CONGRATULATIONS!

Congratulations to Jenny LM who won Susanne Dietze's My Heart Belongs in Ruby City, Idaho Prize pack!


Congratulations to Elise Jehan who won a copy of The Secret Admirer Romance Collection!

Friday, July 1, 2011

RITAs -- The Best of 2010


By C.J. Chase

Today is the last day of the 2011 Romance Writers of America’s national conference. Approximately 2,000 romance writers (including Inkwell’s very own Anita Mae Draper) met in New York City for four days of writing workshops, publisher meetings, and networking with other writers. The conference culminates tonight with the annual awards ceremony for the best in published and unpublished romance novels.
We at Inkwell Inspirations are pre-empting our usual Friday topic for a look at each of the inspirational books up for the prestigious RITA award -- the Oscar of romance novels. Only 10% (or fewer) of novels entered in the contest are chosen by the authors’ peers as deserving of finalist status. Eleven inspirational novels and one inspirational novella made the finals in three RITA categories. We read and analyzed all twelve books to see if we could pinpoint what made each of them so special they were voted among the best of 2010.
The Best First Book category includes romance novels from across the spectrum. A book can be from any category (paranormal, short contemporary, historical, inspirational, etc.) but it must be the author’s first published novel-length work. To date, no inspirational novel has won this category. This year, there are two inspirational finalists -- one with a contemporary setting and one with a historical setting. Will 2011 finally see an inspirational writer bring home the Best First Book award?

Reviewed by
Suzie Johnson
Firestorm is a Love Inspired Suspense by Kelly Ann Riley. Kitty McQuire has come to Pine Lake to prove her late father’s innocence in an arson and murder investigation. Luke Tanner, widower and father of a small son, is the temporary fire chief investigating Kitty’s father. Luke is as determined to prove her father’s guilt as Kitty is to prove his innocence. Together they find danger…and love. Kelly Ann Riley’s debut book is one riveting romantic suspense.

Reviewed by
Jennifer AlLee


I've noticed that quite a few historical romances are set in Texas. So it would have been easy for A Tailor-Made Bride to get lost in a sea of same old stuff. But this novel is anything but run-of-the-mill. With the character of Hannah Richards, debut author Karen Witemeyer gives us a woman who is all kinds of unique. Not only does this seamstress run her own business, she's a fitness buff to boot. These two elements alone were fascinating. But Witemeyer doesn't stop there. She throws in an emotionally wounded hero with abandonment issues, a best-friend pining for love, and a lonely widower who will make your heart ache. The plot moves along at a fast pace with plenty of humor, emotion and tension, making this one of the best books I've read this year, and giving Witemeyer a place on my list of favorite authors.


Like the Best First Book, the Novella category includes a broad range of romances. Cheryl St. John’s “Mountain Rose” from the Love Inspired Historical collection To Be a Mother beat out scores of others for a spot as a finalist.

Reviewed by
Debra Marvin
Because schoolteacher Olivia Rose is an orphan herself, she is desperate to find her favorite student’s long-lost uncle when their boarding school closes. Olivia takes Emily west expecting to leave the girl with family and go on her way. War veteran Jules Parrish is building his dream ranch and can’t be more surprised when Miss Rose shows up with a girl unknown to him but clearly resembling his missing sister. Olivia’s faith and resilience don’t quite hide her longing for a family of her own as she watches Emily blossom in the company of her newly-found uncle, despite the inadequacy of his home. Jules respects and admires pretty Olivia and comes to love Emily but can’t provide a home for his niece and especially not for her devoted teacher. When Jules’ estranged mother arrives and decides to take her ‘surprise’ granddaughter home (a perfect solution it seems) and suitors line up for Olivia’s hand, Olivia, Jules and Emily have to face some tough decisions. Author Cheryl St. John penned a sweet story here, meriting a RITA nomination for its portrayal of the mother Olivia is for her student Emily without even realizing it. I enjoyed how Olivia’s faith inspires Jules to give up what he thinks is his dream for a much better reality.

The other nine finalists are competing against each other for the Best Inspirational Romance of 2010.

Review by
Suzie Johnson
When three little ragamuffins show up at Caroline Hudson’s private schoolhouse in scuffed shoes and ragged clothes, without tuition but wanting to learn, Caroline’s heart goes out to them. Then their father, widower Tyrone Justice, shows up and sparks fly. Tyrone and Caroline work together to ensure the happiness and well-being of his children, while trying to keep their guard up and protect their vulnerable hearts. This marriage of convenience story is delightful from beginning to end. Every book I’ve read by author Anna Schmidt is better than the one before, so it’s no wonder A Convenient Wife is nominated for a RITA this year.


