Ask A Wench – Who’s Grumpy?

640px-A_Grumpy_Lion_(70010871)“Why, Grumpy… You do care.” Snow White discovers Grumpy’s compassionate side.

Nicola here, introducing this month’s Ask A Wench and a topic that has caused much discussion among the Wenches lately. (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons: Alex Patel).

“Adjectives to describe heroes have changed over the years.  "Grumpy" seems to be popular these days.  What does this mean to you? Are there other such adjectives you've liked or hated for heroes?”

Christina here and I don’t actually mind grumpy heroes, if they have a reason for being that way. Recently, I’ve read quite a few contemporary stories and Grumpy cat - Gage Skidmore Wikimedia Commons the grumpy heroes usually tend to be billionaires, which seems a bit odd. I mean, if you have enough money to buy anything you could possibly want, what’s there to be grumpy about? Mostly they’re tired of being pursued for their money, rather than their personality, which is fair enough. But if they’re just grouchy in general, they need a good kick up the backside so hopefully the story has a heroine who can administer that. Or they have been working too hard and the heroine injects some much-needed fun into their lives. If anyone has to be grumpy, I’d prefer it to be Grumpy Cat! (Photograph: Wikimedia Commons: Gage Skidmore).

I’ve seen “loner” and “damaged” a lot to describe either a historical hero who’s scarred from a recent war, for example, or a present-day hero who might be some sort of modern war veteran. This, to me, implies psychological scars, which can be difficult to sort out, but a kind and caring heroine is all they need.

“Brooding” is another adjective used to describe heroes, and this one I don’t like. It just conjures up images of a scowling man who is taciturn and stand-offish. Those are not attractive traits. Reminds me of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, a hero I could never take to or understand.

If an author wants to hook me with their blurb, all they need to do is tell me their hero is a “bad boy” and I’m there. (OK, that's two words, but still …) Now that is something that will draw me in every time!

WarthogMary Jo:

Writing book blurbs is challenging because one wants to capture the essence of the plot, the characters, and the feel of the story.  Words must be chosen very carefully.  Characters can be brave, kind, resourceful, tormented, reserved, warm-hearted, witty, charming, fierce, stubborn, and many other possible describers.

But I have to say that describing a hero as "grumpy" is at the absolute bottom of my list of adjectives.  To me "grumpy" is someone who is bad-tempered for no good reason.  Probably immature, irredeemable, and certainly not good company. 

 To me, this picture of a warthog pretty much defines, "Grumpy."  Not at all romantic except perhaps to another warthog!

(Picture: Wolfgang-Hasselmann, unsplash.com) 

Anne: I don't mind the term 'grumpy' for heroes. To me it's shorthand for a hero who's 'hard to crack' and that signals a fun journey to romance. I generally Dog grumpy assume a grumpy hero has been pursued for his money or position or used in some way, and as a result has become cynical and maybe even a little embittered about women. Whatever the reason, he doesn't believe in love. And isn't that a challenge we all enjoy?

But 'cynical' or 'embittered' or 'damaged' are not attractive-sounding adjectives to put in a book blurb, whereas grumpy sounds temporary enough that the hero can change, which is what we want. Perhaps he was even a romantic in his youth, but something happened to change him into the man he is now. So as a reader, I want the heroine to chip away at his hard, protective shell, and make him believe in love again. 

It's a description often used in contemporary romances, but there are plenty of historical romance heroes of the 'grumpy' sort. Quite a few of Amanda Quick's heroes could fit in this category — Seduction, Scandal, to name a couple. And maybe Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels. Possibly Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. Julie Garwood's Saving Grace?  Mary Balogh has a few. Even my hero in Gallant Waif was listed as a "hot grumpy hero" in this list on Goodreads. 

So, I take the 'grumpy' description with a pinch of salt and expect a 'hard to crack' hero and a fun romance. It doesn't always happen, but I'm certainly not turned off by the term.

(Picture: Charlesdeluvio, unsplash.com) 

EagleAndrea: We Wenches had an hilarious ”pre-game” discussion on this question as we composed our answers, so I hope you are all having as much fun with this as we did! 

