Discussion

Pet Peeves and Deal Breakers in Romance

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Each person has their own unique limit of what they can or cannot tolerate in fiction. Although it has an absolute requirement for a happy ending, the romance genre may contain deal-breakers for readers looking for a pleasurable experience that takes them away from reality for a few hours.

Our Pet Peeves

Some of our negative book reviews at Sweet Savage Flame have pointed ti personal pet peeves as reasons why we couldn’t enjoy our reading experiences.

In Nadine Crenshaw’s Captive Melody, there were two negative tropes that were deal breakers for Blue Falcon. First, a captive who experiences Stockholm Syndrome for her captor. Second, the hero seeking to inflict vengeance upon an innocent party. There are cruelties that characters experience that cannot be offset by skillful writing or a conveniently happy ending.

As I’ve stated before, as in Dana Ransom’s Love’s Glorious Gamble: I can’t enjoy a romance where the hero is mourning the death of a previous beloved. While I prefer a heroine to be the hero’s only love, I can accept a rival for his affections, so long as she is alive. A flesh and blood woman will always pale to the perfection of a saintly ghost.

We focus on vintage reads on this site, so there may be books we review that consist of “dated” tropes or “politically incorrect” behavior or beliefs that may appear strange, insensitive, or even offensive to modern mindsets. Reviewers provide their own opinions, and on occasion personal insights. Whether to accept these books as products of their age or dismiss them outright is solely up to the individual reader. Everyone has a right to their own personal opinions or idiosyncrasies.

Romance No-Nos

As I’ve scrolled through forums and sites, I’ve come upon various pet peeves in romance. They range from the most minute issues to the most indefensible.

Cheating seems to be the most common deal breaker. Soms older romances featured heroes who would be sexing it up with their mistresses on page one. He might even do so after he’s met or been intimate with the heroine. It takes an extremely talented writer to make their audience accept and move on from this point. If cheating is the main obstacle in a romance, such as in Laurey Bright’s A Perfect Marriage, some readers may not be as forgiving as the heroine.

In a similar vein, there are readers who don’t want to know about a main character’s past sexual experience. A fantasy that appeals to some Romance fans is for the hero to be the heroine’s one and only lover. This is a plot point that seems authentic in Historical and vintage Romances. For some readers it’s unconvincing in a modern contemporary novel unless the heroine is very young or was raised unconventionally.

The abuse or death of animals, the elderly, or children might not appear often in romances, and there’s a good reason why. Those are issues that can be quite upsetting emotionally to folks seeking escapist entertainment.

Sometimes a pet peeve may not be a plot point but a word used. So many times I’ve heard readers state they can’t stand the word “moist” to describe how. er, excited a heroine gets. No matter how erotic the scene, once that word rears its head, visions of Duncan Hines chocolate cake or alcohol-soaked sanitizing towelettes come to mind.

What are your pet peeves in romance? Is there anything that can make you overlook your pet peeves, such as literary skill, or are there some things you just won’t accept in a love story?

Please, drop a comment and let’s talk romance.

7 replies »

  1. Great post, as usual, Jacqueline.

    As you mentioned, my views of “Captive Melody” by Nadine Crenshaw was brought low by wo of the many issues I can occasionally have in books: Stockholm Syndrome (where the heroine falls in love with the male who kidnaps her) and revenge-by-proxy, where the “hero” gets revenge on an innocent woman for something someone else did.

    I often struggle when I write my reviews of older books, which I tend to focus on at this time, to decide whether or not I should view the books through the prism of focusing only on the time they are written, or viewing them through the lens of my current sensibilities, which are quite different than they were when I first started reading romance novels when I was 8. In an ideal world, I would use the former worldview. I’m still struggling with this.

    I haven’t read many books where the hero has a mistress before meeting the hero or commits cruelty to elders or animals, so I’m probably lucky in that regard, but I have read many books where the hero is cruel to the heroine and she accepts it and falls in love with him, another issue I struggle mightily with in my reviews.

    • Dear Blue Falcon, Good morning!

