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A thread of #JenReadsRitas books, bc that's a thing I'm going to do.
Just yesterday I read THE LAST WOLF by Maria Vale. It's so strong. I bought the 2nd book on spec last week, and now I'm so glad I have it ready to go.
It's honestly so fresh for a book about wolves. Silver, our heroines is a wolf who has never been offland--she's way more comfortable as a wolf than in "skins." The hero, Tiberius, is a shifter who will be killed if she doesn't help him.

Really interesting world-building.
I definitely recommend THE LAST WOLF. Present Me is also happy, bc Past Me bought the 2nd book on spec last week, and now I'm so glad I have it ready to go. Book 3 comes out next week!!! So that's fortuitous.
It's Spring Break and I'm moping around in my house bc I don't feel good, so I knocked out a novella this afternoon. I read LEAD COUNSEL by Aurora Rey. It's in an anthology called THE BOSS OF HER. #JenReadsRitas
Yes, it's $10. Buy the books you want to see in the world and in the RITAs.

This is a lesbian romance set in New Orleans. The two main characters are Parker and Elisa. They actually knew each other back in law school and hooked up one night, but it never went anywhere.
It's vaguely "second chance" but without all the baggage. The conflict is 100% angst---all emotional. Parker is a big shot lawyer who has been in NYC and she's returning home to NOLA. Elisa dreads her arrival at the firm, always having bad feelings about that hook up.
Pluses: Solidly written with well-developed characters for a novella. Elisa seemed a bit more well-rounded than Parker. Lots of thinking about feelings, which I enjoy when it's well-done. No big dramatic blow-ups, just two adult women working thru together. Sexy when it happens.
Minuses: Although Elisa is a WOC based on her last name and a brief description of her family, the rest of the extensive cast does appear to be white. There are actually lots of characters and I think some of them were in earlier books by the author (at least it read that way)
So I can't say that everyone was white except Elisa bc I haven't read other books.

This book was competent--it hit all the notes, but it was also predictable. There wasn't anything exciting or unpredictable, but it was solid.
Verdict: I see why it made the finals. I think it's very hard to do strong character development in a novella, and that is the real winner here.
I just read BAD BLOOD by M Malone. It's GREAT. This was also in the novella category. It opens on our heroine Georgie's wedding day---and she is nervous. She knows it's a mistake.
I must say, the dread I felt! She ends up leaving the wedding with her brother's best friend, Jamie. Both Jamie and Georgie have had feelings for each other forever, but never acted on them--- because you can never get with your brother's little sister!
Pluses: Really snappy writing and dialogue. Pacing was great, especially for a novella, you really can't waste time, and this moves along nicely. Character work is good. Georgie is a great heroine, she knows herself and what she wants.
Jamie is a good character, too. He trusts her judgment but also wants to protective her, and that mix felt real. He's also achingly vulnerable in some ways, which I really liked a lot.
Wishes: This is very minor, but I really key into timeline continuity stuff. And I was distracted by some of this--Jamie says, "I have to leave" and then stays all night. People working all day on Thanksgiving. Walking into bedrooms at 6am. Just...keep that timeline straight.
Verdict: I enjoyed this a lot. I definitely recommend. One thing I LOVED is that the friendship between Jamie and King (the brother) is strong and King is a great friend to Jamie. This does not traffic in silly fights and machismo once the affair is discovered.
Shameless self-promo: We talked about the "Sibling's Best Friend" trope on Fated Mates.…
Well, look at me burning through these novellas. #JenReadsRitas

CATCHING IRISH by Katy Regnery is on KU.
Tate lives in the Florida Keys with her uncle, and she is going to a wedding near Boston. The weekend of the wedding, she meets handsome Irishman working in the states for a few months, Fin. They hook up and have a bunch of sex that weekend but she's a no-strings kinda girl.
Plot picks up 4 months later and she heads back to visit family & sees Fin again. They both have spent all this time thinking about their weekend affair.
Pluses: Um. The sex is good, and since that's mostly what they do, that's important.

Wishes: I just had a really hard time buying the emotional connection between them. There just wasn't enough there for me to buy that they had all these feelings for each other.
Perhaps bc it's a novella? It's always hard to make that work. But in this case, she has intimacy issues bc her parents died when she was so young, and I didn't really see how she got past that.
I mean, they don't even flirt at the bar before they're fucking against a tree. And that's fine, but at some point, I need to get why these characters are *emotionally* attached. I've seen lots of successful romances that lead with physical attraction. It can be done.
Verdict: I guess this is an HFN, not an HEA, so maybe it'll work for people? It did not work for me. Forgettable.
Well. I read 50 pages of a book in the erotic romance category called TOTAL EXPOSURE. I just can't. It's... not good. #JenReadsRitas
It has a rather complicated premise: Evangaline was a child violin prodigy and suffers from fear of being watched. She is basically a recluse, living off the 8M (after taxes) from the sale of a Stradivarius violin for the past 10 years.
One day, she picks up a business card that promises to help people conquer her fears. After spending 100K in "therapy" in the next year, she starts to backslide. Her therapist hires a guy named Jordan to find someone to watch her 24-7 as some sort of extreme exposure therapy.
Now, even thought he hasn't seen Ix in TEN YEARS, Jordan just knows that Ix is the perfect guy for this job. Ix will be the hero, but by page 50 all that's really clear is that Evangaline has been hustled out of a bunch of money and none of this plot makes sense.
The prose is convoluted and hard to follow, which I *think* is meant to show that none of the characters are being honest with each other. But honestly, it's most just confusing and uninteresting.

Verdict: DNF
Sigh. I read half of MELT FOR YOU by JT Geissinger. It is available on KU. I picked it bc the plot--teach me to be sexy so I can seduce another guy-- is very appealing to me. What do we call this trope? #JenReadsRitas
Anyways. Joellen is a 36 year old wallflower who has been pining for her boss for 10 years. He's going through a divorce, and all of a sudden seems to be noticing her. But Joellen's super handsome & infuriating new neighbor, Cameron McGregor offers to help her catch her boss.
I fucking love this trope, so this should have been a slam dunk for me.

Pluses: Snappy dialogue. Cameron is a great guy, has that gruff super sexy Scottish thing. Wears a kilt. He's basically handcrafted to be loved by Romancelandia.
Minuses: Joellen has been taught by her family to equate beauty with worth. She hates herself & the non-stop way she denigrates herself is just exhausting. Cameron thinks she's beautiful, but it was hard to read. The first line of this book is "I'm fat" & it keeps going.
God knows I am okay with characters having complicated feelings about themselves and their bodies because I certainly do. But I stopped at 50% when she compares herself to a baby elephant. I don't like my body a lot and I would never say that about myself.
Verdict: DNF because of all the fat-shaming. I am sure others will feel different. Her journey is one of self-discovery, and Cameron is great. But it just made me sad. Really fucking sad.
I'd like to say one more thing about this. I've tried carefully to frame this as my experience reading it, but I'd like to also state that this felt...mean. Twice in this book, TWICE, the heroine breaks a chair when she tries to sit down in it.
Several people have said they were okay with Joellen's self-abnegation. To me, It was othering. I don't know the author, I just looked at her picture. But I kept thinking,"Is this how thin people THINK fat people feel about themselves? Are we chair breakers to them?"
This thread is going to be a hot fucking mess and 1000 tweets long by the time I'm done, so let me talk about the architecture of it for a minute. I tried to use the #JenReadsRitas every time I start a new book.
I am also updating the spreadsheet with the twitter link.…
Welcome back to #JenReadsRitas, I finished A DUKE IN THE NIGHT by Kelly Bowen. (category: Historical short).
This is set in 1819. The hero is August Faulkner, Duke of Holloway. He was never in line for the title and actually spend really hard years homeless while working to get his father out of debtor's prison. Bc of that he's obsessed with wealth and financial security.
The heroine is Clara Haywood, she's basically a spinster bc she's 29 or 30, but she doesn't care bc she runs an elite school for girls which makes her feel personally and intellectually fulfilled.
Pluses: The plot of this book is Clara schooling August on how women are more capable than he thinks. I enjoyed that. One scene in particular is masterful, the way she reveals why his sister feels trapped and unhappy. Clara is no-nonsense and likable woman.
Like many people, I enjoy historicals that have characters with varied/different life experiences. She's not a shy retiring virgin, either. August is surprised by that, but it was nice to see Clara be in charge of her life.
Minuses: August tells Clara to keep challenging him/ keep asking him questions. So most of this book is talk, talk, talk. There's not much action, and when there is it both suddenly appears and is just as quickly wrapped up.

