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  • Corrina Lawson 5:00 pm on 2018/04/19 Permalink
    Tags: A Bollywood Affair, , , , barbara ferrer, , , , farrah rochon, i'll catch you, , , something like love, Sonali Dev, , tonight and forever   

    The Great RITA Read: The Lost Voices 

    As someone who did not grow up reading romance, I’ve been more than impressed at the quality of the books that have won the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award for excellence in Romance fiction. Out of over 65 books, I would say only three were subpar, and those suffered from not aging well.

    I intended to make this next article in my Great RITA Read series about how romance handles trauma, particularly female trauma, but I can’t do that until I talk about the elephant in the room with the RITA Awards: The authors it has failed to honor.

    Since 1982, no black author has won a Golden Medallion/Rita Award. This is particularly frustrating since one of the co-founders of RWA was a black woman, Vivian Stephens, a Dell and Harlequin editor who was committed to excellence in romance and to shepherding the success of romance authors.

    There are things RWA as an organization and RWA members can do to solve this problem, with the first being admitting the scope of the problem and listening to authors of color.

    But what I can do is recommend books by authors of color that you may not have heard about because they have not been marketed widely.

    I’m not recommending these books so readers can educate themselves. I’m recommending them because they’re damn fine books and they contain stories that deserve to be enjoyed by all readers. I believe firmly in the power of story, that stories can change the world, and that racism is causing so many of these brilliant voices to be lost.

    My list is by no means a definitive list of wonderful romances by authors of color; only a place to get started. To find more, I would urge you to look at the “Customers Who Also Bought” section at barnesandnoble.com under each of these books, which will bring you down a delightful rabbit hole to more wonderful stories.

    Pick these up, read them, enjoy them. And let them lead you to other great stories and voices.

    A Princess in Theory, by Alyssa Cole 
    This lovely book is about a former foster child who finds out that she is betrothed to an African prince. He’s determined to find his missing bride, she mistakes him for a pauper, and a terrific romance ensues. I received an advance copy of this book and my eldest daughter (24) grabbed it and promptly disappeared with it for days, to read it several times. I can think of no greater recommendation than that.

    A Bollywood Affair, by Sonali Dev
    I met Sonali Dev at an RWA event for readers and was thoroughly charmed by her, carrying my signed copy of her book home to read on the plane. I almost wished that plane ride had been long enough to finish the book because it was hard to tear myself away when we landed. It’s the story of a young woman from India who comes to the United States for an education, aware that she must be the best person she can be to appease the prospective in-laws who have taken care of her ever since she was proposed to by their son as a child. It’s the story of a young man, a Bollywood star, who wants to break away from family traditions. The book is lush and emotional and intense and real and I loved it.

    Something Like Love, by Beverly Jenkins
    I must confess I was unaware of the enormous body of Jenkins’ work until watching Love Between the Covers, a documentary about romance writers and readers. (I also highly recommend it.) That is my loss because the power of Jenkins’ voice comes through in her fiction. Her acceptance speech when receiving the RWA’s Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 is not to be missed. I picked this book to represent her because it’s one of my favorite romance genres, a Western, and the hero and heroine have a fraught first meeting when he robs her train, a train she’s taking to escape an arranged marriage in Chicago. The hero can’t get the heroine out of his mind, but his lawlessness and the bounty hunters on his trail are a serious impediment to romance, especially as the heroine is the town’s newly elected mayor. Of course, love wins out, beautifully.

    I’ll Catch You, by Farrah Rochon 
    This one is a sports romance, more specifically, a fun NFL romance, in which a pro football player and his agent get closer than Tom Cruise and Cuba Gooding Jr. ever did in Jerry Maguire. This book is part of Harlequin’s now-canceled Kimani line for black authors. Other fantastic former Kimani authors include Reese Ryan, whose new book, Savannah’s Secrets, is just out from Harlequin Desire, and you can find a long list of Kimani books listed here at Barnes & Noble.

    Tonight and Forever, by Brenda Jackson
    This is the prolific and talented Jackson’s own favorite book and it’s one of those stories that romance does so well: tales of people who are healed by love. The heroines goes home to Texas after a bitter divorce, only to become involved with a doctor who is still mourning his late wife. It’s intense and emotional and sweet and heartbreaking and it will make you want to binge all of Jackson’s books.

