If there was one consensus among attendees at this year's Romance Writers of America conference, it was that paranormal romance continues to be the romance genre's fastest growing division. Authors new and well known have leapt into the subgenre, with Sherrilyn Kenyon (Dance with the Devil, St. Martin's) and Christine Feehan (who released four novels and contributed to two short story collections this year) leading the charge. Meanwhile, Nora Roberts returned with back-to-back entries in her magical Key series (Key of Light, Key of Knowledge, Jove), and Jude Deveraux continued her tale of spirits and psychics in Forever and Always (Pocket).

Still, paranormal romances make up a relatively small segment of the genre. The largest consists of contemporary romances, which received a boost from the popularity of chick-lit and from Kelly Ripa, who has twice chosen contemporary paperback romances for her Reading with Ripa club (this year's selection was Vicki Lewis Thompson's Nerd in Shining Armor, Dell). The subgenre also continues to attract popular historical romance authors like Christina Dodd (Just the Way You Are, Pocket) and category authors like Leanne Banks (Some Girls Do, Warner Forever), both of whom made their contemporary debuts this year.

Few romantic suspense authors made waves in 2003—save for Suzanne Brockmann (Night Watch, Silhouette), whose Navy SEAL books always make a splash—but a promising 18-year-old talent named Bradley Warshauer (11th Hour, Pinnacle) debuted in the mystery/thriller genre. Other notable releases in this genre include Stephen Kyle's The Experiment (Warner), Christopher Hyde's macabre Wisdom of the Bones (Signet) and Allan Topol's provocative conspiracy thriller, Dark Ambition (Onyx).

The Iron RoseMarsha Canham (Signet)

Canham's unconventional post-Elizabethan romp through the Caribbean resuscitates the tired pirate romance genre with its funny, formidable characters and swashbuckling action.

DarkfallStephen Laws (Leisure)

An ominous storm turns an office building into a sponge that absorbs human tissue in Laws's fascinating Clive Barkeresque nightmare, which attempts to explain everything from haunted houses to the Bermuda Triangle.

SkywardMary Alice Monroe (Mira)

Combining elements of women's fiction and romance, this fine tale traces hauntingly beautiful relationships between birds and people and between a naturalist and his daughter's caretaker.

To Sir Phillip, with LoveJulia Quinn (Avon)

A chatty, 28-year-old "spinster" and a troubled botanist find happiness in this superb post—Regency era romance, which showcases Quinn's confident, breezy prose and skill at creating full-bodied characters.

LoadedShari Shattuck (Pocket)

This electric debut from Shattuck keeps readers deliciously on edge as her hard-shelled heroine clashes with criminals, bitter relatives and an attractive police detective.

The Poison MasterLiz Williams (Bantam Spectra)

Part alien adventure and part existential exploration, this fantastic tale follows a budding apothecary's quest to save her sister from slavery.

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