And the Big Winners Are. . .
Suzanne Brockmann/Out of Control – Winner in six categories
Brockmann first broke out, as far as our readers are concerned, in our 2000 awards, when she received three honorable mentions. She won in four categories and received two honorable mentions in our 2001 awards. In our 2002 awards she was a juggernaut and could not be stopped, winning in eight categories and tying for a ninth. Three of those wins, including that for Favorite Romance, were stand-alone wins – she was so far ahead of the author in second place that no honorable mentions were awarded. Brockmann also received one negative award in 2002, for Most Annoying Lead Character. This year she has two negative placements, tying with Nora Roberts as Author Others Love that You Don’t and receiving (dis)honorable mention for Most Disappointing Read (Into the Night). We’ll have further analysis on Brockmann’s showing, including her comments, in the next section of the column (the same goes for many of our other big winners).
Carla Kelly/The Wedding Journey – Winner in two categories/Two honorable mentions
For the second year in a row (Kelly won in two categories and received one honorable mention in our awards in 2002), one of Kelly’s wins is a stand-alone win.
Julia Quinn/Romancing Mister Bridgerton – Winner in two categories/Two honorable mentions
One of these wins is a stand-alone win. Like Kelly, Quinn received her first honorable mention in our awards in 1998. She has appeared as a winner/honorable mention ever since, with one win in our awards 1999, two wins in our awards for 2000, one win and two honorable mentions in our 2001 awards, and one honorable mention in our 2002 awards.
Susan Grant/Contact – Winner in two categories
One of Grant’s wins is a stand-alone win. She received an honorable mention in 2002 and won a category in our awards for 2001.
Judith Ivory/Untie My Heart – One win/Two honorable mentions
Back in our awards for 1996 when Judith Ivory was writing as Judy Cuevas, she received six honorable mentions. In our 2000 awards she received one honorable mention, and last year she won in one category and received a (dis)honorable mention.
Lisa Kleypas/Lady Sophia’s Lover – One win/One honorable mention
Kleypas’ win is a stand-alone win. Those who have followed her career know that after some greatly beloved releases in the early 1990’s, she seemed to falter for several years thereafter, but returned to auto-buy status for many in 2000. She received two honorable mentions in our 2001 awards, and in last year she won in two categories and received honorable mention in a third.
Mary Jo Putney/The Spiral Path – One win/One honorable mention
Putney’s win is a stand-alone win. MJP’s history in our awards go back to the first year of our awards when she captured five wins and received five honorable mentions. In our 1998 awards she won in two categories and received honorable mention in another two. In our 1999 awards she made a misstep with our readers (but not our reviewer, who granted the book DIK status!); her heroine was voted Most Annoying. And while her first contemporary was considered quite controversial, with her second, The Spiral Path, she seems to have found her contemporary voice.
Before we move on to a discussion of other winners, let’s briefly talk about what else was interesting about the voting in the 2003 poll. For instance, the winner for Best Contemporary Romance and Best Romantic Suspense, for the second year in a row, was the same book. And, like last year, this was the book considered the Best Romance for 2003, indicating that while many readers may balk at authors jumping ship from straight romance into romantic suspense, far fewer must find this a problem.
There’s also the question: How can a book do better in a broader category than it does in its setting-specific period? For instance, the book that received honorable mention as Best Romance received honorable mention in the European Historical Romance category, with two other titles ahead of it in terms of votes received. How is this possible? The answer is something I call “vote-splitting.” In other words, many, many readers want to spread their votes among as many favorite books as possible, and if they vote for one European Historical as Best Romance, they’ll vote for another title as Best European Historical Romance. We’ve seen this occur year after year.
We added a new category this year – Guiltiest Pleasure – bringing to 24 the number of positive awards. There was no honorable mention in seven of these categories, just as there was no honorable mention awarded in seven categories in 2002, given last year at this time. This has stopped a significant trend we noticed last year (in the 2001 poll there were 11 stand-alone winners and in 2000 there were 15).
At least two authors have appeared as winners or runners-up in all seven years we’ve conducted our reader poll – Linda Howard and Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. Under these two names Roberts has wracked up 37 wins/honorable mentions; beginning in 2000 she’s also brought home four “wins” for Author Others Love that You Don’t as Nora Roberts (none as J.D. Robb).