    I’ve listed these books to get everyone started but rest assured, there are hundreds of wonderful stories from talented authors who have not nearly gotten enough notice. You can also look for books by Barbara Ferrer (possibly the only Cuban-American author to win a Rita), Alisha Rai, and Jamie Pope/Sugar Jamison.

    Please, make your own recommendations below in the comments!

    The post The Great RITA Read: The Lost Voices appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Corrina Lawson 7:00 pm on 2018/03/01 Permalink
    Tags: , come spring, , it had to be you, jill marie landis, , lavryle spencer, lord of the night, morning glory, , , , , , , the prince of midnight   

    The Great RITA Read: The “Best Romance” Award 

    As I was studying the list of Rita-winning books in preparation for this great adventure in romance reading, I noticed an anomaly.

    From 1989 to 1996, the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award included winners of the “Best Romance” of the year. Then again, in 1998, an award called was “RWA’s Favorite Book” was given.

    And, then, alas, the award was dropped.

    I say “alas” because the books that received this award were some of the best of the genre, represented numerous romance subgenres, and would be ones I’d point to even today as a place to start reading romance.

    The authors?

    LaVryle Spencer. Laura Kinsale. Jill Marie Landis. Susan Wiggs. Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Nora Roberts. Diana Gabaldon.

    The books?

    Morning Glory. The Prince of Midnight. Come Spring. Lord of the Night. It Had to Be You. Born in Ice. Outlander.

    The sub-genres?

    Historicals set everywhere from late 1930s America, to Regency England, the American West, and Venice in 1531. A contemporary in which a supposed “bimbo” inherits an NFL team. A time travel story in which a World War II nurse steps through standing stones and into another era.

    Morning Glory was made into a movie starring Christopher Reeve. And, of course, Outlander is now a popular television series. All these books are still available and in print, over 25 years later.

    I applaud the taste of the RWA membership, who were responsible for honoring these books. The rest of the RITA Awards were judged by a jury of their peers. The “Best Romance” and “RWA’s Favorite Book” RITA Awards were chosen by an open vote of RWA members.

    That means these stories were not only quality, but they were also beloved by their fellow writers and thus have had had a huge influence on the genre.

    As someone who rarely read romance growing up, all these books save Outlander were new to me. I wish I had read them earlier, because they’re wonderful examples of the genre and probably would have hooked me on at least three of the authors.

    The Prince of Midnight is the story of a disabled former highwayman living in the ruins of a castle in France with a pet wolf. (Note: sold already!). Our hero is suffering from deafness in one ear and vertigo from a grenade that ended his rakish career. Then a young woman disguised as a man shows up, intent on learning from him how to kill people and avenge her wrongs.

    This heroine is fascinating. While the hero has obvious physical disabilities, the heroine has been emotionally destroyed by the systematic murder of her family and the failure of her friends and neighbors to protect them. She’s emotionally closed off, focused only on revenge, and is what we’d call today someone suffering from intense PTSD. She’s buried in her own anger, as it’s the only emotion keeping her functioning. She reminded me very much of the television show Jessica Jones, and I’ll just note here that Prince of Midnight won in 1989, many years before the superhero genre explored female emotional pain and trauma with any subtlety. So, the Prince of the title is attempting to reclaim his former panache, while the heroine is struggling to hold onto her anger, lest she fall apart. Of course, she eventually does, and it’s a powerful and healing moment. I immediately wanted to binge all of Laura Kinsale’s books but I have many more RITA winners to read before I can do that.

    This book should be a movie. Why isn’t this book a movie, Hollywood? No, scratch that. We need a British TV miniseries which casts all those wonderful British actors who pull off historical drama with panache. Did I mention the part where the hero has to train the heroine in swordfighting? Or how chilling the book’s description of the cult is?

    The book that did become a movie, Morning Glory by LaVryle Spencer, dials the world down to one farm in small-town Georgia, in an America on the brink of World War II and still suffering from the effects of the great depression. It’s a quiet, intense book about two broken people, a hero who’s never had a family and whose one friend betrayed him, and a heroine whose family believed her very existence was a sin. Slowly, these two shattered people find what they need in each other and create a family together, culminating in a beautiful love story.

