AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – LinnieGayl’s Picks

seaswept 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.

Born in Fire(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.




As You Desire


(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.



See Jane Score


(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.




Jewels of the Sun


(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.




Match Me If You Can(1) (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.




The Secret History Pink Carnation (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.




Trust Me (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.




Naked in Death (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.




The Secret(2) (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

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31 Responses to AAR Staff Top 10 Favorites – LinnieGayl’s Picks

  1. Tee says:

    Good job, LinnieGayl, at least as far as my agreeing with many of your Top 10. Even though they specifically may not be my Top 10, they are fairly close to it, with only one exception. So yours have been more of a match to mine than any other list has been so far; which in a way surprises me, since I felt our reading preferences had a wider gap. :)

  2. Gayathri says:

    Hi LinnieGayl

    All of what you have listed are in my auto re read list – In fact some of these are what I turn to whenever I want a “Lift Me Up” moment.

    I would add “Something Wonderful” by Judith Mcnaught to this as well.

    • LinnieGayl says:

      The only non-reread for me is Naked in Death. And at some point I plan to get the audio and listen to it.

      These are definitely my comfort reads. When I was in the hospital 4 years ago I downloaded many of them to my Kindle, but the first one I read was Sea Swept. That’s when I knew it belonged at the top of my list.

      • Renee says:

        Hi, LinnieGayl. Love your list. I would recommend your listening to Naked in Death. I had not re-read the book either but happened to get the audio and loved it so much that I am now listening to the complete series.

  3. maggie b. says:

    I have not read As You Desire or The Secret. The others on your list are all beloved books. Based on that I am adding the AYD and Secret to my TBR.

    BTW, I am so glad to find someone else who loves Sam and Desdemona. They are my favorite out of all JAK’s couples. Like you I have dropped Ms. Krentz from my auto boy list but once upon a time I loved her books. I think Trust Me is a shining example of just how great she was.

    • Joane says:

      I would tell you try ‘As You Desire’, it’s a historical novel with a different kind of heroe and very romantic, indeed. ‘The Secret’ I personally didn’t like, but I think I have just a personal problem with Garwood’s historicals. A lot of people love them -I don’t.

  4. Tinabelle says:

    Wow! I cannot believe how many of your top 10 are some of my favorites, too. And your comments echo my own. Ditto: Chesapeake Bay series, Born In…trilogy, Jewels of the Sun & the Ardmore trilogy, Trust Me et al, and The Secret. I have always wanted to read The Pink Carnation series and will move that up in my TBR pile. And the Amelia Peabody series is one of my all time favorites thanks to your review of Crocodile on the Sandbank.

    I always see myself as out of the maintstream when it comes to what people are reading/liking and what goes on lists of favorites. Gives me comfort to know there is someone else out there with tastes similar to mine.

  5. mjain says:

    I’ve read all of your Top 10 except 1 – which I will download today! I felt like crying reading your list – it brought back so many good memories for me. Thank you for that!

  6. LeeB. says:

    The only book I haven’t read on your list is the J.D. Robb. Definitely LOVE As You Desire and The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.

  7. leslie says:

    What a fabulous list! I weep every time I read The Chesapeake Bay series. Cameron Quinn is my all time favorite NR hero.

    Born in Fire was my first romance, first NR…..I had trouble with the following books, but I love Maggie and Rogan’s story. La Nora writes the best heroes.

    Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series is so good and like you I am very excited about Miss Gwen’s book. Jane’s book can’t come soon enough.

    I didn’t like Match Me If You Can as much as you. The heroine humilation aspect of the book was a little over the top. I did like Annabelle and her crew of football players…….the book is very funny, but I liked Natural Born Charmer a lot more.

  8. Haley says:

    I share your love of Jewels of the Sun, See Jane Score, and Born in Fire so I may have to look into some of your other picks. Sea Swept was recommended to me because it has a similar feel to the DIK that I reviewed last, Carolina Girl. I’m still waiting on it from the library but I think I read it years and years ago.

  9. HeatherS AAR says:

    I love love love the Chesapeake Bay and Born In series too. And Rachel Gibson was thisclose to being on my list as well.

    I really need to reread Match Me If You Can. I’ve read it, but for some reason it’s not sticking out in my brain as something I liked or didn’t like. Surely I’ll like it if I read it again.

    And I had thought I read As You Desire, but the description doesn’t even sound remotely familiar to me so I think I am mixed up! I’ll have to try it and some of your other picks as well. Great list!!

  10. Joane says:

    Well, I think this is a list very close to my own preferences. Although I’m not sure if they would be on my own Top Ten, but I have read the majority of them.
    See Jane Score, As You Desire and Match Me If You Can -although this one is not my favourite SEP- are novels I enjoyed a lot and I would put them at least in my Top 20 or 30.
    I also liked Naked in Death, but you are right, it’s difficult to re-read it. I think that’s something that happens with suspense and thrillers.
    What you say about JAK is more or less my own story! I read and love all those 1990s titles -Trust Me, Absolutely Positively, Family Man & Wildest Hearts. Anyone of them could be in my own Top 10.
    I’m not very fond of Nora Roberts, but I recognize I remember Sea Swept as an interesting reading.
    And about The Secret, well… IMO, Garwood’s historicals are a Little bit overrated. She bores me with her improbable plots and her very anachronistic characters. But it is the only point in which my personal tastes are not the same as yours.
    So I think I should try The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, the only one in your list that I haven’t read yet. I have the impression that it can help me.

