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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-08-08 04:29
The RITA Award Finalists
Boys Like You - Juliana Stone
Run to You Part One: First Sight - Clara Kensie
Some Boys - Patty Blount
Plus One - Elizabeth Fama

The RITA Awards. The Romance Writers of America (RWA) has a young-adult category for its annual RITA and Golden Heart awards, and this year I decided to read the four finalists. I was curious to see what the RWA honored in romantic YA literature. Disclosure: I haven't read romance novels since I was a teen, and my only experience back then was with Harlequin Romances--the slim variety near the grocery store check-out. So I'm not terribly qualified to discuss romance novels, but I do know something about YA literature.

 

The rules. I first looked up the policy and procedures of the RITA award.

 

1. "All entries must contain a central love story, and the resolution of the romance must be emotionally satisfying and optimistic."

 

2. In addition, the YA category includes: "Novels in which young-adult life is an integral part of the plot."

  

Oops, I already disagree. The resolution of the romance has to be "emotionally satisfying and optimistic?" This means that romance, as the RWA defines it, must include a happily-ever-after, when in fact some of the most romantic books of all time are sad or bittersweet. What about Anna Karenina? Gone With the Wind? Love Story? I guess the RWA would classify those as "women's fiction," and not romance.

 

Anyway, accepting the rules as given, let's proceed.

 

(***Note: the following reviews assume that you've read the book.***)

 

The winner: Boys Like You, by Juliana Stone (Sourcebooks Fire).

 

I think I see why this book won. It's the most romance-novel like of the group if you follow the "central focus" and "happily ever after" criteria listed in the rules. Monroe is broken, and has had suicidal thoughts in the past, after the death of her little brother (of asthma) on her watch, when she took him to the park to play and then fell asleep. Now she's just a bit dead inside--full of regret and unable to move on. She visits her refined grandmother in Louisiana, who wants Monroe to open up to her and see joy in life again. A boy named Nate begins working at the grandmother's house, and it turns out he is also broken: he was driving drunk and was responsible for the head injury of his best friend, Trevor, who is now in a coma. Nate hates himself, knows that Trevor's family hates him, and has stopped playing music (he and Trevor were in a band together). Monroe's grandmother turns out to have a bit of a secret agenda: to get these two damaged souls to "save" each other (she uses different language...perhaps "catch," from falling). That is, in fact, what happens--Monroe and Nate teach each other how to forgive themselves. I appreciate that the two co-protagonists support each other, but in YA, in my opinion, romance and love should be separate from self-forgiveness and finding meaning in life after tragedy. This novel veers close to the message that love cures all serious problems. Trevor even comes out of his coma at the end, despite being near death with his organs failing three quarters of the way through the novel. With his recovery and Monroe and Nate's nearly marital-like commitment to each other over a 1300-mile distance (Monroe goes back home to high school in New York City), Ms. Stone has definitely got "optimistic" covered.

 

Run to You by Clara Kensie (Harlequin Teen).

 

This book was possibly the most stereotypically romance-novel-like in terms of the nuts and bolts of the writing: the love interest physically carries the heroine more than once (seriously, this is what I remember from romance novels...so much carrying, which feels oddly patriarchal and women-as-property to me); he professes his desire to "protect" her; he kisses her even though she resists; he tells other people to leave her alone, even though he won't leave when she asks. This book is technically a paranormal novel, though it reads very much like a contemporary. Tessa Carson's family has paranormal abilities (all but Tessa, they think) and they're being hunted by a Bad Guy named Dennis Connelly, who wants to kill them because (the children believe) the Carson parents exposed the corruption of important politicians. The Carsons move from city to city, changing their identities, with the three children going to successive schools but never staying long. The Carson parents are loving and protective. Tessa won't allow herself to get close to anyone until she meets Tristan, another new boy at school. This book had a deal-killer in it for me. Tessa's parents turn out to be the real Bad Guys--murdering bad guys--mid-way through the book (which is not a terrible twist in and of itself). But in the final pages, Tessa (who discovers that she can see the past by touching people and objects) finds out that her mother was sexually molested by her own father as a girl, and the grandfather was the first person her mom had killed, in what turned out to be a lifetime of extortion and ruthless, cold-hearted serial killing. I think Ms. Kensie intended to make the mom a wounded character, but in my YA world, rape shouldn't be introduced without dealing with it in the text, and it's especially disastrous to imply, whether you mean to or not, that one way to become a killer is to be raped, or that being raped makes you a killer. I thought that plot point was a deal-killer for an award, and yet, while it didn't win the YA division, Run to You won the "Best First Book" RITA.

