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March 1, 2002 - Issue #134

2002 All About Romance Reader Awards

To all the winners in our sixth annual reader's poll, congratulations and continued success! We had more entries this year than in any past year, and given the size and comprehensiveness of the ballot (with 23 positive and 6 negative categories), AAR pollster Shelley Dodge was kept extremely busy throughout the entire month the poll was open. To be a valid ballot, (at least) six categories had to have been filled out. As always, we received a number of bogus ballots (think authors trying to stuff the ballot box - naughty, naughty!), but even so, there were nearly 3,500 valid votes.

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Every year's results are surprising - at least to me. Although Shelley and I were the only ones privy to the actual rankings of the Interim Results, the final tallies in many categories were very different than they were mid-way through the voting process. We've seen certain authors do extremely well year after year; there is a tremendous amount of fluidity in this year's results as some recent and some long-term favorites have been/are in the process of being supplanted by different authors. Some of the results are bound to be controversial; if I hadn't seem them myself, I wouldn't have believed them!

Before we get further into the column, I'd like you to click here for the full results (this is a jump link that will open a new window in your browser and allow you to toggle back and forth between the column and the awards page). Again, to all the winners, congratulations. To all those who voted, many thanks. And, to Shelley, whose hard work is so often behind the scenes but is nonetheless vital, a tremendous thanks as well.

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And the Big Winners Are. . .

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Suzanne Brockmann - who won in eight categories and tied for a win in a ninth for (mostly) Over the Edge (but also for) The Defiant Hero, and Taylor's Temptation. Three of her wins, including that for Favorite Romance, were by such large margins that no honorable mentions were given. Last year she won in four categories and received two honorable mentions. Brockmann's showing this year wasn't entirely positive; Meg from The Defiant Hero was voted Most Annoying Lead Character.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Robin Schone - who won in two categories and received honorable mention in two categories for Gabriel's Woman. Schone who continues to be a "love or hate" kind of author and also "won" in one of our negative categories (for the third year in a row) and received (dis)-honorable mention in two categories. Oddly enough, many of the same voters who voted for her in positive categories also voted to put her over the top as "winner" of the Purple-est Prose.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb - who made a return to our podium this year as Nora Roberts, and who unseated herself as J.D. Robb in her win for Feistiest Herone (Ripley from Dance Upon the Air.) As J.D. Robb (for Betrayal in Death and/or Seduction in Death) she tied for the win in two categories and received honorable mention in another two. Unfortunately, she also received the dubious distinction of having "won" one of our negative awards.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Carla Kelly - who won in two categories and received honorable mention in another after a roughly three-year absence ended by the release of One Good Turn. One of her wins was by a more than a two-to-one margin.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Lisa Kleypas - who won in two categories and received honorable mention in another for Suddenly You.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Anne Gracie, who won as Favorite New Author by a tremendous margin.

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Shelley and I noticed certain things as the votes came in that were interesting.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Both the winner and one of the honorable mentions in the Favorite Contemporary Romance have strong suspense elements - some may even consider them Romantic Suspense. Many readers may balk at authors jumping ship from straight romance into Romantic Suspense, but that's not reflected in this year's votes.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission The Alternate Reality area appears to be growing once again, and there appears to be a good deal of cross-over from other genres such as SF/F and Horror, although some authors who showed extremely well in the interim results fell behind at the end. That said, authors like Christine Feehan, Dara Joy, Kelley Armstrong, Charlaine Harris, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Susan Grant appeared in many different categories. Shelley and I are simply two of a great many readers to have read a number of SF/Romance or Horror/Romance hybrids last year.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission In seven categories there was no honorable mention awarded. We award no honorable mention when the winner is ahead of the next author/title/character by a margin of at least two to one. Last year this was the case in 11 categories. The year before last there were no honorable mentions awarded in 15 categories. What to make of this I don't exactly know, other than that before I looked back at those earlier years, I had no idea this number was going down.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission This year we noticed a "get out the vote" effort from one author who did extremely well in the final results. Although her message did not say "vote for me," many of her readers did just that. Still, these same readers took to heart the spirit of the poll; they not only voted for her, they voted for other authors and titles as well.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission As mentioned earlier, many authors who have done well in past years disappeared for the purposes of this award in this year. Some showed in the interim results, then dropped off, while others failed to show at all. And while certain authors seemed to be hampered by having more than one release during the year, others, namely Brockmann and Robb, simply added to their award bounty with more than one release.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission The "lock" Eve and Roarke have had on readers for the past five years for Best Couple couple has been broken. Sam and Alyssa, secondary characters, no less, from the two Suzanne Brockmann single title releases in 2001, finally broke through. Since it looks to me as though Brockmann not only admires Roberts' writing but her career path, this is all the more interesting - in a good way.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Many of the authors who won or received honorable mention were not blockbuster boffo authors. Some of the lesser known authors (and I'm not talking about within the online reader community here, but the larger romance-buying public) who won awards are Rachel Gibson, Carla Kelly, Susan Squires, Anne Gracie, Karen Marie Moning, Madeline Hunter, and Lorraine Heath. Because I'm always confused on where authors such as Lisa Kleypas and Judith Ivory fit on the buried-treasure-to-boffo-blockbuster continuum, I don't know whether to include them here, but they too won.

