The Best Novels for True Romantics
Note: This article was first published February 9, 2018, on my Tea & Scandal blog.
Here is a list of my ten favorite romantic books—for Valentine’s Day or every day. Most of these titles are well-known, but some are still noteworthy secrets.
If you want a copy of any of these books, click on the cover and a link will take you to Amazon.
May you fall in love with the book you’re reading!
Best Regency Romance
Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen
Mr. Darcy. £10,000. Enough said.
Seriously, I love me some Jane Austen, and this is my favorite Regency-era novel. What young woman who ever picked up Pride and Prejudice hasn’t fancied herself Elizabeth Bennett?
We can all relate to her. We may not have a neurotic mother, four sisters, and a harassed father with no male heirs. But we’ve all experienced family drama. And we have all been misunderstood and been mistaken.
To be loved can at first look like being snubbed. But when he finally gets it right, bless his breeches, he is a keeper!
“A girl likes to be crossed a little in love now and then.” —Mr. Bennett
Best Redheaded Orphan Romance
Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L. M. Montgomery
This one is not a romance novel, but how can you not fall in love with Anne and Gilbert? Oh, and Matthew and Marilla... Lest we forget Diana, our “bosom friend!”
Anne Shirley is a book lover with an overly romantic imagination. She dreams of wearing a dress with puffed sleeves, and drowning, she says, is the most romantic way to die.
When she comes to Avonlea to live with the Cuthberts, she renames the pond “The Lake of Shining Waters,” and the avenue becomes “The White Way of Delight.”
If Anne is not a romantic, then there’s no hope for the rest of us.
“Now you see why I can’t be perfectly happy. Nobody could who had red hair.” —Anne Shirley
Best Controversial Romance
Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell
Gone with the Wind is too much a part of American popular culture not to include it here.
Although we can’t say that Scarlett and Rhett model a healthy relationship or good ethics, theirs is an unforgettable romance. Thanks to the film adaptation, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh, their spellbinding kiss is sealed in our nation’s collective memory.
Readers of Gone with the Wind travel back to the days of the horse and buggy—the plantation and the corset. But with all that, also comes war, starvation...and slavery.
Nostalgia for the Southern idyll may not diminish our disgust for slavery and Confederate politics. But we can accept that this love story is a heartfelt depiction of the Old South—the good and the bad. It’s a romance right out of history.
“Well, my dear, take heart. Some day, I will kiss you and you will like it.” —Captain Rhett Butler
Best Criminal Romance
Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier
This novel has all the right ingredients: an English estate, a conniving housekeeper, a brooding widower, and a dead wife. There’s even a costume ball and a shipwreck, as well as blackmail and murder.
Our narrator, unnamed, marries widower Maxim de Winter of Manderley, an estate in Cornwall. His first wife, Rebecca, is dead but still very much in the picture. This is mostly thanks to Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper.
Danvers takes every opportunity to let the second Mrs. de Winter know that she does not measure up to her predecessor. The narrator suspects that her new husband still loves Rebecca, but suspicions arise surrounding the first wife’s death.
Rebecca is overflowing with atmosphere and suspense. For fans of Wuthering Heights, this book is where it’s at.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” —(The Second) Mrs. de Winter
Best Cornish Romance
Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
Scars are sexy, as attested by Ross Poldark.
A British officer in the American Revolutionary War, Ross returns home to Cornwall to find that his father is dead and his fiancée is engaged to his cousin.
Trying to make the most of his father’s dilapidated estate and copper mine, Ross takes as a servant a troubled girl, thus saving her from an abusive home.
Demelza is the very opposite of the well-bred, fair Elizabeth, Ross’s former love. But as Demelza grows, so does Ross’s affection for her.
It’s the old man-falls-for-his-housekeeper story, but, oh, how we love it!
“‘Did I behave myself tonight, Ross?’ she asked. ‘Did I behave as Mrs Poldark should behave?’
“‘You misbehaved monstrously,’ he said, ‘and were a triumph.’” —Demelza and Ross Poldark
Best Revolutionary Romance
Doctor Zhivago (1957) by Boris Pasternak
When a book must be smuggled out of country to be published, you know it’s important. The CIA even got involved in its promotion, seeing Doctor Zhivago as a means to upset the Soviet Union.