While we’ve also seen the resurgence of some authors who showed up in early years of our awards only to drop off in later years, some authors who have always appeared as either winners or runners-up failed to appear this time around – Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Lorraine Heath to name two.
One question always asked is why so many of the authors who show up as winners or runners-up are lead authors? The quick answer is that they’re lead authors for a reason – they write good books that many people read. But a secondary answer is that some lesser-known authors do quite well for themselves, and in some instances you can track their rise in popularity through the years of our awards. Rachel Gibson, Emma Holly, Barbara Samuel, Liz Carlyle, Julia Ross, Kinley MacGregor/Sherrilyn Kenyon, Tracy Grant, and Susan Grant are certainly less well-known than Brockmann, Roberts/Robb, Jennifer Crusie, Putney, and Balogh, and all of them appear on our list of winners/runners-up for 2002.
- Wins for The Wedding Journey and No Room at the Inn
- Best Regency (stand-alone winner)
- Best Short Story
- Honorable Mentions for The Wedding Journey
- Author Most Glommed
- Best Cabin/Road Romance
|Although Carla Kelly is a household name to AAR’s visitors, it’s doubtful she’s well known to those readers who don’t frequent the Internet for discussions of romance novels. The quality of her writing eclipses all other authors of traditional Regency Romance, so that for the second year in a row, her win for Best Regency Romance stands alone. That a traditional Regency received honorable mention in the Cabin/Road Romance category is pretty astounding, given that this sub-genre is not generally known for either cabin or road romances. As for her win in the short story category, all I can say is that writing a successful short story must be a lot harder than it looks for truly wonderful short stories are few and far between. Carla Kelly’s comments about her wins and mentions:
||“I’m glad readers enjoyed The Wedding Journey. I set out to write a book about reluctant heroes: the surgeon, the enlisted men, Nell, and even her less-than-effective father. This was one theme that affected me greatly, after reading Thomas Kenneally’s Schindler’s List: it is possible for nearly anyone to rise to greatness, even if only for a brief moment. Sometimes that is all that is needed. I’ve long been a student of medical history. I suppose I could have given amazing twenty-first century ‘healings’ to nineteenth-century cases in the book, but that wouldn’t have been realistic. Those were good doctors, if being a good doctor means practicing to the limits of one’s knowledge. I know some have said the story doesn’t have enough ‘romance.’ Probably it doesn’t. Tough. Maybe I’ll do better.“I like writing short stories because they test my ability to put a lot in a little. This wasn’t one of my best (I think my best are in Here’s to the Ladies), but No Room at the Inn did underscore my deep belief in the need we all have for family love. We have to belong somewhere; we just have to.
“The honorable mention for Cabin/Road Romance tickled me the most of all, because I’m a huge sucker for road romances. Let me watch It Happened One Night, or read A Town Like Alice, and I’m in high cotton.
“As for the honorable mention as Most Glommed, your ‘glom’ will be complete when you have a copy of my abridged/edited version of Rudolf Friendrick Kurz’s Kurz on the Upper Missouri, complete with footnotes. Univ. of Oklahoma Press is publishing it in 2004, I think! Seriously, I enjoy variety.”
|Julia Quinn/Romancing Mister Bridgerton
- Best Heroine (stand-alone winner)
- Best Couple
- Honorable Mentions
- Favorite Funny
- Best European Historical
|It’s no secret that I’ve been a Julia Quinn fan since reading her first book, and I get personally psyched when one of my own favorite authors becomes ever-more successful. I’ve said it before, but if it weren’t for Julia Quinn agreeing to be interviewed by me for a small romance readers’ newsletter, I would likely never have started writing on the Internet. Here are Julia’s comments about the results in this year’s poll:
|“I’m delighted to hear that Romancing Mister Bridgerton and its lead characters rated so highly among All About Romance readers. RMB was a difficult book – not to write, but to conceive. It was the first time I had ever written a book where both of the lead characters were well established in previous books. and I discovered that this can make things very difficult in the early stages of the book. Usually, when I do a spin-off, only one of the characters is already known to readers. This makes the plotting easier, as I can mold the other lead anything I want to fit the story. But with Colin and Penelope, they were both already fully-formed, and it was tremendously difficult to shape a story around them.On the flip side, working with established characters means that they were already dear to the hearts of my readers, and I suspect that this has something to do with why my wins were for my characters rather than my books (although believe me, I’m pretty psyched about the honorable mentions in the book categories, too!) Many of my readers have seen Colin and Penelope grow and change through four books, and as a writer, I was very excited to finally delve deeper into their characters. Until RMB, I had never written scenes from their points of view, and it was very satisfying to show that there was a lot more to them than readers saw in earlier Bridgerton books.
