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Romance / Erotica

  • Finalist

    Never Kiss a Scot

    by Lauren Smith

    Rating: 8.25

    Plot: The plot is fairly episodic but is also very nicely paced. The author maintains admirable control over this novel's storyline while inserting connections to other novels in the series and meeting expectations for the genre itself (Regency-era historical fiction).

    Prose: The prose style is very accessible and draws the reader into the story. The writing would be greatly enhanced if the anachronistic language were removed, as this phrasing temporarily dissolves the enchantment of the author’s words.

    Originality: The story upholds genre conventions, while adding many unexpected and delightful twists.

    Character Development: The characters meet genre expectations while also developing their individuality personalities and motives.

  • Semi Finalist

    Abigail Always (Ever After Book 5)

    by Linda Poitevin

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: The storyline here is very solid. While the bones of the story may feel familiar, the author skillfully enhances the plot line to make it feel fresh. Small details, like the distance between sisters and the lecherous family friend with her eye on the widower, add depth to an already strong plot. The reader will have no choice but to read until the story's inevitable conclusion.

    Prose/Style: The author has a clear talent for writing and equally excels with grammar, description, action, and dialogue. Her story engages and entertains the reader's heart and mind, compelling them to read until the very end. The writing here is top notch, and this author and her work deserve a wide audience.

    Originality: While there are flickers of plot lines right out of the “Sound of Music” (in-over-his-head widower, angry/resentful oldest child who doesn't want a nanny, reluctant-love-interest nanny, on-the-prowl single woman competing for widower), the author differentiates her story sufficiently to make it feel unique.

    Character Development: The characters here are believable and distinct. The author is able to develop interesting and sympathetic players, from the angry teen who can't deal with her loss to the sheltered/dominated heroine who has lost her place in the world to the overwhelmed widower who can't deal with his own grief, run a household full of daughters, and keep up with the demands of his business. Readers will relate to many of the challenges these characters face and will identify with their struggles.

    Blurb: Living, breathing characters engage from the first page, and readers can't help but feel for their plight and root for them until the very end.

  • Semi Finalist

    Bound in Flame

    by Katherine Kayne

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: With an exceptionally appealing Hawaiian setting and a wildly unusual premise, Kayne delivers a memorable adventure story that defies easy categorization. The author's imaginative landscape will cast a spell on readers.

    Prose: Kayne's prose achieves a rare feat by establishing an atmosphere of ancient magic while also providing a tone of historical verisimilitude.

    Originality: A strikingly original work that uses its setting and Hawaiian myths to optimal effect. A rip-roaring, smart, and vivid romantic adventure.

    Character Development: The romance between Kayne's central characters is, quite literally, sizzling. An individual with supernatural gifts, fierce convictions, and relatable emotions, Letty Lang is a truly dynamic and memorable heroine.

  • Semi Finalist

    Drove All Night

    by Sarah Hegger

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: The classic romance plot is elevated to a modern-day, wholly accessible real-life fairy tale with an excellent mix of romantic elements and spicy sensuality.

    Prose/Style: The prose is smoothly written and flows easily from one scene into the next.

    Originality: While a classic boy-meets-girl romance, this book also offers a refreshing perspective on motherhood, second chances and the meaning of community. The world is well-developed, offering the small-town experience, heart and soul.

    Character Development: Character flaws and strengths are well-balanced, with exquisite care taken in development. The fact that supporting characters play such a large role in the plot ensures reader immersion.

  • Semi Finalist

    Plot: The perfect blend of wholesome and sensual, the standard boy-meets-girl story is elevated to a whole new level with its unconventional plot twists and its diverse cast of authentic characters.

    Prose: With a clear writing style and a knack for immersing readers in detail, this wholly charming story ebbs and flows with a delicate balance between the ordinary and the extraordinary.

    Originality: The diverse, endearingly flawed characters and the story's small touches--Nora’s vegan choices, Ella’s devotion to service, alternative forms of spirituality--are a breath of fresh air. These aspects ensure that the novel is not only unique but possessed of everything that makes a good story great.

    Character Development: Ella and AJ’s paths of development may be clearly laid out and prominent, but readers will still delight in the unexpected events that bring them closer and lead to their individual growth. It's the thoughtful development of the secondary characters, however--both adults and children--that truly allows the book to shine.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot:Franklin does an excellent job crafting an interesting storyline with likable characters that will resonate with readers. While she relies on a rather clichéd plot device by having her heroine quite  literally bump into the man of her dreams not once but twice, the plot is otherwise refreshingly new and wholly engaging.

