At the Back Fence #296

March 3, 2008

From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:

12th Annual Reader Poll Results!

The results in our 12th annual reader poll are in! (Please click the “results” link, which will open another window in your browser and allow you toggle back and forth between the two pages.) Those of you who followed the interim results know how fluid the vote was throughout the polling period. Although I did not post any interim results in the final two weeks of polling, the volatility that began early continued until the very final ballot was counted. As a matter of fact, the lead in two categories changed as I tallied the last set of votes on the last day.

We made some changes to this year’s ballot, splitting the “Alternate Reality/Paranormal” category in two; one for SF/F & Futuristic Romances and the other for Paranormal & Time Travel Romances. We also added a new negative category – for Least Believable HEA’s, and changed the name of another negative category from Worst Romance to Biggest Wallbanger, or “I Tried, I Really Did!” That last change appears to have given readers the freedom they needed to express themselves more openly; a substantially higher number of you voted for Biggest Wallbanger… as voted for Worst Romance last year. As far as future changes, this will be the last year we “award” the romance with the Purple-est Prose. Twelve years ago purple prose was apparently a bigger issue for readers than it is today.

While some of the poll’s biggest winners are among romance’s best-selling authors, many of the other big winners are either much newer to romance…or much less well known. It’s actually difficult to say which author was the year’s biggest winner because three authors each earned four positive awards: Jo Goodman, Nora Roberts, and J.R. Ward. Ward (aka Jessica Bird) in some ways continued the juggernaut she began last year, but she’s the easiest to eliminate as the year’s biggest winner because she also “won” four negative awards and earned a dishonorable mention. Votes for her series romance, The Billionaire Next Door, were straight-forward, but both of her Black Dagger Brotherhood books were somewhat confusing. On the one hand, Lover Revealed won as Guiltiest Pleasure but its heroine also won as Most Annoying Lead Character. I’ve read the book myself (it’s the only one in the series I’ve read so far, although I plan to read more), and would love to know why Marissa was such a turn-off to readers. Also, I’m still trying to get my mind wrapped around the ballots of many of those of you who voted for the hero of Lover Unbound as Most Tortured, yet found the book Most Disappointing. It’s easier to understand why the book featured, for many, the Least Believable HEA; Jane’s being a ghost was a major problem. If you voted for either of these books in both positive and negative categories, be sure to hop onto the ATBF Forum and ‘splain yourself.

If Ward cannot be considered this year’s biggest winner, what about Goodman and Roberts? On the one hand, Goodman tied to win – with Elizabeth Hoyt – for Best Romance of the year. This is the first year in the history of our poll that the same book has won for Best Romance and Best Buried Treasure. While certainly Goodman, by virtue of the vote count, deserves her Best Romance win, she did tie for that win – another first, I might add, in the Best Romance category. As for Nora Roberts, she is our “come-back” story of the year. During the first six years of our poll, Roberts won in at least three categories each year, and that’s in addition to multiple honorable mentions earned throughout that same period. In one of those years, she racked up wins in six categories. But her last award was two years ago, so her return to the winner’s circle with four awards is also something of a record, particularly in that she won for three separate books – including two that essentially competed against each other. Add into the mix that this year marks her sixth win for favorite couple – the same couple! – and her fifth for strongest heroine, and, well, you can see my dilemma. In the end, as you’ll see below, rather than make that choice, I present Goodman and Roberts in basic alphabetical order.

Ward, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and to a lesser extent, Lisa Kleypas, are bridges for us between big name authors and those lesser known or newer to romance. Goodman, who has been published for more than 20 years, jumped out from the pack this year in a tremendous way. Hoyt, who debuted last year, continued her upward trajectory. Nalini Singh, Anna Campbell, Carla Kelly, and Eve Kenin, also new or lesser-known authors, made big showings as well. And the trend that jumped out last year in terms of the popularity of SF/F and Paranormal romances continued this year, as wins and honorable mentions by Ward, Singh, and Kenin illustrate. Another indication of the popularity of these subgenres is this: More of you voted in the Paranormal category than voted in either the Contemporary or Romantic Suspense categories, and only one percentage point separated the total votes received in the European Historical and Paranormal categories. Also, just one less of you voted in the SF/F & Futuristic category than the Romantic Suspense category.

As for the voting in general, more of you voted this year then ever before, and many who voted are either among AAR’s silent majority or other readers who simply wanted to participate in such an expansive poll. And how well did AAR’s reviewers do in comparison with those who voted? We reviewed every book but one that won in a positive category, and 90% of the winning books earned either DIK or B/B+ reviews at AAR.

More of you voted for a Favorite Funny than a Most Hanky Read; the number who voted for Most Luscious Love Story fell in-between. Quite a few more of you voted for Best Hero than for Best Heroine, although there were almost the same number of votes for Strongest Heroine as there were votes for Most Tortured Hero. Among the most popular categories were those for Biggest Buried Treasure and Author Most Glommed – and more of you voted in the Least Believable HEA than any other negative category.