Reviewed by
Susanne Dietze
Doctor in Petticoats contains all the ingredients Mary Connealy’s fans have come to expect: humor, romance, and adventure in a western setting. This book is extra-special, I believe, because of one particular element: the hero. Emotionally-ravaged Alex Buchanan served as an army doctor, but the horrors of war led him to desert his post as well as his medical training. When he and nurse Beth McClellan are involved in an accident, however, she recognizes his ability to heal and forces him to put it to use. Once they arrive in her hometown of Mosqueros, Alex shies from doctoring the town’s ailing, but he can’t escape the ill and injured—or the notice of a bounty hunter who’ll return Alex to the Army, dead or alive. Alex needs God and emotional healing if he’s to come to terms with his past or start a future. And he also needs his heroine, Beth. I can’t remember reading a novel where the hero and heroine are such complimentary (and necessary) partners. Neither can do without the other, professionally or emotionally, which makes for a deeply satisfying romance.
Reviewed by
Niki Turner
Finding Her Way Home is part of author Linda Goodnight’s Redemption River series, set in fictitious Redemption, Oklahoma. "Walking wounded" Cheyenne Rhodes has suffered the most violent of hate crimes against women -- rape. A former police officer, now haunted and hurting, Cheyenne wants to hide from her past. But her attempts to remain invisible to the local residents fails, thanks to her own soft heart. A box of abandoned puppies brings her in contact with the town's handsome veterinarian, Trace Bowman. A single father to a blind little girl, Trace sees the woman behind Cheyenne's hurt, and hopes to help her find redemption in Redemption. Goodnight tackles two difficult topics -- rape and a child's handicap -- with compassion, demonstrating that the love of God, demonstrated through His children, is greater than any human obstacle.

Reviewed by
C.J. Chase
In Harm's Way is a romantic suspense with an almost-paranormal twist. Rachel Sutton is a music teacher who finds a child's doll -- a doll that triggers a panic attack every time she touches it. Does she have newly discovered psychic abilities or a repressed memory? Or is there yet another explanation? FBI Special Agent Nick Bradley doesn't believe in the existence of psychics, but he can't so easily discount his own eyes when he witnesses Rachel's reaction. The interplay between Rachel and Nick is delightful. Both have overcome difficult pasts to become the people they are today, and they have nicely offsetting strengths and weaknesses. And both act like thoughtful, rational adults despite their attraction to each other and the growing danger. Author Irene Hannon is no stranger to the RITA, having garnered a win in 2003, and in this book she has a strong contender for another.

Reviewed by
Jennifer AlLee
The first book I read by Deeanne Gist was Courting Trouble. By the time I was done, I had become an avid fan and devoured every book of hers I could find. Gist remains one of my favorite authors of historical fiction. Maid to Match is another winning offering, giving us characters who are so alive, you almost feel like you've stepped into a time machine and gone back to 1898 North Carolina. Fans of Gist will be charmed by this fun, passionate novel. And if you're new to Gist, I guarantee this novel will make a fan out of you.

Reviewed by
Niki Turner
 God is continually at work in our individual lives, and He'll use every method possible to demonstrate His love and mercy and grace. That truth provides a framework for Marlo Schalesky's novel, Shades of Morning. I was alternately convicted by Marnie Wittier's habit of storing her sorrows, hurts, wounds, and regrets in a box on the shelf, amused by the innocence and wisdom of her Down Syndrome nephew Emmitt, and confused right along with Taylor Cole as to how his life had turned out the way it did. Best of all, the ending didn't fizzle out, as some do. I was surprised (pleasantly, I might add) right up to the last page. I've read inspirational books that weren't at all inspiring, but Shades of Morning is not one of them. It truly fits the genre description!


Reviewed by
Niki Turner
 In The Wedding Garden, Linda Goodnight reintroduces the colorful cast of small-town folk from Finding Her Way Home. Sloan Hawkins, the town's one-time bad boy, has roared back to Redemption, Oklahoma, on his Harley at the request of his dying aunt. To his shock, the girl he loved and left behind years before, Annie Markham, is his aunt's home health nurse, and her angry young son resembles Sloan in more ways than one. Determined to win Annie's heart again, Sloan reaches out to her son, and through the healing power of his aunt's garden and God's redeeming love, discovers that faith will prevail over his past and restore to him the family he never dreamed he deserved.

Reviewed by
Lisa Richardson
Whisper on the Wind by Maureen Lang is one of the rare novels that transplanted me to another time and place. Despite the difficulties in crossing a closed border in wartime, Isa Lassone manages. But she isn't trying to escape occupied Belgium, she's entering. Returning to the place she considers home in order to offer a way out for Edward, the man she loves and his family. Nothing turns out as she expects, especially his refusal to leave. He is involved with the underground newspaper that offers hope to thousands upon thousands of his countrymen. With the Germans on the hunt, and Isa complicating all his carefully laid plans, the intrigue is just starting. The story is skillfully rendered, making one feel the harsh reality and touching pathos of occupied Belgium during World War I, but balancing the "grit" with a sweetly developed romance. A combination of unique setting, and the balance the author achieved between adventure and romance makes this book extra special.


