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Romance / Erotica

  • Semi Finalist

    One Way Ticket: A Tropical Romance Novel

    by Tricia O'Malley

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Tricia O’Malley, a renowned and prolific author of romance fiction, has fashioned a heroine in Paige who is not only able, but eager to take responsibility for the mess her life has become and forge ahead with the tools at her disposal. One of whom is the acerbic, prickly, no-nonsense, competent Jack Byron who predictably eventually becomes Paige’s love interest, which leads to its own complications given his history with one woman in particular.

    Prose/Style: The prose flows naturally in this beach read, in fairly short sentences, with a vocabulary that moves the story along at a good pace. Most of the story is told through dialogue and Paige’s thoughts, which makes the action easy to follow.

    Originality: The plot stays within the bounds one expects in a romance, but the novel is unique in the degree to which Paige encounters and analyzes the challenges inherent in being a strong independent woman who also needs intimacy in her life.

    Character Development/Execution: O’Malley creates a cast of distinctive characters with distinctive voices to support her protagonist’s journey. CeCe Alderidge, alcoholic owner of Poco Poco Island’s Tranquila Inn, for example, uses words like “churlish,” “tizzy,” and “serendipitous.” Paige lets us know what she is thinking and how she arrives at the conclusions she does. Her concerns make her an extremely relatable character—after all, who worries about how much the sheets that your lover cheated on cost? Well, actually, a lot of us.

  • Semi Finalist

    Farview

    by Kim Fielding

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Oliver Webb comes to Farview to—not to live, and certainly not to find love with a charming jack-of-all-trades storyteller. How can Oliver, who carries his Greynox past as a dark burden on his shoulders, ever claim his legacy as one of the seafaring, sunlight-spirited Croftwell folk?

    Prose/Style: Told in the best traditions of enchantment, Kim Fielding creates a world where keeping a couple of dragons in the stable to pull your carriage is an everyday affair, and it's only prudent to lay in some extra victuals so you can keep on friendly terms with the imps that live in the garden. But it's the sparkling, limpid magic of Fielding's writing that will draw her readers in – her gift of creating a sense of place and emotions so vividly real that readers raise their eyes from the page as if emerging from a dream.

    Originality: Farview is storytelling of the highest order; from the very first page, any thought of disbelief is happily suspended as we joyfully plunge into Oliver and Felix's world. At times, the graphic descriptions of the sexual intimacy between the two strike an off note in this tale of enchantment; they are just a shade too realistic, and come perilously close to breaking the spell.

    Character Development/Execution: It is delightful to see the romance that develops between Oliver and Felix treated with the same matter-of-factness as imps in the garden and dragons in the stables. Readers will wish they could live in Oliver and Felix's world.

  • Semi Finalist

    Crossed by the Stars

    by LJ Evans

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In Crossed by the Stars, prolific award-winning romance writer L.J. Evans introduces readers to Jada Mori, a fabulously wealthy businesswoman haunted by a grueling, loveless past contrived by her rich but distant Japanese family, and Dax Armaud, an old love from a rival family with whom the chemistry is still almost uncontrollable. But even after betrayals and estrangements, Jada’s connection to her family—and particularly her cruel father, leader of the Kyodaina criminal network--puts her in mortal danger and it is Dax who steps in and risks his life to help her survive.

    Prose/Style: Evans gives the reader meticulous descriptions of the emotions the main characters experiencing every moment in the present, and through flashbacks, in the past. The style of the prose is typical for the genre, with a heavy emphasis on description. The vocabulary and sentence structure make the novel a fast read.

    Originality: This is a contemporary Romeo and Juliet story with a different, happily-ever-after, ending. The author specifies that the novel was “inspired by Imelda May's Falling In Love With You Again.” What makes this an original and interesting story is the transposition of the plot into an entirely new and unlikely setting.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters are clearly delineated as the author cleverly adapts from Shakespeare’s version set in Verona, Italy, in the fourteenth century to a contemporary Japanese milieu. Readers learn so much about Jada and Dax now and in the past that we feel they are actual acquaintances, making their happy resolution of their situation even more welcome.

  • Semi Finalist

    Rose Through Time: A Magical Bookshop Novel

    by Harmke Buursma

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: When Rose Hart finds herself in a mysterious bookshop, the next thing she knows she has fallen into a different reality—on the estate of one John Easton, who lives with his sister in early nineteenth-century England at exactly the same spot where her grandmother’s book had left her. Rose soon figures out what has befallen her and settles in to find out what happens next. Her sojourn in this alternative world leads her to become friends with John’s sister Beth and to discover that she and John are meant to be together.

