Happy Valentine’s weekend! In the spirit of the holiday, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite love stories. Some are straight-up, happily-ever-after romances while others are heartbreaking tearjerkers and genre-bending dramas. Below, I’ve listed a few of my all-time favorites. Joining me is Stephanie from our reference department, who is making her first contribution here at Book News & Reviews.
We hope there is a little something here for everyone who loves a good love story! All titles are available from BCPL, either in print or in e-book format from Kentucky Libraries Unbound,
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
Genre: Mainstream Fiction
When her family leaves for a week-long trip to the state fair, Francesca cherishes the peaceful view from the farm’s front porch. The sojourn ends when a stranger, asking for directions, shows up at the family farm. The two are immediately attracted to one another and find joy and comfort in each other’s company. When her family returns, Francesca must make a decision: Leave her family for the only true love she’s ever known or be a dutiful wife. Heartbreaking and hopeful, this is a love story to cherish again and again!
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
When a young scholar inadvertently summons an ancient magical text, her world changes forever. Diana Bishop has always been a loner, but that life is over. Strange creatures start to come out of the woodwork, and who (or what) is that tall dark stranger following her!? Diana flees to her childhood home, and her Aunt/Surrogate Mom, where she learns a surprising truth about herself and her past. Although I was sometimes distracted by the scientific jargon, it is a fascinating read. This is the first book in a series.
First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical Romance
The first book in the Huxtable Quintet, this historical romance series focuses on three sisters and their younger brother. When the Huxtable clan are lifted from obscurity by the younger brother’s elevated status the title of Earl of Merton, the hunt for love begins. Each volume focuses on how each sibling finds love among the scandal and seduction of Regency England. Sure to keep you smiling with her witty banter and steamy love scenes, Balogh will have you cheering for the Huxtables.
The Guardian Duke by Jamie Carie
Genre: Christian/Historical Fiction
The Forgotten Castles series tells the story of a strong independent girl, Lady Alexandria Featherstone. When her parents go missing and an arranged marriage is at her doorstep, Alexandria flees the only place she’s ever known. Part romance and all adventure this fun romp through Ireland is full of intrigue.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Trained since birth to compete, illusionists Celia and Marco, are adversaries. Without knowing, the two fall madly in love and the fate of all involved hangs in the balance. Brimming with mystery and magic, a feast for the senses. The Night Circus, will pull you in and leave you wishing you could go to Le Cirque des Rêves.
The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood
Follows the lives of two women, decades apart, struggling with love. One is in a loveless marriage, possibly pregnant with another man’s child. The second may have lost her one true love and consoles herself helping others celebrate their loss. A fantastic read, one of my top ten.
The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
Genre: Biographical Fiction
In his memoir A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway writes of the regret he suffered losing his first wife and his “one true love.” The endearing, hopeful and ultimately heart-breaking tale of Hadley and Ernest’s marriage is palpable. Set in the Roaring 20s, the book is filled with unforgettable characters, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, and brimming with an array of emotions.
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Sisters, Gillian and Sally, are sent to live with their aunts after a tragic accident. They soon learn the meaning of the word “different,” and both sister begin their journeys to find love and normalcy. But, family has a funny way of pulling you back and soon the sisters find themselves living the lives they tried so hard to escape. Full of magic, tragedy, and love (both familial and romantic,) Hoffman’s lyrical prose will haunt you long after the last page is read.
Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love & Tragedy at the Circus by Dean Jensen
Sometimes a true story is better than fiction, thus is true of “The Queen of the Air. “At the turn of the 20th century, Leitzel is a household name. Sold to a traveling circus at a young age, she overcame adversity and tragedy to become the star of the trapeze. Unfortunately, celebrity and riches cannot protect us from disaster and heartbreak. Leitzel will fly into your heart with the greatest of ease, just as she did mine.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Take Pride and Prejudice and throw in a little magic and you would have the Glamourist Histories. Set in Regency England, this series is about two sisters searching for love, before they become spinsters at the age of twenty-eight!
Thorn in My Heart by Liz Curtis-Higgs
Genre: Christian Fiction
Do not let the “Christian Fiction” label fool you. This series is full of passion and heart ache, deceit and jealousy. Based on the biblical characters of Esau and Jacob and set in Scotland the series centers on a love triangle, the likes of which you have never seen, nor are likely to again. Higgs is a master of the human condition, ensuring you will become emotionally attached to these characters. Lucky for you the entire series is available, no waiting for the next volume. You’re Welcome!
