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Treat Yourself to the AAR Bookbag!

March 1, 2003 - Issue #156

2003 All About Romance Reader Awards

To all the winners in our seventh 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 24 positive and 6 negative categories), AAR pollster Shelley Dodge was kept extremely busy throughout the entire month the poll was open. To be considered a valid ballot, (at least) six categories had to have been filled out - nearly 4,000 valid votes were received.

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I'm always surprised when Shelley sends in the final tallies, and this year was no exception. There was an energy in this year's voting that I found refreshing, and though one author rose to the top in more categories than any other author by far, there was less of a juggernaut vibe than last year. According to the results, AAR's review staff is in sync with its readership; 25 of 26 positive award-winners/runners-up received good/great grades (B- through DIK status). The one book to receive an award that didn't get a good grade from us was in the Guiltiest Pleasure Read category.

The final tallies in many categories were quite different than they were mid-way through the voting process, Indeed, in one category, the book that won didn't hadn't received enough votes to even appear in the Interim Results. There is a tremendous amount of fluidity from year to year; an author who had received five positive awards between 1999 and 2001 was the unlucky winner for 2003 in the Author You Gave Up On (or Jumped the Shark) category. To add insult to injury, the heroine from one of the books published by this same author in 2003 was voted Most Annoying.

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, a tremendous thanks as well.

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And the Big Winners Are. . .

Suzanne Brockmann/Out of Control - Winner in six categories
Brockmann first broke out, as far as our readers are concerned, in our 2000 awards, when she received three honorable mentions. She won in four categories and received two honorable mentions in our 2001 awards. In our 2002 awards she was a juggernaut and could not be stopped, winning in eight categories and tying for a ninth. Three of those wins, including that for Favorite Romance, were stand-alone wins - she was so far ahead of the author in second place that no honorable mentions were awarded. Brockmann also received one negative award in 2002, for Most Annoying Lead Character. This year she has two negative placements, tying with Nora Roberts as Author Others Love that You Don't and receiving (dis)honorable mention for Most Disappointing Read (Into the Night). We'll have further analysis on Brockmann's showing, including her comments, in the next section of the column (the same goes for many of our other big winners).

Carla Kelly/The Wedding Journey - Winner in two categories/Two honorable mentions
For the second year in a row (Kelly won in two categories and received one honorable mention in our awards in 2002), one of Kelly's wins is a stand-alone win.

Julia Quinn/Romancing Mister Bridgerton - Winner in two categories/Two honorable mentions
One of these wins is a stand-alone win. Like Kelly, Quinn received her first honorable mention in our awards in 1998. She has appeared as a winner/honorable mention ever since, with one win in our awards 1999, two wins in our awards for 2000, one win and two honorable mentions in our 2001 awards, and one honorable mention in our 2002 awards.

Susan Grant/Contact - Winner in two categories
One of Grant's wins is a stand-alone win. She received an honorable mention in 2002 and won a category in our awards for 2001.

Judith Ivory/Untie My Heart - One win/Two honorable mentions
Back in our awards for 1996 when Judith Ivory was writing as Judy Cuevas, she received six honorable mentions. In our 2000 awards she received one honorable mention, and last year she won in one category and received a (dis)honorable mention.

Lisa Kleypas/Lady Sophia's Lover - One win/One honorable mention
Kleypas' win is a stand-alone win. Those who have followed her career know that after some greatly beloved releases in the early 1990's, she seemed to falter for several years thereafter, but returned to auto-buy status for many in 2000. She received two honorable mentions in our 2001 awards, and in last year she won in two categories and received honorable mention in a third.

Mary Jo Putney/The Spiral Path - One win/One honorable mention
Putney's win is a stand-alone win. MJP's history in our awards go back to the first year of our awards when she captured five wins and received five honorable mentions. In our 1998 awards she won in two categories and received honorable mention in another two. In our 1999 awards she made a misstep with our readers (but not our reviewer, who granted the book DIK status!); her heroine was voted Most Annoying. And while her first contemporary was considered quite controversial, with her second, The Spiral Path, she seems to have found her contemporary voice.

