Ask any romance reader, and you’ll get a long lecture on what makes a great romance novel. But what it always boils down to are these two elements. (1) Does the novel focus on the relationship between two people? (2) Does it have an emotionally satisfying happy ending?
Perhaps the most important thing to remember: If one of the characters dies or marries someone else, it is romantic fiction, not a romance novel. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s look at some of the best of the best romance novels of 2010.
By the way, I’m Alicia Ahlvers, the branch manager of the Kansas City Public Library’s Waldo Community Library. Last year, I was on the American Library Association ’s national committee to pick the best genre books of 2010 for the award called The Reading List , and so far for the Library’s KC Unbound blog, I have highlighted horror , historical fiction , and fantasy .
A Matter of Class  by Mary Balogh
When Lady Annabelle Ashton is ruined and Reginald Mason is disgraced when their families try to force them to marry with rather unpredictable results.
One of the best things about this award-winning book is that you think you know exactly where the plot is going and then its accomplished writer will manage to trick you (in a good way, of course). Mary Balogh is an author known for her complex Regencies  and memorable characters. Her more recent long novels have made her a heavy hitter in the romance field, but in this offering you can see the skill she brings to the short novel.
This is a charming book that is beautifully constructed. It’s a good reminder that the length of a book is not as important as the skill of the storyteller.
Something About You  by Julie James
Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde just wanted a little pampering when she checked into a luxury hotel to wait for her floors to be refinished. Instead she ended up witnessing a murder. And to make matters worse, she finds that her nemesis, FBI agent Jack Pallas, has been assigned to the case. Now they have to work together to solve the murder before the killer finds out she is a witness.
This romance is such a treat -- a refreshing example of a novel that creates believable smart characters who behave in logical, straightforward ways. When Cameron witnesses the murder, she does not argue that she can take care of herself but instead gratefully accepts the protection of the FBI. In spite of a misunderstanding from their past, they are professional and work together without petty bickering. When there is a chance to clear up the misunderstanding, the characters take it. They build a relationship on communication, trust and respect, making this contemporary romantic suspense novel a winner.
The Iron Duke  (Iron Seas, #1) by Meljean Brook
Have you ever wondered what this new fad called steampunk  is all about? If you like romance, this may be a good place to get an introduction to this newly imagined science fiction world. Try it, after all, steampunk is in !
When the Hoard is defeated and run out of England by the Iron Duke, everything changes for the better. However, detective inspector Lady Wilhelmina Wentworth will never be able to escape the fact that she is half Horde. When a body is dropped from an airship into the middle of the Iron Duke’s home Lady W. is assigned to investigate the murder. The Iron Duke, Rhys Trahaearn, is the last person who should be interested in her, but he sees in her a strength born of surviving the Hoard rule. Together they travel the globe in a pirate airship to try to solve a murder and instead find evidence of a deadly plot. This richly imagined world makes a fun and intriguing backdrop for this steamy romantic adventure.
Touched by an Alien  (Katherine "Kitty" Katt, #1) by Gini Koch
This is another wildly inventive love story by a new author in the field. If you loved the movie Men in Black you might just like this novel. Saving the planet and finding true love has never been so fun.
When Katherine “Kitty” Katt witnesses a man in the mall turn into a horrific monster, instead of running away, she vanquishes him with her handy Montblanc  pen. To her surprise, she is whisked away from the scene by a stunningly gorgeous agent who turns out to be an alien. The good news is that ALL of the alien men look like models – the bad news is that she is born to be an alien exterminator. Luckily, all those hot alien men are turned on by a woman who can fight the bad guys and look good doing it. Now all she has to do is pick the right guy and save the world.
Butterfly Swords  by Jeannie Lin
Princess Ai Li is on the way to her arranged marriage when she learns the truth about her powerful new husband-to-be. During her daring escape, a foreigner, Ryam, comes to her aide and helps her to flee. As they are pursued across T’ang Dynasty China , Ai Li and Ryam find that some things are worth fighting for.
What a great example of a romance with star-crossed lovers who must battle family, tradition, honor, and themselves before true love can prevail. The unusual setting and the cast of strong women made this story memorable.
In the Dark of Dreams  (Dirk & Steele, #10) by Marjorie M. Liu
Marjorie Liu is one of the up-and-coming stars in the paranormal romance arena. Her Dirk and Steele series is set in a world that looks much like our own but is also filled with non-traditional magical beings and shapeshifters, who are fighting to save the world from evil. These books are filled with outcasts and damaged heroes and heroines who find love, and in the process, come into their own. I highly recommend you start at the beginning of the series, Tiger Eye , to get the full effect of this fascinating world.
In this installment, merman Perrin has been banished from the sea and exists in a world filled with pain and loneliness. The only thing that keeps him sane is the memory of a girl he met as a child whom he still connects with in his dreams. Now as they fight to save the world, they begin to find their way back to each other and to love.