  11. wendy says:

    Ditto to your thoughts on JAK. I’m composing my top ten and keep adding and removing her from it as authors come to mind. I don’t read her much now, but some of her old ones are outstanding.

  12. Blackjack1 says:

    Good list! A handful of these, including Trust Me, are in my Top 100.

    I have not yet read any of the Pink Carnation series but really want to and am wondering if this is a series where it is best to start at the beginning? I say this only because some of the later books have received more favorable reviews, but some series just work better when read chronologically. Thanks!

    • Linniegayl says:

      I really think it should be read from the beginning. In the historical part each book has a unique hero and heroine but many have appeared in previous entries. And in the contemporary part the couple develops over the series.

  13. library addict says:

    I find your list only the first book in the series idea interesting, but can’t bring myself to do that. In the Nora books you’ve mentioned the first books are all my least favorite of their respective trilogies. I do love Naked in Death, but others in the series I rate higher.

    I think many series would rate very high in the Top 100 poll if we just put the series name. But since we all vote by book, there’s often enough variety of choices that none end up on the list. But I decided last time to just vote with what I thought were my top favorite books rather than second-guessing which ones others liked that had a better chance of actually ending up on the final list.

    Someone had suggested earlier we have a favorite series poll. I think that would be interesting.

    So far this year I have revised my list from 2010 and I think I have a handle of which books I will put on my ballot when the time comes. But I have also spent a lot of time rearranging the titles and will no doubt do so a dozen more times. While trying to decide which novels to put on the list isn’t easy, deciding on the top 20 or so is more clear cut, but determining the exact order is much more subjective. It depends upon my mood at the time.

  14. CindyS says:

    It’s funny that I have read so many Roberts and not one of the ones on your list – I have bought them and have them waiting – just need to read them already.

    I remember loving As You Desire but I need to re-read it and see if it would knock of Chase’s Mr. Impossible – or maybe they would both make a new list.

    For some reason I thought the Pink books were historical novels – if they are romances then I definitely need to add them to my TBB list.

    Loved JAK/Quick/Castle for many years but like you I have moved away from them. And I think I will always love the Old Garwoods – The Secret just edges out Honor’s Splendor which just edges out…..


    • LinnieGayl says:

      Cindy, the Pink are definitely romances. You should give Sea Swept and Born in Fire a try by Nora Roberts; they’re really great.

  15. LeeF says:

    I have read all of the authors and 8 of the 10 books- it amazes me that I match so well with someone’s top 10 list!

    My library only has one Connie Brockway and I have meant to read more- thanks for reminding me to put her on my wish list.

    I am currently listening to Naked in Death and find myself enjoying it even more than when I read the series. Same is true for Sea Swept- which by strange coincidence I listened to last month ( doing alot of comfort listens after having read series).

    JAK was a big introduction to contemporary romance because my library had so many- and I still find myself going back to Family Man, Absolutely Positively, Wildest Hearts.

    All of your choices made me smile with remembered enjoymentand I feel inspired to finally read NR’s Born In trilogy.

  16. Victoria'S says:

    I am really enjoying the Tuesday lists. I get to hear of authors I have not previously read, and I get that…”I really loved that book too!” moment. Thank you so much for all you all do to enhance the romance reading world.

    Many of the books you listed are on my re-read list. I, too have sadly taken JAK off my auto-buy list. But when I re-read Trust me, Absolutley,Positively and some of her earlier Amanda Quick’s, I am reminded why I once lover her writing.

    My fave Connie Brockway has always been My Dearest Enemy, and gets re-read about once a year or so. Thank you ALL for what you do

    • LinnieGayl says:

      Thanks, VictoriaS. Yes, some of the early Amanda Quick’s (Ravished, Rendezvous) are high on my list as well. I haven’t read My Dearest Enemy in years; maybe it’s time to pull it out.

  17. Maria says:

    I have read eight of the ten books, and I do wish you had included “Crocodile on a Sandbank”. This series has provided me with many hours of pleasant diversion; I own all the books, the later ones in hardback.

    I’m glad you included a JAK, she can be so quirky and funny – those older books can still cheer me up any time.

    Though I have read the Nora Roberts books on your list, and love the In Death Series, I’m not that sold on her various trilogies. Some of her books work much better than others.

    I have Match Me if You Can somewhere in my huge TBR pile, will give it a try soon. Thanks for these recommendations!

    • LinnieGayl says:

      Thanks, Maria. One thing to be added about the Amelia Peabody series is that in addition to the series-long love of Amelia and Emerson, we have so many other long running love matches including Walter and Evelyn, Nefret and Ramses (and I know some people hate Nefret).

  18. Beth Treier says:

    Love your list and so happy to finally see someone who loves the “Born In Fire” book. That series is my all-time favorite of Nora’s and the only books I ever re-read!

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