    Prose/Style: The prose could be more embellished and offers little challenge or interest in either vocabulary or sentence structure. The benefit here is that the story moves along rapidly and predictably, lulling one into a sense of security and making the plot twists all the more intriguing. The use of the contemporary vernacular in the dialogue and the introduction modern psychological concepts are effective reminders that Rose is aware that she is has been transported out of her own time and space. The use of the names Willoughby and Danby (think, Darby) are nice hints that we are experiencing events as they might have happened in Austen’s world.

    Originality: The main deviation from this familiar plot is the association of Rose’s time travel with a bookshop, and this appears to be a device Harmke Buursma intends to exploit further as this debut novel is the first in her A Magical Bookshop Novel series. It is actually quite effective, as the bookshop owner turns up in the English story and in fact has an important role to play.

    Character Development/Execution: Rose is a particularly interesting character as she simply goes along with the break in the time space continuum, barely blinking an eye. She is resourceful and adaptable, which leaves one wondering until the very end of the novel what she will do when the spell is broken – as we know it must be – and she will have to choose what time to exist in.

  • Semi Finalist

    Behind the Seams

    by Stuart Wakefield

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: In this contemporary gay romance novel, Stuart Wakefield’s protagonist, Savile Row apprentice tailor Kit Redman, auditions for the hit reality TV show Runway Rivals in the hope of being able to finance the start of his career as a fashion designer. The audition seems to be a bust, but when he makes the cut, he finds he’ll be working on the set with his very attractive and charismatic fellow auditionee Barker Wareham. Within this context, Wakefield creates a romance that, aside from the rather restrained and infrequent sex scenes, has a lot in common with any romance novel. The actors are different, but the emotions and the struggle to nurture connection are similar.

    Prose/Style: The story begins at a somewhat sluggish pace, but will still be compelling to readers with even a passing interest in the fashion industry. The syntax is accessible and the vocabulary not overly embellished with swear words, though it does sport an appropriate measure of double entendres. The cute names of some of the characters – Nancy Shearsmith, David Stitchworthy -- however, give the novel a cartoonish quality that is not really in keeping with its tone or intent.

    Originality: Sumptuous detailed descriptions of clothing and the art of sewing and fashion design are what make this story a cut above other gay romances. Wakefield develops the relationship between Kit and Barker in tandem with the filming of the episodes of a reality TV show and that device adds interest and tension to the story.

    Character Development/Execution: Kit and Barker are reluctant friends and sparring competitors until they ascertain about a fifth of the way through the story that they are both gay. But even with that in common, their social and profession skills are more complementary than similar and that allows them to forge a viable relationship.

  • Quarter Finalist

    This Can't Be the Last Time

    by Leslie Durr

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Norah is on her way to Amsterdam to visit a man she met 50 years ago on a trip across Europe. Her husband has Parkinson’s and dementia, and now Maarten may be ready to end his life in the aftermath of a car accident that has left him severely injured. Told in alternating chapters set in 2018 and 1968, this novel describes a powerful relationship that has endured even though Norah and Maarten have spent only a few days together over the course of half a century, and their relationship has developed through letters.

    Prose/Style: The author tells the story as a straightforward narrative for each of the two main timelines. She provides a substantial amount of travel detail, as if she is referring to journals Norah kept on her first trip to Europe in 1968.

    Originality: This Can’t Be the Last Time is a fascinating reflection on the nature of love and the power of a passion that exists almost exclusively in the imagination to sustain a life. It is a tour de force written by an author with an acute understanding of the human condition.

    Character Development/Execution: We learn about Norah and Maarten’s relationship and why, even though they seem to be soulmates, they decided not to try to be each other’s life partners in flashbacks over the course of the story. Durr’s measured unveiling of their personalities is handled with expertise and shows a deep understanding of the necessary limits of even such a compelling attraction.

    Blurb: This Can’t Be the Last Time is a fascinating reflection on the nature of love and the power of a passion that exists almost exclusively in the imagination to sustain a life.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Rhyker's Key

    by M.C. Solaris

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Neither uneerily perceptive and gentle mind and spirit healer Keena Oliver, nor predatory jaguar shifter Rhyker Kingsley can deny – or control – the attraction between them. But their pasts, and the lovers they had there, as well as the evil plans of the Mastermind, threaten to derail their evolving relationship. Although Rhyker’s Key does have some elements of a mystery, it is primarily about the very sexy encounters between Keena and Rhyker.