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Before we move on to a discussion of other winners, let's briefly talk about what else was interesting about the voting in the 2003 poll. For instance, the winner for Best Contemporary Romance and Best Romantic Suspense, for the second year in a row, was the same book. And, like last year, this was the book considered the Best Romance for 2003, indicating that while many readers may balk at authors jumping ship from straight romance into romantic suspense, far fewer must find this a problem.

There's also the question: How can a book do better in a broader category than it does in its setting-specific period? For instance, the book that received honorable mention as Best Romance received honorable mention in the European Historical Romance category, with two other titles ahead of it in terms of votes received. How is this possible? The answer is something I call "vote-splitting." In other words, many, many readers want to spread their votes among as many favorite books as possible, and if they vote for one European Historical as Best Romance, they'll vote for another title as Best European Historical Romance. We've seen this occur year after year.

We added a new category this year - Guiltiest Pleasure - bringing to 24 the number of positive awards. There was no honorable mention in seven of these categories, just as there was no honorable mention awarded in seven categories in 2002, given last year at this time. This has stopped a significant trend we noticed last year (in the 2001 poll there were 11 stand-alone winners and in 2000 there were 15).

At least two authors have appeared as winners or runners-up in all seven years we've conducted our reader poll - Linda Howard and Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. Under these two names Roberts has wracked up 37 wins/honorable mentions; beginning in 2000 she's also brought home four "wins" for Author Others Love that You Don't as Nora Roberts (none as J.D. Robb).

While we've also seen the resurgence of some authors who showed up in early years of our awards only to drop off in later years, some authors who have always appeared as either winners or runners-up failed to appear this time around - Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Lorraine Heath to name two.

One question always asked is why so many of the authors who show up as winners or runners-up are lead authors? The quick answer is that they're lead authors for a reason - they write good books that many people read. But a secondary answer is that some lesser-known authors do quite well for themselves, and in some instances you can track their rise in popularity through the years of our awards. Rachel Gibson, Emma Holly, Barbara Samuel, Liz Carlyle, Julia Ross, Kinley MacGregor/Sherrilyn Kenyon, Tracy Grant, and Susan Grant are certainly less well-known than Brockmann, Roberts/Robb, Jennifer Crusie, Putney, and Balogh, and all of them appear on our list of winners/runners-up for 2002.

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From the Winners Circle

Suzanne Brockmann

  • Wins for Out of Control
    • Best Romance
    • Best Cabin/Road Romance
    • Best Contemporary Romance
    • Best Romantic Suspense
    • Best Hero
    • Author Most Glommed (collected in 2002)
  • Dubious "Win"
    • Author Others Love that You Don't (tied with Nora Roberts)
  • (Dis)Honorable Mention - Into the Night
    • Most Disappointing Read

Even before Brockmann verified this for me in response to my questions to her about her wins and mentions, I operated under the assumption that Nora Roberts was her role model. Because of this, I'm not surprised that the two tied as Author Others Love that You Don't, both in general terms and what I perceive as backlash. I ask every author who won in (at least) one category or received multiple honorable mentions to comment upon their showing, including their negative awards. Here's what Suzanne Brockmann had to say about the results: "Thank you to all the readers who voted for Out of Control. I truly loved writing this book. Thank you for loving Kenny and choosing me as Author Most Glommed. As for tying with Nora Roberts, I think she will be looked back on as the most important author of our era. I consider any time I'm mentioned in the same sentence as Nora to be a complete honor!"



Carla Kelly

  • Wins for The Wedding Journey and No Room at the Inn
    • Best Regency (stand-alone winner)
    • Best Short Story
  • Honorable Mentions for The Wedding Journey
    • Author Most Glommed
    • Best Cabin/Road Romance

