Saturday, August 7, 2021

My Top Twenty-One All-Time Favorite Romance Reads

I don't know about you, but I find it impossible to answer any of the what's-your-favorite questions. Favorite movie? Favorite food? Favorite song? And the list goes on.… Recently, I've been wondering...could I, the impassioned reader of nearly 3,400 romance books, choose one absolute favorite book?! A single book?! Oh, the pressure! Just when I thought I might be able to, I'd think of another amazing favorite, and then another. 

Sheesh. Fuhgeddaboudit! Why should I choose just one? Who's making the rules here?! HAH, me!  Soooo...essentially these twenty-one books are all considered romance (I've decided that a series about the same couple counts as one very long book. I made a further exception to one of the series because I couldn't pick just one. 😊). However, they fall into several different sub-genres: contemporary, erotic, suspense, new adult, historical, and paranormal. 

These remarkable and memorable books are all tagged as favorites in my database, if I read them since I've been doing my yearly favorites post they are on it, they are all books I have re-read (and/or re-listened to), and, most importantly, they are all books "I get lost in; the ones that while reading, I lose all track of time; the ones that evoke the strongest emotions; the ones that make me laugh, cry, blush, gasp, and sigh." (<----That is the description I use every year in those year-end favorites lists.) 

Another detail that shows how much I love a book is when I do whatever it takes to get a signed paperback. Of course, I wish I had signed copies of all of them, but I am thrilled to have the twelve that I do. I will attempt to describe why each of them means so much to me. I realize that only a couple are super well-known, but popularity wasn't a consideration in them achieving my highest regard and long-term affection. I cannot recommend them highly enough!

The books are listed alphabetically by the authors' last names.


Catching Caden, book one in The Perfect Game Series by Samantha Christy, turned out to be the perfect love story. I have major league feels for Caden & Murphy—their beautiful and meaningful slow burn friends-to-lovers romance hit a home run and left me feeling gloriously smitten. *swoons* I am no sports fan, but I truly loved this remarkable romance in every way. I loved it so much that I bought it after reading it in Kindle Unlimited last August and then bought and listened to the Audible book! And maybe someday I'll have a signed copy, too!



When it comes to choosing my favorite sub-genre of romance it's always been my first instinct to say romantic suspense. It's also first instinct to think of Pamela Clare, who writes stellar romantic suspense, as well as contemporary and historical romance. Striking Distance is book #6 in her highly rated I-Team Series and was published in November 2013. After reading about Javier Corbray and Laura Nilsson as the featured couple in the sizzling novella, "First Strike," I was eager for Striking Distance to be released the following month. Let me tell you, this is one on-the-edge-of-your-seat story. There's a level of authenticity to the military and war time reporting that reads like this is absolutely what it would be like! Of course, Pamela Clare was an investigative reporter and newspaper editor, so she's got the chops! I can't imagine the amount of research and knowledge she has, given how superbly she writes the details of these dangerous occupations. This is definitely a gritty story with some horrendous events that left me gasping. But after all of that suspenseful stuff came the development of a relationship built from respect, trust, empathy, devotion, and ultimately a hard-earned lasting love. Whew! I get all choked up just recalling how special Javier and Laura are. It's a book that's so good I wanted to listen after I read, which I did when I got the Audible version adeptly narrated by Kaleo Griffith. Striking Distance went the distance, and it more than earned its place here.



 
Worth the Fall is such a beautifully done heartwarming and emotional story. One would think it was written by an established author but nope. Claudia Connor wrote this stunner on her first go. Talk about an impressive debut! Matt McKinney (Currently #4 on my Best Book Boyfriend List), Abby Davis, and her children were written with so much heart they pulled every (heart)string I had. It was one of those rare books that I literally could not put down. Staying up all night was the only emotional decision to be made. (Pshaw on being practical!) There were precisely the right amounts of conflict, worry, and insecurity. So when these two beautiful souls finally got beyond those real world struggles, I wept with joy! Yes, tears. Lots of real tears. Totally worth every_single_one. Claudia Connor continued writing heartfelt stories. You should read them...oh, and listen to the audiobooks. 😚