    Prose/Style: As is common in this genre, not much is left to the imagination, so there is a great deal of detailed description to keep the reader engaged in this 700-page novel.

    Originality: The inter-species paranormal world of Rhyker’s Key, Book 2 in the Orion’s Order trilogy, leaves plenty of room for lots of surprising events and inventive characters, and Solari uses these opportunities to the fullest, adding vampires and other supernatural beings to the plot. Her pacing is on point, and she gives the reader plenty of time to integrate new voices and added complexities into the narrative. The story is told from different points of view, which adds dimension to the sex scenes, of which there are many, and depth to the story. They also support a variety of storylines, at least one of which the author will develop in Book 3 as she ends this one not with a cliffhanger but with enough loose threads to leave the reader wanting more.

    Character Development/Execution: This novel is definitely character-driven, as readers see Keena and Rhyker explore their relationship and, perhaps most notably, engage is a lot of steamy, described-in-every-detail, sex.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Rake Like You

    by Becky Michaels

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: A rake is never any match for a strong heroine, and that is surely the situation between Louisa Strickland and Charles Finch, Viscount Drake, heir to the Earl of Bolton. In this Regency-period romance, she is independently managing her late father’s estate; he is twenty thousand pounds in debt and a pariah to his family. The events here are completely predictable even if there are several intriguing digressions along the way—Louisa and Charles edge closer and closer to each other until they finally fall in love—but Becky Michaels creates tension and suspense enough to make us sit on the edge of our seats, especially since these are eminently likable characters despite having a lot of differences to resolve before they can live happily ever after.

    Prose/Style: The prose flows as graciously as a waltz in a Regency ballroom; it is wonderfully unpretentious, engaging, and fun to read. The descriptive text is exhaustive enough to give a sense of the setting, but never becomes tedious. The dialogue reflects believable (if perhaps somewhat unlikely) conversation.

    Originality: In Book 2 of the Linfield Hall series, Becky Michaels sweeps the reader into her created world with vivid prose, fast-paced action, and characters we care about. Michaels is also clever enough to make the reader wait until the last chapters for the really steamy sex.

    Character Development/Execution: Louisa remains a stalwart woman and adept businesswoman who knows her own mind, even though she might change it at times, while Charles develops from a crass, self-centered aristocrat into a considerate and restrained husband, worthy of the partnership Louisa has offered him, while not foregoing the talents his experience with women bring to the union.

     Blurb: Becky Michaels sweeps the reader into her created world with vivid prose, fast-paced action, and characters we care about in this Regency-era romance.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Plot: Hair stylist Beth Graham’s biomom, the famous pop star Henrietta Gauvon, has just turned up out of the blue and invited her to tour in Europe as her pianist. Cole's mother married the Hereditary Prince of Liechtenstein when he was only three years old, but even should he become an adopted son of the fabulously wealthy royal family, Cole will never sit on the throne. And there begins a rollicking adventure filled with the most unlikely (but welcome) coincidences and drama as Beth and Cole strive to find a place where they can both belong. 

    Prose: Beth and Cole tell the story in the first-person in alternating chapters. B.E. Baker (Bridget E. Baker’s penname for her romance novels), writes crisp, easy-to-read prose that leaves you gasping as one revelation gives way to the next in fewer sentences than you would believe possible. She has an excellent ear for dialogue, though there are some inconsistencies in the use of idioms given that the novel is set in the early 1960s.

    Originality: This mixture of historical fact and pure invention is so entertaining that trying to parse what is true and what is not is simply not worth the effort. An effervescent romance that is truly fun to read.

    Character/Execution: Beth and Cole both face serious challenges and rejection as they make their way toward home and their own fairy tale ending, and both mature as a result.

    Blurb: Book 6 of Baker’s 8-novel Finding Home series, this is a rollicking adventure filled with the most unlikely (but welcome) coincidences and drama as Beth and Cole strive to find a place where they can both belong.

