Thoughts on the 2011 AAR Anual Reader Poll

>> Thursday, February 16, 2012

As a long-time visitor at All About Romance, I make a point of voting in their Annual Reader Poll every year. The Poll was actually the reason I started tracking my books, back in 2001, just so I could vote.

Results for this year have just been announced, and they're interesting. I think I voted for the winner in only three categories, probably a record for me!

Best Romance

AAR winner: The big winner this year was Joanna Bourne's The Black Hawk, which won outright in 6 categories and tied in a 7th. I haven't read it yet (it's in the TBR), but it sounds amazing and I've really liked the books I've read by this author, so I have absolutely no problem with it having won. I should get to it soon!

My vote went to: Unveiled, by Courtney Milan, which was an A for me. I absolutely adored it. It was a historical with a not-particularly-groundbreaking plot, but which felt completely fresh and new because of the characters.

Favorite Funny Romance

AAR winner: A tie between Julie James' A Lot Like Love and Call Me Irresistible, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I liked the Julie James, but it wasn't my favourite by her (it felt a little lightweight). The SEP I haven't read yet. I probably will at some point, but I'm find increasingly distasteful the way her heroines are too-often humiliated.

My vote went to: Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell. It wasn't particularly hilarious, but funny in a subtle way, and I really enjoyed it. But I must say that if I'd read Lauren Baratz-Logsted's The Bro Magnet before I voted, I think that's the one I would have picked.

Favorite Tear-Jerker Romance

AAR winner: The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne tied with Eloisa James' When Beauty Tamed the Beast. The James must be for the final section, which was my least favourite bit of the book.

My vote went to: His, Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox. This was one of my favourite reads of the year, It's not a tragic book (in fact, it's quite funny), but the relationship between the heroine and her family had so much hurt in it that I got a lump in my throat several times. It's not an awful, disfunctional family. In fact, they love each other very much, which made it all more affecting for me.

Most Luscious Love Story

AAR winner: What I Did for a Duke, by Julie Ann Long. I did not like this one very much, and I certainly didn't find the love scenes particularly interesting.

My vote went to: Hotter Than Wildfire, by Lisa Marie Rice. I don't think LMR's love scenes are particularly luscious, at least not in terms of what actually happens in them. But what packs a punch is the raw emotion in them, which I love. I also considered voting for A Lady Awakened, by Cecilia Grant, even though the whole thing about quite a few of the love scenes was that they weren't erotic at all. But when Martha and Theo finally connect, that was amazing. Oh, well, turns out it wasn't a 2011 book, anyway.

Best Erotica / Romantica Romance

AAR winner: Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James and The Perfect Play by Jaci Burton tied for this one. Nothing I've heard about Fifty Shades of Grey makes me want to read it. It doesn't sound like my sort of thing at all. I did try The Perfect Play but it was a DNF. Nice hero, but boring heroine and boring, constant love scenes.

My vote went to: I left this one blank. The few books that would qualify that I read I didn't much like (like The Perfect Play, which as I said, was a DNF, and a menage story by Jill Myles that was meh).

Most Tortured Romance Hero

AAR winner: Dmitri, from Nalini Singh's Archangel's Blade. I kind of lost interest in this series after the second book. I didn't dislike it, but it just didn't tempt me to keep reading, I guess.

My vote went to: Ash Turner from Unveiled, by Courtney Milan. A fantastic hero whose very difficult childhood hasn't warped him, but has left some deep scars in the relationship between him and his brothers. Clearly I just love a good dollop of family drama in my romance!

Best Kick-Ass Heroine

AAR winner: Justine DeCabrillac, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne. She does sound fantastic, and I'm looking forward to meeting her.

My vote went to: Yasmeen, from Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook. However fantastic Justine is, I don't see how anyone could hold a candle to Yasmeen. She's one of the most kickass heroines I've read ever, let alone last year. And Brook didn't find it necessary to emasculate her to make her more acceptable, yay!

Best Romance Hero

AAR winner: Adrian Hawkhurst, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne. Yep, he sounds great as well!

My vote went to: Sir Mark Turner, from Unclaimed, by Courtney Milan. Another fantastic book from Milan. I liked it a teeny bit less than Unveiled, but Mark was outstanding. He's genuinely moral and good and honourable, and he does his best to be so, to work out what he think it means to be good, not what society says. And he stands up to the rest of the world and shows himself as he is. All without a speck of self-righteousness or hypocrisy.

I also considered Archimedes Fox, from Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook in this category. Another nice guy, and another one secure enough in himself and his masculinity to be with a strong, unconventional woman. Give me a hero like him or Sir Mark over all those "wicked" rakes any day.

Best Romance Heroine

AAR winner: Justine DeCabrillac, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne.

My vote went to: Yasmeen, from Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook. She's that cool.

Best Romance Couple

AAR winner: Justine DeCabrillac & Adrian Hawkhurst, from The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne.

My vote went to: Jenna Fallon & Mark Chambers, from His, Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox. I just loved them together, thought they fit in particularly great way. They seem to be opposite at first, but Fox shows perfectly how they actually have worldviews that match and want the same things from life. Each makes the other grow and be better, but neither really changes from the person they really are. Fantastic book.

My choice was between them and Martha Russell & Theo Mirkwood, from A Lady Awakened, by Cecilia Grant, because of the way their relationship developed oh-so-slowly and how well they ended up fitting together. Guess I've got a shoe-in for the 2012 poll, it'll take a lot to beat them!

2011's Best Debuting Romance Author

AAR winner: Jessica Scott, with Honorable Mentions to Tawna Fenske and Darynda Jones. I haven't read Scott (hadn't heard of her before this, actually) or Fenske. I tried to read Darynda Jones but it had a very annoying heroine and ended up as a DNF. Apparently quite a lot of people voted for Cecilia Grant (whose book actually had a 2012 copyright, even though it was released in 2011) and for Thea Harrison (who's been published before under another name).

My vote went to: Originally to Cecilia Grant (what can I say, I bought the book on December 27th, so I never thought to actually look at the copyright!), but the AAR pollsters graciously allowed me to change it, and I went for Rainbow Rowell, whose charming Attachments I really liked.

Guiltiest Pleasure Romance

AAR winner: J.R. Ward's Lover Unleashed. Can't argue with that, if I'd read a 2011 JR Ward last year I probably would have voted for it as well!

My vote went to: Hotter Than Wildfire, by Lisa Marie Rice, even though I don't feel particularly guilty about liking her books any longer. But I guess I'm still a bit surprised that I like her heroes so much.

Best Historical Romance set in the UK

AAR winner: Julie Ann Long's What I Did for a Duke, which as I mentioned above, I didn't much like. I really can't see what's so great about it. I hated the revenge plot and the lack of any thought about the consequences their screwing about like bunnies might have.

My vote went to: Unveiled, by Courtney Milan, which is quite obvious, since I voted for it as best romance, and it's a historical romance set in the UK!

Best Historical Romance set outside the UK

AAR winner: The Black Hawk, by Joanna Bourne. Fair enough.

My vote went to: Heart of Steel, by Meljean Brook. I might have cheated a bit here, not sure if steampunk counts as historical? It is a kind of historical, speculative, I guess. Otherwise, where would it fit in? Paranormal? It's not, it's all based in science. Futuristic? It's set in a version of the past. I stand by my vote!

Best Contemporary Romance

AAR winner: A Lot Like Love, by Julie James. I liked it very much, but there were several other contemps I liked better last year.

My vote went to: His, Unexpectedly, by Susan Fox. A plain contemporary with surprising depth. Fox's characters talk to each other and I completely believe in their relationship. There's also great family drama, and a heroine who's a free spirit and is not forced to want a white picket fence.

Best Series/Category Book

AAR winner: Jill Sorenson's Stranded With Her Ex, which sounds pretty good.

My vote went to: Here Comes The Groom, by Karina Bliss. A lovely friends-to-lovers plot, with a heroine who's dealing with quite a lot. I really like this author.

Best Romantic Suspense

AAR winner: Breaking Point, by Pamela Clare. It doesn't really appeal to me.

My vote went to: Treachery in Death, by JD Robb. This series is still going strong for me, and I loved the plot of this one, and the focus on Peabody.

Best Paranormal Romance

AAR winner: Thea Harrison's Dragon Bound, which I liked very much. I just loved another one better!

My vote went to: Demon Marked, by Meljean Brook, maintaining the very high standard of the Guardians series. I loved that although it developed the overarching storyline, the first half seemed a bit different and apart from the world of the Guardians.

Best Chick Lit/Women's Fiction

AAR winner: To The Moon and Back, by Jill Mansell.

My vote went to: To The Moon and Back, by Jill Mansell. I didn't read much in these genres, but of the few I read, the Mansell was the best. I'd say it falls on the WF side, and it's got both humour and sadness, and is written in quite a low-key register.

Best Romance Short Story

AAR winner: Unlocked, by Courtney Milan.

My vote went to: Unlocked, by Courtney Milan. More like a novella, really, but fantastic. I loved the angst and how the hero had to actually work to be forgiven for his actions.

Most Disappointing Romance of 2011

AAR winner loser: J.R. Ward's Lover Unleashed tied with Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven. I haven't read either, but I mean to, in spite of this.

My vote went to: Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart, by Sarah Maclean. It was a DNF, but that was because what I read was so bad I didn't want to keep reading. Foolish heroine, mean, judgmental hero, clunky, nonsensical setup. Eek.