 
Do you have times like I do when nothing but a good dark romance will do? Well, out of the many (hundred-ish?) I've read, none have filled whatever perverse need I have like The Monster in His Eyes Trilogy by J.M. Darhower. I first read The Monster in His Eyes in a few hours in October 2014. What?! It was over already?! I was like gimme more Naz and Karissa now! I immediately bought and read Torture to Her Soul on_the_same_day! The following April I bought and listened to the Audible version of book one. (Disappointingly, no audio versions were released for books 2 & 3). Target on Our Backs was such an unexpected surprise. When I had finished Torture to Her Soul, I hadn't thought there was a need for another book. What was I thinking?! Of course there was, and J.M. Darhower must have known it. I dove headfirst back into the dark world of Ignazio Vitale and Karissa Reed. And, just like that (*snaps*) I was done and missing them already! I thought Karissa was naive thinking Naz had become less dangerous (not me, I knew better), but he was still inherently Ignazio. All I know is that I have read them a few times, and Naz still gives me the chills. (Effective, yeah?) Oh, and that man is salaciously lethal, even with a pen and a belt. Not dangerous, my backside! If you're wanting to know tropes, here you go...mafia, age gap, forbidden love, and accidental pregnancy. Let yourself go to the dark side for this series. For a "monster" like Naz, I'm there...you should be, too!



The year was 2012, and there was a new erotic romance book heating up my Goodreads feeds. It was about six weeks after its release, and my curiosity was more than piqued. Needless to say, I caved and went for it. I could not have expected the journey that this 5-book series would lead me on. That book that had set the romance world on "fire" was the first book in the Crossfire Series by Sylvia Day. Bared to You and the subsequent books, Reflected in You, Entwined with You, Captivated by You, and One with You—feature the dazzling disaster of a couple, Gideon Cross and Eva Trammell. If ever there was a couple with a load of (designer) baggage it's these two. Individually, I don't know which of them had the most damaging childhood. Together, I think they fight nearly as much to be together as they fight with each other. If you want conflict to spice things up, then look no further than these two hot messes. Now, you may be thinking it doesn't read like I even like these books. Well, you'd be reading me completely wrong because I'm absolutely crazy about Gideon and Eva! An over-the-top fictional couple like Mr. Cross and Ms. Trammell deserve my jubilant devotion. So here it is. I've read the books and listened to the audiobooks several times. Even when I'm losing my patience with them, I'm wishing them all the peace, joy, and happy-ever-afters fictionally possible. They're super rich. They can do anything. They don't need anyone else. They should just run away, and I don't know, go hang out in a tree house and make love all day every day. Yeah, that sounds perfect! Gawd, I love 'em. 🥰



You know that phrase, "the one that started it all"? Well, Outlander is that one for me. The book that started my adult onset passion and absolute predilection for romantic fiction. To this day, nearly 30 years after first reading it, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser continues to be my #1 book boyfriend. Yes, I've read all eight novels (novellas, too) in the Outlander series. I've listened to the first three audiobooks, and I eagerly await each upcoming season of the Starz series, but this first taste of the Outlander universe remains my favorite. I've read it three times and surely will want to revisit it again. I think of all the books I've read (about 5,000), this series has got to be the hardest to genre-fy. Let's see, it's historical fiction (with real historic events featured), it's science fiction, it's fantasy, and finally, it's romance. The word "epic" fits for the entire saga but especially to the cross century love that Jamie and Claire have. When Jamie says things like: “Oh, aye, Sassenach. I am your master . . . and you're mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.” AND this: “Does it ever stop? The wanting you? Even when I've just left ye. I want you so much my chest feels tight and my fingers ache with wanting to touch ye again.” *swoons* Thanks to the Queen, Diana Gabaldon, for her decades of commitment and dedication to all things Outlander.


