OK. It’s confirmed. I set my Top Ten Staff Picks blog date way too far in the future. I thought this late date was a good idea originally, because I knew that I’d agonize over the list and change it several times as I remembered favorites or became disenchanted with others. I mean, I have a LOT of books on my keeper shelves. How to pick the top ten? I kept wishing I could narrow it down to, say, my top ten favorite Linda Howards, or top ten authors, or top ten historicals by location or time period. How about the top ten paranormals by era, shifter or vampire, erotic or more subtle? Ugh! After weeks of thinking about it I finally had a pretty firm list, which I put in a “safe place” from which it (of course) subsequently disappeared off the face of the planet. Here goes, in no particular order…
The Abandoned Bride by Edith Layton. There are a lot of extremely high quality Signet Regencies from this era, and this is my favorite, hands down. The mere fact that it wins a spot on the list over competition such as Carla Kelly and Mary Balogh says it all.
Anything written by Deborah Smith. Sometimes I get cynical and decide that her books must be blatantly manipulative to evoke such strong emotion, but then I think “who cares?” The jury is still out, but Charming Grace might be my favorite. No matter how many times I read it, I still cry when Grace abruptly ends her interview with Jimmy Carter, and laugh when she tosses her nemesis in the manure truck. Then again, there’s Alice at Heart which is simply wonderful, or Blue Willow, another heartbreaker, or A Gentle Rain which is funny and touching. Nope, it’s impossible to decide on one.
Bewitching by Jill Barnett. This is one of the first romances I read after a decade-long hiatus of reading anything but. What a wonderful re-introduction it was! Not only is it a charming, clever romance, it’s one of the best books of any genre ever.
Lothaire by Kresley Cole. I’ve enjoyed all the books in the Immortals After Dark series, but this one is special for many reasons. The scene in the trailer after the mine collapse is hilarious, the heroine is impossibly perfect for the hero, and the secondary characters are just wonderful. Thad is a particular favorite.
The Truelove Bride by Shana Abe. I perhaps should say “any historical by Shana and most of her paranormals” because she is another author whose bibliography is so astonishing as a whole that choosing a numero uno is extremely difficult. Her writing is absolutely beautiful, always, but The Truelove Bride is the best of the lot. The heroine is truly kick-ass and an emotional mess, the hero is tortured, their history is insurmountable, the villain is a surprise, and it’s a historical, a paranormal, and a fantasy all rolled into one. The romance is just delicious.
The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale. Again, an author with a backlist that makes it hard to choose a favorite. This one wins because if this list was divided into subsets, the heroine, Leda, would earn the trophy for best meltdown. Poor Leda goes through a lot of huge changes in a very short amount of time, and tries so hard to remain a lady throughout. I’m smiling right now remembering her list of complaints after the denouement.
The Elder Races series by Thea Harrison. I mean, c’mon! There is no way to choose. The worst of the series (Storm’s Heart) is a cut above most other paranormals, and even the novellas are well worth reading. The latest full-length, Lord’s Fall, has one of the sweetest endings ever. The novella, The Wicked, contains this beautiful bit of prose – “He broke her wide open, until something raw and trembling and utterly new crawled out of her old, outdated skin, and it was more fierce and possessive than she had ever been before”, which I found very affecting. Phaedra and Julian’s encounter in that same novella has me itching for them to have their own story.
Simon the Coldheart by Georgette Heyer. Yeah, I’m surprised, too! Out of all the Heyers that I adore and have read a million times, this is the one that my heart insists should make the list. It’s more of a historical fiction with romantic elements, but when Simon finds his perfect match he falls hard. There is a rare beauty and delicacy to the relationship that is completely out of character for him and his fierce heroine.
The Golden Dynasty by Kristen Ashley. What can I say? I’m an addict. This book contains extreme violence, profanity, explicit sex, a total Mary Sue heroine, and even a rape scene. It’s lewd, it’s about 300 pages too long, the writing is crazy – and I find it utterly delectable. I’ve probably read it twenty times since I discovered Ashley a year ago.
Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie. Here’s the need for another couple of subsets, this time for favorite funny and favorite romantic mystery. I don’t call it romantic suspense, because I didn’t find it at all suspenseful. Rather, it’s hilarious, engrossing, sexy and fun, fun, fun. It’s also one of the first romance books I shared with my teenage daughter and now Agnes is her favorite book of all time (so far). I miss JC. Doesn’t it seem like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a new one by her, collaboration or not?
That’s my list, and I’m absolutely shocked at the authors and books that didn’t make it. Where is mention of Loretta Chase, whom I adore? Carla Kelly, SEP, Ilona Andrews (a particular favorite), Linnea Sinclair, CS Friedman, and Laura London – where are they? Why didn’t I include Sherrilyn Kenyon whom I just discovered? (Born of Silence, anyone?) I just DIKed Meljean Brook’s latest, for heaven’s sake.
I give up.
This is why I gave myself months to complete the list. But in the end that strategy was futile, because tomorrow my top ten could still be different.
– Wendy Clyde