashioned Regencies that I wish would be re-released as an ebook. (I keep checking on Jo Beverley, Carla Kelly, Jo Goodman, Mary Balogh, and others, too. One day.)

    Also, just so no one’s confused, my description of Amber by Night kind of rolled into my description of The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, a very different kind of book! :-)

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  21. Ros Clarke
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:10:46

    @Moriah Jovan: Is it a Puritan romance? That would be something I’d love to read.

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  22. Sunita
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:14:38

    @Susan: Deirdre and Don Juan has been released as an ebook, as part of a duo called Lords and Ladies. It’s pretty widely available. If you go to Beverley’s website she lists availability for her books that have been released in e-editions.

    ETA: Here’s the link: http://www.jobev.com/ebooks.html

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  23. Susan
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:36:59

    @HelenB: I just saw your comment about Weldon’s book. I brought this into the thread that was discussing women who initiated their own transformation–it’s definitely not about someone accepting of her looks, and it’s definitely not a romance. The book is very dark, a story of an all-consuming vengeance. It’s about power, money, love, and beauty. It’s about women’s place in the world and how they’re valued. It’s about hatred–of self, of men, of society, of God. That said, it was also funny, uplifting, and enlightening (to me). Although I think it timeless, it was a post-feminist book written in the early 80s, so maybe it doesn’t resonate with readers today. And, to be honest, it’s probably the kind of book you either love or hate. Just not everyone’s cup of tea. But, along with Remember Me, this was my favorite Weldon.

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  24. Ruthie
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:38:11

    @Ros: Yeah. Her name is a significant story element — important to her backstory. And also the hero can’t bring himself to say it for the longest time. He just hates it.

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  25. Ruthie
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:39:02

    @Ros Clarke: No, it’s a Victorian historical. Heroine’s father was very controlling.

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  26. Susan
    Apr 25, 2012 @ 18:42:57

    @Sunita: Thank you, Sunita! I just saw it. . . and it’s $11.99 Well, I guess it IS 2 stories. But, still. Darn Penguin. Grumbling even as I hit 1-click.

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  27. Annabeth Albert
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 01:02:05

    The heroine in Lorelei James’s Chasin’ Eight has breast implants, and slightly regrets getting them b/c of the loss of sensation but is otherwise completely unapologetic about being a close to 6′ gorgeous amazon of an actress. She has a number of other heroines who are totally fine with their looks including Keeley in All Jacked Up who is totally fine with being a wild child and dressing for attention.

    The Heroine in Laura Griffin’s Snapped knows she looks good, loves clothes and shoes, and looking her best and really enjoys that and totally dresses to show that off, and she was refreshing for RS as she was neither the prototypical ugly duckling in manly clothing RS heroine nor was she the simpering-in-face-of-danger type.

    Susan Wiggs has a number of heroines who are totally fine with being plain–my favorite is The Charm School because the heroine comes more into herself, but she never becomes a raving beauty at all, she just stops trying to be something she’s not.

    I think Elizabeth Hoyt was already mentioned but To Seduce a Sinner was so fabulous because there was no makeover. She desperately needed one by some accounts, but she was fine with who she was and in later books where she makes a passing appearance, she’s still that same woman–not magically transformed by love.

    Suzanne Brockmann has done many heroines who are totally fine with how they look–Tracy in Dark of Night is high maintenance, dresses for and loves getting attention. Jennilyn who’s in both Hot Pursuit and Breaking the Rules is mousey, very tall, and has no idea how to dress right, and really has no desire to change who she is. It’s not until she’s getting her HEA, in a dress *she* picked out (no magical makeover) that hero’s friends see what he’s seen all along.

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  28. Susan
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 02:06:06

    On a final note, I just wanted to throw out Jane Goodger’s A Perfect Wife as an example of a female MC who is responsible for her own physical/outward transformation. Can’t believe I forgot that one when I first posted. (It’s kind of a bittersweet story for me, tho.)

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  29. LeeF
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 07:36:25

    @Annabeth Albert: Thanks for mentioning Suzanne Brockmann. I think people tend to focus on all of her fabulous men and forget about the amazing women in her books.

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  30. Laura Florand
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 07:39:40

    I can’t believe we haven’t thrown out Loretta Chase’s play on the “French modiste-Cinderella motif” with Silk is for Seduction. (Where there heroine IS the modiste, who wants to make over the hero’s fiancée.) And definitely glad to take ownership of her own looks and use them to her best advantage.

    Honestly, I think that others finding–and revealing–beauty in a heroine who doesn’t have that faith in herself will always be appealing, for so many reasons, (don’t we all have days of doubt and wish that our beauty would shine through to others?), but I am definitely glad to see so many more alternatives to that mindset these days. Cinderella is my absolute least-favorite fairy tale. I can’t stand her allowing herself to be downtrodden, and then saved by a pretty dress. But it is a huge favorite for many.

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  31. Dabney
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 07:51:05

    @Laura Florand: I hate Cinderella too, but not for the saved by the dress reason. It’s her utter helplessness that irks me. She needs a fairy godmother and a man to make her happy.

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  32. Laura Florand
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 08:40:04

    @Dabney: Exactly. She never takes ownership of her own life, ever. Just walks around with a huge “Kick Me” sign on her back.

    ReplyReply

  33. Dabney
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 09:06:38

    @Laura Florand: Even worse, she’s “Kick Me” while I meekly clean your fireplace.

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  34. Jane
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:52:05

    @Dabney: Is the heroine really proud of her looks in Unclaimed? I thought she felt a lot of shame for her position or do I have that wrong?

    ReplyReply

  35. Jane
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 13:52:43

    @Sam: Thanks. Fixed.

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  36. Tasha
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 16:18:08

    There’s a book by Jane Feather (but I can’t remember the name) where the heroine beats the hero in a curricle race (yes, regency) and then retires to the country, unapologetic.

    She’s described as not beautiful and she simply doesn’t care. She puts the hero through a lot before they get to their HEA, and it’s mostly amusing! ^_^

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  37. Elyssa
    Apr 26, 2012 @ 17:05:53

    I don’t have any suggestions to add but I just wanted to say that I really liked this feature today. There are some really awesome books I’ve forgotten about–and ones I meant to read that I never did (the Kate Hewitt one). It’d be great to have more of these type of lists as I find the trope recommendation lists on AAR not updated in forever.

    ReplyReply

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