Samantha,  16 February 2012 at 10:46  

I don't understand the appeal of Fifty Shades of Grey. Apparently it was originally a Twilight fanfic that, when the author published it, she changed the names and physical traits of the characters so they wouldn't resemble Twilight's characters as much. I heard that you can still find the fanfic version online if you google "Master of the Universe". I hate Twilight with a vengence, but even if I didn't I still don't think that book would appeal to me.

I've been hearing a lot of good things about "The Bro Magnet" Think I'll have to check that one out soon.

Ana,  16 February 2012 at 13:27  

Ro, with one exception or two I'm completely unaware of what's being released in the romance world these days... your post will help me get up to date.

I see you stopped reading Nalini Singh's Archangel series, do you still read her Psy-Changeling series? I just finished Hawke's book :)

lakaribane,  16 February 2012 at 19:42  

I have several of the winning books in my wishlist or TBR. A couple of authors are complete unknows to me like Fenske and Darynda Jones. Absolutely no interest in EL James trilogy, both because of what I have read re:quality and the whole fanfic thing. I was burned years ago with Dara Joy and now assume that vanity press publications are not worth the expenditure!!!

I haven't read any of the Meljean Brooks books but I'm adding them because I enjoyed the Demon books. I couldn't remember if you read Thea Harrison or not. I was just talking about the  new trends in PNR with Helga and Haidi this morning. Angels, Demons, Zombies and Steampunk.

I love Pamela Clare's rom susp books. I guess, if I have one criticism of this year's poll is how often the same books come back. Does that reflect the readership or the state of RN publishing in 2011?

rosario001,  17 February 2012 at 07:44  

There was a really interesting conversation at the Read React Review blog ( and one of the things they touched on was whether it was romance readers reading this. Looks like it was. The fact that this used to be Twilight fanfic puts me off -I always thought the relationship between Bella and Edward was creepy and unhealthy, so I've no interest in reading about them with other names.

Re: Bro-Magnet, try the sample. It's written in a very distinctive voice, so you can gauge whether it'll work for you.

rosario001,  17 February 2012 at 07:46  

I'm glad you find it helpful! :)

I do still read the Psy-Changeling series, but the last few have been just all right. Haven't got to Hawke and Sienna's book yet, though - I think I'm probably the only person reading this series who was never particularly interested in them!

rosario001,  17 February 2012 at 07:50  

Oh, I've read a few self-pubs that have been good. You just need to be very choosy and know how to read between the lines in the reviews!

I think you'll like the Meljean Brook books, read them soon! Start with the short story in Burning Up (Here There Be Monsters), it sets up the universe really well and it's got a wonderful romance. And then I'd love to know your opinion on whether you'd call them PNR. The Iron Duke won in that category last year, which puzzled me a bit, since there is no paranormal there, it's alternate reality.

What's Pamela Clare like? I know I read the review of this one and it didn't appeal to me at all. 

calico,  17 February 2012 at 10:32  

First time posting here. My votes were so similar to you in most categories it's almost feel like reading my own thoughts. This means I need to check out The Bro Magnet and Heart of Steel. 

Gisele Melo,  18 February 2012 at 00:00  

Hi Rosario. I'm from Brasil, but i'm always here to see your tips about romance books, and I must say our tastes are much alike! :)
However I desagree with you about the Sarah MacLean's book, I realy enjoyed it. Actually only the second one of that serie wasn't so good to me.

And about Julia Quinn's Just Like Heaven, you should give it a chance! It is not her best book, of course, but is a sweet, sweet story.

Ah, THANK YOU VERY MUCH for you review of Patricia Gaffney's To Have and to Hold. OMG, I read it yesterday, and it was amazing. One of the best books i have ever read in my whole life! And without your review, I think I would never know about it's existence.

rosario001,  18 February 2012 at 07:55  

Fantastic! Oh, believe me, you do want to try those, but with Bro Magnet, as I told Samantha below, try the sample first to see if you find the voice funny! :) Anything I missed last year that you think I'd like?

rosario001,  18 February 2012 at 07:59  

Olá, Gisele! So glad to hear I helped you discover To Have and To Hold, it's a challenging book, but amazingly rewarding. 

It's funny about the Sarah Maclean book, a lot of people whose taste usually agrees with mine have enjoyed it, but I couldn't bear it! And I definitely will try the Quinn, I always find her books charming. :)

calico,  19 February 2012 at 02:13  

I'm in the process of picking myself from the floor by Yasmeen's coolness~ Much, much more enjoyable than the first book. Probably because I actually like the characters.

Not sure if you read Shannon Stacey. Her book 3 in Kowalski Family, "Yours to Keep", is the one of the funniest I read last year. I adore "Attachments" though. 

rosario001,  19 February 2012 at 07:46  

I haven't, no. I don't think I've read Shannon Stacey before. Thanks for the rec, I'll give her a try!

Nathalie T,  26 February 2012 at 11:58  

I've read the Black Hawk and I liked it but it was a B for me not an A.

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