 

Of the four books, this one also had the most ordinary writing:

 

Repeated words:

"Without using his PK [psychokinesis], Logan opened the door and went inside without another word."

 

Repeated phrases:

"My hand fluttered to my belly." [This happened at least ten times. She has scars on her stomach from an alleged attack by the Bad Guy when she was a child.]

 

Comma splices:

"Licked my lips, swallowed." [This sentence shows up several times, and is also missing a subject.] 

 

Dull metaphors:

"He grinned, and just like that, the awkwardness between us melted like ice in the sun."

"My face became hotter than the oven."

 

Awkward descriptions: 

 "I glared at him for a full minute before returning to the binder." [Seriously, authors, try glaring at a clock for a full minute. It's longer than you think.]

 "[Tristan] smelled of soap and masculinity."

 

And as mentioned, there's the "protective" boyfriend, so ubiquitous in romance novels, but always verging on creepy: 

"...all I wanted to do was make that scared, sad look in your eyes go away."

"I promise, whatever it is, I'll keep you safe."

"I'll do anything for you, Tessa. Except for one thing. I. Will. Not. Leave. You."

 

Some Boys by Patty Blount (Sourcebooks Fire)

 

Well, phew, this one has the opposite message of the winner, in that the main character "saves herself," without being saved by love. In terms of the RWA rules, this book (and the last finalist, Plus One by Elizabeth Fama) doesn't quite fit the romance mold. As with many YA novels that include love stories, the romance is an integral part of the story, but the character's personal conflict or struggle is the most important part. In Some Boys, Grace has been raped by the school's golden boy, Zac, a star Lacrosse player, and her peers (even her best friends) ostracize her for what they think is her false accusation. Zac has uploaded a video of the encounter to a social media site, and in it, Grace is moaning--interpreted by all as enjoying herself. Everyone calls her a slut and bullies her. Zac and his friends try to intimidate her. The treatment she receives from her classmates is really brutal, but Grace is determined not to hide. She continues to dress provocatively-Goth, the way she has since 8th grade, and never backs down from a vocal claim that Zac raped her. It's palpable how hard this is for her to do, but with her mom's support, she continues to stand her ground. When she and Ian, Zac's close friend, are assigned to clean lockers over the break (both for bad behavior), they slowly develop a friendship. Grace begins to trust Ian, but Ian is confused by his allegiance to Zac, and what he thinks is the ambiguous nature of what happened between Grace and Zac. My only objection to the novel is how "clean" the resolution is. Ian discovers that Zac has a second video on his phone--a longer one that clearly shows that Grace is drunk and sick and saying no--and Ian is brave enough to show this second video to the authorities. Some of the power of the story is diminished by this too-handy plot device, and by Zac's violent outburst at Ian, sending him to the hospital (which in itself is enough to get him in trouble with the law). But by and large, the story is a strong one, with an admirable protagonist.  

 

Plus One by Elizabeth Fama (Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers)

 

This book is truly "odd man out" among the four: like Some Boys, it's not primarily a romance, but it also has a seriously bittersweet (verging on sad) ending. The only person who would think this book has an "emotionally satisfying resolution" is probably me--I feel utter satisfaction with open endings and characters who don't get what they want, even after their heroic efforts; because that's life, my friends. There's hope at the end of Plus One, but it's the kind of hope that looks like loss--the kind that comes from knowing you did the right thing, and hoping the gods will reimburse you someday. In fact, it's a Casablanca, hill-of-beans ending ("I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world"). Sol LeCoeur is a wounded, raw character at the beginning of the novel. She lives in a society divided into Day and Night, with mandatory curfews. She is a Night girl, and her brother has been transferred to Day. Sol doesn't want to save the world, she wants something crazier and simpler: to kidnap her brother's newborn daughter for an hour so that her grandfather can hold the baby before he dies. But Sol makes a mistake and kidnaps the wrong baby, an important baby, and accidentally drags a Day boy (the medical apprentice who treated her) on her run from the law. That's where the romance comes in--you can't get more star-crossed than a Day boy and a Night girl. But the book itself is--as its dust jacket says--"a drama of individual liberty and civil rights."

