NPR Books asked people to nominate the best romance books; over 18,000 nominations came in. Then NPR asked two reviewers/bloggers and two authors to break them into categories and select their best 100. (Well, actually there are a lot more than 100 titles, since over a third of that 100 are whole series.) So what you’re really getting is the personal preferences of just four people. There is an article from them on how they determined their picks: http://www.npr.org/2015/07/29/427126789/heartbreakers-why-some-books-didnt-make-the-final-romance-list
Although every reader will disagree to some extent with the choices, romance novel readers will find some excellent recommendations here. And if you are not a romance reader but would like to try the genre, or try a particular subgenre, this is a good place to start.
Here’s my take. What about you?
The list starts with historical romances, 37 of them, for 15 of which they cite the whole series. This is clearly the favorite genre for the four “judges”. I’ve read one, Ravished by Amanda Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz), and found it very good. And one other I read and disliked (Blaze by Susan Johnson). I haven’t read — or have any desire to read — the rest of them. I do read historicals sometimes, but my tastes are clearly different.
From the six Classics listed, I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Venetia. You couldn’t possibly have a Classics list without at least one Georgette Heyer, the creator of the Regency romance genre!
I haven’t read and have no interest in the five YA novels listed. (I just don’t like teenagers.)
Only three romantic suspense listed — I’ve read some of J.D. Robb’s In Death series, and Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart.
Of the eight Science Fiction & Fantasy romances listed (three of them series), I have one in my TBR stack and have read three, one of which (Warrior’s Woman by Johanna Lindsey) I consider a bad “old school” romance, I wouldn’t recommend to any current reader. Lindsey definitely needs to be somewhere on the list, but not for this book. I prefer Nalini Singh’s Hunters Guild series rather than her Psy/Changeling series.
Moving on to the Paranormal romance category: six series listed, and two single titles. Lots of good ones here. But I do admit the series all began to decline for me, dragged on too long or got less “good”.
LGBTQ: Nope, not a reading interest of mine, I haven’t read any of the six listed. Ditto for the two Inspirational.
Erotic romance: Hey, I read and enjoyed all three!
For Contemporary romance: of the 19 listed, 10 are whole series. Again, series begin to pall on me after maybe five books. But I’ve read and recommend almost all Linda Howard’s Mackenzies stories. Haven’t read any others on the list, but then, I’m not much for plain contemporaries. Although there have been many I loved that didn’t make the list.
There’s a good definition of the Category romance subgenre: “A note about the often-overlooked and misunderstood subgenre of category romances: These quick reads are most closely associated with pioneering romance publisher Harlequin, and come in dozens of subgenres from historical to inspirational. For many years, categories made up most of the romance market. And while the publisher-generated titles can seem a little … erm, silly (The Playboy Sheikh’s Virgin Stable Girl, we’re looking at you), if you like romance pared down to just the essential love story, category romances may be the thing for you.” The list has two contemporaries and an historical. I haven’t read them, so can’t give an opinion on whether they are the best of the genre.
So take a look at the list, see how much of it you agree with as “best” of the romance genre, and how many you are inspired to read.