Writing a New Love Story

How good are you at reading in between the lines? If you’re better than me, maybe you saw my impending divorce coming before I did. When I blog, I tend to take inspiration from what’s going on in my own reading and in my life. A few months ago I wrote about the romances that mirror your own romance, and in a roundabout way discussed my newfound disenchantment with heroines who marry too young. Continue reading

Let’s Stop Winter from Coming: AAR Weighs in on the Ellora’s Cave Suit against Dear Author

christmas-wallpaper-80Note: None of us here at AAR is a legal expert on defamation, and we’re not going to pretend to be for purposes of this blog. Nothing on here is intended to serve as legal advice. Laws changes, and they vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so no blog can substitute for speaking to your own attorney.

We think by now everyone who isn’t living under a rock (or at least everyone who follows romance blogs and/or the publishing industry) is aware that Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc. and Jasmine-Jade Enterprises, LLC (collectively “EC” from here on out) has sued Dear Author Media Network, LLC(“DA”) and has also sued individually the blogger known online as Jane Litte(“Litte”), alleging that they have defamed EC and harmed the business. The plaintiffs seek an injunction, money damages, and also have asked the court to require DA to provide the identities of anonymous online commenters to one of its blog pieces concerning EC. However, as with many big lawsuits, the story doesn’t start with the court filing.  If you want a history of EC and its ups and downs, Litte gives plenty of that, together with citations, in her allegedly defamatory blog piece. And you can find plenty more stories even with a cursory search on Google. Continue reading

RWA 2014 – My Wrap Up

riverwalkI think I’ll think of RWA 2014 as the “Can’t we all just get along?” conference (subtitled, “of course we can!”). Or, to paraphrase a Zora Neale Hurston quote, there are conferences that ask questions and conferences that answer. This one answered.

In what way? Well, Carolyn Crane’s self-published Off the Edge won a RITA, and that’s significant. I talked to authors who love self-publishing, and authors who love their publishers. I talked to authors who self-publish and traditionally publish simultaneously. The general consensus is that writing and publishing is still a challenging business, but the challenges have changed over the years; now one of the biggest challenges is finding what’s right for you in a world of so many choices. But there was also a general feeling that whatever your choices are, they’re okay. Self-publishing or digital only publishing are not the romance ghetto; for many they are the smartest financial decision.

What else is afoot? Well, when I attend RWA my primary goal is basically to have my ear to the ground. I want to know what’s happening, what publishers are looking for and not looking for, and what people are working on that they’re excited about. I tweet as many publisher spotlights as I can get myself to and talk to authors formally and informally. Oh, and go to the type of fun and glamorous cocktail parties I rarely attend in “real life”, and talk about books with some of the most interesting women you could ever hope to meet. It’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it.

I felt like the publisher requests this year were somewhat similar to last year. People still see Paranormal Romances as being in somewhat of a downturn (although witches and shape shifters still sell). Virtually every publisher still wants Westerns, and most absolutely want to see unusual settings. Digital publishing has made the business so much more flexible. As for New Adult (which seemed like all anyone could talk about last year), publishers still want it, but they didn’t have last year’s tone of desperation. And at least one publisher said they wanted New Adult, but could we get past college and do something different? At the end of the day, there were fewer hard and fast rules. If your vampire book is well-written and manages to bring something new and different to the table, you can probably find a home for it. And if you can’t? You can always publish it yourself.

On a personal note, I just love connecting with the fabulous group of (mostly) women who write romance, write about romance, and publish romance. I had both serious conversations on how best to help someone who has a child with cancer and less serious conversations about possible sex techniques when your hero’s/partner’s penis is not exactly…straight. I found out that there is a boom in heroes named Trenton, that the fabulous Sarah Wendell has the distribution of surplus review books down to a science (and is clearly the most popular person at her nail salon and pediatrician’s office), and that many of us still have a love/hate relationship with Fifty Shades of Gray. Yes, we talked about the trailer. I sorely missed our own Lynn Spencer, who had to sit this year out, but had a fabulous time with Dabney Grinnan – who was a first timer at RWA and found out that the RITAs are fun. Oh and my favorite image of RWA 2014? Molly O’Keefe with a beer in one hand and a RITA tucked under her arm.

