30 of the best romance books—whether you're after love or lust

The best romance books will transport you to a world of love, lust and happily ever afters...

a collage image of eight of the books included in w&h's best romance books round-up
(Image credit: Future)

In our round-up of the best romance books you'll find everything from modern love stories to classic romances that truly stand the test of time. The only question is, which one will you read first?

The very best romance books—much like the best thriller books and top historical fiction—stay with us long after we have closed the final page. They make for brilliant book club books too, as they give us so much to discuss surrounding human emotion.

This list mixes the great and the good, with the new and noteworthy, and examines love in all its irresistible guises. From Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones’ Diary, romantic fiction is at one level an indulgent joy, but can also help us in realizing we are not alone too—and that 'the course of true love never did run smooth’. Above all, they offer a beacon of hope with happy ever after endings. So whether you prefer to read digitally (see our guide to the best eReaders or best Kindles here), or you favor a good old print book—here is our selection of the best romance books to read when you're in the mood for a happily ever after...

The best romance books

The best books of 2021 may be a variety of genres, but we've picked out the best romance books from the list that will leave you full of love this year. With everything from the novel behind the hit Netflix show, Bridgerton, to some older classics that everyone should read, such as the heartbreaking Atonement—there is something for everyone. 

Modern romance books

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Celebrations at the Château by Jo Thomas 

The inheritance of a French château dumbfounds Fliss Hope and her sisters. Why had their late grandfather kept its existence a secret? Initial decisions to sell the property reveal “une situation compliquée”, forcing Fliss to stay in the rundown château and make it profitable. Numerous challenges stand in her way—from a ‘ghostly’ tenant, a herd of runaway cows, hostile villagers to an unsupportive (but handsome) neighbor. 

Read it because... It’s an opportunity to snuggle up on the sofa, wrapped in the warm embrace of a story that highlights what’s really worth fighting for. Jo Thomas writes comforting romances about life, love and family… and sometimes we all need to read a story with a happy ending.

 A line we love: “Never settle for second best.”


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The Winter of Second Chances by Jenny Bayliss 

We all deserve a second chance at happiness. Annie Sharpe, successful Michelin-starred chef, reaches the end of her tether when she catches her philandering husband, Max, red-handed. A short-term move to the quaint coastal town of Willow Bay, is the fresh start she needs. With an abundance of community events, a recently refurbished café, and the invaluable support of her new confidants, Annie begins to mend her bruised heart and reignite her passion for food, friends and fun.

Read it because...  You’ll love the risqué laugh-out-loud moments with Annie’s quirky book club characters and warm to this uplifting tale of humor, drama and romance. 

 A line we love: “In one fluid movement she picked the mop up off the floor, dropped Max’s phone into the bucket of soapy water and gave it a bashing with the mop.”


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No Such Thing as Perfect by Emma Hughes 

Would you trust a high-tech dating service to find the love of your life? Laura Morrison is about to lose her job and sleeps on a mattress on her sister’s floor—so what does she have to lose by trying? Cupid analyses her online history and produces Adam, the picture-perfect date. But things get sticky as doubts arise in this razor-sharp, hilarious tale about modern dating, friendships and letting go.

Read it because... This wonderfully refreshing take on the search for love is laugh-out-loud funny and packed full of witty observations.

A line we love: "Give us your likes, your clicks, your dwell times and your most watched videos—and we'll give you the love of your life."


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The Christmas Escape by Sarah Morgan 

When Christy’s marriage teeters dangerously on the rocks, she turns to Alix for a HUGE favor. The best friends were supposed to be heading out on the trip of a lifetime, exploring Lapland together with Christy’s family. Instead, Alix leaves the quarreling couple to have some alone time while she takes in the wonderful wintry sights of Lapland with Christy’s daughter. In between festive days filled with hot chocolate, sparkling snow and the northern lights, there is unexpected chemistry brewing between Alix and Zac, a former nemesis. This romantic, wintry read is perfect for a cozy night curled up by the fire.

Read it because... There’s romance in the frosty air of this delightful, heartwarming story, which delivers a touching message about the power of true friendship. 

A line we love: "She’d come here to escape from everything she was and everything she’d done and had fallen in love with the place and the man."


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Anything Could Happen by Lucy Diamond

Lara’s chance meeting with a handsome stranger was impossibly beautiful. Among the twinkling lights of New York City, she felt the start of something incredible. That is, until he disappeared without a trace. It’s a secret Lara carries with her throughout her life, until years later her daughter Eliza begins asking tricky questions. Having reached 18 years old, she’s keen to meet her father and Lara must come clean about the past. Their hunt to find him takes them on a journey across the UK and beyond, ending up where everything started—New York. This warm, wise novel about one family’s search for the truth is packed full of extraordinary surprises.