Perfectly competent, perfectly boring.
I just finished DRAGON LORD by Dana Marton (category: romance novella). This is available on KU. It's super charming and I enjoyed it. #JenReadsRitas
Draknart is a dragon who has been cursed to spend from midnight to dawn every day as a man. So despite the "dragon shifter" subtitle, that's not strictly true. He wants nothing more than to return to 100% dragon. One day, a virgin from the village, Einin, is tossed into his cave.
Draknart is basically full of malaise. He gets bored, sleeps for a decade, wakes up and eats, and goes back to sleep. He kills whatever hapless humans the villagers send his way, but Einin is brave, strong, and determined to go down fighting. He's charmed by her.
Pluses: This had a wry tone I personally found charming and fun to read. (However, I don't read all that much fantasy, so maybe this is more common than I think.) Einin is a loner who just wants to be free and in control of her own destiny, and I am all for that. Always.
Minuses: I'd say this reads more like a fairy tale than a fantasy. Just roll with it and don't overthink the world building stuff.

Verdict: Charming, fun to read. Knows what it's trying to do and does it well.
I'm trying to do this for as low cost/free as I can, so I could only get my hands on 5 out of the 7 in the novella category. (Coming into this project, I'd already read LOVING THE SECRET BILLIONAIRE by Adriana Anders. I enjoyed it.)
Here's my take on this category: these were for the most part extremely fun to read. I think that romance novellas are often underrated, but I very much enjoy them. Outside of Catching Irish, which was just kinda boring, I really liked all of these.
There's no reason Minx Malone couldn't win this category, but LOVING THE SECRET BILLIONAIRE and DRAGON LORD were also strong entries.

I think this is probably it for the novella category for me. I don't see myself spending $$ on the other 2 at this time.
I read the first 5 chapters and the last 2 of Home on Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer Beckstrand. This is an Amish marriage in trouble romance. Mary Anne and Jethro are in trouble since they learned they can't have children.

I'll tell you what, if this is representative of the genre of white inspirational romance, and if like me you've never had the "pleasure" of reading one, let me explain: This isn't a romance. It's Williamsburg Virginia.
It's fucking appalling. It's nothing but hazy-eyed nostalgia for a white supremacist past that last existed on the pages of Little House of the Prairie. And even that is a lie. For fucks sake, the opening is Mary Anne making fucking jello parfaits as a fancy anniversary dessert.
It valorizes small family communities, doing everything by hand, & a "simpler life." You might as well pass out in front of the TV stuck on a loop of Leave it to Beaver. That's about the level of white power nostalgia at work here. But worse. At least June Cleaver had a vacuum.
But, it's also kind of like that bullshit friend that's always trying to sell you here MLM bullshit: the ending is literally Jethro and Mary Anne hosting a 5K to pay for fertility treatments (I think, unclear on the medical stuff) even though she's already magically pregnant.
It's like---those non-Amish friends, they're good for a ride to work and to McDonalds (it's mentioned SIX times in this book!), for setting up your Etsy quilt shop, and for a quick hit of cash for modern medical treatments. WHAT?

Verdict: Bullshit.
Also, may I categorically state that there is nothing better about her prose, plotting, characterization, etc. that is better than any other author's.
There was line in the text, a small thing, where Mary Anne thinks, "Thank God the Amish didn't use electricity." And I found myself REALLY WONDERING at that. It was so clearly written from an outsider point of view. This isn't how people think about their own culture.
[Gif: Johan Hill just rubbing his eyes, being perplexed, kinda exhausted.]
I read 75 pages of SINFUL GAMES by Shelly Alexander. This is in the erotic romance category and is available on KU. This is a book about a boss who falls in love with his assistant.
The hero is Oz Strong, and he and 3 friends jointly own a big company that's about to go public. Oz fires all his assistants bc he is difficult, but his new one Kendall Tate is super competent, so it's kind of a bummer for him that he's in lust w/her. I guess.
This is the kind of book that makes me wonder, just as strongly as I did with the Beckstrand book, exactly what it is we are doing here. Oz is a misogynist d-bag. He's arrogant and unlikable.
The "excuse" for this behavior is that his first wife cheated on him, but the prologue makes it clear that he only married to please his parents and didn't care about her. I think he's just been a jerk all along!
This book is hero only 1st person present POV, which does him no favors. He is very aware of the #MeToo movement, even name checking it several times, but that doesn't stop his narration from being almost 100% about how badly he wants to bang Pink (that's his nickname for her.)
here's Oz thinking about the #MeToo movement. Obviously, there are plenty of poorly-behaving men in our workplaces. I don't know. I found this exhausting. Is that fact that he's TRYING not to get with her during work really enough? Respectful treatment of women is somehting I stand behind...but that doens't make me want my new assistant any less. I just have to keep my desires, not to mention my filthy imagination, to myself.
His *idea* for fixing the problem is to find her a another job so that they can have an affair. So patriarchal. All he does when he's at work is think about her body. It didn't feel sexy. It felt horrifying.
And authorial choices amplified my discomfort: we never get her POV. She's clearly into it BUT ONLY BECAUSE OF HIS DESCRIPTION OF HER BEHAVIOR. Because it's present tense, but he only describes his lustful thoughts, it seems like he is fixated on her. He never things about work!
The first time they fool around, it's in a closet at work. I was done.

Verdict: DNF.
I made a new twitter to contain this hot mess. It's @jenritas. I'm basically retweeting and numbering each new book thread there.
I finished AND LOVED the 4th and final book in the erotic romance category, THREE WAY SPLIT by Elia Winters. #JenReadsRitas
Hannah is the owner of a sex-toy shop in a small MA town, and she's been crushing on local chef Mitchell. But she's also attracted to Mitchell's roommate & business partner, Ben. What she doesn't realize is that Ben and Mitchell are fuck buddies.
Ben and Mitchell have kept their relationship low-key and open, but when Hannah enters the picture, they each start to have feelings for her and this allows them to admit that they also have feelings for each other beyond casual sex.
Pluses: everything. I loved this book. It's super sexy, but it also clearly A ROMANCE. Winters develops each pairing, but also carefully explores their evolution as a polyamorous threesome. Each character has their own arc, too! It's so well done.
Minuses: I feel like there's a lot of "explaining polyamorous relationships" which sometimes seems like it's for the reader more than Ben, Hannah, and Mitchell. But overall, that's such a minor issue and fuck...I learned some things, so great.
I've completed the Erotic Rom. category. THREE WAY SPLIT is so clearly the best book in this category, I'll be shocked if it doesn't win. However, that being said, Picture Perfect Cowboy is a perfectly competent romance that has a shot bc of the well-deserved reputation of Reisz.
I read the first 15 pages and then some targeted scene reading of NOT QUITE CRAZY by Catherine Bybee. This is in the Contemporary:mid-length category. #JenReadsRitas
Heroine is Rachel Price. Her best friend Emily died of cancer and she has custody of Emily's 15 year old son, Owen. The "meet cute" is when Rachel meets Jason during a snowy fender bender--she drives into Manhattan every day bc she's afraid she'll be mugged on the train.
Here's what happened on page 15. It's after the fender bender, she takes him to his house so he doesn't have to wait for a tow truck in the snow. He thinks she's cute. Rachel, her name was Rachel. Dad wasn't there. And her son was black.
The entire plot of this book y'all, THE ENTIRE PLOT, is Rachel & Jason fending off the bad guys who want to take Owen from her: his black grandparents.

