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Romance / Erotica

  • 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.

  • Semi 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.

  • Semi Finalist

    Essential Magic (The Fay of Skye Book 1)

    by Cara McKinnon

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: The narrative starts with the promise of magical adventures for Etta, but the plot meanders and lags until the very end.

    Prose: McKinnon writes clear and often beautiful prose, utilizing apt analogies to give liveliness to the text.

    Originality: An American girl with native blood who lands in London society makes a good frame for this romance novel.

    Character Development: The tension created for Etta by her upbringing and new surroundings results in much reflection on her part. However, the text could use more hints into other characters' motivations, especially Mrs. Upton's.

  • Semi 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.

  • Semi Finalist

    Snapdragon

    by Kilby Blades

    Rating: 7.00

    Plot: The narrative is well constructed, but could use a bit more meat than Darby and Michael's no strings attached arrangement and the tensions of Darby's job at Northwestern. The arrangement comes with familiar complications, but the book is enjoyable.

    Prose: The prose is solid, but doesn't do much to take the plot beyond its familiar elements.

    Originality: While not groundbreaking, the details of the relationship the arrangement created are somewhat fresh and there is a reveal towards the end that is surprising.

    Character Development: Darby is a well rendered character, but Michael feels a bit flat -- he comes off as too perfect -- and could be further developed. The villains of the book are imore caricatures than fully developed characters.

  • 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

    The Art of Healing - A Novel

    by Jeanne Felfe

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: This satisfying novel has a traditional romance plot, but infuses it with a depth and introspection that keeps the story fresh. No space is wasted on tangents, and the plot comes to a gratifying climax.

    Prose: The prose is fluent and a pleasure to read. It never gets in the way of the story, and the author always maintains the narrative voice.

    Originality: This may be the one area where the novel falls short. However, the characters are brought to life so well and the plot is so tightly crafted that the familiar narrative feels comforting rather than stale.

    Character Development: Both Julianne and Jakob grow and change. Readers are aware of their backgrounds and past heartbreaks, and the smooth narration reveals their thoughts as they reassess their lives and learn to fall in love again.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Sidelined: The Draft

    by Bianca Williams

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: No time is wasted in Williams's fun, fast-paced page-turner. The love interest is introduced on the first page, and things only get hotter from there until the thoroughly satisfying conclusion.

    Prose: The major weakness of this novel is the prose—and this is because of the author's use of present tense narration. For this book, third person narration would have been a better choice and would have made the prose more fluid.

    Originality: While sports romances are a popular subgenre, this book rises above the rest with its clear knowledge of football and use of all the right details.

    Character Development: The narrator is relatable and fun, and readers get to know her very well over the course of the book. Even the less likable characters are well-drawn and fully formed individuals with lives of their own.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Imbroglio: The Ties of Love and Lies

    by Heather Dawn Robin

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: This sometimes chaotic, sometimes suspenseful, violent, and often mysterious novel boasts an engaging plot. However, the complexity of the narrative—with its many twists and turns—frequently works to lesson the story's impact

    Prose: The author's prose is appropriate to the material and smooth. The writing maintains the requisite level of suspense and tension.

    Originality: This novel features an original concept that is unfortunately executed in a predictable way.

    Character Development: Carlos is well developed and mysterious, a character trait that is skillfully sustained throughout the book. Shannon is also well rendered, but some of the changes she experiences seem a bit abrupt. Additionally, most of the minor characters are thinly drawn.

  • 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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