On July 26, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) closed their annual conference with a gala event where they honored writers among their ranks for their outstanding work. The RITA Awards are given for distinction in romance fiction.
The Best First Book RITA went to Laura Drake, who gave up her job as a corporate CFO to pursue a career in writing. Her journey to success wasn’t an easy one. It took her 15 years to sell a book, so receiving the award and a hug from none other than Nora Roberts made the victory even sweeter. Her novel The Sweet Spot is the story of a couple coming back together after their life and marriage are torn apart by tragedy.
Sarah MacLean won her second RITA award for her Rules of Scoundrels series. This year, she won the coveted trophy for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, which I wrote about on Between the Covers earlier this year. The winner in the Paranormal Romance category is Susanna Kearsley for The Firebird. Kearsley skillfully blends history, the paranormal and romance in this novel. Nicola, a woman who secretly has the ability to read past events by touching artifacts, finds herself on a journey through Russia to prove the authenticity of a small wooden bird called the Firebird.
We’ve made this list of these winners and many more, so you can read the best romances of the year!
Ah, summer. That time of year when the fridge is covered in cream-colored envelopes with fancy fonts. It’s wedding season, and if you’re spending all your time buying gifts from registries and listening to a bridal march for what feels like the 100th time this summer, why not take a break from all those taffeta bridesmaids dresses and have yourself a little vacation to southeastern France in Ellen Sussman’s new book A Wedding in Provence?
Olivia and Brody are excited to spend their wedding weekend at a charming B&B owned by their friends in Provence. In their 50s, they are optimistic at their second chance at a loving marriage. Their family and friends are in attendance, ready to celebrate with them. However, even in this idyllic setting, old family jealousies and new problems threaten to overturn the joy of their wedding weekend. Olivia’s daughters, Nell and Carly, are coming from two disastrously different romantic situations: Carly’s longtime boyfriend has decided to skip the wedding altogether, and Nell, mourning the loss of her dead boyfriend, picks up her seatmate on the plane to attend the wedding with her.
Carly and Nell are not the only ones with secrets to keep. Emily and Sebastien, the owners of the B&B, are weathering a difficult time in their marriage, Brody’s father has just left his mother after 55 years, and then there’s wild card best man Jake, who seems harmless, but has his own hidden agenda.
Fans of romances with an edge and of Sussman’s other novels, such as French Lessons or The Paradise Guest House, will find this novel a summer soap opera to read while waiting for the bridal party to have their photos taken and cocktail hour to begin.
2013 was a banner year for Rainbow Rowell, having published two major hits: the popular Fangirl and the critically lauded Eleanor and Park, which won a Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction. Rowell fans can rejoice as her hotly anticipated adult novel, Landline, hits BCPL’s shelves today.
Georgie McCool is on the verge of a major breakthrough in her career. She and her writing partner have a huge meeting with a studio executive the day after Christmas to pitch their very own TV show. It’s everything she’s ever dreamed of, but the meeting means her family won’t be able to go to Omaha to visit her mother-in-law. Georgie’s husband, Neal, decides to take their daughters anyway, leaving Georgie alone on Christmas to contemplate their marriage, her career and how her marriage has turned into something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She goes to her mother’s house and finds an old-fashioned rotary phone in her childhood bedroom and uses it to call Neal in Nebraska. Neal answers, but not her husband of 14 years; it’s Neal of 1998, right before he is about to propose, and suddenly Georgie wonders if she’s destined to reroute their shared history by talking him out of their marriage before it even begins.
In Landline, unlike Rowell’s other novels, the main relationship isn’t a burgeoning romance: It’s a marriage of 14 years. There’s too much at stake to let it falter, and the tension between Georgie and the past and present Neals will keep readers itching to skip to the last page to see how it all turns out. There is a lot to laugh about in the book as well: funny, relatable characters; a pug in labor and tons of pop culture references. Landline is a winner for a great summer read, especially if you recognize the phone on the cover as something you had in your own bedroom (or just begged your parents for when you were in junior high).
Natalie Baszile tackles several tough topics in her novel Queen Sugar. Protagonist Charley, a single mother, has to create a whole new life for herself as a black woman in rural Louisiana. She has to deal with the loss of loved ones, confront prejudice and raise a strong, proud daughter. It is only with the help of her grandmother, Miss Honey, that she is even able to attempt this new beginning.
After Charley’s father passed away, she was surprised to learn that he had left her a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. She’d always considered herself a city girl from California, but it had been four years since her husband passed away, and she and her 11-year-old daughter Micah were in need of a change.
When Charley and Micah arrive in Louisiana, they realized that the plantation manager had given up long ago and the fields were in dire need of a green thumb. Feeling overwhelmed, Charley immediately begins to try to turn things around. She had moved Micah against her will and sunk all of her savings into a long shot at a new life, but Charley quickly learns that this new life doesn’t come with the promise of simplicity. More than one curve ball is thrown her way, but Charley is determined to make her father proud and show Micah that perseverance is the key to reaching a goal.