    Prose/Style:Franklin has a clear gift for writing. The story she relays is interesting, but how she handles the story is one of the qualities that sets the work apart. Her plot unfolds at a steady pace, and she creates living, breathing characters and realistic conflicts between her love interests.

    Originality:Franklin is able to deviate from the stereotypical romance formula by presenting fully developed, likable characters that live in the real world. While there is a happy ending, the story does not unfold like a fairy tale. Instead, she presents a unique setting populated with realistic characters and events. 

    Character Development:While Franklin offers an interesting plot with strong writing, what truly sets this work apart is her strong character development. The reader comes to know Lena and Gage, their emotional baggage, and why they think and act as they do. Franklin provides further depth by offering a subset of interesting secondary characters with nearly the same level of detail.

    Blurb:Entertaining and engaging, Franklin's tale will captivate readers from beginning to end.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Publish or Perish

    by Kerry Blaisdell

    Rating: 8.00

    Plot: Blaisdell’s multidimensional, complex storyline keeps the momentum on high, with several narrative threads that coalesce seamlessly and add a great deal of depth and substance to the work. The author maintains uncertainty throughout the novel and readers are unlikely to predict the outcomes of the many entangled mysteries.

    Prose/Style: The sharp, clear prose flows efficiently, without excess adjectives, staying on point and giving the reader the ability to remain absorbed in the story. The transitions between multiple points of view are smooth and unnoticeable.

    Originality: Although the idea of murder to cover up mistakes or falsified information is not new, the focus on biomedical research is highly original, while the crime's execution and the circumstances of the following cover-up are fresh and unexpected. Blaisdell also intriguingly blends elements of mystery and romance into the work, allowing the novel to engage readers on multiple levels.

    Character Development: Character development in this novel is perfectly confusing, leaving the reader often unsure if they like or dislike a character, and whether or not they are inherently unreliable. By placing readers on such uneven footing, Blaisdell builds a palpable sense of unease that is marvelously well suited to the mysteries at-hand.

  • When a Flower Burns

    by Trent Meunier

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: This is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story with an ideal combination of coming-of-age love and heartbreak, the effects of abuse on several levels, dealing with deaths, and how love can potentially conquer all--all from the point of view of one boy turned man in his most powerfully formative years. Although some readers will be able to predict the larger twist at the end, the journey getting there will be just as enjoyable, and readers will find the revelation equally exciting either way.

    Prose: Although the prose was sometimes distracting, calling attention to itself in its simplicity, rather than smoothly integrating into the story. Though not exceptional, Meunier's writing does not slow down the momentum or detract from the story enough to make it any less moving.

    Originality: With bittersweet, complicated young love, family relationships, and enough mystery to keep readers turning pages, Meunier creates a story that, while seemingly simple, is in fact wonderfully complex and thoroughly enjoyable.

    Character Development: Meunier brings both central and side characters to life. The author seamlessly marries the player's individual personalities with their far-ranging emotional states.

  • Sleeping Together (Perfect Drug Book 1)

    by Kitty Cook

    Rating: 7.75

    Plot: The plot moves forward at a breakneck pace and never loses momentum, while still managing to tie up all of the important loose ends and leaving the reader wanting another chapter – or three. It does hit all of the plot points one would expect out of a romantic thriller, but the obvious denouement arrives via two particularly well-drawn twists: a reveal that the villain's been spying on the protagonist's dreams, and a deceptive dream that ultimately forces her out of her marriage.

    Prose/Style: The story moves quickly thanks to immersive, vivid prose and snappy dialogue. Several particularly powerful sequences blur the lines between reality and dream-world, which is equally disorienting to the protagonist and the reader. The difference between Ness and Altan's narrative voices could be more distinct, to be sure, but once the reader falls into the rhythms of the book it's easier to tell who's narrating.

    Originality: While elements of this plot are derivative of "Inception," the author not only realizes this but openly acknowledges it and winks at it endearingly. It doesn't break the mold of romantic thrillers, but by pulling in science-fiction and romance elements, the end result will appeal to fans of all three genres.

    Character Development: Ness is a complicated, flawed heroine who frequently makes terrible (albeit not inexplicable) choices, and her indecision at the apex of a love triangle feels wrenchingly real. The gradual buildup of Ness and Altan's relationship as they get more and more enmired in the world of Morpheum, and where that relationship leads them, also feels true to life.

    Blurb: This genre-bending romantic thriller delivers steamy chemistry, razor-sharp witty banter, and twist after twist. 

  • Anne's Family Plan

    by Libby Malin

    Rating: 7.25

    Plot: The standard love-story trope is elevated here into something intriguing, quickly capturing and keeping the reader’s attention.

    Prose/Style: While technically well written, the plot’s foundation is undermined by a strong tell-not-show method of storytelling, relying too heavily on repetitious internal monologue.

    Originality: This book features an uncommon plot and unique take on modern-day romance and one that highlighted some pervasive, but little seen, aspects of military life.

    Character Development: Each character is lovingly drawn and well-fleshed out, but certain aspects are over-emphasized, turning the characters into only that single trait (i.e., Anne and her thoughts on children. A bit more about her hobbies and fascinating work would have been appreciated). Some expansion of the characters' origins and motives would strengthen the cast and overall plot. 

  • Laura the Explorer

    by Sarah Begg

    Rating: 6.00

    Plot: Though the basic plot, in which protagonist Laura has several pseudo-disastrous sexual encounters while pursuing a real crush, flows evenly, the author never fully dives into the exploration theme, making the story somewhat less of a sizzling sex farce and more of a lukewarm romance.

    Prose/Style: The author's prose has energy and spunk, and the banter between her characters is both playful and natural. While the tone may not entirely capture the emotional gravity of the circumstances leading to Laura's divorce, Begg's storytelling is readily readable and highly entertaining.

    Originality: This story leans heavily into twentysomething romance tropes--the mother nagging about having kids, the gay ex, and the sassy encouraging friend.The small world plot twists often fail to surprise, but Begg's premise is so fun, readers are sure not to mind some conventional elements.

    Character Development: While side characters often don't rise about stereotypes, the author successfully builds Laura's character as she attempts to break out of her comfort zone and discover her independence. Though the narrative remains light, Laura's ruminations on her relationship with her ex-husband are frequently poignant and insightful.

  • He's My Future (Hearts of Nashville)

    by Jenilee Wallace

    Rating: 6.00

    Plot: “He's My Future” is a romance novel that follows the conventions of the genre with a bit of Nashville spunk, though outside forces seem to have it in for Renee and Tyler.

    Prose/Style: Wallace has a fun, easy-to-read style that serves the romance well.

    Originality: “He's My Future” has a fairly standard story arc, though the fact that there is a revenge plot brewing against our heroes is sure to keep readers excited for book 2.

    Character Development: The characters in Jenilee Wallace's contemporary novel are pretty typical of the genre. Renee is sweet while and Tyler has a rougher edge. Both remain relatable throughout the story.

  • Forever, Lately: A Regency Time Travel Romance

    by Linore Rose Burkard

    Rating: 4.50

    Plot: There is an interesting meta-like overlap between the storyline of the author and character Claire's professional and romantic struggles, as well as that of St. John's.

    Prose/Style: While the plot is intriguing, the sentences here are clunky and do not successfully set character or environment moods.

    Originality: The use of introductory quotes per chapter is unnecessary and does little to add to the text.

    Character Development: Miss Andrews physicality aptly portrays her rambunctious nature, while Claire is consistently portrayed as insecure and skeptical, which is what is largely responsible for her predicaments.

  • The Only Future I Want (Hearts of Nashville)

    by Jenilee Wallace

    Rating: 2.50

    Plot: Although "The Only Future I Want" follows a plot that will be familiar to readers of the romance genre, it often felt rushed, as if moving from moment to moment instead of creating a firm narrative.

    Prose/Style: The prose of the book is solid, but there are several sentences in various chapters that have issues as far as tense and making sense. The prose here doesn't do much to help the book stand out. 

    Originality: The plot of "The Only Future I Want" is somewhat lacking in originality when it comes to the romance genre. Hunter, the stereotypical ladies' man, begins falling for Sherry, the coworker who doesn't know she's beautiful and who he never noticed before. 

    Character Development: The characters of "The Only Future I Want" are not well developed. Hunter and Sherry aren't clear as characters to the reader, only described in the most basic of terms and/or stereotypes.  Hunter is the well-muscled player and Sherry is a quiet knockout who doesn't know how beautiful she is.