Read it because... Lucy Diamond’s captivating story explores missed opportunities and uplifting possibilities through one mother and daughter’s life-changing journey.

 A line we love: "She’d only just met him and already he felt like everything: a door opening to her future that was suddenly full of bright, shiny colors."


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Underneath The Christmas Tree by Heidi Swain 

Liza Wynter is back in her childhood town after being made redundant from her job as a teacher. Her late father's business—a popular Christmas tree farm called Wynter’s Trees—is still being run his business partner. But he is on the verge of retiring and, despite painful memories, Liza agrees to help transition the business to his son Ned. New beginnings and romance are in the air. One of the best books to gift someone (opens in new tab) at this time of year...

Read it because... You can rely on Swain to deliver that festive magic and feel-good romance we so look forward to at the end of the year. Beautifully written, full of heartwarming and irresistibly Christmassy moments, this is blissful escapism with bells on.

A line we love: "I knew that this clever idea was exactly what Wynter’s Trees needed to move it forward and that the clever, handsome and kind man behind it had fast found his way into my heart."


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The River Between Us by Liz Fenwick 

After the break up of her marriage, Theo is starting afresh as she moves into a dilapidated cottage on the banks of the Tamar river. As she starts to restore it and the overgrown garden, she discovers a cache of letters that reveal a First World War love story and some remarkable family connections. The pace really picks up in the last third of this book when the story and relationships take some intriguing twists and turns that will have you gripped.

Read it because… The novel cleverly interweaves the contemporary tale with the love story from the past, and the beautiful West Country location will make you want to go there.

A line we love: "Epic adventures always ended or began with a river, she reminded herself, as she walked across the bridge towards the Cornish bank, whether it was the Styx, the Seine, the Thames or the Tamar."


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Another Life by Jodie Chapman 

On the surface, it would seem this book is just about the one that got away, but it’s so much more than that. A multilayered debut exploring love in all its forms, it’s a complex and beautiful read. Anna and Nick meet at the local cinema where they worked. Anna is only 19, and when she falls passionately in love with Nick, it is her strict religious upbringing that comes between them—until years later a tragedy draws them back together. But, what can that mean after all these years with so many promises to others made along the way? With a touching but tragic backstory between Nick and his younger brother, Chapman also delves into the tangle of connections between family members. It’s simply a stunning read about a whole other life that could be lived.

Read it because… This moving and heart-breaking debut novel draws on Jodie Chapman’s own experiences of being a former Jehovah’s Witness.

A line we love: "Once, in later years, we argued as to who made the first move. You kissed me, she insisted. I remember it perfectly. We remember how we want to remember."


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The Handover by David M Barnett 

A made-for-TV premise, this heartwarming romance sees two security guards at The Manchester Museum of Social History meet for five minutes a day. The ever-conscientious Daisy works the night shift and Nate (who prefers to talk to the visitors) the day shift. They don’t have much to do with each other, until Daisy notices things going missing and then reappearing. But with no record of it on CCTV no one believes her, except Nate. As they work together to solve the mystery, what else will they discover? A poignant, uplifting and multi-layered book—perfect for fans of Beth O’Leary’s The Flat Share.

Read it because… It has an unusual museum setting, an element of mystery, likable and relatable characters that stick in your mind—and a dinosaur skeleton!  

A line we love: "'What,' he says loudly, glancing sidelong at her so she knows there’s a good one on its way, 'what on earth is a dinosaur doing in a museum of social history?'"


Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
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.
Read it because… It’s broadly based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (see below), it features on the BBC’s list of 100 most inspiring novels and it’s brilliantly funny.
A line we love: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces." (opens in new tab)

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

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.

Read it because… It’s broadly based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (see below), it features on the BBC’s list of 100 most inspiring novels and it’s brilliantly funny.

A line we love: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that when one part of your life starts going okay, another falls spectacularly to pieces."


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A Sky Full Of Stars by Dani Atkins

It is impossible to get through a Dani Atkins novel without shedding a tear—or 20—and this rule very much applies to this, her latest heart-wrenching romance. Alex’s life didn’t have much meaning until he married astronomer Lisa and they welcomed son Connor into the world, so when she dies suddenly he is left at a loss of how to carry on. However, when he encounters four strangers who never met Lisa but whose lives were altered by her death, Alex begins to wonder if his lost love was right and that a person’s future really is written in the stars.

Read it because… Dani Atkins, winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year, has written a book about grief and loss that also has a strong feel-good element to it too.

A line we love: "This was the frozen moment in time he knew he would remember for the rest of his life."


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PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern

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 does their bit to pull her out from behind the curtain of grief. Heartbreaking perfection that will have you sobbing into your tea.

