Who will win the RITA for best contemporary romance?

Since the Romance Writers of America announced the finalists for the RITA award back in March, I’ve been reading all of the nominated novels in my favorite category: contemporary single-title romance. Some of the authors are old favorites of mine, and some were new to me.

The winners will be announced on July 1, and I’m lucky enough to be in New York for the party. They’re fantastic novels, and I can’t wait to see who wins.

Best of luck to their authors!

Not That Kind of Girl by Susan Donovan

Not That Kind of Girl coverRoxanne Bloom launches a man-hating blog after overhearing her ass-hat boyfriend denigrating her bedroom skills to his friends – men she has to work with. Her now-ex breaks into her house and threatens her, until her man-hating pit-bull-Boxer mix nearly rips his throat apart. Roxie finds herself being sued and fighting to keep her dog alive. The only person she can count on is Eli Gallagher, the hottest dog whisperer around.

Eli’s used to being top dog, but can he help both Roxie and her dog feel secure enough that they let go of their angry aggression?

Read more about Not That Kind of Girl

The best parts

Susan Donovan does an amazing job of creating emotional intensity between her hero and heroine. Almost all the novels of hers I’ve read feature couples who spark immediately, and the flames grow hotter and deeper as the story develops. Plus, this novel contains the canine equivalent of a Regency rake: a pit bull most people think is irredeemable but who turns loving and loyal thanks to a woman’s devotion.

Still the One by Robin Wells

Still the One by Robin WellsWhen she was 17, Katie Charmaine had a summer fling with Zach Ferguson and ended up pregnant and boyfriendless. She gave her newborn daughter up for adoption – a heartbreaking experience she never revealed to anyone except the man she ended up marrying. But after her husband dies in Iraq, leaving her childless and grief-stricken, Zach returns to town with their 17-year-old daughter – a girl who’s pregnant and desperately needs parents.

The best parts

I cried. No, I bawled. The tenderness and conflict between each of the characters is realistic and satisfying. I loved that the author allowed Kate to have a wonderful relationship with her late husband, and that Kate struggles to overcome her grief before falling in love with Zach.

And One Last Thing… by Molly Harper

And One Last Thing coverWhen Lacey Terwilliger discovers her husband Mike is screwing his artificially enhanced secretary, she doesn’t just get mad; she gets online. Having sacrificed her own career to support his business, she writes one last email newsletter to his clients, family and friends, telling them exactly what a dickless wonder Mike is. Her revenge backfires, though, and she flees to her cabin to get away from her nagging, gossiping neighbors.

Fortunately for her, a hot author named Monroe lives next door. Can she convince him she’s not another psycho divorcée like all the others who’ve thrown themselves at him?

Read more about And One Last Thing

The best parts

Molly Harper’s voice rocks. She’s like a twisted version of Kristan Higgins. Her characters are witty and clever – except for the morons you’re not supposed to like. This novel is funny, tender, sweet and sexy, so it hits all the right spots. If you have a thing for Hugh Jackman, read this book. That’s all I’m sayin’.

One Fine Cowboy by Joanne Kennedy

One Fine Cowboy coverPsychology grad student Charlie Banks is sent to observe a horse whisperer in Wyoming. Unfortunately, the horse whisperer, Nate Shawcross, has no idea his ex-girlfriend took people’s money and promised them Nate would run a horse clinic. He’s shocked when cute Jersey girl (and PETA activist) Charlie shows up on his ranch, hauling her attitude with her. Nate’s ranch is in trouble, though, and he can only save it by putting on a good show for the group of greenhorns that arrive for his clinic. And he desperately needs Charlie’s help to make the clinic a success.

Read more about One Fine Cowboy

The best parts

This novel is the closest I can remember coming to a hero who was abused by a former partner. Although Nate’s ex-girlfriend didn’t hit him, she manipulated him so severely that his personality and confidence are shot. His insecurity when it comes to women is so endearing, and I loved the scenes written from his point of view. He wants to please Charlie, but he struggles hard to find ways to do so. Massive kudos to Joanne Kennedy for such a daring—and well-written—portrayal.

Simply Irresistible by Jill Shalvis

Simply IrresistibleIn one week, Maddie finally gets rid of her abusive boyfriend, loses her job because of it, and finds out her mother has died. Though she and her mother were estranged, Maddie and her two half-sisters inherit a falling-down inn on the coast of Washington.

Maddie’s learned that trusting men can be a dangerous thing, but when she hires the sexiest contractor for miles around, she learns that love starts with that trusting herself.

The best parts

The hero, Jax, is among the best contemporary heroes I’ve ever read. He’s strong without being obnoxiously alpha. He’s supportive without being a pushover. And he’s thoroughly addictive. For the last couple of months, I’ve returned to this novel over and over, rereading my favorite parts. It’s so high up my keeper shelf no one will be able to touch it.

Lead Me On by Victoria Dahl

Lead Me On by Victoria DahlJane Morgan is the ultimate professional woman, but she hasn’t always been. In fact, she has completely turned her life around from the chaos she experienced growing up. She’s full of secrets—like that most of her relatives are convicts and that she earned herself a reputation when she was far too young—but there’s one thing she can no longer deny herself: hot sex with a tough-looking man.

But as her perfectly composed life begins to unravel, William Chase proves he’s a hell of a lot more than a working class stud service.