And I am happy to post my workout view photo again this year – I had no luck with that one at Atlanta because my view was from the hotel gym and it was terminally boring. This year I ran all along the river walk and absolutely loved it. Yes, it’s warmer than Denver and sort of smells like a zoo in places, but it’s beautiful and shaded, and you get way more oxygen when you’re not running at 6000+ feet (something that came in handy when I got lost and ran six miles instead of my usual three). Thanks to all for a fabulous conference. See you next year in the Big Apple!

News from San Antonio

I I had to hit the ground running At RWA this year, leaving a family reunion in just enough time to make it to the Literacy Signing. Not the most relaxing way to start off a conference, but then you haven’t really lived until you’ve heard an adorable almiost-three year old call you Aunt “Life”. Nonetheless, I made it just in time and got to catch up with some great authors and hear about their work. Here’s what’s new (at least with authors A-L…sorry, by the time I got to the M’s everything was wrapping up).

Zoe Archer Zoe Archer wrote one of my favorite books last year (Sweet Revenge). She’s going in a new direction next year, and will be publishing Regency set historicals with Avon. They’ll center around women writers, and will be written under a new name to match the new direction – Eva Leigh.

Jo Beverley has been concentrating on her Malloren books recently, but is moving back to her Rogues series. Her next book will be Too Dangerous for a Lady (out next April), and will feature a heroine who is the sister of one of the Rogues who didn’t survive the Peninsular Wars. As she pointed out, it was a dangerous time, and not all would-be heroes or their friends survived it.

Kristen Callihan is continuing with her Darkest London series, which she considers to be more Gothic/Gas Lamp fantasies than Steampunk. Her latest, Evernight, comes out in August. The heroine has to work on (in the mechanical/metaphysical sense) a man who is back or revenge. Two more books are on the horizon – Souldown and Forevermore. And Kristen says it’s harder to come up with her compound word titles than you might think; many of the obvious choices have already been co-opted by YA.

Sherri Browning is working on the next book in her Thornbrook Park series, Affair Downstairs.

Claudia Dain was a name I hadn’t seen in awhile. She wrote some Medievals that received positive reviews here back in the day. With the wonders of the internet, they’re available again. She’s now concentrating on Regency historicals (which she self-publishes) and women’s fiction, which she writes under Claudia Walsh. He regencies are lighter in tone than her medievals, and the women’s fiction emerged because she felt she had a story to tell that didn’t quite fit the romance mold.

Megan Frampton used to write for AAR back in the day. She has a new series coming out with Avon starting this fall – Dukes Behaving Badly, which starts out with The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior in late November. She’ll also have a novella in February; novellas are a bit of a theme this year.

Laura Florand is moving from chocolate books to fragrance books. Her new series will feature an old Fragrance family from the south of France and will include four books and a novella. The first of these is Once Upon a Rose. Laura was drawn to fragrance as a theme because she loves rich settings and was able to do extensive research in the area.

Elizabeth Essex is an author I’d love to review – if only everyone else didn’t keep beating me to the punch. Her next book, out in September, is a shipwreck story with a heroine who is near and dear to Elizabeth’s heart. The heroine manages to talk her way into a royal expedition to the South Seas; Essex herself is a former nautical archeologist. It’s based loosely on the voyages of Darwin and Cook.

L.B. Gregg is another novella enthusiast – for her the length really works. Her newest novella with Riptide is part of a multi-author series involving a town in the Pacific Northwest where a werewolf TV series is filmed. Her particular story is bout a barista and an actor in the show.

Blythe Gifford had the first of two royal wedding stories come out in March. She also has a self published book set in the seventeenth century called The Witch Finder. We chatted about fellow Blythes we have known (not many), and Blythe has actually met Anya Seaton’s granddaughter (a fellow Blythe apparently). And all the cooler because Seaton’s writing and the way she showcased love and historical intrigue are what inspired Blythe to write those type of books herself.

Susanna Kearlsey has a new book coming out in spring – A Desperate Fortune. It’s a bit of a departure from some of her other books in that it doesn’t have a paranormal element (although it does have a dual storyline). It’s about a modern day code breaker who starts translating the journal of a 1732 Parisian and Jacobite sympathizer, and learns that the journal is not what it seems. Her next project is set in Colonial Long Island during the French and Indian War. Bonus: The modern day hero is a full-blooded Mohawk.

Caroline Lindon is still writing her racy Regency books, which have featured a mystery about the writer of – essentially – Regency porn. Said writer is about to be exposed…perhaps that’s a double entendre?