Perhaps the biggest surprise for me came in a totally unexpected category: American/Frontier Historical. This year’s winning book, by Sarah McCarty, may have been set in the American West, but the book is erotic romance, through and through, and published by Harlequin’s erotic romance imprint, Spice. I’ve read the book myself – and voted for it – but initially, to be honest, wasn’t quite sure whether it won in that category because of its setting, or because people like me read so few American/Frontier Historicals these days that we jumped at the chance to fill that slot on our ballots with something. And then I read the author’s response to winning the category – which you’ll read later – talked about it with Anne, who also read the book, and came to the realization that McCarty’s hero is one of those mythic Western heroes I’ve not come across in a long, long while. Regardless of my personal epiphany, McCarty’s win means that erotic romance has crossed over in a substantial way; it is the first erotic romance to win outside the Erotic Romance category.

To all of those authors who won or earned honorable mention in this year’s poll, I extend hearty congratulations. Thank you for following your muse and writing the books we love! We would be honored if you placed our official “2008 AAR Reader Poll” award on your web site, blog, Facebook, or MySpace page (click here for image choices and upload instructions). Ten of you won/received honorable mention in multiple categories and another six won in a single category (not counting any of the negative categories). In total there were sixteen stand-alone wins (last year there were ten), and there were ties in two categories. A stand-alone win, btw, occurs when no finisher achieves 80% or more of the votes that a category’s winner earns.

I know our ballot is lengthy, and requires an effort to fill out, so thank all of you who voted. I spent quite a bit of time working on my own ballot, and I keep records. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that some of you now keep records specifically so that you can participate in this annual poll. Those of you who don’t, please consider at least jotting down the names of the books you like best so that you won’t feel so overwhelmed when voting next year. A formal journal or computerized record isn’t necessary…a paper on your bulletin board would likely be enough of a reminder for the main categories.

 Jo Goodman

Four wins for If His Kiss Is Wicked

(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Romance (Tie)
Best Buried Treasure (S/A)
Best European Historical
Best Hero

Multiple Award Winners

As mentioned earlier, If His Kiss Is Wicked won in this year’s poll not only as Best Romance (in a tie with The Serpent Prince), but as Best Buried Treasure. That may sound counterintuitive in that Best Romance winners tend to be written by major authors and/or are very well known or heavily discussed, but it’s clear that readers were extremely passionate about this book.Jo Goodman, first published in 1984, is the textbook definition of a buried treasure. Over the years we’ve posted nine reviews of her books.The first five were all written by Marianne Stillings, our first reviews editor and now, of course, an author with Avon. Of those first five books, reviewed between 1998 and 2000, three earned B level grades; the other two grades in the C range. Another review was written in 2001 – the book earned a B. And then…no reviews until 2004, when the author earned her first DIK, followed by another DIK in 2005 and a third, for If His Kiss Is Wicked.

I asked the author, who maintains a minimal Internet presence, if her lack of connectivity causes her to feel isolated, or if she prefers to maintain her distance from readers and other online distractions. She answered that while she misses “not being able to google at will,” she prefers to keep her distance from the Internet.

She added, “Calling my sister and getting her to do the googling is faster than my old dial-up and more reliable than the satellite link I have at work.” As for interacting with readers online, she “thought long and hard about” how extensive her involvement should be beyond having a web site. It’s not technophobia – she bought her first MAC in 1984 – but the thought of sitting at a computer for purposes other than writing didn’t appeal at the time, and it still doesn’t. That’s not to say she hasn’t “‘met’ some wonderful people online,” but she doesn’t regret her decision to spend free time away from a computer screen. She concluded, “My work life is full of meeting people, listening to them, challenging them, laughing with them, and learning from them. When I get home, I don’t even want to see the red light on the answering machine blink. I expect that will change some day, and I’ll be looking for opportunities to interact more and the web will be part of that, but it’s not merely a distraction for me, it’s just not very much fun. Now, having told you what a curmudgeon I’ve become, let me say that I love hearing from readers via email – I just can’t keep up on-going conversations.”

 Because of the immense popularity of If His Kiss Is Wicked, I wanted to know what Goodman, who had previously published more than 30 single title romances and five short stories, thought in particular had caught readers’ imaginations about the book. She wrote, “This is where I have to hear from readers because I have no idea, but even that is sort of a trap because it has the capacity to influence me to try to recreate it, and that’s probably the road to ruin. I think I do best when I’m just telling a story that I want to tell, in other words, writing for me. Sometimes what I like connects with readers, but if it doesn’t, I have still had the satisfaction of working with characters that I enjoyed hanging out with.”

Given the longevity of her career as a published author, I thought it would interest readers to know how Goodman feels about being a 20+ year “overnight sensation” – and how her writing may have changed in recent years (which might correspond to three DIK reviews for three of her most recent releases) . In response she wrote, “I have no sense of being a ‘sensation’ at all, overnight or otherwise. (But it sounds as if it would be a great feeling!) Perhaps that’s attributable to my self-imposed distancing or the fact that sales of my books stay pretty much the same year in and year out. I hear from readers at about the same rate I always have, so I don’t have any objective measures to support the idea that anything is different.”

Most of Goodman’s earlier books had American and/or Victorian settings, and she thinks it’s her more recent Regency “voice” that readers have noticed.” She’s had a lot of fun with the period, and believes that the story she’s currently working on “is something of a risk.” For now she’s “I’d had enough of empire waist dresses and walking sticks and met up with my new characters in a Colorado mining town in 1882. These folks don’t talk in such convoluted ways. I have to rein myself in. But that’s fun, too.”