“Grumpy” is not a word that would leap to my mind when thinking of adjectives for a hero. However, I don’t see it as an irredeemable flaw. I'm thinking of Roy Kent in Ted Lasso, who came across as a total grump, snapping and snarling at everyone. But viewers were given backstory hints that his demeanor was a protection for his inner vulnerabilities. And I found it delightful to watch several of the people around him—including his 8-year-old niece—slowly wear down his defenses. That he ultimately learned to laugh at himself and not to be afraid of expressing his feelings made for a very feel-good story of friendship and love.

Yes, there are some people who can’t be redeemed.  Self-absorbed, selfish men who have no empathy or sense of humor will never be heroes in my book. But men who have been hurt before, or are struggling with inner self-doubts make wonderfully complex characters and it’s fun to create a heroine who can stare dwon thie scowls and draw them out of their shell.

(Photo credit: Gerda DaRif)

Pat: I can’t top a grumpy warthog or cranky cat, so I went to the source—Merriam Webster, which says “grumpy” means “moodily cross: surly.” Synonyms Gorilla are a bit harsher: choleric, cross, peevish, grouchy, cranky. . .” 

Right now, I’m reading a book where the heroine is “snarky,” which to me, is far worse than “grumpy.” One can be grumpy when getting up in the morning before coffee. Snarky takes work. But in this book, the heroine has very good reason to be “peevish and grouchy.” It’s a wonder she’s still alive and hasn’t killed anyone yet.

I will totally accept grumpy heroes or heroines—if they have good reason to be so. If they’re just perpetually irritable, I’ll probably quit the book. (actually, if they’re billionaires, I’ll probably quit the book because who cares about their problems? I never liked Prince Charming either) I want likable characters, even if they’re likable despite themselves.

So the hero who has been badly burned by those he loved or trusted has every right to snarl at a heroine who chirps about true love making the world go ‘round. If she keeps on chirping despite his attempts to put her off, he can even bark loudly. I’d sure the heck do so. Okay, maybe I like grumpy because I am grumpy!

(Image by TitusStaunton from Pixabay)

Susan: The word grumpy can be misleading and subjective. Grumpy can have different meanings for everyone (it kind of reminds me of Grumpy in Snow Grumpy hawk photo by otto park White, who turned out to have a heart of gold, aww!). This discussion of grumpy heroes touches on the basic question of what qualities make a story hero a heroic and appealing character. Is a "grumpy" hero a man who is reserved, cautious, protective–yet basically emotionally mature and emotionally attractive – or is he a guy who might be selfish, spoiled, petty, and irredeemable? Is the grumpy sort worth the heroine's time and energy (and worth the reader's time and energy as well)? This "grumpy" descriptor works two ways – he's either a negative or a positive character and influence in the story. This grouch is either heroic at his core, or he is further down the scale toward non-hero. 

A gruff hero has substance and heart, and can lead to transformation and great reward for hero and heroine in the story. But a grumpy guy who is just difficult and not all that fixable — maybe he's better off as a villain.   

Years back, Mary Jo Putney and author Eileen Charbonneau and I did a few workshops on a hero type we called the Warrior Poet — the WP. We also called him the M&M hero, the tough guy with the outer shell that's hard to crack, yet he's yummy and loving inside (we handed out M&Ms to our workshop attendees!). Today we might call this guy a little bit grumpy or gruff. Beneath that hardened outer emotional shell, the restrained emotion and invulnerable facade, the WP/M&M guy can be soft-hearted with a deep capacity to love. That has tremendous potential in a romance hero. And it’s up to the heroine (and the writer) to bring out the best in him and help him get past what makes him so cautious and protective to help him discover his innate capacity to love. The story variations on this theme are endless.

This is my favorite hero to write, and I've played with variations on the Warrior Poet/M&M/Oscar the Grouch type many times. Open up almost any of my books and you'll find a guy who's a bit grouchy, standoffish, wry — but he deeply loves his family, his principles, he has tremendous integrity that he doesn't put on display. He's got a lot of secrets, with reason. But he's there in a flash for the heroine, and through her, he learns to crack that shell, open that door, and grow as a warrior, a poet, and a guy who loves M&Ms.  (Photo by @wings_in_light found here)  

Nicola: So there you have it – our thought on "grumpy" and other sorts of heroes and heroines. For me, like Susan, the first thing I think of when I hear the What_are_you_staring_at__(19878331218) word "grumpy" is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I didn't like the original Grumpy, heart of gold or not! Gruff seems a much more acceptable term to me for that tough, taciturn exterior that hides a heroic heart. But it's all in the interpretation and that is always subjective.

