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Romance / Erotica

  • Finalist

    Plot: The energetic, fast-paced love story feels organic and fresh, though faintly reminiscent of the nostalgic romantic comedy movies, most notably “America’s Sweetheart”.

    Prose/Style: The novel flows smoothly and is well edited. The writing is wonderfully descriptive without being too overembellished.

    Originality: The faux relationship trope has been around for quite a while, but this novel gives it an update filled with quirky characters.

    Character Development: All of the characters here are fully developed in their own right, richly detailed and executed. The small details threaded throughout offer more dimension, bringing the characters to life.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Chemsworth Hall Series, Book One - Violet

    by Perpetua Langley

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: This novel is a delightfully madcap Regency with impressive wit and heart. While a traditional romance, it is carefully filled with unexpected turns.

    Prose/Style: With smooth flowing prose, the occasional pacing issue is easily overlooked when compared to the light, breezy style of the dialogue and narrative.

    Originality: Unlike most Regency romances dealing with the aristocracy, this one is filled with unique twists and showcases the lighter side of the era.

    Character Development: Jam-packed with memorable, lovable characters, the novel’s shining strength is its variety of voices filled with wit and whimsy that will keep readers, especially young readers, returning time and again.

  • Semi Finalist

    Take a Chance on Me

    by Kathryn R. Biel

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: Although this charming romance follows the typical romance plot structure, the storyline stands out from the usual with a fresh, fun setting; a thoroughly engaging heroine; and a sweet, sexy, and strong connection between the lovers.

    Prose: The seamless prose—including funny, realistic dialogue between the main couple—flows easily from start to finish. One particular highlight: Psychological information about the heroine’s emotional struggle avoids becoming too technical and its ease-of-execution adds depth to the story. The love scenes are passionate and sweet, never cliched or gratuitous.

    Originality: Romance fans will adore this sweet and tender love story that expertly explores an emotionally damaged woman’s rebirth through love. The well-matched main couple and the storyline rise above the tropes of the genre with genuine humor, charm, and emotional resonance.

    Character/Execution: The heroine is the star of the story—a fully realized woman whose growth from emotionally damaged recluse to strong, healed romantic partner is compelling and triumphant. The hero is equally engaging and perfectly complements the heroine with his flawed-yet-chivalrous personality that avoids the alpha-male cliche. The supporting characters are rich and contribute greatly to the overall narrative.

  • Semi Finalist

    Haunted Hearts

    by Kimberly Dean

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot: This novel does a wonderful job of mixing a steamy and sweet romance storyline with an intriguing mystery. The two intertwined plots are well-paced and combine to create an overall narrative that’s romantic, sexy, mysterious, and engaging.

    Prose/Style: Realistic dialogue, especially the conversations between the main couple, gives the story a strong emotional core that drives both the primary romantic relationship and the mystery storyline. Dean’s well-executed prose heightens the romance and suspense of the story. Also, the author relates historical information integral to the plot in a truly compelling way.

    Originality: The protagonist couple with powerful chemistry and a truly spooky and intriguing mystery will make readers both swoon and stay on the edge of their seats. This romance uses familiar tropes but reimagines them in an engaging way that makes it stand out from the rest.

    Character Development: Callie and Carter have fully fleshed out personalities that expertly drive their romantic evolution from foes to friends to lovers to happily-ever-after couple. Strong supporting characters--particularly the cast of small-town characters--enhance the overall romance/mystery narrative with humor and charm.

    Blurb: Haunted Hearts has it all--a swoon-worthy romance, a spooky ghost story, and small-town charm. If you're looking for a page-turner to indulge in this summer, this romantic suspense is it.

  • Semi Finalist

    Plot: An effective standalone romance, this fourth title in Baker’s Almost a Billionaire series, has a serious emotional core. The story of two individuals recovering from injury and trauma, and redirecting their lives, is memorable.

    Prose: Baker’s prose is warm, engaging, and fresh, and the voices of her protagonists are both distinctive and immediately captivating.

    Originality: Baker brings a unique and welcome level of depth to her primary characters. As such, their romance carries greater meaning and momentum.

    Character/Execution: The leads are immensely sympathetic, and their chemistry is undeniable. Side characters serve the narrative, carrying their own conflicts into the central storyline.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Simple Soul of Susan

    by Noel Branham

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: The Simple Soul of Susan is a romance novel that is both heart-warming and heart-wrenching. Branham's story is relatable, simple, and at times it feels drawn out. However, this is dwarfed by the masterful writing and delivery of a topic that is often infantilized. The author makes it clear: love is not perfect, but that's okay.

    Prose: The prose here is pleasant to read, even, and almost whimsical in its flow. There are occasional inconsistencies with tenses and instances of repetition, leading to minor confusion and needless overcomplexity, but overall, the work is refreshing and eminently readable.

    Originality: Branham's polished and genuine story does not noticeably echo other works of fiction. Its narrative gracefully balances exposition with description, and in-scene development.

