Please recommend some M/F genre romance novels which break the conventional wisdom on the rules of the genre. I'm particularly interested in recent books, like published within the last 5-10 years.

(Genre romance = books published as romance novels. Books which contain a love story but were published as something else, such as science fiction, are not what I'm looking for as they have different rules.)

1. Books where the romantic lead is not an asshole. He doesn't domineer over, sneer at, have contempt for, dismiss, try to control, blackmail, kidnap, or try to rape the heroine, EVER. If he starts out doing so and then reforms, he's still an asshole and the book is disqualified.

2. Books where the hero is not an "alpha male." That is, he's not cocky, not wealthy, not domineering or controlling, doesn't have a traditionally manly occupation, isn't aggressive, has some traditionally feminine interests, etc. (For instance, the hero of Cotillion.)

3. Any "bad girl/good boy" romance.

4. Any books where the heroine has traits or an occupation which are traditionally masculine. Lots of contemporary romance novels have heroines who are professionals, businesswomen, etc - I don't mean that. A heroine who is a criminal, a military helicopter pilot (Suzanne Brockmann did that), or has "alpha male" traits herself would be unusual. Or a heroine who's had lots of sex previously, enjoyed it, and doesn't feel guilty about it.

5. Any books where the hero is sexually submissive and/or the heroine is sexually dominant, and that's not the entire point of the book. (ie, not Natural Law, where that's the entire premise. Suzanne Brockmann's Dark of Night would count, since there's lots going on other than Decker getting off on Tracy giving him orders.)

6. Any books which have an unusual level of questioning of gender roles, characters with serious previous relationships that didn't end in death or misery, books where the hero and heroine are completely equal and he never dominates her, books where the hero and heroine have actual cultures and religions (and that's not the entire point of the book), etc.

They don't have to hit all these points, just some. But if, for instance, the heroine is a thief but the hero is an asshole, or the hero is a sweet computer geek but the heroine is a naive virgin, please say so.
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rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rosefox

M.L. Buchman's Night Stalkers books all have military heroes and heroines who are equals on the battlefield. I believe the heroes are generally non-assholes.

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recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

From: [personal profile] recessional

...augh this makes me want to go back to practicing writing romances, as I have several stories that could qualify, I just fail at writing them. :|
princessofgeeks: (Default)

From: [personal profile] princessofgeeks

I have recently enjoyed the "Brothers Sinister" novels by Courtney Milan.

Also "Smart Bitches, Trashy Books" is a great blog to find recs of the type you are looking for.

I only rarely read M/F romance, but Milan, I think, fits your bill.

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From: [personal profile] cahn

Oooooh! I have one! Magdalene (Moriah Jovan). It's book 3 of the Tales of Dunham. (The others are about related characters, but don't need to be read to enjoy this book. I read this one first and like it the best, and it probably fits your criteria the best, though I like them all.)

The heroine: a CEO who used to be a prostitute!
The hero: a nice-guy CEO who is also an LDS Bishop!

This quote from the hero: "She has her own [career/money] and if all she wanted was a meal ticket, she wouldn't have stopped being a prostitute. That's a lot more honest than a woman who marries for money."

There's a lot about LDS/Mormon culture in the book, as well as skewering of cultural expectations of same. There may be more in this book than you were looking for (the other books in the series that I've read are lighter on the religion and heavier on the plot, but I can't remember if they fulfill your other criteria, like a non-asshole hero). Speaking as a Mormon who has a lot of non-traditionally-Mormon views, I enjoyed it a lot.

(If this piques your interest, I wrote up a little more about it here, including a couple of caveats.)
rosefox: Green books on library shelves. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rosefox

Also, Joanna Bourne's Spymasters series has some really marvelous spy heroines. I can't remember whether the heroes do alpha male/asshole stuff, and the books are historicals so usual caveats there, but again the heroes and heroines are on a level--the men are British spies, the women are French spies, setting is the French Revolution--and generally very admiring of one another's competence even when they're enemies.

