Archive for the ‘All About Romance’ Category

TBR Challenge 2014 – Pick a Book For Me

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

dukesholiday For my “Recommended Read” in this month’s TBR Challenge, I chose The Duke’s Holiday by Maggie Fenton, a book which a number of my friends on Goodreads enjoyed and which was recommended to me by one of them.

It’s a fairly simple story – a very proper, highly fastidious duke with what the synopsis indicates is Obsessive (or is it Obsessional?) Compulsive Disorder meets his match in the form of a feisty, flame-haired mess of a women who thrives on chaos. I normally like the “opposites attract” trope, I like comedic romances, and the person who recommended it and I normally have very similar tastes, so it seemed like a good bet for a fun read.

Unfortunately, however, I seem to be in the minority of people who aren’t wild about this book. It’s not terrible by any means, but there are a number of things in the execution that just don’t work for me and to be honest, I didn’t find it all that funny. (more…)

Eagerly Awaited September Books

Monday, August 25th, 2014

So I blinked and…summer’s almost over already! And just as I was getting used to the sun and the heat. As we cruise into September, there are quite a few historicals that have folks here on staff excited (yay!) and we’re keeping up with new installments in some beloved series. However, the big news for most here at AAR would be the arrival of a long-anticipated new release from contemporary romance favorite Susan Elizabeth Phillips. So, what are you looking for this September?

Title and Author Reviewer
Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips Dabney, Lee, LinnieGayl, Alex, Mary, Shannon, Caroline, Lea, Haley
What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson What I Love About You by Rachel Gibson Mary, Lea, Dabney, Haley, Heather
The Songbird's Seduction by Connie Brockway The Songbird’s Seduction by Connie Brockway Lynn, Lee, Caroline
Festive in Death by JD Robb Festive in Death by J.D. Robb Blythe, Maggie
Once More My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath Once More, My Darling Rogue by Lorraine Heath Haley, Caz
Wood Sprites by Wen Spencer Wood Sprites by Wen Spencer Maggie, Anne
Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann LinnieGayl, Lynn
A Scandal to Remember by Elizabeth Essex A Scandal to Remember by Elizabeth Essex Caz, Dabney
Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs Heather, Maggie
The Laird by Grace Burrowes The Laird by Grace Burrowes Mary, Caz
The Secret Place by Taa French The Secret Place by Tana French Dabney, Lynn
What a Duke Dares by Anna Campbell What a Duke Dares by Anna Campbell Caz, Mary
Enchantress by Maggie Anton Enchantress by Maggie Anton Melanie, Caroline
Lisette's List by Susan Vreeland Lisette’s List by Susan Vreeland Shannon
Honor by Lyn Cote Honor by Lyn Cote Lynn
Night's Honor by Thea Harrison Night’s Honor by Thea Harrison Jean
What I Remember Most by Cathy Lamb What I Remember Most by Cathy Lamb Lee
Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu Caroline
Close to Home by Lisa Jackson Close to Home by Lisa Jackson Shannon
Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh Rock Addiction by Nalini Singh Cindy
Ghost Layer by Robin D. Owens Ghost Layer by Robin D. Owens Melanie
Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne Lee
Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover Ugly Love by Colleen Hoover Anne
House Immortal by Devon Monk House Immortal by Devon Monk Shannon
Vampire Secretary, Vol. 7 by Tomu Ohmi Midnight Secretary, Vol. 7 by Tomu Ohmi Caroline
The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire Heather
A Home For Her Heart by Janet Lee BArton A Home for Her Heart by Janet Lee Barton Anne
The Maiden of Ireland by Susan Wiggs The Maiden of Ireland(re-release of The Mist and the Magic) by Susan Wiggs Lynn
Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Couple by Charles Soule Superman/Wonder Woman: Power Coupleby Charles Soule Caroline
Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley Season of Storms(reissue) by Susanna Kearsley Heather, Melanie

Snippets from RWA2014

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Blythe and I had a great time at RWA2014. We both have interviews and insights to share and we will be publishing columns over the next few weeks sharing our encounters and experiences.  (more…)

TBR Challenge – It’s RITA Time!

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

prospero Note: This year’s RITA awards will be held next week at the RWA National Conference, so the July multi-blog challenge is focusing on reading RITA nominees and winners.

