At the Back Fence Issue #245Dabney2017-06-23T08:29:48-04:00
At the Back Fence Issue #245
November 13, 2006
From the Desk of Jeanne W: Get in Line!
I enjoy trolling through romance authors’ web sites, and one of my favorites belongs to Anne Gracie. Tucked in a corner of her mammoth listing of links is a blog by an Englishman. Stephen Bowden is such an enthusiastic Regency period buff that he wrote a long, a very long and highly entertaining piece on his blog called “Heyeroines in Need of a Slap!”
I brought it to the attention of Laurie, who liked the idea a lot, and wanted to expand heroines who need to be slapped upside the head so that it also included heroes in need of a good kick in the you-know-where. There is also good synergy surrounding this piece because of an anticipated AAR review of one of Georgette Heyer’s classic Regency Romances as well as a recent Potpourri thread that gleefully identified many of Romanceland’s most stupid heroines. So, onto heroines in need of a SMACK! and heroes in need of a good, painful, oh so painful, kick. Let’s start with recollections from some of AAR’s staff, and then move on to some of you, our readers. First up…Laurie.
Diana Palmer originally wrote the “romances” of Simon and Callaghan in two separate books (Beloved and Callaghan’s Bride respectively) released in 1999. But I didn’t read them until the books were packaged as a two-in-one in 2005 as The Hart Brothers: Simon and Callaghan – although the “why” of this decision is beyond me. Originally I’d thought only to include Simon and Callaghan here, but then I remembered Tira, the heroine from Beloved, and she is nearly as obnoxious as Simon. For most of the story, Tira screeches at Simon. At the same time, Simon is not only convinced that she’s a slut, but that she’s the slut responsible for his best friend’s death. And, of course, he can’t control his raging lust for this horrendous woman. Beyond these obvious negative points are more subtle, nuanced issues: Tira is 30-ish, and remains wholly unaware of her body parts. During one scene in which Simon cannot control his raging lust, they go to second and third base (the bases as I understood them as a teen, which may be different than how they are defined today). She is shocked, I tell you, shocked by the experience. The idiotic Simon can’t figure out that she’s never been touched. I can’t decide which of them is more stupid: that a grown woman is ignorant of her body or that a man can’t figure out she is.The hero in Callaghan’s Bride isn’t quite on a par with Simon, but he’s thisclose. He hates birthdays because of a his evil mother, and when Tess, the heroine, bakes him a birthday cake, he has a tantrum and throws it. As for Tess, she’s one of those naive and pitiful heroines we are meant to feel sorry for; what I really wanted to do was slap her upside the head for being attracted to such an ass. She’s young, so her lack of knowledge about her own body was a little less annoying, but their “love scenes”, which are really semi-intimate, are hilarious, such as when Callaghan tells Tess that it’s okay for her to touch his shirtless chest because “even teenagers do this”. But like his brother, Callaghan is angry about the lustful feelings Tess inspires in him, and treats her like dirt throughout, which while lowering even further my assessment of him, certainly did nothing to raise my esteem for her being a doormat.
Meagan McKinney’s Plain Jane and the Hotshot, which I read the same year it was published – 2003 – was the first book to earn an “F” from me in more than a year. Jo Lofton is a music teacher with an inferiority complex who goes on a wilderness trip to mend a broken heart. That’s where she meets Nick Kramer, a handsome fire jumper who’s also been burned. Although one reason I wanted to slap Jo upside the head is that she feels the need to justify to him why she’s on the pill in 2003, she’s so stuck in “he hurt me bad” land that she can’t see Nick is a good guy…over and over again. She read more like a petulant teen than a 25-year-old woman.
While Joan Johnston’s Captive captivated me, The Cowboy did not. Like Simon and Tira and Callaghan and Tess, both the hero and heroine from The Cowboy inspire violence in me. In this story of two young lovers broken up by a long-standing family feud, death, financial difficulties, and a secret baby force their interaction years later. I can’t really say it better than Liz Zink did in her review of this 2000 release:
“Neither Trace or Callie could be considered likable characters. At first Trace offers to help pay Callie’s bills if she’ll have sex with him until he tires of her. Then he becomes the too-good-to-be-true hero, rescuing Callie and her family at every turn. As for Callie, she spends most of her time whining and obsessing over the fact that her family can’t make it without her, that she must single-handedly save the ranch. Gone With the Wind this is not. Even after Trace eventually fixes the situation for her and threatens to take his son to another country, she continues to bemoan the fact that only she can save the ranch, she can’t leave, her family can’t make it, ad nauseum. At odds with her own martyrdom, during the middle of a serious crisis, she and Trace have their first love scene in the front seat of his car. What?”
