Before I begin, I must issue a disclaimer. I don’t have ten favorite books. I have hundreds of them. I imagine most of us here at AAR do. When the idea for the Top Ten Tuesday came up I was panicked wondering how I would narrow my list down to just ten. How could I do that? The simple answer is I can’t. I didn’t. The following list will cover one of my favorites from ten of my favorite romance subgenres. Each book is actually representing many peers. And that is an amazing thing. In looking over a few decades of reading romance novels I’ve fallen in love with the genre all over again. There have been so many fantastic reads over the years, so many books that captured the essence of just what I want from a romance novel.
Just what is that you might ask? The answer is both simple and complex. I want a lovely love story. Easy enough, right? Wrong. So many authors still confuse lust with love, giving us two bickering people who have hot sex while barely being able to be in the same room together without making us want to smack them both. Other authors confuse excitement with love, delivering fascinating tales which happen to include people falling in love but not really focusing their story on that magical fact. Yet other authors provide us with caricatures falling in love; their books could contain a disclaimer about no humans being involved since I certainly don’t recognize any humans I have ever met in their characters.
So what happens when authors do get it right? We have two people who genuinely get to know each other. We have the surface action of physical attraction and the emotional aspect of two people being enchanted by each other. We have real lives going on while the romance takes place. We meet friends and family who aren’t just set ups for the next book but who provide us with insight into our primary couple. And we have focus – an intense look into watching the characters fall for each other. That to me makes for a luscious love story.
I do have a caveat to my list. Many of the novels that made up my reading journey and that have made me such an avid romance reader didn’t make the list. Of course I adore Pride and Prejudiceand Sense and Sensibility by the fabulous Jane Austen, and of course they were an important step in my reading journey. Mary Stewart is the grandmother of the Romantic Suspense novel with her amazing stories such as Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, and Touch Not the Catand her books will always rank among my favorites. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte brought us the modern gothic, a genre which I love but didn’t include since it is pretty sparse right now. These books are pillars of romance favorite lists and I decided that any decent desert island would already have them in stock.
Another difficult omission was my very first series romance. novel. There is no doubt that Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe, a Harlequin Presents from the late 1970s, had a huge impact on me. The story of Lian, an English girl who travels to Argentina in the hopes of becoming a dancer and Ricardo, a man who stands to inherit a large ranch if he can only find a bride instantly, had me glomming Harlequins during my middle school years. However, as nostalgic as I feel towards Lord of La Pampa it simply isn’t as good as the novels I’ve listed below. It might be an emotional favorite but is it a book I would whip out as an example of how great romance can be? No. So without further ado here is my list:
Medieval Period: The Troubadour’s Romance by Robyn Carr Nothing says medieval like an Alpha Male. One of the few I’ve read who was believable for his time period and yet not an alpha a$$ is Sir Royce Leighton. Royce’s past had him less than delighted by the idea of marriage but the lovely Felise Scelfton proves to him that love can blossom in even the most dismal of landscapes. What I cherish most about this novel is the genuine love story between Felise and Royce, two people who see each other’s hearts and appreciate what lies beneath the surface. The author’s lovely writing and detailed knowledge of history make it a pure pleasure to read.
European (Regency Era): A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh I’ve loved my share of Regency era romances but Mary Balogh is the author that has DIK’d the most for me in that subgenre. I chose A Summer to Remember to represent them because Kit and Lauren’s story is for me the most romantic of them all. He is a complete rakehell and womanizer. She is a prim and proper beauty who was left at the altar. A wager with his friends – and a possible unwanted alliance at home – have him seeking her hand in marriage. The result is one unforgettable summer and the love of a lifetime. And it really is just that – love. Watching Kit and Lauren discover each other as people and realize just how perfectly suited they are to be together was absolutely beautiful.
American History: Runabout by Pamela Morsi This book is set at the turn of the 20th Century and captures beautifully the ideal of “Americana”. Tulsa May Bruder is another jilted at the altar (or at least during the engagement party) heroine. Handsome, successful Luther Briggs is the last man anyone would expect to court her. After all, the two have been best friends for years. Yet Luther’s plan to make everyone forget about Tulsy’s failed engagement works far better than either of them would have ever expected. This lovely story captures everything about what it means to genuinely fall in love. There is a scene at the beginning that says it all: “He looked down at her again. Seeing the golden freckled face, the intelligent brown eyes, and the wide, smiling mouth with its endearing gap toothed grin, he smiled. “I don’t have to take your side, Tulsy” he said. “But I always will.” The moment was sweet and fresh and lightened Tulsa May’s heart as Latin poems and sweet summer music never could.” It touched my heart, too.
