When I really want to escape into a book, I look for a good love story, so today I am sharing my 10 favorite romantic novels. These aren’t romance novels of the bodice ripper variety, but romantic novels: really fantastic, well written books that (happily for us!) contain really beautiful love stories. Get ready to swoon, people. I’m linking to each book on Amazon so you can easily find them!
These is My Words
I’ve recommended These is My Words by Nancy Turner before, and I will recommend it again because it’s one of my favorite books ever! This book tells the story of Sarah, a 17 year old girl who travels with her family through the Arizona territories in the late 1800’s during a time when hostilities between the American Indians and the white settlers are at their peak. This book is chock full of history, hardship and human triumph, and it’s so much better than your average historical romance! Once you get started it’s nearly impossible to put down. I reread it every couple of years! It’s one of the most romantic love stories I have ever read.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a beautiful narrative set in the lead up to WWII and forty years after. Chinese American Henry Lee doesn’t fit in at school with his white classmates in 1940. But then he meets Keiko, a Japanese girl, everything changes as the two become fast friends and find their first love in each other (albiet the innocent 12-year-old kind). When the war begins, Keiko and her family are swept into internment camps and the friends are torn apart for years. This book is captivating, beautiful, and poignant, and it really does feel both bitter and sweet. It’s another one you’ll want to read more than once!
Love Walked In
Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos starts the way many a contemporary romance does: our unsuspecting heroine is going about her unsuspecting day when Mr. Tall, Dark, and Handsome walks into her life and sweeps her off her feet. Well, he walks into the cafe where Cornelia works, even though she’s thirty and smart and educated and should be doing more with her life than working in a cafe. But that’s ok, because she thinks love has walked right into her life. Except that things get complicated, and Cornelia quickly finds out that the “movie version” of love may not be all it’s cracked up to be. This book is smart and well written and turns some of our expectations of the romance genre right on their heads – but rest assured, there’s a satisfying love story in here!
So Pride & Prejudice is probably the most famous of the romantic classics, but I actually think the lesser known Persuasion is the better love story. And that’s saying something, because Jane Austen can pack more romance into a simple look or touch than any other author I’ve ever read! In Persuasion, Anne Elliot is approaching spinsterhood–or maybe already firmly entrenched in it, depending on whom you ask–when she learns that her father’s years of overspending mean they must rent out their family home and go live somewhere cheaper. Always shy, she’s soon humiliated when she finds out that their new tenants are related to Captain Frederick Wentworth, the man whose proposal of marriage she was forced to refuse years ago because her parents didn’t think him worthy of her. Captain Wentworth’s proximity in the neighborhood stirs up the heartbreak and love she’s kept secret all these years, even as she watches him falling for the young and beautiful Louisa Musgrove. This beautiful story shows Anne deciding to finally fight for what she wants, and the final scene or two are absolutely swoon-worthy!
Some of the best romance novels aren’t romance books at all – they’re classics, like Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The plot here is part coming of age story, part love story, and part mystery. Young, impoverished Jane ends up as a governess at a large house owned by the mysterious Mr. Rochester. He’s not the only mysterious thing: the house is full of unexplained noises and strange occurrences. Jane finds herself drawn to the brooding Mr. Rochester even as she believes he could never love someone like her. But it seems he can, and on the morning she’s to become a bride she finally finds out what Mr. Rochester has been keeping in the attic…
Memoirs of a Geisha
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is another book I fell in love with the first time I read. At the age of 9, Sayuri is taken from her home in a poor fishing village and sold to a geisha house, where she is trained in the rigorous magic of entertaining: dance, music, elaborate dress and makeup, pouring tea, making conversation, etc. The book follows Sayuri from 1929 through the second World War, as she navigates the difficulties of her constricted lifestyle and yearns for real love. This is my favorite kind of book; one that immerses you in a different life and allows you to learn so much about culture and history all while keeping you hooked with an incredible story. And just so you know, it’s SO MUCH BETTER than the movie. Content note: There are some sexual elements to the story which may make some readers uncomfortable. I consider them to be handled well and in no way gratuitous.
Many people consider Pride & Prejudice the greatest love story of all time, and as such it has inspired numerous retellings, sequels, and spinoffs. Some P&P fan fiction is so melodramatic–or trashy–that I can’t get past the first few pages, but a few are really great reads, including Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston. (Find my other favorite P&P books here.) This one is a retelling with a twist: what if Lizzy had accepted Darcy’s first proposal? You know, that awkward one when he tells her all the reasons he shouldn’t love her? In this version, Lizzy’s concern for her family prompts her to put aside her pride and agree to marry Darcy even though she knows she doesn’t love him. The book follows the pair through the next few months, as they plan their wedding and truly get to know each other. It’s actually more satisfying in some ways than the original book because we get to see Darcy and Lizzy interacting much more than in the original novel. Lizzy grows to love Darcy more gradually in this book, and it’s just as fun, exciting, and satisfying as romance stories can be, all in a cozy, G-rated package.
The Fault in Our Stars
In The Fault in our Stars by John Green, Hazel and Augustus are teenagers in high school, which means they’re going to do the usual teenage thing in this book, which is fall in love with your best friend. However, they aren’t your usual teenagers: they meet in a support group for teens who are living with cancer. (And they happen to be much brighter, smarter, and wittier than most teenagers, which makes this book much more fun to read than if they weren’t.) Augustus is in remission and doing well, but Hazel lives with the knowledge that her terminal diagnosis means any day could be the beginning of the end. Hazel is determined to meet her favorite author and find out what happened after the last page of her favorite book, and Augustus is determined to help her. I’m not gonna lie, this book contains real heartbreak, but it’s also completely delightful and uplifting and just plain laugh-out-loud fun.
North and South
I read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell after falling (hard) for the movie, which is still one of the best I’ve ever seen – including that train scene at the end which is possibly the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen on the screen! (If you’ve seen it, I assume you agree. If you haven’t seen it, stop what you’re doing people because you need to watch the entire thing.) Set in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, the book has a Jane Austen feel with a lot more depth. Margaret’s father has recently moved the family from an idyllic home in the slow, sleepy South of England to an industrious and dirty mill town up North. Margaret finds it hard to navigate the change: moving the long distance from home seems to have brought her into a completely different world. Everything she used to know seems wrong here, she struggles to find friends, she’s shocked by the plight of the factory workers, her father is acting strange and her mother’s health is failing, and there’s not much money. She’s equally wrong-footed when she meets cotton mill owner John Thornton. Like Lizzy in P&P, Margaret has strong opinions and make quick assumptions, but unlike P&P we actually get a vision of what life was like for the less fortunate people at this time period. Spoiler: it was rough. Bottom line: this book unfolds more slowly than contemporary novels, but the true love is all the more beautiful when it’s finally realized.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a treat! It’s warm, charming, and fun. Our main character is Major Pettigrew, an aging English widower (think “stiff upper lip”) who struggles to relate to his yuppie son. Pettigrew is tender hearted but a bit grumpy, keenly feeling the loss of his wife and brother and not sure of his place in a world that doesn’t value tradition and honor the way he does. He strikes up an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a tea seller in his village, but obstacles appear as their relationship deepens. I have a soft spot for books set in quaint British villages, especially ones full of witty writing and quirky characters, so this sweet love story was an absolute delight!
I’d love to hear what your favorite love stories are, so leave me a comment and let me know!