I was cowardly and scheduled my Top Ten Staff Picks as far out as I could, knowing the list would be difficult to compose and likely to change. As a result, I had a lot of time to ponder my favorite books, and what I realized is that each has a fondly remembered moment that often means more than the rest of the plot or even the characters, when it comes to memory. Those scenes that stick with you are the ones you describe to your friends when you’re trying to tempt them with a book or new series, or they’re the ones you recall when you’re trying to remember a book that you’ve temporarily forgotten but remember enjoying.
When my sister, who isn’t a romance reader, was resistant to the idea of Outlander, she was convinced to try it when I told her about Claire’s instant of revelation with the witch. Although it has been a long time since most of us read that scene for the first time, don’t you remember that gasp of shock? Or how can one forget the part in See Jane Score when Jane screws up her courage and tells Luc “I want to lick your tattoo” – you go girl! I used Jane and Luc to introduce my friend to Rachel Gibson.
I think all the best books and series have that one special moment that touches us. It doesn’t have to be large or important. It can be funny, ironic, romantic, poignant or sad, as long as it makes you feel strongly enough to remember it forever – and is most likely different for everyone. Here are a few of my favorite scenes. Continue reading →
Although I know other reviewers and staff have had a lot of trouble deciding upon their top ten romance novels, I have to confess it was mostly easy for me. This likely has something to do with the fact that I’ll be stranded on what is essentially a desert island for the next few months—that’s right, I’m off to college. There’s not much space in a dorm, so only the crème de la crème of my romance novel collection travels with me, and since many of those books have already been mentioned, it’s actually been fairly simple to whittle my list down to just ten.
Even so, I still have some books (like Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgerton or Laura Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm) which I ache to write about and recommend. The books on my list have all been read and reread dozens of times. I take scrupulous care of all my books, and if you ran your hand down the spines of everything sitting on my bookshelf, you’d find perhaps 80% are in fairly pristine condition. These ones, however, look much more worn. They’re carted around (on vacation, off to college, etc.), they’re lent out to family and friends, and they’re the books most likely to be found sitting on a coffee table waiting to be spilled on.
So, without further ado, here are, in no particular order, some of my top bunch of romance novels—the true DIKs which I’ll be carting off to college this week. Continue reading →
Oh, the Mary Sue. Frequently the bane of my existence. The few books I actively hate have Mary Sue characters as the leads. But what is it about the Mary Sue that enrages so many readers? And what is it about her that many others really enjoy?
So first, who is Mary Sue? Well, you know you’re reading a Mary Sue novel if your heroine (or your hero, known to some as Gary Stu):
has no real faults as a person/characters, except those that are “adorable”
is liked or loved by every member of the desired sex (whether male or female)
is only hated or disliked by the bad guys or people who are jealous
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.
An enjoyable read, but good luck finding it in the romance section!
Back in the late 90s, when I was still in school, I remember one of my friends raving about a book by science-fiction author Octavia Butler. I wanted to give her a try, so the next time I was in Borders, I went looking in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section for one of her books. To my surprise, I could find no books by this award-winning author on the shelf. I knew Butler had won Hugo and Nebula awards as well as receiving a MacArthur genius grant, so I decided that perhaps the store now classified her as “literary”, and I went looking in general fiction.
I must have looked lost because at that point, a clerk asked me what I was trying to find. When I told her, she smiled and said, “Oh yes. We’ve got several of her books.” To my surprise, she led me back through the store to a small alcove by the bathrooms – and a single bookcase labeled “African-American Literature.” Sure enough, Octavia Butler’s books resided there, shelved in with everything from The Color Purple to the works of Maya Angelou to Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. It made little sense, and one reason I remember the incident so clearly is because of how much it bothered me. The store grouped all of the other books in the store by genre and/or subject matter. All these books had in common was the race of their authors, and that grouping made no sense. If a fantasy book by any other author is fantasy first and foremost, why should a fantasy novel by an African-American author suddenly become a work that is first about the author’s race and only secondarily about the type of story written? Continue reading →
When I sat down to put this list together, I thought this would really be a piece of cake. Well, I was wrong. It turns out, I had more like a top twentysomething list and narrowing it down was not all that easy. Another thing I noticed is that so many of the books represented were some of the very first I ever read. My love of the romance genre began when I was a pre-teen and started pilfering books off my mother’s bookshelf. I knew she wouldn’t be happy with me reading them because I was so young, so I hid them under my bed or in the window seat. I got caught once while reading a book I loved, but now I can’t remember the title, and was told I was forbidden to read the romances. That didn’t stop me. I only grew more and more sneaky. I made sure to only take one book at a time and to shift the other books around to hide the missing one. I wonder now if the forbidden fruit aspect fueled my love of those books. I’ve made an effort as an adult to track down the books I read then and make sure they still appeal to me. Some have help up, and others not so much.
