Jun 26 2013 8:30am

Real Life Meets Fiction: But It Was Hot in the Book!

Bookmarked page image courtesy of flossyflotsam via Flickr Creative CommonsI recently devoured Tessa Bailey’s His Risk to Take. It was a romance with a lot of buzz from Heroes and Heartbreakers bloggers and readers alike. I tore through that book like there was no tomorrow. I even found myself falling for the hero Troy and mentally urging the heroine Ruby to quit being difficult and just love him. That’s all great. Totally normal reaction to a romance, right? We should want them to be together.

Here’s the thing: As the afterglow of book consumption faded, I wondered what on Earth was wrong with me. I shouldn’t have found the things Troy did sexy. I shouldn’t have been happy about it. He’s overbearing and bossy. But through the magic of Bailey’s writing I understood and even appreciated his incredibly overprotective actions.

While I certainly credit Bailey for giving enough of Troy’s point of view for me to understand why he sought control—his goals are always about her safety, and he does have reasons to believe she’s in danger—I think there’s more to it than that. I think we, as readers, can fall for characters who behave in ways we’d never accept in real life.

Part of that is the fantasy aspect. Maybe another part is our allowance for events and behaviors in novels to be larger than life. If your detective lover put a police tail on you against your wishes, you’d be pissed. If he ordered you to stay in one place instead of suggesting or—gasp—asking, that wouldn’t fly either.

We accept these things in novels, however. We see it often in paranormal romances. Once a mate goes into “mine” mode, it’s all about doing what he thinks is best. As readers, I think we connect with the animal instinct of protecting our spouses and families. Getting to see it played out on a grand scale heightens the experience.

We’ve talked before about our innate attraction to characters that kill to protect or honor their significant others. That echoes my sentiments here. Would I really want my husband to slaughter someone who harmed me a la Dorian in Richelle Mead’s Dark Swan series? No. There are huge consequences and I’m anti-murder. That said, there’s something powerful in seeing someone pushed to the limits in the name of love.

So when we read about characters who practically kidnap their lovers (think J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood, Larissa Ione’s Demonica series and the like), it makes sense for us to get swept up in the emotion of it. The power of these heroes’ need to do anything and everything to protect the ones they love by doing the crazy, socially unacceptable things.

In the end the heroine always forgives them, they set new boundaries for their relationship and move on. As readers, we do the same thing. Even if it requires a double take after hitting ‘the end.’

Do the overprotective heroes sweep you off your feet or is it a turn off even in fiction?

Bookmarked page image courtesy of flossyflotsam via Flickr


While Chelsea Mueller runs Vampire Book Club, she won’t turn down a sexy werewolf, demon or faerie. Her appreciation of Alexander Skarsgard is well documented. Bother her on Twitter — @ChelseaVBC — she likes it.

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Beth Rogers
1. Shiranui
Anything the Judith McNaught heroes do generally turns out to be because of manipulation or seduction that isn´t wanted by the heroine. But I have to give the woman credit, she writes the characters so sharply, with blistering attention to their thoughts and emotions, that you can almost forgive the men for their borderline abusive ways. Somehow, it all seems to make sense. I wouldn´t call them great romances now that I´m out of my teens and can see the relationship dynamic for what it is, but they are sweeping, well-written stories.
2. ChelseaMueller
@Shiranui - I get that reaction. I remember reading Hunger Like No Other by Kresley Cole and being mad that she made me want the hero and heroine together by the end of the book. He treated the heroine in the most abhorrent of ways in the beginning of the book, but Kresley's so talented she made me sympathize. Then I felt all guilty about it.
Nicole Leapheart
3. BoxyFrown
I cut my teeth on Jude Deveraux books when I was a teenager, and nobody is as obstinant as a suave Montgomery or a cranky Taggert. Perhaps this is the reason I find some behavior sexy in books but unacceptable in real life.

I love Gideon Cross. How would I feel if he had an exact replica of my bedroom built at his place? Creeped out. For that matter, the way he came on to Eva in the very beginning was pretty vulgar -I couldn't have dealt with that, no matter how good looking and rich he was. (Maybe. ha!)

On the other end, sometimes I can read a book and not connect with the man at all. if I finish that book, it's because I am expecting a redemption of some kind to occur.