Although Carla Kelly is a household name to AAR's visitors, it's doubtful she's well known to those readers who don't frequent the Internet for discussions of romance novels. The quality of her writing eclipses all other authors of traditional Regency Romance, so that for the second year in a row, her win for Best Regency Romance stands alone. That a traditional Regency received honorable mention in the Cabin/Road Romance category is pretty astounding, given that this sub-genre is not generally known for either cabin or road romances. As for her win in the short story category, all I can say is that writing a successful short story must be a lot harder than it looks for truly wonderful short stories are few and far between. Carla Kelly's comments about her wins and mentions: "I'm glad readers enjoyed The Wedding Journey. I set out to write a book about reluctant heroes: the surgeon, the enlisted men, Nell, and even her less-than-effective father. This was one theme that affected me greatly, after reading Thomas Kenneally's Schindler's List: it is possible for nearly anyone to rise to greatness, even if only for a brief moment. Sometimes that is all that is needed. I've long been a student of medical history. I suppose I could have given amazing twenty-first century 'healings' to nineteenth-century cases in the book, but that wouldn't have been realistic. Those were good doctors, if being a good doctor means practicing to the limits of one's knowledge. I know some have said the story doesn't have enough 'romance.' Probably it doesn't. Tough. Maybe I'll do better.

"I like writing short stories because they test my ability to put a lot in a little. This wasn't one of my best (I think my best are in Here's to the Ladies), but No Room at the Inn did underscore my deep belief in the need we all have for family love. We have to belong somewhere; we just have to.

"The honorable mention for Cabin/Road Romance tickled me the most of all, because I'm a huge sucker for road romances. Let me watch It Happened One Night, or read A Town Like Alice, and I'm in high cotton.

"As for the honorable mention as Most Glommed, your 'glom' will be complete when you have a copy of my abridged/edited version of Rudolf Friendrick Kurz's Kurz on the Upper Missouri, complete with footnotes. Univ. of Oklahoma Press is publishing it in 2004, I think! Seriously, I enjoy variety."



Julia Quinn/Romancing Mister Bridgerton
  • Wins
    • Best Heroine (stand-alone winner)
    • Best Couple
  • Honorable Mentions
    • Favorite Funny
    • Best European Historical
It's no secret that I've been a Julia Quinn fan since reading her first book, and I get personally psyched when one of my own favorite authors becomes ever-more successful. I've said it before, but if it weren't for Julia Quinn agreeing to be interviewed by me for a small romance readers' newsletter, I would likely never have started writing on the Internet. Here are Julia's comments about the results in this year's poll:

"I'm delighted to hear that Romancing Mister Bridgerton and its lead characters rated so highly among All About Romance readers. RMB was a difficult book - not to write, but to conceive. It was the first time I had ever written a book where both of the lead characters were well established in previous books. and I discovered that this can make things very difficult in the early stages of the book. Usually, when I do a spin-off, only one of the characters is already known to readers. This makes the plotting easier, as I can mold the other lead anything I want to fit the story. But with Colin and Penelope, they were both already fully-formed, and it was tremendously difficult to shape a story around them.

On the flip side, working with established characters means that they were already dear to the hearts of my readers, and I suspect that this has something to do with why my wins were for my characters rather than my books (although believe me, I'm pretty psyched about the honorable mentions in the book categories, too!) Many of my readers have seen Colin and Penelope grow and change through four books, and as a writer, I was very excited to finally delve deeper into their characters. Until RMB, I had never written scenes from their points of view, and it was very satisfying to show that there was a lot more to them than readers saw in earlier Bridgerton books.

But if there was one character who truly captured readers' hearts, it was Penelope. Which was something of a surprise, because if you looked at my reader mail prior to RMB, it was all Colin all the time. Everyone wanted his story. But maybe there is a little bit of Penelope in all of us (and certainly a lot of her in me!) I think we've all had times in our lives where we didn't feel we quite fit in, or we seemed to say the wrong thing every time we opened our mouths, or we just didn't say anything at all because we feared looking foolish. I drew on my high school experience in a big way when crafting Penelope's character, and from what I've heard from readers, both through email and amazon reviews, a lot of you felt the same way. Something about her resonated, and I can't tell you how many emails I received that said something along the lines of, 'Were you at my high school? Were you me?'

"So... thank you. Thank you for reading my books, and thank you for rooting for a heroine who was so clearly outside the norm of what we've come to expect in romance novels. And thanks also to the staff at All About Romance for hosting these awards and providing a forum for readers to hand out their own honors. I can't even imagine how much work is involved, and I for one an extremely grateful for it."



Susan Grant/Contact
  • Wins
    • Strongest Heroine
    • Best Alternate Reality Romance (stand-alone winner)
I've been a fan of Susan Grant's writing since I read and reviewed her first release, her 2000-published time travel romance, Once a Pirate. What's exciting from my perspective is that I'm not generally one for alternate reality romances, and yet I've enjoyed both her time travels and futuristics.