But she hasn’t let go of the early 1800s yet; her next book is set directly after the Regency – in 1822. She wanted to title itWagers of Sin, but it will be released as The Price of Desire. The book’s setting is a gaming hell introduced in If His Kiss Is Wicked. Sounds intriguing.

Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb

Four wins for three books

High Noon

(AAR Grade: B)

Best Romantic Suspense (S/A)

In addition to having more Desert Isle Keepers (DIKs) to her credit than any other author, Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb has earned more wins – 31 – and honorable mentions (23) throughout the history of our poll than any other author. Over the years we’ve watched authors wax and wane in popularity, and generally – but not always (an exception to the rule is Lisa Kleypas) – when they wane, they wane for good. That’s not been the case for Roberts, who had one of her best years ever , with wins for High Noon, Innocent in Death, and Creation in Death.

Innocent in Death

(AAR Grade: B+)

Best Villain

Creation in Death

(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Heroine (S/A)
Best Couple (S/A)

As somebody who’s not even half-way through the In Death series, I remain fascinated by how the author accomplishes such continuing appeal of Eve and Roarke – who have now won as Best Couple in six of our 12 annual polls (and earned honorable mention in another two) – for readers. While Roberts doesn’t know why these two books in the series caught readers’ imagination, her enjoyment in writing about Eve and Roarke throughout this long-running series carries over to the reader. When pressed, she confessed, “The idea of writing these characters in a long-running series has always been to show evolution – individually and as a married couple. Great sex is a big plus! But I like working with two very complex and often difficult characters who are deeply in love, and still often annoyed or frustrated with each other.”

In our DIK review of High Noon, our reviewer duly noted that both Phoebe and Eve share professions (and rank), but was quick to point out that the two heroines were not carbon copies. She further noted that Phoebe and Duncan don’t fall into it bed one, two, three, as often happens in romantic suspense. In response to questions about pacing and the ability to create unique characters, Roberts said, “Jumping into the sack simply didn’t fit either one of these characters. Phoebe, the filling of the generational sandwich, divorced, single parent of a bright young girl, devoted daughter to agoraphobic mother, is bound to be careful about a sexual relationship. Add in a very demanding career. Duncan’s smitten, but he’s also an easy-going sort who enjoys the wooing portion of the program.” She added, “Characters are always a building process for me. What do they do, where do they do it, who are they now, who were they before. Then why, why, why. Figure out the why, find the way to show it, add in some luck, and you may have characters who resonate with the readers, and are unique.”

Although I’m no expert on the In Death series, it’s clear to even this semi-neophyte reader that one of the reasons we love it is because of the recurring secondary characters. They provide humor – descriptions of Feeney never fail to evince in my mind’s eye a hound dog, and the banter between Eve and Peabody is dead on – and, with McNab and Peabody, some heat. I asked how far out Roberts’ plans the story arcs for her secondaries in this series. In response she wrote that their stories are an outgrowth of the larger stories told in each book. So these characters, more or less, follow a spontaneous story arc, with an exception or two, as with “the big Louise and Charles deal in Strangers in Death planned out a book or two back, and a major thing with Morris in an upcoming book – currently titled Promises In Death – [that she] was going to do for quite some time. But mostly, what happens comes out of the storyline for the specific book.”

When asked whether she sees an end in sight for the In Death series, and what her writing schedule looks like, Roberts responded, ” I have no end game, no plan for finishing the series. Not only do I really enjoy writing the series, but the characters still have a lot to say and do. I do hope to continue to do a major romantic suspense and two In Deaths every year, as well as a trilogy or short-run series. The Hollow, the second in The Sign Of Seven trilogy is out this spring, and Tribute, my romantic suspense, this summer. The Pagan Stone finishes up the trilogy at the end of the year.”

Roberts also passed along this little tidbit: She’s just finished the first book in a quartet featuring four women who run a wedding business. Unlike her recent releases, she “went back to straight relationship with this idea – no suspense, no paranormal or fantasy elements – and exercised some muscles” that haven’t gotten a work out in a while. She expects the first of that quartet to be published in the spring of 2009.

J.R. Ward/Jessica Bird

Four wins, one HM,
four negative wins, and one (dis) HM for three books

Author Most Glommed (S/A)
Author You Gave Up On (Dis HM)

The Billionaire Next Door

(AAR Grade: B+)

Best Series (S/A)

Though Jessica Bird had published five books prior to the release of her first J.R. Ward pen-named Black Dagger Brotherhood romance, it was that book – Lover Awakened – that catapulted her into the stratosphere of best-selling romance authors. In a way, her trajectory reminds me of that for author Kinley MacGregor/Sherrilyn Kenyon upon the release of her first Dark Hunter romance in 2002. She experienced tremendous success in our poll for several years – earning five wins and six honorable mentions, although there is a major difference: As popular as her Dark Hunter books were with readers, most of her wins and mentions were for her MacGregor Medievals. And it is as Sherrilyn Kenyon that she earns the dubious distinction in this year’s poll as Author You Gave Up On.

