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