Be Still, My Heart: These Are the 20 Best Romance Novels to Read
Sometimes we all need to break our routines with a romantic rendezvous of the fantasy variety. Whether you're in a relationship or looking for love, there's nothing quite like an amorous tale to make your stomach flutter and set your heart on fire. Or perhaps you're more of a holiday cynic and would rather curl up with a page-turner full of passion, heartbreak, and tragedy rather than fairy-tale romance.
Since we happen to appreciate both kinds of novels, as long as the stories are compelling and the language beautiful, we created a list that features all sorts of romantic books. From a coming of age masterpiece like Call Me by Your Name (my personal favourite) to the rock 'n' roll memoir Just Kids by legendary artist, Patti Smith (I highly recommend the audiobook), there's something for everyone and every romantic notion. Fall in love with all 20 of the best romance novels below.
In André Aciman's novel Call Me by Your Name, you'll get transported to a fantastically romantic seaside town on the Italian coast to witness a coming-of-age tale about self-discovery, sexuality, and first love. Whether or not you've seen the on-screen adaptation, it's definitely worth a read. I actually read the book after the movie because it touched me so much that I wanted to know everything Elio (the main character) was thinking. I read it in two days, and now I know what the sequel will be about. Shh…
Laurie Weeks Zippermouth ($10)
This gripping, fresh novel will show you what it's like to live life on the edge. Though on the surface it's a book about a woman's spiral into drug abuse and mental illness while coping with unrequited love, it's so much more than that. Our narrator is bitingly insightful, laugh-out-loud hilarious, and full of related desires the rest of us won't say out loud.
For anyone who loves science fiction but also wants to read a love story, Never Let Me Go should be next on your reading list. We join three prep-school kids with a complicated relationship as they uncover horrifying secrets about the nature of their existence.
Danzy Senna New People ($13)
As the main characters—a pair of college sweethearts—plan their wedding, they're also the subject of a documentary about "new people"… in other words, couples in interracial relationships. While things start out wonderfully, their relationship encounters new obstacles and fantasies with heartbreaking consequences. This will challenge you to think about your own assumptions about race, love, and commitment.
Junot Díaz This Is How You Lose Her ($11)
In This Is How You Love Her, Junot Díaz will confront you with the power of love, both good and bad. It features an array of relationships, from casual dates to teenage romances, secret affairs, and doomed long-term relationships around the world, all of which pivot around one man.
Everything about this screenplay is hot: the setting, the characters, the plot, and even the language (even reading the title out loud makes you tap your tongue). And not always in an uplifting way. Indeed, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is bubbling with such intense passion that it becomes a tinderbox. And once you read it, watch the movie version, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman (the ultimate Hollywood pair).
Giovanni's Room explores the many facets of one identity while also being thoroughly entertaining. For a thrilling narrative that incorporates romance, sexuality, and murder, read Giovanni's Room. It's a coming-of-age story narrated by David, an American expat living in Paris, as he navigates his new life abroad. David's musings on the meaning and value of home are unforgettable. And what better backdrop than midcentury Paris?
If you haven't had the intimate pleasure of leafing through Wuthering Heights, we urge you to read this classic stat. After just the first few pages, we guarantee you'll be immersed in this passionate yet tortured story about Catherine Earnshaw and her love-triangle conundrum. Not one to marry below her station, she relinquishes her intense love for the gypsy Heathcliff to meet the expectations of her class, choosing the well-bred Edgar Linton instead. Wuthering Heights is recognized as one of the greatest novels in English literature for a reason: It's intense, and it isn't pretty, but you won't be able to put it down.
This might not be the most conventional love story, but Just Kids is certainly brimming with all the passion, sparks, butterflies, and adventure you'd expect from a modern romance. In her first book, Patti Smith details the story of her love and friendship with legendary American artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. This is not only an intimate story of two lovers but also a firsthand account of New York City in the late '60s and '70s when all the cool cats, musicians, and artists hung out at the Chelsea Hotel.
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler's Wife ($26)
If you want a book to transport you to another place and time, this is the story. This clever tale is about a handsome librarian, Henry de Tamble, and his artist wife, Clare Abshire. Henry suffers from chrono-displacement disorder, which causes him to bounce back and forth from one moment in time to another. Despite the constant back-and-forth throughout time, the couple's passionate love affair remains constant. This beautiful yet unconventional story is gripping and powerful; you won't want to put it down.
Diana Gabaldon Outlander ($6)
This New York Times best seller is now a popular TV series thanks to its rich, compelling story. The hearts of millions of readers across the world have been captured by the book and its curious characters, Claire Beauchamp Randall and Jamie Fraser. This is the ultimate escape, fusing history, adventure, and romance all in one spectacular tale. Are you ready to lose your heart to a book? This one's sure to take your breath away.
Nicholas Sparks The Notebook ($5)
This book really needs no introduction: We bet most of you reading this have already seen the movie, but the novel was a New York Times best seller long before Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams made it a household name. It will make you laugh and cry a river, but the enduring love story is worth the emotional roller coaster. This story proves the power of love can create miracles, and it's gripping all the way through to the very last page.
This is a modern love story about two people who shouldn't work because they have nothing in common, but yet somehow it's just right. If you are looking for a romantic novel that speaks to this generation, Me Before You is our pick. This story shows how love can blossom in the most unexpected places, despite hardship and adversity.
Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice ($10)
It's hard to believe this book was first published in 1813, yet it's still just as relevant and adored by readers today as it was back then. This love story continues to top most-loved book lists and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. This compelling masterpiece depicts the complicated love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, but it's also an incredible tale of status, wealth, respectability, and sex, in a world where men held the power and women negated their social hierarchy.
Charles Dickens Great Expectations ($10)
This would have to be one of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful novels ever written. It's full of complex characters all connected through mutual sadness (and in some cases hatred, whether that be for others or themselves). The movie adaptation with Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke is also incredibly moving, with an emotionally charged Miss Havisham played by the inimitable Anne Bancroft.
Gabriel Garcia Márquez Love in the Time of Cholera ($12)
Not only is it a Nobel Prize winner, but this is also listed in Oprah's book club; if that doesn't convince you to pick up this book, we don't know what will. Oh, actually, on second thought, we do: the love story. This book chronicles two young people who fall passionately in love, yet when she marries for money, and he's left devastated. The romantic perseveres, and holds his heart for her, attending her late husband's funeral 50 years, nine months, and four days later. How long would you wait for love?
Brit Bennett The Mothers ($12)
It's hard to believe that this bittersweet novel about love and a coming-of-age relationship is the debut of author Brit Bennett. The New York Times best seller begins with a secret. It details the story of a teen romance that results in pregnancy and the subsequent cover-up that'll shape their lives forever.
Helen Hoang The Kiss Quotient ($11)
The major appeal of reading is the escapism and opportunity to experience empathy and understanding about a life beyond your own. This compelling book does just that. Stella Lane has Asperger's and sees the world through mathematical equations, but she eventually discovers that love cannot be explained or predicted; there's no logic, no matter how clever your algorithms are.
Jill Santopolo The Light We Lost ($12)
This New York Times best seller and Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick had our assistant editor Christie Calucchia sobbing on a recent plane ride home this year. But don't let that deter you: This is a gripping read from beginning to end and reminds us how the first love is always the most impactful.
This post was originally published on February 11, 2016, and has since been updated.