AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Mary’s Picks

There is absolutely no possible way that I can trim my favorite romance novels down to ten. Therefore, I am going to take a page from other reviewers’ entries and exempt those written in the 19th century (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell). I am also going to state that Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is a given, but because the story continues and the end has not yet been written, it will be excluded from my top 10 list. I am also going to exclude A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught, because Jenna included it her list and I would not want to be redundant. So…in no particular order and with the caveat that I could exchange some books on this list at any time, here is my qualified Top 10 list:

lordofscoundrels 1. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase – This is a book that readers either seem to love or hate and I can see both sides. However, I LOVE this book for its humor and for the strength of its heroine Jessica. Loretta Chase is one of those rare historical writers who can write humor that seems authentic for the era. I had a hard time choosing between Lord of Scoundrels and Lord Perfect, but Scoundrels slightly edged out Perfect. Dane was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I liked the fact that Chase could craft a hero out of such poor raw material.

uponawickedtime 2. Upon a Wicked Time by Karen Ranney – Karen Ranney is also an author who has multiple books that are favorites for me. I could have picked My Beloved, After the Kiss, Tapestry or Till Next We Meet. However, I chose Upon a Wicked Time because of the tortured hero, Jered Mandeville. It is really, really hard to like this hero. He is cruel, arrogant and does everything in his power to humiliate and break Tessa. He eventually succeeds and it is only when he does that his character can be broken down and remade. Ranney is an absolute genius in my opinion in creating a believable setting and drawing you into the narrative with writing so good that I find myself going back to her again and again just to hear the language in my head.

crynomore 3. Cry No More by Linda Howard – Linda Howard is also one of my go-to authors and I had a difficult time choosing just one of her books. If I expanded the number of contemporaries on my list, she would have made it multiple times. After considering After the Night and Dream Man, I settled on Cry No More. I must have a thing for tortured heroes, because Diaz is another hero who was difficult to warm up to, but once I did I just wanted to carry this one home in my pocket and protect him from a fate of living a life that was an emotional wasteland. Thankfully, Milla did it for me.

tangledupinyou 4. Tangled Up in You by Rachel Gibson – Rachel Gibson is another contemporary author who has multiple books that I re-read on a regular basis. Tangled Up in You has two main characters that are both emotionally flawed and those flaws stem from the same event. This tale that examines their baggage from both sides. I love Maddie. She is the quintessential strong heroine who kicks ass and takes names. That strong veneer hides the one vulnerability she refuses to acknowledge and Rachel Gibson takes us into her head as she journeys toward self-determination.

bypossession 5. By Possession by Madeline Hunter – I think one of my favorite subgenres when done correctly is Medieval Romance. There is just something so raw and untamed about that time that draws me in and Madeline Hunter drew such a compelling picture that I felt I was actually in the 14th century. I did love Addis de Valence, but I love Moira Falkner more. Born to a bondwoman and returned to serfdom by Addis, she never gave in and never gave up her quest to be free again.


nightineden 6. Night in Eden by Candice Proctor – set in 19th century Australia, this book is the story about Bryony Wentworth, a convicted murderer sent to England’s penal colony for her crime. Hayden St. John gains her indentured servitude as a nursemaid to his young son. Both have enough baggage to fill the cargo hold of a ship, but they work through it all in a believable manner and their story turns to magic in Candice Proctor’s skilled hands.





7. Once in a Blue Moon by Penelope Williamson – Another tortured hero shows up on my list with McCady Trelawny. He comes from a long line of earls who have died violently at a young age and has adopted a cavalier attitude towards life that covers for his need to make his mark before he dies. He intends to build a steam locomotive, but when he inadvertently falls in love with Jessalyn Letty he finds he must choose between her and his dream. He chooses his dream. When McCady refuses Jessalyn’s love, she turns to a childhood friend for comfort. This sets up a love triangle later on in the book that tests Jessalyn’s need for love against her strong sense of honor. This book is a very serious emotional ride.

flowersfromthestorm 8. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale – There are just something about the language that Laura Kinsale uses that makes you want to savor each and every word. There are a number of her works that would merit Top 10 status, but I chose Flowers from the Storm because of its unusual heroine and how she dealt with a hero who has a life-changing medical crisis. She made me fall in love with both Christian and Maddie’s characters and enthusiastically cheering for their HEA.



ravenprince 9. The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt – Elizabeth Hoyt came on the romantic novel scene not long after I came back to reading romance after a 25 year hiatus. I was first struck by the absolute pristine quality of her writing. I also loved the fact that she chose a different historical era to highlight. Edward reminds me a bit of Dane in Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. His curmudgeonly behavior hides an insecure soul who has pretty much given up on a life filled with happiness. Anna is not quite as brash as Jessica, but she leads Edward out of the darkness and into the light in a manner that is not only believable, but leaves the reader with a smile on their face when the last page is turned.

prisonerofmydesire 10. Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey – Johanna Lindsey is one of those authors who can be very, very good or very, very bad. Some readers might place the medieval romance Prisoner of My Desire in the bad category because it contains rape scenes by both the hero and the heroine and one may wonder how it would be possible to like either character given their despicable behavior. Lindsey somehow makes it work in this book and I liked the fact that we were shown the anger and humiliation suffered by a male who was forcibly raped.

So here are the Top 10 romances from my perspective…at least for this week.

- Mary Skelton

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23 Responses to AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Mary’s Picks

  1. LeeF says:

    Oohh! Penelope WIlliamson- what a great choice. I hardly ever see her mentioned. I glommed onto her when I first started reading romance and Hearts of the West was listed on the top 100 list. My library has four of her books and I remember each of them had so much detail. She writes in a variety of settings; I especially liked The Passions of Emma (late 19th century Rhode Island) and Wages of SIn (Jazz Age New Orleans). I may just have to re-read this group of books in hardback.

    • Mary says:

      I loved The Passions of Emma as well. Emma is the polar opposite of Jessylyn, but you just fall in love with her for all of her quiet strength. I wish Penelope Williamson would go back to writing historicals. Her romantic suspense books are decent, but don’t hold a candle to her historicals in my opinion.

  2. AARJenna says:

    Okay, Mary, as of now, I think you and I are soul sisters of reading tastes! So many of these are on my DIK shelf, and the ones that aren’t are in my TBR pile because I’m sure I’ll love them. And the three that aren’t on either – my goal this week is to check the library and UBS to see if I can hunt up copies. :)

  3. maggie b. says:

    Cry No More is such a fantastic book. It’s hard to pick a “best” Linda Howard but this one would certainly be among the top on any list.

  4. wendy says:

    Wow, great list! You’ve reminded me how much I used to love Karen Ranney’s medievals.

  5. Blackjack1 says:

    Looks like some dark books on this list, though I tend to like the darker and more emotionally charged romances as well. I’ve never read Karen Ranney but might have to start with _Upon a Wicked Time_.

    • Mary says:

      I hadn’t thought about my list that way, but you are right. Maybe compiling these lists says as much about the reader as the writers.

      • Blackjack1 says:

        I love your list, Mary! And I think too that compiling lists and putting our thoughts down to articulate why certain books resonate so much with us is very useful in order to understand our own preferences better. Thanks for the posting today!!

  6. leslie says:

    Interesting list. Tangled Up in You was the best of Rachel Gibson’s author series. Boise Idaho…..who would of known…..such a hot spot for successful writers!

  7. Caryl says:

    Love these top 10 lists, AAR! Keep ‘em coming!

  8. CarolineAAR says:

    I’ve never read Candice Proctor, but I love uncommon settings so I will definitely look for Night in Eden. Thanks for the tip!

    • Mary says:

      I would love to hear from people when they have finished reading some of these suggestions and see how they felt about the recommendations.

  9. Gumbybird says:

    Thrilled to see Night in Eden on your list – an all-time fave of mine. Compelling characters, unusual and well-researched setting – that book is magic! Love Once in a Blue Moon and of course Flowers from the Storm and Lord of Scoundrels as well. Fantastic list! Looking forward to trying the ones on it that I haven’t read.

  10. NBLibGirl says:

    I too am loving all these Top 10 lists. I like seeing one of my favorites listed but am really looking forward to finding something new awesome reads.

    Love several of your recs, Mary: Loretta Chase (although I think Mr. Impossible might be my favorite title), Laura Kinsale (FLowers is far and away my favorite although I love almost everything she’s written), am a Madeleine Hunter fan and really liked “By Possession” (although I don’t know she’d make my Top 10), also like Rachel Gibson and her Idaho series (it’s better than the hockey titles generally speaking) although my first Gibson is still my favorite – See Jane Score (which is one of the hockey titles . . . go figure). Just finished Linda Howard’s Open Season at someone else’s Top 10 rec and loved the humor in it, so putting more of Howard’s romantic suspense in the TBR pile. Also adding Candace Procter and Penelope Williamson because both have shown up here and elsewhere recently on the discussion boards. . . .

    • Mary says:

      I loved See Jane Score as well. If I could have expanded my list to 100, then a number of Rachel Gibson’s books would have made my list.

  11. Paola says:

    Never heard about Ranney, thanks for talking about this book, it seems something I’d like.

  12. Sandir says:

    I’m glad to see Raven Prince on your list – it kind of reminded me of Jane Eyre. I need to read more Elizabeth Hoyt.

    • Mary says:

      I loved all of her books in the Prince series and the Four Soldiers series. The Maiden Lane books have been good in my opinion, but not great.

  13. BettyB says:

    Love these top 10 lists!

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