My choice for the multi-blog TBR challenge was Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler, a RITA award winner in 2004. I loved it – it’s a beautifully written and tender romance in which an ex-soldier helps a badly injured young woman to recapture her spirit and zest for life in the face of the neglect of her seemingly perfect family. Morgan Pearce is inveigled by a friend into visiting the friend’s father to assist him in writing his memoirs. Not long after his arrival, Morgan literally stumbles across a lonely young woman sitting in a bath chair in the gardens, seemingly abandoned. She is Miranda Runyon, a relative who lost her parents in an accident three years previously, and who was left seriously injured. Her family has basically shut her away and now ignores her existence, and Miranda, once a vital, independent young woman, has more or less given up. (more…)

TBR Challenge – Back to the Classics

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

seventearsforapollo This month’s TBR challenge, reading one of the classics, had me scratching my head for a little bit. Did I want to reach for one of those books that could be considered part of the romance canon(to the degree we have one), or did I want to pick a classic trope or author? In the end, I decided on Seven Tears for Apollo. When we start talking about old school romantic suspense or gothics online, certain names tend to pop up. Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Barbara Michaels – all have their fans. However, Phyllis Whitney is one of those names that seems to be mentioned almost as an afterthought.

I’ve read a few Phyllis Whitney novels, all historicals, and I did enjoy them. However, I had yet to read one of her contemporaries and so I gave this one a whirl. Written in 1962, it captures a world that for 21st century readers feels like a curious blend of old and new. (more…)

Eagerly Awaited June Books

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

In terms of subgenre, our tastes are all over the place this June. Both Lauren Willig’s latest historical as well as some romantic suspense from Jill Sorenson are catching several of our eyes. And then of course there’s the latest installment of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, as well as an assortment of other historicals, contemporaries, paranormal, category novels, you name it. How do you want to start your summer of reading?

Title and Author Reviewer
That Summer by Lauren Willig That Summer by Lauren Willig Lynn, Lee, Caz, Lea, Rike, LinnieGayl, Alex
Backwoods by Jill Sorenson Backwoods by Jill Sorenson Heather, LinnieGayl, Heather, Rike, Maggie, Lynn
Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon Mary, Blythe, Mary, Alex
Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh Shield of Winter by Nalini Singh Cindy, Alex, Maggie
Weekends in Carolina by Jennifer Lohmann Weekends in Carolina by Jennifer Lohmann Dabney, Lynn
How to School Your Scoundrel by Juliana Gray How to School Your Scoundrel by Juliana Gray Caz, Lee
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith Jean, Blythe
Scandal's Virgin by Louise Allen Scandal’s Virginby Louise Allen Mary, Rike
City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare Shannon
Baby, It's You by Jane Graves Baby, It’s You by Jane Graves Haley
Dreamweaver Trail by Emily march Dreamweaver Trail by Emily March Lee
Wicked Temptation by Zoe Archer Wicked Temptation by Zoe Archer Caz
Avenge Me by Maisey Yates Avenge Me by Maisey Yates Dabney
To Scotland With Love by Patience Griffin To Scotland With Love by Patience Griffin Lee
A Long Time Gone by Karen White A Long Time Gone by Karen White Shannon
Small-Town Redemption by Beth Andrews Small-Town Redemption by Beth Andrews Rike
Take my Breath Away by Christie Ridgway Take My Breath Away by Christie Ridgway Mary
All I Want is You by Toni Blake All I Want Is You by Toni Blake Haley
Nine Months to Change His Life by Marian Lennox Nine Months to Change His Life by Marian Lennox Caroline
Grim Shadows by Jenn Bennett Grim Shadows by Jenn Bennett Lynn
The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst Maggie
A Dream of Desire by Nina Rowan A Dream of Desire by Nina Rowan Caz
Save the Date by mary Kay Andrews Save the Date by Mary Kay Andrews Lee
The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice Shannon
The Devil of Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney The Virgin of Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney Mary
Stormy Persuasion by Johanna Lindsey Stormy Persuasion by Johanna Lindsey Mary

Eagerly Awaited May Releases

Monday, April 21st, 2014

With new books from Jo Goodman and Julie James, May is shaping up to be a month that just might be hard on the wallet. And let’s not forget, the legendary historical, The Windflower is finally being reissued in May. After hearing about this book my entire reading life, I’m curious to see if it’s as good as they say. What about you? Looking forward to anything this May?

