AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – Lee’s Picks

bronzehorseman Week after week after week I’ve been reading the other AAR staffers Top Ten blogs and have been hoping they wouldn’t choose some of my favorite books, but some were indeed chosen (The Windflower by Laura London; Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase; Chase the Moon by Catherine Nicholson; and The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne) so I decided to go with books that haven’t been chosen yet (I hope).

I don’t review books but instead help with behind the scenes work as well as being one of the three pollsters who calculate ballots for the Annual Poll and the Top 100 Poll which AAR runs every three years.

If I’m on a desert isle, and I can only have ten books, I want stories with excellent plots, memorable characters and that extra something that makes me feel an emotion – laughter, sadness (but not too much sadness), joy, angst, wonder – but stories that end with a happy ending. Most of these books I have read at least twice, if not more, so they have stood up to the test of time for me.

I suppose I could gush even more so about each book but I’ve learned over the years to downplay my enthusiasm for a book when trying to suggest someone read it. Too much high praise raises expectations. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a movie review where the critic says “the audience was standing and cheering at the end.” Uh huh. NEVER have been at a movie theater when that happened.

So, here are my top ten favorite books, in reverse alphabetical order:

familyblessings Family Blessings by Lavyrle Spencer. At the start of most Ms. Spencer’s books, her two main characters are totally different in so many ways the reader never thinks they will end up as a couple. But as Ms. Spencer did over and over again throughout her writing career, she managed to create wonderful romances from opposites attracting. What I liked about Family Blessings was not only the growth of the relationship between the older woman and younger man but how the author framed its growth over the seasons.




tatiana The Bronze Horseman and Tatiana & Alexander by Paullina Simons. I know the author has written two more books that follow the characters of Tatiana and Alexander, but I decided not to read those because of feedback from other readers. Nonetheless, I read both these books back to back and wow, talk about a roller coaster of emotions! War, revenge, love and sacrifice but definitely a happy ending at the end of the second book. Whew!







Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn. I truly enjoy Ms. Quinn’s writing style. Yes, she’s witty, but she also loves her characters. For instance, Penelope Featherington. Wouldn’t you want to be her friend? I know there are lots of “families” in Regency England romance books, but the Bridgertons are one of the most fun to read about.






Silk and Secrets by Mary Jo Putney. Adventure, faraway places, romance and great lead characters. I’ve enjoyed many of Ms. Putney’s books but this is truly my favorite.







This Is All I Ask by Lynn Kurland. Ms. Kurland creates charming characters that sometimes appear in subsequent stories, be they time travel stories (people popping in and out of different centuries) or not. This one is strictly medieval and a treasure.







Miss Whittier Makes a List by Carla Kelly. Adventure and romance on the high seas. Ms. Kelly has lots of fans and there is a reason for that. She teaches history in her books through characters living through wars and lesser conflicts. (On another day, I could have named another one of Ms. Kelly’s books, but this is one of my all time favorites by her.)




Mariana by Susanna Kearsley. This was the first book I read by Ms. Kearsley and even though I’ve read all her other books (except for her first two which she warns people not to buy – Undertow and Gemini Game), Mariana remains my favorite. It’s a gothic, it’s a romance, it made me cry – it’s a lovely book.







Beyond All Reason by Judith Duncan. Though Judith Duncan doesn’t seem to be writing any more, this story is indicative of her talent at creating sensitive characters. In my opinion, Ms. Duncan rivaled Kathleen Korbel in writing category romances that wrenched the reader’s heart.




bewitching Bewitching by Jill Barnett. This was the second book I read by Jill Barnett and I liked is so much, I bought the rest of her backlist. I’m not a huge paranormal fan, but this story of a “witch” and her relationship with a duke and his friends is sweet, sad and funny.

Bubbling under the top ten are even more super favorites like Tapestry by Karen Ranney, The Sound of Snow by Katherine Kingsley, A Basket of Wishes by Rebecca Paisley, The Widow’s Kiss by Jane Feather, Amazon Lily by Theresa Weir and The Affair by Sandy Hingston. It’s a hard choice but there you have it.