I feel bad because sometimes I feel like the women are being difficult for difficult's sake in some books, and it annoys me! If you have a stalker, why are you sneaking out to go to the grocery store? For ice cream?? Because you don't want your boyfriend to be the boss of you?? /end rant.

So I suppose, in the end, I like my protective alpha men, but the out and out douchey guys can take a hike.
4. lizzie18
Boxy Frown. Boy, did you ever it a nerve with me with your comment about 'women being difficult for difficult's sake'. Last month I read the most assinine book EVER: 'All or Nothing'. It could have been a thrilling action-packed story if the heroine (and everybody else also for that matter) had not been acting so ridiculously stupid. She's divorced from an abusive and mob connected crook who beat and raped her incessantly but now wants her back, badly. In order to protect the new man in her live, she's considering going back to the ex and trying what she can to get rid of him. Now, did I mention that the new man in her life in an experienced mercenary living in a training fortress with a couple of dozens other mercenary, all armed to the teeth with a room full of sniper rifles, AK47s, explosives, oh and did I mention rocket launchers. But she still feels the poor man needs protection. The whole book is like that : go jogging alone 'outside' the big expansive compound (and of course she end up kidnapped, big surprise); being grabbed in a park but not telling her guy (and we are not told why); the 'grabber' acting suspicious but still being somewhat welcomed in the compound even though the hero does not trust him (why let him in?); one of her bodyguard letting casually slip vital info in front of that guy (really? who is that stupid) and that is never addressed. The 'grabber' of course wound up working for the ex (WE knew that right off, why not the experienced military man, there were enough clues!). Like I said, everybody is stupid or comes out of left field. Case in point, the businessman brother who loved her so much last year is now trying to kill her, and started by killing the hero's friend; he cut off his fingers first (now don't you need to work up to that a bit before you get to that level). I'm telling you, I kept reading to the end just to see what other rididulous inconsistencies were written in the book just to force the plot of the story.

Talk about venting.... end of my rant.
Jennifer Proffitt
5. JenniferProffitt
@Chelsea Mueller, I felt the same way. I totally love that book and stand by it, but if it weren't for Cole's talent as a writer many of the scenes would have been totally unacceptable—I'm especially thinking of the shower scene at the beginning.

I think a lot of what can help us love the alpha hero and his heroine together is if we get both perspectives of the story. Do we know why the hero acts that way? Do we know that the heroine is aware or unaware of his motives? Does she like his bossiness, overprotectiveness (usually not but hey!), etc.? If we have the answers to some of these questions then it makes it more palatable. But IRL, we don't know the motives of a guy who seems like a jerk, and even when we do there's no way of knowing that he'll change or adapt his ways like we tend to assume in Romance.

I can only think of one time an alph-hole turned me off in a book and it was in Kristen Ashley's Motorcycle Man when he grabbed her throat. I could accept his treatment and behavior in every other case in the book, but in that scene I just kept thinking "Nope, no matter what, grabbing a woman by the throat when you are taller and easily outweigh her is never acceptable." I really did devour that book but just couldn't get over that one thing—alpha hero or not.
6. BananaTricky
I know I'm going to be in the minority here but I loathe the vast majority of this stuff. I do find it marginally easier to swallow in paranormal romances because the guys are usually not human (I know, I'm not sure why that makes it ok either) but otherwise it really annoys me.

In so many books recently, especially since 50 Shades, I just want to shout at the heroine "restraining order"! Most of these female characters are portrayed as being talented, clever and often successful women so I don't understand why they would allow a man to treat them as though they don't know what they really want or can't think for themselves.

Having said that, I do agree that some of the heroines are quite frankly too dim to tie their own shoelaces and need to be told what to do - I am also VERY tired of the idiots heroines who, as @BoxyFrown said, go out alone at night when they have a stalker, and equally asinine behaviour.

I also know I am in the minority when I say I have bought no less than four Kristen Ashley books based on reviews and failed to finish each and every one because I absolutely detested the male leads whose behaviour was (in my opinion) not sexy but super scary as in "I think within six months he won't let her have any friends or chose her own clothes, or go anywhere without him".

I just find these kind of men tipping over into abusive behaviour and they get added to my DNF pile.
7. Alissa H.
I don't care if I know why someone is controlling and (in my opinion) abusive. It still isn't acceptable, and sure as hell isn't attractive or heroic. You always have a choice about how you deal with what has happened to you, and mistreating others is not a response I can respect. I loathe men who do not respect a woman's right to have her own opinions and make her own decisions. If her decisions are obviously stupid, yes, he can argue, but ultimately, if she is an adult, she still is allowed to make her own choices. Wouldn't he expect the same right? I suppose some of your reaction will depend on your real life experience with controlling men.
Beth Rogers
8. Shiranui
@lizzie18 -- I was the same way. I was finished with the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong series forever when the main character, Elena, knowing that there is a crazed villain out there hunting supernaturals for sport and has succeeded in catching several, goes on a drag race/joy ride with her boyfriend while they are in the middle of attempting to get away from the situation. Of course she ends up getting caught.

This was after I forgave her for being a colossal doormat in not only forgiving her ex-boyfriend for violating her trust and biting her, turning her into a werewolf (which could have easily killed her - the entire conceit of the novel is based on the idea that there are no other female werewolves in the world because the process of turning kills them). She left her perfectly nice human boyfriend who loved her and had never manipulated her trust or abused her because 'he couldn´t understand,' but it was really just so the author could play around with hot supernatural sex and get rid of the boring humans.

Woo, boy. Now look who´s on a rant!
9. Torifl
I'm definitley not a fan of fictional alpha hole behavior mantifesting into real life. I have said a million times that if my hubby ever did half the stuff my book boyfriends did...I'd put him 6ft in the ground.

That being said, I really think it's the sign of a gifted author who can make you not only forgive an alpha hole's behavior but get you to like them. Kresley Cole is such a gifted author in that she made me tolerate both Lothaire and Aiden the fierce. And those two treated their heroines like complete crap. If the author can convince me their reasons for acting they way they do are sound, then I'm more apt to enjoy the book, though its rare that I'll ever jump on the "I love xx so much" band wagan.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
10. emmel
I'm with BananaTricky. Can't stand this type of hero. That said, it saves me a lot of money because I don't need to buy these books. :-)
11. Emma W
I'm afraid I have to confess, I love the He-man stuff. When I'm reading the book I usually slide easily into the position of the heroine, assuming the author's any good, and it turns me to goo when the hero is super-protective and primal. Yes, in real life I'd have a problem with some of the borderline stuff they pull, and books like Jennifer mentioned where the 'hero' grabs her throat and is basically an abusive douche tend to put me off........ I haven't read that book, so I'm not sure of the context; if it was during love-making and it wasn't painful or frightening it could be sexy, I don't know. In real life there'd be boundaries, such as me going ape-sh*t on the guy if he pulled that in the wrong context.

I actually read one of our "alpha romance" books a couple of years ago -- don't remember the title -- where the guy basically raped her early in the story and the novel just kind of progressed into happily-ever-after without her or the author ever acknowledging that he had RAPED her. And I'm not ashamed to say I'm into seduction scenes which start off with "no, no, I couldn't possibly" but progress into "oh yes don't stop" from the heroine. But that book (wish I could remember the title) was basically rape which ended in involuntary orgasm (which is still rape, of course); I spent the rest of the book going NO WAIT HE RAPED YOU! and waiting for acknowledgement of it and some grand emotional reconstruction and rehabilitation and what-have-you to justify his continued existence.... which never came.

Anyway, despite these poor examples which I put down to bad writing and the author's personal demons, I say again that I love a good He-man! Moreover, unlike many have said on this thread I actually miss not having enough of the fictitional he-man in today's modern male. I turn to mush when the never-heard-of-a-SNAG hero starts looking at his lady love and saying or thinking "mine" in that wonderfully possessive way that the great authors write, and I have actually spent some time mourning the fact that I will probably never hear something that from a man, without first explaining what I want and why, which would take the shine off of it.

In short, as long as the woman is able to assert certain boundaries, and there's enough give-and-take in the relationship, I say bring on the macho muscle-bound men sweeping their women off their feet (literally) and claiming them with that primal self-assuredness which is so super sexy! And climb on out of the book and do the same to me!
(Haha yep sad I know).
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