Dream Lover was Virginia Henley’s first hardcover release…if it’s in a similar vein to her earlier books, I can only wonder how she achieved this feat when many other authors, whose books I think are far better, did not. Although the story’s heroine, Emerald Montague, certainly annoyed me – brushing one’s pubic hair has never seemed like foreplay to me – it’s the hero, Sean O’Toole, who deserves a kick in the b_lls. This fine, upstanding Irishman decides that the perfect revenge against her father, aka the man who done him wrong, is to kidnap her, sully her, then discard her back to her family. Now, it’s one thing to plan such outrageous revenge, but it’s another to actually go through with it, which he does, even though he loves her, and if I remember correctly, she’s pregnant with his baby!
When I first attempted Elizabeth Lowell’s Only series, I couldn’t get past Caleb Black, the hero from Only His. I tried again in 2004, and of the six books in the series (the last two are off-shoots), I graded three straight B’s (Only His, Only You, Only Love) and two B+’s (Only Mine, Winter Fire). Not so with Autumn Lover, which earned a C- from me. That’s a generous grade considering the hero’s behavior toward the heroine, but it’s nonetheless one I eventually came to, particularly after reading Winter Fire, where Hunter Maxwell’s redemption after treating Elyssa Sutton so badly is complete.We’ve all read Hunter Maxwell in other romances; he’s the hero who believes all attractive women are evil sluts because his first wife (or girlfriend) cuckolded him. So he treats Elyssa like dirt after she hires him to work on her ranch. So why isn’t this heroine one who deserves a good slap upside the head? Unlike Palmer’s heroines above, there’s a haunting dignity about her that even Hunter can see, and it saved her from being a total doormat to me. As for Hunter, while he spends the last third of the book in trying to make up to Elyssa his bad behavior, nothing can mitigate his “dog in the manger” attitude and horrible behavior throughout the first two-thirds. That said, this hero is the only character on my list whose book wasn’t a wall-banger.
There’s one last hero I’d like to mention, but only briefly this time because I’ve talked about him ad nauseum before: Graelam de Moreton, whom the reader first meets in Catherine Coulter’s Chandra, and then again in Fire Song. In Chandra he rapes the heroine’s maid in order to gain Chandra’s compliance, yet the author was so intrigued by him (this from an interview we did), that she decided to give him his own romance later in the series. I wasn’t, and it was after the experience of reading these two books that I bade a less than fond farewell to the author’s Medievals. In my mind Graelam de Moreton did not deserve his own story; after his behavior in Chandra, he deserved not just a knee in the nuts, but total castration.
Atop Ellen Micheletti’s “hit” parade was another of Palmer’s heroes, along with possibly the most controversial of Linda Howard’s characters, and a heroine from Karen Robards. It isn’t too often that a character has Ellen seeing blood red, but all of these men men had her grinding her teeth and “wishing for a weapon”. Tate Winthrop from Paper Rose is a prototypical Palmer “male character” – Ellen refuses to call them heroes – and between his constant anger and “fine contempt for women”, he’s a piece of work. Ellen adds: “He blames Cecily (whom he is supposed to love) and his mother for just about everything. He goes around mad at the universe and treats Cecily (who isn’t very likable herself, frankly) like dirt until the end where he grovels like mad. Too little – too late, bub.”
The other male character Ellen would like to knee in the nuts is Rome Matthews from Linda Howard’sSarah’s Child. She first wrote about him several years ago in a 1998 issue of this column, and time and distance have not lessened her acrimonious feelings. Today Ellen writes: “Yeah, yeah, I know he was devastated by the loss of his family but he treated Sarah with such over the top cruelty that my jaw dropped several times while I read the book. If I had been her, I’d have tossed his hateful ass out from the get go. But Sarah takes it!!! And excuses him!! Yes, there is a great grovel, but again it was too little too late.”
When it comes to heroines, Ellen cannot forget Ronnie Honneker from The Senator’s Wife by Karen Robards. Ronnie epitomized the one quality Ellen simply can’t tolerate in real life – snobbery. Ronnie looked down on her husband’s constituents and thought they were hicks. She wouldn’t eat a piece of cake because she feared she’d gain a “gram of weight”. She spent most of the book “sleazing around” with her husband’s campaign manager. True, her husband was no prize, but though the author tried to dredge up empathy for Ronnie because of her deprived childhood, Ellen never felt any. Instead, she found Ronnie to be a “pompous little snob” deserving of deprivation “for the rest of her life”.