    Character Development: The author does a remarkable job of establishing characters who are dynamic, multi-layered personalities who continue to evolve and grow through the novel. These qualities make them quirky, memorable, and engaging. The author also masterfully distinguishes between main protagonists and secondary characters without over-resourcing on the latter.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Never Say Duke

    by Erica Ridley

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: This historical romance’s plot moves quickly but still hits each plot point at an enjoyable pace. The distinct predicaments of the main characters--especially the heroine’s struggle with autism--give the story an emotional weight that mixes perfectly with the threads of humor and romance.

    Prose/Style: This novel’s prose has it all: strong dialogue, engaging description, charming humor, and swoon-worthy romance. The English dialect particular to the Regency Era adds a realistic flavor, without being too dense to be understood.

    Originality: Two thoroughly compelling main characters with their own unique complexities grow as individuals as their emotional connection deepens from caretaker/patient to romantic couple. The romance is sweet, inspirational, romantic, and resonant, elevating this story above other historical romances.

    Character Development: Theodore, the hero, is an engaging example of the brooding alpha male. His personality is never overbearing and, given his unique predicament, evolves in a reasonable way. The heroine, Miss Virginia, is the star. Her autism is explored realistically and with care, creating a truly unique character and story.

    Blurb: Never Say Duke enthralls with an enamoring romance between a damaged hero who quickly realizes the strong-willed, resourceful heroine is exactly the balm he needs. This novel charms with romance, humor, inspiration, and heart.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Born In Water

    by Sarah Hegger

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This paranormal romance moves at an entertaining, attention-holding pace to create a strong narrative mix of supernatural intrigue and love story. Although the ending feels a little abrupt, the narrative to get there is funny, interesting, and enjoyable.

    Prose/Style: Hegger does an excellent job creating an engaging paranormal world with powerful descriptive language and natural-sounding dialogue, neither of which ever becomes clichéd or overly verbose. Even the more gruesome scenes pulse with an undercurrent of concern and self-recrimination by the conflicted hero. Ancient characters bring some humor to the narrative as they navigate the modern world. The love scene is passionate without being overdone in purple prose.

    Originality: Entertaining, romantic, and funny, Born In Water is a worthy entry into the paranormal romance genre and a great start to what seems to be a promising series.

    Character Development: Strong, vivid characters populate this riveting novel. The lead hero and heroine have distinct personalities that become even more engaging as they grow individually and as a couple. A compelling cast of supporting characters flesh out the story, with the main adversary being especially scary and evil, if a little undeveloped. The supporting female characters are so engaging, the reader can’t help but root for numerous sequels.

    Blurb: Destined to be supernatural adversaries, a witch and warlock tempt fate by falling in love in this humorous, sexy, and captivating paranormal romance. A very promising start to a new series.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Brains and Brawn

    by R.L. Merrill

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Expertly plotted and paced, this romance builds a central relationship that is sweet, sexy, and satisfying. The love story grows through various plot points and conflicts, taking the main characters -as well as a vibrant supporting cast - on an emotionally resonant and heartwarming journey. It's exactly what a good romance book should be.

    Prose/Style: Merrill’s dialogue is authentic and exhibits variances of tone and cadence when spoken by different characters; it's distinct and clear. The love scenes are explicit and passionate with an undercurrent of emotion that sets them apart from others in the genre.

    Originality: Merrill's novel is a heartwarming love story that features an engaging main couple whose road to happily-ever-after is fun, sweet, romantic, and memorable. This story rises above the typical romance novel with its relatable and genuine conflicts, charming romance, and a captivating main couple.

    Character Development: The protagonists are strong, fully fleshed out characters who have distinct personalities and challenges. Their growth, as individuals and as a couple, is excellently portrayed. Merrill does a wonderful job creating an expansive yet strong set of supporting characters, who are each well-rounded and vital to the overall narrative.

    Blurb: This swoon-worthy romance between a Marine officer and a rock star charms with a sweet and sexy story that shows how love can heal two hearts touched by tragedy.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Shadows of Stormclyffe Hall

    by Lauren Smith

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: This gothic romance thrills with evocative description, strong characterizations, and a thoroughly compelling plot. The enticing mix of historical and modern romances is expertly enhanced by the whodunit/gothic mystery storyline.

    Prose/Style: Realistic dialogue, authentic emotions, and provocative foreplay drive the intoxicating push-and-pull between the hero and heroine. The sex scenes are conveyed using passionate and emotional prose, never veering into treacly melodrama. Eerie, pulse-pounding descriptions of the supernatural elements simultaneously spook and titillate.

    Originality: Smith’s novel uses many romantic tropes, but the author puts them all to excellent use. This wonderful gothic romance gives the beloved genre of yore a modern, engaging, and sensual spin.

    Character Development: The hero is the just-right amount of alluring playboy and compassionate leading man, while the heroine is a refreshing modern take on the historical concept of “bluestocking.” She’s smart, strong-willed, and the perfect intellectual and emotional match for the hero.

    Blurb: A sexy, smart modern gothic romance that will entice both historical and contemporary romance fans with a compelling mystery and a main couple that oozes chemistry.

  • Bishop Takes Knight

    by McKenna Dean

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: After a slow start, Dean’s novel moves quickly, with “answers” to various plot questions revealed at an engaging pace. The characters and the supernatural world are compelling and unique.