 

In sum. The two books I enjoyed the most in this year's slate of RITA finalists--Some Boys and Plus One--only loosely adhered to the definition of "romance" stated in the RWA rules. But it's no surprise to me that I favored those two. For me, a love story is even more swoon-worthy if the conflict, plot, characterization, setting, voice, and lyricism are all in place, too. 

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text 2014-07-31 16:28
2014 RITA Finalists Worth Reading
Her Accidental Boyfriend - Robin Bielman
Thrill Ride (Black Knights Inc.) - Julie Ann Walker
Be Mine: SizzleToo Fast to FallAlone With You - Jennifer Crusie,Shannon Stacey,Victoria Dahl
Heart of Obsidian (Psy-Changeling, #12) - Nalini Singh
The Countess Conspiracy - Courtney Milan
Private Practice - Samanthe Beck
Along Came Trouble - Ruthie Knox
It Stings So Sweet - Stephanie Draven
Promise to Return - Elizabeth Byler Younts

Here are some 2014 Rita Award Finalist that I think are worth a read!   These books didn't win the big prize but they are certainly worth your attentions. 

 

 

Nominated for Inspirational Romance: 

 

Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler Younts 

 

It’s 1943, and Miriam Coblentz and Henry Mast are nearing their wed­ding day when the unthinkable happens—Henry is drafted. However, since he is a part of the pacifist Amish tradition, Henry is sent to a conscientious objector Civilian Public Service camp. When he leaves for the work camp, his gaping absence turns Miriam’s life upside down. Little does she know it’s only the beginning... When Henry returns home, he brings news that shakes Miriam and their Amish community to the core. Henry believes God has called him to enlist in the army and fight for his country, leaving her to make an impor­tant decision: whether to choose loyalty to the peaceful life she’s always known or her love for Henry. Two worlds collide in this unforgettable debut novel, providing a fasci­nating and rare look into Amish culture during World War II. While Henry is battling enemies across the ocean, Miriam struggles between her devotion to Henry and her love of the Amish way of life. One question is at the bottom of it all: will she follow the rules of her religion or the leading of her heart?

 

Best Contemporary Romance:

 

Along Came Trouble by Ruthie Knox

 

An accomplished lawyer and driven single mother, Ellen Callahan isn’t looking for any help. She’s doing just fine on her own. So Ellen’s more than a little peeved when her brother, an international pop star, hires a security guard to protect her from a prying press that will stop at nothing to dig up dirt on him. But when the tanned and toned Caleb Clark shows up at her door, Ellen might just have to plead the fifth.
 
Back home after a deployment in Iraq and looking for work as a civilian, Caleb signs on as Ellen’s bodyguard. After combat in the hot desert sun, this job should be a breeze. But guarding the willful beauty is harder than he imagined—and Caleb can’t resist the temptation to mix business with pleasure. With their desires growing more undeniable by the day, Ellen and Caleb give in to an evening of steamy passion. But will they ever be able to share more than just a one-night stand?

 

Best Erotic Romance

 

It Stings So Sweet by Stephanie Draven 

 

In the aftermath of a wild, liquor-soaked party, three women from very different social classes are about to live out their forbidden desires. 
Society girl, Nora Richardson's passionate nature has always been a challenge to her ever-patient husband. Now he wants out of the marriage and she has just this one night to win him back. The catch? He wants to punish her for her bad behavior. Nora is offended by her husband's increasingly depraved demands, but as the night unfolds, she discovers her own true nature and that the line between pain and pleasure is very thin indeed. 