Boris Pasternak, a Russian poet, spent decades writing his novel about a love triangle set during the Russian Revolution. The female protagonist, Lara, is based on the author’s real-life mistress.
It’s a big story, and hence a big book that includes lots of characters. But it is a romance that won its author a Nobel Prize and nearly got him exiled.
“To be a woman is a great adventure; To drive men mad is a heroic thing.” —Boris Pasternak
Best Inspirational Romance
Christy (1967) by Catherine Marshall
Although not as popular as others on the list, this is a coming-of-age book I read again and again as a teenager.
Christy is a young woman who leaves her sheltered, middle-class family for romantic notions of do-gooding. Before she came to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the worst thing that happened to her was she stepped on a dead bird with her new best shoes.
Once in the “Cove,” she teaches a one-room school of mountain farmers’ children and encounters dangerous feuding, poverty, disease, and superstition.
Furthermore, Christy’s heart is divided between two men: the tenacious young preacher and the rugged widowed doctor. It’s a gritty but beguiling love story, based on the author’s mother’s experience.
“I was too old for my father to [be protective], too young to be flattered.” —Christy Huddleston
Best Tragic Romance
The Thorn Birds (1977) by Colleen McCullough
This one is agony...but it is breathtaking.
Its title is taken from a supposed Celtic legend about a bird that only sings once in its life. The bird mortally wounds itself with a thorn to sing the most beautiful song before it dies.
In The Thorn Birds, suffering and cruelty follow an Irish Catholic family on a sheep farm in Australia. The story follows little Meggie Cleary’s relationship with Ralph de Bricassart, a dashing priest with ambitions for Rome.
Their lifelong, off-again, on-again romance frustrates Ralph’s determination to keep his vows and continually breaks Meggie’s heart.
Haven’t you heard yet? Love hurts. And in this novel, it can kill.
“For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain…. Or so says the legend.” —Colleen McCullough
Best Historical/Sci-fi Romance
Outlander (1991) by Diana Gabaldon
Be. Still. My. Heart.
Jamie and Claire might be my favorite literary couple ever. When an English World War II nurse meets an 18th-century Scottish laird...it’s, well, magic.
This series of eight (and counting) novels includes time travel, historical fiction, and soft erotica. I don’t know how Gabaldon did it, but she created her own genre. Impressive.
Eighteenth-century Scotland was brutal. So beware: this novel covers some tough scenes. But with castles and mist and men in kilts, it is likewise romantic and so, so worth it.
“You’re no verra sensible, Sassenach, but I like ye fine.” —Jamie Fraser
Best Gothic Romance
Twilight (2007) by Stephenie Meyer
We all know about this vampire series, which is now an epic franchise. But if you haven’t read the books yet, here are some reasons for doing so:
Your daughter will read it.
It is Beauty and the Beast, Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre all wrapped into one love story.
Vampires are romantic, and we miss Louis and Lestat.
The Cullens are a diverse, baseball-playing, “vegetarian” family of vampires.
Each book is better than the last.
You don’t have to like it.
I’ve been to Forks, Washington, and I’ll blog about it. (Yes, that is a threat.)
Zombies are not your thing.
Meyer wrote this book after dreaming about a sparkly boy and a girl in a meadow.
You want to escape the real world, and this is a safe, unrealistic one to escape to.
“He looks at you like … like you’re something to eat.” —Mike Newton
And If You Liked My Favorites...
Angel of Eventide (2017) by Elle Powers
...Try Angel of Eventide, my very own debut romance novel. In it, you’ll find elements of many of the books on this list.
For Seamus, killing is more of an art than an obligation. But when the Angel of Death unintentionally saves a life he was meant to take, he finds himself unable to stomach his former craft.
Deliberately disregarding his calling, Sea assumes a role he was not made for—that of guardian angel—fighting for the life of a young girl, who, now on borrowed time, courts death at every turn.
This story explores Sea’s broken relationship with heaven in light of his unnatural obsession with the girl who was supposed to die ... but didn’t.
“We’ll drive off that bridge when we come to it.” —Seamus, Angel of Death