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AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Haley's Picks

texasdestiny When I sat down to put this list together, I thought this would really be a piece of cake. Well, I was wrong. It turns out, I had more like a top twentysomething list and narrowing it down was not all that easy. Another thing I noticed is that so many of the books represented were some of the very first I ever read. My love of the romance genre began when I was a pre-teen and started pilfering books off my mother’s bookshelf. I knew she wouldn’t be happy with me reading them because I was so young, so I hid them under my bed or in the window seat. I got caught once while reading a book I loved, but now I can’t remember the title, and was told I was forbidden to read the romances. That didn’t stop me. I only grew more and more sneaky. I made sure to only take one book at a time and to shift the other books around to hide the missing one. I wonder now if the forbidden fruit aspect fueled my love of those books. I’ve made an effort as an adult to track down the books I read then and make sure they still appeal to me. Some have help up, and others not so much.

Had I not trimmed this list down significantly, there would be many, many more Westerns represented. That is because all my mother reads are Western romances, with the occasional other historical if it is by an author who also writes Westerns,and I’ve ended up loving those Westerns, too. I also noticed that I enjoy more unusual heroes, not just the alpha male you typically see.

Texas Destiny (Texas Trilogy #1) by Lorraine Heath

This book was one of those that I stole from my mom and read. It tore me apart emotionally the first time I read it and, a few years ago, I made an effort to track down the title again. Luckily, I remembered enough to find it. Let me say, I’ve now read this at least four times and it makes me bawl like a baby every time. I absolutely love a tortured hero, and Houston is one of the most heart-wrenching male leads ever written. I love his evolution from shy and withdrawn from society to beginning to open his heart to Amelia. I think one thing that makes this book so wonderful for me is that Amelia and Houston are both people who are more committed to duty than to their own desires. It actually plants doubt in your mind as to whether they can end up together. I also had to appreciate that Houston is not your typical, drop dead sexy hero. He has both physical and emotional scars for Amelia to accept. I’ve read the two other books in this series and, while they’re good, I didn’t love them in the same way.

texanswager The Texan’s Wager (Wife Lottery #1) by Jodi Thomas

This book falls in a similar vein to Texas Destiny. The couple is thrown together out of unusual circumstances, the lady is sweet as can be, and the hero is incredibly tortured. Carter defines the “strong but silent” type. He was raised by deaf parents who were murdered. Now he prefers solitary life on his family’s orchard, where he feels safe. He takes in Bailee as a result of a “wife lottery” to keep her out of jail. Bailee is the talkative and energetic foil to Carter’s calm and quiet. I love how she is able to pull him out of his self-imposed seclusion. Carter is also an unusual hero because he is a virgin and has never had a relationship of any kind. This is one that, even though it makes me cry, I have read over and over. I’ve read and enjoyed all of the other titles in the Wife Lottery series also.

prisonerofmydesire Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey

Move over Fifty Shades of Grey, Lindsey was doing some pretty intense BDSM romance, and doing it right, long ago. This is the book I consider the quintessential “bodice ripper”, and could be considered controversial by many. You have Rowena taking Warrick captive in an attempt to get pregnant and avoid an unwanted marriage to someone else. Then he escapes and takes Rowena captive for revenge. Yes, this book contains some aggressive, forceful sex scenes. Yes, it could easily bother some who are totally against that. I, however, love it for some reason. First of all, I think you have to put in context of the time period when this took place. Warrick is somewhat rough in his treatment of Rowena, but she is also a slave with no rights whatsoever in his land. The pair has a somewhat frustrating romance because they are so adamantly against caring for each other, but that is the best part for me. Warrick is such a hard, stony character (no pun intended) that watching him slowly crack is fantastic. This really is a polarizing book. Obviously, you can see which side I fall on.

I think it is also worth noting that I had originally put about five more Lindsey titles on here, but removed them to make room for more diversity. She is one of my favorite historical writers and many of her older works have made it to my DIK shelf.

ravenprince The Raven Prince (Princes Trilogy, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt

I still remember picking this book up as a new release, before Hoyt had ever made a name for herself. At the time, I was fairly disenchanted with the Regency genre. I simply don’t enjoy reading dry love stories about dukes and duchesses dealing with social mores. However, Hoyt convinced me that this genre could be both easy to read and super sexy. Again, this is not a traditional hero. Edward has smallpox scars and a somewhat gloomy disposition. Anna is a plain, barren widow. I appreciated that they were both able to overcome their own hang ups to find love. Although the idea of Anna going to a pleasure house and posing as a prostitute to seduce Edward may not be the most likely scenario, I loved it. First of all, I get put off by historical men always jaunting off to pick up a hooker, and the reader is expected to just brush it off. So, I liked this twist on that idea. I think this is a great pick for the reluctant European Historical reader.