Meanwhile, Clara Cartwright, sultry siren of the silent screen, is introduced to a mysterious WWI Flying Ace. If Clara, darling of the scandal sheets, knows anything, it’s men. And she’s known plenty. But none of them push her boundaries like the aviator, who lures her into a ménage with a stranger in a darkened cinema then steals her jaded heart. 

Working class girl Sophie O'Brien has more important things on her mind than pleasures of the flesh. But when her playboy boss, the wealthy heir to the Aster family fortune, confronts her with her diary of secret sex fantasies, she could die of shame. To her surprise, he doesn't fire her; instead, he dares her to re-enact her boldest fantasies and Sophie is utterly seduced. 

 

 

Best Historical Romance:

 

The Countess Conspiracy  by Courtney Milan 

 

Sebastian Malheur is the most dangerous sort of rake: an educated one. When he's not scandalizing ladies in the bedchamber, he's outraging proper society with his scientific theories. He's desired, reviled, acclaimed, and despised--and he laughs through it all.

Violet Waterfield, the widowed Countess of Cambury, on the other hand, is entirely respectable, and she'd like to stay that way. But Violet has a secret that is beyond ruinous, one that ties her irrevocably to England's most infamous scoundrel: Sebastian's theories aren't his. They're hers.

So when Sebastian threatens to dissolve their years-long conspiracy, she'll do anything to save their partnership...even if it means opening her vulnerable heart to the rake who could destroy it for good.

 

Best Paranormal Romance:

 

Heart of Obsidian  by Nalini Singh (5 Stars from Me)

 

A dangerous, volatile rebel, hands stained bloodred. A woman whose very existence has been erased. A love story so dark, it may shatter the world itself. A deadly price that must be paid. The day of reckoning is here.

 

Nominated for Best Romance Novella:

 

Be Mine by  Victoria Dahl 

 

For Jenny Stone, driving is her escape—from her past, her problems, her quiet life in Jackson Hole. But after Deputy Nate Hendricks stops her—again—for speeding, she could lose more than just her license. She could lose her heart. Nate seems to think that Jenny should replace her love for fast driving with something even more…heart pumping. And despite her need for speed, Jenny's never been one for defying the law.

 

Nominated for Best Romantic Suspense:

 

Thrill Ride  by Julie Ann Walker 

 

Ex-navy SEAL Rock Babineaux is as Cajun as they come—spicy, sexy, and more than a bit wicked. But would he actually betray his country? Even his best friends on the special-ops Black Knights team aren't sure they can trust him. Now the target of a massive manhunt, Rock knows the only way to protect the team—especially his partner, Vanessa—is to run...

 

Rock might think he can outmaneuver them all, but he hasn't counted on how stubborn Vanessa Cordero can be. And she refuses to cut him loose. Sure, her partner has his secrets, but there's no one in the world she'd rather have by her side in a tight spot. Which is good because she and Rock are about to get very tight...

 

 

Nominated For Best Short Contemporary Romance:

 

Her Accidental Boyfriend by Robin Bielman

 

Kagan Owens has a secret. One she thought she’d escaped by leaving New York, but when her past follows her to her temporary new life, Kagan lets a teeny lie slip. And now the town’s biggest playboy and flirt, Shane Sullivan, has become her pretend boyfriend—just until she’s ready to return to NYC. But the handsome, fun-loving Shane makes it tough to determine where their friendly agreement begins and ends… 

Shane has no intention of settling down—in fact, his job depends on it, and nothing’s more important than his work. Still, he can’t help but agree to Kagan’s scheme, if only to find out more about the mysterious beauty. But when every touch from her sets his heart and body on fire, he realizes playing an accidental boyfriend may be more than he bargained for—and more than he can give.

 

Nominated For Best First Book:

 

Private Practice by Samanthe Beck

 

rEllie Swan has a plan: open her practice in tiny Bluelick, Kentucky, so she can keep an eye on her diabetic father, and make hometown golden-boy Roger Reynolds fall in love with her. But Ellie has a problem. Roger seeks a skilled, sexually adventurous partner, and bookish Ellie doesn't qualify. 