     

  • Quarter Finalist

    Boudreaux's Lady

    by Lauren Smith

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Lauren Smith flirts with the trope of mixed signals and a man filled with hesitation, when approaching affectionate feelings. The book manages to prolong this tension until its final pages, forcing readers to succumb to the author’s inventions. It has all of the qualities expected from a romance novel: maddening conflicts, charismatic characters, and a love that wreaks an undeniable giddiness.

    Prose/Style: The prose is delicate in nature without being bogged down by uppity or verbose language that is commonly mistaken in old English accents. The author’s execution and thoughtfulness with her tone makes the book pleasing to modern ears.

    Originality: The genre of historical romance is saturated with women brandished in luxury, but Smith’s heroine fashions an internal richness that triumphs any love based on social class. Her story is one of two beings falling for each other’s' souls and not simply their bodies.

    Character Development/Execution: Every character in this book, excluding the villains Alistair Sommers and Cornelius Selkirk, are self-effacing yet gallant. The author writes her characters with a doting air that expresses their modesty and vulnerability. Readers cannot help but sympathize with them, root for them, and praise their successes.

    Blurb: This is a book that delights in an emotional panorama of timidity, spirit, and desire.

  • Quarter Finalist

    King of Beasts (Beast Duet, Book #1)

    by Diana A. Hicks

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: Diana A. Hicks has a dozen or so romances to her credit, and in this one she shows how adept she is at creating a steamy ambiance right from the beginning of the story. In this tale of thwarted desire, loss, betrayal, and family above all else, Hicks keeps readers on the edge of their seats and, at the end, looking forward to the next installment of the Beast Duet series.

    Prose/Style: The story is told from two points of view, Rex’s and Caterina’s, in alternating chapters. Sentences are short and the vocabulary is easily accessible; the action moves forward at breakneck speed without distractions from descriptive text.

    Originality: The plot of the story is routine but well-executed with many unexpected twists. The sex scenes and the tension leading up to them permeate the text, and include the unusual element of a Japanese form of bondage verging on S&M, reminiscent of Fifty Shades of Grey but handled in Hicks’s unique style.

    Character Development/Execution: Tex and Caterina are multi-dimensional characters, each of whom has their own agenda and their own quirks. Lust is what pulls them toward each other as they discover what they each really want and what they will compromise to get it.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Earl of Morrey

    by Lauren Smith

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: A secret agent of His Majesty King George IV in the troubled years of the early nineteenth century, Adam Beaumont, the Earl of Morrey, has long desired Lady Leticia Fordyce, the sister of his new brother-in-law James Fordyce, the Earl of Pembroke, so when they are found in a compromising situation and forced into an engagement, he is a willing bridegroom-to-be. Could she ever love such a man, and, more importantly, could he truly love her? And so follows a complex, fast-paced tale of smoldering intrigue, love, romance, and murder, all leading to the surprising twist of fate and betrayal that concludes Book 14 of The League of Rogues series. It is no wonder there are – to date – 17 published or forthcoming books in this series. The vast cast of characters and their complex histories suggest it might be a good idea to begin at the beginning of the series, but even if one starts with Book 14, it is a story that will keep the reader engaged and gasping right to the very last page.

    Prose/Style: The prose is straightforward and frugal, making this historical romance a great read for the beach or just a lazy weekend. The action moves quickly, and many readers will likely not be able to put the book down until they reach the last page.

    Originality: The Earl of Morrey is an adventure, romance and mystery all rolled into one action-packed, high stakes drama.

    Character Development/Execution: Letty has to learn to trust that Adam will love and protect her as he has promised. Yet she must find the courage to marry him before she can know for sure.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Rendezvous in Paradise

    by Annick Weilche

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot: A romantic suspense novel, Rendezvous in Paradise is Wilche’s debut novel, Book 1 of her Paradise Team series. INTERPOL cop Jérôme Richard is on Paradise Island deeply engrossed in a drug smuggling investigation when recently-dumped Amanda Jones, winner of a Tropical Island Paradise holiday, gets her purse stolen. This charming story has a 1950s sense of innocence and true love found in the most unlikely places, a wonderful one-sitting read that leaves the reader felling reassured that life, despite some setbacks and surprises, sometimes does turn out exactly the way it should, drug cartels and petty thievery notwithstanding.

    Prose/Style: The prose flows smoothly in this fast-paced romance/crime drama. Much of the action is described through dialogue, a device that serves to keep the story moving without ponderous and distracting explanations.
     

