Saturday, December 7, 2013

The List of Lists: The Best Romance Novels of 2013 According to . . .

We’ve made it through the first week of December, and most of the annual lists of the best romance novels of 2013 have been announced by their compilers and analyzed by romance readers who have celebrated the inclusion of their favorites and decried the presence of novels they disliked or of which they have never heard. Some of us have even found books to add to our mountain—or mountain range—of to-be-read books. I admit that I love lists of books, and I have fun checking them to see how many I have read and how closely the compilers reflect my views. The results of this year’s lists gave me reason to conclude that some romance experts are clearly persons of intelligence, discernment, and commendable taste while others are at the least less impressive. 

I must say I liked Amazon’s list. I have read ten of the twenty books on the list, with Nora’s most recent on my Kindle waiting to be read, and I know people who have read those that I haven’t read. Although I loved both Kristan Higgins’s The Best Man and Julie James’s Love Irresistibly and thought The Rosie Project was delightful, in this year when I have seen the death of historical romance regretted and celebrated, I was particularly pleased to see five historical romances on the list. Each of the four I’ve read—No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean, Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare, Once Upon a Tower by Eloisa James, and The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan—is a gem.

Booklist always opens the best books season. This list was announced in mid-September. It’s always an interesting list, and a varied one that usually gives me some books to add to my check-these-out list. This year it sent me to download Jen Turano’s charming historical, A Most Peculiar Circumstance with its suffragette heroine and chauvinist hero (and Turano’s other books). I overlooked that this list included one of my major-fails of the year because they gave historical romance so much love, including some for Tessa Dare and Sarah MacLean, both popular choices on this year’s lists. And I was very pleased to see Lisa Wingate’s The Prayer Box on the list.

I can’t say much about the Goodreads list since I haven’t read a single one of the twenty on the list. In fact, I have never even heard of most of them. The list shows no love for historical romance or for the contemporary romances that I read. Clearly these readers and I inhabit different spheres within the romance-reading universe.

My reaction to the Kirkus list was just the opposite. I loved this list! There are only six books on it, but I read and enjoyed each one. Jayne Anne Krentz’s Dream Eyes is included; it’s another book that made several lists. I not only applaud its inclusion because it’s a great read but because it’s wonderful to see an author whose books have brought me much pleasure over three decades still winning accolades. I also cheered to see a new author, Juliana Gray, represented with A Duke Never Yields. I thought her entire Affairs by Moonlight series was terrific. And wild applause erupted when I say Susan Wiggs’s The Apple Orchard on the list, a book I though got much less attention than it deserved. It, along with Kirkus’s other choices—Kristan Higgins’s The Best Man, Sarah MacLean’s No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, and Sherry Thomas’s The Luckiest Lady in London—also earned a spot on other lists. 


Library Journal merits special recognition because they published two best romances of 2013 lists—oner traditionally published books and one for eBooks. Although Ruthie Knox’s books are the only ones I’ve read from the second list, I was still pleased to see eBooks and romance get this recognition. LJ’s standard list shows excellent taste. :) I have read nine of the ten books on the list, which includes six historical romances—Mary Balogh’s The Arrangement, Connie Brockway’s No Place for a Dame, Tessa Dare’s Any Duchess Will Do, Anne Gracie’s The Autumn Bride, Sarah MacLean’s One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, and Sherry Thomas’s The Luckiest Lady in London, all books I loved. All but the Balogh appear on others lists as well.  The contemporaries from three of my auto-buy authors that made the list—Robyn Carr’s The Wanderer, Kristan Higgins’s The Best Man, and Brenda Novak’s Take Me Home for Christmas—also received high ratings from me. I’m sure the only one I haven’t read, Heart of Iron, a steampunk romance by Bec McMaster, is just as deserving of a “best” label as the others.

The list from Publishers Weekly is another that contains few books that I’ve read, but I certainly concur that The Typewriter Girl, the debut novel of Alison Atlee, and A Hero to Come Home To, the first novel in the Tallgrass series from Marilyn Pappano, a long-time favorite of romance readers, are among the year’s best (although I consider The Typewriter Girl as a novel with a strong romantic element rather than a romance). But I can’t help wondering why PW recognized only six romances but twelve mysteries.

I saved my favorite for last (and thus am ruining my alphabetical order presentation), and it’s not really a conventional list. NPR rather than creating a best of list presented a bountiful bouquet of books their staff and critics loved this year. The site is a joy for any book lover to explore with genre fiction and literary fiction, novels and biographies, collections of poems and explorations of social issues all rubbing shoulders with one another and inviting the attention of curious readers. I greeted the appearance of books I loved with delight and made notes like mad of books I missed and am now eager to read, books like Chasing Utopia, a collection of poems and essays by the glorious Nikki Giovanni, and A. Scott Berg’s political biography Wilson.

Readers can also search by category, one of which is love stories. We know, of course, that love stories and romances are not synonymous since the former does not require an “optimistic ending,” but the love story category includes some romances that deserve the recognition. Most of the romances are repeats from other lists: The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie, A Duke Never Yields by Juliana Gray, The Best Man by Kristan Higgins, Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean, The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas, and The Apple Orchard by Susan Wiggs. And it also includes Crazy Thing Called Love by Molly O’Keefe, a best book in any year in my opinion.  Love Stories also includes non-romance books I loved like I’ll Be Seeing You, a WW II women’s fiction novel with an epistolary element by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan and Eleanor & Park, a YA book by Rainbow Rowell that I highly recommend even if you don’t usually read YA.

Then there is my own list, but that is next Saturday’s post.

Are you a list lover? Do you compile your own best of list? What book do you think the compilers of these lists were wrong in failing to include?


Helena said...

"I can’t say much about the Goodreads list since I haven’t read a single one of the twenty on the list. In fact, I have never even heard of most of them." Thank goodness! I was amazed when I saw the selection; even if I haven't read many of the books which are talked about I'm aware of them from reading reviews and blogs, and could not understand how it was I just didn't recognise the books in the Goodreads lists.

I think that one problem is that they have such a broad category; it should be broken down into genres.

gwacie said...

I agree about the Goodreads list - Romance should have been subdivided into more categories.

Quantum said...

I'm looking forward to the Janga selection.

I was a bit surprised that Fiona Lowe doesn't appear. I'm listening to the audio of her 'Boomerang Bride' and it's brilliant .... an earlier Janga rec I think ... takes me time to catch up!

I would really like to see a best audio-book list. The narrator can add enormous value. For example Tess Masters reads 'Boomerang Bride' superbly, especially with her Aussie accent for Matilda. LOL

PJ Ausdenmore said...

I agree with you on the Goodreads list. Different planets.

I love your lists, Janga. Looking forward to reading your "best of" next week. I'm sure many of my favorites will be on it as well as some I'll need to add to my buy list. :)

Janga said...

I agree, Helena. I also think all the post-Fifty Shades readers, who seem to vote in large numbers, are skewing the results.

Janga said...

Gwacie, I'd love to see how the Goodreads people define romance and understand exactly how the finalists are chosen. I admit I was disappointed that I couldn't even vote in my favorite category.

Janga said...

Q, I love Lowe's Bride books. There's a new one set for release soon.

I think AAR does recognize the best audio books in the romance genre. I know they post periodic reviews of audio books. Here's a link to their most recent audio post:

Janga said...

Thanks, PJ. I'm sure that you are right about the similarities since we share so many favorites. Offhand, I can think of at least a couple on my list that I am positive are on yours as well. :)