Today, Romance Writers of America (RWA), the trade association for romance fiction authors, announces the finalists for the 2019 RITA. The RITA — the highest award of distinction in romance fiction — recognizes excellence in published romance novels and novellas.

Every year, AAR looks at the RITAs to see which books we reviewed and whether or not we gave those books high marks. We’ll be updating this post throughout today and tomorrow and we’d love to hear your take on the nominees!

Here’s the link to the RWA page where they are releasing the nominations–they only put up a nomination after having spoken to an author. RWA says all the books will be on this page by 2pm CST.

We have created a 2019 Amazon RITA storefront where you can see all the books and their ebook prices. Please consider shopping with us–it’s all that keeps us online!

Julia Broadbanks reviewed Maria Vale’s The Last Wolf for AAR. She gave it a B+. In her review she wrote:

Maria Vale’s The Last Wolf is not at all what I expected. I thought I’d get a fast-paced, spicy shifter romance, much like others I’ve loved. This book, this heroine was unexpected.

In all the right ways.

Shifters and werewolves are different in this world. A werewolf must turn into a wolf during the full moon. Shifters can turn into a wolf but aren’t bound to the form three days a month and are therefore freer to participate in the human world – at least on the fringes. This difference has led to the evolution of two different societies and never the twain shall meet.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Caz reviewed Mia Vincy’s A Wicked Kind of Husband and gave it an A-. She wrote:

The author has managed to put her own spin on a very well-worn plot device, bringing a degree of unpredictability to her story that enables it to transcend the trope.  Her writing is intelligent and energetic, and the story is by turns funny, poignant, sexy, angsty and, most importantly, romantic.

With that said, the book does have a few flaws; Lucy’s antics are a bit over the top and there’s some anachronistic dialogue and behaviour in places, but otherwise, A Wicked Kind of Husband is one of the best historical romances I’ve read all year; a sparkling début that’s landed Mia Vincy very firmly on my list of authors to watch.

Buy it at: Amazon

Maria Rose gave Stephanie London’s Bad Bachelor an A.

As the story progresses we learn a little bit more about Reed’s rocky relationship with his father and why he’s wary of getting too deep into a relationship. We also find out that Darcy has her own complicated history with her family, including a stepfather with whom she doesn’t get along, a judgmental mother who sees Darcy’s body modifications as a personal affront, and a half-sister who by comparison, can do no wrong. When Darcy finds herself confiding in Reed about her family issues, and Reed shares his worries about his father, it cements their growing friendship and emotional connection. Eventually they both have to decide whether what they’re building is worth pursuing when the fundraiser is successfully completed. Along the way, Reed also makes some surprising findings about the origins of the dating app that have caused him so much grief.  Bad Bachelor is more than just a fun and sexy romantic comedy. It’s got a depth of emotion and heart that make it a thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking read.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Em so loved Kate Clayborn’s Best of Luck that she gave it a rare A+!

From the moment Alex and Greer were first introduced in Beginner’s Luck, it was clear they were destined for each other.  It’s been a delicious tease witnessing the tension between them – the thrum of attraction that’s marked each of their encounters – wondering how the author planned to bring them together.  Ms. Clayborn brilliantly maneuvers the pair into each other’s orbit and everything about their relationship feels natural, right and wonderful.  The novel works for many reasons, not the least of which is the author’s obvious affection for her principal characters and the friends and family that comprise their world, and I was wholly invested in this story from start to finish.  I enjoyed each of the previous Chance of a Lifetime novels, but Ms. Clayborn simply outdoes herself in Best of Luck.  I laughed, I cried, I sighed.  And then I read it again and laughed, cried and sighed all over again.  It’s a tremendous conclusion to an already terrific series.  I’m sad to say goodbye.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Em (and Dabney and Dabney’s basketball loving spouse) all adored Kennedy Ryan’s dark but rewarding Long Shot.

It’s swoony and sexy and lovely and romantic and totally worth the journey.  But yes, Long Shot makes readers work hard for that HEA.  It’s harrowing and awful before it’s lovely and wonderful, and all those bits in between will rock your world.  Everything about Long Shot – from the characters, to the plot, to the happily ever after – is utterly absorbing, and the story will stay with you long after you finish it.  Sports fans, romance fans… read this book.  It’s tremendously well done.

Buy it at: Amazon

Em gave a B+ to Luck of the Draw, book two in Kate Clayborn’s Chance of a Lifetime series. RITA judges clearly really liked this contemporary romance series!