    Prose: The mid 1900’s setting calls for a slightly different language than today, yet still some modern terms are used and jar the reader’s attention to the story. Frequent mentions of historical people and places do lend themselves well to the unique world Dean has built. Witty banter between the hero and heroine match both the time period and give the main mystery narrative fun jolts of romance and humor.

    Originality: A number of genres—mystery, romance, and paranormal—mix to create a truly distinct narrative. An overabundance of characters and supernatural goings-on do threaten to overwhelm the story near the end, yet things do resolve in a fun and exciting way, while teasing further stories.

    Character/Execution: The lead hero and heroine crackle with chemistry as their relationship grows with humor, attraction, and emotional connection. The supporting characters, especially the ones who populate the main team, are very entertaining. Unfortunately the main antagonists show up in the latter half the novel and don’t get as much time to form fully fleshed out personalities.

  • Snakes and Lovers

    by Anne Lovett

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: An intriguing mix of light and airy romance and romantic suspense, this book is tinged with both zaniness and tragedy. The in-depth look at how misconceptions and mistakes of the past can affect current relationships and life trajectories is a study in subtly executed plots.

    Prose/Style: Well-edited with accessibly styled writing, the prose flows easily, providing a rich and immersive reading experience.

    Originality: While the second-chance lovers trope is oft-used, this novel brings it to a new level with the inclusion of unusual elements – namely a snake, a nine-year-old boy, and parents who have seemingly lost their minds. It’s a fresh take on a reader favorite.

    Character Development: Each character has a distinct tone and voice, imbuing them with unique, special qualities. There are small areas where character choices and reactions don’t quite ring true, but overall, the people presented are those one would expect to meet in everyday life.

  • Roughing

    by Sarah Hegger

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot: Hegger's hockey-centered, Canada-set romance is smart, sexy, and wholly entertaining. Readers will relish how the protagonists' disdain for one another transforms into understanding and passion.

    Prose: Hegger's storytelling chops are evident throughout her even, polished prose.

    Originality: Enemies-to-lovers romances are familiar, but Hegger's fine writing and knack for organic character development allows Elizabeth and Sam's chemistry to heat up the page. 

    Character/Execution: Hockey and family plays lead roles in 'Roughing,' adding a layer of novelty and memorability to the story. Sam Stone is irresistible as a misbehaving hockey star in trouble, while down-to-earth, resourceful Elizabeth is equally vivid. 




  • Chasing Hope

    by Dana Wayne

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot: The well-paced plot moves smoothly through the various characters' emotional struggles, with small-town conflicts ultimately taking center stage. These larger stories are enhanced by plot points that realistically characterize the main couple’s emotional growth, both individually and as a unit.

    Prose/Style: The prose is clear and effective, and flows well. The dialogue is realistic, particularly those lines spoken by Maddie. The intimate scenes are passionate and warm, yet at times exhibit an overabundance of purple prose.

    Originality: Distinct voices and genuine chemistry enhance Max and Skylar and their individual and joint struggles. The secondary characters, particularly young Maddie, are realistic and multi-dimensional without being caricatures.

    Character Development: Chasing Hope employs the tropes of a heartwarming, small-town romance to enjoyable effect. Strong characters, a sweet romance, and a hopeful examination of real-world issues help it to elevate the genre.

  • Life in the Chastity Zone

    by Holly Brandon

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: While amusing, engaging, and suspenseful all at the same time, the distinct storyline of this contemporary romance is often slowed down by an excess of plot points and scenes. The zany trials and tribulations of the main character are entertaining and fun, yet certain plot elements become too odd to be believable.

    Prose/Style: Humorous self-deprecation and an oddball charm propel the strong, original voice of the main character as she deals with one madcap adventure after another in her quest for love and self-fulfillment. Funny, realistic dialogue enhances the comedic undertones of this narrative.

    Originality: This fun, engaging story has all the hallmarks of a romantic comedy, with a strong main character, funny scenarios, and a compelling plot. However, the extra-long length threatens to decrease reader engagement in the novel.

    Character Development: An eccentric but intriguing main character carries this story well, encouraging the reader to be invested in how she grows throughout the narrative, her search for love, and the mystery she confronts. The supporting characters range in strength and depth, some memorable and enjoyable, while others seem superfluous and drag down the pace of the narrative.

  • Miss Tavistock's Mistake: Brides of Mayfair, Book One

    by Linore Rose Burkard

    Rating: 8.50

    Plot: In this light, witty regency romance, Burkard engages readers with emotional highs and lows, an uproarious case of mistaken identity, and enough uncertainty to keep readers guessing.

    Prose: Prose is lyrical, polished, and fitting for the genre. The author effectively captures the historical setting, while providing abundant humor and endearing characterization throughout.

    Originality: Burkard provides a stellar concept that pivots on an arranged marriage, an amusing misunderstanding, and a bad match that might not be so bad after all.

    Character/Execution: Readers will care for and gleefully follow the titular heroine as her hilarious subterfuge gets her in deepening trouble all the while she finds herself unexpectedly falling in love.