What are your thoughts on "grumpy" and the other words that are used to describe heroes? 

67 thoughts on “Ask A Wench – Who’s Grumpy?”

  1. Nicola, I love this blog–particularly that very grumpy library lion that you lead with! I can agree with Pat that being grumpy before morning coffee is understandable, but it that’s the only describer of a hero–not for me!

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  2. This was hands down one of the most fun post topics to read! I loved it. My two cents… the Warrior Poet / M&M hero are great quick ways to capture what the ‘grumpy’ hero’ in these various back-jacket descriptions are trying to bring to mind. I enjoyed this immensely. Thanks, Word Wenches.

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  3. This was hands down one of the most fun post topics to read! I loved it. My two cents… the Warrior Poet / M&M hero are great quick ways to capture what the ‘grumpy’ hero’ in these various back-jacket descriptions are trying to bring to mind. I enjoyed this immensely. Thanks, Word Wenches.

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  4. Great blog! I immediately think of the Disney dwarf – so – not sexy or romantic for me. Gruff would work in a snap.

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  5. Great blog! I immediately think of the Disney dwarf – so – not sexy or romantic for me. Gruff would work in a snap.

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  6. Thank you, Nicola and all the Wenches. I don’t have an issue with grumpy as a descriptor; however, it’s coming close to being overused. I’ve seen many books being described as grump and sunshine.
    I don’t mind the word snark, but I’ve really grown to dislike the word smirk. I don’t find smirking heroes (or heroines) appealing.
    And now I’d like some M&Ms!

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  7. Thank you, Nicola and all the Wenches. I don’t have an issue with grumpy as a descriptor; however, it’s coming close to being overused. I’ve seen many books being described as grump and sunshine.
    I don’t mind the word snark, but I’ve really grown to dislike the word smirk. I don’t find smirking heroes (or heroines) appealing.
    And now I’d like some M&Ms!

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  8. This was fun! Now I’ll allow that everyone is entitled to grumpy moments, like morning before you’ve had your coffee, or the end of a long day wearing shoes that hurt. But as an important characteristic? Nah.
    Grumpy goes along with things like sulky, selfish, self-centered, entitled, looking for something to be annoyed about. I say, “Suck it up, buster!”

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  9. This was fun! Now I’ll allow that everyone is entitled to grumpy moments, like morning before you’ve had your coffee, or the end of a long day wearing shoes that hurt. But as an important characteristic? Nah.
    Grumpy goes along with things like sulky, selfish, self-centered, entitled, looking for something to be annoyed about. I say, “Suck it up, buster!”

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  10. I have lived with grumpy men and it’s not easy; one is always putting a foot wrong without understanding exactly what one did. One of the values presented in romance writing is good communication between lovers, and grumps do not communicate in any useful way. I find it self-indulgent and not at all attractive 🙂

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  11. I have lived with grumpy men and it’s not easy; one is always putting a foot wrong without understanding exactly what one did. One of the values presented in romance writing is good communication between lovers, and grumps do not communicate in any useful way. I find it self-indulgent and not at all attractive 🙂

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  12. Grumpy to me comes across as anti-social. Or that the person is just generally negative.
    Gruff – more of a protective coating/defense mechanism. Even as personality trait but not nearly as negative.
    Definitely agree with Kareni about smirk. Smirk implies an unpleasant character to me. There is too much smirk in books. And when the character constantly smirks…not.
    This blog entry was a really fun topic. I loved all the different pictures y’all used to illustrate your thoughts!

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  13. Grumpy to me comes across as anti-social. Or that the person is just generally negative.
    Gruff – more of a protective coating/defense mechanism. Even as personality trait but not nearly as negative.
    Definitely agree with Kareni about smirk. Smirk implies an unpleasant character to me. There is too much smirk in books. And when the character constantly smirks…not.
    This blog entry was a really fun topic. I loved all the different pictures y’all used to illustrate your thoughts!

