Saturday, June 29, 2013

RITA Season, Part 4: Romance Novella

The 33rd Annual Conference of the Romance Writers of America will be held in Atlanta July 17-20. The 2013 RITA winners will be announced on July 20.

The posts that I’ll be sharing on alternate Saturdays between now and July 13 will be self-indulgent, romance-fan posts.  I’m going to be looking only at the categories in which I have read most of the finalists and talking about the books I have read with a nostalgic glance at some favorite winners from the past and a few gripes about treasured books not included among the current finalists. I hope you’ll join me and share your own totally authentic, equally subjective views

Romance Novella: The Past

The RITA for best romance novella is a fairly recent addition to the awards. “Starry, Starry Night,” a ghost romance by Marianne Willman in Once upon a Star, an anthology headlined by Nora Roberts, won the first RITA in this category in 2000. I haven’t read all of the winners by any means, but four of the winners are by authors whose books I regularly read. 

 2002 Best Romantic Novella "I Will" by Lisa Kleypas from Wish List 
Lisa Kleypas has been on my auto-buy list since the 1990s, and this novella is one of her redeemed hero tales. Andrew, Lord Drake, the hero of “I Will” is the dissipated, drunken half-brother of Logan Scott (Because You’re Mine, 1997). In this novella, Andrew, in an effort to prove himself a reformed character to his dying father and thus be reinstated in his will, convinces the prim and proper Miss Caroline Hargreaves to participate in a sham engagement. Great sexual tension and memorable characters make this one a winner for me. This is my friend Santa’s all-time favorite novella, another reason for me to acknowledge this novella as special.

2008 Best Romance Novella “Born in My Heart” by Jennifer Greene
in Like Mother, Like Daughter
Already suffering from a slight case of empty-nest syndrome, Anne, the mother of an adopted daughter, fears losing her daughter when the college student locates her birth mother and wants a relationship with her. But Anne discovers not only that her daughter knows that her mother is the woman who loved her and shared a life with her but that her husband is a treasure she has been overlooking. A tender, heartwarming story with Greene’s usual likeable, believable characters and emotional punch, this is one of my favorite Mother’s Day stories.

2010 Best Romance Novella "The Christmas Eve Promise" by Molly O'Keefe in The Night Before Christmas
Merrieta Monroe has always sworn that she would not end up in Webster Groves working at the family diner, but when her family needs her help and she dumps her cheating fiancé, she comes home. Now if she can just deal with her big secret, the Monroe holiday extravaganza, and Gavin McDonnell, a part of her past she can’t forget, she’ll be fine. This story had me at line one: “Within moments of walking downstairs to the diner, Merrieta Monroe was violently assaulted by Christmas.” The story that follows made me laugh, sigh, and blink away a few tears. A gender-bending Santa, a troubled teen angel, and an old flame reignited all help make this a different but beloved Christmas read.

2012 Best Romance Novella I Love the Earl by Caroline Linden
Connected to Linden’s The Truth About the Duke series but set a generation earlier, this is the story of Margaret de Lacey, who finds herself the target of fortune hunters when her brother Francis inherits the dukedom of Durham. Francis settles a dowry of 40,000 pounds on Margaret, who, still single at the advanced age of thirty, expects to remain unmarried. Rhys Corwen, Earl of Dowling, needs a wife with a fortune, but he finds that Margaret’s fortune is the least of the reasons he needs her in his life. This is a wonderful story with two mature characters who behave sensibly and romantically. I like this full series, but the novella is my favorite.

Romance Novella: The Present

I’ve read four of the six finalists in this category and enjoyed them all.

 The Duchess of Love by Sally MacKenzie
 I read this novella because it was offered free on Amazon, and it worked the way authors hope the freebies will. I liked it enough to buy Bedding Lord Ned. Andrew, the Duke of Greycliffe decides to enjoy the freedom from his title when a new housekeeper mistakes his older cousin for the duke. But when he meets Venus Collingswood skinny dipping in his pond and falls for her, he makes the mistake of letting her think he is a plain mister, cousin to the duke, a lie he pays for later. All ends happily, however, and as readers discover in Bedding Lord Ned, Venus and Andrew become the parents of three sons who are the heroes of three novels in the Duchess of Love series. I liked Andrew, who is anything but an arrogant duke, and I adored Venus, who, in a reversal of the usual, is the misfit in her family because she is not bluestocking. This is a light-hearted, fun read.

“Room at the Inn” by Ruthie Knox in Naughty & Nice
 Ruthie Knox’s stories are hotter than mu usual fare, but I can’t resist her characters. “Room at the Inn” is a clever rewriting of It’s a Wonderful Life in which Carson Vance, who can’t wait to leave his hometown of Potter Falls, New York, travels the world building embassies for the Foreign Service, and his college girlfriend, Julie Long, a wealthy Manhattanite, falls in love with the small town, finding in Carson’s parents the family for which she longed and becoming an integral part of the community. For a decade, Carson and Julie were involved in an intermittent affair, “tumbl[ing] into the past with a lurch of nostalgic lust” every time Carson returned for a brief visit. Six years ago, his mother guilted him into ending the affair, but the chemistry between the two is as powerful as ever. Carson is home for the first time in three years, trying to help his dad get on with life after the death of Carson’s mother. The ending is predictable, but the journey is lusty and complicated by a mix of emotions. Leo Potter, the antithesis of Mr. Potter of movie fame, is a delicious addition to this sexy Christmas story.

