AAR Mini-Polls: Top Tens

Top Ten Frontier/Western Historical Romance Titles

October 5, 2007

Western romances were once a staple of the romance genre. Today, though, very few are published. Will the current interest in the Western film (3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James) Jesse James create renewed interest in the American West (and, for the purposes of this poll, the Canadian and Australian frontiers) as far as romance novels are concerned? That’s hard to say, although an article in a recent issue of Time magazine points out that the American West has sparked the imagination of movie-goers outside the U.S. for a long time. Inside the U.S., where movies – and romances – are concerned, it’s another story. The results of this poll only drive home this fact as only one title in your top ten was “recently published”.

Linda Howard’s The Touch of Fire placed first and was originally published in 1992. This is by far one of Howard’s least well-known romances, and when we polled readers last year for their favorite 12 books by the author, this title didn’t make the cut.

1The Touch of FireLinda Howard
2Only HisElizabeth Lowell
3Ride the FirePamela Clare
4Annie’s SongCatherine Anderson
5A Breath of Snow and AshesDiana Gabaldon
6Prince CharmingJulie Garwood
7Dream FeverKatherine Sutcliffe
8The OutsiderPenelope Williamson
9Drums of AutumnDiana Gabaldon
10Texas DestinyLorraine Heath

For most of the polling period, Only His, by Elizabeth Lowell, was your top choice. At the very end it was nudged out of first place to land firmly in the second slot. Howard’s book earned a grade of B at AAR while Lowell’s earned DIK status. Only Mine, another in Lowell’s western series set in the years following the Civil War, came in 16th in this poll.

Pamela Clare’s 2005 release, Ride the Fire, earned a B at AAR. Technically a Colonial Romance, it remains a Frontier Romance by virtue of the fact that the story takes place in Colorado in the middle of the 18th century. The book caused quite a stir when it was released due to some very graphic opening scenes and the belief that stereotypes were being exploited. This didn’t crush the enthusiasm of those who read and loved this fresh take on the western romance. Given that Clare followed up her success with another Colonial Romance in 2006, it is perhaps surprising that Surrender didn’t make your top ten – it did land in the 15th slot – but perhaps its setting, in Colonial New York, explains that. (But then again, perhaps not. Ride the Fire beat out A Breath of Snow and Ashes by a full 25% of votes, but in the annual reader poll for the year when both books were released, the continuing saga of Jamie and Claire was a stand-alone winner. Technically Gabaldon’s book was neither a Frontier/Western Historical nor a Romance; the book is historical fiction set in 1770s North Carolina.)

Annie’s Song by Catherine Anderson was published in 1996 and garnered an honorable mention in our first annual reader poll for Most Hanky Read. The book tells the story of a young woman believed to be an idiot – in actuality she was deaf – who was raped and then married off to the brother of her rapist. This is a wonderful story about the power of love and it’s healing effects on all those around it.

Diana Gabaldon’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes came in fifth place, and as previously mentioned, won as Best American/Frontier Historical in our annual reader poll. Those who have followed the lives of Jamie and Claire were very happy with this work of historical fiction, which received DIK status at AAR.

Prince Charming by Julie Garwood came out in 1995 and pre-dates our annual polls. This was the first Garwood not to have been set in England or Scotland – or during the Medieval or Regency periods. For many readers, this book’s release signaled a major and unwanted change for the author, although obviously the book has its fans.

Katherine Sutcliffe’s Dream Fever placed seventh, and very few points separated it from Snow and Ashes and Prince Charming. The book is set in the New Zealand frontier and its DIK review was written by author Adele Ashworth, prior to her first being published.

The Outsider by Penelope Williamson was published in 1997. The story, set in late 1800s Montana, placed eighth in our poll and earned a grade of B+.

Diana Gabaldon’s Drums of Autumn, a time travel romance set, in part, in 1760s North Carolina, was published in the same year as Williamson’s book. While this 1997 release earned DIK status and won Best “Other” Romance and earned an honorable mention for Best Couple, it also had the dubious distinction of tying with a Kathleen Woodiwiss’ Petals on the River for Most Disappointing Read in our annual reader poll.

Texas Destiny, published by Lorraine Heath in 1997, earned DIK status at AAR. It also won honorable mention for Best American/Frontier Historical, as did Maggie Osborne’s The Promise of Jenny Jones. The winner that year was Wild At Heart by Patricia Gaffney, which received no votes in this poll. When we polled last year for Heath’s top twelve romances, Texas Destiny came in first.

The Best of the Rest:

11. The Promise of Jenny Jones, Maggie Osborne

12. Always to Remember, Lorainne Heath

13. Hummingbird, Lavyrle Spencer

14. Texas Glory, Lorraine Heath

15. Surrender, Pamela Clare

16. Only Mine, Elizabeth Lowell

17. Sweet Lullaby, Lorainne Heath

18. The Endearment, LaVyrle Spencer

19. Ashes in the Wind, Kathleen Woodiwiss

20. Joe’s Wife, Cheryl St. John

Even when expanded to include an additional ten titles, nearly all of your favorite Western/Frontier Historicals were published in the 1990s. Equally surprising is that Maggie Osborne, who has done very well throughout the years in our annual reader poll, didn’t have a single book crack the top ten. Heath, whom many readers wish had never moved on to write European Historicals, ends up with four titles in the top twenty. Elizabeth Lowell and Pamela Clare have two.

We invite you to consider these questions and post about these poll results:

  • Is there anything about these results that you find surprising?
  • Do you think some of the new western movies might generate a new interest in the sub-genre?
  • Why do you think the American West is so interesting to others in the world, but not Americans?
  • If you used to read westerns but no longer do, is it because their quality changed, it became too difficult to find one, or you simply tired of the sub-genre and/or the common themes used in them – ie, mail-order brides?
  • What kind of changes or themes would you like to see explored in future Westerns?

Lee Brewer, LinnieGayl, and Cindy Smith

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