Also, just in case we missed that white is right, at one point Rachel tells Owen to stop acting like he was raised in Compton.
Verdict: DNF with a flamethrower.
Now, here's a FAR MORE MINOR thing. If you were ever looking for an example of a book with problematic world-building in a contemporary, here's an example. As previously mentioned, Rachel drives into Manhattan from CT every day.
This immediately raises a lot of questions. And there were two things that struck me as so improbable that I couldn't even make heads or tails of it.

1) her new job offered to pay her parking in the city for 6 months while she transitioned to the East Coast.

2) when faced with the winter and the accident, her conclusion is that she needs TIRE CHAINS. And as a courting gift, Jason buys her some.

There is not a single fucking solitary person commuting on a major East Coast city with FUCKING TIRE CHAINS. That doesn't even make sense.
So. How is everyone else right now?
It pains me to add this. But a few people have DMd me to tell me that Catherine Bybee is on the Board of RWA. And that she posted this to her public FB last week.
Also, I’m sorry this thread is such a monster. I created a new twitter account @jenritas that basically makes anchor points for each individual book.
Can I explicitly address something to my fellow white ladies for a minute? I'm glad we're all shocked, bc this is really, really bad.

But the flip side of the "I don't like black authors or black characters and don't believe their books are good, etc, racist reasoning, etc"...
..Is also that we as white people are TERRIBLE about recognizing super-racist tropes, especially those cloaked in these feel-good "we're just saving the kid" narrative.

The same reasons black authors don't final is the same reason this book does.
That's why rooting this out is so pernicious. This isn't just teaching clueless white folks that it's wonderful for #OwnVoices books to exist, it is much more difficult to pull back the veil of white supremacist thinking.
This book, this story, this is what we get when we have a whole country full of white people who can without any irony say: "I'm colorblind" or "I don't have a racist bone in my body." They literally don't see this & when it's pointed out to them, it goes sideways fast.
And once people find this thread and come at me, one of the first things someone is going to say to defend this book: It can't be racist because the author made the black grandparents wealthy. The father is educated. So you keep an eye out for that. It's coming.
Ok. Nothing can cleanse this thread, but forward we shall march.
I read BEST OF LUCK by Kate Clayborn. This is in the contemporary long category. And yeah, listen, this book was just so good, so soft, so wonderful. Also, full disclosure, I consider Kate a friend, so just know I'm not entirely trustworthy.
This is book 3 but can easily be read as a stand alone. Greer is just about to finish college with the last of the lottery money she won with her 2 best friends, but she has ONE arts credit she has to make up. Her best friend Kit's brother Alex is a famous photographer.
Alex and Greer totally fall in love and it is my whole goddamn fucking heart.

Pluses: So beautifully written, and it just perfectly captures moments big and small. SO MANY FEELINGS. Sexy and intimate.
Wishes: I skipped #2 to read this one, and that now seems dumb and I'll have to go backwards. But we had talked about this one on Fated Mates, and also, I know Kate and I both feel really close to our brother(s) and I just wanted to feel that.

Bookwise? This sucker is perfect.
Verdict: This is how romance is supposed to make me feel. A really wonderful romance and y'all should read it, but I think everyone has. I'm just late to the party. FINE.

A much better end to the day.
Good morning! I read A SAFE PLACE TO LAND by Dee Ernst. This is in the contemporary romance: short category. It's almost more of a character study of a (very inclusive, thank god) small town and a woman falling in love than a true romance, but I liked it.
The small town in question is on Maryland's Eastern shore. The heroine, Jenna, is 40. She was married for 5 years when she was 18, and her husband Sam was 22 years older than her. So she's been divorced for a long time. She and Sam stayed friends and occasional lovers.
The book opens with Sam's death, and Jenna finding out that Sam left everything a son named Craig. Jenna is heartbroken she didn't know about Sam's son, and pissed that Craig now owns half her house. Craig arrives in crisis with 3 daughters.
Pluses: The life and rhythms of a small town are carefully drawn. As I said, this is more of a character study of Jenna falling in love, reaching out, her lifetime of regrets and growing and changing.
Minuses: I think there's a lot that gets wrapped up too quickly---both the HEA including one eye rolling thing that felt too pat & and an external conflict with the paternal grandfather who wants custody (this plot again!).
Verdict: I wouldn't have read this if it wasn't on this list, but it's a nice book. Tight prose, excellent character work. Needed more romance for me, but I found myself thinking that this would be a very nice starter romance for people who aren't sure if they like the genre.
Wait, did I make it clear that Craig is the hero? I need more coffee. Anyways, they're both real fucking conflicted over it bc he just thinks he's a copy of his dead dad to her, etc. I read the blurb and thought, NO MA'AM, but it was fine.

Sorry. More coffee needed, maybe.
All righty. I would like you all to know that I am not usually doing two-a-days, but it's spring break and I'm home alone. I promise I'm real cool.
I finished GIVE AND TAKE by Lee Kilraine, in the contemporary mid-length category. This is a story about Wyatt Thorne, one of 6 brothers who owns a construction company together. This is the 2nd book in the Thorne bros. series. #JenReadsRitas
The heroine is Rhia Hollis, an event planner working in the same office, and bc of *jazz hands* reasons, they have to share an actual office. She's bright, shiny, and new; he's all locked down and serious. Sparks fly, as one would expect.
Pluses: Both Rhia and Thorne and likable characters. They both share similar feelings of figuring out how to belong and feel loved by their families, and they both think if they prove themselves responsible, they will "win" their families over. They're nicely paired.
Minuses: It's dual first person POV, but it wasn't every other chapter, so sometimes it's a couple Rhia chapters, than a Wyatt, etc. Narrative voices for each character were basically indistinguishable.
I think that also leads to my general feeling that the pacing was off. Plot devices unspooled too quickly or not fast enough. I honestly was guessing it was a first novel, I kept thinking "rookie mistakes!", but that's not the case. Kilraine has written several other books.
Verdict: For those of you that like a strong family bond (the Thorne brothers) and character work more than tight plotting.
I just want everyone to know that my spring break is ending and I swear to God my pace is going to slow way down soon. That's why I am doing as many as I can before next week, when I get real busy.

In other words, I swear I have a life. 🙃
I read A TALL, DARK COWBOY CHRISTMAS by Maisey Yates. It's in the contemporary long category. FWIW, this got me thinking about my preferences, so I'm going to review the book first, then talk about some other things after. #JenReadsRItas
The hero is Grant Dodge, he's been a widower for 8 years even though he's 34. He's struggling with depression and alcoholism. He works on his family's ranch or farm or whatever, but the opening establishes his profound unhappiness, including a moment of suicidal ideation
One night, he spies a light out in the woods and finds a young woman, McKenna Tate, hiding out in a cabin. She grew up in the foster system, and is now 26 & homeless. She has her birth certificate and hopes to find him in the nearby town.
When Grant finds her, he takes her to the family home where she is offered a job and a place to stay (more on this later). They agree to a no-strings affair that becomes something more.
Pluses: I liked that McKenna was unflinching about describing the dangers she faced as a single woman. One of Grant's sisters fights for the right to be taken seriously for her own ambitions. I like stories where 2 lost souls find each other.
Minuses: I think it's irresponsible to write a story where sex and love cure alcoholism and depression. It is well-established that Grant has been going to bed drunk for at least 10 years, probably longer (his wife died of cancer) as a coping strategy. It's just...fixed.
This book is essentially conflict-free. People are generally good to each other, and even if harsh words are said, everyone just takes a little time and think about it, talk to each other, and it's all fixed. Not only can all the characters perfectly describe their feelings...
... all the other characters thoughtfully listen and respond and then change accordingly. It might take a few days, but everyone will come around. Family ties are strong and family does the right thing.