Baszile creates rich characters whose relationships feel warm and authentic. It’s the combination of these character interactions and the vivid descriptions of the landscape that bring this book alive. Though the novel is more contemporary in content, I would recommend it to those who liked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
Damaris Chance feels no compulsion to marry but instead longs for a cottage by the sea. Freddy Monkton-Coombes is enjoying the rewards of his rakish ways, which will be severely curtailed if his mother has anything to say about it. In The Winter Bride, Annie Gracie revisits the Chance sisters and shares the stories of this magnetic and damaged duo.
Damaris Chance’s unhappy past involves a blackguard sea captain who hurt her so deeply that marriage is no longer an appealing option. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice, convinces her to make her debut and enjoy a season of lighthearted fun. Meanwhile, Freddy’s season is filled with all the single ladies tracking his every move and a mother who won’t stop nagging about marriage. He is also determined to honor his promise to his friend Max to watch out for the Chance sisters. When Freddy discovers Damaris roaming through unsavory parts of town at all hours of the night, he demands to know her secret.
Damaris has been surreptitiously selling her painted pottery in an effort to secure her dream cottage. While not a scandalous secret, during the course of their conversation, the two reach a most unorthodox decision and agree to an arranged marriage. Freddy can continue his womanizing ways, and Damaris will have her cottage. As the two spend more time together during their “engagement,” they share confidences and dreams. Is marriage really such a bad thing after all? Gracie continues her Chance Sisters series with another charming romance centered by a charismatic couple while positioning the players to be featured in the next two seasons. Spring and summer can’t come soon enough!
Romance writers across the country were recently thrilled to receive that special phone call sharing the news that their books were finalists for a RITA Award. RITAs are the highest honor of distinction in romance fiction, and are awarded in 12 categories. The categories cover the wide range of romance readership, including erotica, paranormal and historical.
The Romance Writers of America (RWA) bestows these awards to highlight excellence in published romance novels and novellas at its annual conference in San Antonio, Texas, in July. Want to see how many you’ve read? Check out the complete list, which also includes Golden Heart (excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts) nominees. Have you read any of the RITA Award nominees? Let us know what you thought in the comments. Congratulations to all the finalists!
Leila Meacham’s Somerset is a stirring family saga covering 150 years in the lives of the Toliver and Warwick families who are looking to make their way in the newly formed communities in Texas. Simon Toliver is determined to free himself from his South Carolina family and build his dream plantation in Texas. He is forced into a relationship with Jessica Wyndham, whose abolitionist leanings have made her a persona non grata in South Carolina. The two begin a perilous journey that will determine their future. Meacham’s story begins in the antebellum period as the plantation begins to grow and prosper, but threats of war are on the horizon. Simon and Jessica must find a way to protect their homes and families. Meacham creates memorable characters like Jessica’s best friend Tippy, a slave whom Jessica is determined to free.
Meacham wrote this novel as prequel to her first novel, Roses. Roses covers the history of the Somerset plantation from the years 1914 through 1985, introducing readers to the heirs of the Toliver and Warwick fortunes. Somerset begins in 1835 and sets the stage for all that is to come.
Leila Meacham is a new heavy hitter in the family saga, and Somerset is no exception. Grand and sweeping, it is full of tidbits of Texas history and rich with compelling characters that bring plenty of drama, action and romance. Teresa DeBerry reads the novel on the audio recording with such an authentic Texan drawl that the reader will be transported directly to the antebellum south. Fans of Belva Plain or Barbara Taylor Bradford are sure to find something to love in this novel.
Sharon Sala, a prolific and successful writer with over 1 million books sold, ventures into the world of Southern women’s fiction in The Curl Up & Dye. Blessings, Georgia, springs to glorious life, along with its unique and quirky residents, especially LilyAnn Bronte, a former Peachy-Keen Queen. After losing her almost fiancé in the war in Iraq, her zest for life was zapped and she let herself go for 11 years. Finally, LilyAnn gives in to the ladies of the local beauty parlor, The Curl Up & Dye, and starts to get herself back in the game. This happily coincides with the arrival of a new hottie in town who provides LilyAnn with further motivation. But was love already in Blessings the whole time? A little bit Steel Magnolias and a little bit When Harry Met Sally equals a whole lot of fun.
Get to know Sala as she sheds light on her creative process, offers a sneak peak at what’s next in Blessings and shares plenty more, including the Hollywood superstars she would cast to bring The Curl Up & Dye’s romantic duo to life on the big screen.
The Curl Up & Dye is such a fun slice of Southern life but represents a departure from the romantic suspense genre in which you’ve achieved such great success. What prompted the change and what challenges were created?
I love that you enjoyed The Curl Up & Dye. It was so much fun creating and then living in that world. As for what prompted it, I’ve been writing in different genres for several years now. Young adult, women’s fiction, Western historical (humor) romantic suspense and straight fiction. Going the Southern route was a breeze and so much fun. As for challenges, there were none. As a writer, it’s freeing creatively to do something different. Keeps me fresh, creatively speaking.
In all of your books, your characters are engaging, the stories gripping and the romance palpable. What sparks your ideas after so many successful stories?