But if there was one character who truly captured readers’ hearts, it was Penelope. Which was something of a surprise, because if you looked at my reader mail prior to RMB, it was all Colin all the time. Everyone wanted his story. But maybe there is a little bit of Penelope in all of us (and certainly a lot of her in me!) I think we’ve all had times in our lives where we didn’t feel we quite fit in, or we seemed to say the wrong thing every time we opened our mouths, or we just didn’t say anything at all because we feared looking foolish. I drew on my high school experience in a big way when crafting Penelope’s character, and from what I’ve heard from readers, both through email and amazon reviews, a lot of you felt the same way. Something about her resonated, and I can’t tell you how many emails I received that said something along the lines of, ‘Were you at my high school? Were you me?’
“So… thank you. Thank you for reading my books, and thank you for rooting for a heroine who was so clearly outside the norm of what we’ve come to expect in romance novels. And thanks also to the staff at All About Romance for hosting these awards and providing a forum for readers to hand out their own honors. I can’t even imagine how much work is involved, and I for one an extremely grateful for it.”
- Strongest Heroine
- Best Alternate Reality Romance (stand-alone winner)
I’ve been a fan of Susan Grant’s writing since I read and reviewed her first release, her 2000-published time travel romance, Once a Pirate. What’s exciting from my perspective is that I’m not generally one for alternate reality romances, and yet I’ve enjoyed both her time travels and futuristics.
|Women who have “made it” in a man’s world impress me. Grant’s background as an Air Force pilot and her current position as a commercial airline pilot are two of the things I admire about her (another is her courage). And I’m pleased that Contact was such a big success for her among our readers after the Wal-Mart/Anderson incident last year. Susan Grant had this to say about her wins:
|“I’m stunned and so very honored to learn that Contact won Best Alternative Reality by such a wide margin. If I had to pick any of my stories to achieve this honor and to touch readers in such a way, it would be Contact. As some of you know, I’m an airline pilot for United. I began writing Contact on September 6, 2001. It opens with a perceived hijacking. We all know what happened five days later. It was a tremendously difficult time for me, the aftermath of 9-11. I had to go back into the skies a week later, with the FAA looking like a stepped-on anthill and forty-year veteran flight attendants trying to hide the fear in their eyes. It was hell. I didn’t write for two weeks. I wanted to put aside Contact in favor of a romantic comedy. But, never one to give up easily, I stuck it out, and thanked God many times over for being able to lose myself in this cathartic piece of fiction where the good guys fought back – and won. I rewrote the opening scenes with the ‘new’ way of dealing with terrorists, which includes deadly force. Everything I learned in security training, I wrote into Contact, even as I was taking the classes. I hoped it would be my breakout book. It had action and adventure, a ‘different’ plot, a kick-butt heroine, and a poignant love story. While it was my darkest novel to date, it was upbeat, and more of a contemporary thriller than what readers might call a ‘futuristic.’ Nevertheless, when it came to getting to the market, the book seemed truly cursed! That’s why recognition by the readers here means so much. Not only becauseContact was gut wrenching to write during a very tense time, but because it never reached all the readers I’d hoped it would. On a positive note, it went back to press and was mentioned in Publishers Weekly’s end-of-year wrap-up issue as an envelope-pusher of a romance.“A truly break-through moment for me was learning that Jordan Cady from Contact won Strongest Heroine! Woo hoo! I’ve had nominations in the past, but always for my particular sub-genre of Alternative Romance. I longed to have the characters I write about transcend the type of story into which I put them (okay, maybe I fantasized about it so much that I somehow channeled it into happening! ) I heard from many that Contact highlighted ‘girl power.’ I hope so. I’m as proud of the many strong female secondary characters as I am of Jordan.