    Come Spring by Jill Marie Landis is the prototypical “hero and heroine trapped in a cabin because of snow” book. In this case, the hero is a mountain man of sorts with a toddler niece to care for and he mistakes the heroine for the mail-order wife he needs to ensure the child’s safety. There is a class difference, as she’s from Boston money and he is assuredly not, and he must change to become the foster father the child needs and the person the heroine can love.

    Lord of the Night is a romance set in the Venice of the 1500s, where titles are everything, women are restricted to being wives or whores, and one women refuses to accept that her gender makes her any lesser, especially since she’s determined to become an artist. The hero is the head of what we’d now call the police, investigating a series of murders of men who are mutilated after death. Around them is all the intrigue of Venice, from the whispered meetings in canals to the festivals, to the way lordly men run amok when there is no one to check them. The descriptions of the heroine in the midst of artistic inspiration are amazing, as are the descriptions of her paintings, particularly those inspired by the hero. One note: the motivations of the killer, who turns out to be sympathetic and worthy of pity, may seem a bit dated.

    And then the contemporaries!

    It Had to Be You is Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ first entry into her now famous Chicago Stars series and it breaks all the supposed “rules” of romance. Sports hero. Check. Bimbo heroine. Check. But the heroine is so much more than the bimbo she projects to the world as a kind of emotional armor, and the hero is far smarter and savvier than the stereotype of the dumb jock. It begins with a hilarious opening at the funeral of the heroine’s father, who bequeaths her his football team. But Phoebe has more depth and more trauma than anyone gives her credit for and, like most great comedies, there is something very serious at the heart of this story.

    It was inevitable that a Nora Roberts book would be among those chosen for this award and Born in Ice is a terrific example of Roberts’ contemporary romances, the second in the Irish Born Trilogy, set in a small town in Ireland. The heroine runs the local B&B and the hero is a mystery writer whose books have been made into movies. They’re both holding close the damages imposed by their lack of parental love, and it takes chipping away at each other to get to the truth. In the meantime, there’s a lovely dream trip to New York City for shopping and a movie premiere. Easy to see why this story was chosen, as it’s an incredible fantasy to sink into and yet, it deals seriously with the wounds caused by family.

    Then there’s Outlander.

    The popular vote explains why Outlander is among these award-winning books. Gabaldon has been clear in interviews over the years that she believes the Outlander series should not be termed a romance. Her well-known insistence on “not a romance” was my biggest clue when it came to realizing that the “Best Romance of the Year” Award was not like all the others, as it seemed highly unlikely that Gabaldon would have entered the RITA Awards if she did not believe her book to be a romance.

    Nevertheless, Outlander was voted Best Romance of 1991. Note: having read the book, I believe it’s a romance that ends in a Happily For Now (as opposed to an HEA—a happily ever after). Later books in the series are part of the continuing story and, thus, probably not romance.

    Ending the “Best Book of the Year” award was one of many changes in the RITA Award categories in the 1990s. “Best First Book” was added and, for the first time, awards would be given in the paranormal and romantic suspense. I’ll take a look at those early paranormal books in the next article and see how that subgenre has changed over the years.

    For earlier articles see, The Great Rita Read: In the Beginning, The Great Rita Read: Nora Roberts, and The Great Rita Read: Young Adult Romance.

    Final note: A big thanks to the help of the RWA office, who researched the Best Romance Award and provided a copy of the original advertisement from 1989 that called for nomination;  nomination that resulted in the win for Morning Glory.

    The post The Great RITA Read: The “Best Romance” Award appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Corrina Lawson 4:00 pm on 2018/02/15 Permalink
    Tags: anne rivers siddons, , cheryl zach, emily mckay, fifteen, heartbreak hotel, jean and johnny, jennifer l. armentrout, , , king of ithaka, lurlene mcdaniel, , now i lay me down to sleep, , sister of the bride, the dark between, the farm, , , the iron king, the problem with forever, , the witch of blackbird pond, tracy barrett, waiting for amanda   

    The Great RITA Read: Young Adult Romace 

    Young Adult Romance is a unique category in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award.