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  14. It’s interesting how these words become popular and then pop up everywhere. Grumpy to me will never be heroic. Snarky is just bad-tempered. I was told that UK and US meanings of smirk are different – I’m not sure if that’s true. Here is means a sort of self-satisfied grin that isn’t at all attractive.

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  15. It’s interesting how these words become popular and then pop up everywhere. Grumpy to me will never be heroic. Snarky is just bad-tempered. I was told that UK and US meanings of smirk are different – I’m not sure if that’s true. Here is means a sort of self-satisfied grin that isn’t at all attractive.

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  16. Well said, Lil! I get grumpy at the end of the day when I’m tired so I go to bed and feel better in the morning. It’s not something to be indulged!

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  17. Well said, Lil! I get grumpy at the end of the day when I’m tired so I go to bed and feel better in the morning. It’s not something to be indulged!

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  18. The communication issue is key. Grumpy feels as though someone is being deliberately awkward and self-indulgent. Words can and should be so nuanced!

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  19. The communication issue is key. Grumpy feels as though someone is being deliberately awkward and self-indulgent. Words can and should be so nuanced!

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  20. Thanks, Vicki, we had a lot of fun choosing the pictures to go with the blog! I’m probably even less fond of smirk than I am of grumpy!

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  21. Thanks, Vicki, we had a lot of fun choosing the pictures to go with the blog! I’m probably even less fond of smirk than I am of grumpy!

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  22. Very interesting look at language. Grumpy does rather remind me of a teenager and I have recently been living with three of them. On the other hand it does sign post to me a hero who can be quite easily brought out of his grumpiness and made to see that there are other, better options. I would put Charles in The Grand Sophy right in this box. For me if a hero was described as ‘surly’, that would be a non-starter!

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  23. Very interesting look at language. Grumpy does rather remind me of a teenager and I have recently been living with three of them. On the other hand it does sign post to me a hero who can be quite easily brought out of his grumpiness and made to see that there are other, better options. I would put Charles in The Grand Sophy right in this box. For me if a hero was described as ‘surly’, that would be a non-starter!

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  24. Thanks for introducing “surly” into the mix, Alice. Yes, there’s hope for grumps but surliness feels like rudeness as well as bad temper!

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  25. Thanks for introducing “surly” into the mix, Alice. Yes, there’s hope for grumps but surliness feels like rudeness as well as bad temper!

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  26. Grumpy is definitely out for me but gruff I can except. I especially like books that have a gruff older man who’s quite endearing behind it all.
    I agree with Christina about Heathcliffe! WHAT a dose!! I couldn’t finish that book at all.
    Maybe I’m a bit odd (well my family frequently tell me I am) 🙂 but I loved the picture of the Warthog above. The way he’s sitting and his expression are cute to me 🙂
    And Kareni, ‘smirk’ is an absolute pet hate of mine! I have DNF’d books because of it. The word grates on me.
    Really fun post!

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  27. Grumpy is definitely out for me but gruff I can except. I especially like books that have a gruff older man who’s quite endearing behind it all.
    I agree with Christina about Heathcliffe! WHAT a dose!! I couldn’t finish that book at all.
    Maybe I’m a bit odd (well my family frequently tell me I am) 🙂 but I loved the picture of the Warthog above. The way he’s sitting and his expression are cute to me 🙂
    And Kareni, ‘smirk’ is an absolute pet hate of mine! I have DNF’d books because of it. The word grates on me.
    Really fun post!

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  28. I don’t think there’s any difference in the meaning of smirk. Self-satisfied grin is how it translates here too. It can be useful when characters are in conflict and one triumphs over the other, but it’s a spiteful triumph in my book

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  29. I don’t think there’s any difference in the meaning of smirk. Self-satisfied grin is how it translates here too. It can be useful when characters are in conflict and one triumphs over the other, but it’s a spiteful triumph in my book

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  30. I’m another in the “can’t bear Heathcliff” anti-fan club! I loved the warthog as well, Teresa. It looks a bit sad rather than grumpy!

