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Romance / Erotica

  • Finalist

    Wild at Heart

    by Stacy Gold

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: There are moments of coincidence that serve to move the plot along, but this is easily forgiven given the strength of the storyline and the likeability of the characters. The premise is solid, and the setting is refreshingly different.

    Prose: The author is a gifted writer whose prose flows easily and makes for an engaging and lively read. The dual first-person narrative is very effective, and the tone is familiar and relaxed.

    Originality: This is a unique work with distinctive characters and an unusual premise and setting. Romance readers will delight in this original and engaging work.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does an exemplary job with characterization. The dual first-person narrative is an effective device for allowing the reader to truly understand these highly likable characters, and it works perfectly in the author's capable hands.

    Blurb: Wild at Heart will captivate readers with its strong and likable characters and engaging storyline. 

  • Semi Finalist

    Stranger in Love

    by Teymour Shahabi

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot: Words of Love, a romance novel told entirely through text messages, emails, journal entries, and social media posts, is a strikingly poetic work of fiction. Throughout, the characters of Jamie and Taylor reflect poignantly on relationships, their individual passions, and their observations of the busy world unfolding around them.

    Prose: Shahabi's prose is the highlight of this work. Rather than coming across as a storytelling gimmick, the unique format serves as a springboard for the author's poetic sensibility and lyricism. 

    Originality: While novels told through text messaging or social media have been created before, Words of Love is uncommon in its eloquence, quiet grace, and beauty.

    Character/Execution: Though readers may not gain a complete picture of Jamie and Taylor--what they look like, the particulars of their professions--they will nevertheless feel intimately connected to them as they gain an authentic glimpse into their internal lives.

  • Semi Finalist

    Gods & Angels

    by E.J. Knox

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Knox presents an engaging tale that hooks readers from the start. Fast-paced and eventful, the story bends and turns, depositing hints of dark shadows and hidden meanings, leaving readers eager to see what comes next.

    Prose: Knox is a skilled storyteller, with prose that seems almost effortless and flows smoothly, transporting readers to another world—a world of nagging intimations and provocative undercurrents.

    Originality: Gods & Angels is both memorable and electrifying—a tale brimming with fascinating characters and a hard-to-beat storyline.

    Character Development/Execution: Knox animates the story's characters in a natural way, rendering them equally believable and enticing. Apollo, Harlow, and Valen come to life beyond the words on the page, making for a very rewarding experience.

  • Semi Finalist

    The Moonstone Girls

    by Brooke Skipstone

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Each queer person's experience is unique, and Skipstone has highlighted this well in her newest novel, The Moonstone Girls. Showcasing the personalities, lives, emotions, and young love of multiple gay folks in the late sixties, Skipstone has written a work that not only is delightful to read for its pure teenaged romance, but also because it lends much-needed representation to those who suffer from living in homophobic households.

    Prose: Skipstone knows how to write romance, and writes it well. Skillfully avoiding the cringeworthy in her prose, she is able to feature plenty of steamy scenes that perfectly capture the intense, hormonal feelings of young love.

    Originality: The Moonstone Girls is a classic coming-of-age story with a handful of large twists. Working with common themes, such as the trope of the abusive, homophobic father, the suffering and sensitive musician, and the brash tomboy, there are definitely some stereotypes present. However, Skipstone is skilled at character development and delving into the complexities of these figures' inner workings, which makes the relative tropes function well.

    Character Development/Execution: The relationships between characters, along with their motivations, feelings, and desires, are beautifully clear. The characters in this book spring to life, feeling like friends with whom the reader would love to go on a raucous adventure.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Countess Invention

    by Judith Lynne

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: This is a brilliant story: inventive, singular, and truly a pleasure to read from the beginning to the end. Technically classified as a romance, this is no sappy love story, but rather the deeply satisfying tale of a capable, independent woman who defies genre stereotypes.

    Prose: Lynne is a gifted writer, able to craft a convincingly authentic period piece while keeping the reader invested and entertained. Depiction is not only spot-on but every element, including pacing, dialogue, characterization, setting, and more, are all well executed. 

    Originality: This is a highly original work with a distinctive setting and premise. The characters are memorable and exceedingly likable.

    Character Development/Execution: Lynne excels at creating enjoyable characters: Cass is a delightful breath of fresh air, feisty and smart, in an era when women were not supposed to be either of those things. 

    Blurb: Sensational and riveting from the first word to the last.