 
I feel very sentimental about On the Island. I'm not exactly sure what part of this remarkable debut novel has influenced these feelings, but there is this one especially powerful scene that caused the most intensely soul-crushing reaction when I read it (and still did when I recently reread the book). That's some impressive writing! I feel that from the opening line to the last sentence, this book is as close to perfectly plotted and paced as is possible. It's ideally balanced between setup, character introduction, the passage of time on the island, and life following their rescue. The young hero, T.J., and his tutor, Anna, are characters to empathize with, to care about, to root for, and to love. Tracey Garvis-Graves is a very gracious author. She shows her gratitude to her readers, and we show her our appreciation without hesitation. Nine outstanding books and counting. I have loved them all and On the Island was my first. 



War is horrendous, and to be the setting for a romance novel takes some genius writing skills. Jane Harvey-Berrick displayed those skills from beginning to end in Battle Scars. Marine Corps Sergeant Jackson Connor and foreign correspondent, Margaret Jean (MJ) Buckman, are such remarkable and heroic characters. Their degrees of dedication to their jobs and then to each other are impressive to say the least. Throughout the story I found myself crying, not only for what was happening in the lives of MJ and Jackson, but also over the author’s inclusion of actual devastating historical events. Jane's melding of fact and fiction is seamlessly done. One thing that stands out to me is how realistic and sensible the conversations between Jackson and MJ are. The author doesn't have them conversing like a romantic hero and heroine. They feel like real people in real situations, quite often breathtakingly dangerous situations. It's not all dirt and danger, though. There are humorous moments, strong platonic friendships, close-knit family interactions, and romantic & sexy encounters. I consider Battle Scars my favorite book of 2017 (out of 280!). Recently, when my long awaited reread was possible between the actual printed pages of a personalized author-signed paperback, well, it made the story even that much more meaningful.


 
I am so not a fantasy girl. I think of myself as a literal reader. Fairly consistently while watching or reading fantasy, I scoff and make light of so many of the make-believe things I find so unbelievably, well, unreal. So you might want to ask how is it that this vampire fantasy series ends up an all-time favorite? Well, to me the answer is just this: Elizabeth Hunter. She’s the reason. Oh, and her oh-so smexy fire vampire, Giovanni Vecchio? I wouldn’t kick him outta bed for scorching the crackers! The Elemental Mysteries world and characters she has created never seem to leave me feeling anything but delighted to be spending time with them. Giovanni, Beatrice, and their entire "family" (preternatural and human) all speak to me; and the part that blows me away is that I get them. I understand their motivations for the most part, and that thrills me. I can love fantasy. Elizabeth Hunter proves it to me with every book of hers. Giovanni and Beatrice are such a fascinating couple. One very vampire and one…not. With lots of intelligent dialogue, perfectly placed humor, fantastical world building, exotic locales, those oh-so necessary bits of conflict, and some steamy hot, sexy times how could I not want to revisit A Hidden Fire, This Same Earth, The Force of Wind, and A Fall of Water again and again?



No books I've ever read have offered me such diametrically opposing emotions of pleasure and grief than the Fifty Shades Series. Fifty shades worth? Hmm. Pleasure from reading my very first erotic romances featuring BDSM and being absolutely drawn into the world of Christian and Ana. Grief over the mass public hysteria and condemnation because erotic romance finally hit the mainstream. Especially with such unassuming covers and titles. I don't think that those of us who are avid romance readers were horrified. Maybe a little shocked? It definitely wasn't the end of the world. Sheesh, relax, they're fiction! And, I still think very romantic. I wrote quite the review of the initial three books (from Ana's perspective) when I read them in 2012. If you're at all interested, it can be found here. If you check out that review you'll see that I read Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed ELEVEN TIMES EACH! Holy crap! I was completely enraptured with them. I've since calmed down quite a bit; but anytime I think of the series, I get a bit sentimental. Besides reading the books again, I can get my fix of Christian and Ana by watching the movies and listening to my 100-song Fifty Shades playlist (which I have, many times!). I have also listened to the audiobooks; I was extremely disappointed with the narration in the original trilogy but loved Zachary Webber's narration of Christian's books. Waiting for E.L. James to complete the three books (Grey, Darker, & Freed) as told by Christian; and, well, they were definitely worth the wait. The reasons for some of his mercurial thoughts and behaviors were uncovered. Finally! I have a lasting affinity for Christian and Ana; and knowing they're settled and all is right in their world makes me unrealistically happy!



