AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Wendy’s Picks

abandonedbride OK. It’s confirmed. I set my Top Ten Staff Picks blog date way too far in the future. I thought this late date was a good idea originally, because I knew that I’d agonize over the list and change it several times as I remembered favorites or became disenchanted with others. I mean, I have a LOT of books on my keeper shelves. How to pick the top ten? I kept wishing I could narrow it down to, say, my top ten favorite Linda Howards, or top ten authors, or top ten historicals by location or time period. How about the top ten paranormals by era, shifter or vampire, erotic or more subtle? Ugh! After weeks of thinking about it I finally had a pretty firm list, which I put in a “safe place” from which it (of course) subsequently disappeared off the face of the planet. Here goes, in no particular order…

 

The Abandoned Bride by Edith Layton. There are a lot of extremely high quality Signet Regencies from this era, and this is my favorite, hands down. The mere fact that it wins a spot on the list over competition such as Carla Kelly and Mary Balogh says it all.

 

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AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Rike’s Picks

cotillion All the romances listed below are true Desert Island Keepers for me, and for each of them the following holds true: Whenever I open them to reread a particular scene, I cannot put them down again, and I end up reading the whole book. Each and every time. So this list is entirely subjective, with no regard to subgenres or dates of publication – although to gain entry on this list, a romance must have been around for a few years, otherwise I won’t know whether I will reread it again … and again … and again.

The order in which I have placed the books is not according to preference, but, as far as I can remember, according to the time in which I discovered them and added them to my own personal canon. Continue reading

AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Caz’s Picks

splendiddefiance Normally, the question “what’s your favourite book/piece of music/film?” is one that’s likely to turn me into a jibbering idiot and turn my mind completely blank. I mean really – just one favourite? And in any case, it usually depends on my mood on any one day. One day might demand Mozart and the next, Mahler. Or I’ll be in the mood for Die Hard one evening and Wall-E the evening after. By that token, if my choices tend to be mood dependent, how was I going to produce a list of titles that wasn’t going to change from day-to-day? So I decided the first thing I needed to do was to decide on the benchmark qualities I look for in a book that would qualify it for a place in my Top Ten.

Anyone that knows me knows I’m a bit of a stickler for good spelling and grammar, and for writing that displays at least a basic grasp of good sentence construction and logic. But those things should be a given in any good book, so they should be taken as read. So, was my criteria to be based on good writing or an unusual storyline; good characterisation or a talent for sparkling dialogue?

Eventually, I realised I was leaning more and more towards one particular thing – how did the book make me feel? I read romance novels because I enjoy becoming invested in the characters and their stories, so my list is based very much on my emotional response to each title. Did it make me laugh and/or cry? Was it one of those books that, as I finished the final page, made me feel emotionally drained (in a good way)? Did I finish it on a high? Was it the sort of book that makes it hard to get into another one for a day or so? Continue reading

AAR Staff Top Ten Favorites – Jean’s Picks

See, I knew that signing up for this blog would cause me a headache. How are you supposed to choose the top ten romances that rock your world? How? How? (At the back of my mind I have the Baha Men singing along, except it’s “How do you choose now? How, how, how, how?” Great. Hence the headache.)

Anyway, I figured the only way I can keep sane is a) recognize that I won’t hit them all, and b) acknowledge that if I am actually stuck on a desert island with only ten romance novels, I’d go crazy anyway, no matter what I chose. (Unless I chose, like, the Koran, Paradise Lost, and Journey to the West. Then maybe I’d not go all loopy.)

I decided that what I’d probably crave the most is variety, a little bit of every genre to suit every mood. It actually turned out to be relatively easy once I’d decided on this, looked at my Top 100 list, scanned my shelves, and sliced through the different categories. I’m happy with my choices – they’re all different in setting, subgenre, writing style, and character. I’ve also read each of them at least twice – I’m a serial re-reader, so I know when something works for me, when it doesn’t, and (most of important of all) when it stands up to the test of time. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – A Recommended Read

cotillion After one of my columns bemoaning discussing the rise of the light Regency, I got several emails from those who worried about me. And no, dearest emailer, I don’t torment small animals in my free time. I actually rescue cats and volunteer at the SPCA and – yikes! I’m a cute little urchin or reformed pickpocket servant away from being a Regency heroine! All of that aside, one kind soul wrote to suggest that I read Cotillion by Georgette Heyer. She described it as “the best of Regency romps, funny and clever at once.” Since I already had this book in my TBR pile(s), I decided to take it on for this month’s portion of the TBR Challenge.

I’ve loved a number of Georgette Heyer’s novels, so I had high hopes for this one. However, after Chapter One, I started to fear that this would be rough going. The book certainly seemed light and capery. However, it also brims over with inscrutable Regency-esque slang and the only characters who seemed to have much personality were the unpleasant ones. The basic set-up is this: Matthew Penicuik is a very wealthy old miser. He has called his great-nephews to his drafty old country house so that they can learn the terms of his will. Penicuik has decided to leave all of his wealth to his ward, Kitty Charing, on the condition that she choose and marry one of the nephews. This news prompts proposals from an uptight rector and an impoverished Irish earl who proposes more out of terror of his mother’s wrath than any real desire for Kitty.
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How EBooks Save Me from My Own Decluttering

bookbox I know that for the readers that just love holding the actual paper book in their hands, it is going to take a lot to convince them to change to eBooks. But this week, a recurring dilemma of mine brought home one reason I love them.