    All the other categories are defined by their genre or length, but the YA category is defined by its intended audience. That means stories set in any genre can—and have—won the Young Adult Romance RITA Award. Those genres include contemporary, historicals, suspense, urban fantasy, and dystopian fantasy.

    It also means that interest in young adult romance has waxed and waned since the YA award was created in 1983. Cheryl Zach, who won the award three times, was the most prominent early YA author in the 1980s and 1990s, winning in 1985, 1986 and 1996.

    But then there was a long gap. RWA officials said that the YA Romance RITA award was always available for entry, but lack of entries lead to no awards being given between 1997-2007.

    This revitalization is likely due to a book that never won the award at all: Adios To My Old Life by Caridad Ferrer. This novel, about a teenage girl who enters a reality show music competition, won the Contemporary Single Title Romance RITA in 2007. Ferrer had originally entered her book in YA but that category didn’t have enough entries, so it was moved to contemporary romance, where it unexpectedly was the victor. In her emotional acceptance speech, Ferrer urged other YA writers to write their stories and enter their books.

    And since 2008, YA Romance RITA Award winners have included dystopian and urban fantasy coming-of-age stories, such as the The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, and The Farm by Emily McKay, along with the contemporary tales, such as the latest winner, 2017’s The Problem With Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

    But whatever the genre or the year of publication, there have been two constants for the RITA Award winner in YA romance:

    First, they’re the heroine’s story. Not one of the young adult romances I found still available featured the hero’s story first. They all begin with the heroine. The recent YA RITA Award winners feature first-person narration from the heroine’s point of view. Among the earlier winners, it’s generally a third-person narration that always includes the heroine’s point of view.

    Second, the young adult romances are intensely emotional tales.

    I discovered some delightful stories but also some shockers. We modern readers sometimes believe we’ve invented something new, but it might surprise you to learn that the winner in 1992 was Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep by Lurlene McDaniel, and it featured two young cancer patients falling in love. (Yes, many years before John Green delved into similar territory with The Fault In Our Stars.)

    And reading Cheryl Zach’s books showed me that these early stories set the standard for quality and emotional involvement. Zach’s award winners—The Frog Princess (1985), Waiting for Amanda (1986), and Runaway (1996)—put her in the RWA Hall of Fame in 1996. She’s one of the few (if not the only) romance writer to receive the three different versions of the Award now known as the RITA: a plaque (1985), a large wooden “book” with a round medallion in its center (1986), and the now-traditional RITA statue in 1996.

    Zach was the third member of that Hall of Fame, preceded only by Nora Roberts and LaVryle Spencer. It’s a shame that these three of Zach’s books are out of print, because while some details of the world might seem dated, their quality is unmistakable. But Zach also writes historical novels under her own name and as Nicole Byrd, and many of those later Zach and Byrd books are available for sale.

    Waiting for Amanda, my favorite of Zach’s three winners, is the story of a teenage girl who is left bereft by the death of her mother, and shipped off with her younger sister to a distant relative in a small town. It’s clear the heroine is traumatized and has what we’d now call PTSD due to grief and past abuse from the father who abandoned them. She buries her grief by keeping busy, and there’s much that needs doing, including cleaning up the hoarding mess created by her new guardian, her great-aunt, and watching over her sister, who’s expressing her own grief by acting out in various ways. Amanda’s story would resonate today, even with the few anachronisms–no cell phones, and the inability to, well, locate people who have left town.

    I asked Zach what led her to writing young adult stories.

    “I’ve been writing since I could hold a pencil, wrote for the school paper in high school and college, in was published book reviews in the local city paper. After college, I started trying to publish books, slowed by having children—would still have the children!—finally succeeded. I got the idea for Frog Princess from an incident that happened while I was still teaching at high school—what would happen if someone was elected class president as a prank? The plot for Waiting for Amanda came to me as I was finishing the first book.

    Runaway, the last award winner, came straight out of a newspaper story in back pages…I wasn’t sure I wanted to write it as it seemed pretty sad, but it wouldn’t leave me. I happened to speak to an editor shortly afterward, mentioned the story idea, and she immediately wanted the book. Something happened then that I had heard about but not experienced before: the characters took over and would not do what I had planned…I had to call my editor and tell her the book was going to end differently than I had expected. But it turned out to be one of my strongest books, I think, and certainly one of my favorites.”