Oh! Oh! And Isabel Cooper's No Proper Lady, in which the heroine is an assassin from a dystopian demon-haunted future sent back to Victorian England, where she has to pose as a lady to infiltrate upper-class circles and kill the magician who's going to unleash the demons. She's tough as nails and quite skeptical of all the Victorian gender role stuff. The hero falls into your alpha male category--he's got both money and magical powers--but as I recall he's generally pretty decent. It was billed as Terminator meets My Fair Lady and I can't really do it better justice than that. It's a superb historical romance AND a superb bit of time travel SF. Highly recommended.

On the religion/culture side, Carla Kelly's Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand is a really quite marvelous quiet historical about a vicar's widow whose determination to save herself and her children from her predatory brother-in-law leads her to stand up to the local marquess and demand his protection. It's not at all what I would call an "inspirational" romance, but Roxanna's faith is an important part of her life and her character. I wish more historical authors would incorporate religion that way; most Regencies never show a church outside of wedding scenes. Also, the hero is a really decent guy. (This is Kelly's trademark.)

You might also be interested in Kelly's Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career, in which a young woman disguises herself as her brother in order to attend Oxford. Again, the hero is a very decent guy, and obviously the whole thing is about questioning gender roles. I found the ending rather dispiriting, but the rest is quite good.

I am very amused that apparently I basically ignore the men in romance novels and just read them for the women. "She's like this and this and this and this! Also there's a guy in there somewhere I think." But since I mostly read historicals, and historicals are mostly about rich men, it's safe to assume they're all alphas if not assholes.
Edited Date: 2014-03-17 07:04 pm (UTC)
legionseagle: (Default)

From: [personal profile] legionseagle

Persuasion by Jane Austen.
Wentworth qualifies on all counts.

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ursula: (sheep)

From: [personal profile] ursula

I think Rose Lerner's second novel, A Lily Among Thorns, is the sort of thing you're looking for. It's a Regency romance where the heroine is a fallen woman, now running an inn, and the hero works as a tailor because he really likes tailoring. In her first novel, the hero is feckless but not domineering, the hero and heroine both have serious prior relationships, and the hero is really impressed by the heroine's accounting skills; however, there the heroine is more of the classic naive protagonist.

From: [personal profile] shana

Nora Roberts' _Tribute_. Romantic suspense, the heroine is a former child actress turned construction contractor and the hero is a comic book artist.

While some of Nora Roberts' heroes may TRY to control the heroines, they accept not being able to do so. I am thinking in particular of the hero of _Born in Fire_, a gallery owner who would really like it if the glass artist who is the heroine would answer phone calls and follow the itinerary he arranges for her.

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From: [personal profile] tevere

Anna Cowan's Untamed deliberately plays with gender roles within the romance genre, and features a hero with many feminine traits (who also cross-dresses) and a heroine with masculine ones. It provoked a lot of controversy in the romance world last year, with some loving it and some hating it for what it did to the established 'rules' of the genre.
lilysea: Serious (Default)

From: [personal profile] lilysea

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.
staranise: A star anise floating in a cup of mint tea (Default)

From: [personal profile] staranise

Butterfly Tattoo by Deirdre Knight has a pretty nice bisexual hero, who is grieving his husband's death and raising the daughter they had together. When he starts dating the heroine, he has to fight some flak from his queer acquaintances about what his sexuality "really" is.

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rilina: (Default)

From: [personal profile] rilina

I keep wanting to recommend Heart of Steel by Meljean Brook. I don't remember the details well, though, and it probably hits some of the annoying tropes that you list. But the heroine is a mercenary airship captain, and the hero is a marginally successful treasure hunter with a ridiculous romantic outlook on life. I feel like Riveted in the same series may hit some of the same buttons, but definitely skip The Iron Duke, which is totally rapey alpha male nonsense.

Megan Hart writes erotic romance that breaks some rules while sticking to others. The heroes in Dirty and Stranger are both Jewish, though it's mostly a background detail, as is the African-American heroine in Naked. Switch looks at power dynamics in some interesting ways, though it didn't entirely work for me; it is a rare romance where I wasn't initially sure who the hero ewas. If you wanted to give Hart a try, I'd probably start with Dirty, as it is fairly representative of what she does.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

I liked Heart of Steel, though less than I was hoping, largely because I felt like Brook kept trying to stress the hero's masculinity, which was not something I needed to be reassured about!

I LOVE Riveted, which features a heroine raised on an island of lesbians and a nice hero who actually apologizes to the heroine when he pressures her. (Also, it is one of the very few non-African-American romances that features two POC protags.)