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission AAR's review staff did very well this past year in terms of matching its readers' tastes. In the poll, we asked for votes in 20 book-specific, positive categories. Roughly three-quarters of the winning books in these categories received Desert Isle Keeper Status from our staff, and none of the titles our readers loved received less than a B.

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From the Winners Circle

Suzanne Brockmann -

  • Honorable Mentions:
    • (Dis)-Honorable Mention for Most Annoying Lead Character - heroine from The Defiant Hero

Suzanne Brockmann has steadily gained in popularity over the past few years. She made her first appearance in our poll in 2000 when she won three honorable mentions for two single title romances. In last year's poll she won in four categories and received an additional two honorable mentions. One of her wins last year was for Author Most Glommed, which she wins again in 2002 (for both years, these were stand-alone wins). With this year's astounding results, she breaks all records for authors in previous years. The author coming closest is Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb with six wins in 2000. Roberts/Robb and Mary Jo Putney each received five wins in 1998 and 1997 respectively. Coming in at four wins apiece in 1999 were Roberts/Robb and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Last year the winners were more spread out, amongst Adele Ashworth (three wins, four honorable mentions), Linda Howard (three wins, three honorable mentions), and Suzanne Brockmann (four wins, two honorable mentions).

Suzanne Brockmann had this to say about her astonishing year:

"Holy Sh*t. (Can I say that at AAR? Surely a sign that I've been spending too much time with my Navy SEAL heroes! )

"This is a huge honor. I'm completely overwhelmed. I swear, being a writer isn't always fun (Over the Edge's birth was particularly painful!), but receiving this kind of honor from a poll taken of dedicated romance readers is rockin' great! (Back, Sam, back! He keeps wanting me to use a different adjective...)

"Boy, did I get a ton of email after OTE came out! This book was so intensely dark - a terrorist hijacking, the Holocaust, a violent rape (is there any other kind?), a very unhappy ending to a certain subplot with certain favorite characters, a character with Alzheimer's, a heroine who had been abused as a child... Some long time readers were furious with me ("#&*@^!!!). Others were concerned ('Are you all right?!'). Some were indignant ('You can't do that in a romance novel!'), some were ecstatic ('I laughed, I cried...'), some were extremely anxious ('I haven't slept in three nights since I read your book...).

"I even got email from readers who were very upset, thinking that the reason I kept a certain couple apart at the end was because I was too narrow-minded to allow an interracial romance to end happily. (I wrote right back to them and assured them that was far from the case!) In fact, after the first letter I got that accused me of that, I remember sitting there, shocked, thinking, 'Holy cow - I'm so colorblind, it never even crossed my mind that I might get this kind of reaction!' And then 'Holy cow, does this reader honestly believe that Sam and Alyssa's story is actually over?!?'

"I've received about a thousand emails from readers - and every single one of them, whether positive or negative or mixed was passionate. Such emotion - and all caused by my book! As a romance author, I couldn't have asked for a more wonderful, rewarding response.

"Except maybe having OTE be named Favorite Romance, Favorite Contemporary and Favorite Romantic Suspense from the AAR Readers' Poll.

"I honestly didn't expect this - being named favorite in the face of so many differing and passionate opinions.

"As for tying (with one of my own personal heroes, JD Robb!) for Favorite Hero... Man, that's cool. And to think that an enlisted hero named Stan Wolchonok could have won such an honor. A man with a face that only a mother (or a team of SEALs) could love...

"And favorite heroine for OTE's Lt. jg Teri Howe...

"You know, I should probably mention here the fact that the book came out exactly two weeks before 9/11. A book about terrorists hijacking a commercial plane... I wonder how much of this book's popularity comes from the fact that most people read it post-9/11, during a time when so many of us desperately wanted to read a story where the terrorists didn't succeed, where the hostages on the plane were rescued, where the good guys won...?