My ideas are my dreams. I just write what the universe gives me. As for keeping the stories fresh, I think it would be fair to say that it’s the characters themselves who lead me through the maze that becomes their lives. Once you try to force a scene to work, you’ve already lost your way. I just let the characters tell me what comes naturally to them and then find a way to let the reader see it as I do.
I know you’ve said it was a hated job that led you to writing, but was writing professionally always a dream? And what was that hated job?
The hated job was checking groceries, and I never imagined, even once, of becoming a professional writer. I was just a dreamer with thousands of stories in my head, and one day the hated job triggered an urge to put down on paper what I was seeing in my head.
Share some of your process. Do you write every day? Where? Whom do you use as a sounding-board?
Yes, I write every day, but my writing process no longer exists because I also care for my 94-year-old mother who lives with me and who has dementia and no short-term memory. It is daily chaos but also a sweet sad journey for the both of us. I write when I can and am thankful that my process for writing is naturally fast. I have no sounding board but myself. I am also my worst critic.
You just got the call that The Curl Up & Dye is being made into a movie and you have free reign with the casting. What’s your dream cast? Do you use celebrities as models for your characters when you’re writing?
The dream cast is Jennifer Lawrence as LilyAnn and Channing Tatum as Mike. They both have an ability to do sweet/funny/dramatic, and the story calls for all three. No, I never use a picture of anyone to create the characters in my books. They’re already in my head as themselves.
Will you be returning to Blessings in a future novel? Can you give us a sneak peak?
Yes, I am happy to say that I’m going back to Blessings this year writing a book called Family Specials. Of course The Curl Up & Dye plays a pivotal role in how the plot plays out, but the story is entirely different from the others.
It’s about two teenagers: a boy and his two little brothers and a girl and her baby boy, who have been thrust into adult roles far too soon and who find a way to team up to save their families and, in doing so, finally fall in love long after the wedding has taken place.
It is a story that makes my heart happy. I look forward to sharing it with you.
Jill Shalvis returns to her bestselling Lucky Harbor series with her new novel Once in a Lifetime. Lucky Harbor fans know that Aubrey Wellington is trouble, but she has decided to give herself a life makeover. She makes a list of wrongs she has committed and sets out to make amends. Ben McDaniel has had no interest in love since he was widowed, but he finds he can’t ignore the electricity between him and Aubrey. As they grow closer, Aubrey worries that one secret item on her list may push him away forever.
Shalvis’s sexy, laugh-out-loud funny romances have made her a star in the contemporary romance genre. The author recently answered some questions about love, life and her new novel.
Between the Covers: What scene did you have the most fun writing?
Jill Shalvis: Oh I have quite a few from this book! When Aubrey throws her drink in Ben’s face, when she runs and hides out in an AA meeting and makes friends with the pastor, when Ben figures out she’s writing a list of people she’s wronged and he wonders that it’s not a lot longer than it is, when Aubrey gets a little tipsy and throws rocks at Ben’s window like a scene right out of the Say Anything movie …
BTC: Describe Aubrey a sentence
JS: Aubrey: her heart’s in the right spot but she doesn’t like to lead with it, if that makes any sense.
BTC: Aubrey inherits a cat named Gus, who has quite the personality—was he inspired by a real life cat?
JS: He was inspired by my own Satan—er, Sadie, who believes she is the queen of all humans.
BTC: Aubrey has some scandalous photos from her college days surface in her ex’s tell-all. Is there are anything from your past you wouldn’t want to see the light of day (but that you’re willing to share with us)?
JS: Alpha Man [Jill’s husband] has a photo on his phone that he snapped just as I was flipping him off. I’m not super proud of that moment, which of course is why he has it as my photo id when I call him…
BTC: What can your fans look forward to next in the Lucky Harbor series?
JS: Next up is a Lucky Harbor trilogy for this coming summer and fall, It’s in His Kiss, He’s So Fine, and Once in a Million, the stories of the three sexy hot guys who run Lucky Harbor Charters.
From sitcom writer to author of cozy mysteries, Laura Levine has had an eclectic writing career. Her newest novel, Killing Cupid, is a light mystery about a murder in a matchmaking company on Valentine’s Day.
When Jaine gets a call and is asked to write advertising copy for a Beverly Hills matchmaker, all she has to do is consider her meager bank account before quickly accepting the job. Upon starting at Dates of Joy, Jaine quickly discovers that Joyce is as much of con artist as matchmaker. Instead of marketing, Jaine is writing phony bios to go with the head shots of fake clients who happen to be models.
Joyce appears to be a charming woman to anyone seeking love in her matchmaking business, but after she cashes their check, they’re likely to never hear from her again. She cuts corners to save a penny and she isn’t above blackmail, so it’s no surprise that Jaine isn’t the only person who can’t stand her tyrant of a boss. When Joyce turns up murdered by a poison chocolate, the list of suspects is long. Jaine finds herself among them and must discover who the real murderer is to clear her own name.
Whether you're trying to get in the mood for this holiday or find a good distraction from the day, this cozy mystery can help. With Jaine’s quirkiness and the effortless storyline, this book could be a beach read, if only it were a little warmer.