On the other hand, Bird won in one category for her 2005 release Dark Lover, but for her 2006 releases, she earned seven – one for Author Most Glommed – and one honorable mention. This year she doesn’t achieve those heights, but for the second year in a row is the stand-alone winner for Author Most Glommed, as well as the winner in three other categories and one honorable mention

Lover Revealed

(AAR Grade: A-)

Guiltiest Pleasure

Most Annoying Lead: Marissa (S/A)

Lover Unbound

(AAR Grade: B)

Most Tortured Hero
Guiltiest Pleasure (HM)

Least Believable HEA (S/A)
Most Disappointing Read (S/A)
Biggest Wallbanger… (S/A)

The Billionaire Next Door, her stand-alone win as Jessica Bird for Best Series Romance, earned only accolades in our poll, but both of her J.R. Ward releases earned both and negative awards this year.

When she learned of her wins, the author had this to say: “First of all, I have to say I am absolutely thrilled – and blown away – by these honors. I’m very grateful that readers have gotten behind the Brothers as they have and want to thank AAR for doing this every year!”

As for the win in the Most Tortured Hero category, the author wrote, “Vishous absolutely is tortured – and man, those scenes in Lover Unbound of him in the war camp were hard to write. I didn’t like what was in my head – and wondered how far to take what I saw. I never want to offend readers and was concerned about some aspects of his past – and his present for that matter. I did feel, however, that certain things that he did and had done to him at the camp shaped who he was to such an extent that to leave them out would have required me to do more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’- to the detriment of the book. In a lot of ways, Vishous reminded and reminds me of Zsadist with regard to the tortured thing – they are, of course, two of my favorite Brothers (with Rehvenge and Qhuinn right behind them.)”

It’s rare when an author wins and places in the same category, but Bird achieved that feat for the Guiltiest Pleasure; Lover Revealed won, and Lover Unbound earned honorable mention. Not all authors are thrilled with the category, but Bird proudly accepts, writing that “Guiltiest Pleasure is a great award! Look, if I pleased readers in any way, I’m happy. And I have to say, that while I was writing Lover Revealed, Butch left me blushing. He was just so dayumed verbal when he was… er… yeah. I think his story is the hottest of all the Brotherhood books so far- although I think Rehvenge’s Lover Avenged might lap him on that one.”

I don’t read all that many series romances, but bought The Billionaire Next Door after seeing it listed on so many ballots. It’s easily the best series romance of the year for me, with very nuanced story-telling, brilliantly conveyed chemistry between the leads, and full use of a limited word count. It’s the type of book that even those who don’t read series romance would enjoy. After I gushed all over Bird about the book, she wrote this in response, “I am really thrilled that The Billionaire Next Door won for Best Series. I loved that book, I truly did. For me, the Series books are every bit as important as the Brothers – and they offer a fantastic break from the dark world of the Brotherhood. I think series books in general have a real vitality to them and can be equally as powerful as single titles if you do them right. I worked hard on that book – making sure that Sean and Lizzie’s story came out as vividly as I saw it in my head. And the setting took me back to my own days in Boston which pleased me to no end.”

As for what’s next for the author, she didn’t mention when TBND’s sequels will be released, but did indicate that Phury’s Lover Enshrined will be out in June, in the fall you’ll be able to find the Brotherhood compendium, and next winter, Rehvenge’s Lover Avenged.

Elizabeth Hoyt (aka Julia Harper) was last year’s stand-alone choice as your Best New Author. She also won last year, for her debut romance, The Raven Prince, for Most Luscious Love Story and Best Buried Treasure. This year she returned with a strong showing for The Serpent Prince, with a tie for Best Romance, as well as her second win for the Most Luscious Love Story, and earned honorable mention for Best European Historical. When asked about her Best Romance tie, she wrote, “I’m so tickled to have tied with Jo Goodman, one of historical romance’s great stars!”

Her winning book in this year’s poll was not her only release as Elizabeth Hoyt; the second book in her Prince trilogy, The Leopard Prince, doesn’t appear in the final results, but placed in the last set of interim results in five categories. The Serpent Prince, in addition to those categories in which it won or placed, appeared in four categories in the last set of interim results. I asked Hoyt whether she felt her vote was split and she answered, “Nah. I think The Serpent Prince was the clear favorite of my books – although Harry’s story in The Leopard Prince is a personal favorite. And if the vote was split, I’m still happy – placing in any category is simply fabulous.

Because Hoyt has now won two years in a row for the Most Luscious Love Story, I wanted to know how important sensuality is to her as an author – and as a reader. In her response she wrote, “Sensuality is very important to my books.

Elizabeth Hoyt

Two wins & one HM
for The Serpent Prince

(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Romance (Tie)
Most Luscious Love Story
Best European Historical (HM)

I’m just always curious about what happens in the bedroom between the hero and heroine. I really think sex – how the character feels about their own sexuality, how they approach sex, all of that – is a very important character trait.” She continued, “The books I like to read are usually pretty sensual – J.R. Ward and Nalini Singh come to mind. I find that when the author closes the door on the bedroom I’m kind of frustrated. It’s like missing a dialogue scene: ‘They met for lunch, talked for two hours, and then went home.’ Well, what happened? What did they say? How did it turn out? I want to know!”

