Last year I defined a DIK as “a book that delights me, with characters I at least like (but normally, I love them) and a romance that leaves my heart a little gooey. I thoroughly enjoy reading it, don’t want to put it down, am sad when it is over and it normally sends me on a glom of the author’s back list. Or at least it sends me to Amazon to check when the next novel is coming. A good book is a good experience; it’s an event that you want to repeat and most of the time, repeat as soon as possible.” That definition is true for this year as well.

I read 168 books last year, 20 of which were DIKs. This year I’ve read approximately 140 books, 26 of which are DIKs.  Of those 26, 12 were romances that received a grade of B+ or above. Obviously, I had to cut two to make a top ten list.  I didn’t choose Beyond Limits by Laura Griffin as my romantic suspense choice not because I didn’t love it but because I felt the romance was stronger in Circumstantial Evidence. Promise to Keep by Elizabeth Byler Younts suffered from the same problem; Of the two inspirational romances on my list, Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist had the stronger romance.

Here are all the romances that did make the list:

1.Radiance by Grace Draven: This is my top book of the year. Ildiko is the niece of the Gauri king, a beautiful young woman who knows she is fated to be a marriage pawn. Brishen is the second son of the Kai king, with six nephews between him and the throne. He has always known his family would use his marriage to secure an alliance. When the Gauri and Kai make a trade agreement, Brishen and Ildiko serve as the symbols of that alliance. In most romance novels this would mean pages and pages of the two squabbling against their fate and each other. In this gem of a tale we see how a marriage of convenience between two intelligent, thoughtful people can turn into a stupendous love match. Easily my favorite romance of the year because of the two incredible leads and the sweet, sexy love story.

2.Uprooted by Naomi Novik: Agnieszka knows her best friend will be chosen as the magician’s girl and it makes her burn with a slow anger. She doesn’t want her friend to be locked in a tower with a strange man who will change her so completely the girl will never want to live in her small village again. But when the wizard comes from his tower it is not her friend he picks but her.

Turns out, she has magic. But not a hard studied magic like him but a simple magic that is like the woods she grew up in, organic and powerful and living. And it’s a good thing too. Because something dark, angry and powerful lives in the woods. Something that is claiming the small villages along its borders. Something that aims to take them all over. And it is only by working with the strange and powerful Sarkan that Agnieska can have any hope of defeating it. Filled with magic and just a touch of romance, this is a wonderful story for fans of fairy tale style fantasy.

3.Dark Horse by Michelle Diener: This is absolutely a must read for anyone who loves science fiction romance. Rose is a prisoner aboard a Tecran “exploration” vessel. She has suffered countless indignities at their hands but that has not crushed her boundless spirit. When Rose meets the human like Grih she jumps at the chance to form an uneasy alliance with them. They are her best chance of survival but Rose knows things might not work out in this relationship. For Rose is keeping a very large secret from the handsome Captain Dav Jallan. A secret that might get them both killed. A thoughtful romance with two truly memorable leads.

4.First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen: Ms. Allen returns to the world of her first novel, Garden Spells, to deliver a sweet story of young love and solid marriages. Sisters Claire and Sydney Waverly found their perfect partners and are living mostly happily ever after, but they worry over the small issues within their romances. Meanwhile, young Bay knows just who she is meant to marry but it seems like he hasn’t received the same memo. As the magic swirls around the enchanted apple tree in the backyard of the Waverly house all three ladies will learn that love takes its time but it is always worth waiting for.

5.The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James: Ellie Winters is a psychic in 1925 London. Her specialty is finding lost objects, never lost people. When the brother of an old friend comes to her saying that the friend’s last message before death was a note asking Ellie to find her, she discovers herself doing what she swore never to do – searching for the dead. She is joined on her journey by James Hawley, a man with whom she has a not so pleasant past. As the two embark on their quest they learn that everyone has secrets – and some of them are worth killing for. A subtle yet intense romance and an atmospheric mystery made this one of the best gothics I’ve picked up in ages.

6.The Sound of Glass by Karen White: I’m a sucker for a novel that combines past and present to deliver a tale that will blow your socks off and this is definitely that kind of story. Three generations of Heyward women have served as punching bags for angry Heyward men. Each has felt only relief when her husband dies. Meritt is no exception. When she inherits her grandmother-in-laws home (a person she did not know existed) she sees it as an opportunity to make a fresh start in a new town. She hadn’t expected members of her own family to be camped on the door. And she sure hadn’t expected Gibbes Heyward, the brother-in-law she never knew of – and very likely, her best shot at true love. A sweet romance and fascinating family mystery make this one of the most powerful and surprising books I read in 2015.

7.Rise by Karina Bliss: This is not my typical style of book. I’m not big on rock star romances or this particular kind of bad boy hero. This novel overcame my reservations and delivered a DIK read. Zander Freedman is broke. He needs to tour to make money. Problem? His vocal chords are giving out and he has had to reform his band after his brother (and the other members) quit. Into this time of quiet desperation steps Elizabeth Winston a biographer whose typical subjects are dead. She doesn’t work with the living but Zander wants her to write his story. Neither of them realizes she will eventually have a starring role in the tale. This is a poignant story about love in the limelight. The circumstances may seem unreal but the author manages to infuse genuine emotion into a tinsel town tale.

8.Circumstantial Evidence by Lisa Clark O’Neil: Camellia Abernathy is having something of a rough time. Her husband has just died and it turns out he was a lying cheat. She’s broke and has a young son in desperate need of a hero. In steps Will Hawbarker. Will hadn’t really noticed Camellia as a possible love interest when the two went to high school together but he’s noticing now. The grownup Cam might not be a drop dead beauty but she has a sweetness and loveliness that make her into everything a man could want. When dire circumstances throw the two together in the middle of a dangerous investigation, Will has to use all his powers as sheriff to keep the two new people in his life safe. And it doesn’t seem likely he will be able to succeed. No one does police procedural romantic suspense like Ms. O’Neil. This book is a just right blend of suspense and romance.

9.Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs: Fans of Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series will not be disappointed in this fourth book of the series. The story starts with a serious conversation. Anna wants children. She knows Charles does as well. But for werewolves, childbirth is a great challenge and they will have to be creative to overcome the many obstacles they face.

In an effort to lighten the mood – and to ensure he gets Anna the best birthday gift possible – Charles plans a rare personal vacation to Arizona. It gives Charles a chance to reunite with an old friend and Anna a chance to purchase a new horse. But trouble is waiting for them in this seemingly idyllic location; A Fae of incredible power and cruelty is hunting the children of this area. And it will not tolerate any interference to its plan. Dead Heat kept me glued to my seat and eagerly turning the pages. It has that rare but wonderful combination of action packed adventure, intriguing mystery and wonderful relationship building that a great book should have. I love how Briggs is able to move the story line of the whole series forward while still delivering a tale that stands completely on its own.

10.Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist: Ms. Gist stirred the Inspirational Romance market pot when she published this novel, which some reviewers went so far as to call “porn”. It’s not, in fact, it’s nowhere near porn. This is a story about an independent young woman learning all about what real life is like. Flossie Jayne is an aspiring painter who finds herself in need of money to pay for art school. She does the unthinkable for a middle class girl of her time and accepts a job!  She works as a Tiffany Girl, one of the artists who contributed to the mosaic chapel made entirely of stained glass which Louis Tiffany unveiled at the 1893 World Fair. Flossie learns some hard lessons on her way to love, about friendship, family, talent and how the world works. She teaches hero Reeve Wilder the most important lesson of all – life is nothing but existence till you have the right people in it.

These are my top ten picks. They include one inspirational romance, a romantic suspense, three paranormals, one contemporary romance, one woman’s fiction with strong romantic elements, two fantasy romances and one science fiction romance. A pretty varied mix overall. How about you? How varied was your 2015 reading? Are you happy with the mix or do you wish you had read more from other subgenres? Which ones?

AAR’s Maggie