Although I know other reviewers and staff have had a lot of trouble deciding upon their top ten romance novels, I have to confess it was mostly easy for me. This likely has something to do with the fact that I’ll be stranded on what is essentially a desert island for the next few months—that’s right, I’m off to college. There’s not much space in a dorm, so only the crème de la crème of my romance novel collection travels with me, and since many of those books have already been mentioned, it’s actually been fairly simple to whittle my list down to just ten.
Even so, I still have some books (like Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgerton or Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm) which I ache to write about and recommend. The books on my list have all been read and reread dozens of times. I take scrupulous care of all my books, and if you ran your hand down the spines of everything sitting on my bookshelf, you’d find perhaps 80% are in fairly pristine condition. These ones, however, look much more worn. They’re carted around (on vacation, off to college, etc.), they’re lent out to family and friends, and they’re the books most likely to be found sitting on a coffee table waiting to be spilled on.
So, without further ado, here are, in no particular order, some of my top bunch of romance novels—the true DIKs which I’ll be carting off to college this week.
Ravishing the Heiress—Ravishing the Heiress, to my mind, is the quintessential arranged-marriage story. If I could only read one book with an arranged marriage in it, for the rest of eternity, it would be this one. With the use of a few key flashbacks to show the earlier parts of their marriage, Sherry Thomas tells the story of how Fitz and Millie, two young people forced by unhappy circumstances to marry, fell in love. I think at the heart of most arranged-marriage romances is the idea that building a life together and enjoying a sense of true companionship will lead to real love. Fitz and Millie were certainly not soul mates when they married, but it’s clear that eight years later, when they finally get around to admitting their feelings, they are.
When He Was Wicked—Romance novels are all about finding your True Love, the one person who completes you. The idea of losing your True Love is something we generally like to ignore. But it happens, and when it does we’re expected to pick up the pieces of our life and move on. To perhaps find love elsewhere.
When He Was Wicked tells the story of Francesca Bridgerton Stirling, a woman who married her other half and then lost him. We go through that pain with her at the beginning, and then share in every ounce of her guilt and torment as she comes to find love again, this time with her husband’s cousin (who is also her best friend), Michael Stirling. This is slightly different from Julia Quinn’s usual style—definitely something to read with tissues at hand—but I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Kiss an Angel—I respect many of my favorite heroines for their intellect and amazing abilities. Daisy Deveraux earns a whole new kind of respect from me, however. She begins Kiss an Angel as a pampered girl used to living an easy life, but ends it as a resilient woman capable of supporting herself—even if it means scooping elephant poop for a living. Yet through it all she maintains what her husband Alex comes to call her “love light.” In spite of all the trials she’s put through—marrying a mysterious man who turns out to be a circus performer, learning how to pull her weight in a circus, etc.—Daisy manages to keep her good humor intact. As with any other Susan Elizabeth Phillips novel, this book is filled with wit and warmth, but Daisy is what puts it in my top ten. I’m not sure that I could scoop elephant poop, run a menagerie, or perform a circus act where a whip snaps within inches of my face. The fact that she can, and that she does it all with a smile on her face, makes this book one of my favorites.
Mr. Perfect—Whenever I’m in the mood for a really witty read, full of off-the-charts chemistry and great comebacks, I crack open of my old copy of Mr. Perfect. Although it’s true that two people do get murdered within its 300-something pages, the back-and-forth between Sam and Jaine easily keeps things upbeat and lively. The story begins with four women—Jaine, Marci, TJ, and Luna—making a list of all the attributes they think the perfect man would have. Unfortunately, not everyone who reads the list finds it so funny. When it becomes apparent that someone was offended enough to attack the four authors Jaine starts spending much more time with her neighbor, Sam (who happens to be a cop), and the sparks really start to fly.
Blue-Eyed Devil—Hardy Cates is the ultimate man’s man—he grew up as the poorest worker on an oil rig, but has worked his way up to owning those rigs. Haven Travis is the very last woman who would want Hardy. She’s just gotten out of a marriage that was both physically and emotionally abusive, and she needs time to recover. Haven has to figure out how to be comfortable standing on her own again, and Hardy makes her anything but comfortable. You’d think there would be absolutely no way for these two to get together.
As it turns out, you’d be wrong. Blue-Eyed Devil is a wonderful tale about Haven’s road to recovery, to rediscovering her sense of self. Hardy, rather than being a hindrance, is an asset—reminding her that she should have faith in herself, and showing her a future full of promise and peace rather than pain. I love this book, start to finish.