In terms of what’s up next for this busy author, her next historical, To Taste Temptation, will be published in May. It’s the first of four in a series revolving around veterans of the French and Indian War in search of a traitor. As for her second Julia Harper, it’s due out in January 2009. As yet unnamed, Its hero was introduced in Hot – FBI agent Dante Torelli – and other assorted characters include “multiple kidnapped babies, a hitman who’s taking anger management classes, his scary pregnant wife, elderly Indian ladies carrying contraband saffron, and the biggest mob trial in Chicago history.”

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Two wins & one HM
for Natural Born Charmer

(AAR Grade: B)

Favorite Funny (S/A)
Best Contemporary
Best Romance (HM)

Susan Elizabeth Phillips is another author with a lengthy track record at AAR. Over the years she’s earned DIK status nine times, and while she earned her first honorable mentions in our very first poll, it was the second year of poll for which she earned a trifecta for Best Romance, Favorite Funny, and Best Contemporary. Throughout all of our polls, Phillips is the third most winning author; earning thirteen wins and an additional fifteen honorable mentions. She earned a win in the Best Romance category, has earned honorable mention for Best Romance (including this year), four times, and with this year’s win’s, now has four Favorite Funny and five Best Contemporary wins.

When notified of her showing in this year’s poll, Phillips had this to say: “How lovely! AAR Readers have been so generous to me over the years. Please know how much I appreciate your support. I’ve been writing for over 25 years now, and I swear I have the same insecurities as the day I started. It never seems to get easier, so your kind comments and support mean so much. I don’t promise that every book I write will resonate with each of you, but I do promise I will always give you my very best effort.”

As for what’s next for SEP fans, the author shared, “My new book is tentatively scheduled for February 2009. No title yet. I’m still working on it. (Not a Stars book. I know my readers love them, but I have to get away from football players for awhile. Although there were definitely a couple of cute ones in this year’s Super Bowl!) We’ll also be reissuing a revised edition of Glitter Baby in 2009.

Nalini Singh wrote a series of category romance for Silhouette’s Desire line prior to the 2006 publishing of Slave To Sensation, the first in her Psy-Changeling series. That book landed her in the 100th slot of our most recent Top 100 Romances poll, and engaged the imaginations of many readers who had turned to paranormal romances – or been brought into romance through the reading of paranormal romances in the past couple of years. Caressed by Ice and Beat of Temptation are both a part of her Psy-Changeling series. Here’s what Singh had to say when informed of her showing in this year’s poll:

“I’m really delighted that Caressed By Ice and Beat of Temptation did so well in the poll! A great big thank you to all of you who voted, not only for these stories, but also for Visions of Heat.

“When I first began writing the Psy/Changeling series, I hoped with all my heart that these stories would reach people, but I don’t think I could’ve foreseen how deeply they’d resonate with readers. I’m incredibly grateful that they do – because I have so many more stories I want to tell in this world.

“I think, as a writer, sometimes, you strike magic, and find yourself in a world so rich, so complex, that you can imagine exploring it for many, many books to come. I treasure that sense of magic, of wonder, of possibility. And I hope that readers will continue to feel the same way about the books as the series continues.

Nalini Singh

Two wins: one book & one short story

Caressed by Ice

(AAR Grade: B+)

Best Paranormal

Beat of Temptation

(AAR Grade: A+)

Best Short Story (S/A)

“Thank you again to everyone who voted for my books in the poll – I’m honored by your support.”

When asked to share what’s next, Singh shared that come September, fans of the Psy-Changeling series can dive into Hostage to Pleasure, DarkRiver sentinel Dorian. In October she has a novella in the The Magical Christmas Cat anthology, and her next single title, featuring DarkRiver sentinel Mercy, will be released early in 2009. She added, “I also have a new series debuting in 2009, about a hunter who bags, tags and transports escapee vampires back to their masters…the angels. The first book, Angels’ Blood, currently has a release date of March 2009. I’m also contributing a novella to an anthology in 2009 with Charlaine Harris, Meljean Brook and Ilona Andrews, and that story will be from the Angels’ Blood universe.” For readers worried that the Angels’ Blood books will mean fewer Psy-Changeling books, Singh assured me that both series will run side by side.

Lisa Kleypas

One win & two HMs for two books

Sugar Daddy

(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Chick Lit Lit/Women’s Fiction (S/A)

Mine Till Midnight

(AAR Grade: B+)

Most Luscious Love Story (HM)
Best Hero (HM)

2007 was a year of transition for Lisa Kleypas. The first two books by her new publisher, St. Martin, were released, and one of those books – Sugar Daddy – was the author’s first cross-over book, published in hardcover to appeal to both romance and woman’s fiction audiences. For now, Kleypas has feet planted firmly in both the contemporary and historical camp; Mine Till Midnight, her European Historical release, earned two honorary mentions in this year’s poll.

Of all the authors who placed in this year’s poll, Kleypas perhaps has had the most rocky career. After the release of Dreaming of You (#2 in our recent Top 100 Romances Poll) in 1994, she wrote a series of books that didn’t strike the reader’s fancy in nearly as big a way. But shortly before the millennium she began to climb her way back on top. 1999s Where Dreams Begin marks her first appearance in our annual poll, and in all but one year thereafter,

 she’s won or earned honorable mention ever since. Last year she earned three wins and and three honorable mentions.

