As with everyone else here, I found it quite difficult to whittle my list of book loves down to 10. I could handle 50 or even 25, but 10 just seems like such a paltry number when compared with the sheer number of books and characters I truly adore. Just to keep things manageable, I kept my list to post-1970s romance, which cut out some classic favorites such as Persuasion, Venetia, my little stash of Betty Neels books, or Elswyth Thane’s wonderful Williamsburg novels. I also stuck with romance, rather than picking some of the books I’ve loved in other genres which have romantic elements, such as Julia Spencer-Fleming’s mysteries or Catherine Asaro’s science fiction. So, what did I come up with? Well, in no particular order, here they are:
To Love and To Cherish by Patricia Gaffney – The controversial emotional powerhouse that is To Have and To Hold tends to get most of the attention, but this first novel of the Wyckerley trilogy is the one that I’ve always loved the most. It’s a tender, touching love story and hero’s struggle over his love for a woman trapped in a horrible marriage is filled with such amazing tension. If you like your romances emotional and angsty, this is one not to miss.
Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James – Speaking of angst-filled romance, this is another that fits that bill. I’d be the first to say that Libertine’s Kiss is not an easy, breezy read. However, this multilayered story full of raw emotion, court intrigue, and plenty of Restoration-era literary and historical references is a feast for the senses. I love the vividness of the world James creates, and I ached for her characters, who have had to go through so much before getting a shot at happily ever after.
Dirty by Megan Hart – I love Megan Hart’s writing and I have tremendous respect for her versatility as an author. She’s written erotic romance as well as mainstream fiction, and even a work of science fiction. However, this erotic tale of a deeply wounded heroine finally falling beyond lust into love remains my favorite of hers. The sex is hot, the writing is smart and I sooo wanted these characters to get their happily ever after.
Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer – If there were ever two characters in dire need of happily ever after, it would be Ellie Dinsmore and Will Parker. Watching the town outcast and her ex-con handyman find something of great worth both in themselves and in each other is a tender, beautiful journey. This book has a certain quiet, emotional power about it that enchants even some of my non-romance reading friends.
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn – I’ve enjoyed most of Julia Quinn’s books for a couple of reasons: She captures human nature and emotion so well and her comic timing is fantastic. The latter is especially evident here. Viscount brims over with witty dialogue and even if some of the scenes are a bit over the top, I suspect that more than a few readers have laughed aloud while reading it. And if you’ve seen references online to the famous(infamous?) Mallet of Death, this is where you’ll find it.
For My Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale – I know that Flowers From the Storm tends to get a lot of attention and it is a wonderful read, but I have more of a soft spot for this one. Yes, the Middle English makes it a more challenging romance read than usual. However, I love the time period in which it’s set and I also love how Kinsale takes a sometimes cold and often unlovable heroine and gives her a story that captivates the reader.
The Blood of Roses by Marsha Canham – It’s no secret that I love a good saga, and this one just swept me away the first time I read it. In order to truly appreciate this book, it definitely helps to read its predecessor, The Pride of Lions. However, while Lions is good enough, this book is just epic. This tale of lovers thrown together, torn apart by war, and then brought back together again is gritty, emotional, and just wonderful to read.
Bad Boys Do by Victoria Dahl – The entire Donovan Brother Brewery trilogy is well worth reading, but this middle book was definitely my favorite. I tend to notice interesting heroines, vivid settings and fantastic plots most of all while reading, but the chronically underestimated Jamie Donovan stands out as a hero and he truly makes this book. The mix of humor and angst in this story felt spot-on, and I’ve already read this one more than once.
Lost Warriors by Rachel Lee – This is one of those books that will probably remain forever in my Top Ten even if it’s not one that I’ve reread recently. There are some novels that catch a reader on a certain emotional level and remain forever burned into memory, and this is one of those books for me. When I was in college, I spent some time as a refugee relief worker overseas, working primarily with Bosnians and Kossovar Albanians. The adjustment to “normal” life after spending so much time on the edges of a conflict zone was difficult and since the wars in the Balkans weren’t exactly fashionable, there weren’t a whole lot of folks who understood those of us who had been there. It was while I was finishing up school that I found this book in a used bookstore, and the hero’s struggles with PTSD combined with the heroine’s unabashed love for him just melted me.
The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley – I absolutely love Kearsley’s books and I originally thought The Winter Sea just might have to go in my top ten as it’s one that improves with every reading. However, I thought this book was even better, and it blew me away on my first reading. I loved following the threads of story both in the present and in 18th century Russian. Kearsley makes her settings feel real, and both the present-day and historical plots have wonderful love stories running through them. Her 18th century heroine goes through a lot over the course of her story, and I alternately ached for her and adored watching her grow as a person.
I wish this could have been a top 25 because there are so many other books(The Roselynde Chronicles by Roberta Gellis, any of a number of Carla Kelly’s novels, a few of my favorite Harlequin Historicals….) I would love to add to this list, but here it is. These are the 10 that currently sit at the top level of my DIK shelves. I’m getting excited about the impending Top 100 poll and can’t wait to see what everyone else out there loves reading!
– Lynn Spencer