Our annual staff poll for best romance is now in its eighth year, and it’s a tradition we’re continuing at a slightly different location: Our news and commentary blog.

Sadist that I am, I always enjoy watching my colleagues squirm as they narrow their favorites down to one. Over the years, we’ve had times of consensus and times when our choices were so disparate that we could hardly pick a winner. This is one of those “widespread choices” years; only two books received more than one vote, though as usual many staffers’ top picks were runners-up for others. The good news is that with so many books to choose from, there’s something (or several somethings) for everyone. To keep things suspenseful (since I enjoy torturing readers as well), this column will appear in two parts, this week and next week. First we’ll focus on contemporary romances. Eight of our reviewers picked them this year, and six of them will share their thoughts in this first entry.

Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves

Ellen Micheletti:
Top Pick: Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves
Runner Up: Power Play by Deirdre Martin.

“Well, for me it’s almost a tie.  Jane Graves’s book Tall Tales and Wedding Veils and Deidre Martin’s Power Play both left me happy all over.  Both of them are sweet and funny and feature great characters who grow and change as the story unfolds.  It’s really hard for me to name just one, but I think Tall Tales and Wedding Veils is ahead by a nose.  I liked how Jane Graves portrayed a bad boy in Tony McCafferty and showed us the vulnerable man hiding under the swagger.  And Heather Montgomery was so charming and smart!  I just loved the book, and I think I could read it every week for a year and not get tired of it.”

Jane Granville:
Top Pick: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas
Runners Up: To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt and Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer

“Picking a favorite of the year is hard, because I honestly don’t read that many brand new books, other than those I review.  I will say, though, that in terms of how many times I’ve re-read a book, Lisa
Kleypas’ Blue Eyed Devil would probably top my list for the year. I’ve read it so many times already this year.  I just loved the characters and loved their relationship.

I’d say first runner-up for me would be Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Seduce A Sinner.  The only reason this doesn’t top the list, is because as good as it was, I still felt there was some untapped potential in the story.  And second runner up would be Stephenie Meyers’ Breaking Dawn.”

Lee Brewer:
Top Pick: This Charming Man by Marian Keyes
Runners Up: Thanks for Nothing, Nick Maxwell by Debbie Carbin, The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne, Holly Would Dream by Karen Quinn, The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Anne Long

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes is a sweet and funny story (with serious undertones) about three women in Ireland who were all involved with the same man at one time. Thanks for Nothing, Nick Maxwell by Debbie Carbin is the author’s debut book about a young woman who gets pregnant out of wedlock.  It’s a simple premise but the heroine goes from flaky to smart and caring throughout the story. Lots of humor too.  I’m really looking forward to the author’s next book. The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne – Flat out awesome.  Why aren’t there more books out there like this one?”

Lea Hensley:
Top Pick: Death Angel by Linda Howard
Runners Up: Not Another Bad Date by
Rachel Gibson, Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas

“My favorite hands down is Linda Howard’s Death Angel.  It’s ever developing storyline drew me from the first page to the very last. Separating itself from the pack with its unlikely leads and paranormal twist, this is romance on a whole different plane and I found it immensely romantic.

Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson:

 This fun character-driven contemporary delivers a ‘returning to your hometown’ theme with a distinctive twist.  With two extremely likable leads, this book personifies what I most want when looking for a light romantic read.

Private Arrangements: A very strong heroine and an even stronger hero, the book is a battle of the wills with an old fashioned romance appeal.  Challenging the political correctness of today’s romance fare, this book delivers on several planes and I thought it quite simply a wonderful historical romance with a delicious storyline.  How I wish we had more of these to chose from.”

Cindy Smith:
Top Pick: Fire and Ice by Anne Stuart
Runners Up: Hostage to Pleasure
by Nalini Singh

“I would say these are neck and neck for favorite – it’s hard to pick between them, but if I had to it would be  Anne Stuart ’cause I’m a fangirl and I know I’ll be re-reading this one before many other books.

Anne Stuart’s Fire and Ice – I didn’t think she would pull it off, but I loved these two young characters who make all the silly choices of youth and still manage to fall in love.  One of her best books in my opinion even though there is a sex scene while in danger – at least the characters acknowledged they were being stupid unlike in other books where it just happens and the plot moves on.

Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh – there was a sexiness in this story that was missing from Mine to Possess.  Much more is revealed about the Psy and the hero and heroine were different from the ones that have come before.  It’s hard to keep a series fresh and not fall into a rut of Psy + Changeling = soulmates.”

Carolyn Esau:
Top Pick: Last Dance at Jitterbug Lounge by Pamela Morsi

“The best book I read was Last Dance at Jitterbug Lounge by Pamela Morsi.  Nothing else I read came close to having the emotional impact of that novel, though it is not a traditional romance, but rather women’s fiction.”

Stay tuned for next Monday’s post, which showcases our historical picks and our winners.

– Blythe Barnhill

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