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  31. I’m another in the “can’t bear Heathcliff” anti-fan club! I loved the warthog as well, Teresa. It looks a bit sad rather than grumpy!

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  32. Thanks, Pamela, we had a great time putting this blog together! And thanks for the comment about the Warrior Poet/M&M guy. We had so much fun presenting that workshop years ago – you’re so right, it does help get to the heart of things – that a great gruff hero has real heart. 🙂

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  33. Thanks, Pamela, we had a great time putting this blog together! And thanks for the comment about the Warrior Poet/M&M guy. We had so much fun presenting that workshop years ago – you’re so right, it does help get to the heart of things – that a great gruff hero has real heart. 🙂

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  34. Thank you to each of you for this post. Grumpy – not a favorite of mine. But, I also am not a fan of the Billionaire. I guess that is because I picture certain billionaires who appear to have the personality of a piece of wood…but I digress.
    I think a hero who is reserved and stand-offish would not be as difficult to like. I like a story which tells about a couple who are able to provide one another with new directions in life, new gifts, new perspectives. Those are stories I enjoy.
    Heathcliff is not someone I liked at all. But, yes, Roy Kent is a sweetheart. No matter how much he tries to hide it. That could be a hero I would like. If a man loves his family, or even just some members of his family, it means he is a good man. And that is what it is all about.
    Thanks for this terrific post. And the hawk who looks as though he is ready to take names badge numbers. What a lovely bird. I bet he/she loves his/her family.

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  35. Thank you to each of you for this post. Grumpy – not a favorite of mine. But, I also am not a fan of the Billionaire. I guess that is because I picture certain billionaires who appear to have the personality of a piece of wood…but I digress.
    I think a hero who is reserved and stand-offish would not be as difficult to like. I like a story which tells about a couple who are able to provide one another with new directions in life, new gifts, new perspectives. Those are stories I enjoy.
    Heathcliff is not someone I liked at all. But, yes, Roy Kent is a sweetheart. No matter how much he tries to hide it. That could be a hero I would like. If a man loves his family, or even just some members of his family, it means he is a good man. And that is what it is all about.
    Thanks for this terrific post. And the hawk who looks as though he is ready to take names badge numbers. What a lovely bird. I bet he/she loves his/her family.

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  36. I’d never really thought about grumpy that much–I think I just said hmm, need to adjust him a bit–probably having to do stuff that he doesn’t enjoy all the time & has no pleasure in his life, like a Duke who had to take the reins young & so much work required. Yep, needs folks to help him find ways to get some fun in his life.
    Smirk came up in the discussions–yeah, I really don’t like smirks, guy or gal, altho’ usually seen as a guy. A smirk comes when a villain (mild or really nasty) thinks he’s won–and I’m sitting here saying “you’re about to get your head handed to you!” I think I prefer sneer over smirk!
    And the pictures are great, but I love that hawk! Looks like a cowboy in chaps, prepping for the draw-down on the villain out in the street!

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  37. I’d never really thought about grumpy that much–I think I just said hmm, need to adjust him a bit–probably having to do stuff that he doesn’t enjoy all the time & has no pleasure in his life, like a Duke who had to take the reins young & so much work required. Yep, needs folks to help him find ways to get some fun in his life.
    Smirk came up in the discussions–yeah, I really don’t like smirks, guy or gal, altho’ usually seen as a guy. A smirk comes when a villain (mild or really nasty) thinks he’s won–and I’m sitting here saying “you’re about to get your head handed to you!” I think I prefer sneer over smirk!
    And the pictures are great, but I love that hawk! Looks like a cowboy in chaps, prepping for the draw-down on the villain out in the street!

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  38. Well, I cannot like Heathcliff much either, I’ll take him over his chosen lady Cathy – what a self-centered monster. Ruins two men’s lives.

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  39. Well, I cannot like Heathcliff much either, I’ll take him over his chosen lady Cathy – what a self-centered monster. Ruins two men’s lives.

