Note from our pollsters: AAR is pleased to announce that starting on Tuesday October 1st, 2013 we will open polling for AAR Reader’s Top 100 Romance List. To get everyone ready for Top 100 poll we will post our reviewer and staff picks for their personal Top 10 Favorite Romances every Tuesday starting now until the poll opens in October.
As a way to get to know me as one of the newer reviewers as well as something fun to get us all excited for this fall’s AAR Readers Top 100 Poll, mine is the first installment in a series of AAR staff posts discussing our personal Top 10 favorite romance novels. It’s always nice to rave about your favorite reads, and I’m excited for the chance to talk up these books, hopefully inspiring you to pick up a title that you, too, might love.
When deciding what books to include on my personal Top 10 list, I used one criterion above and beyond the “must be a romance” dictate. I applied the ultimate DIK question – if I had a chest that could only hold ten books to keep me happy while stranded indefinitely on a deserted island, which ones would I choose to put in it?
Before I begin, a caveat: I consider Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to be not only my favorite romance of all time but perhaps even my favorite book ever. But the fact that it is already well established as a true romance classic and is a favorite of so many caused me to leave it off my list. Consider that a given, if you will, that I wouldn’t need room in my book chest because I’d have my copy of P&P tucked safely in my pocket!
So without further ado, my all-time Romance Top 10, in no particular order:
Out of Control by Suzanne Brockmann
Suzanne Brockmann introduced me to the world of military romance, and I’ve never looked back. As a hero, Navy SEAL Ken Karmody is so untraditionally appealing. While not the hunkiest nor the suavest guy around, he’s certainly the sweetest and most realistic. Indeed, Brockmann is one of my favorite writers in the genre because of her ability to express dialogue and point of view so realistically. Add in a steamy secondary romance between aid worker Mollie who is no longer a sweet young thing and tortured ex-patriot “Davy” Jones that is just as compelling as the primary relationship and this book always entertains.
Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward
In vampire warrior Zsadist, J.R. Ward created a truly tortured hero. This male has major reasons for his messed up psyche, and his flaws are true personality disorders not just surface affectations to make him seem dark and edgy. Zsadist has a heart of gold, but it’s buried so deep beneath his self-loathing that only a true soul mate can bring him around. That’s why when heroine Bella manages to help Zsadist not only find love but actually embrace it, the sense of accomplishment is amazing. Plus, not to give away any spoilers, when Zsadist finally allows himself to get physical with Bella, the situation is beyond hot.
A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
I love this book because it has all of the old skool romance tropes that I love – uber-protective warrior alpha hero, feisty heroine, castles, misunderstandings, family clashes, evil relatives – without any of the yucky stuff like forced seductions. It’s simply a good old-fashioned return to the yesteryear of romance novels.
Honor’s Splendour by Julie Garwood
The first scene in this book alone is enough to make it a favorite of mine. Heroine Madelyne warms the frozen feet of captured warrior Duncan of Wexton, ensuring that she’ll have a place in his heart forever. This Julie Garwood historical runs only slightly ahead of The Bride as far as my favorites go. Both contain the traditional Garwood somewhat-ditzy heroine and protective warrior hero. But the way Madelyne becomes a beloved member of Duncan’s family is heartwarming.
The Best Man by Kristan Higgins
This is a recent edition to the list, and I thank reviewers Wendy Clyde and LinnieGayl Kimmel for leading me to this laugh-out-loud story. What I loved is that the relationship between Levi and Faith developed so organically from dislike and distrust to mutual respect and affection and finally to love. So often, we are told that two characters don’t like each other but their actions say differently or the reasons seem trite. In this case, Levi and Faith’s history, presented in flashbacks, made their current feelings about each other very understandable. Higgins did an excellent job building the sexual tension, to the degree that when Levi finally makes a move, I truly felt giddy. Too, I love that Faith’s epilepsy was depicted realistically and used to deepen the relationship between the two main characters. And did I mention, this book made me laugh out loud.
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Technically, this is a Young Adult title. However, the romance between Katsa and Po left me breathless and is one of my favorites in any genre. Katsa is a strong heroine who, while fully capable of saving herself, comes to learn that she can allow herself to need others and can trust them to get her back without ever subverting her own power or sacrificing what she believes to be the right thing for her. Her love isn’t given easily or just because hero Po is oh-my-god-so-hot. He’s strong enough to hold his own against Katsa and earns her respect, and rather than be put off by her cold demeanor, he persists in breaking down her emotional walls. The moment when Po confesses his true feelings is incredibly moving. Most of all, I love that in the end, Katsa’s ability to love herself and the self-worth that she finds is the ultimate victory and the best happily ever after.
Mackenzie’s Mountain by Linda Howard
Mary Potter is perhaps my favorite romance heroine. She’s sweet and innocent, every bit the school teacher/librarian plain Jane for reasons that make sense and aren’t just because Howard needed her to be that way so that she could rip off her glasses and become sexy-fied. But when she falls for half-breed Wolf Mackenzie, she becomes a lion willing to take on the world if it means protecting him, regardless of how it affects her reputation. I love protective Wolf’s desire to protect Mary from himself even though she’s the one person who could give him the happiness he’s been so long and unfairly denied. This is just a good, old-fashioned love story.
The Admiral’s Bride by Suzanne Brockmann
While both hero Jake Robinson and heroine Zoe Lange are fantastic characters, the plot of this sham-marriage-of-convenience story is what puts this category romance on my list. In order to recover stolen bio toxins that could kill millions of people, Jake and Zoe must pretend to be husband and wife so that they can infiltrate the compound of an egomaniacal, misogynistic cult leader. The attraction between the two is sizzling, and widower Jake, who remains very sexy into his fifties, really struggles to reconcile his guilt over having feelings for the much younger Zoe especially given how much he adored his deceased wife. Add in the way these two have to hide their amorous adventures from cameras watching their every move, it’s a fantastic read.
Quinn by Sally Mandel
This book was published in 1983 and is currently out of print. It’s well worth finding, however. It paints the love story between city girl Quinn Mallory, who, when still a virgin at age 22, offers herself up as the prize in a contest won by outdoor loving Will Ingraham. The conflict is truly insurmountable, as Quinn has dreams of a career as a news broadcaster while Will wants only to return to the quiet mountains of Idaho. Their romance is bittersweet because they are so clearly meant for each other. I have to warn that Quinn does not end with a traditional happily ever after, but it is emotionally satisfying even if it does evoke a few tears.
Chase the Moon by Catherine Nicolson
This is a 1984 title that is also out of print. By all rights, I shouldn’t like this book at all because it involves some very highly unlikely coincidences. But it follows the tradition of the great 80s melodramas written by authors like Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins. Corrie Modena is an orphan who has a gift that a secret benefactor is helping her cultivate. In order to finance voice lessons, she takes a job as the personal assistant to the cynical, jet-setting Guy de Chardonnet. As the two get to know each other and things become physical, Corrie begins to see that she’s in way over her head. But Guy harbors secrets of his own. This is pure, jet-setting, globe-trotting fun.
And there you have it, my Top 10. Each of us here at AAR will be posting our lists between now and October 1, and I look forward to discovering some new favorites recommended by my colleagues.
Please feel free to list your top 10 in the comments section.
– Jenna Harper