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vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)

From: [personal profile] vass

A lot of Mary Balogh's Regencies. Seducing An Angel (2009) comes to mind: hero is a virginal innocent (I can't remember if he's an actual virgin or not, but definitely younger and more inexperienced than the heroine - he's the one being seduced) and the heroine is a widow who's widely believed to have murdered her husband. With an axe.

I think there have been other books by her where sex is one of the things the widowed heroine misses about her late husband.

And I haven't read it yet, but I remember someone mentioning Nita Abrams' The Spy's Reward as one where the heroine's Jewish.
rike_tikki_tavi: cuddle pile of mongooses (Default)

From: [personal profile] rike_tikki_tavi

Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. Liu. It's the first of the Dirk&Steel series.

She is a steelworker and weapons smith and he's a shapeshifter, who's been imprisoned in a magical box, cursed to be the slave of the box's ownwer (think djinn in a bottle). There's magic and soul bonds and a whole slew of supernatural beings involved. It's been several years since I read the book, but I remember enjoying it quite a lot. And while the heroine refuses to enslave the hero, the power lies quite emphatically with her.
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)

From: [personal profile] oyceter

Connie Brockway, The Bridal Season: Victorian historical bad girl/good boy dynamic, heroine is a con artist and hero is the local hero who has been knighted by the queen. I really like the hero, who is super nice. And the heroine decides to sleep with him for sex and not love, while he is the one who wants the emotional attachment.

Meljean Brook: I know I've recced her to you before, but she tends to have powerful heroines. Her heroes kind of vary on the asshole scale though (SKIP IRON DUKE!!!!!). The ones I think fit in particular are Demon Angel (bad girl/good boy, in which heroine is a half demon and the guy is a fallen Guardian); Demon Bound (guy is centuries younger--it's a paranormal--and the heroine's superpower is communicating with spiders); the novella "Thicker Than Blood" (heroine was turned into a vampire and she keeps knocking the hero out b/c she doesn't want to have sex with him due to vampiric bloodlust). The Iron Seas ones I liked are in my comment to Rilina.

Courtney Milan: I think you've read the "Un-" series? Her latest book, The Countess Conspiracy, features a heroine who is a scientific genius and a hero who has been presenting her work as his own on her bidding, with a dynamic in which he's the one who makes sure stuff is clean and she eats while she is the eccentric genius who is brusque and forgets people are around when she's caught up in science. Also, super nice hero. I'm a bit more meh about the first two books of the series (The Brothers Sinister).

Charlotte Stein: erotic romance writer with a really funny voice. She has several shorts (contemporary) with a more sexually open heroine and a prim hero... I think "Control" and "Telling Tales" IIRC.

Megan Chance, Fall from Grace: I think I tried siccing this on you before? Both the heroine and the hero are outlaws in the Wild West, but the book really does not shy away about the dark stuff that goes with it, and the hero is much more emotionally committed than the heroine. This is one of the more atypical romances I've read; I'm not surprised the author eventually ended up writing historical fiction.

Seconding the rec for Butterfly Tattoo, and I think Rose Lerner's A Lily Among Thorns fits your criteria as well (I liked but didn't love it). I think you've read most of the others I'd rec...

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rilina: (Default)

From: [personal profile] rilina

I also think some Janet Mullany might qualify? Again, I can't remember details well enough, but might be worth asking around. I remember Rules of Gentility playing with some of the usual Regency tropes, and one day I will get my hands on Dedication, which apparently does the same. I believe her books have gotten increasingly smutty, which may or may not be a selling point, depending on what you are looking for.
metaphortunate: (Default)

From: [personal profile] metaphortunate

Bookmarking this page like whoa.

From: [identity profile]

Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart is a medieval with a machiavellian heroine and a idealist hero.

Judy Cuevas' Dance takes place during the early 20th century France. The heroine is a pioneering filmaker. The hero a stuffy businessman who is rediscovers his capacity for passion. I love Judy Cuevas aka Judith Ivory's prose. This book is a favorite due the theme of the heroine as artist with the kind of psychological messiness (but not melodrama) that you see in heroes. Its not in print but you can read the pdf here:,1355310125.pdf

Connie Brockway's All Through the Night. The heroine is a thief, the hero the investigator. A bit dark and angsty but it doesnt feel contrived.