"Having Taylor's Temptation win Favorite Category romance was kind of like the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae. I'm just completely thrilled about all these honors - Best Discovery, Most Glommed. The thing that made me laugh the most - my (Dis)Honorable Mention for Most Annoying Lead Character - Meg from The Defiant Hero. People often ask me 'Which character in your books is most like you?' Uh, well, gang, that would be Meg. LOL!

"I received lots of email about her after TDH came out, saying, 'I just couldn't stand the fact that she refused to trust Nils. If she really wanted to save her daughter, she should have allowed him to help!' And all I could think was, 'Gee, if my kid were kidnapped and I was given specific instructions by the kidnappers, I'd follow those instructions to the letter, too. If my kid's life was at risk, I would not delegate.' (Even to a Navy SEAL! Seriously, I couldn't do it! And, if my kid were kidnapped, I would be more dangerous than a Navy SEAL could ever be! It's called She-Wolf Syndrome.) The entire time I wrote that book, I kept thinking 'What would I do? How would I deal with this situation?' (Meg even wears cowboy boots just like mine!) (And, during the course of the book, I sometimes slipped and called her daughter 'Mel' (my daughter's name) instead of 'Amy.' My proofreaders got a chuckle over that!)

"So apparently, you all love my books, but as far as us ever being roommates, well, I guess that's not such a good idea! LOL!

"Seriously, though - thank you, AAR readers. Thank you so very much!"

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Robin Schone and Gabriel's Woman -

  • Wins:
    • Most Tortured Hero
    • Best Villain (stand-alone winner)
    • Purple-est Prose
  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Most-Hanky Read
    • Most Luscious Love Story
    • (Dis)-Honorable Mention for Authors Others Love that You Don't
    • (Dis)-Honorable Mention for Most Disappointing Read

Although Robin Schone's first published book, Awaken My Love, was released in 1995, she didn't really explode onto the romance scene until four years later with the publication of My Lady's Tutor. In our 2000 reader poll, she won in two categories, received three honorable mentions, and received her first "win" for Purple-est Prose. In last year's poll, Schone won in one category and received the dubious distinction of receiving the Purple-est Prose award two years in a row for The Lover. Her penchant for purple prose was picked up on by Tina Engler in her brilliant parody, The Spinster's Tutor, which won in AAR's 2000 Purple Prose Parody Contest.

Gabriel's Woman was one of the come-from-behind winners this time. Mid-way through the voting, it was one of many choices for Most Tortured Hero and Favorite Villain. But votes came pouring in at the end of the polling for both categories. Michael, hero from The Lover, was our readers' choice for Most Tortured Hero in 2001.

My impression of Schone's popularity is this: she has a devoted core of fans and is clearly filling a void with her extremely sexual and often disturbingly sexual writing. There is also a contingent of readers who absolutely do not care for her writing. Then there are those who loved one of her books but find the stylistic issues have become or are becoming a problem for them. Many on AAR's review staff loved their first Schone, but after having read more of her books, they no longer do. It's not simply a question of the short sentences and paragraphs - it's the characters who have been considered overwhelmingly gloomy and despairing. Perhaps Ellen Micheletti, in her review of Schone's A Man and a Woman from the anthology Fascinated, said it best when she wrote: "Please, Ms Shone, please write a story about a couple who are happy and well-adjusted next time. Happy people have sex too."

Luckily, Robin Schone isn't the prickly sort when it comes to criticism. Here's what she said about her showing in our poll:

"Thank you on behalf of Gabriel for the award of Most Tortured Hero. I can't tell you how much it means that both he and Michael (from The Lover) now share the same award, albeit different years. They have always and will always be my two very special angels.

"It's rather amazing - and very gratifying - that Yves, who actually only spoke in two chapters, won the award for Best Villain. I'm so glad he's as memorable to you as he is to me!

"To all of you who voted Gabriel's Woman for Most-Hanky Read and Most Luscious Love Story - thank you! There were times when writing Gabriel's Woman that I cried, and there were times when I squirmed in my chair. It's nice to know that it had the same effect on you!

"And to those who voted for me in Authors Others Love that You Don't category and for Gabriel's Woman as the Most Disappointing Read - thank you for keeping us in your minds, if not your hearts.

"As for winning the Purple-est Prose award . . . I have done so for three years running now, and am looking forward to a forth!

"Thank you."