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Bet Me is a modern Cinderella story of mistaken impressions, chaos theory, and doughnuts. When Min overhears a bar bet—involving her!—between her ex and another man, she responds with her own simple plan for revenge. But thwarted by fate, which seems determined to throw her together with Cal—acknowledged player and participant in the infamous bet—Min finds herself falling for the enemy. This is a smart and funny romantic comedy that ranks high on many romance aficionados’ all-time favorites lists. The repartee between Min, Cal, and their friends, the subtle Cinderella allusions, and the sizzling chemistry easily makes it one of my favorites.
Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie
Genre: Contemporary Romance/Women’s Fiction
When her live-in boyfriend takes her new puppy to the pound, it is the last straw for high school art teacher Quinn McKenzie. Tired of always doing what’s expected of her, Quinn decides it’s time to shake things up a bit. Pretty soon, the entire town is in an uproar, including Nick, Quinn’s good friend—and ex-brother-in-law. I tried to pick just one Crusie novel for this list, but frankly I have a tough time choosing between Bet Me and Crazy for You, although I think I love Crazy for You just a tiny bit more. I love Quinn’s sudden bid for independence and enjoy every moment of craziness her change of heart creates.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Genre: Literary Fiction/Modern Classic/Love Story
When people ask me that awful, impossible question—What is your favorite book?—this is the book I most often settle on. William Faulkner called it “one of the most true and moving novels of [his] time.” I think the themes of this book transcend time, and I discover something new each time I read it. This tragic story, set in World War II–era London, recounts the adulterous love affair and the ideological struggles of its protagonists. The End of the Affair is haunting as it questions what constitutes love—jealous passion and obsession vs. spiritualism and self-sacrifice—and hate. For those who are a bit skeptical about love or looking for something a little more philosophical than sentimental, this is a must read.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
Genre: Psychological Fiction/Love Story
This is a book that I simply can’t stop thinking about. The Gargoyle is the story of a severely burned man and the woman—who may or may not be insane—who shows up in his hospital room claiming they loved each other in the past. The unnamed narrator is cynical and jaded, but eventually he finds himself enthralled by Marianne Engel’s stories of her life in a medieval monastery as well as tangential tales of a widowed Victorian lady, plague-stricken lovers in 14th-century Italy, a young maiden in feudal Japan, and Vikings in 9th-century Iceland. It’s ambitious, hypnotic, and often horrifying in in its absolute rawness. The writing is stunningly visceral, with just the right measure of caustic humor, and the love story uniquely captivating. This book has everything: adventure, romance, history, humor, and drama—all served up in a literary masterpiece that is anything but dull.
Goddess of the Hunt by Tessa Dare
Genre: Regency Romance
I’m a total sucker for the brother’s best friend romance trope, and this fabulous regency romp delivers perfectly. The set up of Tessa Dare’s debut novel is nothing out of the ordinary: Lucy, our headstrong, tomboyish young heroine is in love (or so she believes) with her brother’s roguish pal Toby. Toby is toying with the idea of marrying Sophia, whom he believes to be the perfect, ladylike ideal. So in order to convince Toby that she’s his perfect match before it’s too late, Lucy naively decides to hone her seductive skills on Jeremy, another family friend whom she has always gotten a kick out of needling due to his somewhat distant demeanor. Throw in a few more characters, set them all up at a house party in pastoral England, and stir. Goddess of the Hunt could so easily have become a mess of romance clichés, but thanks to Dare’s deft writing it is one of the freshest, most enjoyable romances I’ve read in years. I loved watching Lucy’s gradual realization that Toby wasn’t the right guy for her, and I was impressed with Dare’s ability to keep Lucy’s maturation completely in-line with her stubborn character rather than relying on some sudden epiphany simply to move the plot along. Lucy and Jeremy are truly endearing and multidimensional characters, and several of the secondary characters are equally surprising and delightful. And the writing, from the humorous dialog between characters to characters’ inner dialog, is nuanced, believable, and (please forgive the cliché) utterly captivating. Seriously, if that wardrobe scene doesn’t take your breath away, I can’t believe you have a single romantic bone in your body.
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Genre: Literary Fiction/Psychological Fiction
Less a love story than an examination of the emotion, this imaginative literary mystery follows a Polish octogenarian who escaped the Nazis and is now reflecting on his past losses, a young teen seeking to cure her mom’s loneliness, and a very special book that connects them.
A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
Genre: Medieval Romance
Judith McNaught romances tend to be hit and miss for me, but Kingdom of Dreams is a MAJOR hit. In this beloved medieval tale, an enterprising Scottish beauty is abducted from a convent and forced to marry her family’s enemy, the Duke of Claymore, aka “The Wolf.” This is a perennial favorite of romance readers, full of heart-twinging moments before reaching the requisite happy ending. On a personal note, I have to admit this is a book that makes me smile, makes me mad, and makes me tear up every darn time I read it.