Women who have "made it" in a man's world impress me. Grant's background as an Air Force pilot and her current position as a commercial airline pilot are two of the things I admire about her (another is her courage). And I'm pleased that Contact was such a big success for her among our readers after the Wal-Mart/Anderson incident last year. Susan Grant had this to say about her wins:

"I'm stunned and so very honored to learn that Contact won Best Alternative Reality by such a wide margin. If I had to pick any of my stories to achieve this honor and to touch readers in such a way, it would be Contact. As some of you know, I'm an airline pilot for United. I began writing Contact on September 6, 2001. It opens with a perceived hijacking. We all know what happened five days later. It was a tremendously difficult time for me, the aftermath of 9-11. I had to go back into the skies a week later, with the FAA looking like a stepped-on anthill and forty-year veteran flight attendants trying to hide the fear in their eyes. It was hell. I didn't write for two weeks. I wanted to put aside Contact in favor of a romantic comedy. But, never one to give up easily, I stuck it out, and thanked God many times over for being able to lose myself in this cathartic piece of fiction where the good guys fought back - and won. I rewrote the opening scenes with the 'new' way of dealing with terrorists, which includes deadly force. Everything I learned in security training, I wrote into Contact, even as I was taking the classes. I hoped it would be my breakout book. It had action and adventure, a 'different' plot, a kick-butt heroine, and a poignant love story. While it was my darkest novel to date, it was upbeat, and more of a contemporary thriller than what readers might call a 'futuristic.' Nevertheless, when it came to getting to the market, the book seemed truly cursed! That's why recognition by the readers here means so much. Not only because Contact was gut wrenching to write during a very tense time, but because it never reached all the readers I'd hoped it would. On a positive note, it went back to press and was mentioned in Publishers Weekly's end-of-year wrap-up issue as an envelope-pusher of a romance.

"A truly break-through moment for me was learning that Jordan Cady from Contact won Strongest Heroine! Woo hoo! I've had nominations in the past, but always for my particular sub-genre of Alternative Romance. I longed to have the characters I write about transcend the type of story into which I put them (okay, maybe I fantasized about it so much that I somehow channeled it into happening! ) I heard from many that Contact highlighted 'girl power.' I hope so. I'm as proud of the many strong female secondary characters as I am of Jordan.

"Congratulations to all the other winners and honorable mentions. I look forward to reading the books. And thank you AAR from the bottom of my heart for supporting a book that meant so much to me."



Judith Ivory/Untie My Heart
  • Wins
    • Best European Historical
  • Honorable Mentions
    • Most Luscious Love Story
    • Best Hero
With Untie My Heart, Judith Ivory's writing took a turn for the intense in an earthy, sexual way. While not as dark as her earlier books Bliss and Dance, hero Stuart reminded AAR reviewer/editor Sandy Coleman of "the hero of the incredible Bliss, who was also quite cheerful about his own foibles." And, according to AAR reviewer/Lists editor Rachel Potter, Emma and Stuart are reminiscent of the "corkscrew crooked" characters written by Ivory when known as Judy Cuevas.
Here's what Judith said about Stuart and Untie My Heart:

"I intentially went darker with this book because I hadn't lately. I wanted to go over the edge with Stuart and see if my editor would pull him back. She didn't. That he's comfortable with his disturbed nature makes him heroic. He does what he likes to do and accepts himself with his flaws. He sees his flaws make him interesting and understands that they give him the advantage. He's an oddly invulnerable character because he's so intact."



Lisa Kleypas/Lady Sophia's Lover
  • Wins
    • Best Villain (stand-alone winner)
  • Honorable Mention
    • Author Most Glommed
While Lisa Kleypas is perhaps best known for writing "achingly real heroes who virtually all vary dramatically in age, background, and personality," to quote our DIK review of Lady Sophia's Lover, her creation of the villain from this book stood out for our readers. I think it takes a special kind of talent to write an excellent villain, who can easily become an over-the-top, melodramatic, or stereotypical Snidely Whiplash/Cruella DeVille kind of guy or gal.

