While I was reading a book last week – a good one, one that I was really enjoying – I found myself reacting in an unexpected way. The book was swimming merrily along, with a hero and heroine I liked and a plot I enjoyed. Then they are caught in a somewhat compromising position, and the hero proposes. The heroine doesn’t say yes immediately, and that’s where I lost it. While I hesitate to compare myself to someone who spent a year in combat and then hits the ground when there’s a loud noise…well, that’s almost where I was, metaphorically.

All I could think immediately was: “What? Is she really going to say no to him, even though she’s attracted to him and down to her last guinea? You’ve got to be kidding me! I can’t handle this anymore!” If I’d waited two seconds, I’d have found out that she soon says yes. She reasons out her response, thinks it out, weighs her options – and says yes.

I didn’t really stop there, though. Later on in the book, she makes a decision that isn’t the best. She goes on a ride with a male friend – one who is not entirely trustworthy – a man she knows her husband dislikes. I nearly flew off the handle again. Surely she’d read romance novels before! Didn’t she know this was a bad idea? What was she thinking? Well, as it turned out, she was being human. Making mistakes she was sorry for later, like humans do, and people in love do. It wasn’t the end of the world, and she worked it all out with the hero – who was not an unreasonable, unforgiving jerk, but a nice guy.

But apparently, I’ve been burned before. And burned, and burned. To the point where if I think a book is going to hit upon a hot button or a cliche that has annoyed me many times in the past, I put up mental walls and (metaphorically, of course) hide under the table, screaming. In this case, it was completely unwarranted. I ended up giving the book a B+ for heaven’s sake.

I’m not really sure how I got here. Is it because I’ve been reading romance seriously since 1993? That’s a long time – almost twenty years. And I’ve been reviewing for most of that time, telling people what I think about most of the books I read. Or maybe it’s that I’ve just read a lot of books that push my buttons in the last few years (I swear heroes didn’t always have to propose twice, but maybe they did and it’s just reached critical mass in the last couple of years).

After my recent experience, I’m going to try to give books a chance before I, um, hit the floor. Because maybe they’ll work it out. Maybe the heroine is just reasoning things out, and maybe the hero’s not a horse’s ass.

What about you? Are do you ever get Post Traumatic Romance Reader Syndrome? Do little, seemingly benign plot devices send you to a place you’d rather not go?

– Blythe Barnhill