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Genre: Play/Romantic Comedy
The focal romance plot is a bit Romeo and Juliet, only with a happier ending, but it is the love-hate relationship between Beatrice and Benedick that makes this story memorable. Have I mentioned yet that I love the build-up of witty back-and-forth repartee? Beatrice and Benedick are the gold standard of sexual tension presented in the form of competitive banter, and I love every moment of their fiery exchanges.
On the Way to the Wedding by Julia Quinn
Genre: Regency Romance
Combining the best elements of Shakespearean comedy with The Graduate (the interrupt-the-wedding-of-your-true-love part, not the seduced-by-an-older-woman part), Julia Quinn’s final installment of her popular Bridgerton series is a must-read for fans of historical romance. Gregory, the last of the eight Bridgerton siblings, finally meets his match in Lucy Abernathy, a practical, slightly obsessive compulsive young lady who definitely doesn’t believe in love at first sight, who scarcely believes in romantic love at all. While Gregory, having grown up surrounded by his siblings’ happy marriages, is a self-described hopeless romantic who has been waiting for the day when he will fall in love. The twist is that when Gregory is finally hit by the thunderbolt he has been anticipating, the object of his affection is not the heroine but Lucy’s best friend, Hermione. But Hermione has her sights set on someone else and, in their combined attempt to get Hermione to fall for Gregory, Gregory and Lucy discover one another. Of course, a few more obstacles pop up—most notably Lucy’s own engagement to the unusual Lord Haselby and the interference of various family members. Lighthearted and spiced with Julia Quinn’s cheeky style and witty dialog, On the Way to the Wedding is a delightful read and a worthy conclusion to the Bridgerton saga. I’m a big fan of the entire Brigerton series, though I’m a bit less enthusiastic about some that others (ahem…To Sir Phillip with Love) and have a hard time choosing a favorite, but On the Way to the Wedding is the one that I can read over and over.
A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Contemporary Romance
Smith is a master writer when it comes to Southern women’s lit, and with A Place to Call Home she is at her best. As children, Claire (the feisty, protected daughter of the town’s first families) and Roan (the withdrawn son of the town drunk) had a bond that no one else in their small town understood. When they were separated by a near tragedy, neither was able to let go. Twenty years later, they are reunited, but family obligations and secrets from the past threaten their relationship. This novel has all the hallmarks of a dramatic family saga, but there is also a healthy dose of laugh-out-loud country humor. If you love this author as much as I do, you might also want to try one of my other Smith favorites, On Bear Mountain or Stone Flower Garden, next.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Those who love the movie but haven’t read the book are missing out. If you haven’t seen the movie OR read the book? Bump it to the top of your to-read pile right now. Here’s the basics: A former farm boy in disguise must rescue his true love from a handsome (but evil) prince in this timeless twist on the traditional fairy tale. Along the way, he acquires the help of two unlikely allies, a drunken swordsman, and a gentle giant. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but only in the best possible way. Brilliantly combining adventure, fantasy, romance, and humor, The Princess Bride is a swashbuckling fable for all ages.
Thief of Hearts by Teresa Medeiros
Genre: Historical Romance
After being kidnapped by Captain Doom, admiral’s daughter Lucinda Snow remains fascinated by her father’s mysterious nemesis. Combining regency ballrooms with high-seas adventures, this is a wonderful historical romp featuring secret identities and laugh-out-loud humor. It’s a little cheesy and over-the-top, but wonderfully fun.
This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genre: Contemporary Romance
After Molly Summerville gives in to one of her rare (usually disastrous!) impulses, she finds herself stuck at a run-down resort with footballer Kevin Tucker for the summer. The impulsive action that begins Molly and Kevin’s romance is epically messed up, but the book is so funny and the characters so likable despite their flaws that I love this book anyway. Phillips tackles some seriously touchy ethical and emotional issues in this one, but her deft humor and strong characterizations make for a fun, often hilarious read.
The Wallflower by Jan Freed
Genre: Category Romance
Sometimes I just want a short, old-school category romance, and Freed’s The Wallflower is a classic of the subgenre. The plot is a little bit like Never Been Kissed, though this book actually came out the year before the Barrymore rom-com. Our heroine here is a professional woman on the run from a bad guy who already hunted her down once while she was under witness protection. Since Sarah barely escaped with her life, she’s afraid to trust in the cops’ protection again—so she turns to an old college friend, who just happens to be a high school principal. So Sarah ends up posing as a high school student—and of course falls for the hot English teacher with no patience for the cool new girl’s refusal to kowtow to his authority. It’s funny and chock full of forbidden-romance tension, but my favorite part may be the way Sarah dives into her new identity and ends up helping her less popular classmates find themselves and stand up to the high-school bullies. Though poor Jack’s turmoil over his attraction to his “teenage” student is pretty darn compelling.
Source: Book News and Reviews