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Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb -

  • Wins:
    • Feistiest Heroine - Dance Upon the Air
    • Favorite Hero (tied) - Betrayal in Death and Seduction in Death
    • Favorite Short Story (tied) - Interlude in Death from anthology Out of this World
    • Authors Others Love That You Don't
  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Feistiest Heroine - Seduction in Death
    • Favorite Couple - Betrayal in Death and Seduction in Death

Romance authors who have been writing as long as Nora Roberts (or longer!) often suffer from a sort of reverse snobbery. There's a disdain of sorts among many online readers for long-time authors such as Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers, Sandra Brown, Catherine Coulter, Johanna Lindsey, Jude Deveraux, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, and Jayne Ann Krentz, as if admitting you still read them is something to be embarrassed about. For many of the long-published authors, the rationale is that they stopped writing great books some years before. (I do it too - my comments about some of the authors just listed can be scathing, and I've had my share of fun arguing about which authors may have "jumped the shark.") Sometimes it seems as though the bigger the level of success achieved, the greater the disdain. And while Nora Roberts suffers from some of this, she suffers less of it than any other author at her level of success.

There's a reason for that - her books continue to be exciting, accessible, and the quality remains high, even after all these years. She stays fresh by writing a variety of elements and types. Roberts' writing includes romantic suspense, contemporary, contemporary paranormal, and futuristic romantic suspense - have I got them all? And she writes in different forms as well. Not only does she write single titles, she's the only author at her level to continue to do more than dabble in the writing of series romance (Linda Howard writes series titles now only occasionally). Roberts writes stand-alones, trilogies, quartets, hardcovers, and paperbacks, has kept her J.D. Robb-scribed In Death series going for more than a dozen titles (although recent reviews indicate perhaps the series should come to an end soon), and has helped many of us laugh at Daniel MacGregor's shenanigans throughout her multi-volumed MacGregor series.

Since the inception of our awards in 1997, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb has won an amazing twenty awards (a matched set with the number of DIK's she's received from AAR!) and received honorable mention 11 times. The reverse snobbery or backlash I mentioned didn't catch up with Nora until 1998, when she received her first (dis)-honorable mention; she has now received three. As for "winning" in a negative category, that didn't happen until 2000; she's now received three of those as well.

Nora Roberts remained her concise self when informed of her showing this year. She said:

"I'm delighted the readers on AAR have responded so favorably to my work and my characters. It means a lot."

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Carla Kelly and One Good Turn -

  • Wins:
    • Most Hanky Read
    • Favorite Regency (stand-alone winner)
  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Best Discovery/Buried Treasure - definitely falls in the "Buried Treasure" part of this category

Until I looked back over the results from earlier years, I was unaware that Carla Kelly had received an honorable mention for With This Ring. I had never heard of her - forgive me, I had read only one traditional Regency Romance at that point, and hadn't cared much for it. The 1998 AAR Reader Awards were voted on before AAR became a review site...hell, until January 1998 AAR was simply The Archives of Laurie Likes Books, sans reviewers, and certainly sans Ellen Micheletti, who made it her life's work to turn all romance readers into Carla Kelly acolytes.

After Ellen came Nora, then Robin, then Blythe, then Linda...the list goes on. Carla Kelly has received DIK status 9 times at AAR. When she decided to retire from writing regencies because the pay is so lousy, actual tears were shed, tears of sorrow. Sorrowful tears became tears of joy when she decided to return to regencies with 2001's One Good Turn. I can recall at least one ballot filled with nothing but Carla Kelly votes - and, no, it wasn't from the author herself or any of her relatives.

Not only had I not heard of Carla Kelly, until I recently told her about her honorable mention for that year, she hadn't a clue either, the perfect illustration in my mind of the growth of AAR. About her current wins, she said:

"I'm delighted to have One Good Turn recognized. It's my first sequel. When I agreed to two more Regencies at Signet, I thought it might be fun to do a sequel to Libby's London Merchant. A number of readers had written to me requesting one, so it was a natural. Besides, I liked Nez, too. Dr. Cook was right for Libby, but Nez had a story, as well.

"I'm a historian by trade, and a military historian by inclination. As someone who reads a lot about war, it's probably no surprise that I hate war. Sherman's march to the sea was a brilliant bit of strategy because he preyed on the non-combatants. It's those innocent civilians who get squashed between the armies that have my sympathy: they do nothing to bring on the horror that happens to them. You'll never catch me glorifying war in anything I write; it hurts everyone, even the victors. Regrettably, the character of Liria was far too easy to write; she is Everywoman in war.

"My thoughts on writing: On the writing board by my laptop (I write in my laundry room), I have this great comment by Will and Ariel Durant. It's from the introduction to their last history, The Age of Napoleon: 'All in all, in life and in history, we have found so many good men and women that we have quite lost faith in the wickedness of mankind.' I believe that firmly, and it is reflected in my characters. Most people--not all--have an innate goodness. I have little need for villains; we are usually our own worst enemy. (I made an exception to the villain in my next Regency, which should be out in December or so. That story required a bad ass.)