Lisa Kleypas could not be reached for comment; I will gladly add one should she be made aware of her showing and contacts me.

Tallying votes from submitted ballots gives me a chance to get to know, up close, how each book and each author is doing in various categories. After Anna Campbell splashed onto the scene in 2007 with her controversial Claiming the Courtesan, I was quite honestly surprised to see how well our reviewer enjoyed its follow up, Untouched (which now sits by my nightstand, btw, waiting for me to get to it). What doesn’t show in the final tally for this year’s poll is the number of categories certain books earned votes in, and while Claiming the Courtesan is the the book that readers voted honorable mention to as Guiltiest Pleasure, it is Untouched that was a player in six categories. And my guess is that it’s this latter book that earned Anna Campbell her stand-alone win as Best New Author, particularly given that the former title also earned the author quite a few votes in a couple of the negative categories.

In response to learning of her showing in this year’s poll, the author declared, “I’m utterly thrilled and astonished to be chosen as AAR’s Best New Author, especially as this year featured a plethora of amazing new voices in romance. Just as an aside, isn’t it fantastic to see where the genre is going right now? Wonderful! And I’m delighted that my debut historical Claiming the Courtesan featured as an honorable mention in the Guilty Pleasure category too. Thank you to everyone who voted for both Claiming the Courtesan and Untouched and to AAR for running the poll. Happy dancing down here in Australia!”

Anna Campbell

One win & one HM

Best New Author (S/A)

Claiming the Courtesan

(AAR Grade: D)

Guiltiest Pleasure (HM)

Carla Kelly

One win & one HM for Beau Crusoe

(AAR Grade: A-)

Most Hanky (S/A)
Most Tortured Hero (HM)

Not long ago there was a post on one of our forums questioning why so many of AAR’s readers believe Carla Kelly to be a Buried Treasure. After all, she’s earned 11 DIKs, and, prior to this year, won four awards and six honorable mentions. My response was that until Beau Crusoe, Kelly’s books had been limited to low print-runs, as Trad Regencies were such a “specialized” sub-genre, or printed by a small press, as was her anthology, Here’s to the Ladies, published by a university press. Beau Crusoe was her first book for Harlequin, published in its Historicals line, and that too doesn’t generally scream “well known!” My guess is that her acclaim at AAR and other online venues is not unmatched elsewhere. In fact, Kelly is one of those authors whom readers tend to list as those they “discovered” as a result of their visits to AAR.

Here’s what the author had to say about this year’s showing:

“Thanks so much for selecting Beau Crusoe as the Most Hanky Read. As one who blubbered her way through Jude the Obscure and Tale of Two Cities, I can appreciate what an honor this is. It means you were invested in the story of a man trying to hold it together as best he could, and learning that inevitable truth the Beatles expressed so well: We do get by with a little help from our friends.

“And as for honorable mention for Most Tortured Hero, James Trevenen thanks you, although he’s a little embarrassed by all the attention. He was just trying to do his best under fraught circumstances. I’ve lived on the planet long enough to know that most people do exactly that. If we relate to James and his struggle, it’s because we personally know how it feels.

“Laurie also reminded me of previous wins and honorable mentions in a variety of categories. Put in a list like that, I was surprised at the variety, too. I just like to write about what I know about, and I’m glad you like to read.

“As for what’s ahead, it’s good stuff. In November or December, we’ll see the first book of what I call my Channel Fleet trilogy [from Harlequin Historicals], about iron men in wooden ships who kept – at great personal cost – the Corsican tyrant from English shores. (And the women who loved them, of course.) For what it’s worth, I haven’t had so much fun with characters since Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, and some of my short stories.

“Thanks again for your votes.”

It’s clear just from a glance at the cover of Driven that it’s not your usual romance. And it’s not – it was published by Dorchester’s SHOMI imprint. I asked the author about the imprint – and its intended demographic – about the book, and about writing two different types of books as two different pen names. In response, she wrote:

“I write three different genres under two names: gothic historicals and contemporary paranormals as Eve Silver; speculative romance as Eve Kenin. The three genres present their unique rewards and challenges, but at heart, I write what I love to read, romance, and they all have that in common. I write the stories that decide they want to get written, and Driven was a story that gave me no choice.

“SHOMI books are speculative fiction, a melding of numerous genres including romance, post-apocalyptic, futuristic, sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, cyberpunk, action/adventure, horror…you name it and SHOMI offers the author the opportunity to work it. Think of these books as the chance to throw in everything and anything, including the kitchen sink, the chance to take a chance. But first and foremost, SHOMI books are romance.

“I feel that the SHOMI books cross age and gender barriers. Driven was never intended solely for one demographic, and I wrote it before I knew about the SHOMI line. I wrote a story I love, and despite the speculative setting, characters, and plot, this book is a romance first and foremost.

Eve Kenin (aka Silver)

One win & one HM for Driven

(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Cabin/Road Romance (tie)
Best SF Romance (HM)


Because I’m not just a romance writer, I’m a die-hard romance reader. I hoped that Driven would appeal to existing romance readers (like me) as well as new ones who might glance at the Manga-style cover and give this read a second look. While the idea of the line is to introduce young readers who grew up with Manga to the possibilities found in romance, based on reader feedback, I believe the books appeal to readers of all ages.