     

  • Quarter Finalist

    Secretly | Transformation Series Book 2

    by Talya Blaine

    Rating: 10.00

    Plot/Idea: The storyline here is more than just the typical  "will they or won't they" scenario. Blaine excels at crafting a plausible plot and ratcheting up the heat and chemistry between the two main characters, whether they're enjoying Chinese takeout together or trying to avoid their undeniable attraction.

    Prose: Blaine writes effortlessly, and the prose will transport readers into the glamorous and sexy lives of the main characters.

    Originality: The chemistry between Quinn and Jonathan runs the show, but the novel digs into deeper issues, too, giving it a decided edge over a typical romance.

    Character Development/Execution: Blaine develops the characters well, making both Quinn and Jonathan relatable and sympathetic despite their privileged lives. 

    Blurb: Hot and deliciously steamy, Secretly will tantalize and captivate readers.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Sundowners

    by R.L./Rochelle Merrill

    Rating: 9.50

    Plot/Idea: Merrill has crafted a complex and nuanced plot that surprises and entertains. In the author's capable hands, the story's dark themes are never overwhelming or pervasive, and the end result is evenly paced, with a satisfying climax.

    Prose: Merrill is a skillful and capable writer, accomplished at applying narration, description, and dialogue. The story flows smoothly and capably balances suspense with romance. 

    Originality: Sundowners features distinctive characters and a compelling premise—the novel excels at building character tension coupled with meaningful interactions.

    Character Development/Execution: The dual first-person narrative here is very valuable, as readers seek to understand Creed and his version of vampire ethics, resulting in a very likable and believable character.  Insight into Roman and what makes him tick is also helpful, as he comes across as caustic at times, but his love for and devotion to his grandmother is a primary redeeming quality that will ultimately win readers over.

  • Quarter Finalist

    The Ash Gardeners

    by J.Ember Hintz

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: The author crafts a creative, complex storyline, rich with detail and intriguing characters. The reader starts off puzzled but slowly becomes enlightened as the work progresses. The pace of the work is perfect, making it an easy and pleasurable read.

    Prose: The author is an extremely strong writer, able to detail this strange new world in a way that makes sense to the reader without oversaturating the work with exposition.

    Originality: This is a truly unique work that cleverly depicts a fresh, new world and distinctive characters.

    Character Development/Execution: The author does a superb job with characterization, particularly with Renae as she works through her issues; her torment feels quite real, and readers will be quick to empathize.

    Blurb: Readers looking for a creative and talented new author need look no further. J. Ember Hintz's The Ash Gardeners is clever, fun, and guaranteed to captivate.

  • Quarter Finalist

    William Through Time

    by Harmke Buursma

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: This is a creative, multilayered work with several intersecting plot lines, all of which work seamlessly together and engage the reader's emotions and intellect. There is much here to savor from the first page to the last.

    Prose: The author is a wonderful writer: engaging, articulate, and concise. The story flows along smoothly thanks to skillfully crafted prose that steadily uncovers William's story.

    Originality: This is a unique and highly distinctive work that will no doubt engage readers, but the title may want to be reconsidered. 

    Character Development/Execution: The author does an excellent job with characterization, particularly with William, whose story is told initially through letters and later through a first-person narrative, both greatly effective in depicting his loss and struggles.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Lilah's Limit

    by Suzanne Smith

    Rating: 9.25

    Plot/Idea: The author has crafted an engaging and intriguing plot which holds the reader's attention throughout. With likable characters and many unknowns to discover, there is much here to keep the reader entertained.

    Prose: The author is a fine writer who demonstrates strong command of language. Given that this is a period romance, detail is key so that the reader understands the norms of the time that dictate everything from behavior to fashion to social hierarchy. This level of description can easily become a laborious bore for the reader to suffer through, but in Smith's capable hands, these specifics add to the richness of the work.

    Originality: This is a highly original work with a distinctive premise, fiery, memorable characters, and an engaging storyline.

    Character Development/Execution: The characters here are well-defined and consistent. Their motivations and singular traits are explained as the action unfolds. Very well done.

  • Quarter Finalist

    A Lady's Finder

    by Edie Cay

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Cay’s story is well plotted, with even pacing throughout most of the novel, which results in a very enjoyable reading experience. The final conflict does wrap up a little too quickly and neatly, taking away from the overall plausibility of the story.

    Prose: Cay’s beautiful prose is expertly crafted with the perfect mix of colloquial speech and humor reminiscent of the classic British Romantic style. The sophisticated and delightful language transports the reader to nineteenth-century high society London.

    Originality: Cay’s twist on a standard nineteenth-century marriage plot story is a fantastic change of pace. A Lady’s Finder explores the complex and fascinating underground movement of queer society during the 1800s. The depiction of Molly Houses gives the reader a unique look at a much overlooked aspect of history.

    Character Development/Execution: Cay’s unique and interesting cast of characters subvert what is commonly associated with a marriage plot novel. Lady Agnes and Jack About Town are both complex characters that perfectly showcase the struggle of not only being queer in an unaccepting society, but also the challenges that can come from not fitting into stereotypical gender roles.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Sixty Positions with Pleasure

    by Sahlan Diver

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Sixty Positions with Pleasure is unexpectedly delightful. Written with humor, grace, and plenty of puns, Diver has done an excellent job at pulling together what could be a messy plot to craft a sexy and silly murder mystery, filled with interesting characters, beautiful settings, and lots of steamy bedroom scenes.

    Prose: The prose is playful, easy to follow, and even verges on the poetic. Diver is an expert at setting a scene--the settings of the book are spectacular, and the worldbuilding is quaint. Diver creates a compelling near-future that thoughtfully integrates climate change.

    Originality: This will likely be the first murder mystery/climate thriller/love story/erotic romance novel that many readers will have encountered.

    Character Development/Execution: The most developed character is the protagonist, Charlie, whose primary fault is that he has few discernible flaws, lessening his relatability. Additional characters are somewhat more flat, serving more as tools or foils for Charlie. Nevertheless, they adequately serve and enhance the story.

  • Quarter Finalist

    Hidden Agenda, The Eller Series Book 2

    by Kathryn Halberg

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: The author is a skilled writer and storyteller. Information is doled out evenly and subtly throughout, providing background but also moving the story forward. The plot is engaging and sophisticated, with an empowered protagonist.

    Prose: The author is able to craft believable, likable characters with plausible dialogue and interactions. Description and action are also handled exceedingly well here.

    Originality: This is a distinctive and refreshing work with memorable characters and an original premise.

    Character Development/Execution: The author effectively handles characterization, particularly with Carlie but also with a host of secondary characters. Dialogue is particularly enlightening as the reader attempts to figure out who these people really are at their cores.

  • XOXO

    by Kathryn R. Biel

    Rating: 9.00

    Plot/Idea: Written in the Helen Fielding/Bridget Jones's Diary model, Biel showcases her own version of a love-seeking character in this humorous and self-deprecating romance that is guaranteed to bring a smile.

    Prose: Biel is a strong writer, able to grab and hold readers' interest from the beginning. Her hero is likable, if sometimes clueless, yet endearing thanks to the author's skillful handling. Readers will be eager to see what Ophelia does next.

    Originality: Though the story setup imitates a page or two from well-known titles in the genre, Biel makes her characters and plot line distinctive.

    Character Development/Execution: Biel draws appealing characters, and readers will immediately recognize who and what the main players are, from Ophelia to Xavier and even to Trent.

  • Good To Be Home

    by Leah Dobrinska

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: This novel explodes with charm and second chances, being the second novel in a series of romances set in a small town in Wisconsin. Told in alternating perspectives, the author uses dramatic irony and foreshadowing as effective tools to engage the reader. In the beginning the plot feels repetitious, but it eventually catapults forward and moves at an engaging speed.

    Prose: Well-written and easy to follow, the author has written an uplifting novel and applied foreshadowing at the end of each chapter. Even though the characters and situations are idealistic at times, the writing is endearing and definitely adds to the small-town feel of the book.

    Originality: Mixing the romance with a home television show is a unique approach, while rekindling lost love is not. However, because of the home design and remodeling background of the main character, this novel will resonate with a broad audience.

    Character Development/Execution: Both main characters are mature and avoid any drama that could ensue. They manage to work through their differences. The problems and characters in the novel are relatable and mostly probable. The reader will want both of the likable characters to be successful.

  • Lilly of the Mountains

    by D. L. Yoder

    Rating: 8.75

    Plot/Idea: Lilly of the Mountains features an intelligent, hapless protagonist who has decided no longer to put up with men mistreating her, and packs a punch with Western-themed excitement and action that keeps the reader intrigued, page after page.

    Prose: Yoder knows how to write a complicated, chaotic scene in a very descriptive and clear manner, while the imagery throughout the novel is engaging and vivid.

    Originality: The unfortunate widow who sets out to make a better life for herself can be a tired trope. However, with the humor and action Yoder puts into their writing, Lilly of the Mountains feels fresh and entertaining.

    Character Development/Execution: Yoder brings all of their characters to full life, ranging from a dopey policeman to an ornery hillbilly to a stately lady and a town gossip. These players all feel authentic while also having an air of caricature, which makes them even more entertaining and intriguing to the reader.

     

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