My favorite "best of the year" list is the Bad Sex in Fiction award, even — or perhaps because — it eschews the romance genre. This year's winner was just announced: Nancy Huston's Infrared, whose heroine celebrates the "countless treasures between [her] legs." But I'm not writing a Best Romance of the Year list, because I don't think the idea even works for my genre.
Romance subgenres are strictly partitioned by readers; one woman's favorite romantic hero, who turns into a lion in his spare time, is another's anathema. The five books I discuss here are great examples of their individual subgenres. And not one of them belongs in a Bad Sex list. There's only Good Sex here, though nothing that reaches the ecstatic heights of Huston's "carnal pink palpitation that detaches you from all colour and all flesh, making you see only stars, constellations, milky ways." Maybe next year.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And, of course, "Fifty Shades of Grey" wasn't the only romance on nightstands this year. As part of WEEKEND EDITION's look back at the best books of 2012, we got a steamy recommendation from romance novelist Eloisa James. She's the author of more than 20 books - 17 of them New York Times bestsellers.
ELOISA JAMES: The romance industry is huge in America. It's the largest market share of any mass market books sold. People tend to think it's only read by housewives, and then they're frustrated and then they need sex. And then we go from there to "Fifty Shades of Grey" and it all kind of goes downhill. But the fact is that romance is written and read by women and men across the spectrum. I have about 7 percent male readers. You know, it's everybody.
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JAMES: The book I'm going to talk about today is by M.L. Buchman called "I Own the Dawn." And this falls into a category that could roughly be summed up as military romance. "I Own the Dawn" is astray of Archibald Jeffrey Stevenson III, who is a very august member of the upper class society, but also is a co-pilot in an elite helicopter crew who are working in Afghanistan. But the heroine is very interesting. Her name is Kee Smith, and she basically grew up in the streets. And she is a tough-talking gunner. And they are from utterly disparate backgrounds.
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JAMES: I loved "I Own the Dawn" because, for me, it led me into a world that I have no understanding of at all. But I was fascinated by the fact that it presented a complicated military problem. It was deeply respectful. And at the same time, you have an incredibly hot romance.
MARTIN: That's Eloisa James, bestselling romance author, recommending "We Own the Dawn," by M.L. Buchman. If you'd like to see more of her picks for the year's best romance books, head over to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.