Verdict: Boring but in a soothing way.
A personal observation from all this reading: I think I need a lot more action and real conflict in my romances. It's nice to believe that "talking" changes people, but that has not been my experience. Which is fine. I'm just trying to be honest.
OKAY. This romance by Maisey Yates is kind of the perfect opportunity to talk about how small town romances reinforce white supremacy. Sorry. But they do, and this one does it in TWO ways.
This book takes place in Oregon, and there are no people of color anywhere in it. Now, as you may or may not know, Oregon is REALLY WHITE for a reason:…
And these books, I would argue, harken back to simpler times: family, working with your hands, being "neighborly", etc.

These cowboy romances mostly traffic in the same kind of nostalgia as Amish romances--it's just that people have cell phones.
So with the rise of small town & cowboy romances, just think about the fact that they are doing IN BOOKS what the laws above did in practice: excluding people who "don't belong there."

Of course there aren't any black people in Gold Valley. BUT WHY.
Because Oregon was specifically set up to exclude them, that's why.…
But this book also has another thing it's doing: McKenna is basically found squatting in a cabin, and instead of calling the cops, or shooting her, they take her in. They feed her. They give her a job and a home.

But what if she wasn't white? I don't want to even think about it
But I think it's worth pointing out that maybe ICE would be called if she was Latinx, or the cops if she were black. Her treatment by the family and in the town would have been VERY VERY DIFFERENT. And I believe it is our responsibility as readers to notice this.
So that sense of welcoming her in, helping her get back on her feet, etc. That only happens because of their strong, shared cultural identity-- their race.

So if you read this book and feel warm and good inside, it's because you hope you'd be welcomed like that, too.
But who gets to believe that they would be welcomed that way? Who gets to see this small town fairy tale and think, "that could be me?"
Hopes to find HER FATHER in a nearby town. Whoops. Sorry.
Live footage of me right now:

[woman saying: I'm gonna take it for what it is right now, and I'm just gonna finish my sandwich]
I read RELAY Layla Reyne in the Contemporary mid-length category. This is a second chance romance starring two men who are Olympians and heading for the next summer Olympics.
One hero is Alex Cantu, a backstroker and this will be his second Olympics and he's also well respected enough to be voted the captain by his teammates. But, joining him at the Olympics this year is an old flame, Dane Ellis.
10 years ago when they were 16, Alex and Dane were roommates and lovers. It ended badly bc Dane's parents are very controlling and he was closeted. Now they are expected to be teammates, but they both harbor hard feelings from that long ago summer.
Pluses: I liked Alex best as a hero, and the camaraderie of the team.

Minuses: This is really messy on both a plot and character level. Honestly, I almost DNFd several times, but there are so few gay romances and I wanted to read as much as I could.
I struggled with the "we were 16 plot" because it seemed unlikely that it would have this impact. I don't enjoy 2nd Chance plots where neither character has moved on emotionally, especially from their teenage years.

I complained earlier about talk-talk-talk books?
This one needed way more communication! They honestly still act like teenagers, including an early fist fight so violent that they INJURE another swimmer so badly he's sent home and misses the Olympics. I struggled to believe that athletes at this level were so undisciplined.
The whole book is one big melodramatic plot twist after another. It's like the author got to 60% and was like, "Hmm. What can keep them apart now?"

I know just enough about swimming to be dangerous, and she needed to do more research.
Verdict: Not enough emotional connection between these 2 & the backstory was not enough for me to believe they are really in love. Dane's inability to stand up to his own parents at 26 made him seem sad and pathetic, and I doubted his ability to form an adult partnership.
Just a reminder, the twitter account @JenRitas breaks down this thread with a new anchor point for each book.
Good afternoon, y'all. I completed RELENTLESS by Elizabeth Dyer in the Romantic Suspense category. This is the 2nd in the Somerton Security series, and the 3rd book FEARLESS is also a finalist in this category.
The hero is Ethan Somerton, he is trying to gain access to a Colombian drug cartel to save a friend they have kidnapped. The heroine is Natalia Vega. Her uncle heads the cartel's American business and she is one of his assassins.
Pluses: I don't read tons of RomSuspense, but it seemed engaging and interesting enough. I was genuinely surprised at the reveal about who was embezzling funds from the cartel. I found Natalia's dedication to her sister to be poignant and believable.
Minuses: The dialogue/writing was slick in a way that made me feel like I was reading a screenplay.Perhaps this is common in the genre, but the dialogue especially was just too highly polished to seem real. Natalia & Ethan trust each other very fast, and I had no idea why.
It's difficult to hit that exact right point where the romance is not overwhelmed by the suspense, & I'm not sure this book hits the mark. There's tons of exposition at the beginning, and the resolution to the low moment was very rushed. The cartel story overwhelmed the romance.
Verdict: I'd read the next book in the series, but I wanted a stronger romance.

I found it difficult to judge the accuracy of the cartel business & the Colombian family. They speak some Spanish, they eat empanadas? idk. I didn't get the sense it was highly researched.
As an aside: I thought it was interesting that Natalia's problem with her uncle is the human trafficking, but she's not that bothered by the drug cartel side of the business. There's definitely a level of "acceptable crime" that happens in these books.
And that is just interesting to me, both for Ethan and for Natalia. It is one of the things I do enjoy the most about romantic suspense: that feeling that there is a whole other world where rules and boundaries are different.
chatted with my friend who is Colombian, and he said, "I hated growing up in the 80s when kids would "joke" with me all the time, asking me how many kilos I had. So having a Colombian drug cartel be a thing in 2019 is bad. All the drug cartels are American now. Like Pfizer."
Good morning! I read BAD BACHELOR by Stefanie London, which is a finalist in the Contemporary Long category. #JenReadsRitas
Reed McMahon is just a typical Manhattan executive, until a dating app ranks him New York's #1 "Bad Bachelor" for his unrepentant serial dating. But when he's assigned to do pro bono PR for a local library, he meets Darcy Greer who isn't interested in his usual moves.
PLUSES: I say this as praise-- this book was like romance comfort food to me. It hit all the right beats. This had what I consider to be textbook romance pacing, pleasing growth arcs for each MC and for them as a couple, and a strong cast of secondary characters.
WISHES: some worn tropes here: redeemed manwhore, misunderstood prickly heroine--but I think Stefanie London deftly pulls it off. A lot of the plotting runs on coincidence---suddenly these 2 see each other everywhere, which I don't love and just decided to overlook bc it was fun.
There's an interesting mix of nostalgia & modernity at work here: In 2018, does anyone in Brooklyn really care about a woman with tattoos? Reed's love of baseball is sweet. Does anyone really drive into Manhattan when they could take the subway?
Similarly: I wasn't sure about the Bad Bachelor app subplot. It's supposed to be a meta-commentary on how the digital and personal intersect, but I'm not sure it works, bc the intent of the creator isn't how it's actually used. The question of whose hurt matters is unresolved.'s a 3 book series, so I'm willing to give that time to build.

VERDICT: It's not suprising or flashy, but this is a solidly built romance that knows what a romance should do and does it well. Attempts to tackle a big idea through likable main characters.
Greetings, everyone. I finished A WICKED KIND OF HUSBAND by Mia Vincy. This is a finalist for both the historical long category and best first book. #JenReadsRitas
Lady Cassandra DeWitt agreed to a marriage of convenience w/ Mr. Joshua DeWill two years ago: but she only saw her husband at the wedding, and that night they "did their duty" he disappeared from their lives. However, her sister Lucy is 19 and needs a season. Off to London we go.
Joshua has suffered many tragedies in his past, and he wants nothing to do with his wife. He's too busy running businesses, making money, and dreaming up big ideas. But Cassandra makes herself impossible to ignore.
Pluses: I can see why this ended up in the "best first book" category. It feels very fresh and the tone and story were quite enjoyable. Cassandra is a wonderful heroine. I liked Joshua, too, but he was a bit harder for me to get a handle. on.
Wishes: This book made me think a lot about plotting, and I don't know if I can fully formulate those thoughts right now. TO ME, the plot has to build up cohesively with the build up of the romance. IRL, random shit happens and we deal with it.
But in a romance, when random shit happens, it can feel like a distraction or something meant to elongate the book. And I'd say that this book, especially in the last 25%, the plotting got away from the author--it doesn't quite stick the landing.
HOWEVER, it's really hard to stick the landing, and so I don't see that as taking away from what is a very strong first novel. But, this is a CW, but kind of spoilery so it happens so late, so please skip the next tweet....
There's a miscarriage in the last 7% that honestly is nothing more than a plot device, and I think it was a mistake. Rookie mistake, maybe? But a mistake.