Jennifer Lohmann’s next book is Winning Ruby Heart, which has a disgraced Olympic runner heroine and sports caster hero. This piqued my interest as I have a son who runs, and much of our spare time revolves around cross country and track seasons. The heroine was a middle distance runner (5K and 10K for those of you who don’t spend your spring Saturdays watching teenagers run around in circles) caught doping who now runs ultra-marathons. Jennifer was influenced both by the Lance Armstrong Scandal and reading Born to Run (a fairly interesting and provocative book even if you’re not a runner).

Julie Anne Long just wrapped up Lavay’s book, and next up will by Lyon. Her series and her fandom are still going strong.

I’m hoping to catch those M-Z authors elsewhere this conference, as well as others like Tessa Dare and Julie James, who had longer lines. Stay tuned!

When Romance Mirrors Your Own Romance

Children-dressed-up-as-bride-and-groom-252x300A few years ago, my husband gave me an anniversary card that looked something like the picture on the left. “Look!,” he wrote inside. “They found one of our wedding pictures!” It was a joke, of course. I mean, we weren’t nineBut we were both nineteen, which even in 1989 was really young. I am pretty sure people thought we were crazy, and when I look back, there may have been something to that. My mom was completely horrified. She’d married at the ripe old age of twenty-three, and in her mind, getting married meant that you immediately dropped out of college and started having babies right and left, which was not the life she pictured for her honor student daughter. It doesn’t have to mean that. In my case, it did mean that I switched universities (ending up at one that was likely better suited to me anyway), but my husband and I both graduated a year early and didn’t have children right away. With time and perspective though, I can see exactly why my mom was worried. As I went on in life and discovered others who married young, I found that I was the exception rather than the rule. Most people either got married because they were expecting, or married with the intention of both partners remaining in school only to have one drop out to support the other. It’s not that getting married very young is an impossible road, but it creates some unique obstacles that older couples don’t necessarily have to face.

A few years ago I read a very interesting article (which of course I couldn’t find for the life of me when I wrote this piece) that spoke to the challenges of marrying young. It was actually written in sort of a blue state/red state context, and addressed marriage differences and why divorce rates were lower in blue states. The article phrased the dichotomy in a way that stuck with me: “Adults creating families vs. families creating adults.” Do you grow up, meet someone, and build a family together, or meet someone, build a family together, and then grow up? It’s the challenge of an early marriage in a nutshell. My husband and I are in our forties, now addressing some of the issues that a lot of people addressed in their twenties. I love my husband, and we’re still married as we approach our 25th anniversary. But would I advise my daughters (20 and 22) to make a similar choice? Probably not, and they haven’t.

Why do I bring this up? Well, partly it’s because I am at a stage where I am talking and thinking a lot about my marriage and my choices. But it’s also because the heroine of the book I’m reading is eighteen. Granted, she is eighteen in 1812, which is a lot different than being eighteen in 1988 or 2014. It takes us longer to grow up now because life is complicated in ways that it wasn’t 200 years ago. But still, she’s eighteen. The hero thinks she’s young, and she is. And because I married young, because I’ve walked down that road, I know what is ahead of her better than most. I believe that young love is real, because I’ve lived it. But I also understand the intricacies and nuances of what’s ahead. It’s a little harder for me to romanticize it.

It made me wonder whether we seek out romances that mirror our own love story, or avoid them because they are too real. On one hand, if it has worked for you, you know it can work. Linda Hurst, who used to co-write Pandora’s Box with me years ago, was a firm defender of love at first sight romances. She fell head over heels crazy in love with her husband in a moment and knew that it was real and could work outside a romance novel. I’ve also defended young love over the years because I’ve lived young love. Periodically I’ve seen someone say (on our message boards) that you can’t possibly be in love with someone you met at fifteen. Yes, I personally know otherwise. But I am not exactly sure that I seek out romances where couples face the problems I faced.

Do any of us? If your spouse is in the military and suffering from PTSD, do you enjoy military romances? Or do you think they downplay the struggles? If you’re raising step-children, do you enjoy reading about step-families in romance? Or is it all just too real? If we didn’t need desire fantasies, we probably wouldn’t read books with bizarre will stipulations, secret babies, or shapeshifting wolves.

Where do you stand? Do you like romances that remind you of your own romance? Or do you just think, “I can get that at home” and seek out something completely different?



