Booklist started the song in September, singing their praise of the romances they considered the best of 2009. In the months since then, Amazon and Library Journal have added their verses. Bloggers are joining the chorus now. I’ve read numerous tweets this week about top ten lists. Romantic Times announced nominees for their annual awards this week, an astounding list. AAR will sound a late note with their Annual Reader Poll January 18-31, and Rita nominations will supply the grand finale in March.
I love these lists. Even when I wonder about a particular choice, I am fascinated by what has been chosen. There are surprisingly few duplications. Both Booklist and Library Journal included Connie Brockway’s So Enchanting, and Eloisa James appears on the lists from Booklist and Amazon, although for different books. The RT nominees include several books that appear on other lists. Michelle Buonfiglio's list at Barnes & Noble’s Heart to Heart is a special delight because it is so clearly hers. She chose her own categories, and she names runners-up. I have to love the latter since I always agonize over limiting my choices to one. I’m already stressing over my AAR votes, and the ballot is not even online yet.
Since my affinity for lists is great, I could not resist adding my top ten romance reads to the babel of lists. But then I had to face the problem of choosing only ten. This year was a good reading year for me. I read more than I have in five years—almost six hundred books. Among them were 476 romance and women’s fiction titles, 306 of them published in 2009. Forty-six of those were A reads (about 15%); the remaining 261 are fairly evenly divided between Bs and Cs, with a handful of Ds. I don’t have any Fs because if the book has no appeal for me, I don’t finish it and I don’t count it in my stats. All these numbers translate to a single truth: I read a lot of good books this year.
Some of those good books were by authors I’ve been reading for decades. Mary Balogh’s Huxtables are a delight (even if I do wish they had a different name), and Loretta Chase, Carla Kelly, Teresa Medeiros, Julia Quinn, and Barbara Samuel/Barbara O’Neal never fail me. Some recent additions to my autobuy authors proved the astuteness of my judgment—Meredith Duran, Kristan Higgins, Elizabeth Hoyt, Deanna Raybourn. Christina Dodd reminded me that as long as she’s writing them, I can’t claim not to be a fan of paranormals. Some of my favorite reads were by debut authors; I loved the first books of Vanessa Kelly and Kris Kennedy. I read more category romances than I have in ten years or more because I discovered so many gifted writers in this group—Beth Andrews, Helen Brenna, Sarah Mayberry. So as you read my top ten, I ask that you remember that there are another three dozen books that also made 2009 a very good year for this reader.
The Top Ten (in alphabetical order by author)
The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley
This is an unusual story with fascinating family dynamics, a hero who suffers from Asperger’s, a heroine with a sense of humor and a work history, and a non-Regency setting. For once, a book lived up to its hype.
Tempt the Devil by Anna Campbell
I loved that the heroine in this one has the stubbornness, pride, and honor typically found in heroes, and I loved that both the heroine and hero were flawed adults with a history. This is my favorite of AC’s novels.
A Lady of Persuasion by Tessa Dare
Tessa Dare’s first trilogy is a marvel of youthful folly, humor, passion, tenderness, and growth. Goddess of the Hunt and Surrender of a Siren were A reads for me, but A Lady of Persuasion is the best of the best. It has one of the best beta heroes ever written. I adore Toby!
Never Love a Lawman by Jo Goodman
I pretty much stopped reading Western/Frontier stories when Maggie Osborne retired. Jo Goodman made me change my mind by creating characters I cared about and placing them in a story that fully engaged me. And her prose is so good that I had to read the book a second time just to study it.
A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James
I am an unabashed Eloisa James fangirl. All of her novels and novellas are on my keeper shelves. I have two copies of most of them and three of my favorite, Pleasure for Pleasure (one in French). A Duke of Her Own is her best book. Every character from Villiers, who became more intriguing with each book in the series, to the heroine’s puppy is vivid and vital. The book has wit, intelligence, warmth, and passion—a splendid conclusion to a wonderful series.
Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas
Nobody is better than Lisa Kleypas at taking the conventions of romance and reminding readers of why they became conventions. This one even has a secret baby--sort of; it also has a mother from hell, a heroine with a dysfunctional family, a hero with great wealth and a reputation with women. Yet somehow Kleypas makes these overworked elements fresh and irresistible. She even makes me understand the popularity of the alpha hero.
Make Me Yours by Betina Krahn
A rare Edwardian setting, a working class heroine who is smart and strong and self-knowing, a first marriage that was sexually fulfilling, a romance that manages to be both light and substantive—this is an extraordinary book. I liked it so much that it made me take another look at an imprint (Blaze) I thought would never work for me.
Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar by Pamela Morsi
For years Pamela Morsi has been writing some of the best work being published in popular fiction. This one is another in a long line of exceptional stories with rich, unforgettable characters. Red is a fortysomething bar owner; she’s also a grandmother with an imperfect relationship with her daughter, two grandchildren she does not want to assume temporary responsibility for, and a hot, young lover who keeps breaking through the boundaries she has set up. If you haven’t read this one, find a copy today. Give a copy to a friend. More people need to be reading Morsi.
Vision in White by Nora Roberts
I still want to cheer when I remember Nora Roberts has written/is writing a straight contemporary quartet. Both Vision in White and Bed of Roses are terrific books. The look at the wedding industry is interesting, the friendship among the four women is real and heartwarming, and the love stories are vintage Roberts. Vision in White edged out Bed of Roses on my list because I love Carter Maguire, the awkward, blushing, English teacher hero, a gloriously distinctive star in a galaxy of alphas.
Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas
Sherry Thomas has had three books published so far, and after I finished each one of them, I have found myself thinking about the characters long after I’ve closed their book and placed it on a keeper shelf. Her characters are always individuals; they are interesting not merely as hero and heroine but also as human beings with histories and flaws and scars. Leo Marsden is a brilliant mathematician and a golden boy beloved by all. Bryony Asquith is a doctor and a reserved, complicated woman. The Swat Valley Uprising of 1897 serves as the setting for much of the story. All of these things set Not Quite a Husband apart from the general run of historical romances. Then there’s Thomas’s prose. I read passages like the one below and weep with envy.
Then he had come into her life. And it was as if she’d been struck by lightning. Or a team of archeologists had dug up the familiar scenes of her mind to reveal a large, ancient warren of unmet hunger and frustrated hope.
Have you made your top ten list? What books are among your best of 2009 that I may have missed?