"One of my readers - an 85-yr old lady from Oregon - recently expressed it this way: 'You have such a way of portraying your characters. They are so believable and when I have finished the story I get such a good feeling.' Maybe that good feeling is because, for the most part, these are good people with dilemmas. We all know what that is like, and maybe we can relate. I know a lot of good people, and I 'use' them in my books. I think I am singularly lacking in creative imagination: all I can do is mirror what I see around me every day. (No joke; I have a friend who is a graphologist. She has looked at my handwriting over and over, and can't see a single creative line in it!)

"The Most-Hanky Read award made me chuckle. Who doesn't like a good cry now and then?

"Honorable mentioned for buried treasure/best discovery? Cool. I can relate to that. I've glommed Ian Rankin, John Harvey, James Lee Burke this year, and recently 'discovered' the wonderful Ruth Rendell. I am in British police procedural high cotton! Only trouble with Rankin: he doesn't write fast enough, and they come out first in the UK. Grr!

"P.S. Such great news. I have been wanting to collect my so-called Fort Laramie Stories into one anthology. I got a letter last week from the director of the Texas Christian University Press, which has given an OK to the project. She's saying Spring 2003 will be the target date for the anthology. I am thoroughly jazzed, because this collection contains my two Golden Spur Award-winners from WWA, and my favorite story, Mary Murphy. It'll be fun to share Mary with a wider world. Most of these stories were published in magazines in the late '70s and early '80s, although I am finishing up one now to complete the anthology. Tentatively, the book will be called West of Fort Laramie: Tales from the Army Frontier."

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Lisa Kleypas and Suddenly You -

  • Wins:
    • Most Luscious Love Story
    • Favorite European Historical
  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Favorite Heroine

I mentioned earlier that I have a hard time placing Lisa Kleypas on my continuum of authors in terms of how "big" they are - I know she's up there because her photograph is in color on the inside back cover of her books. Many readers fell in love with Kleypas when they read Dreaming of You, the sequel to my own Kleypas favorite, Then Came You. The consensus seems to be that her books in the middle/late 1990's weren't as good as these efforts from the early/middle 1990's, but that she started to come back with 1999's Someone to Watch Over Me and really hit her stride in 2000, with Where Dreams Begin.

It's that year, with that book, when Lisa Kleypas' name first showed up in our annual reader poll. She received two honorable mentions for Where Dreams Begin. Now, with 2001's, Suddenly You, she's not only beat out Robin Schone and Emma Holly for the Most Luscious Love Story, but she's won one probably the most important award for readers of historical romance - the European Historical award.

Here's Lisa's reaction to her placement this year:

"Thanks for letting me know about the readers poll results concerning Suddenly You. What a thrill, and how grateful I am to the readers who responded so warmly to my book! The experience of writing Suddenly You was not always easy, as I was pregnant and had terrible morning sickness the whole nine months. I am not joking when I confess that I gained so much weight that I literally had problems reaching the keyboard by the end of the pregnancy. My arms are short to begin with, and near the finish of the novel, my stomach was so big that I only had access to the bottom two rows of the keyboard. LOL.

"The heroine, Amanda, was a little different for me, as she was my first overweight protagonist, and her romance with Jack Devlin is my first older man/younger woman story. Amanda was very easy for me to connect with, whereas Jack took much more time and effort to develop. That is partly because Jack is the youngest hero I've ever created, especially in an emotional regard. But after a while, I came to enjoy the dynamic between two very strong characters who are outwardly very confident and successful people, but who have private needs that can only be fulfilled in each other.

"The issue of Amanda's miscarriage was something I was glad to have the opportunity to portray, as I had undergone my own miscarriage the year before I wrote the book. I wanted to show readers that often miscarriages can happen for no reason at all, that it's no one's fault, and that most of the time (as in my case) women will go on to have very successful pregnancies.

"I am especially happy that readers were pleased with the level of sensuality I reached in Suddenly You. Now that I'm in my late thirties, I seem to have become more comfortable in exploring a greater amount of intimacy during the love scenes, and the positive response to the book has delighted me to no end. My sincerest thanks to the romance readers who gave my work a try for the first time, and most of all to my 'regulars' who have been so wonderfully supportive as I have tried to find my own place in the romance genre. Warm wishes to all."

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Anne Gracie, who won as Favorite New Author -

We're not really sure how most of those who bought Anne Gracie's Tallie's Knight have copyrights indicating it was first published in the US in 2001 when some have books with the same cover indicating the book was first published in the US in 2000. None of us at AAR can remember hearing Anne Gracie's name until early Spring of 2001, when we found Tallie's Knight and Gallant Waif at Amazon and local bookstores. Within a period of days, we had DIK reviews online for both books.

