We all grew up on love stories.
Even now, if you ask the person sitting next to you to name the first famous novel that comes to their mind, a huge majority of them are likely to choose one of the great romance books.
Tales about all-conquering emotion get under our skin because they make us feel something. They leave a mark that stays with us long after we have closed the final page, and the characters remain in our heads, their actions becoming the fixed points on which we measure our own romantic triumphs and failures.
The best love stories never grow old – just ask Shakespeare, Emily Brontë and Jane Austen – and nor do they feel any less relevant now than they would have centuries ago.
Human beings may have evolved from playing piano in the drawing room to swiping right on a dating app, but we are all still driven by the same urge: to love and be loved. A triumphant romance story doesn’t just have to be about two strangers meeting and falling in love, it can also be about family, about self, or even about a pet – as long as the emotion is there, the reader’s feelings will follow.
This list mixes the great and the good with the new and the noteworthy, and examines love in all its irresistible guises, from boy meets girl to woman meets dog. A few travel in time while others put pen to paper, and while some soulmates slip past one another, others must find a way to carry on alone when tragedy falls.
Whether you want to laugh your way through from cover to cover or lie on the floor and weep, there’s a heartfelt title here that will suit your love story needs – but don’t just stop at one…
Our pick of the best romance books…
Such was the joy of reading about eternal singleton Bridget’s pursuit of love, that pretty much the whole world now knows who she is. Bridget is in her early 30s, living in London and working under the rather-too-watchful eye of bounder Daniel Cleaver. Will she fall for him, or grumpy-but-gorgeous lawyer Mark Darcy? Either way, it’s a hoot finding out.
Quite simply one of the most enchanting books ever written, this novel is told through a series of letters, as London-based author Juliet Ashton begins writing to members of a Guernsey book club in the years after WW2. Torn between her rich American fiancé and pig farmer/book fan Dawsey, Juliet must decide whether to follow her head or her heart.
At the turn of the century, Harry Cane is living in England with his wife and child, adhering to convention at every step. When he meets an actor who offers him voice coaching, however, the man ignites in Harry a forbidden passion. Ostracised by his family, he flees to Canada, but tough times and choices lay ahead. Poignant and unforgettable.
You might think that a memoir about a woman and her Golden Doodle puppy has no place on a love story list – but you’d be wrong. Amanda Brookfield gets Mabel after losing a parent and her long-term partner, and as the two muddle their way through a challenging first year, Amanda remembers how to love again. A gorgeous, heartfelt triumph.
No self-respecting round-up of the best love stories would be complete without a classic. Austen’s 1813 masterpiece, about a young woman named Elizabeth Bennet who shuns the advances of the severe Mr Darcy, only to later fall in love with him, has captured the hearts of millions. If the prose feels daunting, try the fabulous audiobook read by Rosamund Pike.
All the romances written by the incredible Jilly Cooper are brilliant – but it’s the one between her iconic show-jumping bed-hopper Rupert Campbell-Black and soft-hearted cook Taggie that feels the most satisfying. Rivals is set in the world of TV production, and as well as its central love story, all manner of sex, scandal and hilarity reigns supreme. A true gem.
It’s rare to find an author who can make you laugh and cry on the same page, but Lucy Robinson (who now writes as Rosie Walsh) is a master of the art. As well as delivering a powerful love story between shy wannabe singer Sally and scatty Julian, she also conjures up a world and characters that feel wonderfully real.
If the idea of your husband writing you letters to inspire you after he dies doesn’t make your heart want to crack in two, then what are you even doing here? It is exactly what Gerry does for Holly, and each of his ten letters do there bit to pull her out from behind the curtain of grief. Heartbreaking perfection.
Following the path set down by David Nicholl’s One Day, this exquisite novel tells the story of two people who are meant to be, yet never seem to meet. The plot follows Tess and Gus through separate lives that are aching for that one missing piece, reminding us that sometimes the right choice is often the hardest one of all.
When the black box recorder of a missing plane turns up after 30 years, a young man called Dove begins having memories of a life belonging to someone else – a cleaner called Peter living in 1980s New York, who embarks on a hunt to find rare flowers after discovering an old love letter. Convoluted, yes, but also utterly, mesmerizingly brilliant.
Love is not always butterflies in stomachs, kisses in the rain and diamond rings in little boxes, sometimes it is painful, brutal, cruel and unfair. The unfailingly excellent Louise O’Neill explores the latter in this standout tale about Sarah, a young Irish woman who has a self-destructive affair with Matthew, a man 20 years her senior. Brave, bold and beautiful.
Laurie doesn’t believe in love at first sight, until her eyes meet Jack’s through the window of a bus. She thinks she’ll never see him again, but she does, only unfortunately it’s on the arm of his girlfriend, who also happens to be Laurie’s friend… Sweary, saucy, sweet and endearingly silly, this is a love story to lift your heart.
One lie is all it takes for Robbie and Cecilia’s budding romance to be ripped away from them. The latter’s sister Briony is the architect of this tragedy, and it’s her who tells the story of what happened next, when Robbie heads off to war leaving Cecilia behind. As masterful as it is gut-wrenching, this is a sublime love story.
It’s not simply the will-they-won’t-they nature of this novel that so enthrals, but also its backdrop of time travel. Because while many characters may claim to be willing to move heaven and earth for their lovers, these protagonists actually find a way to do it. Be warned: you may never look at a sunset in the same way ever again.
Jojo Moyes is best known for Me Before You, but this earlier work of hers is just as enjoyable – if not more so. Spanning 40 years and telling the side-by-side stories of two women – Ellie and Jennifer – who have fallen in love with men that they perhaps shouldn’t have, this novel manages to be deeply moving without being overly sentimental.