Bonds of Justice  (Psy-Changeling, #8) by Nalini Singh
Are you looking for a paranormal author whose heroes and heroines can break your heart? Some of Nalini Singh’s protagonists are damaged, some have grown up in a strong, loving home, but all of them will touch your heart. Singh’s world is filled with shapeshifters -- humans and psychics who all struggle to live in peace with each other. Because the psychics have suppressed all emotion in an effort to control their abilities, they are often the most damaged in this long running series. This is another series that gets better the longer you read it, so starting with book one, Slave to Sensation , is a great idea.
In this Psy-Changeling series entry, you will see some of the same characters you loved in past novels. Now it’s human detective Max Shannon and Justice Psy Sophia Russo’s turn to find love. Sophia’s job is to scour the minds of criminals to find evidence of their crimes. Unfortunately, in this psy profession, a person can literally go insane in the process. As they start to fall in love they learn that two damaged people can heal each other and make each other stronger.
Ruthless  (The House of Rohan, #1) by Anne Stuart
Anne Stuart is the queen of the art of creating a damaged hero. She has dreamed up everything from a hardened assassin to a man in charge of a sex club. Her plots are always original, and the characters have to grow and change a great deal in order to deserve the love they have found.
No slouch when it comes to steamy romance novels, Stuart kicks it up a notch in her steamiest romance novel to date. This is not a novel for everyone; but for those who like their romantic hero dark, wounded and brooding, this may be just your cup of tea. Based on the Hellfire Club and set in the 18th century, Stuart creates the character of Viscount Rohan, who leads a debauched group of noblemen (and women) as members of the Heavenly Host club. Rohan is an interesting character but what gives this book heart is the heroine, the daughter of a noblewoman whose illness is leading her into madness. When she goes to retrieve her mother from this madness she catches the eye of Rohan, whose pursuit inevitably leads him not to wickedness, but to love.
In for a Penny  by Rose Lerner
In a genre where the Regency reins, it is nice to see a romance set in a different time period in England. This novel also has interesting and clever historical facts inserted into the novel so you can learn and be entertained all at the same time.
Penelope Brown and Lord Nevinstoke enter a marriage of convenience with their eyes wide open. Sure, Nevinstoke agrees to give up drinking and other women, but the chance to save his estate from ruin is a godsend. What the two don’t count on is the fact that they actual like each other. Unfortunately, their promising start all falls apart when they reach his estate and find troubles galore.
All I Ever Wanted  by Kristan Higgins
Due to the rise of Regency and paranormal romances, there are not as many contemporary romance authors as there used to be, but Kristan Higgens is still wildly popular.
Callie Grey imagines her perfect future, but her present isn’t too bad. She lives with her beloved grandfather and is in love with her boss at the ad agency. When her boss shows up to work one day with his new fiancé she is crushed and promptly sets out to remake her life to fit her dreams. What she finds is that dreams change in ways that often make life better than one could possibly imagine.
The Accidental Wedding  (Devil Riders, #4) by Anne Gracie
The best thing about an Anne Gracie book is the irrepressible characters. She creates some of the most likeable heroes and heroines in the romance field today. Pick one up. You won’t regret it.
Nash Renfrew is coming home to claim his inheritance when he is thrown from his horse and suffers amnesia. He is rescued by Maddy and her five young siblings and nursed back to health in her cottage. In the meantime, his loved ones are frantically looking for him. By the time he gets his memory back, he has fallen for the lovely Maddy…and that is when the trouble begins.
The Forbidden Rose  by Joanna Bourne
Joanna Bourne is “the” author to watch on this list. Her first two novels won romance book awards, and her third is just as fine.
Set during the French Revolution, this is the story of Marguerite de Fleurignac, a noblewoman turned smuggler who frantically works to save French nobility from the guillotine. English spy William Doyle is just as convinced she is the daughter of a nobleman who is providing the enemy with lists of names of English spies. When they meet, their game of cat-and-mouse will lead them into danger … and love.
The Golden Season  by Connie Brockway
Lydia Westlake has one season to marry a wealthy man before it is revealed that she has lost her inheritance. Captain Ned Lockton needs to marry money to replace what his spendthrift family has thrown away. Each is thrilled to meet the other, but will their love survive the truth?
It is refreshing to read a romance novel that has characters you would like to know in real life. Even without the fabulously rich part, the two main characters in this novel are really wonderful people. They are genuinely kind, caring people who rescue family members from bad circumstances at great personal cost to themselves because it is the right thing to do.
About the Genre-Reading Librarian
Alicia Ahlvers  is branch manager at the Kansas City Public Library's Waldo Community Library and has been with the library for 15 years. She is active in the American Library Association and has served on both the Notable Books Council Award committee and The Reading List book award committee. She also works evenings and weekends for UMKC Miller Nichols Library.