Seduced by a Pirate by Eloisa James
 This was my favorite novella of 2012. Sir Griffin Barry, a secondary character in The Ugly Duchess, is on his way home after spending almost half his lifetime at sea. Married at seventeen shortly before he jumped out a window and out of his new wife’s life, he was a pirate by eighteen. Four years later, he was captain of the feared Flying Poppy, named for the wife he left somewhere near Bath. Fourteen years later, he’s returning with a limp, a blue poppy tattoo on one cheekbone, a pardon from the king who has declared him a privateer rather than a pirate, and a case of nerves almost the equal of those that rendered him impotent on his wedding night. Going home seems to be his only option, but he has serious qualms about the reception he’s likely to receive from the wife he left behind. Griffin and his lady are quite a pair. For fourteen years, he’s thought his wife’s name was Poppy; for fourteen years, she’s thought her husband was short, slight, and unprepossessing. They discover they are both wrong. I smiled from the first page to the final scene, only stopping when a grin or a giggle replace the smile.

“The Valentine’s Curse” by Jodi Thomas in Be My Texas Valentine
 Nobody does Texas settings and misfit characters better than Jodi Thomas. She gives readers both in this tale of a Valerie Allen, a twice-widowed heroine whose touch is believed to curse a person with death, and Brody Monroe, a Yankee cowboy in post-Civil War Texas. The two outcasts meet at a Valentine’s dance and watching them fall in love in this marriage-of-convenience story is a delight.

I have not read two of the finalists: Breathless by Sophie Jordan and “Sleeping with a Beauty” by Leslie Kelly in Once Upon a Valentine.

Romance Novella: The Missing

Thanks to the proliferation of e-novellas, I am reading many more than I used to, although I still read far fewer novellas than novels. Many of those I do read are connected to novels. That is the case with all three of the 2012 novellas that I feel are missing from the RITA list of Best Romance Novella.

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Hugo Marshall, son of a coalminer, former prizefighter and current secretary of the Duke of Clermont, is known as the Wolf of Clermont, a man who makes his employer’s problems and inconveniences disappear by any means necessary. The immediate problem is Serena Barton, a woman Clermont describes as a servant who seduced him. Hugo doubts Clermont’s veracity, but that doesn’t lessen his determination to rid his employer of the obstacle to reconciling with his wealthy bride and the subsequent 500-pound payment that represents a giant step toward the fulfillment of Hugo’s ambition to become wealthy and powerful. Serena, who was raped and impregnated by Clermont when he visited the family who employed her as a governess, refuses to be just another ruined woman who silently accepts what was done to her. Since Clermont ignored her when she confronted him, she decides to sit on a bench in front of his house until she receives justice and recognition. The conflict between the goals of Hugo and Serena makes them antagonists, but this role is eroded as they come to know and care for one another. This is a smart, complex, emotional story beautifully written. It is a prequel to Milan’s The Brothers Sinister series.

The Second Seduction of a Lady by Miranda Neville
 Eleanor Hardwick, an independent woman with a great respect for common sense and very little respect for the institution of marriage, is visiting in Somerset, having responded to an urgent summons from her father’s second cousin, the Honorable Mrs. George Brotherton, whose detestable character Eleanor can tolerate only because such tolerance is the price she must pay to enjoy the company of her delightful seventeen-year-old cousin, Caroline Brotherton. While she is in Somerset, Eleanor meets the man who five years earlier for a brief time separated her from her common sense persuaded her that she was as wildly in love as even the romantic Caro could hope for. Max Quentin, who is spending a few weeks in Somerset winding up his guardianship of young Robert Townsend, has spent five years regretting a foolish bet that he accepted against his better instincts because he needed the money, and he has never stopped longing for a second chance. Both Max and Eleanor are intelligent strong-minded, and imperfect, qualities I associate with most of Neville’s characters. I loved them both and particularly enjoyed that they were a bit older than the typical hero and heroine. Reunion romances are my favorites, in part because I like a hero and heroine who share a history. And this second seduction is marvelous. The Second Seduction of a Lady serves as a prequel to The Importance of Being Wicked, the first book in Neville's late-Georgian quartet about art collectors.

“All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Molly O’Keefe in Naughty & Nice
 This bittersweet story, a prequel to O’Keefe’s Crazy Thing Called Love, Book 3 in her Crooked Creek Ranch series, is an atypical romance novella in any season, particularly at the Christmas season. Maddy Baumgarten is two days away from her eighteenth birthday, the day after Christmas, when she is planning to elope with Billy Wilkins, 20. Maddy has a loving, supportive family who has great hopes for their bright young daughter whom they expect to become the first person in the family to attend college. Billy, whose family is financially and emotionally impoverished, is a second round draft pick in the NHL. He has his ticket out of the life he has known, and he wants Maddy with him. Even without the knowledge from book 2 in the series that these Maddy and Billy suffer a devastating divorce, the extreme youth of the protagonists and evidence of Billy’s temper are enough to make a reader question the HEA. O’Keefe has the gift of creating characters so real the reader’s heart aches for them. That ache is amplified in this story. It is flawlessly written and wonderfully risky. Both qualities merit recognition.

Are you reading more novellas? What was your favorite of 2012?


PJ Ausdenmore said...

I've been reading a lot more novellas, especially the ones that are released in digital format.

My favorite of 2012 is the same as you, Janga. "Seduced by a Pirate" is Eloisa James at her best.

Janga said...

I know, PJ. It seems that every week there is a least one new novella in digital-only format that I want to read.

I think "Seduced by a Pirate" has many fans, PJ. It's such a fun read.