Graelem de Moreton, whom Laurie previously mentioned, is also on Linda Hurst’s list, but since Linda continued to read Coulter’s medievals long after Laurie gave up, she can add that not only is he a rapist in one book and “jerk” hero from his own, he gives marriage advice to the “horrible ‘hero'” of a subsequent book, Rosehaven. Although she didn’t elaborate, not only did Linda find the hero from Rosehaven kickable, his heroine is apparently slappable. In fact, she writes, “Catherine Coulter manages to score a trifecta with Rosehaven – the hero is a complete pig, the heroine an idiot, and [she] even manages to throw in a child who is a little witch.”
Linda is AAR’s Diana Palmer expert, and she adds a few more of the author’s heroes to the pantheon of heroes you’d like to kick in the b_lls. In Betrayed by Love, Jacob Cade stuffed a hundred dollar bill in the towel of the sweet young thing whose virginity he’d just taken! Worse than Cade, though, is Powell Long of Maggie’s Dad. This prince among men believes an obvious lie about his fiancée, tosses her aside, then gets another woman pregnant, after which he marries and believes her when she tells him that his daughter is not his. When the former fiancée returns to town after ten years, he treats her like dirt and won’t admit the error of his ways. For Linda, though, his “worst sin” was neglecting his own daughter. She adds that the “only thing that saves the book is a wonderful scene between Powell and his daughter when he realizes what a complete fool he has been and changes his behavior completely”.
Linda finds that while other authors may have softened their heroes over time, Palmer has not. Matt Caldwell: Texas Tycoon was published in 2000, and Caldwell’s “as big a jerk as any in Palmer’s pantheon of jerks”. His behavior makes little sense, though, in that in several earlier books in Palmer’s Long Tall Texans series, he befriended the heroines as they were being treated like dirt by the “heroes”. Linda is still amazed that “finally, he gets his own book..and he is a complete ass”!
In an ATBF segment from 2004, former AAR Reviewer Jennifer Keirans wrote about Egan Winthrop, from Palmer’s Heart of Ice, being a Big Ass (because he continually made The Big Assumption). Anne Marble remembers him too, and he’s at the top of her list of heroes she’d like to kick in the b_lls. Anne recalls that the heroine was a romance writer known for writing sexy books, so Egan was convinced she was a slut, even though she was the virginal daughter of missionaries. His opinion didn’t really change after they’d had sex and he realized she was a virgin. Anne was so offended by Egan that, at one point during her reading of the book, she gave Heart of Ice the finger! Then, she writes, she “set it down (with great force), then picked it up and kept going” because she was compelled to see how it all ended up. For Anne, even when Palmer is “at her most annoying, she is skilled in ways many writers can only dream of” because she engages the emotions…even if they aren’t the emotions she wants to engender.”
Let’s now move on to those readers who were delighted to chime in with their lists on our Potpourri Message Board:
For me personally, Clayton Westmoreland [Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught] is the most jerkiest hero ever. First he buys Whitney, like a horse, from her father – and disciplines her with a riding crop then he is angry with her that this type of “courtship” doesn’t really work with her.
He tops his antisocial behavior by believing the crude and clumsy lies of Whitney’s archenemy and rapes his fiancée for vengeance. After detecting that Whitney is innocent (she had been a virgin before the rape) he relieves his conscience afterward not by apologizing to her but by breaking off the engagement and sending the now defiled and unmarriageable Whitney a check like a paid whore. Shortly after this incident he consoles himself with another woman. And this is only the top of the iceberg of his jerkish behavior. Do I have to say more?
The most TSTL heroine ever for me is Cheryl Holt’s heroine Emily from Too Hot To Handle. She stumbles into the hero’s interview for a new mistress thinking she’s applying for a post as governess. Neither is she made wary by the fact that all other applicants are dressed like doxies and that the interview is in the middle of the night, nor does she think it odd to see that one of the applicants gives the hero a blow job. She also doesn’t realize that the punch bowl is heavily infused with alcohol. She gets roaring drunk then, and randy as a dog (this state doesn’t change from now on), lusting after the hero. Not much later Emily gives her virginity to her employer, a known rake and womanizer without being offered any promises or prospects in return. The thought that her loose behavior could cost Emily her post as governess (which would be her total ruin since she doesn’t have any family that could support her) never occurs to her. Nor does it cross her mind that she could get pregnant. Her stupidity goes on and on in that vain. Totally brain dead, that woman.
