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Romance / Erotica

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Scandalous Matter (Magic of Love Book 3)

    by Margaret Locke

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Despite solid plotting overall, some of the complications thrown at the romantic leads feel forced, as if the author is providing reasons for the couple to fail. Still, the pacing and structure serve the story well.

    Prose: This is the perfect marriage between a contemporary romance and a Regency. The miscommunications that result from the clashing worldviews, so well captured in the prose, are by turn humorous and tear-jerking.

    Originality: While time-travel romances are not uncommon, this combination of elements—a magical manuscript that creates the spark of true love, a passionate woman so devastated by the scandals of her past that she'll run away to the future for a chance at independence and happiness, and a workaholic whose kind heart only needs to open up to find true happiness—works together in a unique and satisfying way.

    Character Development: Although some development happens surprisingly quickly -- Amara's adjustment to the modern world pushes against the limits of believability -- both primary characters are well-built, with histories that make their reactions understandable if not always sympathetic. The rest of the cast is overwhelmingly supportive, so much so that the drive of the story relates to internal conflict, which concludes in a neatly tied up epilogue.

    Blurb: A satisfying mash-up of contemporary romance and Regency with a determinedly independent heroine and a workaholic-with-a-heart-of-gold sure to please fans of both subgenres.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Always in Love with Lily

    by Cathryn K. Thompson

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Although Lily and her ambitions sometimes get in the way of her love for Tony, the plot advances believably and the pacing is good. There is, however, a side trip near the end that may be a bit far-fetched for some readers.

    Prose: The writer's style is firm, consistent, and effective.

    Originality: While some of the elements and plot points will seem familiar to fans of the genre, the way they are assembled here works well.

    Character Development: The way the characters and their many issues evolve over the course of the novel is clear and well developed. Lily's internal conflicts could almost be called poignant.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Dragon Heat (Book 1)

    by Ella J Phoenix

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: In this well paced and solidly plotted novel, the conflicts and suspicions that dominate the story are smoothly moved toward resolution.

    Prose: The author's prose is solid, engaging, and appropriate to the material.

    Originality: The concept of vampires and dragons living in contemporary New York is clever and original, and the relationship between humans and magical races is fresh and unexpected. However, the battles and their outcomes will be familiar to readers of paranormal fiction.

    Character Development: From their first meeting, the course of the relationship between the vampire king and the draconian demigoddess fits into a predictable pattern. Members of the supporting cast evolve gradually and the relationships between long-time enemies make sense and are believable.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Stationmaster's Cottage

    by Phillipa Nefri Clark

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: The plot is well structured, engaging, and a little mysterious. However, many of the plot points are predictable and some of the letters become repetitive.

    Prose: The prose is highly readable and at times even poetic. However, there are some instances of awkward phrasing that could be remedied via some tightening.

    Originality: Though there is a twist at the end that will keep readers guessing, the story follows genre tropes that will be familiar to readers.

    Character Development: Overall the characters are decently constructed. Christie is an interesting character that readers will relate to, but she could use more emotional depth.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Dash of Desire

    by Charity Parkerson

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: Parkerson’s contemporary romance about a young widowed minister and the wild-child he wants to save is lively and engaging. The book is skillfully plotted, with believable twists and good pacing.

    Prose: The prose here is solid, though it does feature some awkward turns of phrase  (e.g. "nether lips") during more racy moments.

    Originality: A minister as hero isn’t definitely original, particularly in a story that is earthly and decidedly explicit in terms of sexuality.

    Character Development: Tristan is well drawn and multi-dimensional. Riley is also well rendered, though she does border on the stereotypical misunderstood bad girl -- but she’s never one dimensional. The secondary characters tend to be less developed and more types than fully formed players.

  • The Mirror (Epitaph 3)

    by Karla Brandenburg

    Rating: 6.25

    Plot: The blend of romantic and paranormal elements is a little uneven, but makes for an entertaining, ultimately satisfying story. The thriller elements are less enjoyable, but still effective in moving the plot along to its natural conclusion.

    Prose: The writing in this fast-paced novel is solid and engaging, allowing readers to get to know and sympathize with the romantic leads as they face their respective challenges.

    Originality: The basic premise here will not be new to romance readers. However, the addition of subtle paranormal elements and the genuine threat of a violent ex-boyfriend pump some life and depth into the story, making it more compelling.

    Character Development: As Sandra and Garth grow closer, it conflicts with Sandra’s desires to leave town and forge a new life elsewhere. However, there’s genuine growth and fulfillment on both their parts. The only drawback is Garth’s urge to protect Sandra, which weakens her portrayal as a strong, independent character.

  • Unattainable

    by Charity Parkerson

    Rating: 6.00

    Plot: Parkerson is at her strongest here when crafting romantic tension between two men who each believe the other is straight. Though that tension drives the first third of the book, and the pathos of the final third hits the right emotional chords, the intentional miscommunication of the middle section bogs down the narrative.

    Prose: The straightforward text is sure to meet audience expectations for the genre, though it offers little in the way of nuance or sophistication. Still, it is peppered with humor and plenty of high-voltage sexual encounters.

    Originality: Though never delving too far into the world of MMA fighting or the martial arts both men are passionate about, the backdrop of fight training, injury recovery, and touring to prove worthy of challenging the reigning champion gives a hint of unique flavor to a tried-and-true formula. A few twists along the way—especially the health risks—provide surprises before the expected happily ever after.

    Character Development: Brian and Terry's relationship insecurities, and Terry's unwillingness to fully face his health condition, are the deepest flaws either of these "innately good" men have. But their niceness and generosity is never irksome—it just leaves little room for character growth beyond their relationship.

  • TRIGGER

    by Faith Underwood

    Rating: 5.50

    Plot: The author has assembled all the elements necessary for a winning novel, but unfortunately they don't come together in the end. Readers are likely to be frustrated that the book fails to live up to its potential.

    Prose: For the most part, the writing is workmanlike, though some sections have a stilted quality due to awkward phrasing or excessive and unimportant details.

    Originality: The premise while not original has a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the execution—and an ending that falls flat—undercuts that potential.

    Character Development: While the characters are rendered well, few of them show much growth over the course of the novel. Lena probably exhibits the most change, but even she tends to react more than act.

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