Title and Author Reviewer
In Want of a Wife by Jo Goodman In Want of a Wife by Jo Goodman Lynn, Dabney, Jean, Lea, Melanie, Pat, Heather
It Happened One Wedding by Julie James It Happened One Wedding by Julie James Lea, LinnieGayl, Heather, Caroline, Caroline, Maggie, Mary, Alex
Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris Mary, Pat, Maggie, Caroline
Dreams of Lilacs by Lynn Kurland Dreams of Lilacs by Lynn Kurland Lee, Alex, Pat, Caz
It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden It Takes a Scandal by Caroline Linden Dabney, Mary, Caroline, Caz
Far Gone by Laura Griffin Far Gone by Laura Griffin Heather, Lee, Maggie, Lynn
The Windflower by Laura London The Windflower by Laura London Caroline, Lynn, Shannon
The Witch of Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney The Witch of Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney Mary, Melanie
How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days by Laura Lee Guhrke How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days by Laura Lee Guhrke Alex, Lee
Lawless by HelenKay Dimon Lawless by HelenKay Dimon Dabney
Fair Play by Deeanne Gist Fair Play by Deeanne Gist Maggie
The One and Only by Emily Giffin The One and Only by Emily Giffin Shannon
Searching for Perfect by Jennifer Probst Searching for Perfect by Jennifer Probst Haley
To Charm a Naughty Countess by Teresa Romain To Charm a Naughty Countess by Teresa Romain Caz
Possession by JR Ward Possession(mas-market reissue of hardcover) by J.R. Ward Shannon
Flying by Megan Hart Flying by Megan Hart Heather
Dark Serpent by Kylie Chan Dark Serpent by Kylie Chan Caroline
Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick LinnieGayl
One Night to Risk It All by Maisey Yates One Night to Risk It All by Maisey Yates Dabney
Breakable by Tamara Webber Breakable by Tamara Webber Pat
The Collector by Nora Roberts The Collector by Nora Roberts Lea
The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt The Secret Woman(reissue) by Victoria Holt Lynn
Noble Intentions by Katie MacAlister Noble Intentions by Katie MacAlister Melanie
Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932 by Francine Prose Dabney

TBR Challenge – New to Me Books

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

fairshine I went back to “Sunday” in the Back to School Challenge this month, to read the second of the books I’d chosen for that day.

The prompt was

- Read a book that has in its title the word “Sunday”, “Sun”, “light”, “shine”, “hot, “star” or “day”, or any variation of these words, or a word you think might have a similar connotation.

and I’d chosen a book by the British author, Sylvia Thorpe called Fair Shine the Day, which is a piece of historical fiction with romantic elements set during the time of the English Civil War. This period of English history seems to get a lot less attention than Tudor times, the Regency, or Victorian eras when it comes to historical romance and I can’t quite work out why. There’s plenty of actual history to get one’s teeth into, and of course, that whole Royalist/Puritan divide is, I’d have thought, a romance writer’s dream. (more…)

Eagerly Awaited April Books

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

Sarah Mayberry, Carla Kelly, and Kristan Higgins all have many fans among our staff and since they all have new releases coming out in April, we were looking over that April release list with anticipation. If you are one of the many fans of the Pennyroyal Green series, you will be delighted to know that the latest installment is due that month. And, as you can see, there are a variety of other books out there catchout our eyes as well. What do you want to read?

Title and Author Reviewer
Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry Her Kind of Trouble by Sarah Mayberry Lynn, Dabney, Heather, Lee, Mary, Caroline, Rike, LinnieGayl, Pat
The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly Blythe, Heather, Lee, Caroline, Pat, Lynn, Rike, Mary
Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins Waiting on You by Kristan Higgins LinnieGayl,Lea, Mary, Jenna, Alex, Heather, Maggie, Lee
Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Anne Long Dabney, Mary, Heather, Lee
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James Maggie, Lynn, LinnieGayl
After the Scandal by Elizabeth Essex After the Scandal by Elizabeth Essex Caz, Dabney
Prince's Fire by Amy Raby Prince’s Fire by Amy Raby Caroline, Melanie
The Day He Kissed Her by Julianna Stone The Day He Kissed Her by Julianna Stone Dabney, Lynn
Unlacing Lady Thea by Louise Allen Unlacing Lady Thea by Louise Allen Rike, Caz
Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa James Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James Alex, Dabney
A Courageous Ride by Andrew Grey A Courageous Ride by Andrew Grey Pat
Night Diver by Elizabeth Lowell Night Diver by Elizabeth Lowell Heather
For the Right Reasons by Kara Lennox For the Right Reasons by Kara Lennox Rike
Heaven's Queen by Rachel Bach Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach Jenna
London's Most Wanted Rake by Bronwyn Scott London’s Most Wanted Rake by Bronwyn Scott Caz
It's Complicated by L.A. Witt It’s Complicated by L.A. Witt Pat
Moonlight on My Mind by Jennifer McQuiston Moonlight on My Mind by Jennifer McQuiston Caroline
Fire Inside by Kristen Ashley Fire Inside(mass market reissue of digital release) by Kristen Ashley Mary
A Shocking Delight by Jo Beverley A Shocking Delight by Jo Beverley Rike
Her Soldier Protector by Soraya Lane Her Soldier Protector by Soraya Lane Caroline
The Winter Bride by Anne Gracie The Winter Bride by Anne Gracie Lee
Sharing Heart by Ken Murphy Sharing Heart by Ken Murphy Pat
Shards of Time by Lynn Flewelling Shards of Time by Lynn Flewelling Melanie

Best Books of the Year – AAR Staff Favorites

Friday, January 24th, 2014

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!