Luck of the Draw is a lovely, heartwarming and gentle tale of forgiveness.  I wasn’t crazy about the plot contrivance that brings the principals together, but the novel slowly grew on me.  Poignant, romantic and charming, Luck of the Draw proves Ms. Clayborn is no one-hit-wonder and that luck has nothing to do with her talent.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Several of the AAR staff thought Melt for You by J.T. Geissinger was a winner. Em reviewed it and gave it an A.

One of the pleasures of reviewing books for All About Romance is the opportunity to interact with readers. Recently, one of them recommended Melt for You by J.T. Geissinger.  I’m familiar with the author – I’ve read two of her earlier books, including the Slow Burn novel that precedes it.  I liked, but didn’t love, either of them.  I downloaded this one anyway and it languished in my TBR pile… until I recently picked it up on a whim and OMG, I couldn’t put it down.  It’s wonderful on so many levels, and if you haven’t read it, you’re absolutely missing out.  Charming, meaningful, laugh out loud funny, sweet, sexy and smart, Melt for You is the best contemporary romance so far this year….

I don’t know how to convey to you just how much I loved this delightful book, so let’s just say it’s my favorite of the year.   I’m convinced every romance reader on earth should read it and tell their friends to read it and love it as much as I do, because Melt for You will make you melt for it.  I promise.

Buy it at: Amazon

Caroline would not have given a RITA nod to Susannah Nix’s Advanced Physical Chemistry. Caroline wrote:

Susannah Nix reads to me like an author with great potential whose best book hasn’t happened yet. The shortcomings here would not put me off trying one of her future books, because I believe if she gets her feet under her and grows as she writes, she could deliver a full book that is Advanced Physical Chemistry when it’s at its best, and that book will be terrific. I probably won’t look for her backlist, though.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Serena Bell’s Sleepover made several AAR Best of 2018 list. In her review, Kristen wrote:

What if your insanely hot, super satisfying one-night-stand moved in next door to you? Let me add one more layer – what if your children became automatic best friends? This is exactly the situation that Elle and Sawyer find each other in in Serena Bell’s The Sleepover and is it delightful.

The plot of this one is largely laid out in my first two sentences, and the simplicity of the situation allows Ms. Bell to stretch and play with her characters in ways that put this book on my list of top reads of 2018. Sawyer is a widower, while Elle’s ex is still (annoyingly) in the picture. Both are trying to be the best parents they can be, while still acknowledging the chemistry between them. The boys are present, but not precocious and added a warmth of reality to the story that would have been lacking without them. I loved the exploration of family in this story – what is it, what does it mean, who gets to be in ours.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Caz bemoaned the lack of strong historicals in 2018–An Earl Like You by stalwart author Caroline Linden was one of HR’s 2018 bright spots. Caz wrote:

The romance between Eliza and Hugh is tender, sensual and passionate; the chemistry between them fizzes and sparks throughout and Ms. Linden develops a strong emotional connection between them.  I dropped half a grade-point off my final rating only because Hugh’s deception goes on a little longer than I’d have liked – although the upside to that is that the story’s resolution isn’t overly long and drawn out.

Intelligently written, strongly characterised and gorgeously romantic, An Earl Like You earns a place on my keeper shelf, and Ms. Linden further cements her place as one of the best authors of historical romance writing today.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Joanna Shupe’s A Scandalous Deal got a B from Caz.

A Scandalous Deal is an engaging and entertaining read, and Joanna Shupe continues to be one of the strongest writers of historical romance around.  While there’s a lot of plot in the book, it’s all handled very well and there are no loose ends, but I can’t deny that I’d have liked the romance to have been more strongly developed in a more organic way.  Nonetheless, it’s a solid addition to her current series, and I’ll definitely be looking out for book three later this year.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Caz enjoyed K.C. Bateman’s The Devil to Pay–she gave it B+.

I raced through The Devil to Pay in one sitting, because it was such a lot of fun to read! It’s entertaining, fast-paced and sexy, and in spite of my reservations about the heroine, I enjoyed the development of the romance and was really rooting for Cara and Alessandro to admit the truth and make it work between them.  He’s undoubtedly the star of this show, and if you’re a fan of the drop-dead gorgeous hero with a smart mouth, a wicked smirk and the ability to keep his heroine on her toes, chances are you’ll find much to enjoy here.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Kelly “Can Do No Wrong” Bowen’s A Duke in the Night got not one but two DIKs at AAR. In her review, Keira wrote:

I read this story with curiosity and enjoyment, consistently surprised by reactions that seemed unpredictable and fresh to the genre and yet just right for the story Bowen was telling. The characters in all their complexity and humanity made me care for them as they’re easy to root for: intelligent, thoughtful, courageous, loyal, and despite their tough backgrounds, decent and affectionate….