What’s Your (Guilty) Pleasure?

cuttingedgeAs I was reading A Wedding by Dawn, a book I had to admit was pretty bad, I also noticed that I was sort of enjoying it. Not because it got better (because eventually, it kind of did), but because it was kind of ridiculous. What do I mean by that? Well, the heroine is determined not to marry the hero, who has come looking for her in Malta because her dad has promised him 50,000 pounds if he marries her. She escapes (so many times I lost count) throwing herself into increasingly ridiculous situations and almost deciding several times that losing her virginity to a random stranger would be a great idea. Ridiculous. And yet, so silly and ridiculous that I didn’t mind reading it. Somewhere along the line, silly books have become a new guilty pleasure.

I’m not sure this was always the case. Early on in my reviewing career, think I took myself more seriously, and I think I probably took romances more seriously too. Funny was great, but silly? Weren’t we too intelligent and important for that? I scoffed at madcap Regencies by Emily Hendrickson and Sandra Heath, wondering why we hadn’t gotten beyond such ridiculous fare. On the other hand, I felt no guilt liking funny regencies by Diane Farr or Emma Jensen.

I’m not sure what changed. It isn’t my grading, because something truly ridiculous would rarely merit higher than a C in my book. Nonetheless, I find myself kind of enjoying the occasional stupid heroine or far-fetched plot line. You know, the stuff that verges on parody with cross-dressing heroines who manage to fool people, silly will provisions, zany bluestocking archeologists and the like. I can’t in good conscience recommend them per se, but I don’t exactly mind reading them either – probably because I am laughing too hard.

In order to meet my guilty pleasure needs, it really needs to be so bad it’s good. And lord knows, it can’t be boring. Boring doesn’t qualify. It also works best for me in romance. I recently attempted to get through Clara and Mr. Tiffany, an historical fiction novel, for my book club. I let myself stop after fifty pages of tortuous prose, stilted dialogue, and flat characterization. It was ridiculous alright, but it was no pleasure.

At the risk of opening a can of worms, I’d put the Fifty Shades books in the guilty pleasure category. Granted, I was laughing too hard at the end of the second one to bother with the third, but the point is that I was laughing.

One of my guiltiest pleasures is our own bad reviews. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I’ll look up old D and F reviews in the database and read them for hours, laughing at how funny they are (because even when a bad book is hard to read, the review is often fun to read and write).

My family’s cinematic guilty pleasure is The Cutting Edge. If you’ve never seen it, you’re missing some of the cheesiest dialogue ever written. It’s a romantic comedy featuring a washed up hockey player and almost washed-up figure skater who skate their way to (presumably) an Olympic gold medal in pairs skating – and of course, fall in love along the way. It’s horrible. And yet brilliant. If you don’t love lines like: “There are two things I do well…and skating’s the other one”…well, you’re probably a better person than I.

How about you? What’s your guilty pleasure, whether cinematic or bookish? And do you like a good, silly book once in a while?

Because…Romance Novel!

james-macarthur_57154759Years ago, I used to do aerobics with an aspiring writer. One day she told me about the book for young readers that she was working on, which involved a villain who went back through time to take Joseph out of the Christmas story. “That’s interesting,” I said. “Why?” It turned out she had never thought about “why,” or what his motivation was, or what he was accomplishing by his actions, or what difference it made. But she told me she was glad I asked. No one had ever put it that way to her.

Sometimes snark can be our stock in trade as reviewers. We have genres we deplore, stock characters that we consider ridiculous, and tired tropes we hate (and at AAR, we privately used to make fun of the word trope, which we considered pretentious until we started using it all the time too). But the fact is, that when a good author uses any of these, we can buy into it, because that’s what good writing and characterization is all about.

Not everyone has that level of persuasiveness, of course. Sometimes, it makes complete sense in the author’s head but doesn’t stand up to even a small amount of scrutiny, like my friend’s Joseph-napping story. Sometimes the author just fails utterly to convince the reader of the character’s motivation. We understand what the author was trying to do, but it isn’t believable to us. Or, to paraphrase a long ago reader on our message boards, “we get it, but we don’t buy it.”

I think we see this both in contemporaries and historicals. In contemporaries the tough-sell premises include elaborate will stipulations (“You can’t inherit the family ranch unless you live here for one year with Bill, the handsome foreman, because romance novel!”) and marriages of convenience (Come on, it’s 2014). Thankfully I think we’re kind of moving away from sheikhs, whose allure utterly escaped me (“Come with me, my beauty, and live in my awesome country where women can’t drive! It’ll be great!”). In historicals the classic tends to be the heroine disguised as a man. I always like when the hero is completely fooled by this ruse and confused by his burgeoning same-sex attraction, then has sex with the heroine the minute he discovers the truth.