With an organic buzz different than the publisher-generated buzz associated with "Josie Litton," Gracie soon shot to the top of the charts. It's not hyperbolic to say that Anne Gracie was responsible for ending the romance reading slumps of more than one reader, and I'm personally thrilled to say that she has the stand-alone win for Favorite New Author. As for the author herself, she wrote this when she learned she'd won:

"Thank you so much for writing, Laurie. I'm so thrilled that, to be honest, I can't think of anything intelligent to say! Thank you to all those who voted for me. I'm stunned - and very honoured."

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Other Winners

Madeline Hunter, who tied to win Favorite Medieval for The Protector and received an honorable mention for By Design -

Madeline Hunter burst onto the scene in 2000 with her brilliant medieval romances. Her writing was exciting, romantic, and historically evocative of the period. She was the stand-alone winner for both the Best New Author and Favorite Medieval categories; had there been an honorable mention in the medieval category, she'd have won it herself.

Of the two medieval romances Hunter had released in 2001, she again was her own biggest competitor. AAR continues to love her writing. Lori-Anne's grade for The Protector was a B+ and Claudia granted By Design DIK status, which reverses the results in our poll. Readers preferred The Protector by a substantial sum.

"I am really excited to learn that I have been honored again by the readers at AAR. I truly appreciate the continued support for my stories. Thank you!"

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Susan Squires, who tied to win Favorite Medieval for Danegeld -

It seems as though a vast majority of medieval romances are set just after the Norman conquest or even later in the Middle Ages, in the period known as the High Middle Ages. I can count on a couple of hands the number of medievals I've read that were set earlier in the period, known as the Dark Ages.

Susan Squires adds to that small collection of early medievals her Danegeld, which was gritty and “unpretty,” to use a couple of adjectives found in our dual review of the book. The book, which won RWA's Golden Heart award (awards for the best of unpublished romances), and was Squires' first published book, provided a different look at the medieval period and showed us two strong and complex lead characters. Christine Peterson noted that Britta "could kick Laura Croft's butt" and was one of the strongest fictional characters she'd read. Ellen, in her DIK review, wrote that "It is a journey of discovery for the main characters and a superb evocation of the Dark Ages for the reader. I am thankful that Susan Squires wrote such a different book and that Leisure was willing to publish it."

When told she had tied for Favorite Medieval Romance, Susan Squires said:

"I am so thrilled that readers voted for Danegeld for Favorite Medieval Romance. Awards from readers mean more than any other attention a book can receive. Danegeld was my first published book, so this is all the more surprising since I'm not well-known. I'm glad the emotion I felt as I wrote it came through to give readers a good ride."

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Rachel Gibson, who won Favorite Funny for True Confessions -

In romance circles, Rachel Gibson is probably still considered a "new" author because in her five years of being published, she's "only" had five books published (one per year). Although AAR has never quite granted her DIK status, she's quickly risen above most of the "funny" single title contemporary writers. Gibson also gets high marks from me for her online demeanor. I know that has nothing to do with her writing ability, but any author who can maneuver herself through that potential minefield with that amount of honesty as well as she does deserves kudos.

Here's what she had to say about her win:

"Wow, I 'm truly honored to have been voted Favorite Funny by AAR readers. Given the number of books published a year, and the number of books you all read, I'm really shocked to have won. I've always suspected that AAR readers were a sophisticated and discerning group, now I'm convinced. AAR readers are very passionate about books, and as a writer, I am glad that you all are out there debating and discussing romance novels. Thanks to everyone who voted for True Confessions, I sincerely appreciate it."

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips and This Heart of Mine -

  • Honorable Mentions:
    • Favorite Funny
    • Favorite Heroine
    • Favorite Cabin or Road Romance
    • Favorite Contemporary

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of the “winningest” authors in the history of our reader polls, having won 10 awards and 13 honorable mentions. In 1997, she received six honorable mentions; four for Kiss an Angel (the other two were not book-specific). In 1998, Nobody's Baby But Mine captured awards for Favorite Romance, Favorite Funny, and Favorite Contemporary. In 1999, she showed her versatility for the sadder side of romance with Dream a Little Dream and won four awards and one honorable mention. In that year she again captured Favorite Romance and Favorite Contemporary; instead of Favorite Funny she won Most-Hanky Read and Most Tortured Hero.