The best parts

Victoria Dahl’s contemporary characters break all the molds, and it’s truly a joy to see their layers peeled away to reveal people who are unlike any others I’ve seen in romance. Jane’s shame over her past decisions is gut-wrenching, and her growth over the course of the novel is painful to experience but all the more satisfying because of that. Chase may look like an ex-con, but he displays the stalwart character of superman as he supports Jane through her struggles. This is such a beautiful, sexy, funny story that I took the bus to work because I couldn’t bear to put it down.

Nothing but Trouble by Rachel Gibson

Nothing But Trouble by Rachel GibsonHockey player Mark Bressler made his living on the ice, but when his Hummer hits a patch of black ice and flips, Mark’s career instantly ends and he’s left in excruciating pain to watch his team win the Stanley Cup. No wonder he’s pissed at the world.

But when failed actress and assistant to B-list celebs Chelsea Ross is hired to nurse him back to health, Mark’s pity part is over. With her bossy manner, she soon has Mark frustrated in altogether more pleasant ways.

The best parts

The sex. Rachel Gibson writes very hot contemporary romance, and her hockey players are among the sexiest professional athletes in the genre. Mark Bressler and Chelsea Ross have such a strong connection that it’s explosive when they get together.

Happy Ever After by Nora Roberts

Happy Ever After by Nora RobertsFour friends run a wedding business. They plan a lot of weddings.

The best parts

This is the last in a quartet about women who run a wedding business. There’s at least as much focus (if not more) on the women’s friendships as there is on the romance between Parker and Malcolm. The hero doesn’t even feature in the back-cover text. But if you like reading about wedding details—from cakes to flower arrangements—you’ll probably like this book.

Have you read any of these? Who do you think will win?

The coolest animals in romance

A couple of weeks ago, I had a dream about my parents’ dog, Gina. In my dream, she was no longer an elderly, arthritic, deaf, incontinent, grumpy mutt with only one eye (and it blind). She transformed into the enthusiastic puppy she’d been when I first bought her for my parents to help my dad get over his grief at our other dog’s death.

I knew when I woke up that Gina was gone. My parents called several hours later to break the news. Because of the time difference between where I live (London) and where they live (southern California), there’s a good chance I dreamt of Gina as she was falling into her final sleep.

Gina was brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because I loved her. She was the smartest dog I’ve ever seen and fiercely protective of her family—not always a good trait, but it did come in handy when I was walking her once and a strange man kept trying to approach me despite my warnings that I didn’t want him to come any closer.

Her personality was as distinctive as any of my other family members’—that is to say, very distinctive. Perhaps because of the bond I formed with Gina, I love when animals feature in novels. I don’t just mean when a hero or heroine owns a cat/dog/parrot/monkey/fill-in-the-attention-grabbing-pet-here. I mean when a pet is so well developed that they become a character themselves.

Chinese Crested dog
Chinese Crested © backyardbirderwa/flickr.com

My all-time favorite animal character in a romance novel is Hairy, the Chinese Crested from Take a Chance on Me by Susan Donovan. He’s so integral to the plot that he has his own point of view—the cute little guy thinks of the hero as Big Alpha and the heroine as Soft Hands. He even solves a murder.

Hairy is as clever a foil for the hero as the heroine is. The hero, Thomas, is a rugby-playing lawyer who works with a special team of cops targeting people who’re trying to hire hit men. Hairy is a six-pound, shivering, nearly hairless pedigree dog who wears a maxi-pad because he pees when he’s nervous. And he’s often nervous.

Continue reading “The coolest animals in romance”

Why you should never screw over a romance heroine

This is cross-posted at The Season

Ever had a husband or lover who screwed you over so badly you invented new forms of revenge?

Did you follow through on them?

I’ve been reading all the RITA-nominated contemporary single title romance novels (seriously, there has to be a shorter way of saying that), and two of them feature heroines who get revenge in very contemporary ways.

Not That Kind of Girl cover Continue reading “Why you should never screw over a romance heroine”

Love lessons from contemporary romance heroes

This is cross-posted at  The Season.

I’ve celebrated one Valentine’s Day in my entire life. One.

It was in 2003, and my boyfriend (now husband) and I had been together for three months. He hated the idea of a manufactured day of love, and tried to explain that he didn’t think love was about exchanging flowers and chocolates once a year.

But I was so excited to finally have a boyfriend on Valentine’s Day that I insisted we celebrate it. What a mistake.

We were living in Prague, in the Czech Republic, and since my husband is English I decided to get him some nice loose-leaf tea and a teapot. He’d been teaching me how to make the perfect cup of tea and had often mentioned that loose leaf was far better than the bagged stuff we could afford.

Finding loose-leaf tea was no problem. There are dozens of tea shops in Prague. Finding masculine teapots, on the other hand…impossible. I spent weeks scouring every tea shop I could find, only to see hundreds of ceramics decorated with pink polka-dots or kittens. My husband is 6’3. At the time, he was playing rugby for a Czech team. I couldn’t picture him pouring tea from a kitty pot.

I showed up at my favorite café (a concession he had made for me, since he would’ve much rather been in a pub) and handed over the gifts I’d gotten him: two small bags of tea leaves with nothing to brew them in. I’ve never seen a man look so confused.

Then he gave me my gift, and my heart sank. It was awesome: a hardcover book of black-and-white photos of Prague, so I’d always remember the city we fell in love in.

Since that Valentine’s Day when I was so significantly out-classed by my husband, I’ve come around to his way of thinking. We celebrate dates and occasions that mean something to us as a couple and ignore Valentine’s Day.

Continue reading “Love lessons from contemporary romance heroes”