I think if you show a traumatic event on page, you should also show healing on page. That didn't happen here. YMMV.
Verdict: One to watch. Definitely will read her next book.
Good morning, I read LOVING A WARRIOR by Melanie Hansen, which is a finalist in the contemporary mid-length category. This is a gay romance about two men, Shane and Matt, who meet as they are about to enter BUD/s (Navy SEAL) training. #JenReadsRitas
Matt Knytych has wanted to follow a beloved uncle's footsteps into being a Navy SEAL his entire life & he's READY. It's the day before the official start of training when he runs (literally) into Shane Hovland. He feels an instant attraction, but now is no time to get distracted.
Meanwhile, Shane was a Marine and is also headed to SEAL training. Like Matt, Shane feels instantly attraction, but he also is fighting his own demons--- family troubles & the loss of a friend who was a SEAL.
Pluses: Matt & Shane are both interesting, compelling characters. Even though Matt is younger, he has a better sense of himself and encourages Shane to really examine his goals and to be a better person. Not that Shane's a bad guy, he just has some weighty secrets.
Wishes: This book, especially the first half, is overwhelmed by the demands of BUD/s training on both characters. By using this as the setting, there's really no way to get the romance moving, bc both men are occupied with something that is literally all-consuming.
I'm not sure if that would be a deal-breaker for people, but it's worth noting that if I was a real smart-ass, I might call this "Men's Fiction", bc the romance isn't primary for a huge part of the story. Shane's sister has an important subplot, but this is a very male world.
There are some timeline issues that didn't quite make sense to me, and some writing that lacked clarity. Here's an example that stood out to me: how could Matt be in the Navy and yet never have seen the Ocean before SEAL training? What?
This was not a deal breaker obviously, but I found myself stopping a lot to "make sense" of something like this. Maybe it just needed tighter editing?

Verdict: I feel confident that Hansen must have done a tremendous amount of research, but the romance felt secondary.
However, if anyone is looking for a realistic look at the challenges that would face a gay couple who are both in one of the most demanding professions in the world, I would recommend it.
I don't read a lot of military and police romances, but the focus on "Training" rather than the actual work helped me stay interested. I don't really do all that well with the valorization of American military might, but I do love the movie GI JANE. It's complicated.
Good morning. I read THE BASTARD'S BARGAIN by Katee Robert. This is a finalist in the romantic suspense category. This is book 6 in the O'Malley series and I haven't read any of the others, but judges might be in the same boat, so fine.
In this book, Dmitri Romanov is the head of a New York crime family, and in order to cement his place, he marries Keira O'Malley who is the sister of the head of a Boston crime family. Being new to the series, it was clear there was lots of backstory, but I didn't feel too lost.
I was chatting with someone who told me a little bit about Dmitri in previous books, and it's clear there was some VERY BAD BEHAVIOR, so this is villain-gets redeemed plot. I didn't know any of that other stuff, so I have no idea how long term readers of the series will feel.
Pluses: VERY SEXY and I liked that a lot. Dmitri is pleasantly complicated to me. He's clearly a bad guy, but he really cares about Keira as a person and not just as a pawn. A big part of the plot is her coming to realize that about him.
I like a heroine who is a fighter & Keira goes though some things. She is an alcoholic and there is a clear path to recovery and she knows she will be fighting it forever. To me, it was the perfect mix of "this is really hard but her recovery can't be the whole book." YMMV.
Wishes: This being America, it's just a fact that white criminals get to be anti-heroes rather than thugs. Idk how to feel about it. I haven't read the whole series, but here the two bad guys are both women, a mother and daughter, and I didn't know how to feel about that either.
Verdict: I enjoyed this book a lot and am very interested in going back to read the whole series.

One thing this book made me think about a lot was the difference between CULTURAL tropes vs ROMANCE-SPECIFIC tropes.
I have big thoughts about Amish and small town romances and how damaging they are. These are very romance specific, and therefore feel like they deserve specific unpacking. Why are we as romance readers/writers/publishers creating these stories. What does it say about us?
The Bastard's Bargain may be doing something just as damaging (redeeming the bad guys if they're white), but it feels so much broader. This is a story I see on TV, in movies, in other books ALL THE TIME. I still *wonder* at it, but it doesn't make me as furious.
So I have some things to unpack, too. Just because a problematic trope is MORE PERVASIVE in our culture, it's not less damaging. Maybe it's more so? But that guilt seems more diffused, too, because it's everywhere. It's complicated.
Good evening. I finished WHAT ALES THE EARL by Sally MacKenzie. This is a finalist in the historical short category. This is a second chance at love story between an Earl and a farmer's daughter.
10 years ago, when Penelope was 17 and Harry was 18, they were friends and then lovers. Harry went off to war, neither of them realized she was pregnant. Now Harry is back and has inherited the title, his mother desperately wants him to marry and have heirs.
Meanwhile, Pen was forced to leave home & live with an aunt. Eventually she landed at a home for widows and children. Pen and her 2 friends, Jo and Caro, grow hops and brew beer they call The Widow's Brew. Harry has some business in her village, and realizes he has a daughter.
Pluses: I was kind of worried about this beer-brewing business, but the truth is IDNGAF about "historical accuracy" and I just rolled with it. I liked the way Pen & her friends fought for independence in an unfair world. Pen is a great character and a good mother.
This is a nice book about people who made mistakes and are honest with each other and with themselves. I very much liked the Pen talked to her daughter about what was going on once the village figures out what is going on. (Pen had lied about a husband who died in the war.)
Wishes: Because this is a nice book about people doing the right thing, there wasn't much conflict. There is an upsetting scene at the beginning with the vicar, who was courting Pen but attempts to rape her once he discovers she was "a whore."
The other conflict is that Pen & Harry can never marry because of EnglandTimes™️ Rules. Harry is practically engaged to a lady named Susan. She ends up being pretty terrible and mean, cartoonishly so.
The fact that Susan is so awful was just kind of a bummer in a book where all the other women are supportive of each other.

Verdict: The best part for me was the straightforward depiction of how inequality (sexism and class) impact women.
If you like marriage plots & strong female characters you'll like this book. If you nitpick historical accuracy or ahistorically feminist thinking, this might not be for you. I liked it.
I completed KNOCKED-UP CINDERELLA by Julie Hammerle in the contemporary: mid-length category. #JenReadsRitas
This is a book about Erin Sharpe, 40 year old elementary school principal and businessman Ian Donovan---He only has one night stands, she's a serial monogamist. They meet at a benefit for her school/his alma mater, have great (mostly off page) sex, but she ends up pregnant.
Based on blurb alone, I was really dreading this, because those snarky 1st person present blurbs really aren't doing anyone any favors. The book is actually dual POV. The timeline of the book follows Erin's pregnancy.
Pluses: I liked Erin a lot. I live in Chicago, and all the Chicago details were right on. It's well written with a likable cast of supporting characters.

Wishes: Ian is a real piece of work & this book reads less like a romance than a description of his personal journey.
I'm fascinated by the romance-blueprint for heroes who are total commitment-phobes. This is TEXTBOOK.

