AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Blythe’s Picks

boundbyyourtouch I put off writing my top ten until the last possible moment for a variety of reasons. I wanted some time to think about it, but I knew even though I had lots of time I’d still be making choices at the last minute; it’s not unusual for me to make my Reviewer’s Choice top pick while I’m writing the column. I also decided my top seven fairly easily, and then got stuck on the final three. I agonized over which three deserved the final honors, and then ended up with some also rans. I’ve been reading romance for a long time, and that presented its own problems. Should I choose early, sentimental favorites, or more of the quality Johnny come lately offerings? Well, in reverse order, here’s my top ten (ish).

Also rans: Just for fun, my books that didn’t quite make the short list but almost did: Paradise by Judith McNaught (overwrought in all the best early 90s ways, and my favorite of all her books). Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn – the popular favorite of her Bridgerton books, and my favorite as well. In the obscure category, Dana Ransom’s Wild Texas Bride or any of the books from her Bass series. You want a good western? These are the real deal. Ditto for Maggie Osbourne’s I Do, I Do, I Do, which has the added bonus of being a wagon train story, a particular weakness of mine. Susan Elizabeth Phillips Nobody’s Baby But Mine (and yes, I know the heroine was manipulative and dishonest. No, I don’t care). And old Signet regencies by Diane Farr and Elisabeth Fairchild – just in general.

10. Bound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran – For me, this book ushered in a rebirth of good – really good – historical romance. Suddenly, for the first time in years, historical romance was more than just okay. Someone was doing something besides drinking the weak lemonade at Almack’s and almost having sex in a gazebo (not that there’s anything wrong with that), and trying (unsuccessfully) to be just like Julia Quinn. Instead, it’s full of action, intrigue, and bonafide romance. Wicked Becomes You is very nearly as good, or maybe better; I almost picked that one.




9. Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase – It’s romance heresy to say it about the book that has time and again been voted the best of the best here (and quite possibly could be voted best again), but I traded Lord of Scoundrels back to the used book store when I read it in the mid-nineties. Someday maybe I’ll give it another shot. But I have no such reservations about Mr. Impossible. Daphne. Rupert. Egypt. But mostly Rupert.






8. With This Ring by Carla Kelly I had a tough time picking just one Carla Kelly, because I am almost never disappointed when I open one of her books. I weighed my options: Marrying the Captain.The Wedding Journey. Reforming Lord Ragsdale. All of them are fabulous. But With This Ring was my first one, and I can’t ever forget that thrill of discovery. Her style is utterly unique in romance, and her characters are most likely to be ordinary people who find enduring love. That’s not just romance; it’s hope.






7. Born in Fire by Nora Roberts – This is another oldie but goodie from early in my romance reading career, and I read the series backwards, which proved to be no hindrance to my enjoyment. The Born In trilogy is strong as a whole, and this is the best book in it. It’s set in Ireland with Maggie – a fiery heroine – and Rogan, a confident hero who knows exactly what he wants. He loves Maggie for her fire. And did I mention it’s set in Ireland?






6. Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann – for me, this is the quintessential Brockmann book. It has everything, and I mean that almost literally. It was in the early days of the Troubleshooters series when the books had those fantastic World War II plots. It has Stan and Terry – the primary couple. And it has Sam and Alyssa. Oh, does it have Sam and Alyssa. The entire Brockmann fandom seemed to deteriorate after this book, with people annoyed about the Sam and Alyssa plot stretching out, and then annoyed about Sophia and Decker, among other things. But this was before that, and I liked that the Sam and Alyssa story stretched out over several books. I liked that the whole thing was full of action, danger (real, believable danger), hot sex, and good guy speak. It’s Brockmann at her best.





5. The Notorious Rake by Mary Balogh – I almost want to tell people that if they read only one traditional Regency, this should be the one. The only problem with that is that it’s nothing like most traditional Regencies. It starts with a rather prim heroine who is trapped with the hero, a man she hardly knows and who is hardly heroic – during a storm. She is utterly terrified of storms, and has sex with him while in the throes of her abject terror. He should never be the right one for her; he’s a complete and utter reprobate and a screw up. But wanting her makes him a better man, and at the end he offers the best proposal I have ever read in a romance novel.





4. Shattered Rainbows by Mary Jo Putney – for a very long time, this was my absolute favorite romance novel. It’s still pretty high up there. It has a plot that I adore – the heroine falls in love with the right man while she’s married to the wrong one. I have no idea why I love this plot, I just do. It might have something to do with it being a tough conflict to fight your way out of honorably. In any case, the Fallen Angels series, of which this is a part, is Putney at her absolute writing best. They are all good books, and this is the best of them. Fabulous writing, sigh worthy lovers, and a Peninsular War backdrop. It’s pretty much perfect.