The Ravenels Series (Cold Hearted Rake, Marrying Winterbourne, Devil in Spring, Hello Stranger, Devil's Daughter, and Chasing Cassandra) by Lisa Kleypas—ah, how much do I love them? Let me count the ways. 1) They're filled with delightful, colorful characters. 2) There are commitment phobic rakes who fall hard for their lady loves. 3) Those aforementioned lady loves are all bright, open-minded, intelligent, compassionate, loving, and unaware of their very pleasing appearances. 4) Reading as the heroes fall under the charms of their heroines is just so much fun! (Goody-goody, hand-clapping, and giant-smiling kinds of fun! I recall some serious swooning on my part, too.) 5) And if reading the books wasn't enough fun, I then listened to the audiobooks (this all done via my library's digital collection). OH MY GOODNESS! The narrator of the entire series is freaking fantastic! (I have yet to read the 7th book, Devil in Disguise, but have it on hold.) The written stories that I loved so much were brought to life very vividly and flawlessly by Mary Jane Wells. They are beyond-description good! When I was gifted an Audible 12-month subscription while on a free month, can you guess which books were my first acquisition? You betcha. I got all of them and listened again! Honestly, I'm much more of a contemporary romance reader. I do make exceptions and am beyond ecstatic I made one for this series. Undoubtedly, it is my favorite historical romance series ever!



This is an updated cover, and it's throwing me off. Oh, not from the story. I will love that no matter the cover. Rock Me (Ross Siblings #2) by Cherrie Lynn, introduced me to the hot rocker/tattoo artist Brian Ross. And let me tell you, he is dreamy! There is the little thing about him being a heavy metal guy and me being more of an alternative rock girl; but I have never let that diminish my crush on him. There are many details that make this book one of my top favorites. One, of course, is Brian. Another is that I like and empathize with Candace, the heroine. There is the fact that it is a bit of a forbidden love trope. I really appreciate the realism that comes across in the characters and their lives—daily real life kinds of struggles, family prejudices issues, critical decision making—you know, stuff we can all relate to. There are lots of setbacks and heartbreak on the road to Brian and Candace going from casual acquaintances to a super hot and committed couple. They had to prioritize and compromise, and that made them even more relatable. It is another story that came to life with amazing narration. Alix Dale did a fantastic job voicing both Brian and Candace in the audiobook. Hooray to another way to enjoy this story!



The Blackstone Affair Series
(Naked, All In, Eyes Wide Open, and Rare and Precious Things) has a powerful pull on me. It draws me back in every few months, and I can't imagine resisting that pull. Ethan James Blackstone and Brynne Bennett have my ever-loving and overflowing devotion. Ethan Blackstone, is a filthy-mouthed, sexed-up, um, gentleman? Yes, ma'am!  He is ultra charming and divinely vocal with his intentions, which happens to be exactly what beautiful, damaged Brynne needs. They've each survived horrific damage to body and soul and not without lingering effects. I saw the following quote and thought of these characters immediately: "Everyone comes with baggage. Find someone who loves you enough to help you unpack." That is exactly what they do for each other! These books were the very first of my "trinity" books. I have them in Kindle, Audible, and signed paperback; and they've been well loved! I've read and reread. Listened and re-listened. Imagine loving a series so much that you've listened to them TWELVE TIMES! Yep, that's me and I'm not embarrassed—even a little. Raine Miller created Ethan in the image of British supermodel, David Gandy—perfect choice in the looks department. Oh yeah. By the number of times I've listened to the audiobooks you can probably tell I think they chose the perfect narrators, too. Shane East is the only one who could be the voice of Ethan and Grace Grant was the ideal Brynne. The only way to make this series more desirable to me is to release more books! I follow Raine Miller online everywhere, and she's mentioned at least one more book is in the works. Ooooooh, more Ethan and Brynne! *claps excitedly*



I've read my fair share of student-teacher romances but none more fine than this debut novel by Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake. I think the author created a character that is in a class of herself in Maise. I believe it's Maise that sets the tone for the entirety of Unteachable. I was impressed by her character's fortitude, bravery, intelligence, and prodigious vocabulary. Her observations, descriptions, and dialogue are quite astute, and her and Evan's sexual chemistry is off the charts. This keenly written book inspired me to highlight a great number of passages and to reread and re-listen to the audiobook numerous times. Unteachable is not a lighthearted romance but it is certainly a thought provoking one. I should mention that Maise is a very mature, jaded eighteen-year-old when she hooks up with the handsome older, Evan, at the beginning of the book. Little did they know... 


 
Let me start out by saying that CD Reiss is a word wizard. Some call her the "Shakespeare of Smut." I consider her a genius. I mean, she wrote this book about a detrimentally superstitious baseball player who woos and kinda strings along an elementary school librarian. What's there to love in that? Well, loads, if you go by how many times I have reread and re-listened to the audiobook. I'll reiterate, I don't do sports. I am not a baseball fan, but I am most definitely a fan of Dash and Vivian, the hero and heroine of Hardball. I also love Vivian's Jewish step-father, her students, the author's description of Los Angeles, and the camaraderie of the team. But let's be honest, the main reason I love Hardball is the undeniable chemistry between Dash and Vivian. Vivian is straight-up a good woman, a good daughter, a good student advocate. Dash, if nothing else, is honest. He's also always been strictly about baseball. I appreciate very much how the author wrote his struggle to do right by his game while doing right by Vivian. It's called compromise, people! That's one of my favorite themes in a romance. Let's see more, please. I'll just leave my comment after my first time reading it right here. ------> "Hardball covered all the bases and hit a home run with that epilogue. I'm done for. LOVED IT!" ⚾



How to describe such a lush, grand, cultural, and passionate series? Well, those descriptors are a start, but the Gabriel's Inferno Series (Gabriel's Inferno, Gabriel's Rapture, Gabriel's Redemption, and Gabriel's Promise ) is so much more. It's indescribably romantic and filled with literature, art, music, and Professor Emerson. Granted, he's a bit of an ass to start; but he redeems himself—in regards to Julianne, anyway. Ah, Julianne, his brown-eyed angel...she's sweet and kind, but she matures and doesn't put up with his snobbery and hot temper. There is much Gabriel, being The Professor and all, can teach Julia. And he does, but he also makes a good student when it comes to learning the art of being kind from Julia. The books have a huge fan base around the world. There are extremely active communities of Gabriel's Inferno devotees in many countries, including the United States. The author, Sylvain Reynard, interacts a great deal with us. SR is very gracious, indeed. I have read the books and listened to the audiobooks. My next read will be between the pages of my signed copies. Not only can I read and listen to the audiobooks, but because Passionflix optioned the series, I can watch the movies! That is, I can watch parts one, two, and three (5.5 hours!) of Gabriel's Inferno which have premiered; but Gabriel's Rapture is in post production, and we "Passionistas" are super eager about that! I'm particularly thrilled, as these were the only books I recommended to Passionflix; and I am thrilled they listened to me! 😉



It's been nine years since I first read The Witness. I have read and listened to the audiobook (Julia Whelan's narration is superb!) several times since. I still find it remarkable that it is Nora Roberts' 200th book! It's another story that stirs nostalgic feelings, which every so often leads me to download it back into my Audible app for another visit with Abigail/Elizabeth and Brooks. Those two...they just hit all my happy buttons. I wrote a really gushy review back in 2012. If you're interested, you can find it here. This book has fascinating plot lines involving Elizabeth's restrictive childhood, her act of rebellion and its repercussions, her character's evolution, character introductions, and character interaction. The dynamic between uptight genius Abigail and levelheaded Brooks is the perfect coupling. The delicious banter that ensues is captivatingly clever! The Witness is an all-around exceptional romantic suspense.