“FYI, SHOMI is currently running a contest, and the prize is a guaranteed publication contract with the line. Information is available on the SHOMI site.”

I also asked the author about her showing in our poll with Driven, to which she responded: “I’m thrilled and honored that readers voted for Driven, and I’m ecstatic that they enjoyed my post-apocalyptic, trans-Siberian trucker tale as much as I loved writing it. Having Driven chosen by readers is incredibly exciting and somewhat surreal. I used to visit All About Romance as a reader/lurker before I ever made my first sale. My dial-up internet and antiquated computer took so long to load the forum that I could sit and watch the grass grow while I waited, LOL! Over the years, the results of the Annual Reader Poll have offered many new-to-me authors from the favorites of others, and I look forward to finding new treasures this year, as well.”

As for what’s up next from Eve Kenin and Eve Silver, 2008 will be a busy year for the author: “First up, in July, is my next Eve Kenin release, Hidden, which revisits the post-apocalyptic world of the Northern Waste that readers encountered in Driven. Then I have three Eve Silver books coming out. In August, my next historical gothic, His Wicked Sins hits shelves. In September, my novella Kiss of the Vampire will be part of the anthology, Nature of the Beast. Finally, in December, the second book in the Compact of Sorcerers series, Demon’s Hunger, picks up with Dain’s story.

“Thank you to AAR for running this poll, and to all the readers who voted for Driven. You definitely made my day “

Individual Award Winners

Laura Lee Guhrke

And Then He Kissed Her
(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Heroine

“I am honored to win the award for Best Heroine in the AAR Annual Reader Poll. I’m glad I was able to create a heroine who touched the hearts of so many readers. Thank you. “

Emma Holly

(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Erotic Romance (S/A)

“Wow!! Thanks so much for this cool award. Fairyville was an emotional, fun, and uncustomarily silly book for me to write. It pleases me no end that people have been responding so well to it, especially discriminating (dare I say picky ) readers like the ones at AAR. I guess being silly works for me!

“Laurie asked me to comment about erotic romance becoming more mainstream, and why that might be. I think it’s been a gradual, organic process; romance has been known for being sexy for a long time. As much as some readers have been hankering for hotter and hotter stories, that’s how much a lot of writers have been hankering to write them. Once the momentum for any trend gets going, there are usually people who are ready and happy to jump on. Today there are so many wonderful authors writing erotic romance, and so much variety in their stories, that readers have a great variety to choose from. The more chances readers have to find books they love, the better is for the lasting power – and acceptance – of any subgenre. Bottom line: erotic romance is becoming more mainstream because more and more people are enjoying reading it.

“My next book out is Demon’s Fire on April 1st – no fooling! It’s more serious than Fairyville, but – I like to think – equally big-hearted and equally hot. I think a lot of the people who liked Fairyville will enjoy it, too.

“Thanks again for naming Fairyville your Best Erotic Romance and best wishes to everyone!”

Linda Howard

Up Close and Dangerous
(AAR Grade: C+)

Best Cabin/Road Romance (tie)

“Thank you for AAR. And I’d like to thank all the readers who voted for Up Close and Dangerous for its tie in the Best Cabin/Road Romance. People are always asking me what a particular book is ‘about,’ and i’ve learned to make up a short, pat answer in advance, because otherwise I’m completely stumped. I don’t think of my books as being ‘about’ anything; I have no message to impart, no greater meaning I’m trying to give – because, hey, that would mean I actually had to plan and plot, and I’m so not the type of writer who can do that. I know my limitations. I just tell the story, period.

“That said, I can see that UCAD is actually ‘about’ something – sort of. Kind of. Maybe. It’s about the theory of onions – how people have layers, and you don’t really know them until you know all their layers. It’s about first impressions sometimes being wrong, and finding out what’s behind someone’s public persona. Cam and Bailey were two people who would never have gotten together under normal circumstances, because their first impressions of each other, while wrong, were too strong. There had to be a catalyst, something that would force them to see each other in a different light, and that something was a plane crash and the subsequent survival effort. Cam’s prejudice against Bailey was the strongest, but it was smashed first – by Bailey’s care of him while he was injured, by her dogged efforts to save him and provide shelter for them under dire circumstances. Bailey didn’t give up; no matter what, she coped, with what she had at hand. She adapted. She didn’t panic, and she used her head.

“Bailey’s prejudice against Cam was more of a self-protective nature, because she didn’t trust easily. In fact, she distrusted strong emotion. She wasn’t anti-men, but she was definitely anti-romance. She was slow to give in to the very idea of love, to trust Cam, to let him have a place of prominence in her heart and her life. She had to see all of his layers, the steadfastness, the strength, before she could let herself trust.

“Seth, her stepson, was another onion. At first glance, he was loathsome. At second glance, he realized his own loathsomeness and began taking steps to correct it. He was intriguing, and complicated, and probably never completely rehabilitated. In my mind – and no, there’ll never be a book written about them because it’s already settled – he and Karen, the secretary, were on a collision course. Karen knew Seth the way no other woman ever would, and didn’t let him get away with anything.”