Verdict: I have mixed feelings about it AS A ROMANCE, because in the 40 wks of her pregnancy, they are actually TOGETHER, as in physically in the same space, only 5 or 6 times.
After the 1NS, they fuck once, go to 2 doctor's appointments, meet at another benefit, text a lot...but mostly they avoid each other. Ian is on a journey to recognize he has feelings and to be a fucking grown-up; and Erin is on a journey of being pregnant and less of doormat.
Is there enough here to show they have fallen in love? It wasn't for me, but I can see that there are some readers who might be rooting for this family to work out. I think this is a true case of YMMV.
I read about 50 pages of Sargeant Sexypants by Tawna Fenske. This is finalist in the contemporary mid-length category. It is 3rd in a series but could be a read alone.
Bree Bracelyn works at her family's resort in Oregon, and they are just getting ready to open. She has a hard and fast "no dating cops" rule, but she meets local police officer Austin Dugan and it's clear they are attracted to each other.
Austin is a stickler for the rules. He's about to be promoted to lieutenant, but refuses to answer to his new title until the ink is dry. He definitely doesn't like everyone assuming he'll be the next Sheriff just because his father (the current sheriff) is about to retire.
I was very interested in this because it bills itself as romantic comedy, which is something we all need more of these days.

Pluses: Austin has a nice relationship with his Dad, and it's kind of cute how the Dad plays matchmaker. Austin is into her, and I always like that.
The humor is mostly "kooky small town charm."For example, one of Austin's elementary school teacher wants to make a "hot cops" calendar. Bree has a litany of nicknames like "Srgt. Sexypants" and "Captain Tastycakes." I don't know if people will find it funny.
Wishes: There's no subtlety here. Austin proudly notes he's a total stickler for the rules, and Bree's "no cops" rule isn't because of a bad ex-, or not wanting a partner in danger--it's because she fears their deductive prowess. She's hiding something, but it wasn't compelling.
Here's where I DNFd: Austin & his Dad (the Sheriff), are at breakfast. They see a high-school girl outside & the Sheriff asks Austin to follow his lead. He gets up in her face and accuses her being a weapons terrorist. Austin knows it's some kind of stunt but goes along with it.
The Sheriff mentions taking her to jail, talks about calling it in, tells her to open the trunk. But LOL, it's just a Promposal-type thing and a boy arrives with a "you've arrested my heart" sign. The boy's Dad works on the force and asked the Sheriff to do this bc it's cute!
Sorry, but there is nothing cute about terrorizing teenage girls, and I feel like I shouldn't even really have to point out that only white people would even think this "fake arrest" scenario was at all charming or amusing in the first place.

Verdict: DNF
I finished A BABY TO BIND HIS BRIDE by Caitlin Crews, which is a finalist in the contemporary short category. #JenReadsRitas
When reviewing, I try to judge a book on what it's trying to achieve. This book is a Harlequin Presents, which has the ethos of "let's jam every damn trope we can into this sucker and you will love it." And this is a FUCKING PERFECT example of what HPs are trying to achieve.
The heroine is Susannah Betancur, who is known worldwide as the Widow Betancur because when she was 19 on the day of her wedding, her husband "died" in a plane crash.

She searches for him, because she just knows that until she sees proof that her MANLY, POSSESSIVE, DID I MENTION MANLY husband, Leonidas Betancur is dead--she won't believe it.

4 years later, she finds him. In Idaho. As the leader of a cult. That's chapter 1.
Pluses: I used to devour Harlequin Presents like candy back in the day, and this hits all those notes: amnesia, DRAMA, money, jet-setting, evil family, possessive men, you name it. The big change is a stronger heroine that is his match rather than an 80s doormat-heroine.
Wishes: If you don't like Harlequin Presents, then all the OTT plot points: the amnesia, DRAMA, money, jet-setting, evil family, possessive men, will probably make you want to throw the book through the window.

Verdict: UTTER PERFECTION, but in that Harlequin Presents way. YMMV
Oh damnit, that tweet should have said VIRGIN WIDOW trope. I regret nothing. I felt like I WAS NINETEEN AGAIN when I read it.
Just a reminder everyone, you can keep better track of this megathread over at @JenRitas, which numbers the books and provides anchor points to that book's discussion.
Good afternoon! I read AN EARL LIKE YOU by Caroline Linden. This is a finalist is the historical long category. #JenReadsRitas
Hugh Deveraux inherits the Earldom and realizes that the whole fucking thing is bankrupt. He can't bear to reveal his father's malfeasance to his mother or sisters, so he ruthlessly does the only thing he can to keep them afloat: gambling. As one does.
2 years later, a wealthy merchant basically blackmails Hugh into marrying his 22 year old spinster daughter, Eliza, and in return he'll wipe away Hugh's debts. The catch: Hugh can't reveal the truth and has to court Eliza and win her hand with the promise of love.
Pluses: This is a well-written and well-constructed. It would have been very easy to make Hugh merciless and Eliza a chump, but I liked them both a lot. High stakes leading to emotional stakes is a favorite of mine, and this works.
Wishes: Man, whoever wrote this blurb didn't do readers any favors. It gives away the whole fucking ballgame. The events described here happen on page 300 out of 365. And obviously we know Eliza is going to figure it out, but I figured it would happen idk, on like page 180? Lol. But when Eliza discovers that there is more to the man she loves—and to her marriage—her trust is shattered. And it will take all of Hugh’s power to prove...
Verdict: Recommended. In general, I dislike lying plots, but truly enjoyed this book. It's always nice to discover a great read in an unfavored trope. I liked that Eliza and Hugh are both on journeys of their own, and I loved seeing them become better people for each other.
I'd also recommend this as a starter romance. Because of all the business about dowries, entailments, the aristocracy, and the rules of society---It would be a great way to introduce new readers into the basics of the regency romance.
One last thing, I was at KissCon last week and Caroline Linden was there, and I bought the few Avon books that were Rita finalists I didn't have. I had the author sign it, but check out this swag. it's a little booklet with a bonus chapter of the book!
It's a little booklet with a bonus chapter that goes between the end and the epilogue, and is mostly about her dummy, clueless father who just really loves her and that's why he interferes.

I'd take this kind of reader swag A MILLION TIMES over a pen or whatever. 💯
So, get yourself a publisher that looks at readers the way Avon looks at Eliza and Hugh.
Good morning, I read about 30% of A FOOL AND HIS MANNY by Amy Lane. This is a finalist in the contemporary: short category.
At the beginning of the book, Quinlan is 27 and Dustin is 21. But Quin has been the nanny to Dustin and his siblings for the past seven years. Now, there is a long storied history of the guardian/ward trope in romance, but I think it is harder than ever to pull off.
In this case, the author makes an interesting choice. Quin's been away for a few months (he's a musician who travels while the kids are on summer vacation), and he returns to find Dusty masturbating in his bed. Quin's sick, Dusty takes care of him, then...
It's the 4% mark, there is a flashback in time to when Quin at 20 first agrees to be the nanny. Dusty is 14. And this flashback, which lasts until the 40% mark, goes through some key parts of their nanny/child relationship.
My guess is that the author wanted to show that Quin did not feel a hint of sexual attraction towards Dusty when he was young, in fact, only after Dusty is 21 do we see DUSTY as the one who recognizes his own feelings and flat out tells Quin that he's interested in him.
But, that flashback also has 20 year old Quin coming to pick up 14 year old Dusty from the middle school principal's office after tangling with a bully, all I could think was--I don't want this in an adult romance. I don't want THIS CHILD to be the hero later.
At this point, I'd like to remind you that I am a middle school teacher. As soon as that happened, I was out in a big way. Others might not have this response, and that's fine, too.
But, I think it's a cautionary tale to writers tackling guardian/ward romances. in the past, maybe it was a more trusting time, and readers would believe that there was no sexual impropriety towards a child.
But in 2019 when there are so many scandals about sexual abuse of children, a guardian/ward romance probably has no choice but to make it clear that NOTHING HAPPENED when the ward was a child... but... I don't know if it can be done in a way that is ever going to work for me.
Verdict: DNF. This is a trope that has always been and will always be a problem for me because of my job. I appreciate the author's attempt to try and make it work, but I just couldn't do it. YMMV.
Good afternoon, I completed THE CAPTAINS' VEGAS VOWS by Caro Carson. This is a finalist in the contemporary short category. #JenReadsRitas
Captain Helen Pallas (I'll be honest, I generally think I'm good at the overt symbolism, but for whatever reason, I get this is a reference to The Trojan War, but not quite sure why) wakes up to find she's married one morning in Vegas, only weeks after her divorce is final.
The groom is Tom Cross and she doesn't remember anything about the night before--just flashes of very hot sex. Tom is CRAZY in love with her and frustrated, angry, and disappointed that she can't remember. She blows out of the hotel room for Ft. Hood.
When she arrives, she discovers that Tom is Captain Tom Cross, he's also stationed at Ft. Hood, and the commanding officer orders them to live together and go to marriage counseling. Tom & Helen have to live together for at least 3 months before they can file for divorce.
Pluses: It's a fairly complicated set up, but one that the author pulls off, I think. It doesn't seem ridiculous or silly, even though it easily could have been. This is all about the emotional journey between them--can they fall in love again? will she remember that magical day?
Wishes: There's basically no external conflict, and I found myself wondering how the author would muscle through, it largely works. But the truth is, I felt like Helen---I wanted more on the day they got married. For story reasons, I get why. But...the heart wants what it wants.
Verdict: Recommended. Even though it's an unorthodox "marriage in trouble" story, I think it's successful. A good category romance is a perfect package, and this delivers.
PS: Also unexpectedly hot for a category romance. Let's just say that Captain Cross has tremendous upper body strength and knows how to use it.
Good evening! I finished NOT IF I SAVE YOU FIRST by Ally Carter. This is a finalist in the young adult romance category. It's delightful.

