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.
Paradise by Judith McNaught – I can still recall my college roommate coming into our dorm room one afternoon and saying, “What are you studying? Judith McNaught? Again?!” Paradise contains everything I’m a sucker for in romance: Reunited lovers, a bad boy hero from the wrong side of the tracks, a strong-willed heroine who is a perfect foil to his alpha male. Matt and Meredith’s HEA is hard won, but worth every second of the emotional ride.
Wicked Deeds on a Winter Night by Kresley Cole – In 2009 I was facing a long convalescence following brain surgery. Knowing that my activities would be severely restricted during that period, I went in search of a long series that I could sink into in order to forget my pain and worries. Where else could I turn but the AAR message boards? The Immortals After Dark series turned out to be absolutely perfect for me. I read Wicked Deeds the day I was discharged from the hospital and fell hard for Bowen MacRieve. Maybe it was me, maybe it was the morphine? I just know that I want to have his little Lykae pups. (Please don’t tell Mariketa. She might turn me into a toad.)
Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward – The third book in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series features scarred and (quite literally) tortured Brother Zsadist. Brutal fighter Z is one scary dude who doesn’t let anyone get close to him or touch him. Gentle Bella sees past the scars and bravado and exerts a calming influence that finally allows Z to let down his guard and face the demons from his past. Their story packs an emotional wallop. Have tissues handy.
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley – I loved this book so much it’s hard for me to put my feelings into mere words. I loved the Cornish setting, the rich historical detail, the slow build of the story and romance. But most of all I loved how my heart was broken and then put back together in such a beautiful, exquisite fashion.
In the Midnight Rain by Ruth Wind (aka Barbara Samuel) – Atmospheric and moving, this story of love and redemption is the perfect blend of mystery and romance. I think the reason this stands out for me is not only the lyrical quality of the writing, but also the complexities of the characters and plot as well as the vivid description of the backstory. Plus, there’s the hero Blue. And who doesn’t want their own Blue?
Bound by the Heart by Marsha Canham – This is the perfect rainy day, curl up under a blanket read. Originally published in 1984, this is old-skool romance in the best possible way. Shipboard shenanigans, island intrigue, abduction, a full-on battle at sea, and characters who have real chemistry – everything I miss about the old-skool “bodice rippers.” I recommend the eBook version in which the rapey scenes have been rewritten.
Honest Illusions by Nora Roberts – I seriously could do a top 10 list consisting only of my favorite Nora Roberts titles and this one is among her best. For me it stands out due to the nuanced portrayal of morally ambiguous characters (they’re thieves) yet likable people. This is a story not just of love and healing, but also delivers the message that family does not necessarily mean blood.
Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase – I love the bantering between the hero and heroine and believe it is some of the best I have read. The unusual setting of 1820s Egypt pulled me into the story, but it was Rupert and Daphne’s dialogue that sealed the deal. The repartee and chemistry this pair share is off the charts.
Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews – While not a traditional romance in the strictest sense as the relationship develops over the course of multiple books, the Kate Daniels series has one of the best romances going. Strong-willed Kate meets equally strong-willed Curran in book 1, but things start really heating up between them here in book 3. The tension between them crackles with electricity and their bond just grows stronger.
Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare – I usually find myself exhausted at the end of one of Pamela Clare’s books and this is no exception. Set in the American wilderness circa the mid-18th century, the author gives the reader a look at the harsh realities of frontier life. But through the days fraught with peril, a sweet romance develops between a hardened former soldier and a young pregnant widow. Be ye warned: There are graphic scenes of torture in this book. And while I believe that they are integral to the plot and help establish the overall feeling of the danger of the times, you may want to skip those scenes if you are easily (or maybe not so easily) upset.
So there you have Heather’s eclectic collection of favorites. Do our tastes align? Based upon my choices, what would you recommend that I read next? And are you loving these weekly Top 10 posts as much as I am? Let’s hear from you in the comments!
– Heather Stanton