    She said that YA books have seen an evolution over the years.

    “Early on, I well remember editors taking out lines or passages or nixing topics I was not allowed to write about. Runaway was a step forward in what I was free to cover. Now about anything goes. I do agree with the late great Madeleine L’Engle that young readers deserve some hope at the end of the book (as opposed to adult readers). She also said the best writing was being done for young readers!”

    Adios To My Old Life was somewhat of a departure for Caridad Ferrer, who has also written When The Stars Go Blue and Between Here and Gone as Barbara Ferrer.

    “Since YA had been such an unexpected detour in terms of my writing, it’s not a world I was ever very in touch with. What influences I did have, were more rooted in the books I’d read growing up. Judy Blume, for example, and oddly, some of the books that were quote/unquote “children’s” books when they were first published, but had a lot of YA influence to them, like Beverly Cleary’s Sister of the Bride and Jean and Johnnyand Fifteen—books that might seem dated because of when they were written, but the underlying story structure is sound and timeless.

    “I also referred to a lot of the coming of age stories I’d read as a kid and teenager, like Fox Running and Anne Rivers Siddons’ Heartbreak Hotel and The Witch of Blackbird Pond—all which fall in line with my preference for writing older teen characters (as all three of my YA novels and the two novellas showcased).”

    The last three winners of the YA RITA have all been contemporary stories, which made me wonder if that’s a new trend. I asked Ferrer about where they saw the Young Adult RITA category going in the future.

    “I honestly could not tell you,” Ferrer said. “What I can tell from looking at the winners in the ten years since I won my RITA (albeit in a different category), is that there’s been something of a shift from paranormal/dystopian skewed YA toward more realistic, contemporary YA. I can’t help but wonder if Adiós would have even won in 2007, had there been a YA category that year, and how my later YA novels, which were more of the realistic contemporary (and weren’t as well received) would do if they were published now. Beyond that, it’s going to be interesting to see which way the pendulum swings in the next decade.”

    Zach says she still reads young adult books and enjoys young adult books and stories.

    “Recent books I’ve enjoyed include Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys quartet, Sonia Gensler’s The Dark Between, and Tracy Barrett’s historical fiction such as King of Ithaka.”

    As for advice for anyone who wants to write young adult stories, romance or not, and perhaps become the future of young adult romance?

    “Anyone who wants to write should read lots of books and write, write, write and write some more,” Zach said.

    The post The Great RITA Read: Young Adult Romace appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Corrina Lawson 5:00 pm on 2018/01/24 Permalink
    Tags: a matter of choice, Birthright, , brazen virtue, carolina moon, concealed in death, divine evil, hidden riches, , new york to dallas, , , one summer, , private scandals, remember when - part 1, , Survivor in Death, , , the macgregors series, , Three Fates, Tribute, ,   

    The Great RITA Read: Nora Roberts 

    When I first looked over the list of winners of the Golden Medallion/Rita Awards in the beginning, one name jumped out at me:

    Nora Roberts.

    The Queen of Romance first won the Golden Medallion for Contemporary Sensual Romance in 1982 with The Heart’s Victory, a story that you can find still in print, as is the case with most of her work. She last won the RITA Award in 2015 with Concealed in Death, part of the long-running In Death series that she writes under the pseudonym of J.D. Robb.

    Since then, Roberts has won an astonishing 21 RITA/Golden Medallion Awards, spanning a total of 32 years, and her winning works range from various subgenres of short and long contemporaries, to romantic suspense, to novels with strong romantic elements, a category created for a time by RWA to fit romances that also included considerable elements of another genre.

    Not only does Roberts’ longevity become clear when looking over the Awards list, but but so does her ability to write across genres, a talent showcased just this month with the publication of Year One, a dystopian story set in a world where a mystical virus has been unleashed, destroying 80 percent of the world’s population. That book is not a romance, but it does contain three elements that have made her romances, starting back in 1983, award-winning.

    The first is her ability to create fascinating and original characters. While I haven’t read all of Roberts’ novels, I’ve read several of the early award-winners, her entire In Death series, all the books in her MacGregors series, and numerous of her more recent romantic suspense books.