    Originality: The originality of this novella is not in the familiar plot or predictable characters but in the grace with which the story is told.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters in this story are both so decent and likable that readers can’t help hoping they will get together and live happily ever after, which, of course, is exactly what they do.

    Blurb: Wilche’s debut novel is a romance/crime drama handled with the most delicate touch possible. No blood and gore or pages of crudely-described sex here—just a delightful story that is a pleasure to read.

  • Taken (Taken Series #1)

    by E. C. Roderick

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: A historical romance with a scifi twist, this is E.C. Roderick’s debut novel and the first in her proposed Taken series. Sylvie Arboles, a pediatrician based in LA, but traveling to the East Coast to visit her family for Christmas, lost her husband and infant “to an untimely death,” and now she is unexpectedly transported via a car accident and an earthquake to pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts Bay Colony where the British and French are at war. She is immediately taken captive, but soon proves her skills as a doctor. Sylvie’s inability to understand what has happened to her is one of the most compelling features of the novel, adding verisimilitude to a story that might otherwise just seem too fantastic to engage the reader. Sylvie must decide who she can trust and what the implications are of falling in love with someone from such a different timeline.

    Prose/Style: With a middle school readability, this novel is easily accessible, but the author has added some unnecessary and distracting detail that slows down the 100,000-word story without adding to the understanding of the action or the characters.

    Originality: E.C. Roderick has done an exceptional job of making this historical romance unique, first in the having the main character be a contemporary woman who time travels 275 years into the past.

    Character Development/Execution: Sylvie is not quite sure who is delusional. It could be herself, or it could be that the other characters, dressed in costumes and re-enacting historical events, are taking themselves much too seriously. The reader is invited to share the tension this creates and to sympathize with Sylvie as she tries to figure out her situation. Sylvie must contend with all of this confusion at the same time as she is still grieving her husband and child and figuring out whether she can allow herself to love again.

    Blurb: A historical romance with a scifi twist, Taken takes us into a world where two realities, that of twenty-first century widow and doctor Sylvie Arbole, and that of pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts Bay Colony where the British and French are at war, exist simultaneously.

  • Watch Over My Life

    by Laura Ashley Gallagher

    Rating: 9.75

    Plot: In Laura Ashley Gallaher’s debut novel, Jessica Connors has just slept with former high school crush and current boss Jake Williams and she is utterly obsessed with and repelled by him. Jake, on the other hand, is something of a jerk—too self-centered to do anything but play games. Jessica sees herself as an independent career-minded woman, but her plans for the future must take into account those terrible migraines she gets, which turn out not to be migraines at all but a cancer that will require a hysterectomy. The life and death choices Jessica and Jake must now confront will test everything they thought they knew about themselves and each other.

    Prose/Style: Gallagher describes every moment of the action and every thought that goes through Jessica’s head in painstaking detail. This hyper attention to detail at times make the descriptive prose a little forced, but the dialogue is natural and realistic.

    Originality: This novel has everything—a new love, past loves, old trauma, a life-threatening medical crisis, partner violence, an unplanned pregnancy, and a lot of soft-core sex. Gallagher does an excellent job of weaving all of these elements together to create a page-turner that will leave readers eager for her next novel, Losing Love, due out in early 2022.

    Character Development/Execution: Despite her fervent need for independence, Jessica has a wide-ranging and committed support network that helps her navigate through her medical challenges and her relationship with Jake to truly become the person she envisions herself being. As Jake faces those challenges with her, his playboy attitude falls away and he becomes a responsible partner not only in his business but in his personal life.

  • The Boxer and the Blacksmith

    by Edie Cay

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Evenly paced with plenty of drama and action, the author has created a winning plot with a variety of themes: gender, class, sports, race, and romance. What is most endearing about this plot is that the main character is based on a real person but set in a different time period. The author has included both fictional and nonfictional elements of this character’s life.

    Prose/Style: In a well-written narrative, the author has included terminology that is true to the era, but has also included a helpful glossary. The dialogue demonstrates the strong will and sweet natures of the main characters.

    Originality: The placing of a real-life character into a different historical time period is well done. The author has created a lively story that takes place during the Regency period and given the reader a snapshot of what goes on in the streets as opposed to among the higher society. This strategy makes this story more believable and engaging.

    Character Development/Execution: Believable and wise characters are portrayed as independent and strong. Gender plays an important role in this story, reminding the reader of the properness of the time period and creating a contrast between the classes.

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