From: [identity profile]

I started to write up Courtney Milan before I remembered that you'd read those. How about Joanna Bourne? The hero of the first book is pretty dominating, but the second, the unfortunately titled My Lord and Spymaster, is a very fun book about a privateer captain (I'd say 90% not an asshole) and a former cat burglar who does the books for her father's shipping company. The third, The Forbidden Rose, has a really warm hero and a fantastic heroine who runs an underground network for refugees in the French Revolution.

From: [identity profile]

Huh, I don't reread My Lord and Spymaster because the hero is so much of an asshole. I mean, the heroine is pretty cool (and not a virgin), but the hero's domination really bothers me.

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From: [identity profile]

Well, right now I'm reading Jeannie Lin's The Sword Dancer which has a heroine who's good with the sword and who hasn't been dominated by the hero for 2/3s of the book. Also: Tang Dynasty setting!

I've heard Unbound by Cara McKenna has a submissive hero, and I don't think it's the entire point of the book, but I haven't read it. Contemporary romance.

The Typewriter Girl by Alison Atlee has an experienced heroine and a sexually inexperienced, super sweet hero. Historical romance.

I think Cecilia Grant's heroes are really interesting. Historical romance.

In Jill Sorenson's Set the Dark on Fire, the heroine is a wildlife biologist who tracks cougars. Romantic suspense.

In Joanna Chambers' The Lady's Secret, the heroine cross-dresses, so there's some questioning of gender roles (historical romance).

Sarah Mayberry has a mechanic heroine, but I couldn't tell you which one. A Blaze, I think.

Talk Me Down by Victoria Dahl has a bad girl/good boy vibe with sexually experienced and comfortable with it heroine and a blushing hero.

These are all fairly recent, I think. Honestly, I think there are a lot of these books out there, though perhaps not always easy to find.

From: [identity profile]

M.L. Buchman writes romantic thrillers in which the female leads tend to be military, helicoptor pilots, wildland firefighters, and the like.
But the malelead starts off as kind of an alpha male jerk, but the female lead has no time for his nonsense and gives him attitude right on back.

Sadly, romance isn't my strong point, so I can't think of too many examples which meet more of your criteria.

From: [identity profile]

I cannot speak speak about them in depth, because it's my sister who read them, but she speaks very highly of the Nerd series by Vicki Lewis Thompson, beginning with "Nerd in Shining Armor." The male love interest is a computer programmer.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer

The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin fits 1 & 2 -- the hero is in the traditionally masculine occupation of a dissolute student nominally studying for the imperial exams, but notably not cocky but instead doing the Scarlet Pimpernel thing of acting more dissolute as a cover, and not dismissive of the heroine, the personal maid of a courtesan.


From: [identity profile]

Re: item 1 in The Lotus Palace, the first "romantic interaction" is the (highly privileged) hero grabbing and kissing the (powerless, previously a forced prostitute) heroine, and her struggling free and slapping him. But he was, you know, good-intentioned and regrets it later?

Not saying this should necessarily rule it out from this list -- it's not just a "hey let's throw in some sexy sexy assault and then pretend it never happened" thing, a major focus of the book is them figuring out how to navigate the class+gender roles they have to work with -- but fair warning seems called for!

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From: [identity profile]

Sarah Mayberry has a Blaze category about a female boxer, BELOW THE BELT - I have not yet read it, though I've liked others of her books.

In the m/m world (I know, not what you asked for exactly): WALLFLOWER BY Heidi Belleau features a geek who's getting into genderplay. GLITTERLAND by Alexis Hall has a lot of class conflict going on; the educated hero suffers from depression and other things, while the lower-class hero is a model.

You've probably already read some Megan Chance, but if you haven't read FALL FROM GRACE yet, I'd go with that one for the heroine. It's a historical, set in the old west, and she's grown up with bandits.

From: [identity profile]

Jennifer Weiner's Good in Bed hits points 1, 4 and 6 pretty strongly; the hero is a doctor but the heroine is a journalist and - ultimately - screenwriter and, as the title indicates, has had lots of sex and doesn't feel guilty about it at all.
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