Read it because… This author has now sold over 25 million copies of her novels worldwide, but this was her debut novel, written when she was just 21 years old.

A line we love: "You don't marry someone you can live with, you marry the person you cannot live without."


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The Singles Table by Tasmina Perry

One for eBook (opens in new tab) fans, and a bonus treat for readers who have long enjoyed the uniquely glamorous and sexy worlds created by master scribe Tasmina Perry, The Singles Table is a lockdown project born of the author’s desire to “write something joyful and hopeful”. Set over the course of a weekend at a society wedding, it follows the various adventures of one table of guests, from the bridal shower and stag night to the morning after the big day, and every chapter is brilliant. It’s available exclusively on Amazon and is a must for every Kindle library.

Read it because… A fancy wedding is fertile ground for stories of all sorts, and this one has an excellent combo of funny, sad and romantic elements, all rounded by a great ending.

A line we love: "It was Adam’s turn to look blank. Wasn’t being an international DJ one of the top career choices for today’s hipsters, just a few notches below reality TV star and social media influencer?"


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Uncoupling by Lorraine Brown

Hannah’s on her way to a wedding with her boyfriend Si when the train divides and they become separated, he heading to Amsterdam and she waking up in Paris. The man she loves—and her ticket—are 300 miles away, but help is about to appear in the shape of Leo, a man she encounters on the platform who is everything the errant Si is not. As the pair venture out into the world’s most romantic city, Hannah begins to wonder if by taking her in the wrong direction, fate has perhaps shown her the path she was meant to be on all along.

Read it because… Paris is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and this novel takes you on an unforgettable journey round that famous City of Love.

A line we love: "Could I be the only person on this whole train who had no idea it was going to split quietly into two in the dead of night?"


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Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella

When Ava heads to Italy to stay at a semi-silent writing retreat, romance is the last thing on her mind, yet she still ends up falling for the charms of an alluring stranger and, by the end of the trip, the pair are in love. But what began as idyllic soon unravels into disaster as their real lives collide in hilarious style, and Ava’s left wondering if she can really love a man whose life is so darn unfathomable. If the reading experience is anything to go by, romantic comedy queen Kinsella must have had a lot of fun writing this one. It’s a total joy.

Read it because… It’s a sweet and engaging novel from a best-selling author—and there’s a lively dog character too!

A line we love: "Silence is great. It's peaceful. It's something we all need, in this hectic modern life, silence."


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Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson 

This nuanced, insightful and quietly powerful debut tackles issues of race and masculinity by exploring the relationship between two young black British artists—he a photographer and she a dancer—who despite their shared interests and backgrounds flounder as they begin to fall slowly in love. Unflinching in its examination of society and its myriad pressures and judgments, Open Water is a novel that continues to resonate long after you have finished reading. A tender and important story about love and all it encompasses.

Read it because… Poetically written, this remarkable debut takes you under the skin of a young black man—you see his world through his eyes and feel his fears, hopes and dreams. Caleb Azumah Nelson is one to watch.

A line we love: “You would soon learn that love made you worry, but it also made you beautiful.”


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Much Ado About You by Samantha Young

Reminiscent of both The Holiday and classic epistolary novel 84 Charing Cross Road, this charming tale accompanies Chicago-born Shakespeare fan Evie, who ditches her city life to take a holiday that includes the running of a bookshop in a small English village. Evie soon finds that there is a lot to love about her new role and the locals she meets—especially sexy farmer Roane Robson—but she’s determined not to form any attachments. Not when there’s a life waiting for her back in the States… An irresistibly heartfelt and engaging novel.

Read it because… It’s a cozy, comfort read set in stunning Northumberland with a sexy hero and a lonely woman at a crossroads in her life. What’s not to like?

A line we love: "Such benign little words—'what if'—but at some point in life, those two words become the scariest two words in the English language."


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Love, Almost by Hayley Doyle 

Chloe is in love for the first time and everything about her five-month relationship with her boyfriend Jack is wonderful. Then he dies. Devastated by her loss and furious at life for dealing her such a cruel hand, Chloe decides to honor the memory of her late love by making her way through the list of things they had planned to do together. Poignant, yes, but ultimately this is an uplifting tale of how losing someone can change the shape of your life, what love can teach you about the world, and how powerful a healer laughter can be. Timely and touching—a novel to take into your heart.

Read it because… It’s an emotional novel about a 36-year-old woman trying to come to terms with the loss of the man she thought she’d love forever. Stock up on tissues.

A line we love: "Take photos of people. You will never, ever, ever care about your toes painted neon pink on the sand, ever. But you’ll wish you had more photos of the person you loved."