Lord Carew’s Bride—Hartley Wade, the Marquess of Carew, is about as far from Hardy as you can get. He’s quiet, he’s composed, he wanders his estate in clothes so worn he looks like a servant, and he has a limp. All of these things put together make Samantha Newman like him on sight when she first meets him rambling across his estate. By the time she discovers he’s a marquess they’re already good friends on the verge of marriage. Although bitten by love before, Samantha decides to take a chance on Hartley because he’s so gentle. For anyone who’s ever liked the nice guy, not the macho one—here is your hero. Here is Hartley.
Rising Tides—Ethan Quinn, somewhat like Hartley, is a gentle sort of man. He’s an honest, hardworking, steadfast fisherman in the Chesapeake Bay who can’t seem to forget the horrors of his childhood. He feels damaged, and as a result resists reaching for that which he wants most in the world—Grace Monoe.
Luckily, Grace isn’t a woman to spend her entire life waiting around for some man. Knowing Ethan and his stubbornness, she takes matters into her own hands and seduces the man she’s loved for so long. With a smile and a pretty dress she won both Ethan’s and my hearts. It’s a rare sort of woman who’ll open herself up like that to a man who persists in saying he doesn’t want her.
Morning Glory—Ellie Dinsmore is the town crazy and Will Parker is an ex-convict who can’t find any work. Apart they are two damaged souls who feel quite lost and lonely. Together they are confident and prosperous and loved. This is a wonderful story about two people who see merit in everyone but themselves, and how they each teacher the other to look at themselves clearly. It is a tale of healing.
Slave to Sensation—This is because every so often I need to take a step back from reality. Every so often I want to get lost in a world where Psys, changelings, and humans are working to coexist. Sometimes I get tired of my own problems, and it’s a relief to get caught up in someone else’s struggles—struggles that are very different from my own.
Sascha Duncan feels emotion. She’s curious about other races, she’s fearful of her own, and she wants with all her body and soul to be touched, just once. Seeing as she’s a Psy—a member of a race that prides itself on being cold, analytical, and never emotional—Sascha is in a dangerous predicament. To have her fault discovered would mean a rebooting of her entire brain, her entire self. Lucas Hunter is an alpha changeling who takes one look at Sascha and knows he wants her for some inexplicable reason. Against all logic her pursues her, and discovers that not all Psy are evil, not all Psy are emotionless, and there is at least one Psy who knows how to love.
A Company of Swans—I could have chosen any one of Eva Ibbotson’s young adult novels to be a member of my top ten list. I discovered them when I was in my early teens and fell head-over-ears in love. That love has only deepened with time. Today I’m putting A Company of Swans on my top ten, but on any other day I might have
chosen A Countess Below Stairs, or The Morning Gift. All are written in the same sweeping style, filled with the same rich historical detail and character development.
A Company of Swans opens with the tale of young Harriet Morton, the shy, solemn daughter of an overbearing Cambridge don. Having been raised by her father and his equally oppressive spinster sister, Harriet is allowed only one joy in her life—ballet. This is not to say that Harriet doesn’t feel joy. To the contrary, Harriet is able to find contentment and true happiness where others would see only misery. It is this character that shines through when she dances, and it is this which the master of a renowned ballet company notices when he visits her class.
When the master offers Harriet a chance to travel to Brazil as a member of the company, Harriet runs away determined to know this joy which her father and aunt would definitely seek to keep her from. While in Brazil she meets and enigmatic man, Rom Verney, and the two fall in love. This is a story that will make you chuckle at times, smile ruefully at others, and above all compel you to cart it along everywhere—be it college, Europe, or to the doctor’s office.
– Alexandra Anderson
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
I love your list! I have read only 3 but the rest are now on my TBR pile
Love almost everyone on your list. Which considering I am old enough to be your mother is amazing. My kids like fantasy, so I try to read it too. But, Romance is my favorite. I don’t know why. I think I have read every plot an author could come up with. But, you know you like what you like. Oh and you might want to look at getting a kindle or Nook, or an Ipad. I have been reading so many books from the library on e-books. I LOVE it. Older titles are being reprinted and the library is buying them up. I don’t have to cart 10 books in my purse anymore. It is fantastic. I have bought some books too. The only down side it when the battery runs low and I still want to read. I find myself leaning against the wall with a wire pulled as far as it can go to sit and read. LOL as what a reader will do to read her book at 2am. Oh and you might like to try and find Charlotte Louise Dalton, she only wrote 6 or 7 books, but all were lots of fun. Charlotte became ill and was unable to write anymore, but her books Fallen Angel and Substitute Bridegroom are gems. They are both Regencies. Good Luck in college. My hair fell out and I broke out in hives but, it was amazing. I don’t know why; I think it was the cute guys.
Interestingly going through this info many will believe it as its real and it is nifty to see an op thats showing stuff such as this for all to see to consider
Thank you very much for your list, Alexandra. I’ve actually read five of your top ten list – I’m usually lucky to have read even two on the other lists. You’ve even included my all-time favourite book, Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard.
Romancing Mr. Bridgerton is my favourite Julia Quinn but WHWW is also very good. Very hard to choose a favourite Mary Balogh but for me it’s Slightly Dangerous. I can’t choose any specific Nora Roberts but I think I’ve read everything she’s written until her last two hard covers – they’re sitting in my TBR pile, as is Blue-Eyed Devil.
I read and enjoyed Slave to Sensation but have since gone off Nalini Singh – in fact, I now avoid nearly all paranormals.
As our tastes seem so similar, despite the fact that I’m probably old enough to be your grandmother, I will give some of the other books on your list a try.
A nice variety.
I’m more in line with your historical tastes than your contemporaries.
I adored Ethan from Rising Tides more than I did his book but it’s solid Roberts. Mr Perfect (tonally just to schizoid for me) and Blue Eyed Devil (too much Women’s Fic) were a miss for me though.
Morning Glory though is a top 5 Romance for me and as Joane said one of the few Romances I’d recommend to a Non-Romance reader. Ibbotsan’s A Company Of Swan’s is also a big favorite (either that or The Morning Gift are my favorites of hers) and Lord Carew’s Bride’s is wonderful even if it doesn’t break my Balogh Top Ten (but there’s a lot of competition). And a huge yes to your non list choices Romancing Mr. Bridgerton & Flowers from the Storm.
This list contains, IMO, very good books. I’ve read Morning Glory, Rising Tides, Mr. Perfect, Blue-Eyed Devil & Kiss an Angel. ‘Morning Glory’ is one of the few romantic novels that I’d recommend to non-romantic readers, because it’s a great novel in itself, from the literary point of view, not only in the romantic genre.
The list includes some of my favourite writers (SEP, Kleypas, Howard) although I’d probably have chosen different titles.
So I conclude that my personal taste is not very far from Alexandra’s, and that I should give a try to some of her suggestions, no matter the age gap between us.
Thank you for your list.
You have some of my favorite authors on your list. When He Was Wicked is my favorite book by Julia Quinn. Lavyrle Spencer has written so many great stories and Morning Glory is another favorite. I also like everything Sherry Thomas has ever written. I probably would have chosen a different book by Mary Balogh, but I think that everyone should have at least one of her books on their keeper shelf. I have not read anything by Eva Ibbotson, so I am going to check out her books. Thanks for a great list.
Yes, dorm rooms are small but I managed to cart about 150 books into mine in containers I kept under my bed and in my truck, and whittling it down to that many was a chore. I got many stares when I would swap the containers in my room for the ones in my truck. But my roommate took great pleasure and advantage of my library.
Great list! _Kiss an Angel_ is in my Top 10, and the Thomas, Roberts, Howard and Quinn novels hers are definitely in my Top 100. I’ve never read _Morning Glory_ and need to get around to it one of these days!
Morning Glory and When He Was Wicked just missed making my list. I’ve read all of your picks except for Ibbotson, because I could never find her books and then I eventually forgot the rec.
Morning Glory is my favorite romance of all time. A timeless gem! I loved all of the series Rising tides is in (I forget the name of the series) even though I don’t always love Nora Roberts. I do love SEP but Kiss an Angel is not my favorite because the hero starts out so mean. Of all the DIK yours is the most like mine would probably be.
I only read two, Ibbotson and SEP, but I absolutely loved them.
Actually Ibbotson’s romances as YA is only a marketing thing, she wrote them for adults.
What a great list! I’ve read and enjoyed all but two of your favorites. Lord Carew’s Bride is one that almost made my list but I love A Summer to Remember just that little bit more.