As one of AAR’s three pollsters – along with LeeB and Cindy – I truly adore the Top 100 poll. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s also fun to look at the ballots as they come in. I was excited when everyone at AAR decided to post their top ten romances as a lead-up to the Top 100 polling in October. But I was also a bit nervous. Since I’ve seen the ballots AAR readers submitted in 2007 and 2010, I know that my top ten romances are a bit idiosyncratic.
Like most of my colleagues at AAR, I decided to set up some rules for my Top 10. I’ve made no attempt to balance the list by subgenre. Nor did I limit my list to just one romance per author (as you’ll quickly see). But I did decide to list just one entry from each series or trilogy and went with the first in a series. In some cases the first entry isn’t my favorite, but these are series that I believe should be read from the beginning, they’re just that good. All but one of the romances on my list (#9) are frequent rereads and/or re-listens.
Unlike many of my AAR colleagues, while I adore Pride and Prejudice, it isn’t actually in the top ten on my ballot, so I didn’t have to make any rules about it. But I did struggle long and hard about placing a mystery – with seriously strong romantic elements – on my list. The first in the Amelia Peabody mysteries, Crocodile on the Sandbank, can almost be taken as a cozy romantic suspense, and was actually my “A review” when I applied to be an AAR reviewer. While the series definitely reads as mystery, at its heart is the endearing romance between Amelia and Emerson. While I stuck with romances for my list, one historical romance set in Egypt made it onto my list and another (Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase) just missed.
(1) Sea Swept by Nora Roberts –In 2010 this broke into top place on my Top 100 ballot. This first entry in the author’s Chesapeake Bay series holds a special place in my heart. I love all the Quinn brothers, but Cameron – the hero of Sea Swept – remains my favorite. And Anna Spinelli is such a perfect match for him, and such a great fit with the entire family. And of course, it is in Sea Swept that we get to meet the young Seth Quinn for whom all the Quinn brothers pulled together.
(2) Born in Fire by Nora Roberts – This took first place in my Top 100 ballots until 2010. I still adore the trilogy, and especially this first entry featuring glass artist Maggie Concannon and big city gallery owner Rogan Sweeney. Maggie isn’t an easy heroine to like. She’s temperamental, often rude, and often inconsiderate. Rogan is so different from Maggie, but together, they’re exactly what the other needs. I loved seeing the life they built together, and the compromises they made, over the remainder of the trilogy.
(3) As You Desire by Connie Brockway – I’ll never forget the cold Saturday when I started reading this. I began ready in the early morning, and by late afternoon was still curled up on the sofa reading. As a longtime fan of the Amelia Peabody mysteries, a historical romance set in Egypt definitely appealed. But what sold me on the book, and keeps it at the top of my favorites, are the marvelous Dizzy and Harry. And when I remember Harry telling Dizzy, “You are my country, Desdemona….My Egypt.” I just have to sigh all over again.
(4) See Jane Score by Rachel Gibson – I like a lot of Rachel Gibson’s romances, but this is definitely my favorite. The book is alternately funny and touching as Jane and Luc move from adversaries to friends to lovers. Jane was one of my first, non-traditional contemporary romance heroines, and she remains one of my favorites.
(5) Jewels of the Sun by Nora Roberts – I love the entire Ardmore trilogy, but the first, featuring transplanted American Jude Francis Murray and Ardmore pub owner Aidan Gallagher, is definitely my favorite. In addition to a wonderful romance, I love how Jude changes and grows stronger over the course of the novel, and how she makes lasting friendships with the heroines of the next two books.
(6) Match Me If You Can by Susan Elizabeth Phillips – I’m a major fan of all of Ms. Phillips’ Chicago Stars romances, but this off-shoot, featuring sports agent Heath Champion and his matchmaker Annabelle Granger outshines all the rest. Annabelle is quirky and funny and it’s clear from the beginning that she and Heath belong together. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to the audio version narrated by the late Anna Fields, but each time I listen it brings me joy and laughs.
(7) The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig – A few months after this came out in 2005 a friend suggested that I might enjoy it. That’s the longest I’ve waited to read a series entry. In the early days I hit a bookstore during lunch on release day and began reading while in the store. Now I download the audio or e-version the morning of release day and finish reading within a few days. I love Pink I, but have enjoyed many of the later entries even more. And I can hardly wait for Miss Gwen’s book to come out in August, and to discover what Ms. Willig has in store for Jane, the Pink Carnation, when she finally gets her story.
(8) Trust Me by Jayne Ann Krentz – JAK is the author who hooked me on romance in the mid-1990s. I read a review of Grand Passion in a local paper, bought it, and after I finished began plowing through her backlist. She’s no longer an auto-buy for me, but so many of her older romances hold a special place in my heart. And at the top of them all is Trust Me, with its endearing heroine Desdemona Wainright and the slightly geeky hero Sam Stark. I love the two together, and especially love all of Desdemona’s theatrical family. I have so many favorites among her older works – most notably Absolutely Positively, Family Man, Sweet Fortune, and Wildest Hearts – but this pops to the top every time.
(9) Naked in Death by J.D. Robb – I picked up Naked in Death on a whim at O’Hare before a flight to Edinburgh and stayed up all night to finish. After I checked into my hotel, the first thing I did was head to a bookstore to see if they had the second in the series. Luckily for me they had the next three; I bought them all. While I did a lot of sightseeing in Edinburgh, I always carried one book with me and read while eating, drinking, resting, and before going to sleep. While many of the mysteries are interesting, for me the series is all about the characters and the wonderful development we’ve seen not only in Eve and Roarke, but in the large cast of secondary characters.
(10) The Secret by Julie Garwood – Say what you will about Ms. Garwood’s historical romances, but they’ve brought me a lot of joy, a lot of laughs, and some truly great memories. But far and away my favorite is this medieval romance. In addition to a wonderful romance between Judith and Ian, it’s a lovely story of the endearing, lifelong friendship of Judith and Frances Catherine.
– LinnieGayl Kimmel