    Even in her early novels, the heroines have a wide variety of compelling jobs, including lion tamer (Untamed), Hollywood producer (This Magic Moment), and antiques dealer (A Matter of Choice).

    The heroes in those same novels, respectively, include a successful attorney, a mysterious magician, and a police detective who aspires to be a novelist. Hmm…I might have to conclude that her heroines get to have more unusual lives than her heroes but to do that,  would have to read her entire body of work and that would be a more daunting task than reading all the RITA winners.

    Secondly, not only does she create unforgettable characters, Roberts builds compelling worlds for them to inhabit. The lion tamer heroine in Untamed is part of a long-running circus, and not only does the reader get to know the circus manager but also the acrobat and the clowns, the heroine’s apprentice, and the lions themselves. There is one tense scene inside the lion ring where one of the cats has swiped and injured the heroine that is absolutely riveting. (Note: I know that this novel would be viewed differently if published today, as our view of using animals as entertainment has evolved. Regardless, this story immersed me in a dangerous and exciting new world, something that’s a common thread through all Roberts’ books.)

    Similarly, the magician hero from This Magic Moment is introduced as the heroine drives up to his literal castle on a cliff, a foreboding and fascinating abode where she’s then greeted by a Lurch-type butler (who is more than he seems), and escorted to the basement where the hero is practicing his arts. The reader is immediately thrust into the deeply atmospheric world of the magician, which they’ll never want to leave.

    Thirdly, Roberts’ books are perfectly paced. There is rarely wasted prose in a Nora Roberts book. Things tend to happen in the now and to stay firmly rooted in the present throughout the course of the story. Backstory is unspooled gradually, as we get to know the characters, and it doesn’t interrupt the progress of the story at hand.

    Each scene moves the story forward. That can be seen this year in Year One, where multiple characters and multiple settings are used. Sometimes the books focuses in on one specific event, such as the different escapes from New York City of three sets of the main characters, but the transitions are handled quickly and efficiently. There is just enough description to give the reader a mental picture and not enough to leave them skipping pages and bogged down in extraneous details.

    In short, Roberts’ impressive ability to create memorable characters, put them in an interesting setting, get them moving and keep them in conflict, are all a large part part of why she remains one of the most popular and award-winning writers of our age.

    The total list of her award-winning books:

    1983: Contemporary Sensual Romance: The Heart’s Victory

    1984: Traditional Romance: Untamed

    1984: Contemporary Romance 65-80,000 words: This Magic Moment

    1985: Short Contemporary Romance: Opposites Attract

    1985: Long Contemporary Series Romance: A Matter of Choice

    1987: Long Contemporary Series Romance: One Summer

    1989: Suspense Romance: Brazen Virtue

    1992: Romantic Suspense: Night Shift 

    1993: Romantic Suspense: Divine Evil 

    1994: Contemporary Single Title: Private Scandals 

    1995: Romantic Suspense: Hidden Riches 

    1996: Contemporary Single Title: Born in Ice (This book also won a new Best Book of the Year Award)

    2001: Romantic Suspense: Carolina Moon

    2003: Romantic Suspense: Three Fates 

    2004: Contemporary Single Title: Birthright

    Romantic Suspense: Remember When—Part 1

    2006: Romantic Suspense: Survivor in Death 

    2009: Novel with Strong Romantic Elements: Tribute

    2012: Best Romantic Suspense: New York to Dallas

    2015: Romantic Suspense: Concealed in Death 

    How many Nora Roberts novels have you read? Which was your favorite?

    The post The Great RITA Read: Nora Roberts appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Corrina Lawson 7:00 pm on 2018/01/11 Permalink
    Tags: barbara faith, brooke hastings, carolina dreaming, constance ravenlock, , day beyond destiny, her every wish, , mary stewart, nine coaches waiting, , pages of hte mind, rendezvous at gramercy, , sun dancers, , , the rita awards, , virginia kantra, winner take all   

    The Great RITA Read: In The Beginning 

    It started in 1982 with four books: two historical romances and two contemporary romances.