      You bring up some interesting points wrt reviewing older books. How can one reconcile escapism with barbarity? For me, and I know it seems wishy-washy, it all depends. Was the book written in a serious tone? Or is it so OTT that I “check my brain at the door”? When it comes to historical romances, I’m far more accepting of behaviors or mindsets that in contemporaries I’d find offputting, take adultery for example. There’s a certain amount of historical authenticity I expect, but I also view the fictional past almost as a dark “fantasy” setting, where reality was semi-civilized.

      I don’t believe I’ve read about a hero who was violent towards the elderly or animals, either but have come across bad guys who were that wicked. Some may consider such villainy gratuitous.

      In the hands of a gifted writer, a cruel hero can be a fascinating character study, both he and the heroine who falls for him. Cruelty demands a certain reformation or humbling, however. The power of love should be able to transform a semi-villain into a man of integrity. Of course, in reality, that stuff is nonsense, but again, I view it all as fantasy.

  2. Considering that my biggest peeve is the imbalance of power and experience between MCs, meaning I’m not thrilled with virginal, undereducated teens, I’m probably spending too much of my reading time with vintage Harleys–but I like to look for needles in haystacks. Mainly I just relish the moments where the author pushes ever so slightly against the conventions of the genre.

    I’m relatively forgiving about insensitive word choice, definitely for classics but even for fairly recent books, though I’ll generally acknowledge it as unappreciated in a review. When it’s a viewpoint or entire ideology that has aged badly I will sometimes wade into the murky waters of guessing the writers intentions but that rarely goes well so if it’s egregious I’ll DNF the book.

    • Hello Iris! Yes, the pairing of 17 – 20 year-olds with >35 year old men in vintage contemporary romances is a trope that’s uncomfortable and awkward, to put it mildly. Yet, as you said, it is exciting when a skilled author puts a unique spin on it or test the boundaries of what’s acceptable. I recommend Charlotte Lamb’s Crescendo for that reason: the heroine is young and inexperienced in love, but is mature of mind, far more than the emotionally stunted, older hero.

      As for judging the mindsets of characters who lived during times long ago, I’m fairly lenient when it comes to certain aspects. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” does hold some truth. But there have been books where I wonder, “Was that really necessary?” Sally Wentworth’s The Lion Rock was set in Sri Lanka and had a very bizarre, colonialist attitude that wasn’t pleasant to read. I wasn’t sure if it was the author’s own perspective or simply her attempt to underscore the heroine’s elite upbringing. Either way, it was off-putting.

  3. Hi, Jacqueline and Iris:

    You both bring up another one of my pet peeves in romance; the MUCH younger heroine/older hero trope. In books published in the 1970’s/80’s, it was pretty much the standard to pair teenage girls with 30-something heroes, a situation I find very creepy. The biggest age gap I’m comfortable with-based on personal experience-is about 10 years; any further than that feels uncomfortable to me.

    Jacqueline, you also brought up another pet peeve when you posted my review of “Sweet Savage Heart” by Janelle Taylor. That pet peeve:authors/publishers who change the covers of their books. My copy of “Sweet Savage Heart” has the original cover, but later Zebra/Kensington changed the cover and it is…nothing. If I weren’t familiar with Mrs. Taylor’s work, I would not even give the book with the second cover a thought, as there is nothing about it that draws my attention.

    • I find it a bit sad when I hear romance authors lament how their books were saddled with dreaded “clinch” covers, preferring instead a respectable one with flowers, a castle, or something in that vein. Janelle Taylor had some beautiful covers for her books. I know Taylor was friends with Elaine Duillo, who painted a few for her, both with Zebra and other publishers.

      Let them say what they will about the campy nature of heaving bosoms and naked men’s chests and thighs, but the human body is a thing of beauty to admire. There was a special artisan value about hand made covers. Certainly, the advancement of digital photography has resulted in many lovely covers; I simply like the old ones a bit more.

  4. I agree with you, Jacqueline, that the human body is a thing of beauty. I also can say that I love the “Clinch Covers” of the old-school romance novels. I need to see human beings on the covers of the books I read, whether they’re paintings or photos or digital images. My reasons for loving these are:

    I like seeing people on book covers.

    It makes the book feel less like a boring treatise of words on a page or screen. When there are people on the cover, tt feels more like a book about real people.

    I won’t throw out a book with a “respectable” cover, but given the choice, I will always go for an original cover.

Please drop a comment and let's talk romance!