Reviewed by
Gina Welborn
Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander is the third book in her Timber Ridge series. Young widow Rachel Boyd wants to make life perfect for her sons despite their father's death, but Providence keeps throwing Dr. Rand Brookston into her path. The story begins with Rand in love with Rachel, but Rachel, weary of loving and losing, isn't receptive to his feelings. As a mother myself, I understood Rachel's need to protect her her children's hearts, as well as her own. Not only did I enjoy the descriptive word choices that brought this word picture to life, but I appreciated how the author conveyed the struggle with death that even the strongest Believers face when losing a loved one. Death isn't easy, but death also isn't the end. What touched me most about Within My Heart was reading the author note at the end where Tamera shared her own personal loss. This novel is fitting tribute to the love of a daughter for her mother.


How many of the 2011 RITA finalists have you read? Do you have any favorites for the awards ceremony tonight? And did you read any other really great books in 2010 that you'd like to share with other readers?

15 comments:

  1. Good morning! Hey it's Friday! The Friday of a holiday weekend.

    Well I've only read one of these but I think I'm sold on a couple more.

    Welcome to our visitors this weekend who attended the RWA conference this week or...wish they had. We'll be announcing the winners later tonight.

    I'm a sucker for historicals but I've come to really appreciate these fast paced contemporaries with a military or government theme.

    Great idea here, CJ.

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  2. Good morning, Deb. I've read several, but there are still a couple I think I'm going to have to get.

    My historicals have a pretty strong suspence bent to them, so I do read contemporary suspense too. They help me with creating suspense aspects in my historicals. And as you mentioned, the pacing is often faster, and I want to bring some of that over to my historicals.

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  3. Hmm...I haven't read any of these, although I'd like to check out a few of the funnier ones.

    The romance I read this year that I would highly recommend is She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell.

    And for next year check out C.J.'s Redeeming the Rogue. Hopefully we'll see you on this list :) Yes, plenty of suspense and adventure. I really enjoyed it and finished it in just a few days.

    I'm mostly reading 2012 and 2013 books these days for WhiteFire.

    In other genres, I really enjoyed Rooms and Havah, which I think were 2009 or 2010 books. And The Passion of Mary-Margaret was probably 2009. I'm sure I've mentioned that I'm a huuuggggeee Lisa Samson fan.

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  4. Great job putting this together, CJ! I've read three of the books on the list. The two I reviewed (obviously) and Doctor in Petticoats. There are just so many choices out there. Christian fiction has come a long way since the '80s (when I first discovered it... it wasn't all that great back then).

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  5. Thanks, Dina! Glad you enjoyed the book. It feels surreal having people who aren't my critique partners or relatives reading my work.

    And for adventure, just wait until we collaborate on that literary-women's fiction-thriller-romance some day. We're going to start a new genre.

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  6. Jen, I know what you mean about those early inspirational novels. Years ago, I read a few years ago and they just didn't seem authentic. Put me off reading more for far too long. I'm glad the genre has come so far. We need mature, artistic Christian fiction that is able to challenge the prevailing culture and present an alternative.

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  7. C.J., reading this list made me realize I need to create a list of fiction books I read each year because I keep forgetting which ones I liked. I have goldfish mental acuity. :(

    My favorite book of 2010 was The Preacher's Bride by Jody Hedlund, which didn't make this list.

    While on vacation last week, I read Laura Frantz's Courting Morrow Little. Fabulous book!!!!

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  8. I need to do that, too, Gina. It's not so bad if I have the book in hand, but all the books on my Kindle??? I can't remember if I've read them or not!

    I've only read 3 of these, so I'll be adding them to my list.

    My favorite read from 2010? I think it was 2010... The Healer's Apprentice has stuck with me.

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  9. Thanks for organizing the list, CJ! I'll have to put a few of these on my tbr pile(s). Can't wait to hear the results of tonight's contest!

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  10. That's a lot of great writing to have to choose from. I'm glad I can just read them without having to judge!

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  11. ~8:45 RWA is putting up the GH winners on their website as they happen. Looks like they are about ready to start the RITAs.

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  12. Woot! Congrats to Irene Hannon.

    Cool. That was the book I reviewed.

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  13. You did a great job pulling all of this together, CJ. I can see there are several books here that I'll have to read.

    I think I'm with Niki on The Healer's Apprentice. It's stuck with me for a long time, too.

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  14. The Healers Apprentice is taking awards all over the place.

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  15. Really, Deb? Cool! What awards? I can't wait for her next book.

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