I should be more excited about the books nominated for the 2009 RITAs (for best romance novels) and Golden Hearts (for best unpublished romance manuscripts), especially since I'll be attending them this year, but I can't really muster much of a response.
Mostly, this is because I disliked more than a couple of the titles that are now finalists, and I'm feeling a bit of Reviewer's Angst for not liking them more. I mean, these are the titles that could receive the highest honour in the romance community, and yet I cannot consider them in any way to be the best model of the romantic form, in my own humble opinion.
My general reaction as I read the list, in point form:
-Private Arrangements nominated twice? M'eh. This was a book I thought was meticulously and skillfully executed, but failed to emotionally engage me. Sometimes reviewing a romance can be difficult because in my head I give it a Technical Grade and an Emotional Grade. PA got a high Technical Grade from me because it was well written and researched with a fantastically realized setting, but a low Emotional Grade because I couldn't engage with the characters or the storyline.
-Series Romance Categories? Skip, skip, skip... (I've never read more than one series romance - partly because of the truly horrendous experience I had with that one, and partly because I don't consider them enough story to be worth their price)
-Snowfall at Willow Lake? That could bode well. It's already on my TBR pile. However, checking some of the finalists' reviews at All About Romance, a disturbingly large number of them earned a simple B or lower (and I coincide with AAR's grades pretty frequently, but not always). Haven't checked SaWL (I never check reviews of books on my TBR that I haven't read yet), so I have no idea what to expect.
-Sweet Talk? Okay, I gave this one a good grade, but again, I can't help but flash back to the abomination that was Sweet Trouble (so bad it ruined the trilogy and made me give away even Talk to the Used Book Store, even though I gave it a B+).
-Duchess By Night in the Historical Category. I enjoyed that book, but even though I've been collecting EJ books like crazy I never get as excited about reading them. They're excellent while I'm reading them, but I have a bizarre type of selective memory that makes them fade in my esteem the longer I go without reading them.
-Also Seduce Me By Sunrise got nominated. Big surprise. I like Lisa Kleypas in measured doses but simply reading the excerpt of this novel nearly sent me into a sugar coma.
-Sigh.... To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt - she's another source of my Reviewer's Angst. People go crazy for her novels and I've read two of them and while they were pleasant I could never really get what all the huge fuss was about.
-Inspirational Romance ... skip, skip, skip - even though I'm a practicing Catholic, I steer clear of Inspirationals for the most part, probably because so few of them have Catholic characters. I'm not anti-Protestant by any means, but when I went to Harlequin's website and looked up their writing guidelines about Inspirational Romance, it gave me the heebie jeebies: protagonists and Christian secondary characters can't swear, drink, play cards, celebrate Halloween, kiss with lust in their hearts (as opposed to simple tenderness) or lie unless there's a good reason and they redeem themselves by the end. So ... the Jewish, atheist and Muslim characters in these novels are allowed to lie and do bad things? Gee ... Also, their guidelines for which historical periods to use in Inspirational Romance is either a) Jesus' time or b) after the Reformation so ... huh, I guess that means no historical time periods where everyone is Catholic. How convenient. Pass!
-Novel with strong romantic elements category - Tribute is the only one I've heard of and it got bitchslapped by critics.
-For the Paranormal Category - Dragon Wytch? SERIOUSLY? This novel combined two things I despise - people who replace "i"s with "y"s in words for absolutely no fucking reason other than they want to sound magical (no one is actually called a "wytch" in the novel, by the way), and a story that serves primarily as a bridge between two more important novels and so has no real plot of its own. A magical witch gets shagged by a her three boyfriends and learns to use a magical unicorn horn, then shags her two remaining boyfriends when her main boyfriend goes missing. Riveting stuff.
-Reading the Regency Historical Romance category, my eyes bugged out of my head at the nomination for Celeste Bradley's Duke Most Wanted. I read one of her Duke books. It did not impress me overmuch. Indeed, it was one of my Worst Books of 2008. Julia Quinn's Mr Cavendish, I Presume was nominated - and while I love me some Julia Quinn, I was expecting The Lost Duke of Wyndham to be nominated. From what I gathered reading other people's reviews, many readers were put off by the fact that Mr Cavendish mirrored a lot of the events of its sister book (the two plots occur at the same time), so that it was almost like reading the same book twice. However, I haven't read either so I can't really say. Myself, I plan on reading the two books with a suitably large cushion of time between them so I won't have this reaction.
-I've been disappointed and disbelieving while reading the nominations of the other categories, but I haven't felt the hulk rage at a deserving author has been robbed until now, reading the nominations for best Romance Novella. TWO stories from It Happened One Night were nominated - Stephanie Laurens' and Jacquie D'Allesandro's.
Mary Balogh's "Spellbound" was NOT NOMINATED.
WHAT. THE. FUCK.
Stephanie Laurens' "The Fall of Rogue Gerard" was only mildly amusing, but Jacquie D'Allesandro's "Only You" milked every cliche it could like a mechanical literary breastpump while remaining unrealistic and historically sketchy. How in HELL could anyone think "Only You" is a better story than Mary Balogh's meticulously crafted, gorgeously atmospheric and emotionally wrenching "Spellbound"? REALLY? I wouldn't mind Jacquie D's nomination at all if "Spellbound" had also been nominated, but these stories were in the same collection, which means the women who nominated the novellas read "The Fall of Rogue Gerard," "Spellbound" and "Only You," one after the other, and made a conscious decision to include "Gerard" and "Only You" while consciously excluding "Spellbound."
It boggles the mind - really, truly, it does. It's like they opened a treasure chest with a sparkly piece of glass, a diamond the size of a baby's fist, and an onion inside and thought, "Hmmm, I have to choose the most valuable things in here. I could take all three, but I'd much rather have sparkly glass and onions than a diamond. Yeah, let's not take the diamond. I don't like diamonds. Who needs them? Mmmm, onions." GRRRR!
I don't have much to say about the remaining Categories (YA and Suspense, two genres I have not read very much of) and the Golden Hearts (again, haven't read them because they are unpublished, although due props to all the finalists!). But I can't help but feel disappointed. These are supposed to be the finalists for the RITAs - the absolute best of the best of the romance genre, and I can't help but feel like what I consider to be the best parts of romance aren't what the so-called authorities of genre consider to be the best.
It's during times like these that Reviewer's Angst comes down especially hard. I keep thinking, am I a real reader of romance? Am I reading romance the way it's supposedly meant to be read? I am missing the biggest draw of the romance genre and focusing on quibbles (like, uh, realistic characterisation and historical accuracy and beautiful writing???)? What does this mean? I don't know. This feeling won't last for long though - every time I feel like I might want to give up on the romance genre a truly stunning writer comes along (Mary Balogh, Jo Goodman, Julia Quinn, Loretta Chase, Jennifer Crusie, and, as I'm coming to discover, Laura Kinsale - oh, yeah, NONE OF WHOM ARE NOMINATED THIS YEAR) that convinces me to keep reading.
RITAs, schmITAs, is all I can say for now.