Military Romance: Frisco’s Kid by Suzanne Brockmann Ms. Brockmann’s main competition was from herself. Did I love Over the Edge most? Or did I want to go with the one that sent me on my Brockmann glom – The Unsung Hero? The fact is that despite her many writing flaws (her deep POV translates as “too lazy to stay consistent” for me) she is still the one person who delivers the military hero fantasy the best. In this novel we get Lt. Alan Francisco who feels like he has lost it all when a leg injury means he can no longer be an active duty SEAL. Meeting Mia Summerton and caring for his five year old niece show him just how much life still has to offer. What I love about this book is the tale of second chances and the hope that comes with them. The characters embody the ideal that when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade. I also loved how Frisco, used to being admired for his strength, learns that it is tenderness and vulnerability that are the ingredients for a lasting love. The pink couch was a magic moment for me, too. And the shopping bag scene.
Romantic Suspense: Open Season by Linda Howard I love this genre and there are dozens of great writers in it. Some of Tami Hoag’s early works, such as Ashes to Ashesreally gave my pick a run for its money. Sandra Brown had several that I considered. Some of Tess Geritsen’s early works were also in the running. But Ms. Howard’s toughest competition came from herself. In the end, Open Season, the story of Jack, a tough as nails cop turned small town sheriff and Daisy the librarian won because I love it. It has a strong romance and a strong mystery. It mixes dark with light, funny with sad and showcases all the tools Linda Howard has in her considerable arsenal of talent. This is what it means to write both a love story and a mystery and blend them together in such a fashion that neither outweighs the other. The condom scene in the middle of the street is what cinched my choice. A priceless moment.
Rom Com: Nobody’s Baby but Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips The romantic comedy often seems to work better in movies than in print. Phillips is one of the rare authors that takes that rule and blows it out of the water. She is also another author whose strongest competition came from herself. I choose the story of Jane, a bright woman with a really dumb plan for getting pregnant and Cal, a football player who needs to learn to act his age, because it has heart, humor and some truly hilarious moments. My favorite of those comes when Cal, finding his favorite breakfast cereal tampered with, resorts to calling Jane a “cereal killer.” Priceless.
Inspirational Romance: A Woman’s Place by Lynn Austin What I love about this book is the way it turns conventional thinking on its head. Many people would expect inspirational romances to be the bastion of conservative values. And some are. But most leave the preaching for Sunday morning and take a hard look at what women need and want, as well as what makes a good love story. In this beautiful novel we meet Virginia, a housewife who wants to do her share for the war – and desperately needs to revitalize her marriage. Helen may have wealth but her heart has a hole that money has never filled. Gentle Jean thinks her man is Prince Charming – until she meets someone who makes her rethink just what that is. And then Rosa is a newlywed taken from her familiar environment, living with people she doesn’t know and longing for the husband who is so far away. All of them learn that love is never what you expect it to be as they spend time working in a factory during the early violent years of WWII.
Favorite Contemporary: The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen It was nearly impossible to pick a book for this category from the hundreds of choices I had. I went with Ms. Allen’s book because it is beautifully written, charming, sweet, inspiring – she is one of the best authors writing right now. Among her many excellent novels this is my favorite because it tells the sweetest and most complex love story. Julia Winterson is a bad girl made good, a troubled teen who now owns a successful business. Sawyer Alexander is and always has been a golden boy, perfect in looks, personality, wealth and character. The two share a secret – and a love – that is filled with magic. The author weaves this book with love on every page – romantic love, familial love and love for those we don’t know but long for anyway.
Favorite Paranormal: The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley No favorites list would be complete for me without Susanna Kearsley. One of the things I love about her makes her perfect for this sub-genre – the way she has of bringing the slightly magical into the realm of the everyday. Carrie McClelland is a writer of historical novels, turning actual events into breathtaking fictionalized tales. But things take a turn for the deliciously macabre when Carrie begins to dream her most recent novel – and then finds out that those dreams contain far more fact than fiction. And the most disturbing bit of all is that the man of her dreams is now a very real person in her life, Graham Keith. Had she and Graham actually lived once before, loved before? And how did that story end? This tale has a haunting, lyrical ambience which sucks you in and doesn’t let you go till the very last page.
Favorite YA Paranormal: Twilight by Stephanie Meyer YA is an exploding market right now and contains many excellent novels. And yes, some of them are better written than Twilight, with more depth to their characters and plot. But none of them concentrate on the relationship the way Twilight does. When Edward Cullen meets Bella Swan he could just eat her up. Literally. Edward is a vampire and Bella’s blood sings a particularly potent call to him. He resists and the two begin a love story that will change the destiny of a town and last forever.
So there they are. Ten of my favorite books from some of my favorite sub-genres. My first and most important question is – would the first romance you ever read make your favorites list? Why or why not? Which sub-genres did I miss which you would have included? Do you agree or disagree with my description of a DIK? Which of the books on my list have you read? Based on the list, what would you recommend I read?
– Maggie Boyd