A Duke in the Night was my second Bowen title, and I’m thrilled that I have found a new auto-buy author. I look forward to diving into her backlist.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Readers appear to love Sally MacKenzie’s What Ales the Earl–it’s a 4.5 star read at Amazon–but Lisa did not. In her D review she wrote:

When I picked up this book, I was hoping for a light romantic comedy. What Ales The Earl is light, alright –  Bugs Bunny looks like Shakespeare next to it.  There’s a line between fun, light comedy and having your characters act so hopelessly silly their behavior borderlines on alien and this book falls very much to the wrong side of that line.  But the book’s fatal flaw is simple; its characters are flat-out terrible.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Maggie gave Susanna Kearsley’s Belleweather an A-.  It’s a dual timeline story that has depth and is more women’s fiction than romance.

Fans of historical books and dual timeline novels will thoroughly enjoy Bellewether. While the pacing here is slow and occasionally pedantic, the author’s smooth, lyrical prose and amazing ability to recreate life in another time and place make the moments spent within the pages a pleasure. I am happy to recommend this to fans of the author and to encourage anyone interested in a good tale to pick it up.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Shannon found Ellen Lindseth’s A Girl Divided to be a bit too hectoring for her taste. In her C review she wrote:

I don’t have a lot of patience with books that seem to be preaching at me, and while Ms. Lindseth doesn’t fall into this trap terribly often, I did skim through a few lengthy passages that felt a little too preachy for my liking. Genie did grow up as the daughter of a missionary, so I expected a certain amount of discussion of spiritual matters, but there ended up being just a little too much of it for me.

It’s not that this is a bad book. In fact, I think it might be a wonderful book for a certain type of reader, but unfortunately, I didn’t end up being that person. Ms. Lindseth’s writing is truly beautiful, and I loved learning more about how World War II affected China, but the story didn’t draw me in the way I hoped it would. It simply didn’t satisfy me, and I was relieved to reach the end so I could move on to something I’ll hopefully enjoy more.

Buy it at: Amazon

For several AAR reviews, no one wrote better books in 2018 than Bec McMaster. Her London Steampunk series was devoured by Caz, Em, and Dabney. In her DIK review of To Catch a Rogue, Em wrote:

Densely plotted and intricately woven into the ongoing London Steampunk storyline, To Catch a Rogue is clever, romantic and addictive, and might be my favorite in the series… so far.  Ms. McMaster masterfully blends romance and suspense into an addictive high stakes thriller that kept me glued to its pages from the first page to the last.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Haley loves Katee Roberts’ O’Malleys series. The Bastard’s Bargain is the last of a strong six book series and Haley gave it an A.

The sex is off the charts hot, which is nothing new if you are a fan of Robert’s other books. I do think that The Bastard’s Bargain is more erotic than the earlier books, as Keira and Dmitri both want to be daring and push the envelope. Beyond the sex and the chemistry, I adored the way we are finally able to see into Dmitri’s mind and realize how long he’s been waiting for Keira. He cares what happens to her, maybe even more than her own family, and although he doesn’t admit it much to himself, he wants her to love him. You get a palpable sense of how tentative he is when approaching love. He may be a badass on the streets, but with Keira his feelings are tender and uncertain. He knows what he ultimately wants for her, but he’s not prepared for how much it will affect his own heart to have her in his home and his bed….

If you haven’t read the rest of the series, I wouldn’t suggest starting with The Bastard’s Bargain. While it is technically a standalone, you’d be depriving yourself of the slow build-up of Keira and Dmitri’s story. Do yourself a favor and read them all from the start, and then you can fully enjoy and appreciate this great end to a great series.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Shannon likes J.R. Ward and she gave Consumed a B.

Consumed turned out to be a fantastic blend of romance, action, and suspense. I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed getting to know the cast of characters Ms. Ward has created here; I had felt pretty sure I’d find them to be way too macho for my taste, but this didn’t turn out to be the case at all. Many of Ms. Ward’s firefighters are on the volatile side, and I’m pretty sure all of them could do with a good dose of talk therapy, but they’re a surprisingly lovable group, and I’m eager to see what future books in the series have in store for them.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Kristen liked but didn’t love prolific author Maisey Yates’ Claim Me Cowboy. In her B- review she wrote:

Joshua Grayson has a plan. His father placed an advertisement in the paper to get him a bride, but Joshua has a better idea – and placed a counter one. If he can get a woman to apply who is the antithesis of who his father would want, his father will have to back off of this wife-kids-happily-ever-after malarkey, right? Thank goodness Danielle Kelley applies to Joshua’s ad and shows up with a baby in tow. Now all they have to do is convince the Graysons that they’re really in love… without falling in love themselves.