2000 was another good year for Susan Elizabeth Phillips; for Lady Be Good (my introduction to her writing) she won for Favorite Funny, Feistiest Heroine, and, for the third year in a row, Favorite Contemporary. Last year earned SEP [only] one mention in our reader poll; she received honorable mention in the Favorite Cabin/Road Romance category for First Lady.

Although she has no wins for the 2002 reader awards, SEP has four honorable mentions, proving a consistency in many categories, including humorous romances, and the cabin/road romance. When told she'd received four honorable mentions, she responded:

"It's such a pleasure having my books recognized by readers, especially the loyal group that hangs out at All About Romance. Happy reading."

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Lorraine Heath, who won Favorite American Historical for The Outlaw and the Lady -

Lorraine Heath has won or placed in every year we've done these awards. In 1996 she received honorary mention in the Most-Hanky category. In 1998 she received three honorary mentions - for Most Tortured Hero, Favorite Road Romance, and Favorite American Historical Romance. In 1999 and 2000 she was the winner for Favorite American Historical Romance, and in 2001 won honorary mention, again in the American Historical category.

Heath has received DIK status from AAR five times, and the lowest grade one of her books has ever received was a B. Because she writes in the less-read sub-genre of historicals set in the U.S., she isn't as known as those who write historicals set in Great Britain. But as I've said before - many times - Lorraine Heath's books are so good that even those of us at AAR who don't generally enjoy historicals set in the U.S. find she proves the exception to the rule. What does this mean for those of you who haven't tried her? What are you waiting for?!

Upon learning she'd won Favorite American Historical for the third time, Lorraine said:

"I'm sitting here smiling, wondering how I can truly express how happy I am that your readers thought so highly of The Outlaw & the Lady. I offer them a heartfelt thank you and the hope my stories will continue to bring them pleasure."

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Karen Marie Moning, who tied to win Favorite Alternate Reality for Kiss of the Highlander -

The Alternate Reality category was just about the most unusual in the poll as a few romance hybrids received many votes. In the end, though, two books firmly in the romance genre tied for the win and the honorable mention went to a third.

Karen Marie Moning tied with Dara Joy for the win.

Moning's first three books were reviewed unfavorably by AAR and in the D level. When the positive review came in for Kiss of the Highlander, I was very surprised and reminded of how subjective the reading/rating experience is. Clearly those of us who hadn't liked her were in the minority and I sighed a sigh of relief that we had posted a positive review for a book that turned out to have been a reader favorite. One day I'm going to write a segment on "authors we missed the boat on," and Moning will be part of it.

Here's what Karen Marie Moning had to say about her win:

"How thrilling! I’m delighted and honored that readers enjoyed Kiss of the Highlander. Many, many thanks!"

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Dara Joy, tied to win Favorite Alternate Reality for Ritual of Proof and received (Dis)-Honorable mentions for Authors Others Love that You Don't, Most Disappointing Read, and Worst Read -

Dara Joy is another author who engenders strong feelings from readers - in both directions.

The unique thing about Dara Joy is that she is adventurous, writing in just about every romance sub-genre that exists (except for the traditional Regency - can you imagine that?). While this has helped her become extremely well known, it has also worked against her as those who read each of her books never knows quite what to expect. What she tried to do in Ritual of Proof was turn the historical regency upside down; while AAR's reviewer and many readers found her successful in that effort, others did not.

When I contact authors about their wins, I generally do not include their negative "wins"/mentions; in the 2002 poll, only Robin Schone was informed of her negative showings. About her tie for the win for Favorite Alternate Reality Romance, Dara Joy had this to say:

"Thank you so much for this very welcome news. Ritual of Proof was a true writing challenge. I wanted to create a new kind of book, one that went in its own direction, yet showcased the foibles and idiosyncrasies of our own society. Into the bargain, I challenged myself to see if I could do this in a way that lovingly satirized historical romantic fiction. My publisher demonstrated a lot of faith in the work and in the readership when they published this novel. I think they deserves kudos for that.

"Faith in the readers is never misplaced. The book had a phenomenal sell-through and made all the bestseller lists. The wonderful, wonderful outcome of this is that readers have shown publishers that they want books with different storylines and they will come forward to buy it. To everyone - thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting this book which endeavored to not just push the envelope but to smash it entirely."