Sometimes it can be so over the top that it becomes fun and we just don’t care. Did anyone else watch Swiss Family Robinson as a child? My sister and I watched it obsessively for a while. Not only does it feature the aforementioned cross dressing, there is a long scene at the end where they throw logs at hordes of pirates, all of whom are easily felled even though they vastly outnumber the Swiss Family. The production values were bad even to the 80s eye, but it was fun anyway. And besides, I wanted to live in that tree house, preferably with Fritz (the picture above was my favorite scene). There are plenty of modern book equivalents to that. Do I really believe that the wealthy Roarke runs his empire just fine on no sleep and has plenty of time to assist Eve in every single investigation? Not really. Does it matter? Not really.

But I also think a really good author can simply sell us on the tough sell, even though long time readers can get a little jaded. There have been a few times in recent months when an author has made me buy into a premise I don’t usually like. I’ve seen people carry off romances with socially unequal heroes and heroines, Big Secrets, Big Misunderstandings, prostitutes, and thieves. None of these are favorites with me, but if you can sell me on the characters’ motivation, if you can make it make sense, then I’ll go along for the ride. My most recent example, Meredith Duran’s Fool Me Twice, had three of those things, and it still worked for me.

And when don’t those themes work? Pretty often. You have to have a reason you’re not sharing your Big Secret, a reason you became a prostitute, and probably a convincing villain for your Big Misunderstanding. We’re not going to buy it if you just use romance novel shorthand and depend on the hard work of better writers who have gone before.

So here’s my nickel’s worth of free reviewer advice: You can go one of two routes. The first is to go big or go home, a la Swiss Family. If you are going to have a beat a bunch of armed pirates, you should probably have them do it with a nine year old on an elephant, a log booby trap, and…wasn’t there a zebra? Or have your twenty-seven year old, Fifty Shades of Fucked Up anti-hero make more money than Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, because your whole story is already silly anyway.

Second route: Sell it. Have a reason your villain is taking Joseph out of the Christmas story, or your heroine is stealing documents, or your dashing, rich hero refuses to marry. A reason that makes sense and holds up to scrutiny. There are no shortcuts with this, and your reason can’t be “Because Romance Novel”.  Believe me, we’ll know.



Roses are red, violets are blue. Like love poems? Here a few.

love lineBefore romance novels there were love poems. Sometimes sweet, sometimes tender, sometimes raunchy but always intimate and direct. Most love poems are from the author to a specific lover, a genuine communication that wasn’t necessarily intended for commercial  consumption.  That authentic, sincere emotional communication can often capture the essence of love in far fewer lines than a romance novel. And it does so in such a way that it lingers on the mind and tongue in a way that a book often doesn’t. Continue reading

Best Books of the Year – AAR Staff Favorites

Just today a colleague at work told me to tell her what to read. Not only is this pretty much my favorite topic of conversation, it’s one area where I always have the answers. And today we give you our “what to read” answers. It’ our annual gush fest, when we only say nice things and talk about books we loved most this year. Our reviewers (mostly) pick one book and a few runners up – the best of our collective reading year. Theoretically, you can cram a few in before our annual poll closes (it helps if you are a speed reader with a lot of time on your hands – if that’s not you, then maybe you can just find a new favorite that you might have overlooked). We tended toward historicals this year (and even have something of a clear winner at three votes), but you’ll also find YA, NA, M/M, and paranormals. Here are our staff picks in their own words. Happy Reading…and hopefully, voting!)

Anne: One Week Girlfriend by Monica Murphy (a new adult book published by Random House). I was sort of … glancing through it… in the B&N to see whether I would like it. I sort of … glanced through … it to find out his big secret and suddenly realized I had read most of the book. Including the end. Whoops. So with a guilty blush, I bought the Nook Book and the sequel minutes later, and I’m reading it more carefully now.

Pat: Well, since I read a lot of gay romance last year, who will be surprised that my favorite books are m/m romances?  My favorite was Covet Thy Neighbor by L. A. Witt not only because of all the usual criteria (characters, plot, theme, and the rest) but also because it discussed religion and belief in God in the context of homosexuality.  There’s a wonderful scene in it where a trans boy-girl talks to the gay atheist tattoo artist that’s heartbreaking.