In her comments, Kleypas talks about the evolution of her writing over the past 17 years. Her first book was published when she was a mere 21, and I think the most recent evolution of her work features an enhanced level of sensuality that I attribute to age and motherhood. Her books have always been sexy, but the last few have kicked it up a few notches.

"Thank you to AAR and to the kind readers who voted for my work - I am delighted and so very honored! In the past I have tried some 'villain-less' books, and had a lot of fun with them, but in the case of my Bow Street Runner trilogy, it seemed necessary to balance a man-of-action type of hero with a strong villain. I've always thought the best villains are the more complex ones, so no matter how evil or powerful a bad guy is, I often try to throw a note of vulnerability or some trace of humanity into his character. When I originally outlined Lady Sophia's Lover, I envisioned Nick as Sir Ross' nemesis, but it wasn't until I was a third of the way through the novel that I had the idea of connecting him to Sophia. In retrospect, it seems like an obvious choice, but sometimes when you're writing, these things hover in the fog for a while! As I worked on the concept of Nick Gentry, I couldn't help allowing for the possibility of his redemption. The scene in which he confesses his identity to Sophia was one of those 'inspired' moments that an author is occasionally blessed with, when the words seemed to flow out of my fingertips. (Unfortunately for me, the other 98 percent of the book is usually hard work. ) I liked the idea of everyone, including Nick himself, having serious doubts about whether or not he could eventually change into a worthwhile human being, and therefore the reader is able to come away with her/his own conclusion.

"As for the mention in most-glommed, I am touched and sincerely humbled. Thank you so much! I published my first romance at the age of 21, and I think my backlist over the past seventeen years shows two or three big evolutions. As I have changed and matured, my books have certainly reflected the occasional upheavals in my life. I know that anyone who has started reading my books in the past five years (which have been such a joyful time for me, personally and professionally) may be dissatisfied with a couple of my earlier efforts. Please forgive my mistakes, and accept my fervent thanks for allowing me to learn and grow as an author. I love being part of the romance genre, and being able to share my ideas and feelings with my readers. Your encouragement and support inspire me every day."



Mary Jo Putney/The Spiral Path
  • Wins
    • Most Tortured Hero (stand-alone winner)
  • Honorable Mention
    • Most-Hanky Read
Mary Jo Putney has tackled some extremely difficult issues in her books, usually successfully, and always without coming across as preachy. That she managed to do it again in The Spiral Path is impressive. Here are MJP's comments:

"I'm very pleased that AAR readers responded so strongly to The Spiral Path and the character of Kenzie Scott. An underlying theme in all of my books is healing and redemption, and nowhere is that more explicit than with Kenzie. I've always been fascinated by people who overcome terrible obstacles to build rewarding lives, because their example can help the rest of us through hard times. My thanks to readers who voted for the book and for Kenzie."

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Other Winners



Liz Carlyle/No True Gentleman
- Best Buried Treasure Romance


"I'm so pleased that readers enjoyed No True Gentleman. Receiving the Best Buried Treasure award is gratifying. And I appreciate everyone who voted, not just for me, but for any author, because it shows our readers' commitment to and enthusiasm for this wonderful genre."
Shannon McKenna - Best New Author (stand-alone)

"I am so thrilled and honored to have been chosen for this award! I wish I could think of something intelligent or profound to say about it, but I'm too busy bouncing up and down, curling my toes and squeaking for joy. Anybody remember Sally Fields, many years ago at the Academy Awards, sobbing out 'you like me . . . you really like me!' into the mike as she received her Oscar? Well, that's me.

"Thank you, everyone who voted for me. Your appreciation makes all that hard work worthwhile!"

Lori Foster/Too Much Temptation
- Guiltiest Pleasure Romance

"Any nomination that puts me in the same category (see interim results) with such wonderful, talented authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, Shannon McKenna and Christine Feehan is quite an accomplishment in my opinion. To win is even more astounding."

Madeline Hunter/Stealing Heaven
- Best Medieval Romance

"I am very grateful for this vote of confidence and appreciation. The ongoing support of readers like those who visit AAR means a lot to me. I was delighted just to see Stealing Heaven listed among the "front runners" - hearing that the poll voted it first place was a wonderful, sunny bit of news in this very wintry month. Thank you."