3. Innocent in Death by J.D. Robb – This is arguably my oddest choice. The best way to explain it might be to out myself as a fan of So You Think You Can Dance. (Yes, it’s cheesy, and Mary Murphy is kind of annoying. I like it anyway.) During the show before the finale, one of the soon-to-be-winners, Fik-Shun, said, “I might not be America’s best dancer, but maybe I can be America’s favorite dancer.” I was impressed that he appreciated the difference. Innocent in Death is not the best J.D. Robb book, but it’s my favorite J.D. Robb book. It’s never left my nightstand since I first read it. I reread it all the time, and I am not a frequent re-reader. The only other book I re-read regularly is my #1. Why do I love it? It’s the marriage in trouble plot. Eve and Roarke aren’t in trouble, precisely, but a vicious, scheming woman has determined to come between them, and Roarke can’t quite manage to see her for what she is. I love watching them work this out, and I love that the other woman gets punched in the face at the end. My favorite line: Eve: Red dress. Roarke: Fuck. No, I can’t really explain that either. Oh, and it has her absolute creepiest killer, but that’s almost beside the point.



2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – I know, I know. Some say it isn’t a romance novel. But it’s full of romance, intrigue, and everything else I ever want to see in a book. It’s been nineteen years and I still remember the thrill of reading it – and how I didn’t want to do anything else at all, or want the book to end. All these years later, I’m still reading and enjoying the series, even though it’s twisted and turned so much that I have trouble remembering who is who between books. I like the twists, turns, and tangents of the later books, but nothing can compare to the thrill of meeting Jamie and Claire for the first time and immersing myself in Jacobite Scotland.





1. Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh – I hope if I’m ever on that Desert Island, I can take a hundred romances. But if I can only take one, this is it. The whole Bedwyn series leads up to Slightly Dangerous, positioning Wulfric Bedwyn as a cold, haughty aristocrat who has been engineering his siblings matches behind the scenes. Balogh matches him with the unlikeliest of heroines. Christine is a lively widow of no fortune who always seems to be doing the wrong thing, and always gets noticed doing it. Their romance is an absolute, utter joy. It’s a little shocking at times, in all the best ways, with a subplot involving Christine that I never would have expected the first time I read it. I love the whole thing, with the haughty Wulf and his quizzing glass, the interfering Bedwyn siblings who love him and embrace Christine, and the hard earned epilogue and last line.

- Blythe Barnhill

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24 Responses to AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Blythe’s Picks

  1. Anne says:

    Oh, what a good list. Several on it are my favorites as well – and now I know what I’ll be doing this weekend – rereading them. Balogh, Putney, Robb

    Of course, since I love so many of the books on the list, it also means I have to go find the ones that I haven’t read yet.

  2. Christine says:

    Great list! It has two of what would probably be on my top ten as well. Carla Kelly’s “With This Ring” and Suzanne Brockmann’s “Over The Edge”. Although I would struggle between “The Lady’s Companion, With This Ring, Marrying The Captain and Miss Whittier Makes a List” for my favorite Kelly. “With This Ring” is utterly fantastic and probably the best Cinderella-ish story I’ve read. Kelly creates with the family the perfect blend of cruelty and reality (nothing over the top) mixed with the helplessness of the father. The supporting characters are great (The General and the country doctor) and I love the journey the heroine goes on with her somewhat ragged but handsome husband.

    I think “Over The Edge” is the pinnacle of Brockmann’s work and has my absolute favorite “everyman” hero in Stan. (He and Wildcard are my absolute favorites of all her heroes). I love the modern romance storylines and the historical one. It used to be my go to book as an example of what the romance genre can be and I must have read it and “With This Ring” dozens of times each.

    I’m in the minority as I love “Born In Ice” more than “Born In Fire” but the whole trilogy was great and I would love to see another Ireland based trilogy from Nora Roberts.

  3. Michele says:

    Outlander, Slightly Dangerous, Shattered Rainbows. …oh yeah, thanks so much for reminding me of terrific books I haven’t thought of in ages (well, except for Outlander, couldn’t possibly forget that one!). And I consider Outlander a romance too!

  4. LeeF says:

    Yep, I don’t know how anyone picks only ten so I love that you slipped in the “also ran” list.

    I was just thinking yesterday that it is time to start re-reading all of the Outlander books before the final one comes out next year. They really do say “romance” to me.

    Suzanne Brockmann is one of the few authors where I feel like such a fan girl- I read the Troublehshooters series over and over and don’t care that I can’t pick a favorite.

    I have never read Meredith Duran but you have made me want to check her out. Love, love, love Balogh and the Simply books and Norah Roberts in all of her iterations is a comfort read to me.

  5. CarlaKelly says:

    Blythe, thanks for including me on your list. I’m always interested in the varied responses. Some readers like this one, some another, and I have my personal favorites, too.

    Ever think about a column where you ask writers to tell which of their own books are their favorites, or which of other writers’ books they like? You know, what do writers read?

    • Mary says:

      I thought I had read all of your regencies, but somehow I missed With This Ring. Any chance of it coming out as an ebook any time soon?