The Search by Nora Roberts—gosh, I get so lost in this one! The suspense aspect is quite chilling. The heroine, Fiona, is capable, driven, focused, and quick-witted. She trains dogs and does volunteer search and rescue. Dogs, you say?! Yes, there are lots of dogs! Then the most adorable grouchy hero and his pesky puppy are introduced into the mix. I love grumpy Simon and his trouble making Jaws! When Simon and Fiona meet it's so enjoyable; but when things become seriously dangerous, they, along with her dogs and close friends, become a vigilant unit to protect her. What a team! The way the entire group puts protection in place is brilliantly choreographed. To have a posse like that would be amazing! There are a lot of those extraordinary Nora Roberts conversations where each comeback is the perfect reply. The book is an immensely gratifying romantic suspense. More suspense than romance but what's there is quite satisfying. The audiobook is very good, too!



Carnal Innocence has been a favorite since I first read it in 1992! I've read it five times since and listened to the audiobook a couple of times, too. It's definitely an oldie and a goodie! It is a bit dated, but I think it's still relevant. Confession time: overall, I am not a fan of a Southern accent. That said, I will also confess that when Tucker Longstreet, our Southern hero of the story, utters his first, "Yes'm," I_was_charmed! Dang, he's so affable, generous, handsome, and, yes, charming, too. He just warrants being adored; and he is, by most everyone except the new-to-town Yankee, Caroline Waverly. She's not impressed...at all! Some pretty awful doings are going on in and around his small town of Innocence, Mississippi. Of course, Tucker and Caroline end up in the middle of those awful doings. Still, what develops is some of the most entertaining flirting in my romance-reading history. The way Nora Roberts sets the tone for each of the main themes—the romancing and the suspense—is masterful. And I'm not about to write off this treasure because it's a bit outdated. No, ma'am, it's deserving of my constancy.



Of the twenty-one books on this list, Family Blessings by LaVyrle Spencer affects me the most emotionally. Another way to put that is, it induced the most ugly crying. This is a major tearjerker! The loss that Lee Reston suffers is the most heartbreaking kind. Christopher Lallek comes bearing the most horrible news but ends up coming to Lee's rescue...repeatedly. (He currently holds the #2 spot on my Best Book Boyfriends List!) My first reading occurred in 1995 with a paperback copy I bought at the Waldenbooks across the street from where I worked. I read that paperback three times, each time bawling my eyes out. Years went by without reading it, when in 2013 I bought the Kindle version. I read it, and...queue the waterworks, again. Then in 2017 while cruising our local library's fundraising store, there on the front table was a hardcover copy in pristine condition for one dollar! Of course, I snatched it up, and once again, reading it reduced me to sobbing. How gifted a writer LaVyrle Spencer was to instill this kind of tearful devotion! All of her books were meaningful and relied on the realism of family life, but Family Blessings? I feel it is in a class by itself. It's not entirely tear-inducing. Oh, no. There was much to feel positive about, and I think it concludes very splendidly. 🥰


 
Easy (Contours of the Heart #1) by Tammara Webber was my very first new adult read. I knew it was really special then; but nine years and about 150 new adult books later, and it remains the most special. I reread that Kindle edition; and in September 2013 I won a signed copy, which I read a couple of years ago. I think the manner in which we were introduced to Lucas, how he made his subsequent brief appearances, and finally, how he started to stick around really gave him an air of mystery. Couple that with his tattoos and lip-ring, and I feel that initial impression just didn't fit with his innate goodness. (Lucas currently holds the #3 spot on my Best Book Boyfriends List.) There are several difficult themes dealt with in Easy, which I feel the author handled remarkably well. The story has a real world quality to it. Some of it is raw and frightening. Some of it is subtle and thought provoking. The characters of Jacqueline and Lucas are exceptionally intuitive, empathetic, and intelligent. He notices much more about her than her looks, and she discovers much more lies beneath his looks. Easy is easy to love!

Well, that's my list. I'm extremely curious. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are the things that make a book a favorite of yours? What are some of your favorite romances? Any books you are looking forward to reading? Do you strictly read or do you do listen to audiobooks? Or both, like I do? Thank you so much for checking out my love list of books!