“Congratulations to all the other winners and honorable mentions. I look forward to reading the books. And thank you AAR from the bottom of my heart for supporting a book that meant so much to me.”
|Judith Ivory/Untie My Heart
- Honorable Mentions
- Most Luscious Love Story
- Best Hero
With Untie My Heart, Judith Ivory’s writing took a turn for the intense in an earthy, sexual way. While not as dark as her earlier books Bliss and Dance, hero Stuart reminded AAR reviewer/editor Sandy Coleman of “the hero of the incredible Bliss, who was also quite cheerful about his own foibles.” And, according to AAR reviewer/Lists editor Rachel Potter, Emma and Stuart are reminiscent of the “corkscrew crooked” characters written by Ivory when known as Judy Cuevas.
|Here’s what Judith said about Stuart and Untie My Heart:“I intentially went darker with this book because I hadn’t lately. I wanted to go over the edge with Stuart and see if my editor would pull him back. She didn’t. That he’s comfortable with his disturbed nature makes him heroic. He does what he likes to do and accepts himself with his flaws. He sees his flaws make him interesting and understands that they give him the advantage. He’s an oddly invulnerable character because he’s so intact.”
|Lisa Kleypas/Lady Sophia’s Lover
- Best Villain (stand-alone winner)
- Honorable Mention
While Lisa Kleypas is perhaps best known for writing “achingly real heroes who virtually all vary dramatically in age, background, and personality,” to quote our DIK review of Lady Sophia’s Lover, her creation of the villain from this book stood out for our readers. I think it takes a special kind of talent to write an excellent villain, who can easily become an over-the-top, melodramatic, or stereotypical Snidely Whiplash/Cruella DeVille kind of guy or gal.In her comments, Kleypas talks about the evolution of her writing over the past 17 years. Her first book was published when she was a mere 21, and I think the most recent evolution of her work features an enhanced level of sensuality that I attribute to age and motherhood. Her books have always been sexy, but the last few have kicked it up a few notches.
|“Thank you to AAR and to the kind readers who voted for my work – I am delighted and so very honored! In the past I have tried some ‘villain-less’ books, and had a lot of fun with them, but in the case of my Bow Street Runner trilogy, it seemed necessary to balance a man-of-action type of hero with a strong villain. I’ve always thought the best villains are the more complex ones, so no matter how evil or powerful a bad guy is, I often try to throw a note of vulnerability or some trace of humanity into his character. When I originally outlined Lady Sophia’s Lover, I envisioned Nick as Sir Ross’ nemesis, but it wasn’t until I was a third of the way through the novel that I had the idea of connecting him to Sophia. In retrospect, it seems like an obvious choice, but sometimes when you’re writing, these things hover in the fog for a while! As I worked on the concept of Nick Gentry, I couldn’t help allowing for the possibility of his redemption. The scene in which he confesses his identity to Sophia was one of those ‘inspired’ moments that an author is occasionally blessed with, when the words seemed to flow out of my fingertips. (Unfortunately for me, the other 98 percent of the book is usually hard work. ) I liked the idea of everyone, including Nick himself, having serious doubts about whether or not he could eventually change into a worthwhile human being, and therefore the reader is able to come away with her/his own conclusion.“As for the mention in most-glommed, I am touched and sincerely humbled. Thank you so much! I published my first romance at the age of 21, and I think my backlist over the past seventeen years shows two or three big evolutions. As I have changed and matured, my books have certainly reflected the occasional upheavals in my life. I know that anyone who has started reading my books in the past five years (which have been such a joyful time for me, personally and professionally) may be dissatisfied with a couple of my earlier efforts. Please forgive my mistakes, and accept my fervent thanks for allowing me to learn and grow as an author. I love being part of the romance genre, and being able to share my ideas and feelings with my readers. Your encouragement and support inspire me every day.”
|Mary Jo Putney/The Spiral Path
- Most Tortured Hero (stand-alone winner)
- Honorable Mention
|Mary Jo Putney has tackled some extremely difficult issues in her books, usually successfully, and always without coming across as preachy. That she managed to do it again in The Spiral Path is impressive. Here are MJP’s comments:
|“I’m very pleased that AAR readers responded so strongly to The Spiral Path and the character of Kenzie Scott. An underlying theme in all of my books is healing and redemption, and nowhere is that more explicit than with Kenzie. I’ve always been fascinated by people who overcome terrible obstacles to build rewarding lives, because their example can help the rest of us through hard times. My thanks to readers who voted for the book and for Kenzie.”