    • Blythe says:

      I haven’t but I LOVE the idea. Maybe you can be first. :)

      • CarlaKelly says:

        Just let me know. I think all writers have personal favorites of their own works (although we know not to pick favorites among our children!). Probably most writers have certain authors that have pointed the way for them.

        • Christine says:

          It’s funny that Suzanne Brockmann (who has stated publicly what a huge fan of yours she is) and you are on this list together. I have always thought the cargo rope scene in her book “Into The Night” was inspired by a similar scene in your book “Miss Whittier Makes A List” (one of my favorites).

  6. AAR Lynn says:

    Had to smile as I read this list. I haven’t read everything on here, but the ones I’ve read (With This Ring, Bound By Your Touch, Shattered Rainbows, Born in Fire) were all books that made my “almost top 10″ list, along with the Roselynde books from Roberta Gellis and a few of my favorite Harlequin Historicals. I don’t know whether doing a Top 100 list will be easier or harder!

  7. maggie b. says:

    Loved Born in Fire, Slightly Dangerous and Over the Edge. And I agree about Carla Kelly – her books are so hopeful and beautiful. Like Lynn said, many of these were on my almost top ten. Its just so hard to pick ten books and say – these are the ones.

  8. Mary says:

    Great List!!! I have been on a Mary Balogh re-read fest recently and somehow I forgot about Slightly Dangerous. I loved that book!!!

  9. Lynda X says:

    I’m always looking for a good western, so I was very interested in your recommendation of Dana Ransom’s Bass series, but I can’t find out which books are those. Can you tell me, please?

    • Blythe says:

      Just off the top of my head…Wild Texas Bride, Temptation’s Trail, and a few others that have Texas in the title. The Dakota books are a different series that I don’t think I have read.

    • Outlandish says:

      In order:
      1) Temptation’s Trail
      2) Texas Destiny
      3) Wild Texas Bride
      4) Texas Renegage
      5) Sweet Texas Dream

      Wonderful western, on par with my favorite Maggie Osborne! I can’t decide which book I loved the most, the entire series as a package is breathtaking! But my favorite couple is very obviously Harm and Ammy!

  10. leslie says:

    I love your list! Mary Jo Putney’s Shattered Rainbows is sooo good.
    Like you it would be hard for me to pick a most beloved Carla Kelly. Mrs Drew/Miss Grimsby was my first…..it’s always in my special book box under my bed.
    Slightly Dangerous is hands down best patriarch end of series romance. Spoiled me rotten.
    Born in Fire was probably my first modern romance. I’ve always thought Rogan is Nora’s best white collar hero and the inspiration for Roarke.
    The In Death series is becoming stale, but those first dozen or so are fantastic!
    Great picks!

  11. KristieJ says:

    While non of your picks made my list, a number I haven’t even read, I did perk up when you mentioned Fik-Shun *chuckle*. I loved him right from the beginning and was delighted he won. He wasn’t the best but by golly he was my favourite.

  12. Renee says:

    Blythe, I love your list. You picked books in some of my all time favorite series, Fallen Angels, In Death, Born in, and Troubleshooters for your list and Phillips Chicago Stars and Quinn’s Bridgertons, as also rans. Even though I would probably select Putney’s Thunder and Roses in the Fallen Angels series, JD Robb’s first in Death book, Naked in Death and Quinn’s The Viscount who Loved Me, I will have to hope my Desert Island will allow complete series and not just single books for the trip, LOL.

  13. wendy says:

    Awesome list. Great books, some that I sweated when I didn’t add them to my own list. And I don’t know how I forgot Mr Impossible.

  14. Holly Bush says:

    I’ve read lots on this list and you mention an old favorite of mine in the ‘almost’ category – ‘I do, I do, I do’ by Maggie Osborne. ‘Silver Lining’ is another great one by Osborne.

    I’m right there with you on number one and two! Someone above mentioned being spoiled by the ‘Slightly’ series and I know what she means. I have trouble finding anything even close to Balogh’s ‘Slightly’ masterpieces.

    ‘Slightly Married’ is in my top ten too, but ‘Dangerous’ is number one. There’s a scene toward the end of the book where Frejya hugs Christine at the lake that made me cry like a two-year-old.

  15. Detra says:

    I have to agree with you regarding “Innocent in Death”. I love the series, but this is one of the few I have on my Kindle. I bookmarked all of the parts involving the relationship troubles and I re-read them all the time.

  16. Outlandish says:

    Blythe, I must say thank you, thank you, thank you! Every single title on your list would’ve shown up on my top 100 list. And most of them would’ve ranked as my top 10 favorites as well; namely Outlander, Born in Fire, With this Ring, and the Notorious Rake.

    Having said that, I’ve always known our taste in book sort of matches… With that I took a leap of faith and ordered the entire Bass series by Dana Ransom (the only book/s I haven’t read from your list).

    I’ve finished the 4th and will start to read the last soon (trying to savor it all). I absolutely adore those books and predict many many many rereads into my dotage!

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