An AAR reader mentioned wanting to read an out of print book, but the least expensive copy available is selling for $40.00. As I read the message board post, I realized that I had read the book. Continue reading

The Other Type of Series

bridgerton_series Lynn started the week out by talking about one type of series books in Series Serendipity – the category romance books that we see coming out every month in a variety of lines. However, sometimes when readers are talking series, we’re just talking about interrelated sets of books from an author. And, love them or hate them, there seem to be a lot of interconnected series out there these days!
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Deadeye Dick’s Last Shot, or All for the Love of Bessie Burton

virginian If you are not a fan of the 1960’s western television show, The Virginian , then this title means nothing to you. As a caregiver for an aging relative, I can almost repeat all the dialogue. One episode opens as a young woman and her mother are traveling out west to visit relatives. On the train, the young woman is reading a dime novel featuring the western hero, Deadeye Dick. When an older man saves her from falling off her horse after tumbleweeds spook him, just like Deadeye Dick saved Bessie Burton, she has her hero. Throughout the episode the mother understands that her daughter’s impressionable age is to blame rather than the dime novels and never forbids her the joy of reading them. While watching the show, I wondered how today’s mothers guide their daughters’ reading choices through the immense choices available.

During an internet search, I saw that Wikipedia touts Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded as one of the first romance novels. From Jane Austen to serial romances in women’s magazines, from Georgette Heyer to Mills and Boon and finally the explosion of the genre with Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and The Flower, young girls today have a myriad of choices available to them. And even if your daughter or niece is not interested in romance now, the chance of her wanting to read one in her adolescence is very high, especially with books like Twilight being made into movies. I eased into reading romance books while in my early teens. Like many readers here, my introduction to this genre started with Harlequin romance and Georgette Heyer. While I had an aunt who disapproved, my mother never censored my reading, and we had a long history of loving the same types of books.
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Stuart’s Coat, Sara’s Spectacles, and Jessica’s Glove

glovesI’ve been thinking lately about what is it about some writers that make their books magical for readers in ways that others aren’t.

First, a confession: I read contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and paranormals, but historical romance was my first love and remains my absolute favorite.  So, with my bias fully admitted and setting aside the continuing gush of wallpaper historicals in which you can’t even tell the time period a book is supposedly set in unless the author tells you, there are some talented writers out there I’ve come to admire and who have become auto-buys for me.  Still, the ones I’m watching have yet to come up with one of those scenes.

I’m talking about those hit-you-in-the-heart scenes. The kind you remember. The kind you share with other readers who very often respond “Yes!” The kind that make you feel what the characters are feeling.

I love the scene in which Bobby Tom realizes that Gracie made an “X” over his heart in Heaven, Texas.  Equally, the “you are my Egypt” scene from Connie Brockway’s As You Desire has to rank as one of the greatest declarations of love in all of romance. And I’ve sighed since I was 14 over the scene in Devil’s Cub in which Mary attempts to break up hotheaded Vidal’s sword fight by stepping in the middle of the action. Vidal’s reaction makes Mary realize for the very first time that her spoiled and haughty Devil’s Cub really loves her.  I felt it too and I will never forget the first time I read it.

But, for me, three scenes stand out that perfectly exemplify just what I’m talking about.

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Vive la France!

France_Paris_Night1This subject has been on my mind for a while, but two recent-ish blogs got me writing: Joanna Bourne’s musings on the topic, and Lynn’s request for Italian-set romance novels.

See, I love France.  I love the food and the art and the cinema.  I love the cobblestone streets strewn with leaves and dog poo alike, and I love the mega-stores and tiny boutiques.  I appreciate their massive anal attitude towards their language, and am utterly envious of French women who all seem born with the Instant Style Gene.  Whenever I go to France, the minute I step off the plane, I feel like I’ve come home.

In other words, I don’t get the semi-automatic “anti-French, anti-revolution bias” that Jennie at Dear Author says is “common to most everyone but the French”, but that, honestly, I think is really only common to English-speakers.  (Stereo)typically-speaking.  So I’m happy whenever I read a book that’s mainly set in France.  (The temporary excursions just, somehow, don’t count.)  Pre-Louis XIV is pretty thin on the grounds, but there’s always Susan Carroll’s witch series, starting with Silver Rose, and the second book of the Renaissance Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.  In the pre-Revolutionary 18th century there are Georgette Heyer’s classic These Old Shades and Anne Stuart’s recent Ruthless.  Turn-of-the-century, I’ve read Susan Johnson’s Forbidden and Judy Cuevas’ Beast, and heard amazing things about Bliss and Dance. All are really good books.

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