Our story begins with 10 year olds Logan and Maddie. He's the First Son, her Dad is a secret service agent and they are playing in the White House before a State Dinner when there is an attack by evil Russians. The kids witness Logan's Mom almost being kidnapped.
As an aside, on #MuellerThursday, the 80s girl in me deeply appreciates that the Russians are the Bad Guys again. Kinda wild that like a third of Americans don't feel that way? I must say, growing up, I always thought we'd win the Cold War. Funny how that turned out, huh?
Anyhoo, after the attack, Maddie & her Dad move to the Alaskan wilderness. She writes lots of letters to Logan but he never writes back. 6 years later, Logan has run off from his secret service detail one too many times and gets sent to Alaska as a kind of punishment.
All their parents thought the kids would like seeing each other again, but Maddie is ROYALLY PISSED at Logan for ignoring her, but then he gets kidnapped and she has to save him, survive the wilderness, escape the bad Russians.

Also, she has a bedazzled axe. As one does.
Pluses: As with all good YA, Maddie and Logan are free of parental supervision and have to save themselves. Maddie is snarky and funny and is basically a 16 year old James Bond--she can do anything and make a silly quip afterwards.
She's like LOGAN DO WHAT I TELL YOU, and then he does it. 100% Girl Power.

Minuses: I think YA should be judged on its own merits, and there aren't a whole lot of minuses. Adults will notice some implausible plot/character development, but kids wouldn't care.
Verdict: This is a super fun YA read. The romance is sweet but the "surviving the wilderness and saving everyone from the bad guys" is the main story. I don't know if I think it should win best YA Romance...but I am happy to have read it.

Give it to your kids.
Oh, if you're wondering what age of kids---completely appropriate for 11 or 12 year olds and up. Kisses only, not a whole lot of swearing (if any). There is some violence, but it's not too gruesome.

I'm going to book talk it to the middle school next week.
Good afternoon! I finished A SCANDALOUS DEAL by Joanna Shupe. This is a finalist in this historical long category. This is the 2nd in the Four Hundred Series. (I read and loved the first in the series, A Daring Arrangement).
Our heroine is Lady Eva Hyde, known throughout England as Lady Unlucky since she's been engaged 3x and each of her fiancees died accidentally. Her father is a famous architect, but he's in poor health and squandered all their money.
She's on her way to NYC to oversee construction of his latest design for hotelier Phillip Mansfield---only it's really HER design. She's passed off the work as her father's to earn the commission. She can't hope to be accepted in her chosen profession because she's a woman.
Phillip is all buttoned up and rigid, but has no choice but to accept Eva on the construction project until her father is well enough to travel to England.

Pluses: I loved this novel. I enjoy historicals, & I love a good regency, but these gilded age NY novels by Shupe are 💯
It's just a real pleasure as a romance reader to get out of those stuffy ballrooms. I deeply appreciate that the inclusive nature of the book--Phillip helps a lesbian friend escape her controlling parents, the engineer on the project is black man, the workers are a diverse group.
Wishes: I don't love a plot where one character is lying to another, and Eva spends a lot of time feeling bad about it. But she's so trapped by circumstances that it largely worked for me. There is A LOT of plot, but it's tightly controlled and felt necessary to the story.
Verdict: Recommended. I loved the way the romance played out, with Eva taking charge of her own choices and Phillip being unsure of how to treat a woman who is so determined to be an equal.
I have a general observation to make about historical romances that are finalists in 2018. Anyone interested?
So many of these novels and novellas feature women who are interested in working outside the home---teachers, brewers, architects, etc. And that's just in these few books! Many others in the past year have had ambitious women.
I love these stories. Of course women have always had ambition and found ways to be productive members of society. I would imagine many women read these stories and, like me, feel very powerful and inspired.
Then I like to imagine the naysayers arrive: that's now how it was, that's not accurate, women didn't have those ambitions. These books aren't "historically accurate."
Imagine it was primarily men/masc. people who said that, who refused to believe these stories about how women strove to be what they wanted in the world. I'd be pissed.
I don't think this is a mistake--I daily see my rights as a cishet women contracting. And white women did that, not only to WoC but to ourselves. So it doesn't surprise me to see historical romance authors setting up grappling hooks into the idea that women have ambition.
It seems so clearly a response to our current political climate.

But those fears I have for myself are NOTHING compared to the fear I have for trans & non-binary ppl. I feel the policing of gender more than ever, even as my pwn understanding is more expansive.
I am afraid. So, so afraid.

So to read historicals that remind me that PEOPLE FIGHT, that it's how the world changes. I need that right now.
BUT FURTHERMORE, I've found myself thinking a lot about how some white and/or cishet people act towards romances that are more inclusive. Let's welcome all stories. As long as there have been people, there have been those yearning for love, happiness, and personal fulfillment.
Don't be a spoiler, don't tell people their stories aren't valid. If you glory in the story of a woman yearning to be an architect, then cheer for other people building their stories of love, too.

I hope I'm preaching to the choir, it's more beautiful with all our voices in it.
Good afternoon, I read 50% of LENNON REBORN by Scarlett Cole. This is a finalist in the Contemporary mid-length category. This is the 4th book in a series, but I haven't read the others. #JenReadsRitas
The hero is Lennon McCartney and the heroine is Georgia Starr, and I just want you to know this entire book was a lot for me. I am trying very hard to be fair, but this book raised too many questions for me about...well, everything.
The book opens with Lennon on stage. He is the drummer for a rock band, and he and his bandmates have been together as friends for years, ever since they were in a group home. Yet he remains convinced that they are just "putting up with him."
He had a miserable childhood. The book includes flashbacks to when he was 4 and lived in a crib all day with only an older sister to take care of him. For him to retain vivid memories of himself at 4 is implausible, if not impossible.
The heroine is a famous neurosurgeon. She's 36, but in order to make her a neurosurgeon, the author has created a 100% implausible timeline. That's not how any of this works.
At the end of the first chapter, the band's bus is in a hideous accident and Lennon's arm must be amputated. Georgia happens to be driving by and gives medical support, and she saves Lennon's life even though he tells her he wants to die bc he's so miserable in this life.
After he wakes up, he shuts out the entire band, but Georgia helps him and they strike up an affair.

