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Romance / Erotica

  • Finalist

    After the Gold

    by Erin McRae & Racheline Maltese

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The authors follow the typical "star-crossed lovers" formula that ultimately results in a blissful union, but they successfully make it their own. The storyline is plausible, and the characters—in particular, Katie—are complex and authentic.

    Prose: The authors provide polished, succinct prose that transports the reader into the world of figure skating and into the tumultuous relationship between this Olympic pair of champions.

    Originality: This is a refreshing story that takes place in an interesting and unusual setting that will not be familiar to most readers. The characters are also unique, and their journey is both entertaining and insightful.

    Character Development: The authors do an exemplary job in developing their main characters and the complexities of their history together. Katie is especially multifaceted, offering up a wide array of objections that Brendan manages to ultimately overcome in this feel-good love story.

    Blurb: Figure skating fans will delight in this fun and engaging new work, rooting for Katie and Brendan long after they leave the ice.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Legendary Duke (Put Up Your Dukes Book 2)

    by Margaret Locke

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: The revenge quest of Gavin Knight is the driving force behind this skillfully plotted romance. The novel is full of tension and drama that will keep readers turning pages until the very end.

    Prose: Locke uses a contemporary style with an Austenian flair, and she varies both the tone and vocabulary perfectly, depending on the point of view of each character.

    Character Development: While Locke's characters are compelling, they're rendered fairly two-dimensionally. Also, they experience little change in their personalities; rather, they find the right place for themselves as they are by the end of the story.

    Originality: Savvy readers will note the inspiration of this story from the Arthurian tale of Gawain and the Green Knight. Locke also draws on other literary influences, including Dumas and Austen, to create something wholly new from familiar forms.

    Blurb: Locke seamlessly blends hints from classics like The Count of Monte Cristo, Pride and Prejudice, and Arthurian legend into an utterly enjoyable Regency romance.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Thin Place

    by Hope Carolle

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Carolle’s novel boasts a well-constructed, engaging plot that gallops along at an exciting pace.

    Prose: Carolle’s prose is witty, humorous, and interesting. The author’s knack for vivid and meticulous descriptions—especially when it comes to feasts, landscapes, and textiles—is a wonderful part of this novel.

    Originality: The Thin Place draws on classical magical tales that include time or world travel—including the works of L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and C.S. Lewis—but Carolle puts her own modern spin on things, creating a memorable work.

    Character Development:  Carolle’s characters are very well developed, vivid, and relatable. Readers will easily engage with them and their stories. 

    Blurb: Hope Carolle’s The Thin Place is a marvelous, romantic fantasy, a perfect read for both fans of medieval literature and a good old-fashioned love triangle. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Awakened By Time

    by Jennae Vale

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: Vale's story is soundly structured and progresses quickly. Sparks fly upon Elle and Hamish's very first meeting, and their relationship deepens during their limited time together in 16th-century Scotland.

    Prose: The dialogue in this novel can be a bit clunky at times, but the descriptions of desire and emotion are meticulous and provide much insight into the characters' goals and fears.

    Originality: Vale's story is charming and fantastical, a wonderful daydream that melds together historical fiction and the romance genre.

    Character Development: Vale's characters are fully fleshed out, physically and emotionally. The small community Elle finds herself in reminds her that home and family are truly priorities in the life that she left behind.

  • Semi Finalist

    Sugar Street

    by M.J. Pullen

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: Pullen's intriguing series starter with pitch-perfect pacing begins with the main characters already in jail, setting the stakes and encouraging readers to follow along and discover what happened. Romance readers will be disappointed, however. Less romance and more firmly in the women's fiction category, this story of four relationships is drawn with compassion and nuance but doesn't land on happily ever after. 

    Prose: Pullens’s prose is fluid and smooth. Each of the characters has a unique and nuanced tone that readers would identify even without the helpful section headers identifying the POV. The writing never calls attention to itself, instead, it uses authentic dialogue and succinct phrasing to delve into the characters’ inner lives.

    Originality: This book relies on a premise that is at once hard to believe and easy to swallow. Would four women who love their husbands hire a male escort to bring the spark back to their marriages? While a far-fetched idea, Pullen develops it smoothly, bringing readers along for the ride without a hitch.

    Character development: Despite their similarities, the four main characters clearly came to their current lives by different paths, and their marriages have unique hurdles—and each relationship finishes in a different place. The uniqueness of each relationship and the differences in outcome for four women in the same situation work to showcase Pullen’s ability to understand and grow her characters.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Uncharted: A Survival Love Story

    by Julie Johnson

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Johnson's plot is decently paced, slowing down after the initial whirlwind of events that puts the rest of the story into play. Readers witness the quickly strengthening bond of Violet and Beck as they encounter the unthinkable together, for better or for worse.