In Slow Dancing with a Texan by Linda Conrad, Lainie doesn’t “need” protection from Texas Ranger Sloan, not because she can handle it herself but because she keeps on saying that she is not in danger – while ducking for the next bullet.
In Susan Meier’s Baby on Board, Max has to leave his hometown because he has an illegitimate child, which ruins his name and happiness and that of the child and its mother, his family and friends, and after twelve years it also threatens his chance of happiness with another woman. All while he is not really the father of the child but protecting the mother of the child who was raped…???
Bryn in The Sheiks’s Wife by Jane Porter has to leave her husband because his brother makes advances to her and plots against them… she doesn’t even try to tell her husband her side of the story… after three years he wants revenge because he finds out they have a son… when he finally finds out about his brother he’s still of the opinion she has been unfaithful but “allows” her back as his wife, which she accepts…
To me this one tops the bill: To Catch a Countess by Patricia Grasso. Victoria has dyslexia and is therefore regarded as being stupid. She is humiliated all the time and sometimes even made to humiliate herself. Her husband to be, Alexander, in general also finds her stupid and happily humiliates her as well, and she still thinks the world of him.
Sometimes I wonder why a book gets published…
TSTL heroines are guaranteed to make me stop reading the book, toss it in the re-cycle pile, and do my best to wipe the entire book from my memory.
The jerkiest hero that comes to mind is from a book that many people consider a classic DIK: Rome from Linda Howard’s Sarah’s Child. I love a lot of LH’s books, and am willing to overlook some astounding alpha-male, testosterone-laden chest thumping, but Rome made me want to scream. He was just so terribly, terribly scarred by life and loss that being cruel and dismissive of Sarah and her pregnancy was justified. Poor guy. That was one book where I was rooting for the heroine to grow a backbone and leave him, and raise the baby the “hero” didn’t deserve by herself. Just thinking about the book makes my blood pressure rise. Excuse me, I need to go calm down.
Bettie: Another vote for Rome Matthews! He expected Sarah to forfeit all her dreams in order to marry him, and until she became pregnant, she did. What a self-centered jerk he was!
graceC: Ditto. I know exactly how you feel. To this day, I still can’t look at the book without feeling a bit miffed. A close runner up goes to the hero in another of Linda Howard’s novel An Independent Wife, but the reason it’s a close second is because the heroine let the hero bully her into submission. If there was a most misleading title prize in book history, that’d be it.
Ami: You’re right about Rome. Linda Howard has written some of my favorite heroes but Rome absolutely infuriated me. He was self-pitying, self-obsessed and a complete emotional coward. Sarah was expected to live by his rules, he would ‘forgive’ her pregnancy if no mention was made of it. If she didn’t pretend the pregnancy (and later the baby) didn’t exist he threw tantrums. Some jerks can be redeemed but it just didn’t happen, even at the close of the book I wished someone would do him bodily harm. Wow – I’d forgotten how mad this book made me…
Oh, and I would probably throw Sarah in as a stupid heroine for being such a doormat.
Cammie: Yeah – and what was it that made him [Rome] so tortured? Oh, yeah, it was only that his two children and wife had been killed. What a whiner. He should’ve just gotten over it.
Seriously, Rome is one of the few jerk romance heroes who I think actually has cause to be tortured. Not saying that I would have put up with his treatment, but I wouldn’t throw a sarcastic “poor guy” his way for his troubles.
I don’t know how Jude [Deveraux] made the romance work in The Taming, but she did. But that doesn’t mean that the hero is not the most disgusting CroMagnon that I have ever encountered in a book.
He had eight mistresses which he named after all the days of the week plus one called “Waiting” in case one of them is unavailable on their day. He used to have one for each day of the month and but he said it wasn’t manageable.
Of course, he rapes the heroine during the wedding banquet when her father was appalled at his filth so that there is no chance that she would change her mind.
I was horrified reading it because while Jude has done some jerkish heroes before, she really went too far this time.
Outside of the obvious choice…Clayton, from Whitney My Love, who has already gotten a mention…I would have to say the hero from Rosehaven by Catherine Coulter. He was really more of a Big Dumb Doofus and not much of a hero. At one point he chains the heroine with his dogs during a lovely dinner scene. And he also keeps his mistress living in the same dwelling. Nice.
Another dubious hero is the guy from To Love A Man by Karen Robards. He was a huge jerk. I can’t remember all the gory details but at one point he rapes her on the ground and hoists her, naked, over his shoulder bringing her to his tent in front of all of his men. Can you say Caveman??? Hated this book, hated him.