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Judith Ivory, who won Favorite Cabin/Road Romance and received (Dis)- Honorable Mention as Most Disappointing, both for The Indiscretion -

Judith Ivory has a terrific track record at AAR - she's received five DIK's and the lowest grade of two other reviews was a B-. For The Indiscretion, she received a B+ from us, and though the book was clearly a reader favorite (as it won Favorite Cabin/Road Romance), something about it also disappointed a substantial group of readers. I don't have a true sense of what's going on with this split, and wonder whether or not it's a question of her not being able to live up to the exceedingly high expectations of her readers. I've heard said before that Judith Ivory's writing is not for everyone, but as she gets more and more popular, obviously more and more readers will be checking her out. If she's truly not as accessible as some other authors are, that too could account for this split. I hope you'll all help me figure this out. In the meantime, Judith was as gracious as ever in responding about her win:

"Please pass along my thanks to your readers. I am delighted they like The Indiscretion well enough to give it an award. Whooo whoo! I'll keep the secret for now, but March 1, I'm posting it on my website!"

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Katherine Sutcliffe, who received two honorable mentions for Darkling I Listen -

Katherine Sutcliffe has had a career of ups and downs from my perspective. Two of her books sit on my keeper shelf - A Fire in the Heart and Dream Fever. Those were written in 1990 and 1991. After having read and loved those books in 1993, I glommed Sutcliffe. My Only Love, the sequel to A Fire in the Heart, while not a keeper, was quite good. Unfortunately, the books written prior to these were, for me, not good at all, and I've continued to find her writing spotty ever since.

Sutcliffe seems to have moved a lot between publishers and also seems to have hit her stride again in the last couple of years. We've reviewed five of her last releases and given B level grades to three and a DIK to a fourth - Darkling I Listen - which was her first romantic suspense novel.

Katherine Sutcliffe, who has weathered many storms on the Internet, was pleased to learn that Darking I Listen fared well with our readers. She said:

"Please thank everyone who voted for me. Darkling was so very special to me - really the book I've waited nearly twenty years to write and I really do thank my editor, Christine Zika, for taking the risk and allowing me the opportunity to cross over into a sub-genre that welcomes my darker, more realistic style. I've sold 2 more contemporary romantic suspense novels to Jove and Bad Moon Rising will be released in March 2003. I didn't believe that I could ever come close to topping Brandon as a tortured hero, but I think I've done it in BMR. My editor actually told me to focus the book more on the hero than the heroine because Brandon was such a hit with the readers. That was music to my ears!! Again, thanks so much, and my heartfelt appreciation to all!"

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ATBF Marks its 6th Anniversary

Today is the 6th anniversary for this column. It was called Laurie's News and Views for its first four years, at which point I asked Robin Uncapher to be my co-columnist and changed the name to At the Back Fence. It's now two years later and At the Back Fence is going to change once again as AARList moderator (and one-time reviewer) Anne Marble becomes a regular contributor to the column. While other members of AAR, readers, and authors will continue to contribute to At the Back Fence, Anne will do so on a more regular basis. If you're on AARList, canwetalk, or regularly visit our Potpourri Message Board, you'll know Anne brings up some great topics!

I'm very proud of what we accomplish through At the Back Fence and AAR in general. If you had asked me then whether anyone would still be interested in my take on romance novels in six years, I'd have said, "Hell, no!" But I'm still here - we're still here - and there are more of you here now than ever, and for that I'm extremely grateful. Without the brilliance of all my AAR colleagues, visiting AAR would be about as interesting as watching a never-ending sequence of your great-aunt's slides from her 1968 trip to Hoover Dam.

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Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we'd like to have you consider this time:

this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission So, how many of the winning books have you read? Based on the showings of some of the big winners, if you haven't read them, will you now, and which ones? If you haven't read many, do you feel left out?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission How did the books you voted for do in our poll? Did they win, place, not show at all, or win one of the negative awards/mentions? Do the results accurately reflect last year's crop of romances?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Some authors/books that had done very well through the first half of polling fell off in the final two weeks. Those authors include Paullina Simons, Katherine Sutcliffe, and some of the "hybrid" authors mentioned in the column. Were you disappointed by this? In general, looking at all the results, which of the awards made you happy, which made you sad?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission In past years we've heard readers express disappointment that so many "big name" authors win so many categories. Would you say that this year? What were the big surprises as far as you are concerned?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission In looking back over 2001 as a romance reading year or in considering the winners of these awards, would you say any particular sub-genre or type of book stands out? Are romantic suspense and/or the romance hybrid becoming favorites for you as they appear to be for many readers?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission If you were handing out these awards based on your own votes, which books/authors would have won?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Every year at this time when this column passes another anniversary, I ask our readers how it's doing, whether it still providing interesting and thought-provoking commentary on the romance genre, its authors, and its readers. Now's your chance to give me some your feedback - good, bad, indifferent - on At the Back Fence throughout the last year.


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2002 AAR Reader Awards
Interim Results

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