While analyzing the results certain categories stuck out. Many readers questioned the dearth of good medieval romances in 2003. 2003, as we know, is the year Madeline Hunter moved from the Medieval to the Regency era, and I think that loss showed. The win in the medieval category was huge and I believe reflected not only how much readers enjoyed Born in Sin, but how few choices there were. Hunter has pretty much owned the medieval category since 2001, although she shared it in 2002 with Susan Squires, whose 2003 Medieval came in an extremely distant second to MacGregor’s book. And speaking of Kinley MacGregor, aka Sherrilyn Kenyon – she tied to win in the Tortured Hero category for her Kenyon title and received honorable mention for her MacGregor release.
The character of Eve Dallas from J.D. Robb’s long-running In Death series is probably the winningest character we’ve ever seen, although Robb’s Roarke comes close (Eve may have an “unfair advantage” in that she gets votes for both Best Heroine and Strongest Heroine while Roarke “only” gets votes for Best Hero and not Tortured Hero). This year, as in three previous years, Roarke’s been our readers’ Best Hero, and in three other years he received honorable mention in this category. Roarke and Eve are the winningest couple in romance and have been our readers’ Best Couple for five of the past eight years, knocked off the throne in 2002 by Sam and Alyssa, who were secondary characters in that year for Suzanne Brockmann. Eve and Roarke won honorable mention in 2003 to Julia Quinn’s Colin and Penelope and win honorable mention again this year to Brockmann’s Sam and Alyssa as leads in their own (finally!) story.
What stands out most in the Best Western/American Historical category is that the top two vote getters were not romances at all. While Lorraine Heath, our biggest past winner (with three wins and two honorable mentions) in this category, did not have an American Historical out this year, our second biggest past winner, Maggie Osborne (with two wins and one honorable mention) did – and she was not a top vote-getter this time. Even so, Carla Kelly’s historical anthology Here’s to the Ladies and P.B. Ryan’s (Patricia Ryan) mystery Still Life with Murder placed first and second in this category respectively.
In almost every year the book that wins as Best Romance either wins or receives honorable mention in the time setting category as well (because readers often choose two books to honor, sometimes the Best Romance “only” receives honorable mention in the setting category). But that’s not always the case. This year is an anomaly, and so was 2000:
||Winners/Hon Mentions by Setting
||SEP won Contemp
||Brockway won Eur Hist
||SEP won Contemp
Hon Mention to Roberts
|Joy won Alt Reality
||SEP and Ivory
||SEP won Contemp
||Quinn won Eur Hist as stand-alone
||Crusie won Contemp
||Ashworth won Eur Hist
||Brockmann won Contemp
||Brockmann won Rom Susp
||Brockmann won Contemp
and Rom Susp
|Eur Hist Hon Mention to Balogh
||Gibson won Contemp
Hon Mention to Leone
|Howard won Rom Susp as stand-alone
|* We did not award by setting in 1997/Links to yearly awards are jump links
This year’s poll indicates AAR’s reviews matched our readers very well; each of the top four vote-getters in the Best Romance category, for instance, received DIK status. 17 category winners received DIK status; the other eight received grades in the B range, which means that all the winners in positive categories received some level of recommendation from our review staff. In the far fewer negative categories, though, there was more disparity. Obviously there’s Brockmann’s Gone Too Far, which was both Best Romance and Worst Romance – it received DIK status from us. And then there’s Thompson’s Nerd in Shining Armor, given a grade of B at AAR. The heroine from this book was voted Most Annoying Lead Character and the book itself was voted Biggest Disappointment.
Results in the Best Series Romance category reminded me of the Medieval results. The winner and honorable mention received so many more votes than the title next in line that it begs the question: were Brockmann and Korbel’s books that good or were the pickings that slim in 2004? On the other hand, the Short Story category results required a photo-finish among the top four vote-getters.
If for no other reason than it allows me to bring up Audrey Niffenegger, let’s now turn to the Alternate Reality results. For the second time J.D. Robb won the category, but Audrey Niffenegger, whose The Time Traveler’s Wife is not a genre romance, receives honorable mention. She was among the top vote-getters in five categories. Other less-known authors who were top vote-getters in multiple categories include Candice Proctor, Marsha Moyer, and Laura Leone, who was a top vote-getter in six categories (one less than Mary Balogh, who appeared in more positive categories [only] than any other author).
We at AAR don’t believe it’s possible to talk about the best without also discussing the worst, a widespread practice throughout the media in discussions of movies, books, and music. Let’s begin with the Author You Gave Up On category, which has been “won” by some of the biggest names in romance over the years:
- 1997 Coulter
- 1998 Coulter
- 1999 Deveraux
- 2000 Coulter (Perhaps so many people had given up on her by 1999 that there was nobody left to give up thereafter?)
- 2001 Krentz/Quick
- 2002 Krentz/Quick
- 2003 Laurens
- 2004 Laurens
I think there’s fairly widespread agreement that Coulter and Deveraux’s best days are behind them, but Quick’s latest book surprised many readers. Is there still life for Laurens as well? Reviews are mixed.
When we began this poll in 1997 we included a Most Disappointing Read category but not one for Worst Read; that wasn’t added until 1999. We’ve always polled for Purple-est Prose, even if some interpret the category or the results as “sexiest writing” rather than most flowery and over-the-top in terms of description and style. Last year Anne Marble wrote an ATBF segment on an AARList discussion about negative awards and whether or not there is a need for them. As Anne reported at the time, while some members of AARList (comprised of both readers and authors) believe negative awards are “schoolyard” and detrimental, others find them useful as a counterbalance to provide weight to the winning entries. Negative awards also offer a way for readers to vent about authors they don’t “get” and can help us see trends over time. Let’s list all three categories here and see if their disappointment, awfulness, and purple-tude stand the test of time: