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 Check out the complete list, which also includes Golden Heart (excellence in unpublished romance manuscripts) nominees.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.
Jane Austen fans look to Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy as the model of gentlemanly behavior. And when Austen’s words were brought to life with Colin Firth’s portrayal in the classic BBC production the archetype was perfected. Two new contemporary romances tweak enduring P&P themes, introduce modern Mr. Darcys and deliver delightfully entertaining tales of love.
True, Manhattanite Elizabeth Scott is nearing her 30th birthday in the debut Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson. But unlike so many women her age, she has no interest in walking down the aisle. Rather, she wants to find success walking the ring as she reinvents herself as a top dog handler. In so doing, she hopes to put the scandal that cost her teaching job and her reputation solidly in the rear view mirror. Elizabeth attends her first dog show and is immediately distracted by the divine Donovan Darcy, who turns out to be the judge. Initially, the two are at odds, but gradually their mutual attraction grows. While meddling sisters and social prejudice interfere with this couple’s path to happily ever after, Austen devotees and dog lovers will relish their journey to ardent admiration and love.
Thirty-five-year-old American social-media master Vanessa Roberts is a thoroughly modern girl who enjoys all of her gadgets in Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doorenbos. She has her own PR firm, good friends (including Chase) and her beloved Aunt Ella. Her life is hectic, but she is happy. But when Ella, asks her to work her public relations magic on Julian Chancellor, Vanessa’s high-speed life slows down. Chancellor, a reserved Englishman, chronicled his year spent living as a Regency gentleman in My Year as Mr. Darcy and now needs help with the book’s U.S. marketing. Vanessa reluctantly agrees to help, but soon sheds that reluctance upon spying Julian shedding his breeches. Could this old-fashioned chap really be The One? Or, did Vanessa’s fast-paced life lead her to overlook true love? Austen lovers – prepare to be excessively diverted!
Who better to recommend a great love story than a romance writer? We asked several popular romance authors to tell us about the best romantic stories they have recently read. They responded, and we compiled their recommendations to help you find your next great read.
Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project is the big winner here! Both Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Robyn Carr enthusiastically recommend this quirky love story about a geneticist who seeks his perfect mate using a scientific survey, but ends up falling in love with a barmaid who wouldn’t pass even the first question. Phillips says that she adores this “funny and touching” novel, and Carr calls it a “brilliant love story, just brilliant.” That’s high praise from two bestselling authors who know a thing or two about writing a captivating love story.
Tessa Dare recommends Courtney Milan’s The Countess Conspiracy. Dare writes, “In Victorian England, Violet, Countess of Cambury, is one of the world's leading experts on the study of inherited traits (genetics). However, since female scientists weren't accepted or taken seriously in that era, Violet's best friend, Sebastian Malheur, has been presenting her theories as his own for years. That is, until the day he refuses to continue the charade and confesses his deeper feelings for Violet, threatening both their friendship and their secret collaboration. Sebastian, the hero, is charming, patient, intelligent and handsome — in short, just about perfect. But it's Violet who truly shines in this book. Romantic love is part of her happy ending, but her triumphs also include career fulfillment and a true sense of her own worth. It's a book that made me laugh, cry and cheer.”
Laura Kaye suggests J. Lynn’s popular new adult novel Wait for You. Avery Morgansten is a college student running from her past when she meets boy-next-door Cameron Hamilton. They are instantly attracted to each other, but both Avery and Cam have secrets that they must face before their romance can blossom. Kaye says that it’s “fun and romantic and full of sexual chemistry. Totally to-die-for hero!” As a bonus, Kaye also highly recommends Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. She praises the series, saying it has “a smart heroine and the most likable hero ever!” The first book in Gabaldon’s epic genre-bending series, Outlander it is sure to gain even more fans when the Starz television series premieres this summer.
Pastry chef Serafina Wilde is a hot mess. Reeling from the cruelties of her celebrity chef ex and struggling to rebuild her reputation in the cutthroat New York City catering world, she escapes to Santa Fe to lend support to her free-spirited Aunt Pauline. So begins Bliss by Hilary Fields, a yummy debut about picking up the pieces and starting over in a place far from the epicenter of your past troubles.
Aunt Pauline has always filled many roles in Serafina’s life, including guardian when a teenaged Serafina lost her parents. Now Aunt Pauline needs her too, as she has just experienced the loss of her partner Hortencia. In Santa Fe, Pauline is offering Serafina the opportunity of a professional lifetime — to turn her business, “Pauline’s House of Passion,” into a bakery. There’s only one condition: the unconventional Pauline, who in the 1970s started an offshoot of the women’s lib movement, is determined to keep her back room of sex toys and all things Kama Sutra, suggesting to Serafina that it could be a business of both “sinful desserts and earthly delights.” Why not? As Serafina begins to rebuild her life and rediscover love, she learns that being a nonconformist in “City Different” has its perks.
Fans of Beth Harbison or Emily Giffin will love this wacky tale full of laugh-out-loud moments, mouthwatering descriptions of food and a carefree setting of well-developed quirky characters. Perfect as a remedy to post-holiday stress, or as a fun way to ease into the new year. Fields’ message is clear: Happiness awaits those who follow their bliss.
Dukes frequently appear as heroes in historical romances. These two new novels share that common plot element, but with their strong writing and fresh stories, they are far from clichéd. In Victoria Morgan’s The Heart of a Duke, Lady Julia Chandler decides to take matters in her own hands to bring her long-time fiancé, the Duke of Bedford, to the altar. She is tired of being a laughingstock, so she finds him and kisses him, ready to push for a wedding and soon. There’s just one problem: she mistakenly kisses his twin brother Daniel, who has just returned from 10 years in America. Daniel came home to find out who set the fire that nearly killed him after receiving a mysterious note from his late father’s solicitor that read, “It is time. Come home and claim your destiny.” Daniel doesn’t want Julia to marry his brother, but his attention may put her in his enemy’s crosshairs. Morgan is a talented new voice in historical romance.
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, the third novel in RITA-winner Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels quartet, brings us the story of Temple, a duke marked by scandal. He’s known as the Killer Duke because 12 years ago, he woke up covered in blood in the bed of his father’s beautiful, young fiancée. Everyone presumed that he murdered her, though her body was never found. Now, a notorious fighter and co-owner of the infamous Fallen Angel gaming hell, Temple is stunned when Miss Mara Lowe, the woman he is believed to have murdered, shows up on his doorstep ready to bargain with him. If he forgives her brother’s gambling debts, she will show herself in society, proving that he isn’t a murderer. MacLean writes sexy historical romance with wit, warmth and a modern sensibility. The book ends with the revelation of a shocking secret about the identity of Chase, the fourth partner in the Fallen Angel. That secret will leave readers desperate to read the final novel in the series!
If you wait all year for the Lifetime, ABC Family and Hallmark Channel’s Christmas movie lineups, these three new romances will be the perfect way to relax and unwind from the holiday hustle and bustle. Sherryl Woods brings readers back to Chesapeake Shores, Maryland in A Seaside Christmas. Songwriter Jenny Collins grew up as the only child of a single mother. Her world was shaken when her mother married into the big, close-knit O’Brien family, and Jenny suddenly had a new baby brother. After a very public breakup with country music bad boy Caleb Green, Jenny decides to leave Nashville and go home for the holidays to regroup and find her place in her new family. She is shocked when Caleb follows her home to win her back. Is Caleb there for her or because he knows that her song can help him break through as a solo artist?
In Sleigh Belles, Beth Albright continues her Sassy Belles series, which she describes as Steel Magnolias meets Sex and the City. Local news reporter Dallas Dubois has a chronic case of trying to get over Cal Hollingsworth, an affliction that she has suffered from since her high school crush on him. When the director of the local children’s Christmas play can’t continue, Dallas’s station manager demands that she take charge, but what does she know about working with kids? Directing the play puts Dallas in regular contact with Cal who soon begins to see the real woman behind the mean-girl reputation. Albright’s hilarious one-liners and abundant southern charm make this story a winner.
In Sarah Morgan’s Sleigh Bells in the Snow, Jackson O’Neil left his successful business to go home and save Snow Crystal Resort and Spa, his family’s business. Kayla Green wants to escape everything related to Christmas and the bad memories that the holidays bring up for her. She is coerced into spending a week at Snow Crystal to win Jackson’s business for her PR firm. Once she’s in Vermont, Kayla is completely out of her element and finds that saving Snow Crystal won’t be as easy as she thought. Her attraction to Jackson is undeniable, but she doesn’t think she can ever risk her heart again. Like Kayla, readers will be enchanted by the O’Neil family and Snow Crystal.