Of course, you know how the rest of this goes. There’s a secret around who the baby’s father is that stressed me out a bit (I hate waiting for the other shoe to drop when I know it’s coming), and because of the length of the novel, I’m not totally sold on Joshua’s transformation from sworn bachelor to lovesick husband, but this is a Maisey Yates book. Few write ranches/cowboys better than she does, and so even a mediocre book she’s penned is worth the time of a fan.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Caz found little to like about Never Dare an Earl by Renee Ann Miller.

As I’ve said in the past, I make it a point to try new authors when I can – after all, I had some pretty good luck a couple of years back when I found not one, but three début authors whose books have since become ‘must reads’, and I live in hope of finding others.  Unfortunately, however, on the strength of her first novel, Never Dare a Wicked Earl, Renee Ann Miller isn’t going to make that list by a long chalk; the cover trumpets a “fresh new romance” – but it’s about as fresh as week-old kippers, and I ended up reading a story I’ve read several times before.   It’s a solidly average book; not badly written, but the story is hackneyed, the characters are stereotypical and the author seems to have thought it a good ideal to throw the kitchen sink into the (very weak) plot.   Plus – what on earth is the heroine wearing on the cover?  The book is set in 1875, and by no stretch of the imagination is that dress from the late Victorian period.  I know that’s not the author’s fault, but it nonetheless telegraphs “Danger, Will Robinson!” to the potential reader.  With good reason, as it turns out.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes and Noble/Apple Books/Kobo

Shannon gave Brenda Novak’s Before We Were Strangers an A-.

Before We Were Strangers contains the perfect balance of romance and mystery; Ms. Novak definitely knows how to hook her readers in and refuse to let them go. I read late into the night so I could see how things turned out for Sloane and Micah, and I enjoyed every minute of the experience. The suspense is chilling and the romance is full of the best kind of sizzling sexual tension….

This was the first Brenda Novak book I’d read in quite some time, but it has inspired me to catch up with her backlist. She’s written a lot of great stuff over the years, and I fully intend to immerse myself in her unique brand of emotive storytelling again very soon.

Buy it at: Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes & Noble/Kobo

Caz read more romantic suspense this year and one she enjoyed is Relentless by Elizabeth Dyer.

I’m always on the look-out for reliably good new authors of romantic suspense, and in Elizabeth Dyer, I think I’ve found one.  Relentless, the second book in her Somerton Security series (and her second published novel), is a strongly-written, fast-paced story featuring a team of ex-military types who work for a specialist security firm that also runs off-the-books black-ops for the government.  While that isn’t an especially original concept, Relentless is nonetheless a very readable tale; the author has created a suspenseful and intriguing plotline that packs an emotional punch in just the right places, the central characters have great sexual chemistry, and the knife-edge walked daily by the heroine is well-depicted. While characters from book one (Defenseless) reappear here, Relentless works perfectly well as a standalone and I didn’t feel as though I’d missed anything by not reading it first.

Buy it at: Amazon

Like many of our favorite contemporary romance writers–Shalvis, Higgins–Sarah Morgan is now writing women’s fiction. Kristen wasn’t thrilled with How to Keep a Secret, her first effort.

In this novel, we meet four women who are all adept at keeping secrets – from themselves, from each other, from everyone. Considering they are all related and those secrets impact the lives of everyone around them, the decisions they make in order to keep those secrets have intense repercussions. Lauren has the textbook perfect life in her London flat – if she ignores all the small details that make it not perfect and the fact that her daughter, Mack, is not weathering adolescence well. Lauren’s sister, Jenna, is an ocean away on Martha’s Vineyard, coveting Lauren’s life and desperately wanting perfection of her own in the form of the baby her body seems unable to carry. Their mother, Nancy, has never been a nurturing mother, but she has her reasons as to why.

I know there are readers out there who will disagree with me, and who will adore this book. I think our differences are going to come down to how much secrets fundamentally bother you. I tend to favor over-sharing – more communication is always better to my mind – and so I have limited patience for secrets between people committed to relationships (parents, partners, siblings, etc.) without some really serious justification and I saw no such justification here.

Buy it at: Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Apple Books/Kobo


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