Pluses: I guess if you like the Beatles the naming protocol and Beatles lyrics sprinkled throughout will be good for you.
Wishes: Georgia is PERFECTLY AWARE of his deep, profound mental health issues. He tells her he wants to die. She befriends him, she makes out with him, but she does not get him professional help. It's inexplicable professional behavior, even if she is not his actual doctor.
Verdict: I understand perfectly well that romance is the genre of hope. But when authors CHOOSE to create deeply traumatized characters, I have questions about why. This did not feel like the emergence of a healthy, loving relationship, it felt deeply, deeply problematic. DNF.
Of course traumatized people deserve romance and love, but this feels terrifically unfair. I respect people who have the courage to heal, and I wish romance would do a better job of showing that journey.
Good evening, I read CONSUMED by JR Ward. This is a finalist in the romantic suspense category. #JenReadsRitas
The heroine is Anne Ashburn. She's a firefighter, and with a name like that, what else would we expect. Part 1 of the book describes how she breaks protocol during a fire, gets trapped under a collapsed beam, and Danny McGuire has to amputate her hand with an axe to get her out.
As an aside: Did anyone else notice this was the 2nd book in a row with a heavy-handed-symbolic-name-for-profession AND an arm amputation? Just me, then.
This scene is real terrible on many levels, not the least of which is the 1NS they had 3 weeks ago. Danny is also grievously injured in the fire. Fast forward 10 months as they reconnect as Anne investigates a string of arsons.
Pluses: Anne is fierce AF and is determined not to let losing a hand keep her from having a life. Typical for JR Ward, there are lots of POV characters: Anne, Danny, Anne's brother, a few other firefighters. A manageable number of head-hopping.
Wishes: Real talk, I am not sure why it's in this category. This is JR Ward making a foray into genre thrillers (maybe) and barely qualifies as a romance. Yes, Danny and Anne get together, but it was not the main narrative thrust. I'm not sure what the main narrative thrust was.
The "mystery" doesn't really heat up until the last third, and even then, it's not all that compelling. It just felt...idk. Maybe it was trying to walk a very fine line of "enough romance for romance readers, enough mystery for suspense readers" but instead was just boring.
Verdict: I think nostalgia for those early BDB books is what kept me going, to be honest. I probably would have been better off re-reading one of those and leaving the nostalgia at the door.
Good evening, I read MY SO CALLED BOLLYWOOD LIFE by Nisha Sharma. This is a finalist in the young adult romance category. It's wonderful.
Our heroine is Winnie Mehta. She's about to start her senior year, but her *fated mate* Raj just broke up with her and Winnie is seriously pissed. A trusted family astrologer told her that a boy that has a first name that starts with R would be her destiny!
(It's not quite Fated Mates in the adult romance way, but there's definitely a prophecy, etc. However, you will all be happy to know that no limbs were lost anywhere in this book. Please listen to our podcast @FatedMates for more information. 😂 /shameless self promo)
But it turns out the break-up with Raj might be a good thing, because all of a sudden an old friend from freshman year, Dev Khanna, is showing he's seriously interested in her! She's also having dreams where Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan gives her life & love advice.
Pluses: Everything. This is a wonderful romance. Winnie is a great heroine, and the nods to Bollywood drama make for such a superfun read. Of course what with the Fated Mates podcast, I loved all the discussions around free will vs. fate and how you know when it's your true love.
Wishes: Oh goodness, that someone make it into a movie? That I would love it if this was a hyperlinked digital text where you could click on the name of the movie and watch the scene that's referenced? That Dev's dance sequence was something I could see for real?
Verdict: Wonderful and you should all read it.

It's interesting to me that there is a YA romance category, and obviously, there's no way to gauge or judge this as a metric in the RITAs, but if I were judging, I'd be thinking "which YA book will create FUTURE romance readers?"
My So Called Bollywood Life delivers on that promise. It is both a great YA novel, but it also hits the romance beats. It really is a book that would catapult teen readers into being romance readers, and it seems like RWA should think about how to cultivate those readers.
Take my advice and check it out and and then participate in the @sparkjoyromance discussion starting May 15th!

Good morning, I read LADY IN WAITING by Marie Tremayne, finalists in historical long and also for best first book. I have a lot of complicated feelings about this book. #JenReadsRitas
Our heroine is Clara Mayfield. In the prologue, Clara helps her sister run away with a man below their station. And although they come from a wealthy family and have kind parents, there's no wiggle room on this. But the scandal means Clara is ignored all season.
At the last ball, a reprehensible predator of a man, a baron, makes an offer for Clara knowing her parents have no choice but to accept. The night before their wedding, Clara runs away and pretends to be a maid on the country estate of William, Earl of Ashworth.
William and most of his close family--his parents, brother, and others--were in a carriage accident. He was the lone survivor and inherits the Earldom. But he's suffering from PTSD and avoids society. But he does feel this undeniable attraction to the new maid.
Pluses: I think is is powerful when romance shows the way women are trapped by circumstances, and how few resources they have at their disposal for escape. The writing is strong.
Wishes: It's complicated. Yes, I believe in judging a book by what it's trying to achieve, but I also want us to think carefully about the messaging in a story where the entire plot revolves around a rich woman pretending to do low-class work...
... but the HEA is her returning to her original life without learning anything meaningful about class.

One particular incident where Clara saves William's niece CLEARLY shows that the better judgment of servants is crushed because they fear losing their jobs.
But neither Clara or William thinks,"Hmm maybe it would be beneficial to trust the servants to be more creative problem solvers." But I don't actually think the author intended us to think this, I think we're just supposed to admire Clara for being different and BETTER.
Verdict: I respect the writing and even that Marie Tremayne tried to tackle a pretty big topic--how women can be and are victimized by predatory men. But for me, the unexamined class issues made me uncomfortable.
To be fair, capitalism has embedded into every fabric of our society the idea that rich people are simply more capable, brave, and hard-working. This is bigger than romance. I don't blame Marie Tremayne for that, but I did notice it and it was troubling.
There are so many ways in which romance attempts to subvert the patriarchy but is happy to gobble up capitalism with a big, shiny spoon. And I get why, I do, but if you're going to put class differences this stark on page and not deal with them? idk.
With this book, I've finished the historical long category. I think Joanna Shupe & Caroline Linden's books are the strongest here and would expect one of them to win.
Good afternoon, I read the beginning and end of CRY BABY by Ginger Scott. This is a finalist is the young adult romance category. #JenReadsRitas
The hero is 17 year old Tristan Lopez he's been mixed up in a gang his whole life, because his father founded the gang. The heroine is Riley Rojas. She's just moved to the small midwestern city of Miller for her senior year.
Pluses: Riley shaves her head at one point to prove to the boys in the neighborhood that she can play ball. She develops a strong friendship with a girl named Lauren.
Wishes: This book traffics in the worst stereotypes about Latinx communities (impoverished, broken families, gangbangers), but there are zero cultural markers except these negative stereotypes, so they also feel generically white. Quite a feat.
The set-up is classic white savior narrative, with Tristan's pretty blond guidance counselor being the only one who cares about his future. I could not bring myself to read the entire thing. I did read the end and have a very hard time even classifying this as a romance.
I teach middle school & I am very tired, VERY TIRED, of every story about black and brown kids being about tragedy, loss, and pain. In MG and YA books, especially those written by white people, brown and black kids are almost one of these: impoverished, imprisoned, or enslaved.
Verdict: DNF and now I'm pissed.

Having now read all 3 finalists in this category, I can assure you that the only acceptable just outcome will be for My So-Called Bollywood Life to win.
I try to check my threads for errors before posting, but sometimes I'm big mad and don't. Sorry for the many typos in the Cry Baby tweets.
Also, here's the author's statement on what caused her to write the book, which I personally find full of red flags, particularly her statements that she relied on mainstream reporting but doesn't appear to have talked to anyone herself.…
also, a reminder that you can follow this hella long thread @jenritas.
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