Had I not trimmed this list down significantly, there would be many, many more Westerns represented. That is because all my mother reads are Western romances, with the occasional other historical if it is by an author who also writes Westerns,and I’ve ended up loving those Westerns, too. I also noticed that I enjoy more unusual heroes, not just the alpha male you typically see. Continue reading →
Coming up with a list of my top romances is not romantic at all. In fact, it can be downright unromantic as I found out the first year I tried to compile a list of my Top 100 favorite romance novels. Really? They must be joking, right? Especially since I’m constantly reading.
My first try at a Top 100 garnered 76 titles, and as I go back over the list, I can barely remember some of the books after #50. How can the books after that be called “top”? So now I keep a running Top 100 list that I purge now and again. But the Top 12 seem to stay fairly constant—until I change them.
What puts a book on my Top 12 list? Readability. I’ve read these books over and over. They are my comfort reads. They are safely tucked away on my Kindle and go with me everywhere. When a review book gets so annoying I want to throw it at the wall, I read one of these. When I have a few minutes of free time, I read one of these. They are my blankies and my Teddy Bears. Continue reading →
If you are even remotely tapped into the world of books – which you most likely are given that you’re reading this at a book review site – you know that Young Adult fiction has been hot for the past few years. Indeed, YA titles are everywhere you turn, and I personally think that this is fantastic. I may be long past my YA years, but I’m a YA at heart.
While YA might not have existed in the same form back in the 1980s when I was a true YA, there were certainly books aimed at us YA folks. Books like The Outsiders by SE Hinton and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier are classics today, and many of us had our formative years validated by the works of Judy Blume, Paula Danziger and their contemporaries. However, many of my fondest reading memories involve curling up on a warm summer afternoon with something a lot lighter and romantic. While I cut my romance teeth on grown-up novels by Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey and Rosemary Rogers, I credit my real love for the genre to the category books aimed directly at the teens of the 1980s. Leave it to Silhouette Books (later acquired by Harlequin) to consistently tap into the young adult market some twenty-five years before the rest of the world. Continue reading →
As I’m sure a number of other AAR reviewers discovered when choosing their Top Ten Favorite romance books, it’s not an easy task. I whittled my list down to twenty and realized some of my absolute favorites still had to be marked off the list. I wondered, should I include those ultimate favorites from ten years ago when I was most passionate about the romance genre? Or, now that my tastes have evolved, should I choose newer discoveries that more closely match my tastes today? And since I listen to so many audiobooks, how could I keep those with excellent audio deliveries from influencing my choice of print books? Not easy. But then I realized just how much my Top Ten audiobooks list would differ from those books available in print format only and decided to not mix the two. I’ll save my list of top audiobooks for a Speaking of Audiobooks column.
As I reduced the list to only ten books, I decided to include a number of romances that were A+ reads years ago and a number that are my first choices today. After painfully marking a good number of extremely good, completely satisfying reads off the list, here are my Top Ten Favorites in no particular order. Continue reading →
Everybody has had so many interesting ideas for how to choose a top ten – breaking down by genre, assuming “pocket copies” of classics, choosing only books which haven’t been listed by other bloggers – so I apologize for using yet another methodology. I’ve chosen books which were so good that I have or would recommend them to non-romance readers. These are books which, in my opinion, stand as books, enjoyable and even lovable by people who will cut them no slack for genre conventions. I hope you love them as well!
Again is a true buried treasure: an A grade here at AAR and my personal pick for single best romance ever, and yet it isn’t even in print. Seidel transports you into the meticulously researched world of a historical soap opera called My Lady’s Chamber (think Downton Abbey, but Regency), written by Jenny Cotton and starring Alec Cameron. I love Alec, a natural leader unable to ignore the problems at work causing Jenny distress (boy, could my workplace use a man like that!). Jenny is creative, intelligent, and gifted at her job. It is fascinating to watch Jenny’s real-life relationships play out in her characters. When one of her soap characters does something wonderful, and you realize that on some level Jenny’s falling for Alec… it’s just magic. Continue reading →