Reading the RITA winners, Part 1

IMG_0673What makes a book worthy of the Romance Writers of America’s annual RITA award?

I wanted to know from a reader’s perspective. So armed with the cover of the September RWA magazine, Romance Writers Report, I started looking for them, the best of all the novels submitted to the annual contest. There are 13, everything from best first book to contemporary to historical to erotic to romance with religious or spiritual elements. I can’t forget suspense or paranormal.

While I could find them all on their authors’ websites or Amazon, I went to the library. My local libraries had very few. This, I’m sorry to report. I did direct a librarian to the posted web page and recommended they order them right away. If these are the best in new romance, people are going to want to read them. Another library system near me had recently ordered most of the ones I couldn’t find.

Here’s what I’ve read: so far:

So good I got another by this author: BETWEEN THE DUKE AND THE DEVIL by Kelly Bowen is a hoot. A lady in desperate straits finds herself in a gambling hell, able to get the quick cash she needs because she has the ability to count cards. Of course she gets caught and, of course, romance ensues. Loved the characters, even her ne’er-do-well brother who can certainly make a mess of things. So many things happen at a rough and tumble pace I could barely keep up. But you know what? I went right out and got another Kelly Bowen book.

Naaah: FALLING HARD by Lexi Ryan wasn’t for me. I found the lead characters not to my liking. The fourth of a series, which I didn’t realize while I was reading, it’s a second chance story for an NFL player and the woman he lost.  I’m sorry to say I didn’t even give it half a chance but. Life’s short; I don’t read what I don’t love.

My favorite: NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT by Kristan Higgins is more than a romance. Chosen as a mainstream fiction with a central romance, it’s more a story of a doctor who has found her way home after spending most of her adult life staying out of her suffocating hometown. Although she’s changed, the town still sees her as the ugly child who “stole” a more worthy student’s scholarship. All but the boy next door.

Better than I expected after the first scene: THE FIXER by HelenKay Dimon started with a scene I’ve learned in countless workshops NEVER to do. The main character is looking out a window, thinking. A writer friend and I discussed this with great surprise. However, after that, the mysterious Wren and Emery, a young woman full of moxie, go head to head in a story that kept me turning pages. I blush as I write this but the sex scenes in here made me race for my fainting couch.

Even with the spiritual commentary, so good: THEN THERE WAS YOU by Kara Isaac took me to two of my favorite places, Australia and New Zealand and to a place I knew nothing at all about—the Christian mega-church. An inspirational novel, full of phrases like, our relationship with God, Are you at least a Christian? and We’re building the church, it’s also a sweet, simple story about two people who don’t want to fall in love. You know they will anyway, once they get over themselves. Both Josh and Paige have big issues to get over but it’s all set against the beauty of Sydney, with a koala thrown in (a funny scene) and the haunting earthquake-damaged city of Christchurch, New Zealand. I stayed up late to finish it, hooting and hollering at the HEA.

Charmer from beginning to end:  SECOND CHANCE SUMMER by Kait Nolan is great fun. A woman still recovering from a horrendous accident, a man who survived a different accident but lost a dear friend. One full of hope. The other so guilty. And yet they find themselves at the same summer camp for adults, in the same canoe, on the same zip line. Can they find love, broken as they are? What fun to go back to camp, if only in my mind, for s’mores, campfires and young love.

Loved the characters but…: HUNT THE DARKNESS by Stephanie Rowe wasn’t my cup of tea. I loved the main characters, especially the strong, selfless women Sophie and Maria. And for them I wanted to finish this book. But it’s long—OK, not Anna Karenina long. Halfway through, I was so distressed by the despair and the evil I couldn’t go another step. I would need Maria to help me make it through and she has enough troubles in this paranormal romance. Stephanie can write conflict, torture her characters with the best of them and make me care. Up to a point. The depth of the conflict and the courage and strength of these characters made me see why this book won a RITA.

What makes these winners? Character, conflict and motivation–no matter how the opening sentence plays out–make all the difference. It didn’t even matter if the conflict made sense. Even though most of the stories are simple, the characters have much more to accomplish besides falling in love. There are accidents and other tragedies to overcome, a lack of confidence or scads of bravado that need to be addressed, desperate straits and mysteries that need to be solved. They made me care. They made me turn the page. And in true romance fashion, they made me happy when it ended happily ever after

That’s all I’ve read so far. There are more. When I find them I’ll write about them here..


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