heartstringsanddiamondrings Heartstrings and Diamond Rings by Jane Graves

This book is different than the others I’ve listed here in that, the first time I read it, I didn’t love it. I decided to go back later and read it a second time, and for some reason it really hit me. I think that this was a case of the book speaking to me at the right time in my life. Alison is an average woman who has had a shoddy love life. All of her attempts at romance end up as lackluster to outrageously terrible. She seeks out the help of a professional matchmaker. Brandon has just taken over his grandmother’s matchmaking business in hopes of making some quick, easy cash before he splits. He agrees to help Alison, thinking it should be no problem; just take the money, set her up, and wash his hands of her. It doesn’t work out that way. Every attempt he makes to set her up goes terribly wrong and Alison gets more and more frustrated with him. As Brandon watches her become more disheartened, his own feelings for her grow. As I said, this was just a so-so read for me the first time, possibly because I was in a settled, happy relationship. The second time I read it was after a terrible breakup and several laughable dating attempts, so I was able to relate to Alison’s struggle and disappointment so much more. I can also appreciate that this book is set in Plano, Texas, not far from where I live.

jewelsofthesun Jewels of the Sun and Tears of the Moon (Gallaghers of Ardmore / Irish Trilogy #1 and 2) by Nora Roberts

I couldn’t choose between these two books as to which one is my favorite. They’re both good reads with a very similar feel and are far superior to the final book of the trilogy. Who doesn’t dream of visiting the lush, green hills of Ireland and discovering a little magic? I loved the richness of the Irish influence in these books as Jude explores the country for the first time. Aiden is such a sweetheart and Jude is one of the rare heroines that is reserved without being totally boring. I also adore Brenna for being the tough tomboy in love with her childhood friend and you had to appreciate Shawn’s total cluelessness. I enjoyed how Roberts wove in the Irish mythology with the rest of the story. If you are n the mood for a little mental trip to Ireland, both of these are a great option, as is Robert’s Born in Fire. You can probably skip the third Gallagher book though, as Darcy is not all that likeable. I think that Roberts can be a very hit-or-miss author, but these two remain some of my favorites of hers that stand out in the crowd.

hawkotoole Hawk O’Toole’s Hostage by Sandra Brown

This is a book that is now, and even when I read it, very dated. The social issues discussed are not really of major concern now, as far as I know. There seems to be a fair amount of scandal around Miranda being divorced and, although I’m sure that there is still racial prejudice toward Native Americans and issues over reservation land, it is not something you see as openly now. So, Hawk’s reasons for kidnapping Miranda and much of the conflict between them, which was probably unbelievable at publication, is really farfetched now. In spite of that, this is a great, steamy, action filled novel. I love Miranda’s strength and desire to do anything to protect her child. Hawk has such a chip on his shoulder and so much bitterness towards white women. This is another of those taboo stories now because Hawk does kidnap Miranda and is very forceful, to the point of meanness. Yet, you can easily see through his bravado several times and realize that he’s not as tough as he seems. His sensitivity especially shows in his treatment of Miranda’s son. I’ve read this book so many times I’ve lost count. Since I read it, I have looked for other similar books but I’ve only found Brown’s other book, Honor Bound. I would love to find more contemporary captive style novels like this one.

separatebeds Separate Beds by LaVyrle Spencer

I think that this choice is different than my others because it is such a sweet novel. There is almost no sensuality at all. You heard that Catherine and Clay had a one night stand and she got pregnant, but the story starts after that point and there are only the slightest mentions of what happened. I think I love this story because of the lack of sexuality. It is all about the conflicting emotions between the couple. They get married because of their one and only encounter. Catherine and Clay are very different people from different worlds and they have a difficult time connecting to each other. Catherine suffered abuse at the hands of her father so she is particularly withdrawn and not open to affection. It really takes a journey for them to gain closeness with each other. Even though this is a fairly long book, and Clay is really not the world’s most likeable character, it is one I have gone back to several times when I want a book that will make me cry. Which is a good thing, sometimes.

myimmortal My Immortal (Seven Deadly Sins #1) by Erin McCarthy

I am not a huge paranormal reader, but the Seven Deadly Sins series by McCarthy is the exception. I really loved all three books that she has written so far (and I really hope she writes more), so it was hard to pick a favorite. It’s actually hard to say whether I preferred this one or Fallen. All of them involve demons and fallen angels and mortal women getting mixed up with them. They’re all set in New Orleans, or nearby, which I absolutely love. Reading this series inspired me to go to New Orleans on vacation that year. McCarthy does great sexy books that are still really romantic. All of the books are told with a mix of the present story and either flashbacks, diary entries, or newspaper articles. I’ve asked McCarthy if she is ever going to write more for this series and she wasn’t sure, but I really hope so.

seejanescore See Jane Score (Chinooks Hockey Team #2) by Rachel Gibson

I’m not a sports fan at all, but I do love all of Gibson’s sports novels. I picked this one as my favorite of the Chinooks novels because I really liked the antagonism between Luc and Jane. When they first meet, he finds her kind of annoying and not attractive at all. The more she pops up in his life, as the sports reporter working for his hockey team, he begins to become drawn to her. I think what I liked was how reluctant he was to embrace his attraction to her and yet it sort of snuck up on him. This is the book that really made me a fan of Gibson’s writing, buy I also really liked Nothing But Trouble and The Trouble With Valentine’s Day.

– Haley Kral

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