My close seconds are Something Like Autumn by Jay Bell and Beyond Duty by SJD Peterson.  I’d read the Something Like series and was eagerly awaiting Autumn, so I saved it for the overseas flight when we went to visit our daughter in Rome.  I found myself sobbing across the Atlantic with my husband on one side laughing at me (my own fault for crying he said since I knew what the series was about) and a stranger who kept moving away from me on the other.  In retrospect, it was funny, I think.

Beyond Duty is a thought-provoking look at two career soldiers who retire just as Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is revoked.  They’re young, fit, and confused about where to go from here.  Since part of my extended family spent their lives in the military, the thoughts and decisions the book’s characters have to make resounded with me.

(After years of reading romances in which the most pressing issue is whom to marry, it was a refreshing year to read romances in which authors were tackling some heavy-duty contemporary issues.)

Melanie: This was really hard – my best book for 2013 was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (possibly because I haven’t read Eleanor and Park yet!). I really connected with Cath, awkward and a little out of place and starting college, and her difficulty relating to people around her. And her budding romance with Levi is adorable. My runner up was Game by Barry Lyga, his sequel to I hunt Killers. Lyga is great at writing suspense and keeping the tension high without feeling overdramatic. And each time I finish his books, I am left wanting more. Which is great. And horrible, but great. I can’t wait for the next one to come out.

Jenna: My best book of 2013 was Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. While not an easy read – I think I cried during most of it! – the romance told in this story was so delicate and gut-wrenchingly real, the story haunted me for days after I’d finished reading it. All of my indicators for a true keeper were present. I couldn’t put it down. The characters jumped off the page. While not a traditional happy-ever-after ending, I was still left feeling hopeful. And I can easily and happily recommend it to anyone as a fantastic example of a YA novel that will appeal to adults as well as young adults.

Haley: Mine would have to be World After by Susan Ee. It is the second book in the Penryn and the End of Days series. So far, both books have been action packed and the romance is so poignant. The premise is that the angel Gabriel came to earth and the humans shot at him, as a result, the angels have launched a full-on attack against the humans. This has caused a type of apocalypse and now the modern world is in a state of upheaval. Penryn is a teenager who is trying to help her younger sister and mother survive. Her mother is highly, mentally unstable and her younger sister is paralyzed so Penryn takes over as the head of the family. When they stumble into a fight between some of the angels, the younger sister is taken and Penryn ends up pairing with a wounded angel to try and retrieve her. Book two continues her attempts to reunite her family and help the wounded angel, Raffe, reclaim his place with the angels.

I particularly liked this series because Penryn is just a normal girl thrown into the most extreme of circumstances and manages to be a pretty tough chick. There’s no “insta-love” like so many YA paranormal romances. In fact, Penryn and Raffe are very sarcastic and sometimes downright antagonistic to each other. I love all of the characters in this book. Penryn is so tough and able, despite how challenging things become. Raffe is both snarky and a warrior. Penryn’s mother is fascinating in the most horrible way. Ee really takes you for a ride with non-stop action and moments that are downright gruesome and scary. This definitely falls on the darker side as far as YA books are concerned but it is so worth it.

Cindy: My best book of 2013 is Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh.  Ms Singh can be hit or miss with me but the story of an extremely dangerous man (trying not to put spoilers here) and a girl/young woman who touched a part of him he didn’t know he had hit almost every note perfectly. I liked that this particular story was more about just two people and how they do and don’t heal in a world that has done them so much harm. I appreciated the simplicity of the story and in the end, the story had to be told that way to remain true to the male character. I also appreciated that love was neither character’s cure all. Their ability to do very bad things was not minimized by the author and yes, there is a HEA but by my understanding there is a catch.

Dabney: Uncommon Passion gets my vote for best romance of 2013.

I read the book in July and since then have probably reread it five times. Every time it blows me away. Ms. Calhoun’s stories often have a dark core but though there is grief in Uncommon Passion, the novel is unashamedly joyous.

The heroine, Rachel, a young woman who has left the fundamentalist community she was raised in order to live a life without soul crushing limits, creates happiness, both in the life of the troubled cop, Ben, with whom she falls in love, and in the lives of those lucky enough to read this book. Rachel is such an indelible character it would’ve been easy for her to be more interesting than Ben. And she would be were Ben not hot as hell and entrancingly remote. His struggle to push past the brittle facade he donned years ago is moving and compelling.

Everything about this book works for me.

Uncommon Passion is the sexiest book I read in 2013; the love scenes are riveting and vividly erotic. Ben’s anger, directed at his father and at himself, is heartbreaking and infuriating. Rachel is perfect for Ben which surprises the two of them and the reader. The novel is beautifully plotted and gorgeously written.

Ms. Calhoun’s work becomes better with each story she writes; Uncommon Passion is her best yet.

Lee: My best book of the year is Let It Be Me by Kate Noble. Set mostly in Venice, it’s about a girl following her dream of being a concert pianist but having to deal with her mother trying to marry her off. Even though I have been to Venice, after reading this book I want to go back to, and listen to classical music while there. I also really loved Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly, which follows a down on her luck young woman on her way out west to take up a position as a teacher in Wyoming. If you’ve read Ms. Kelly before, you know she can write to tear at the reader’s heartstrings and she does it again in this book. And as others have mentioned, The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley also is a lovely book. My favorite character was Anna. What an adventurous life she had.

Mary: Oh I hate when I can only choose one, so thanks for giving us a little leeway. My best book(s) of the year are Darius:  Lord of Pleasure by Grace Burrowes and What a Lady Needs by Kasey Michaels. In Darius, the hero is a sort of gigolo who hires out his services just short of sexual intercourse. He has taken this path after being cut off by his father. Another aristocrat has a platonic marriage with his wife and therefore no heir. He is also dying and wants to protect his wife from her vulture of a former stepfather before he dies. He contracts with Darius to impregnate his wife. I usually hate adultery stories, but this one is done so well and is so poignant, that I could not help but love both the hero and heroine. In What a Lady Needs, I loved this character driven romance between Katherine Redgrave and Simon Ravenbill as they try to sort out the treasonous plots that both families are caught up in. There is a lot of genuine humor in this book that makes you want to hang out with the principal characters.

Other books that ALMOST made it:

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt

Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait by Grace Burrowes

Into the Light by Ellen O’Connell

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly

Blythe: This was a harder year for me because it just wasn’t the best reading year in general. I can’t help wishing I’d read the newest Kearsley, Kelly, Willig, and Thomas – but I didn’t get to any of those. In fact, I read more general fiction this year than usual, so among my favorites I’d include The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, and the surprise J.K. Rowling book, The Cuckoo’s Calling.

My romance reading was just a little lackluster, with one notable exception. So my best romance of the year is Sweet Revenge by Zoe Archer. It’s a well-written book with characters who are uncommon precisely because they are common. The hero is an escaped convict bent in revenge (hence the title), and the heroine is a governess whose parents are missionaries. Most other new-to-me authors I tried in 2013 felt like so many rehashes of all that has come before. And I am at a stage in my reading career where the unusual and different are very appealing. If you’ve missed Sweet Revenge, try to squeeze it in.

Lynn: My book of the year was The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. I loved The Winter Sea, the book which preceded it, but the multi-layered plot and the beautiful, sweeping romance in Firebird just blew me away.

For runners-up, I would choose – The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin – I just adored this book! The setting, the characters, the plotting and the romance…this one just really worked for me. Also, I enjoyed seeing a time and place I know very little about come to life for me. The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig – This book isn’t a standard, “follow the rules” genre romance, but the end result certainly is romantic. Seeing both the past and present romances unfold as well as how the actions of past generations affect the current one made this a very good read indeed.

Maggie: My favorite romance of the year was The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. Kearsley’s trademark lyrical writing, haunting story line and intense romance permeate this book and make it among the best reads of 2013, not just the best romance. Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel would be the runner up. A breathtaking look at India during a unique period of its history it is also an incredible sweet romance between two intriguing characters. Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer was a wonderfully humorous Inspirational that had a heartfelt romance at its core.

LinnieGayl: My book of the year, and the one that will dominate my AAR Annual Reader Poll ballot is Lauren Willig’s The Passion of the Purple Plumeria. I was nervous when I first heard about this book, couldn’t imagine the “older” Miss Gwen as a heroine. But both the book, and Miss Gwen, are spectacular. I listened to it as an audio book and the minute I finished went back and listened to the last chapters many more times. Miss Gwen has so much more depth than I ever imagined. And I still smile over the final reveal of Plumeria. In second place for me is The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig (yes, it was a Lauren Willig year for me). I was less than enthusiastic about a standalone that did not feature The Pink Carnation. But I was quickly captured both by the historical story and by the “current” 1999 story. It’s a big, sweeping tale taking place over decades and across continents. I also listened to this in audio and will definitely listen again.

