If you’re anything like me, the first thing you want to know when picking up a new book is: does it have a love story?
If I want to be totally engrossed in a book — and who doesn’t want to be totally engrossed in a book? — it’s got to have at least a little romance. (Preferably a lot!)
The problem, though, is that most “romantic” novels are actually romance novels and that’s an entirely different thing. A romantic novel has a deep and beautiful love story in which two people — alone and adrift — find solace and acceptance in the love of a compatible soul. A romance novel has a bunch of gratuitous sex and a lot of really terrible writing. So, yeah, not the same thing.
A romantic novel has a deep and beautiful love story... A romance novel has a bunch of gratuitous sex and a lot of really terrible writing.
There’s nothing wrong with sex, but romance is more than lust, and a love story deserves to be written well, too. So, if you’re not a fan of the “bodice-ripper,” but you do crave a good love story, try these novels on for size.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
If you’re cuddled up in bed with a cup of tea and a warm blanket and the only thing missing is a book that’ll keep you up all night alternately swooning and sobbing then The Time Traveler’s Wife is the book for you. (If any guys happen to be reading this article, just go with it, it’s a girl thing.) This is the story of Henry DeTamble, who lives his life bouncing around randomly in time, and his enduring romance with Clare Abshire, who lives her life sequentially. The way that Henry’s story weaves in and out of Clare’s as he meets her at different times in her life is genius, and the bond they form from this strange out-of-time existence is the stuff of fairy tales. It’s a tear-jerker, that’s for sure, but it’s worth it.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
If you’re into star-crossed lovers, then you’ve come to the right book. Two magicians — as in people who can actually wield magic, not like sleight of hand — have been trained since childhood to defeat each other. But, of course, they fall in love instead. The writing is beautiful, the setting is whimsical, and the stakes of Celia and Marco’s love are so high that you’ll be hard-pressed to put the book down until the end. It’s a story of love against all odds, set against a backdrop of magic and mystery, with characters you’ll love and love to hate. This one takes hold of your heart and won’t let go.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
For me, there’s nothing more romantic than a gothic romance. Jane Eyre is only one example of the genre but, in my opinion, it’s the best. Gothic romances flourished in England during the late 18th and early 19th centuries and usually involve some sort of horror and/or supernatural elements. The woman is usually good and pure of heart, and the man is typically dark, brooding, and harboring a dark secret. I elevate Jane Eyre above other gothic romances (like Wuthering Heights or Rebecca) because the lovers — Jane and Rochester — are actually good people worth rooting for, which isn’t always the case in these stories.
On The Night Of The Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt
If you like to mix your romance with unbearable suspense and mystery, then this is the book for you. I really don’t want to give anything about this book away because it’s got more twists and turns than a road up the side of a mountain. Suffice it to say that it’s a nail-biter. But it’s deliciously romantic too and thoroughly engrossing right up to the end. It’s one of those books that infuses your mind and your mood until you walk around in a daze wondering where you are and what you’re doing out here in the real world.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I usually don’t go in for modern retellings of classic books. It’s too hard to make them seem natural — too easy for them to seem forced and full of too-clever-by-half plot devices that don’t really work. But Curtis Sittenfeld is arguably one of the best writers alive today, so this retelling is nearly flawless. Eligible is Pride and Prejudice set in present-day New York and Cincinnati. The characters, motivations, and plot are amazingly faithful to the original so, if you like Pride and Prejudice, you’re going to love this. The romance between Liz and Darcy is electric — their chemistry lights up the page — and the relationship they settle into in the end is a deeply satisfying conclusion to their initial antagonism.
You don’t have to settle for a romance novel when you’re in the mood for a love story. Plenty of books are epically romantic without resorting to one sex scene after another, and they’re even well-written too! So grab the tissues, the tea, the warm blanket, and one (or all) of these books. Happy reading!