What hits your hot button?

(Note: the hot button I’m referring to isn’t related to our previous discussion on how to heat up the fictional bedroom. Sorry if you’re disappointed.)

Last week I randomly clicked on a link to a review for Judith James’ Libertine’s Kiss. (I can’t find that link now, so if this description of the review sounds familiar, please let me know.) The review was thoughtful and complimentary, and awarded the novel 4.5 stars out of 5.

At the end, the reviewer gave her reasons why she’ll never re-read Libertine’s Kiss, even though she thought the book was well-written. It features two subjects she doesn’t like reading about, even in fiction: sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Let me say here that Libertine’s Kiss is far and away one of the best books I’ve read this year. I reviewed it for The Season and gave it a 9, which made it a top pick for August. (You can read my review here.) The thing I loved most about it was that the characters have to face real-life problems, and they face them realistically and honestly.

Their happy ending is hard-fought-for and, because of that, I can relate to their story much more easily than I can to billionaire characters in the Mediterranean.

Reading that other person’s review reminded me of an interview I read earlier this year with Deidre Knight, after Butterfly Tattoo came out in print. Again, a book I loved because the focus is on characters struggling to overcome their hang-ups; yet it took Deidre Knight years to get it published because of the hero’s unusual past.

It made me wonder whether I have any hot-button topics that would keep me from enjoying or reading a book. There are certainly loads of subjects I hate seeing treated lightly – when a heroine is raped to gain sympathy from the hero, for example. I completely understand that certain topics can be painful to read about, depending on an individual’s experiences. That’s not really what I’m talking about here, and I don’t think it’s what that review was talking about.

The only hot-button topic I could think of is incest, or anything that smells of inbreeding. I recently read Stephanie Laurens’ All About Passion, and the hero and heroine are cousins. Now, I know that was a common thing in the past, but the story kept making the point about how similar they were because they were related. I found it difficult not to picture the deformed children they would create together. The same issue gave me the ickies when I read Geogette Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, where the hero and heroine are first cousins.

Other than that, though, I don’t think I have any off-limits topics.

For me, fiction is about exploring the ways we react and adapt to the crap life throws us. I think the most interesting novels start with a character who’s suffered something beyond their control. I want to read about how they cope with that. How they seize control of their own life again. How they become more powerful through battling adversity.

As long as a story is as intelligently and sensitively written as Libertine’s Kiss and Butterfly Tattoo, I will re-read it till it falls apart. (Or, in the case of Libertine’s Kiss, till my downloaded reviewer copy from NetGalley expires.)

Are there any topics you don’t want to read about? Any taboo topics you think romance novels shouldn’t touch? Or does it depend on how the author handles them?


  1. Hm…interesting topic. I think I’d like Libertine’s Kiss/Butterfly Tattoo. I like harder-edged material that makes the romance even sweeter. I can’t think of a topic that would really be taboo for me. Heck, my characters don’t even have to be human. I wouldn’t want them torturing puppies or drowning kittens, though.

    1. Agreed, Suzanne. Purposeful cruelty to animals is not a nice trait. I don’t mind graphic scenes where life’s tough for humans and animals alike (*ahem, Kaki Warner, thinking of you…).

      1. I don’t think I would have read Butterfly Tattoo if it hadn’t been for the urging of Angela James and I ended up loving it. It is hard to overcome one’s hot buttons but sometimes it can be very rewarding.

        1. Hi Jane! Thanks for stopping by. I agree it can be difficult to overcome our expectations for certain storylines. When a reader or reviewer you trust recommends something, it makes it easier to approach.

          BTW, I wouldn’t have known about Butterfly Tattoo if not for Dear Author. So thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  2. No mercenary story lines, no jungle story lines. For some reason those two quickly degenerate into travelogues and very little focus on the romance, and I hate that.

    1. Hi Rebecca. That’s a really good point, and one I hadn’t thought of. There are lots of story lines that get annoying – rather than offending me. And I think it depends on how blantantly the book is marketed on the story line. So, if a book has “secret baby” in the title, I can be pretty sure it’ll be a shallow treatment of a cliched story. But if I’m reading it and discover the heroine has a child she’s kept from the hero, it won’t annoy me so much – as long as it’s well written and feel natural.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      1. I tend to get more annoyed with books than offended:) But I’m curious now. I’ve read a few other blogs on this same topic recently. Why do “secret baby” story lines bug people so much?

        I was reading one book the other day that really irked me because the heroine was….dare I say it? ……..an IDIOT. She met an Arab at a masquerade ball. Within minutes of meeting her, he was whisking her away on his jet to his island, all the while laying the flattery on as thick as slab of bacon, and she kept saying dumb things like, “you really like me for me? You have no ulterior motive?” Gee, YA THINK?! I don’t know that I’ve ever come across such an unintelligent heroine but that really bothered me. It went beyond naive to just plain dumb.

        1. Hi Rebecca! Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I’ve been away.

          “Secret baby” plots are ALWAYS mentioned high on lists of pet peeves. In my opinion, that’s because it was a plot that has been over used. But that doesn’t mean they’re always bad. If a publisher labels a book “secret baby”, I’m sure lots of people wouldn’t buy it, but clearly loads of others would because publishers know their market. And this kind of plot can be woven subtly into a novel so a reader wouldn’t immediately identify it as a “secret baby” novel.

          And nothing gets me to put a book down faster than a dumb heroine – except, maybe, a bullying hero.

  3. I’ve read everything by Stephanie Laurens, she is one of my favourite authors, but the idea of incest makes my skin crawl too! The only thing I hate in books and movies and even real life is when a child dies. I don’t know if I hate it because I’m a mum, a woman or a human being but I still have nightmares about the movie trainspotting when the junkies wake up and find their baby in the cot… well, you can probably guess what happens next. I can read stories regarding a hero or heroine who has lost a child but it’s a fine line and if it isn’t done well, it’s an automatic cover-closer for me.

    1. That Trainspotting scene does really stay with you, Bronwyn. I think you’re right when you say it’s a fine line. With lots of these issues for me, it depends on how the author uses the plot and how they describe what happens/has happened. That was my problem with the Stephanie Laurens novel – if she’d just mentioned once they were cousins, I could’ve forgotten about it. But there was quite a lot of emphasis on how similar they were because they were related. uck.

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