    In the 35 years since then, the Golden Medallion Awards, given out each year by the Romance Writers of America for excellence in the romance, have evolved into the RITA Awards, and last year, had winners in 13 categories, some of which were not even on the radar in 1982, including paranormal romance, romantic suspense, erotic romance, and romance with religious or spiritual elements.

    But there is a direct line from the first winners to 2017 winners, which included some of the biggest names in romance, such as Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra, Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy, and Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan.

    The romance genre has always featured women, it’s always allowed the heroine to have her story told, and it’s always valued her independence. And, now it also features LGBTQ stories as well, providing a happy ending for all those who love.

    As part of new series here on B&N Reads called “The Great RITA Read,” I’ll be exploring the history of the romance genre by reading as many Rita-winning books as possible, leading up to the announcement of the 2018 Rita Award finalists in March.

    Why this series? Because I love romance and it’s time that the RITA Awards gained the prominence of the other major genre awards, such as the Edgar Awards, given out by the Mystery Writers of America, or the Nebula Awards, given out by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Ameria.

    There’s little mainstream press coverage of the RITA Awards (or really, the romance genre as a whole) and when there is, it tends to be of the sneering or patronizing kind that characterized a recent article in the New York Times. Why does this happen? I’ll point out romance is the one genre largely written, published, and read by women, and the state of the world, and let you do the math.

    I’d rather talk about the stories.

    I had some preconceptions of what those early romances would be like. I thought perhaps the heroines would not be as three-dimensional or independent as modern-day romance protagonists; that perhaps they would seem tame compared to today’s heroines, and even that they would end up being damsels in distress. After all, even romance readers often say, “well, there were some older romances with heroines who are passive and need to be rescued.” I also thought perhaps writing styles might have changed and the older books would read as stilted or less interesting.

    Um, no.

    As I read the three of the first four Golden Medallion Award-winning books, Day Beyond Destiny by Anna James, Rendezvous at Gramercy by Constance Ravenlock, the two historical winners, and Winner Take All by Brooke Hastings, the contemporary winner, I had a collection of characters who would not be out of place in a current romance. (I could not obtain a copy of the fourth winner, Sun Dancers by Barbara Faith, alas.)

    Among these heroines were a diplomat’s daughter turned smuggler, an abused housewife, a mother, a painter who dared fall in love with a man who valued her, and a business owner determined to save her company, despite the machinations of a corporate raider. (Yes, dear readers, millionaire heroes go back to 1982 and beyond. Millionaire/billionaire romances are not new.)

    I did find one interesting element these three books had in common: they were all heroine-centered, meaning if the men had a point of view at all, it was brief, and they didn’t have a strong emotional arc.

    In Rendezvous at Gramercy, where the heroine is rescued from a shipwreck off the French coast and taken in by down-on-their-luck nobility who are smuggling in food and other necessities for the local townspeople, the style is very much in the vein of Mary Stewart’s gothics, such as the classic (and still wonderful) Nine Coaches Waiting. The reader does not get to know the hero, though he does eventually put aside his cynicism due to the heroine’s noble acts.

    Day Beyond Destiny was fascinating in several ways. One, the heroine is a clearly abused (married to a rapist husband) who finds love and tenderness with a Greek native while on vacation in Greece. Yes, she cheats on her husband, which I’ve been told “should not be done” in modern romance, though I’m reasonably certain it could be done and done well in a modern romance. (And feel free to comment with romances you love that have this element.)

    But the most fascinating element is this book is a three-generational romance, following up with the daughter and granddaughter, and, thus, the original hero actually dies later in the story. I know! Blasphemy in a romance today. Even worse, the second heroine’s story ends in tragedy, and the granddaughter barely has a romance at all but has mainly a coming of age story.

    Clearly, readers (and writers) have cemented certain “rules” since 1982 that would make Day Beyond Destiny a controversial romance today. But it’s also a terrific book and, by the end of the first story, I wanted to move to this Greek Island, or at least vacation there. The story sweeps a reader away to a new and fascinating world, which is something we still want today.

    Next up in this series: a look at Nora Roberts’ first Golden Medallion/RITA Winners: This Magic Moment and The Heart’s Victory, from 1982 and 1983.

    Yes, Nora Roberts has been writing that long—and writing well that long.

    The post The Great RITA Read: In The Beginning appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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