Commenters in the forums posed an interesting question: How do AAR Annual Poll results hold up over time?

I went back to explore the winners and honorable mentions for Favorite Romance for the first five years, figuring those gave enough distance to see which books remain popular today. I used subjective measures (do I feel like these books still get buzz?) and the objective data in the AAR 2013 Top 100 poll (do winners each year continue to beat other books released that year, or have other books surpassed them?). Please note that each poll reflects books published the previous year (ie the 1997 poll is for books published in 1996).

1997 Poll (1996 books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo Putney; Honorable Mentions: Anyone but You by Jennifer Crusie, Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts), Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

Mary Jo Putney is an author whose appeal has long eluded me – I really don’t like her prose – but Shattered Rainbows remains a popular recommendation. Rapture in Death probably made the list because of its wide distribution and readership; it doesn’t particularly stand out to me among the many Eve Dallas books. I love Anyone but You, which gets overshadowed by more prominent Crusie works. Kiss an Angel is a book I personally find very dated, with a hero who is emotionally abusive. However, it clocked in at #40 on last year’s Top 100 poll, and no other book from this year placed.

1998 Poll (1997 books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips; Honorable Mention: As You Desire by Connie Brockway.

Both of these books turned up on the 2013 annual poll, with Nobody’s Baby at 18 and As You Desire at 51. While personally, I’d reverse these placements, it looks as if readers did a good job picking books with staying power and placing them in a consistent order. This is also the year of Brockway’s All Through the Night and Laura Kinsale’s My Sweet Folly, both of which won or received honorable mentions in other categories but did not place for Favorite Romance.

1999 Poll (1998 books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Sea Swept by Nora Roberts, Honorable Mentions: Dream a Little Dream by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Mine to Take by Dara Joy

Dara Joy – now that’s a name I don’t hear in recommendations anymore! Dream a Little Dream has had the best longevity of these options, placing 79 on the 2013 Top 100. However, it was beaten by several very popular books from 1998, including Stephanie Laurens’s Devil’s Bride (32 in the 2013 Top 100), MJP’s The Rake (54), Loretta Chase’s The Last Hellion (57), and Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy (74). A different Roberts books, Rising Tides, came in at 93. This is by far the year with the greatest disparity between AAR Annual Poll and long-term popularity in the Top 100. Was there something in the water when we voted in ‘99?

2000 Poll (1999 Books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: The Lady’s Tutor by Robin Schone; Honorable Mentions: Lady Be Good by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, The Proposition by Judith Ivory

A win by an author who doesn’t come up much and a book that’s fallen out of discussion. Interesting that Schone was an early erotic writer (although that category did not exist independently) and I can’t see erotica taking the top spot these days despite the fact that we think of ourselves as living in an age more friendly to that subgenre. None of these books continue in the Top 100, although I perceive both Lady Be Good and The Proposition as widely read and recommended. All three have lost in the long run to Julie Garwood’s 1999 release Ransom, which is currently at 75 in our Top 100. My personal favorite from that year is Suzanne Brockmann’s Heart Throb.

2001 Poll (2000 Books)

Favorite Romance of the Year: Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth; Honorable Mention – Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie.

Neither of these books won in the long run against the juggernaut that took Favorite Funny: Julia Quinn’s The Viscount Who Loved Me, which came in at 9 in our most recent Top 100. In fact, in the 2013 Top 100, both winners lost to Quinn’s other 2000 release, The Duke and I, which ranked 16: Welcome to Temptation was 20 and Winter Garden didn’t place.

Linda Howard’s Mr. Perfect, currently at 41, came out that year without making the Favorite Romance category, and so did Mary Balogh’s More than a Mistress (53). The only one of all of these I haven’t read is the actual winner, Winter Garden. Of the remainder, I’m hard pressed to choose between Welcome to Temptation and More than a Mistress, both of which made my personal Top 10.

What do you all think about the first five years of AAR poll results? Despite a few misses, I think on the whole we did a good job identifying good books. Do you agree? What do you think was the biggest upset? Were any of your favorites robbed in these first few years, or do you truly loathe some books which made it in? Am I missing any great 1996-2000 releases?

Caroline AAR

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