    Prose: Johnson's prose is simple and realistically portrays the frenzied emotions of a young woman whose world has literally been turned upside-down. The author's descriptions of traumatic events are meticulously detailed and memorable.

    Originality: Johnson's unconventional, uncharted romance brings the world of cuddling castaways to life in a way that feels fresh, believable, and original.

    Character Development: Johnson's protagonists are relatable, vivid, and appealing. Secondary characters are also well crafted and believable.

  • Quarter Finalist


    by Kristen Granata

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: This novel's fast-paced plot is well structured and compelling. The narrative is sometimes pleasantly predictable and the book makes for a comforting and nostalgic read.

    Prose: Granata's novel boasts flirtatious, bubbly dialogue and a strong and entertaining narrative voice. Plenty of life lessons also give heft to this engaging story.

    Originality: This is a fun, uplifting romance novel inspired by genre classics. However, the author infuses the work with her own take on grief, illness, abandonment, new love, and lifelong friendship.

    Character Development: Granata’s characters are both realistic and relatable, even if some of them are vaguely reminiscent of genre types. Nonetheless, the cast is fun, well crafted, and entertaining.

    Blurb: A poignant tale full of brightness and hope.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: This is a well-plotted work takes a typically timid young adult on a cross-country trek in her dead brother’s cherried-out Camaro, riding shotgun with a hunky musician. The detailed, character-driven plot delivers light tension, fun, and romance. 

    Prose: Evans's prose is simple and unpretentious, peppered with regional colloquialisms and southern charm.

    Originality: Evans puts a fresh spin on the cross-country road trip story, crafting an engaging romance that balances pure entertainment with authentic emotion. 

    Character Development: The novel lays a solid groundwork for two sympathetic, young individuals to unburden themselves of guilt and redefine themselves apart from past circumstances. 

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Cost of Hope

    by G.S. Carr

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: Carr’s fast-paced and tumultuous work of romantic historical fiction begins with the physical and bloodthirsty pursuit of heroine Soleil's cruel and lustful guardian, before evolving into a caring and passionate love story.

    Prose: The author's prose relies heavily upon a multitude of poetic devices, especially similes and metaphors. The author’s attention to emotional detail, be it the caustic dialogue of the antagonists or the tender interactions between the lovers, is certain to resonate with readers.

    Originality: While in some respects, a traditional story of love lost and found, the historical setting lends the narrative an unusual atmosphere. Additionally, Carr's careful exploration of emotional wounds is unique.

    Character Development: Thoughtful, well-conceived characterizations allow readers to respond viscerally to the events in the novel.

  • Looking Glass Friends

    by E. L. Neve

    Rating: 7.50

    Plot: At times it feels like the plot of this novel is circling a predictable outcome. Nonetheless, readers will be compelled to keep reading until the very end.

    Prose: The letter writing between the characters is well done and their missives feel quite sophisticated. The prose tends to be overly detailed and stiff in spots, and this slows down the action.

    Originality: This novel features an original and fascinating premise that will please readers.

    Character Development: The characters here are solidly constructed and relatable. Some readers will root for the characters, while others may judge them harshly. But this speaks to their depth and nuance.

  • A Star Is Falling

    by Rita Bell Valet

    Rating: 6.75

    Plot: The exciting, energetic, and rigorously-paced plot immediately draws curious readers in, and the shenanigans don’t slow down until the audience is left hanging—and eager—for a sequel. 

    Prose: The author's prose is honest and playful—even erotic, at times—and the use of flashback is both effective and allows the reader to peer into the lives of the characters. The use of humor throughout the storyline is well-executed.

    Originality: A star in trouble is not a novel concept for a book, and A Star Is Falling: Part I relies a bit too heavily on this cliche foundation to keep its head above water. 

    Character Development: The book focuses on a hardcore, memorable protagonist who proves that when something goes awry, a person can successfully—if painfully—pick up the pieces and redirect herself. The author effectively introduces the protagonist in the first sentence, immediately letting us know that what she lacks in sophistication, she proudly flaunts in entertainment value.


  • A Pinch of Salt (Three Sisters Catering Book 1)

    by Bethany Lopez

    Rating: 4.00

    Plot: The plot of this novel will be familiar to readers. Additionally, there's very little in the way of stakes or tension throughout.

    Prose: The book's prose is solid, moves along at a good pace, and is engaging. Several literary references to well-known romances are sure to delight fans of the genre.

    Originality: There are few surprises in the story, and readers will find the plot fairly predictable with familiar genre tropes.

    Character Development: The romantic leads are familiar and fairly one-dimensional. Jericho, a minor character, carries more mystery and potential conflict than any of the major players. The reader is left missing that depth and potential in the others.