Thursday, December 10, 2009

Chiming In: Janga's Top Ten of 2009

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?


Anna Campbell said...

Janga, what a great list. I had a really good year of reading too, although a lot of my faves were pubbed pre-2009. I seem to have discovered some new authors with backlists (Sarah Mayberry, Pamela Clare, Kathleen O'Reilly to name just three), what joy! I'm always fascinated by the books people pick as their faves. I'm flattered to pieces that you included one of my books in such awesome company! Thank you!

PJ said...

Wonderful list, Janga! I haven't narrowed my selections down to ten yet though, thanks to your meticulous record-keeping example, it should be much easier than in past years. Here are some of the books that have received my highest rating this year.

WICKED LITTLE GAME - Christine Wells
CAPTIVE OF SIN - Anna Campbell
SEA LORD - Virginia Kantra
A DUKE OF HER OWN - Eloisa James
TO BEGUILE A BEAST - Elizabeth Hoyt
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE - Kristan Higgins
THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS - Erica Bauermeister (womens fiction) One of the most beautifully written books I've read in years!

Janga said...

Anna, one of my most unforgettable reading experiences this year was a pre-2009 book--Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy. It's a great story, and I find it as interesting from a writer's pov as from a reader's. And books by a writer named Anna Campbell always rate highly with me. :)

PJ, your list confirms how similar our tastes are. I loved every book on your list except The School of Essential Ingredients, which I haven't read yet. But I will. You never steer me wrong with your recommendations.

Vanessa Kelly said...

Great list, Janga! I have quite a bit of overlap with mine, too. Still catching up, of course!

And thanks for the shout-out. It's thrilling to be mentioned in the same post as all those fab writers.

Anna Campbell said...

Janga, I've noticed we tend to have similar tastes (with enough variation to make it interesting!). I'll check out the Susan Meissner. Actually one of my best reading experiences this year was Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer. I hadn't read her historicals in years (had a craze on her mysteries a couple of years ago) and I'd forgotten just how wonderful she is. Vidal is the most beautifully written rake!

Hey, PJ, thanks for the shout out to COS!

Katie Mack said...

I loved Red's Hot Honky-Tonk Bar; it was a DIK for me. I haven't read any of the others on your list, although several are sitting in my TBR pile.

I always procrastinate about putting my list together, and I'm sure this year will be no exception. Off the top of my head, my favorite category/series romance this year is a tie between Nancy Warren's Under the Influence and Kathleen O'Reilly's Hot Under Pressure.

As for the other sub-genres, that's too much for me to contemplate at the moment. ;)

Gannon Carr said...

Janga, I second PJ's praise for THE SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS! Absolutely lucious, beautiful prose! A must read!


I just finished reading an ARC of THE PHOENIX CHARM by Helen Scott Taylor. It's her sequel to THE MAGIC KNOT--release date is 12/29. Wonderful, magical story!

Tris said...

Janga, great list - I can't remember what I've read this year. This year has been such a blur for me.

LoL, gotta go and refresh m memory!...

ahhh... can't remember my password again...

cheryl c said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cheryl c said...

Every year I read a mix of new releases and older books that I missed the first time around. Several on your list are on my TBR pile. I am reading as fast as I can, but I can't keep up! LOL! Recently, I slowed my progress because I have been rereading favorite Christmas stories.

Of the ones that I actually remember coming out in 2009, these were some particular favorites:

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE - Kristan Higgins



TO BEGUILE A BEAST - Elizabeth Hoyt




Tiffany Clare said...

We do have a few in common don't we?

Yes, I have to agree, great minds and all that....

I have a number of the ones I haven't read that appear on your list sitting on my tbr. I need three Tiff's to read them all.

irisheyes said...

In no particular order -
The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley
One Reckless Summer by Toni Blake
To Beguile A Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt
Tempt Me At Twilight by Lisa Kleypas
This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James
What I Did For Love by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas
Bed of Roses by Nora Roberts
Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas
The Surgeon’s Lady by Carla Kelly

and an honorable mention for At Last Comes Love by Mary Balogh

We seemed to have concurred on a couple, Janga! Surprise, surprise, huh? I favored Elijah and Jemma over Eleanor and Villiers and Emma and Jack over Mac and Carter (I know how you just can't resist a beta).

quantum said...

I struggle to keep up with everyone in reading all of the new publications. All I can do is mention a few that struck me as particularly good. As always I'm lapping up the recommendations though!

Anything by Mary Balogh is a favourite with me and I have been listening to audio versions of her Huxtable series. I must say that the marriage night of Catherine and Jasper in 'Next comes Seduction', as read by an accomplished actress is something quite extraordinary. Stunning in fact. It provides a new and unsuspected (by me!)dimension to romance novels and I strongly recommend the experience.

Toni Blake has become another favourite and I'm with PJ in liking 'One Reckless Summer.

Amanda Quick is another author that I have come to like. Her historicals remind me a little of Georgette Heyer, but with the tasteful addition of occasional sex scenes. 'Ravished' is my favourite so far. Not published recently but read by me during the past year.

Tessa Dare's 'Goddess of the Hunt' impressed me greatly as a debut novel and I certainly want to try more of her work to see if that initial sparkle can be maintained.

Luanne Rice is another new author for me in the past year and I can recommend 'Beach Girls'.

Caroline Linden attracted me initially because of her training in maths and science. I'm convinced that an education in the sciences can only be good background for an imaginative writer. "What a Woman Needs" was a very entertaining romp but with little evidence of the higher mathematics though. Ah well, a guy can dream!

Michael Palmer has greatly impressed me for medical suspense. An audio version of 'The Patient' kept me listening into the small hours. Not really romance but a damned good read!

OK I'm starting to stray from best romance and must stop.

Thanks for sharing your favourites Janga and everyone else.

I am taking notes *smile*

irisheyes said...

Q, I asked Santa for an MP3 player just so I could listen to some favorite historicals. I don't usually like "listening" to my books but thought it would be very entertaining to listen to some historicals with the British accent. I know I enjoyed Nora's Irish trilogy when I listened to it.

I can't wait to dive into some Baloghs. She's one of my favorites anyway but now listening to them promises to be quite fun, especially after reading your high praise.

Janga said...

Vanessa, I expect to be shouting out about Sex and the Single Earl when May 4 rolls around.

Anna, I've noticed our similar tastes too. :) I reread Heyer every few years. Vidal is a great character, but Damorel is my favorite of Heyer's rakes.

Katie, I'm a procrastinator too when it comes to the voting, but I'll spend lots of time before I hit send waffling on how I'm voting in various areas--even though I know that on most I'll be out of step with the majority.

Janga said...

Gannon, I'm reading The School of Essential Ingredients this week, and I agree that it's a wonderful book.

Tris, I'd never remember either if I didn't keep a simplified reading journal. I find I enjoy reflecting on my year's reading.

Cheryl, I haven't read the Lisa Dale, but I enjoyed all the others on your list. I'm really pleased to see Toni Blake's One Restless Summer showing up on so many lists. It ranked high on my list too.

Janga said...

Tiff, if I had done as much writing as you have this past year, I would have read a great deal less. I'm looking forward to hearing the release date for The surrender of a Lady.

Irish, the greater surprise would be if we didn't have some of the same books on our lists. And you are right about the betas, of course. They always win my heart.

Q, I'm not a big reader of suspense, but I love the other books you mention. Since I'm not commuting to work any longer, I rarely listen to books anymore, but several people have suggested audio books as an accompaniment to housework. Maybe if I tried them that way, I'd become a better housekeeper.