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  40. The pictures are wonderful and I agree with much of what was said (beginning to wonder who DOES love Heathcliff!). Janice J. knows of what she speaks! I’d lose interest in the book if no explanations for bad/rude behavior weren’t forthcoming. Grumpiness will hopefully be temporary because my feelings would suffer if constantly rebuffed. Grumpy is as Grumpy does. I might even wonder if Grumpy might revert to his original behavior after the glow of romance wore off. Interesting how many interpretations of Grumpy there were.

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  41. The pictures are wonderful and I agree with much of what was said (beginning to wonder who DOES love Heathcliff!). Janice J. knows of what she speaks! I’d lose interest in the book if no explanations for bad/rude behavior weren’t forthcoming. Grumpiness will hopefully be temporary because my feelings would suffer if constantly rebuffed. Grumpy is as Grumpy does. I might even wonder if Grumpy might revert to his original behavior after the glow of romance wore off. Interesting how many interpretations of Grumpy there were.

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  42. LOL, Annette! Billionaires with the personality of a piece of wood… Hmm, who could that be??
    Yes, couples who bring out the best in each other, who are better together than apart, is wonderful for demonstrating fresh perspectives. Isn’t the hawk brilliant?!

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  43. LOL, Annette! Billionaires with the personality of a piece of wood… Hmm, who could that be??
    Yes, couples who bring out the best in each other, who are better together than apart, is wonderful for demonstrating fresh perspectives. Isn’t the hawk brilliant?!

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  44. I like the Duke who is weighed down with responsibility finding a lighter side. Gruff, dour, even, is ok but grumpy just seems a bit selfish/childish. But it’s all in the interpretation, isn’t it.
    Smirk is just – not attractive, is it. It’s asking for the smirk/smile to be wiped off the face.
    There’s a lot of love for that hawk!

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  45. I like the Duke who is weighed down with responsibility finding a lighter side. Gruff, dour, even, is ok but grumpy just seems a bit selfish/childish. But it’s all in the interpretation, isn’t it.
    Smirk is just – not attractive, is it. It’s asking for the smirk/smile to be wiped off the face.
    There’s a lot of love for that hawk!

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  46. Yes, it really is all in the interpretation of grumpy, I think.
    Given that quite a few of us get more grumpy as we get older I think your point about the original behaviour returning is a very good one, Laura.

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  47. Yes, it really is all in the interpretation of grumpy, I think.
    Given that quite a few of us get more grumpy as we get older I think your point about the original behaviour returning is a very good one, Laura.

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  48. Personally, I’ve never understood the attraction of Wuthering Heights! I hated Heathcliff & Cathy both, & barely made it thru the book. People hold it up as a great piece of literature; I look at it as one I’m grateful never to have to read again! (First time was for a college lit class). But then, I rarely like titles that are advertised as Women’s Literature. Depressing as all get out & honestly, the news depresses all I need!

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  49. Personally, I’ve never understood the attraction of Wuthering Heights! I hated Heathcliff & Cathy both, & barely made it thru the book. People hold it up as a great piece of literature; I look at it as one I’m grateful never to have to read again! (First time was for a college lit class). But then, I rarely like titles that are advertised as Women’s Literature. Depressing as all get out & honestly, the news depresses all I need!

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  50. I’m sure I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of books with grumpy heroes, because a good author can make almost anyone loveable and redeemable. But in real life? A grumpy guy is someone I’ll cross the street to avoid!

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  51. I’m sure I’ve read and enjoyed plenty of books with grumpy heroes, because a good author can make almost anyone loveable and redeemable. But in real life? A grumpy guy is someone I’ll cross the street to avoid!

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  52. So true, kc! Whilst I thought WH was a very vividly-written book and I liked the fact that it was set just down the road from where I used to live, the whole bleak moorland thing and tortured characters was and still is pretty unapppealing!

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  53. So true, kc! Whilst I thought WH was a very vividly-written book and I liked the fact that it was set just down the road from where I used to live, the whole bleak moorland thing and tortured characters was and still is pretty unapppealing!

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  54. Absolutely, Karin. Seeing a grumpy character find some happiness can be a very enjoyable read but the word itself isn’t attractive!

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  55. Absolutely, Karin. Seeing a grumpy character find some happiness can be a very enjoyable read but the word itself isn’t attractive!

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