- Lee Brewer

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15 Responses to “AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – Lee’s Picks”

  1. Joane says:

    Thank you very much to make the effort and try to put marvellous books that haven’t been mentioned yet.
    I think this is the first list I have read none of the books, but I think that’s great because all of them sound fantastic, and I always want to discover hidden gems.

  2. Wendy says:

    There are some hidden gems for me here, too. I recently re-read Bewitching and had to add it to my top ten. You forget what a wonderful book it is as the years go by.

  3. Heather B. says:

    For someone who has been in a severe reading slump for the last two years, I love these lists. From this list I’m going to try the Kearsley and the Kurland. From previous lists, I’m now experiencing a Ranney and Gaffney glom. Thanks AAR and Lee for making these!

  4. maggie b. says:

    I love Silk and Shadows and Veils of Silk by Putney. She tends to be a hit or miss author for me. Marianna by Susanna Kearsley is brilliant but then all Ms. Kearsley’s books are great. And of course I adore Ms. Whittier Makes A List. Carla Kelly is another author who is just fabulous.

    I am a huge Jill Barnett fan but can’t remember Bewitching. I am pulling it out of my pile for a re-read. My favorite by her is Carried Away.

  5. LeeF says:

    I just did a week-long glom of Susanna Kearsley. My library had four books and I read them all while on vacation. I am on the waiting list for The Firebird. Must slow down and REALLY appreciate it.

    Thanks for listing several authors that I have never tried. Now I need to look for Silk and Shadows….

  6. HeatherS AAR says:

    How have I made it this far in my romance reading “career” and never read Mary Jo Putney or Lynn Kurland? I really think I must remedy that posthaste.

    I adore Jill Barnett and Wicked just missed my top 10 by a smidgen. I haven’t read Bewtiching yet, but I’m sure it is funny and heartwarming like her other novels. :)

  7. Mary says:

    I have been on a Carla Kelly reading kick lately and have been working my way forward, so I have not gotten to Miss Whittier Makes a List yet. Now, I may have to read out of order to get to this one!

  8. Leigh says:

    I used to read Judith Duncan when she first started writing Harlequin Superromance. She really knew how to tug on your heart strings. And Marianna sold me on Susanna Kearsley’s books too.

  9. Tinabelle says:

    I was happy to see Lynn Kurland on someone’s “Best Of…” list. I rarely see commentary on her books and think she is underrated. I really enjoyed her earlier works (1996-2002) and include a number among my favorites such as A Dance Through Time, Stardust of Yesterday, The Very Thought of You, If I Had You, and My Heart Stood Still.

    I am also a big fan of Judith Duncan and enjoyed many of her Super Romances. One of my favorites is Night Into Day about a woman w/severe arthritis who falls in love with a professional football player. So far I haven’t seen her books available digitally so I have an old beat-up paper copy that I reread occasionally.

    • Andrea2 says:

      I’m a big Judith Duncan fan too and don’t recognize Night into Day as one of her books. At Amazon, the author of Night Into Day is listed as Sandra Canfield, not Judith Duncan. Is Sandra Canfield a pseudonym for Judith Duncan? That would make me very happy, as I haven’t read any books by Sandra Canfield and sorely miss Judith Duncan as a writer.


      • Tinabelle says:

        You are right about Night Into Day! It is Sandra Canfield. Sorry for any confusion and to get your hopes up about JD writing under another name.

  10. Marianne McA says:

    Judith Duncan was great – I reread her category romances from time to time, and they hold up well over time.

    I like so many of the books on this list, I’m off to track down the ones I haven’t read. Thanks!

  11. Cathy Moran says:

    Miss Whittier Makes A List!!!! How lovely to find someone else who thinks this is a gem. I’ve read it multiple times and the humor plus the underlying values of the characters shines through.

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