Teresa: I couldn’t stand any of Karen Robards heroes in contemporary books, I thought they were all jerks. I’ve always hated that hoist over the shoulder bit, I wish romance writers would retire that one along with selling a heroine in a card game wager. I also hated the hero [Justin Deverill] in Catherine Coulter’s The Heir. That one made me quit reading her books forever.
sherryfair: Ah yes, Justin “It’s Not Rape, Because I Used a Lubricant” Deverill.
Sheila: I liked Rosehaven..any hero who has a pet ferret can’t be all bad.
graceC: OMG..! I’ve forgotten about the jerk from Rosehaven!! That was one of the books that made me stop reading CC’s books.
K: I have to agree about jerkiest hero, definitely the guy from The Heir. Lucky the book was from the library, or it would have found its way to the garbage. Ew.
Leda, from The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale. I definitely remember barely restraining myself from ripping the book into shreds. God, that woman. Not a single functioning brain cell, and shallow as well. I don’t think I’ve ever read another heroine that was saved from certain death (involving sharks and sharp swords, no less), without getting what’s going on.
Damien from Rebecca Ryman’s Shalimar. Not only is his main objective (aside from the espionage/political subplot) to teach the heroine a lesson because he thinks she is too self-confident, he also sees nothing wrong with hitting her, ruining her family financially, lying to her, etc. And somehow, we are expected to sympathize with this man because he is supposed to be darkly romantic, and because he is a cute little hero who obtains interesting scars by tripping over his shaving soap? Oh, please. If he could inspire any sort of feeling, it was intense dislike, and it did not seem convincing to me that anybody, least of all the heroine who started out as a vaguely promising character, could fall in love with this jerk.
The silly would-be nun from Claire Delacroix’s The Beauty” is definitely a contender, not only because she does not come across as overly bright, but also because she seemed so superficial and shallow. I did not buy that any strong feelings were moving her at any moment, and “plain stupid and shallow” is even worse than just “stupid”..
Reno, the “hero” of Elizabeth Lowell’s Only You. He’s a classic example of the “you aren’t a virgin, therefore you’re a whore, therefore I can treat you like dirt” syndrome. The only reason I kept skimming through this book was to see if he got to grovel. I wanted to see him face down on the ground, preferably with the heroine’s foot on his back. And did I get it? No! Barely a page’s worth, and it was more like “Whoops, sorry, I made a small mistake.”
The heroine in Patricia Grasso’s Violets in the Snow, an atrociously written book. The heroine wafted round playing her flute and chatting to her invisible fairy godmother. It never seemed to occur to her that prolonged conversations with someone no one else can see made people think she was a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
And for a jerk/TSTL coupling, Jessica and Nikos in Linda Howard’s All That Glitters. I wonder if Howard has ever wanted to disown this book? (ed. note: in our 2000 interview, she said: “I wouldn’t write it today.” )
Anita Blake by Laurell K Hamilton. Do we need any reason? Any hero by Johanna Lindsey. Kit from Lady Gallant… I wanted to cut off a certain part of his anatomy. Lucien from Dark Wager. Major A**hole.
As always, tastes are individual; for “K”, Lena from The Shadow and the Star was annoyingly TSTL, but author Lisa Kleypas wrote a DIK review of the book for us years ago. Three of Linda Howard’s heroes were listed, and though Rome Matthews wasn’t defended this time around, he remains loved by as many readers who would like to knee him in the nuts. One of Catherine Coulter’s Regency-set historical heroes was mentioned, but while two of her medieval “heroes” were also listed, one was defended. Elizabeth Lowell’s Only series features heroes some readers adore, but others despise. Laurie couldn’t abide Hunter Maxwell but had far less of a problem with Reno Moran, whom Suzanne hated. Certain other authors and/or characters also made multiple appearances. Diana Palmer was mentioned by four of AAR’s current staff, and while Karen Robards has had her share of hits, some of her characters are apparently not so lovable. Other authors and/or characters to “earn” more than one mention here include Patricia Grasso and Judith McNaught. Personally, though it earned DIK status here at AAR, I’d like to see violence done to both leads from McNaught’s Once and Always – hero Jason Fielding for his abominable behavior toward heroine Victoria Seaton (he flies into a rage over her supposed infidelity and rapes her on their wedding night), and hers for letting him off scot-free. And while McNaught may have re-written Whitney, My Love, many of our readers have long memories; the original version’s vivid scenes refuse to fade away.
So, who, and for what reason, lands on your list of heroines you’d like to slap upside the head and heroes you’d like to kick in the b_lls?
(with Laurie Likes Books)
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