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AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Pat's Picks

slightlydangerous Coming up with a list of my top romances is not romantic at all. In fact, it can be downright unromantic as I found out the first year I tried to compile a list of my Top 100 favorite romance novels. Really? They must be joking, right? Especially since I’m constantly reading.

My first try at a Top 100 garnered 76 titles, and as I go back over the list, I can barely remember some of the books after #50. How can the books after that be called “top”? So now I keep a running Top 100 list that I purge now and again. But the Top 12 seem to stay fairly constant—until I change them.

What puts a book on my Top 12 list? Readability. I’ve read these books over and over. They are my comfort reads. They are safely tucked away on my Kindle and go with me everywhere. When a review book gets so annoying I want to throw it at the wall, I read one of these. When I have a few minutes of free time, I read one of these. They are my blankies and my Teddy Bears.

So here are my Top 12 romances—as with other AAR reviewers I didn’t put in the list below two classic favorites, Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.

Slightly Dangerous, Mary Balogh

When I “met” Wulfric and Christine, I immediately fell in love. Oddly, I’d never heard of Mary Balogh before, so I was surprised how many books she’d written. I immediately read everything of hers I could get my hands on. Why do I love this novel, besides the romance? The villain of the piece is absolutely perfect. I reviewed mystery novels for about 20 years, so it takes a master plotter to surprise me. And this book totally surprised me. In addition, I loved the thought of a man like Wulfric who feels he’s two men and tries to be a good and honorable man as both—having a woman who loves and brings together both sides of his personality is a bonus.




The Temporary Wife, Mary Balogh

Anthony is Wulfric (see above) if Wulf renounced his family and set out to make his fortune by himself. Unlike the aloof Wulf, Anthony is a bitter man whose loneliness is self-inflicted. Like the lonely Wulf, he needs a love interest who will dynamite him outside himself. Anthony also needs someone to show him how important his family is to his happiness and well-being. Charity, like Christine, is the perfect person to do this since she has a strong sense of family and a generous heart which is willing to overlook her loved ones’ shortcomings.




Suddenly You, Lisa Kleypas

I read this while I was past my thirties and already had written a couple of novels, so I immediately connected with Amanda, an author during the Regency period. Having led a sheltered life, she wonders what being with a man is like, so finds a woman who will provide her with a man, a one-night lover as a present to herself for her birthday. Fortunately, she gets more than she bargains for in Jack Devlin, a publisher who admires her writing. What’s not to like for an over-30 writer like myself? The characters, the plot, the dialogue, all are priceless.




Dance with Me, Heidi Cullinan

This is the newest addition to my Top 10 list. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of the ballet dancer whose partner publicly abandoned him and the football player living with chronic pain he received as a result of a game injury that could have paralyzed or killed him. “Men dance together?” was my first question to myself. The Internet and videos of the Macana Brothers from Argentina answered that question. Having seen what men ballroom dancing look like, I was ready to enjoy the worlds of football player Ed and classically trained dancer Laurie. Both are guys I’d love to know.





Marriage of Mercy, Carla Kelly

I’m a sucker for Carla Kelly novels, and this one is my favorite. On the outside Grace may seem to be pliant and soft, but inside Grace is steel, my kind of woman. She takes her commitments seriously. I’m also a sucker for marriage of convenience stories, which this is. Finally, this book surprised me, and surprises me every time I reread it. Just when the reader thinks the story is over—which occurs a few times in the book—it’s not. I love this quirky mode of storytelling.




The More I See You, Lynn Kurland

I absolutely hate the beginning of this book, but the rest transports it into the Top 10 for me. There’s something about brash Jessica stealing Richard’s horse over and over again, and how flummoxed Richard is by this woman who can’t act like his concept of a woman that really tickles me. That Jessica can burrow under Richard’s fearsome, seasoned battle-scarred heart and find his core touches me every time.

(When I was in London last, there was a Medieval Faire at the Tower. There, dressed in his battle regalia, was a living replica of Richard. He was one of the nicest and most interesting men to talk to. I think of him each time I reread this book, and I wish I’d gotten his name.)



The Older Woman, Cheryl Reavis

I didn’t know my husband’s mother because she died of breast cancer while he was in college. But if I had gotten to meet her, I’d expect her to be Kate Meehan, the Army nurse in this story. The story of good-ole-boy Bugs Doyle, whose life is the Army and who is much younger than Kate, coming together with Kate is pretty much the story of my career sergeant father-in-law and his officer wife, the only difference being that my father-in-law wasn’t injured at the time—or at least that’s never been the family story. (Oh, yes, and the Church Ladies who want Bugs to buy them a copy of Playboy and Mrs. Bee, Bugs’ landlady are all added bonuses of this wonderful story.)


She’s Got It Bad, Sarah Mayberry

This was my introduction to Sarah Mayberry and the start of so much good reading. I guess I’m a closet motorcycle and tattoo person because these seem to appear in a lot of books I read and enjoy. Oh, yes, and I would have loved to have been a singer in a rock band. This plot is angst to the max, angst being another of the themes I love. It’s also the story of lost and recovered love as Liam tries to win back Zoe after he broke her heart when they were teenagers. Sniff. (Talk among yourselves. I’m verclimpt.)




A Reason to Live, Maureen McKade

I’ve always been fascinated with the American Civil War, especially with men who rushed off to fight leaving wives, children, and extended families behind. How could they do that? Even more fascinating are the women who took charge and in many cases picked up after the men who’d left them. I guess that’s why the story of Laurel, a nurse who travels to the families of boys who died while she cared for them, touches me so much. Laurel is picking up the pieces and providing closure. When she meets Creede, whose son died under her watch, the story becomes even more poignant. I did say that I love stories with angst, right?




Tigers and Devils, Sean Kennedy

Football was one of the staples of my life growing up in Nebraska, and I was a drama major in college. So finding a book that combines the two was a real bonus. That Kennedy’s characters and plot, his writing in general, are excellent makes this book special for me. Main character Simon and his best friends are a joy and remind me page after page of the special friends I’ve had over the years. And what’s not to like about a star football player who’s been injured? Again, angst raises its fascinating head.


These are my top books. All, some, or none of these may be considered classics someday by everyone else, but for now, they’re my favorite books to read and reread, each of them claiming my soul in some small way. Really, isn’t that all reading is about? A way of soothing our souls when we need it. Have you made your Top 10 list yet? If not, today’s a great day to start.

–Pat Henshaw

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