Writer Russell Banks’s statement that “[l]ists of books we reread and books we can't finish tell more about us than about the relative worth of the books themselves” can be applied to lists of best books as well. Such lists are subjective, and I know from my time with the Romance Vagabonds that even readers with similar tastes are unlikely to produce identical best books lists. Even knowing this, I am fascinated by the annual compilation of best books lists and read every one that comes through my email, Google reader, or Tweet stream. I cheer when I see one of my favorites recognized, mutter imprecations when one I deem unworthy is acknowledged, and make notes about those I’ve missed but think I will enjoy. Only Booklist lacked the discernment in 2011 to agree with me about a single one of the best romance fiction books of the year. Library Journal and I concurred on three; it would have been four if I allowed myself to include two books by one author. Amazon and I agreed on two, and even Publishers Weekly included one of my best books in their brief (top five) list. (Check out their slide show and see if you think they may be biased in favor of books with blue in the cover design.)
I created my own best books list before I ever heard of email loops, bulletin boards, or blogs, carefully noting in my reading journal the books that had given me particular delight, challenged me to think long thoughts, or led me into a world that I left with a sigh and a promise to return. But my annual list has been more fun since I’ve had an audience with whom to share it. I look forward to going public and having people say, “Oh, yes! I loved that one too.” It’s almost as much fun when someone says, “Oh, surely not. I didn’t even finish that one.” Differences make for interesting conversation.
Some people rank their best books. I can’t. How can I place in last place on my list a book I adored? My top three—or, to be more accurate, a three-way tie for my top romance of the year—will be posted on another site later. Here I make no distinctions. I just share my top ten romance novels of 2011, books I read and loved and that I expect to love more with each rereading. There were other books I read this year that were five-star reads for me and even more that were four-star reads. Many of them were added to me keeper shelves, and all of them gave me hours of reading pleasure. But these, listed in alphabetical order by author, are ten books that I’d take with me if I were spending 2012 on an island and could take only ten romance novels from 2011 with me to reread throughout the year.
I think The Black Hawk is Bourne’s finest book yet. It is part historical thriller and part romance, and both parts are the work of a writer who practices her craft with unfaltering excellence. Justine DeCabrillac and Adrian Hawkhurst have already captured readers’ interest; in this book they capture readers’ hearts as well in an unforgettable love story that I expect to see join thr ranks of classic romance novels.
The Other Guy’s Bride by Connie Brockway
Some books are just fun. This sequel to the beloved As You Desire is one of those books. The Other Guy's Bride has wit and heart and Brockway’s prose, any one of which would make me glad I read it. Together they propel it on this list. The link is to Gannon’s review at The Romance Dish.
Silk Is for Seduction by Loretta Chase
The first book in a new series by a writer who consistently proves she is one of the best writers of any year, Silk Is for Seduction offers a strong-willed, self-made heroine, a duke who counts his world well lost for love, and lines that are among my favorites of the year: “Life isn’t perfect. But I’d much rather live it imperfectly with you.”
A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal by Meredith Duran
This one has it all--engaging characters, compelling plot, and wonderful prose. Another keeper from Duran who gets better with every book, A Lady's Lesson in Scandal gives the most credible and unforgettable look at a heroine reared in poverty moving into a world of the privilege that I’ve seen in all my years of reading romance fiction. The link is to Gannon’s review at The Romance Dish.
The Duke Is Mine by Eloisa James
When Beauty Tamed the Beast would have been on my list had I not read This Duke Is Mine in 2011. I love all three of James’s fairy tale books, but this one has a warrior poet (not the hero) who touched my heart and made this book more than just another book I love.
What I Did for a Duke by Julie Anne Long
I knew when I read this book in January that it would be on this list. I’ve reread What I Did for a Duke twice since then, and I fell more deeply in love with the characters and the story each time. Long takes conventional roles, the proper maiden and the dangerous rake, and shows two characters who see beneath the image to the complexities that make up the real person. And the author’s prose is as seductive as her hero.
Angel’s Rest by Emily March
I’m a fan of small-town settings, and Eternity Springs has become one of my favorites. But it’s the hero of Angel’s Rest who earns this book a spot on my top ten list. Gabriel Callahan is a man who lost two lives, but he gets a shot at a third after love and Eternity Springs work their healing miracle
The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville
From the minute I saw the title, I loved The AmorousEducation of Celia Seaton. The reasons are many. It’s a book that is smart, witty, tender, and memorable. It also has a hero who admits he would not have fallen in love with the heroine at first sight but might have after he came to know her. How rare is that honesty in romance?
Nowhere Near Respectable by Mary Jo Putney
I confess that I gave an extra cheer when Nowhere Near Respectable showed up on the LJ list since I felt a lot of reviews undervalued it. I loved its multi-ethnicity and its hero, whom I labeled a beta who gives lie to the idea that beta heroes are not strong and hot and the author called a “warrior poet.” Whatever the label, he's a keeper--and so is the book. The link is to Cheryl Sneed's commentary at Heroes and Heartbreakers.
The Beach Trees by Karen White
A little bit women’s fiction, a little bit romantic suspense, and wholly extraordinary, White’s “grit lit” look at a generations-spanning mystery set in a region that demonstrates its tenacity and resilience throughout The Beach Trees is a book to be cherished, remembered, and reread.
What are your choices for the top romance novels of 2011?
Note: All links are to my reviews at this site or to guest reviews at The Romance Dish unless otherwise specified.