Tess Tyler is in desperate need of some time to relax, particularly after making a discovery that shocks her to the core. Fleeing to the seaside town of Wynmouth which holds so many happy memories for her, Tess tentatively begins to grow closer to local barman Sam and with the simpler way of life only for the past to come creeping back to haunt her… A truly transporting summer read.
This escapist read is not only packed with Italian sunshine and charming warmth, but also a strong sense of friendship as former socialite Kim seeks to reunite with two old friends for the launch of her new business. Having formed such a strong bond many years before, they both accept, but things can never be as they once were. Soon the wounds from that summer together are opened once more, but can these three women finally tell each other the truth and mend their relationships before it’s too late?
Having such sailed through an important job interview and accepted the proposal of the perfect man, Manhattan Lawyer Dannie Kohan goes to sleep that night feeling that life couldn’t get much more perfect. And then she has a vision. One that shows exactly where she’ll be in five years time and the world shifts on it axis as she realises she’ll be in a different home and with a different man – one who she meets four and a half years later. Expect the unexpected and be prepared to shed more than a few tears at this heart-warming read.
This uplifting, funny and genuinely heart-warming read is one that will soon have you racing through. Initially anxious about anything that conflicts with her predictable routines, journalist Bea is soon forced to confront her relationship with the wider word when she comes into possession of a letter that was never meant for her. One reply soon leads to another and before long Bea discovers a purpose she never knew she had. Utterly mesmerising.
Exuding warmth and charm, Patrick knows how to bring her characters alive and none more so than Mitchell Fisher. Determined not to open himself up to deeper feelings after losing his wife, only his daughter Poppy knows the kind-hearted man beneath the no-nonsense exterior. But everything changes when Mitchell saves a mysterious woman one summer day and when she disappears, the search is on to track her down. Will he have the courage to love again? This is one romance that is sure to bring a smile to your face.
In Kennedy’s literary tale that spans many years, young American student Sam doesn’t know what he’s let himself in for when he embarks on an affair with sophisticated – and married – Parisienne Isabelle. She calls all the shots and he is powerless to resist her charms. Until, that is, they reach a point when the balance of power is no longer as established as it used to be. This is a heartfelt tale of a lifelong passion that cannot fail to move you.
This heart-warming tale of self-discovery, friendship and romance sees newly divorced Gina deciding the time has finally come to take back control of her life. Expanding her flourishing childminding business and taking on two new arrivals is keeping her busy enough, but the arrival of handsome Dexter looks set to spin things out of control. With its bubbly narrative, believable characters and picturesque setting, this a read that will soon have you swept along for the ride.
This is one romantic tale that gets the balance of true-to-life humour and emotion just right. It’s easy to race through in a matter of days as recently dumped Lil goes out on a date that changes the course of her life forever. When the two little purple lines show up on a pregnancy test not long after, she can’t quite believe her eyes, but her journey of unexpected pregnancy, misunderstandings, supportive friends and love in unlikely places makes for a truly joyful read.
Sophie and Samuel’s lives are forever entwined when one chance meeting makes it clear that love at first sight really does exist. If only fate wasn’t conspiring to separate them. But even apart they discover their bond is one that will cross boundaries and countries, sweeping them up in a journey of self-discovery. An evocative, warm and character-driven read, this is truly memorable.
In a bid to keep her job at a TV and film agency, and ultimately save the company, Evie Summers has to convince the agency’s biggest – and most arrogant - client, Ezra Chester, to finish writing his script for a Hollywood film. The only catch is he’ll only continue if she proves she can fall in love as effortlessly as they do in the movies. Packed full of laugh-out loud moments, a relatable lead and a lot of heart, this is the perfect relaxing choice.
Blending families is never easy, least of all when teenagers are involved – as Flora discovers when her relationship with Jack puts her at odds with his daughter and she begins to compare herself to his endless happy memories with his late wife Becca. But Jack is committed to continuing their summer tradition of going on holiday with Becca’s oldest friends so now the pressure is on for Flora to prove she is the one for him. The cast of lively characters instantly draws you in.
Lawyer, Laurie is heartbroken when her partner of eighteen years dumps her. Worse still, she has to work with him. So, when she finds herself stuck in a lift with handsome colleague Jamie, who suggests they pretend to be dating as revenge, she finds herself going along with it. Only things don’t always go to plan – and it’s not long before the two start to wonder if this really is all for show. It’s funny, poignant and a delicious page-turner.
Laurie and Pete were brought together by fate – the loss of their partners on the very same night and their overwhelming grief lead them to join the same counselling group. Just when they thought they could never be happy again, their chance meeting soon provides a second chance at happiness. But the more they learn about each other, the more similar their stories sound. Then Pete makes a discovery that neither of them can ignore. A thought-provoking read that explores what it truly means to love.
Queen of romantic fiction Katie Fforde is on to a winner with her latest read as B&B business owner Gilly and her daughter Helena are both in need of a fresh start to invigorate their lives. This becomes all the more evident when estate agent Leo and landlord Jago come into their lives. Both make a serious impact on the two hard-working women and though they tell themselves that they’re just friends, could love be about to blossom? This is a novel that delivers a much-needed dose of happiness.
Sure to delight and entertain quite as much as each of her novels that have gone before, Veronica Henry’s soon-to-be-released tale of escapism and romance is a great choice to get stuck into. Delving into the complexities of romantic and familial love, Robyn and Jack are planning their perfect wedding but she just can’t get the question of why she was given up for adoption and her birth mother’s identity out of her mind. Will the past overshadow the future?