Rike: The 2013 book I liked best, hands down, was The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig. I love older heroines and adored what Willig did with Gwen, who does start out as a bit of a caricature at the beginning of the series. The Passion of the Purple Plumeria is both funny and heart-breaking (the passages in which Gwen needs to rethink her relationship with Jane!).The first of my runners-up is New Life by Bonnie Dee. This novel’s hero is mentally handicapped after an accident, and the romance deals with some very difficult-to-solve situations, and does not cop out by offering easy solutions. Very gritty and emotional!

My second runner-up is also a contemporary, but the complete opposite in subject and tone: An Invitation to Sin by Sarah Morgan. This is a sparkling, charming romance which made me smile, but at the same time it’s not superficial, even though it is set among Sicilian millionaires.

Heather: My favorite books of 2013: The Luckiest Lady in London – Sherry Thomas excels at the unconventional, going far beyond standard Regency fare. The Luckiest Lady in London is no exception with its less-than-beautiful heroine and hero who decides she is worth pursuing. Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews – Just when I believe the Kate Daniels series has peaked, that the next book cannot possibly surpass the last, the authors raise the bar and deliver a story that takes my breath away. In Magic Rises the stakes are higher, the villains scarier, and the emotional impact greater than any Kate Daniels book that has preceded it. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell – Don‘t let the Young Adult designation fool you. This is a story of misfits to which readers of any age (and especially those of us in our late 30s/early 40s) may relate and enjoy. As Eleanor, with her unsettled home life, and Park, who has the perfect family, bond over punk rock and being targeted by school bullies, the reader falls in love with them as well. At the end my heart soared and I felt a strong desire to blast The Ramones for all the world to hear.

Alexandra: I’ve been putting off making my decision for a while, but I feel like I really have to go with Sherry Thomas’ The Luckiest Lady in London. I loved Felix and Louisa, as I always love her characters. I don’t quite know what made this book so amazing – perhaps it was how believable I found the characters and their emotions to be. Too often I’ve felt bored and apathetic while reading a book where one of the main characters had a traumatic childhood. It’s not that I’m unfeeling (I hope!) but rather that the tale seems a little over-dramatic or just doesn’t hit me right. I believed in Felix and Louisa – they were real, their emotions were real, their less-than-perfect lives made me hurt for them.

There were, of course, many other books I read and fell in love with this year. However, the only one of all of them that I really considered choosing as my favorite was The Turncoat: Renegades of the Revolution by Donna Thorland. It was her debut novel, I believe, and I just fell head over heels for it. Drama, good characters, and the American Revolution–what more can you ask for in a book?

Caz: It’s a tough choice, but if I’ve got to pick one, I’m going for The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas. As is always the case with ST, the writing is beautiful and her two protagonists were utterly captivating. Louisa isn’t beautiful and Felix is a scoundrel underneath his carefully cultivated persona of The Ideal Gentleman, but together they peel away the layers of preconceptions about themselves and each other. It’s a terrific read and I couldn’t put it down.

Runners up: The Countess Conspiracy (Courtney Milan). It’s beautifully written, the emotions just jumped off the page and all the detail about the scientific work and discoveries being made by the characters was fascinating. Sebastian and Violet are incredibly well-drawn and multi-layered characters who absolutely and completely belong together and my heart broke for them several times! Once Upon a Tartan by Grace Burrowes – Tye is a beautiful and complex hero with a love of language (and naughty words to boot!) who completely steals the show in this story of a man who has always put others first who discovers that sometimes the best way to help people is to stand up for your own needs. The Boleyn Deceit by Laura Andersen – Second book in her Boleyn Trilogy, this story continues the story of the “alternative” tudor timeline in which Henry VIII had a son by Anne Boleyn. His minority over, William is now king in his own right. But he’s also his father’s son – and when he decides he’s in love with a girl he’s known all his life (who is in love with his best friend and closest advisor) the stakes are raised considerably.  Politics, history and a star-crossed romance – I can’t wait for book 3!

I’d better hit send now, because this list will probably have changed in an hour or so! We have only days left in our annual poll, which closes January 26 at midnight. We’ll soon find out whether our favorites are your favorites. But feel free to comment and let us know how your reading year was. And if you haven’t voted yet, hop to it!