Linda Howard, btw, was kind enough to share some “inspiration” with us; a photo of Major Marc Weintraub, a pilot stationed in Iraq who provided her some technical expertise. Click here for the photo of this real-life hero.

Sarah McCarty

Caine’s Reckoning

Best Amer/Frontier Historical (S/A)

“I was in deadline hell when the little musical bling popped into my head set, interrupting Credence, telling me I had mail. I wandered away from a love scene I was writing and rather distractedly opened the email. I had to read it twice before I understood the content. And then I just sat there and thought, ‘Wow!’

“For about five minutes that was the extent of my coherence. And then I read the email again just to be sure I hadn’t misread. I hadn’t. Caine’s Reckoning had won in AAR’s annual readers poll, but not in the erotic category, which would have been fabulous in itself, but in the broader category of American Historical/Frontier Romance category. For me, receiving that email was like the sweetest of homecomings after a very long journey. There really aren’t words to express how overwhelmed I am, how touched, nor how grateful. Thank you.

“For years I’ve been fighting my own personal uphill battle. I started my career with my western historical Promise series. For those that don’t know, making the decision to start a career with a western historical series these days is tantamount to saying, ‘I’ve decided to jump off the Empire state building without a parachute. I think it could be fun.’ Pretty much everyone looks at you like you’re crazy, and no one wishes you luck. Western historical romance is a ‘dead’ genre, killed off through preconceived notions of what a WH must be. Notions honed through the years when the genre was glutted and the multitude of offerings blended to a proven story line.

“It wasn’t easy to sell the Promise series. It wasn’t easy to get the books reviewed once they were published, but slowly, gradually the series caught on, and while almost every review on those first two books started with ‘Even though I don’t normally like western historical’ they ended with ‘I loved this book.’, So, I focused on that and kept going because I loved these books.

“When I was swept into the NY market through the generosity of [erotic romance author] Sunny who read Promises Keep and sent me an email out of the blue asking, “With a mainstream voice like this why aren’t you in NY?” and who then introduced me to my agent Roberta Brown, I had very few expectations. I was honest with Roberta. Not only did I want to write western historical romance, I wanted to write my style of WH which meant, hot, gritty, character-driven romance written in deep POV. She was honest back. It wasn’t going to be easy, but she urged me to pitch the series as I wanted to write it because what was going to sell the series was my voice as an editor projected it into the depth of the story line I envisioned. It was the best advice I ever received.

“I currently have four series contracted with Berkley and Harlequin Spice. All of them are books of my heart. Three of them are western historical and some of them make their debut this year. In June, Running Wild (sexy alpha werewolf paranormal series) releases from Berkley Heat. In July, Sam’s Creed, book two of the Hell’s Eight [Caine’s Reckoning is book one] releases from Harlequin SPICE . In October, Promises Reveal book four in the Promise series releases from Berkley Sensation. (Yes, the Rev’s story is finally here!) While I do hope readers enjoy these books as much as they’ve enjoyed Caine’s Reckoning, I’m a person that lives in the moment, and this moment, right here, right now is too sweet and too special to rush through. So once again, thank you very much.”

Paula Quinn

Laird of the Mist
(AAR Grade: A-)

Best Medieval/Renaissance (S/A)

“How exciting to be voted Best Medieval/Renaissance Romance! It’s a special honor because it was voted for by readers. Thank you very much, everyone. And don’t forget, Graham Grant from Laird will have his own story this summer. Look for A Highlander Never Surrenders in stores August 2008.”

Linnea Sinclair

Games of Command
(AAR Grade: A-)

Best SF/F & Futuristic

“I’m flabbergasted – now, there’s a word you don’t see very often these days – to have Games of Command take the Best SF/F & Futuristic Romance designation from AAR. My cat, Daq, will likely tell you it’s because of the furzels. He’s sure it’s his image on the front and back cover plus the inclusion of the furzels in the scenes that made readers care so much for the book and the characters. He may well be right, but for those of you who found Branden and Sass worthy, as well as Jace and Eden, I thank you. As many of you know, the book was originally written as a series of emailed adventures for a close friend going through a divorce. It was written with a lot of heart because of my friendship with “Doc Eden.” I’m thrilled others resonated to those emotions and enjoyed the adventure.

“Next out the shuttle launching bay is Shades of Dark, the sequel to Gabriel’s Ghost (RITA winner for Best Paranormal Romance). Another intense book and due on the shelves end of July 2008. For those who wanted more Sully and Chaz, Shades of Dark is where you’ll find them…and more.

“Many many thanks. Can I go back to running around my office, screaming, now?”

When I put together the results page and this analysis, it occurred to me that I’d expected each of the following books to have earned at least an honorable mention somewhere because they earned so many votes – and generally in multiple categories. So before moving on, let me pay homage to Ice Storm, Ice Blue, The Leopard Prince, Untouched, and Virgin River. All fought valiantly before being left behind, Untouched in particular, which dropped from in one category when the very last group of votes were tabulated from first to third.

Because this is the 12th year of this poll, we have a great deal of historical data from which to draw. Rather than create one super-long page, including that information, I’ve added a second page, which includes that detail, as well as the ATBF Forum questions. It’s worth a look, so please continue to page two.

Continue to page two for some historical perspective on AAR’s Annual Poll,
along with my questions for the At the Back Fence Forum