I have a long-term relationship with the Ritas. I had no friends who read romances (or at least admitted that they did) when I began reading romances in the 1990s. So soon after I finished Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick’s complete backlist, I began searching the Web for ideas about which books to read next. Among the first resources I found was the Romance Writers of America’s Web site. Imagine my delight to discover the “best” of romance in their listing of recent Rita winners.

I was convinced these must be the best romance had to offer and began selecting romances to read from recent Rita winners; the process was a bit hit or miss. I discovered some winners that have become favorite romances, while others quickly went into my DNF pile. Still, I was – and remain – fascinated by the whole specter of the Ritas. I can remember sitting in my living room, with an old AOL dial-up connection (I did say this was the 1990s), watching as the Rita’s were presented live over the Web. This was a big deal for me; I felt as if I was actually part of the romance community.

Obviously things have changed. There are many, many online resources available to locate great new romances. And of course I now have many online friends and AAR colleagues who are also romance readers. But still, I look forward every year to the announcement of the Rita nominees and the eventual awards.

This year I thought I might be able to attend the RWA Conference for the first time. Sadly, work obligations have gotten in the way. I know I’ll get to attend some time, but for now, I’ll have to live vicariously through my AAR colleagues who do go to the conference. And, of course, I’ll be checking online the evening the Ritas are awarded.

This year, though, I’ve decided to do something I haven’t done in years. I’m giving myself a Rita Reading Challenge. While I’d love to read all of the nominees before the Ritas are awarded on July 28 at the RWA Annual Conference, that’s just not going to happen. With my print and audio reviewing obligations here at AAR, as well as my reading my personal picks of romances and mysteries, one category is all I can handle. I’ve looked over the nominees in each of the categories for this year’s Rita Awards and have settled on reading the eight nominees for best Contemporary Series Romance.  The eight nominees for Best Contemporary Series Romance published in 2011 are:

A Bravo Homecoming by Christine Rimmer

Donovan’s Child by Christine Rimmer

Doukakis’s Apprentice by Sarah Morgan

How a Cowboy Stole Her Heart by Donna Alward

I’ll Catch You by Farrah Rochon

A Mother’s Homecoming by Tanya Michaels

Rancher’s Twins: Mom Needed by Barbara Hannay

The Texan’s Bride by Linda Warren

I picked this category for a number of reasons. First, and most important, I enjoy reading contemporary series romance. Second, I haven’t read any of the nominees (although I have read, and enjoyed, previous books by some of the nominees). Third, none of these books have been reviewed at AAR. Finally, some recent winners in this category have been favorites of mine including 2011 winner Welcome Home, Cowboy by Karen Templeton, 2009 winner A Mother’s Wish by Karen Templeton, and 2008 winner Snowbound by Janice Johnson.

I’m hoping to find a few gems among the eight nominees. I’ll report back here before the Ritas with a report on my personal challenge. But how about you? Have you read many – or any – of the Rita nominees? Do you ever look for books to read from the nominees? And are there any nominees you hope to read before the awards on July 28?

–  LinnieGayl AAR