Tyler Longfoot only cares about three things: shaking his bad boy image, qualifying for the loan his company needs to rehab a piece of Bluelick's history, and convincing Ellie to keep quiet about the "incident" that lands him on her doorstep at two a.m. with a bullet in his behind. 


The adorable Dr. Swan drives a mean bargain, though. If sex-on-a-stick Tyler will teach Ellie how to bring a man to his knees, she'll forget about the bullet. Armed with The Wild Woman's Guide to Sex and Tyler's lessons, Ellie is confident she can become what Roger needs...if she doesn't fall for Tyler first.

 

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text 2014-07-29 16:05
Congratulations to the 2014 RITA Award Winners!
The Sweet Spot - Laura Drake
Why Resist a Rebel? (Harlequin Kiss) - Leah Ashton
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished - Sarah MacLean
Off the Edge (The Associates) - Carolyn Crane
Five Days in Skye - Carla Laureano
Crazy Thing Called Love - Molly O'Keefe
The Firebird - Susanna Kearsley
Claim Me - J. Kenner
Take Me, Cowboy - Jane Porter

This weekend San Antonio, Texas overflowed with Romance and its writers at the annual Romance Writers of America Conference. 

 

The Rita Award is recognizes excellence in published romance fiction.

 

I love to go over the results and see which books I have read and which of my favorite authors have been honored. I also find new writers. Good stuff. 

 

Congratulations to the 2014 RITA Award Winners! 

 

Best First Book Winner

 

The Sweet Spot by Laura Drake 

 

Charla Rae Denny was the perfect wife with a perfect life, content to keep the home fires burning while her husband, JB, competed as a champion bull rider. Then their son died in a tragic accident-and everything fell apart. Divorced and saddled with a hill of bills and a failing ranch, Charla must now cowboy up to put her life back together.

James "JB" Denny doesn't stay where he isn't welcome. So when Charla shut him out of her grieving heart-and their home-a year ago, he took comfort where he could find it. Now after seeing beautiful Charla again, he wants it all back. She can't work the ranch alone, and deep in his heart he knows he can be the man she needs. But after so much history and heartbreak, can JB convince Charla to take a risk and give their love a second chance?

 

Short Contemporary Romance Winner

 

Why Resist a Rebel? by Leah Ashton 

 

Ruby Bell has put scandal and relationships behind her to forge a successful career in film. Then the talk of Hollywood himself, actor Devlin Cooper, strolls onto her Outback set—fired from his two previous movies, and looking decidedly tempting! The last thing Ruby needs is Dev making outrageous demands and causing her to question her "no romance at work" rule….But what's a girl to do when Dev's taking her on a lavish date one moment, then calling "cut" on their growing closeness the next? What exactly does he want with her—and what's causing the shadows behind those famous blue eyes? Now she's too intrigued to walk away…

 

Historical Romance Winner

 

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean

 

A rogue ruined . . .He is the Killer Duke, accused of murdering Mara Lowe on the eve of her wedding. With no memory of that fateful night, Temple has reigned over the darkest of London’s corners for twelve years, wealthy and powerful, but beyond redemption. Until one night, Mara resurfaces, offering the one thing he’s dreamed of . . . absolution. A lady returned . . .Mara planned never to return to the world from which she’d run, but when her brother falls deep into debt at Temple’s exclusive casino, she has no choice but to offer Temple a trade that ends in her returning to society and proving to the world what only she knows...that he is no killer.A scandal revealed . . .It’s a fine trade, until Temple realizes that the lady—and her past—are more than they seem. It will take every bit of his strength to resist the pull of this mysterious, maddening woman who seems willing to risk everything for honor . . . and to keep from putting himself on the line for love.

 

Romantic Suspense Winner

 

Off the Edge by Carolyn Crane 

 

SHE MAY BE HIS WORST ENEMY… 
For deadly secret agent Peter Macmillan, language is a weapon—one he uses to hunt criminals, destroy plots, and charm enemies. Seducing information out of a beautiful singer in a Bangkok hotel should be easy…except this particular singer has the power to destroy his cool façade, and with it, his last defense against a dark past. 

