It’s almost Valentine’s Day—and the perfect time to year to read a love story. But our tastes in romantic tales vary as much as our dating profiles: sometimes we want our literary lovers to make us laugh, and just as often, we need a really good cry. Whether your tastes tend toward the lighthearted or the tragic, there is assuredly a romantic novel out there for everyone.
Here are our suggestions for 15 different types of love stories to match your Valentine’s Day mood.
Call Me By Your Name, by André Aciman
This tender love story, the basis for the award-winning film, is a pure delight in terms of character and storytelling, chronicling the burgeoning attraction between the curious, precocious 17-year old Elio and 24-year old Oliver in the Italian Riviera of the 1980s and its reverberations through their lives over the course of two succeeding decades. The setting is almost as sumptuous as the romance, as the two live out a travel agent’s dream, lounging around the gorgeous Italian countryside and coming to rest in picturesque villas. It’s a perfectly sun-kissed love story for this dreary mid-winter month.
A Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness
For readers who like their romance with a bit of dark magic on the side. When factions of supernatural creatures set their sights on a document that could give them the upper hand in a war, a reluctant witch must seek the protection of an equally reluctant vampire, her supposed mortal enemy. Witch tales have a tendency to emphasize the importance of family… but in this case, it could the witch’s own family that wants her dead. Will true love prevail between these two warring beings?
The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
This Booker Prize–winning novel tells the powerful, poignant story of a devoted English butler who takes a road trip to reflect upon his life, which mainly revolved around a 30-year career of service to his lordship. For much of that time, he harbors feelings for Darlington Hall’s housekeeper Miss Kenton—affections Mr. Stevens’ deeply ingrained sense of duty makes it inconceivable that he would ever express, or even fully acknowledge to himself. There is nothing that wounds the heart quite like an unrequited love affair, and this is a novel that will leave a scar upon every reader.
An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
Newlyweds Roy and Celestial find their marriage tested after a cruel twist of fate sends Roy to prison in another state for a crime he didn’t commit. As the years of separation drag on, Celestial turns to her friend since childhood, Andre, for comfort, and Andre’s perspective provides new insight into her painful situation. Letters sent between husband and wife further illuminate this incredible, contemporary study of marriage, loyalty, and racial injustice.
Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters’ tale of Dickensian skulduggery is so twisty and deceptive, we can promise you’ll nearly drop the book in shock not once, not twice, but three times while reading it. The story begins with the low-born Sue, an orphan trained in deception by a Fagin-like mentor named Mrs. Sucksby, accompanying a master thief and con artist known as the Gentleman on his latest scheme. She’s taken on the guise of a lady’s maid, playing a supporting role as he seduces a wealthy heiress with an eye toward having the poor woman committed to an asylum as soon as they are wed so he can claim her fortune. It’s just another job for Sue—until she makes the mistake of falling in love with the Maud, the plot’s intended victim.
The Proposal, by Jasmine Guillory
Nikole Paterson has just experienced a bit of embarrassment: her ridiculous boyfriend of five months proposed to her via scoreboard at a baseball game—and spelled her name wrong doing so. Understandably, she’s not exactly feeling the ’til-death vibes, so she decides to hightail it out of the stadium, fleeing the nosy camera crews and 45,000 fans. Her exit is made more swift via the unexpected aide of one Dr. Carlos Ibarra, who even sticks around after she gets trolled via social media for hightailing it. (Dear trolls of the world—Get a life!) Nikole and Carlos tentatively embark on a quiet romance. She thinks she’ll be fine with just a fling to help her get over her embarrassment, but oon realizes that Carlos just might be the real deal.
Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
“A timeless love story” is a discriptor to be taken rather literally in the case of Gabaldon’s beloved novel, the first in a series that mixes rich historical detail with a romance that stretches across centuries. Former combat nurse Ruth Randall, just reunited with her husband after World War II, walks through a stone circle in 1945 to find herself in war-torn Scotland in the year 1743. There, she meets the fiery Jamie Fraser, beginning a passionate, deeply sexy love triangle as she finds herself torn between two different men, two different centuries, and two vastly different lives.
Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
If you’re looking for love story that will break your heart open, most any Jojo Moyes book is a safe bet. Each one of them is filled with heart and characters you can’t help caring about, and none more so than Me Before You, which tells the story of Louisa, a sheltered girl whose life changes when she takes a job caring for Will, a suicidal man who resents that he must use a wheelchair following a terrible accident. Their love grows and endures through any number of challenges, but may not be able to overcome all. This book will definitely make you cry buckets—but it will also make you laugh, and nod your head in recognition, and flip back to the first page to read it again.
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan
In this novel and its sequels, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan dives into the funny, soapy world of super-wealthy Asian and Asian-American characters, centering on the relationship between New Yorker Rachel Chu and her boyfriend Nicholas Young. When the two head off to Singapore for the summer, Rachel thinks she’ll be meeting Nick’s family and staying in their humble family home. But Nick failed to tell her that his family is rich. And not just a little rich—crazy rich. Thus Rachel becomes our eyes and ears on a journey into the decadent lives of some of Asia’s richest families. Much of the fun of Kwan’s trilogy comes from reveling in sordid stories of unimaginable excess, but the true magic is the way it makes you can about the love story at its center. Romance abounds, even if the books’ many relationships never quite play out as you might expect.
Love and Ruin, by Paula McLain
The past can certainly feel more romantic than the present, as in this thrilling tale of novelist and travel writer Martha Gellhorn, the third wife of Ernest Hemingway. Already famous for her journalistic work during the 1930s, Gellhorn meets the older Hemingway and their romance sizzles from the start—for a time. McLain masterfully brings these historical figures to life, depicting Hemingway’s neediness and instability, traits that slowly ruin an ideal marriage. Gellhorn makes her break from Hemingway in dramatic fashion, stowing away on a hospital ship bound for Normandy on D-Day, and subsequently becoming the first journalist of either gender to report back from the massive invasion of Fortress Europe. The story’s twists and turns wouldn’t be believable if they weren’t based on real events.
The Age of Light, by Whitney Scharer
Whitney Scharer’s historical fiction hit focuses on Lee Miller, a larger-than-life figure who worked as a fashion model in 1920s New York before traveling to Paris and apprenticing herself to famed photographer Man Ray. She eventually became his collaborator, lover, and muse as she develops her art and starts her own photography studio. During World War II, she serves as a war correspondent and photojournalist for Vogue—and somehow that’s only a handful of the twists and turns this dynamic woman’s life will take. Scharer not only brings to life the tempestuous and passionate love affair between Miller and Ray, but illustrates how they pushed and prodded one another to even greater creative heights in their work.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson
The retired and entirely proper Major Ernest Pettigrew lives in the tiny English village of Edgecombe St. Mary, enjoying tea and all the other sorts of things that retired Englishmen are meant to appreciate. Then his brother’s death brings him into the orbit of the recently widowed Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper with whom he develops first a friendship and then a romance. Polite society frowns on such a match, complicating matters for the Major in a novel that playfully explores a love that defies obstacles of race and class.
Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin
Tender but intense, Baldwin’s 1956 novel is a foundational work of 20th century gay literature. It tells the story of an American named David who is abandoned left in Paris by his girlfriend, and the Italian man, Giovanni, whom he meets at a gay bar and unexpectedly goes home with. Baldwin explores issues of masculinity and alienation as he plays out the lovely, forbidden, and ultimately doomed romance between the two men.
A Walk to Remember, by Nicholas Sparks
Oh, the tears that have fallen over the pages of this love-against-all-odds romance. Bad boy Landon meets Jamie after he is forced to participate in the school play—it’s that or expulsion. Over time, he finds himself drawn to the girl, who warns him it is in his best interests not to fall in love with her. By then, of course, it’s already too late for them both: Landon leaves his old life and friends behind to be with her, and when Jamie reveals a devastating secret to him, they cling to one another, even when it seems that all hope is lost.
One Day, by David Nicholls
Dexter and Emma spend the night together in 1988 following their graduation from Edinburgh University, speculating about the future course of their lives. Each subsequent year, on July 15, Nicholls’ novel revisits the friends and sometimes lovers to chart the course of their lives, loves, careers, and romances. Before it’s over, we circle back to that first night in order to better understand the significance of the date, and of the long relationship between the two, and of the journeys they’ve taken as they’ve moved in and out of each other’s lives.
What’s your Valentine’s Day romance of choice this year?