Jennifer Crusie/Faking It
- Favorite Funny

"It's always a thrill to win a slot on your site because you have such passionate, well-read voters, people who really know fiction, especially romance fiction. Please let your readers know how honored I am that they've chosen Faking It."

Cheryl Reavis/The Older Woman
- Best Series/Category Romance

"I am absolutely delighted that The Older Woman won Best Series Romance in AAR's annual poll. I tend to think of myself as one of the genre's "niche" writers, so having a book selected by reader vote is especially sweet. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who voted for The Older Woman. It's very much appreciated."

Barbara Samuel/No Place Like Home
- Most-Hanky Read

"I am delighted that No Place like Home was a favorite read this year!"

Maggie Osborne/Prairie Moon
- Best American Historical (stand-alone)

Maggie Osborne was unavailable for comment.



Emma Holly/Beyond Seduction
  • Wins
    • Most Luscious Love Story
  • (Dis)Honorable Mention
    • Purple-est Prose
It's no real surprise that an author whose background is in the writing of erotica should win our award for the Most Luscious Love Story. Emma Holly's first romance was published in 2001, and she earned honorable mention in the same category in last year's awards, which was won by Robin Schone, who had no 2002 release. And for those who may be wondering, this isn't the first time that a book has been deemed Most Luscious and also "won" or earned (dis)honorable mention for Purple-est Prose. Here are Emma's comments:

"I'm delighted to have struck a chord with enough AAR readers to win Most Luscious Love Story. I don't know about that dis-honorable mention for Most Purple Prose, though. That's kind of wishy-washy. I mean, am I purple or am I not? "

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Before we move on to "winners" in our negative categories, there are three more authors and stories to discuss: Mary Balogh, Kinley MacGregor/Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb. Each of these three authors received three honorable mentions.

A clue to the success of A Summer to Remember can be found in Robin's interview with Mary Balogh for the "Regencies in Disguise" segment of the October 15th ATBF. Not long after she began writing well-received full-length historicals, many of Balogh's readers nonetheless longed for a Mary Balogh traditional Regency. What perhaps no one knew was that this was her preference as well. As she told Robin:

"It is no accident that A Summer to Remember reads more like the Regencies I used to write than most of my other historicals do. When I first moved into historical writing, the expectation was that I would write 'bigger' books in more than just length. Then suddenly I acquired an enlightened editor. She told me that she had just read a few of my old Signets and gave me leave to forget about historicals and to write Regencies again. The only difference would be that they would be slightly longer and would be packaged and marketed as historicals. I think I really got back into the old stride with A Summer to Remember. I have abandoned all ideas of making the books 'bigger' with complex plots and have reverted to writing tightly plotted, character-driven books in which the emphasis is on the love story passionately told from the deep interior point of view of my hero and heroine."

Mary Balogh/A Summer to Remember

Honorable Mentions

  • Best Romance
  • Best European Historical
  • Author Most Glommed

"Thank you, Laurie. I am delighted by all three Honorable Mentions. It is lovely to know that your readers know and enjoy my books. And for anyone who liked A Summer to Remember - well, there are six books proceeding from it, all about the Bedwyn family. The first three will be out in April, May, and June - all in paperback."



Kinley MacGregor/Sherrilyn Kenyon has been a published romance author since 1996, but 2002 was clearly her year for buzz. It seemed that everywhere you turned, readers were discussing her books, and most found them fun, sexy, and written with a certain sparkle. As was stated in one of our reviews of another of her 2002 releases, "this book perfectly fit the bill for the rainy Sunday afternoon that I spent reading it. You know, sometimes nothing else will do but a perfectly prepared and presented four-course meal. And sometimes all it takes is a Hershey bar." While many of us love Godiva, a Hershey bar is always welcome!

Kinley MacGregor/Sherrilyn Kenyon

Honorable Mentions

"I'd like to send a big "thank you" to my readers for their support and acknowledgement of my work. As an author, I value the opinion of my readers most of all and I am honored that my books and stories stayed in their minds and hearts. It truly means a lot to have a reader say "well done." I wish them all big hugs!"



Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb

Honorable Mentions

Nora Roberts also tied with Suzanne Brockmann to "win" as Author Others Love that You Don't

Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb has been a fixture in our awards since their inception seven years ago. In that time she has won or received honorable mention an astounding 37 times. In addition to those 37 positive placements, she's also received 7 negative placements - but none for her J.D. Robb books. Earlier this week we posted a DIK Review for the 16th book in her In Death series of futuristic romantic suspense novels. It's amazing that she's been able to maintain chemistry between Eve and Roarke for that many books when a single romance is considered successful if chemistry is maintained throughout the course of 200 - 400 pages. It's also amazing to me that after having written something like 150 books and short stories, she can continue to write not only good books, but great ones. Nora Roberts was unavailable for comment.

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Those Who Lost

I decided to give this section a heading of "Those Who Lost" rather than "The Big Losers" because it's rather brutal enough to win an AAR dubious distinction or receive a (dis)honorable mention. AAR's reviewers were perhaps more in sync with readers regarding the books winning or receiving honorable mention in our positive categories than they were for those books on the negative end of things. After all, our grade for Hard Eight was a B+; readers voted it the Most Disappointing Read for 2002. But the author whom I believe suffered the biggest loss was Stephanie Laurens.

Though it's been a decade since her first book was published, most readers had never heard of Stephanie Laurens until 1997, with the publication of her first full-length historical romance. The very next year brought Devil's Bride, which captured the fancy of readers with the hero-in-pursuit of independent heroine dead-set against marriage storyline that would become the trademark of the Cynster series. The other trademark of the series? Inventive, fun, and happily over-done love scenes. Between 1998 and 2002 there were 9 published Cynster novels, and with her two 2002 novels, Laurens seems to have worn out her welcome. Our grade for On a Wild Night was a C+. Our grade for On a Wicked Dawn was a D. And our grade for her 2003 Cynster novel, The Perfect Lover, is a C+.

Stephanie Laurens won Best European Historical Romance for Devil's Bride in our 1999 awards and received honorable mention for Best Hero as well. She earned another honorable mention the next year and won for Most Luscious Love Story and received honorable mention for Best European Historical Romance the year after. Two years later and her only showings are negative - for Most Annoying Lead Character (On a Wild Night) and Author You Gave Up On, perhaps better known as the Jumped the Shark category. Another sign it's time to let the Cynsters go? Check out the co-winning entry in our 2002 Purple Prose Parody Contest.

Look for further discussion on the very concept of negative awards in the next issue of ATBF; by answering a question or two posed at the end of this issue you can help in that discussion.

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Our Seventh Anniversary

Today marks the seventh anniversary of this column, originally known as Laurie's News and Views. I like to "check in" with those who read the column on each anniversary to find out if it's still relevant, useful, informative, entertaining, and fun. Keeping it fresh after so long wouldn't be possible with the able assistance of my two co-columnists - Robin Uncapher and Anne Marble. Robin has been my co-columnist for three years now; it's Anne's first anniversary.

AAR has grown tremendously over the past year, as has readership of this column. Its success, I believe, has to do with the organic nature of the column as ideas bubble up from readers and what we're reading as well as the brilliance of those who contribute to it. Of course, if it's no longer relevant, useful, informative, entertaining, or fun, you'll need to let us know - obviously the bubbles went flat and I never noticed.

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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 What did your own ballot look like? How many of the books listed had you read? With what percentage of the final tally did you agree? Are you inclined to read any of the books that did well that are in your tbr (or possibly tbb) pile? And, if you are one of those many readers who didn't read a tremendous number of 2002-published romances, do you now feel as though you missed something?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission There's been considerable discussion on AARList regarding the negative categories. Some feel we do a disservice to the genre by including negative categories while others note that many entertainment magazines do Best/Worst lists annually. Where do you stand on this issue?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission Is there a reasonable mix of well-known and lesser-known authors on our list of winners? If not, why do you think that is?
this image is owned by All About Romance and may not be used without express permission What are the big surprises in this year's results as far as you're concerned? Which results didn't surprise you at all?
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 If we were to include an additional category for next year, what would you like to see added? Best Inspirational Romance? Best Women's Fiction? Best Hybrid? Or perhaps something else? Do you think we should add an extra category?
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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2003 AAR Reader Awards
Interim Results

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