HE MAY BE HER ONLY HOPE… 
He tricked her. He helped himself to her body and her secrets. He has enemies everywhere. Laney Lancaster should hate Peter, but when she discovers him shirtless, sweaty, and chained up in the hotel’s dungeon, all she can think about is freeing him. Because she knows what it’s like to be trapped and alone. And she could use a dangerous friend. 

They might be wrong for each other, but the instant they join forces, Laney and Peter are plunged into an odyssey of hot sex and dark danger. To survive, they must trust each other with their lives—and their hearts. 

 

 

Inspirational Romance Winner

 

Five Days in Skye: A Novel by Carla Laureano

 

 

Hospitality consultant Andrea Sullivan has one last chance to snag a high-profile client or she'll have to kiss her dreams of promotion good-bye. When she's sent to meet Scottish celebrity chef James MacDonald on the Isle of Skye, she just wants to finish her work as efficiently as possible. Yet her client is not the opportunistic womanizer he portrays himself to be, and her attraction to him soon dredges up memories she'd rather leave buried. For James, renovating the family hotel is a fulfillment of his late father's dreams. When his hired consultant turns out to be beautiful, intelligent, and completely unimpressed by his public persona, he makes it his mission to win her over. He just never expects to fall under her spell.

Soon, both Andrea and James must face the reality that God may have a far different purpose for their lives—and that five days in Skye will forever change their outlook on life and love.

 

Contemporary Romance Winner

 

Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O'Keefe

 

Dallas TV morning show host Madelyn Cornish is poised, perfect, and unflappable, from her glossy smile to her sleek professionalism. No one knows that her iron will guards a shattered heart and memories of a man she’s determined to lock out. Until that man shows up at a morning meeting like a bad dream: Billy Wilkins, sexy hockey superstar in a tailspin—still skating, still fighting, and still her ex-husband.
 
Now the producers want this poster child for bad behavior to undergo an on-air makeover, and Billy, who has nothing to lose, agrees to the project. It’s his only chance to get near Maddy again, and to fight for the right things this time around. He believes in the fire in Maddy’s whiskey eyes and the passion that ignites the air between them. This bad-boy heartbreaker wants a last shot to be redeemed by the only thing that matters: Maddy’s love.

 

Paranormal Romance Winner

 

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley 

 

Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous, she kept it buried deep. When she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a small wooden carving called "The Firebird," claiming it belonged to Russia's Empress Catherine, it's a problem. There's no proof.

But Nicola's held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth.

 

Erotic Romance Winner

 

Claim Me by J. Kenner 

 

Damien Stark’s need is palpable—his need for pleasure, his need for control, his need for me. Beautiful and brilliant yet tortured at his core, he is in every way my match.
 
I have agreed to be his alone, and now I want him to be fully mine. I want us to possess each other beyond the sweetest edge of our ecstasy, into the deepest desires of our souls. To let the fire that burns between us consume us both.
 
But there are dark places within Damien that not even our wildest passion can touch. I yearn to know his secrets, yearn for him to surrender to me as I have surrendered to him. But our troubled pasts will either bind us close . . . or shatter us completely.
 

 

Romance Novella Winner

 

Take Me, Cowboy by Jane Porter

 

When Jenny Wright’s fiancé leaves her standing at the altar in a Vera Wang bridal gown she can’t afford, she’s humiliated and heartbroken. To have Marietta hero bull riding champ Colton Thorpe witness her shame – makes the rejection even more devastating. 


Jenny and Colton grew up in the same rough neighborhood and they both left home right after school to pursue big dreams. Now they’re both back, with Colton as the celebrity chair for the 75th Copper Mountain Rodeo, and Jenny in disgrace. 

Sexy, rugged Colton didn’t get to be a national champion by chance. He’s a man that takes risks and goes after what he wants. During the rodeo weekend, Colton makes it clear he wants Jenny. Flustered but flattered, Jenny finds it difficult to resist his charm. But what happens when the rodeo ends and Colton leaves town? Will she dare to dream again?

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