Thursday, July 26, 2012

RITA Reads: Part II

Tomorrow night the 2012 RITA and Golden Heart winners will be announced. I plan to be online, eagerly awaiting the announcement of the winners.

Contemporary Single Title, and Novel with Strong Romantic Elements are the second two of the four categories that most of my RITA reads from among the 2012 finalists fall into, and I have the same ambivalence about choosing a single book to champion that I have with the books in the Historical and Regency Historical categories.

This is another strong field with a group of books that would be splendid additions to keeper shelves. These are the finalists:

At Hidden Falls by Barbara Freethy (Pocket Books)
Black Ties and Lullabies by Jane Graves (Grand Central Publishing Forever)
Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe (Carina Press)
Heartstrings and Diamond Rings by Jane Graves (Grand Central Publishing Forever)
Silver Sparks by Starr Ambrose (Pocket Books)
Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier by Lisa Dale (Berkley Publishing Group)
Summer at Seaside Cove by Jacquie D’Alessandro (Berkley Publishing Group)
The Welcome Home Garden Club by Lori Wilde (Avon Books)

I’ve read seven of the eight finalists in the Contemporary Single Title category. I read the seventh one this week as I was preparing this post. I checked it out, liked the summary, bought it, and was ready to read it five minutes later. I love my ereader.
  • At Hidden Falls shows the same mix of light paranormal elements and romance that made her RITA-winning debut novel, Daniel’s Gift (1996), such a success, and it adds the small-town setting that is so popular now.
  • Jane Graves, who is among the best I know at combining humor and heart, competes against herself with two books in this category. I’d give Black Ties and Lullabies the edge because I’ve wanted to see Jeremy Bridges hit hard by love since I read Hot Wheels and High Heels (2007). I love Graves’s titles too.
  • Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe is the one I just read. Both author and book were new to me when I read the lists of finalists, but I’ll definitely be looking for more single-titles from Lowe. Boomerang Bride is funny and sweet with a great secondary romance, and the small town is in Wisconsin. How rare is that?
  • Slow Dancing on Price’s Pier combines a woman’s journey to self-discovery with a compelling love story. It was my first book by Lisa Dale; I’ve read three more since reading it.
  • Summer at Seaside Cove is a fun read with characters that are easy to like. It’s a book that had it been published anonymously would have inspired me to say this is the kind of book Jacquie D’Alessandro would write.
  • The success of The Welcome Home Garden Club offers more evidence that a writer can take tired elements—estranged, illegitimate son, bad-boy/good-girl romance, secret baby (with a twist)—and with skill create a story that makes readers fall in love with the characters and believe in their story.
My ballot is marked, and I reiterate that like my political ballots, it will remain private. But all of these books are deserving of recognition. If I were selecting the finalist, I’d add Angel’s Rest by Emily March. I adored Gabriel Callahan, a man who lost two lives but gets a shot at a third after love and Eternity Springs work their healing miracle.

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements is one of my favorite categories because I love what I call hybrid books, those that combine romance with women’s fiction, mystery, science fiction, or some other genre. Look at these finalists.

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn (Harlequin MIRA)
Death Magic by Eileen Wilks (Berkley Publishing Group Sensation)
First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones (St. Martin’s Press)
Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros (Gallery Books)
How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O’Neal (Ballantine Bantam Dell)
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (Sourcebooks Landmark)
Shadow Walker by Allyson James (Berkley Publishing Group Sensation)
Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (Berkley Publishing Group)
Spider’s Revenge by Jennifer Estep (Pocket Books)

I’ve read six of this year’s eight finalists, a bit on the low side for me in this category.
  • The Dark Enquiry, the fifth book in Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, is the third in the series to be named a RITA finalist. The first one, Silent in the Grave won in 2008. The Dark Enquiry is filled with more of Lady Julia’s adventures, more of the enigmatic Nicholas Brisbane who is now her husband, and more of Raybourn’s superb writing. I love the series! 
  • I read First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones, which is outside my usual reading range, because of conference swag. I have great friends, and every year for the past several years, one or more of them has sent a me, the perennial stay-at-home, a conference goodie box from Nationals. Last year my gift package from Romance Dish PJ included a terrific notebook with the cover of Darynda Jones’s second novel on it. Now the cover said not-your-kind-of-book, but I loved the notebook. It was a perfect size for writing scenes, it was the good kind of spiral-bound that folds over easily, it had thick paper that my preferred gel pen flowed over in a way that made me feel super productive. And every time I used it I saw the cover and the author’s name. When I saw First Grave on the Right as I was browsing in a bookstore one day, I felt honor bound to buy it because I had enjoyed that notebook so much. I did, I read it, I thought Charley was a wonderful character, and I’ve continued to read the series. It just goes to show that swag can win a reader.
  • Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros has its critics, but I enjoyed it. I also admire authors who take chances, and Medeiros definitely moved away from the subgenre that’s made her famous with this one. She’s an eight-time RITA finalist, and I’d certainly cheer happily to see her win one of the golden ladies.  
  • Barbara O’Neal writes books that I read and ruminate on and rave about to anyone who will listen. How to Bake a Perfect Life is vintage O’Neal/Samuel with language that delights the mind and the senses, characters that are so real I can almost grasp their hands, and an emotional punch that leaves me dizzy with its power. She’s won six RITAs and been a finalist an additional seven times. A win this year in this category would place her in the RWA Hall of Fame, an overdue honor.
  • I’m not a fan of time-travel books generally, including some that are high favorites of most romance readers, but The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley is a beautifully written book with a rich, evocative sense of place that is also a time-travel story within a book that defies easy classification.
  • I’m a big fan of historical fiction that gives voices to women silenced by history. Song of the Nile, the second book of a trilogy based on the life of Cleopatra’s and Mark Anthony’s daughter, Selene, is such a book. The characterization is complex, and the story is compelling.

I’m impressed by the variety among the group. Taken together, they show how romantic elements can be woven effectively into almost any kind of story. What’s missing? I’d cast an enthusiastic vote for The Beach Trees by Karen White, one of my top reads of 2011.

Congratulations and best wishes to all the finalists in all the categories.

So how many of these have you read? What favorites didn’t make the finalists this year? Will I see you on Twitter tomorrow?


irisheyes said...

I've read both of Jane Graves books and really enjoyed them. I would buy another by her in a heartbeat.

The only one I read in the second category is Barbara O'Neal's HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE, which I loved. I'm so excited that she won and got inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Janga said...

I like Jane Graves's books too, Irish, although Tall Tales and Wedding Veils is still my favorite.

I'm so excited about Barbara O'Neal entering the Hall of Fame that I may end up blogging on the subject. Some of her books are among those I've reread so often I've lost count of the number of times I've read them.