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Rescue Me by Sarra Manning

Neither Margot nor Will is looking for love, but that doesn’t stop them from falling for rescue dog Blossom. Unable to agree on who gets to take her home, Margot and Will agree to "co-pawrent" Blossom, but it soon becomes clear that they have very different ideas on how to raise a pup. As the dog's behavior worsens, her new human parents have no choice but to team up. Is it possible a friendship will flourish…or perhaps something more? A charming, funny, and gorgeously feel-good tale.

Read it because… If you’re a dog-lover, you’ll fall head-over-heels for Blossom, the gentle Staffie at the heart of this story. And there are some real-life issues here to challenge you too.

A line we love: "I am kind. I am strong. I am positive. I attract kind, strong, positive people into my life. I am deserving of love. I am a great dog owner."


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The Sight Of You by Holly Miller

A love story with a difference, Richard & Judy Book Club pick The Sight Of You tells the tale of Joel, who has become somewhat of a recluse due to his ability to see the future of those he loves in his dreams, and Callie, the woman he falls for regardless. When Joel learns exactly what lies in store for his new love, it leaves him with an impossible, heartbreaking decision. An astonishing, affecting, and deeply moving novel.

Read it because… This debut novel poses the tricky question ‘Would you choose love, if you knew how it would end?’' Be prepared to have your heartstrings properly tugged, as all of the best romance books should do.

A line we love: "Really, I remind myself, we hardly know each other— just well enough for smiles and passing remarks, like stars from companion galaxies exchanging winks across swathes of limitless sky."


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Miss You by Kate Eberlen

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.

Read it because… It follows two characters over several years, alternating between their stories, and offers a chance to see a man and a woman maturing over time along very different paths.

A line we love: "It's funny how when you get towards the end of a holiday, half of you never wants it to end and the other half is looking forward to the comforts of home."


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The Light Between Us by Katie Khan 

It’s not simply the will-they-won’t-they nature of this novel that so enthralls, 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.

Read it because… It’s a clever novel about time travel, bringing together different yet parallel worlds in a story that mixes sci-fi with romance.

A line we love: "'All that... magic... Do you really have to go full Frodo?’  Thea slides the ring from her finger and sets it down on the bench beside him. ‘Yes. We have to destroy the rings.'"


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Isabelle in the Afternoon by Douglas Kennedy

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.

Read it because… This moving read charts an intermittent yet passionate love affair that starts when Sam is a young man of 21 and lasts over the course of decades.

A line we love: "Every life is a novel. And every life, if allowed, has its afternoons with Isabelle. When all is possible and infinite—and as fugitive as a sandstorm in the Sahara."


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What Happens Now by Sophia Money-Coutts

This is one romantic tale that gets the balance of true-to-life humor 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.

Read it because… It’s empowering to read a witty novel about a woman determined to make a success of an unexpected situation and who has friends you’ll love.

A line we love: "Please, please, please could I not be positive. I was thirty-one, single, barely able to afford my rent. I had a life plan. Well, a vague life plan. This was not it."


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If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane 

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.

Read it because…  It has a smart heroine who’s dealing with the difficult situation of having to work with her ex-lover while still coming to terms with the end of their relationship. 

A line we love: "God, whenever I forget why I hate men, one of them reminds me."


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A Wedding at the Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

Sure to delight and entertain quite as much as each of her novels that have gone before, Veronica Henry’s 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?

Read it because… It’s a heart-warming and uplifting summer story about love, life and the complexities of family relationships.

A line we love: "Robyn gazed at him. That was why she loved him. Jake was as solid as the rocks jutting out into the bay. Always there. Always the same."


Period romance books

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Bridgerton: The Duke & I by Julia Quinn

Raunchy Regency TV show Bridgerton quickly became the most-watched series ever on Netflix earlier this year, and the appetite for the novels upon which it was based has seen Julia Quinn race back up the bestseller lists both in the UK and in the States. Both a historical fiction book (opens in new tab) and a romance book, this novel is frothy, frivolous, and wonderfully funny. The collection of 11 novels—the first of which is The Duke & I—charts the lives and loves of the aristocratic Bridgerton family as they attempt to find their place in early 19th-century society. Romantic escapism at its most diverting and enjoyable.

Read it because… Julia Quinn is a top-selling author who’s been in the New York Times Bestseller List an impressive 19 times. Like this title and there’s plenty more to follow! 

A line we love: "To say that men can be bullheaded would be insulting to the bull."


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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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.

Read it because… It’s one of the most popular novels in English literature, with great film adaptations. We love the 1995 BBC TV series starring Colin Firth...

A line we love: "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."


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Atonement by Ian McEwan

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.

Read it because… It has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards, is set over three time periods, including the Second World War, and lingers in the mind long after you close the book.

A line we love: "A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended."