The results of the AAR Top Ten Lists are in and the winner is….

loverawakenedBack in April, we began, on each Tuesday, publishing a reviewer’s Top Ten list. There were no rules other than the books be in the romance genre. Over the next five months, we published twenty-three lists. Out of the 230 entries, we listed 201 books. We hit every genre (although we have a definitive fondness for historical romance), and waxed upon the works of 121 authors. After every one had weighed in, only one book garnered five–the most–votes: J.R. Ward’s Lover Awakened. Continue reading

AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – Heather’s Picks

paradise When you’re a voracious reader, picking a top 10 is a daunting task. There are so many books that I’ve loved and in many different ways or for different reasons. Some may be because they’ve brought me to a particular sub-genre. Some I’ve loved perhaps because they struck the right note for me for where I was emotionally at the time I read them. And some are on my favorites list just because they have that certain je ne se quois that causes me to connect with the story and characters. Whatever the reason may be, AAR has brought me fantastic recommendations for many years thanks to the wonderful community of reviewers, pollsters, commenters, and visitors to our message boards.

My highly scientific method of decision-making consisted of going through my reading log and if a book made me squee with delight, I short listed it. Then I began the arduous task of narrowing down my choices to ten. My choices represent a variety of genres and styles, but all have become favorites of mine in some way. There are some glaring omissions, notably due to the fact that there are no medievals on my list, and a few favorite authors, while I consistently enjoy the books they produce, did not make the cut.

And so now it is time for me to pick my favorite children, er, books. Gosh, this is harder than it sounded at first. Continue reading

Pandora’s Box: Magic Unchained

magicunchained Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to a new installment of Pandora’s Box! Today Louise VanderVliet and Heather Stanton will be discussing Magic Unchained by Jessica Andersen. This is the seventh Nightkeepers novel, a series based on Mayan legend and the doomsday prophecy of 2012.

In this book, Cara Liu is a winikin, one of a servant class bound to the Nightkeepers, a band of mages tasked with protecting the world from ultimate destruction. Cara has long loved her foster brother Sven, one of the Nightkeepers. Sven though has been traveling the world, never staying put in one place for any length of time. As the December 21 date looms, Sven has returned to Skywatch, the Nightkeepers’ home, to assist them.

Though Cara is resentful of Sven due to the circumstances under which they last parted, she is still powerfully attracted to him. As the Nightkeepers and winikin come under attack from unknown mystical forces, Cara and Sven are brought closer together. With the fate of humanity hanging in the balance and her own fate as future leader of the winikin on the line, Cara must find a way to work with Sven and trust him once again.

Please note: The discussion of this book may contain spoilers for the series.
Continue reading

The Appeal of the Mundane

that-old-black-magic I’m an enthusiastic lover of romance. I love the action and adventure, the sweeping sagas, the old school and new alike. But lately I’ve come to appreciate yet another facet of my favorite novels, the scenes of quiet domesticity. Sure, these aren’t the ones that typically grab your attention and make your heart pound. They usually aren’t even the ones you will remember after you close the book. But I believe they plan an important role in the development of the romance and give the reader a deeper understanding of the book’s characters.

A few weeks ago I was reading Alpha Instinct, a werewolf book by Katie Reus, for review. The few scenes I enjoyed in this book were the ones in which the main characters interacted with their families in a domestic setting. In one memorable scene, the heroine Ana is in the kitchen making polvorones, Mexican shortbread cookies (think Pecan Sandies with a licorice kick), with Vivian, the young jaguar-shifter for whom she has been caring. I found a couple of things appealing about the scene. For one, it highlighted Ana’s heritage, granting a little more depth to her character. It was also a nice break from the action and when Ana’s mate Connor entered the scene, it allowed the reader a glimpse into the main characters’ everyday lives. The scene could have been cut from the book entirely without affecting the story, but its inclusion gave the reader a sort of reference point for what married life would be like for them.
Continue reading

Converting a Non-Romance Reader

womanFrequently as romance readers we discuss “conversion kits” – those books we would give a non-romance reader to try to get them to understand the wonderfulness that is our genre of choice. Usually we pick the best of the best because we want to showcase the cream of the crop and prove that we aren’t all (to borrow a line from the movie Elf) “cotton headed ninny muggins.” I’ve recently had some success converting not just a non-romance reader, but a non reader period into an enthusiastic lover of romance.

Kelly and I have worked together since 1999 when our office started with just a small skeleton crew. She had just graduated with an MBA and I had recently received my bachelor’s degree when we began working in the same office. Since we were close in age and two of only a handful of females in a male-dominated office, we became friends quickly. We had tons in common except for one thing: I was a reader and she was not. So when she would talk about aTV show or I would mention a book, we would usually give each other blank looks.

Continue reading

You Never Get a Second Chance to Make a First Impression

There is more than a grain of truth to the axiom, but what if that first impression was not entirely accurate? We’ve all done something like this. You pick up a book by a new-to-you author on a trusted friend’s recommendation or on a whim. But then you find that it really is not your cup of tea. Perhaps the pacing is off, or the plot is thin, or you feel like you are reading about a group of caricatures instead of characters. Chances are, you decided to avoid that author’s other works altogether.

Of course, this is a practical approach since the majority of us do not have an unlimited budget for book buying. It makes little sense to buy another book by an author whose work you have not loved in the past. I’ve found though that occasionally it benefits me greatly not to completely disregard an author based on my initial reading.

I have a confession to make now. A few years ago I read LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory…and I didn’t love it. Not even a little bit. How could I possibly have disliked this universally loved classic? I groaned every time I picked it up to read a few more pages, but I pressed on determined to finish it. I’m not sure if it was the book or if I had been on a diet that left me starving and cranky that week, but for whatever reason I swore off all things LaVyrle Spencer, including the television movies that Lifetime always seems to butcher.

Continue reading

Pets and Romance

dogAs I was reflecting this week on elements that unify us as readers, it occurred to me that many of my reading colleagues are also fellow animal lovers. I live in a house filled with rescued cats and dogs, which is by turns delightful and frustrating. Delightful because life doesn’t get much better than snuggling with a book and a kitty in my lap. Frustrating in that many of my books are now missing covers courtesy of a certain coonhound who has an affinity for ripping them off when my back is turned.

Since I am such a sucker for animals I almost always find it a bonus when a good romance features a furry companion. Especially if the author is adept at creating a unique personality to where the pet becomes an actual character in the story.

Without further ado, here are a few of my favorites:

Continue reading

Romance Through the Generations

readingRomance reading is such a big part of my life for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the influence of my family members on my choice of reading material. I grew up in a household in which books were always a part. We always had multiple bookshelves crammed to overflowing, books in boxes, books in bags, and hidden under the beds. There was a variety of tomes, with a healthy selection of romance. Georgette Heyer and Mary Stewart existed peaceably alongside Dickens and Frank Slaughter.

My grandfather, as was common in that day, quit school in the third grade to go to work in the coal mines to help support his family. He was a highly intelligent man who, unfortunately, did not have the opportunity to receive much formal education. He compensated for this by reading constantly. His favorites? Westerns and Harlequins. He adored his “love stories” and kept a stack knee deep around the perimeter of the rooms in his house. It was such a fun occasion to visit, with he and my mother swapping books, reading descriptions and discussing the merits of each.

Continue reading