At one point, I tried to convince myself that I was a pretty open-minded person when it came to the kinds of books I was willing to read. After all, I read a large variety of genres (memoir, historical fiction, informational, young adult, fantasy (ish), dystopian, self-help, etc. etc.!), as well as a variety of books targeted at different age groups.
As I’ve gotten a bit older though and realized that I don’t, in fact, have all the time in the world to read, I’ve discovered that I tend to be a bit more selective in my book choices (okay, QUITE selective in my book choices). After all, since I’ll never have the time in my life to read ALLLLL the books I actually WANT to read and would benefit by, why would I waste time on books that I don’t even really like?
(I also have discovered that I’m a bit of a book snob when it comes to my reading choices…basically, if I find the writing less-than-stellar, I will shun a book based on that alone. Usually.)
I also was forced to recognize, after years of actually keeping track of what I was reading, that there were certain genres I just avoided on principle: westerns, most mysteries, and definitely–definitely!–the romance genre. You know the type–the ones with the ripped-bodice covers and the steamy love scenes and the plots and character development that often rely heavily on stereotypes. (Can you tell I’m not a fan?)
However, though I shun the traditional romance genre, I obviously don’t go out of my way to avoid ALL love stories in books—I just try to seek out ones that are a bit more to my taste is all.
So, if you’re like me and want a book about love that isn’t JUST about the romance (and is decently well-written), then check out one of these titles below:
***Note: This post contains affiliate links, which help support To Love and To Learn. It basically just means that if you click on one of the titles below and buy the book (in any of its forms, Kindle or paper copy), I get a small percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you.
I’ll admit I only heard about this one when I saw the movie trailer come out for it, and in my head, I thought I had the plot of this book ALL figured out. Turns out, there was a lot more meat to the book than I expected, and the plot and the writing were exciting and well-paced enough that I finished the book in 2 or 3 days, which doesn’t happen very often for me.
Basically, you have a bit of a drifter who doesn’t know at all what she wants out of her life (and who desperately needs a job), and then you have a handsome, wealthy young man who was tragically paralyzed from the neck down in an accident. She takes on the job to be his home assistant, and they start off with a mutual dislike. Like I said, you go into this thinking you’re going to know everything about how it’s going to go, but this one was a surprise for me (having never seen the movie). Warning: read this one with a box of tissues.
I’ve mentioned before how much I like See’s work, and I believe this was the second book I read by her (right after her bestseller Snow Flower and the Secret Fan). I happened to come across it in a reading dry spell that had come about from too much assigned reading in my English classes at college and not enough books I’d chosen for myself, but because I’d liked her other book so much, I bought this one at a bookstore and picked it up. I remember that I brought it with me when I was doing teaching observations at the local high school, and I remember hoping for the teacher to have a boring day (like the students on the computers or showing a movie), just so I could read this book.
This is the story of a girl in seventeenth-century China who is betrothed to a man she’s never met and who, just a short period before she’s to be wed, is allowed by her father to watch an opera that no woman has ever been allowed to see before. In the middle of the opera, she glimpses a handsome stranger, and the story that follows is fantastical, weaving in glimpses of the afterlife into the land of the living. This is one I actually want to re-read soon (which is not something I do often–in fact, hardly ever!)
For 80% of this book, you will think I’m crazy for counting it as a love story, as it is a sprawling family saga that switches back and forth frequently between different time periods and different characters (which, admittedly, will keep you on your toes throughout and can be a bit disconcerting at times). But by the end, you will definitely be able to see why I have classified this as a love story, albeit an unconventional one.
Claudette Wells is an insanely well-known movie star who is known for being capricious when one day, she simply vanishes, along with her son. Daniel is a divorced man struggling with the decision of the courts to keep him from ever seeing his two children, and he runs off to Ireland to obtain his grandfather’s ashes and hopefully find some clarity and peace while there. It turns out, he finds much more. If you struggle with sappy romances, definitely start with this one, as it basically has almost 0% sap in it at all and a surprising believability, despite its unusual plot.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I went into this book knowing almost nothing about it, but I was instantly charmed by the fact that Honeman is able to balance wit and laugh-out-loud humor with some really serious human issues. In the end, I found myself really cheering for the characters and loving the growth that they had.
Eleanor Oliphant has been alone for a very, very long time, and she is totally fine with that. But one day, she attends a concert and finds herself falling for the lead singer, and she proceeds from that point forward to make herself ready to meet him. Along the way, she meets some colorful characters to help her in her quest, and in the end, this book ends up being entirely different than what you’d expect. This feels a bit like a late-bloomer’s coming-of-age story with a dash of a psychological thriller thrown in (yes, really), and I found that the novel’s quirkiness really suited it. This was one of my top 10 fiction reads from last year.
Austen fans everywhere will likely be horrified when I say this, but…I actually think if I was forced to choose, this one might be very favorite Austen novel (yes, even more than Pride and Prejudice, and definitely more than Persuasion, which I know is a favorite among many). Of all the books on this list, this is the most traditional “romance” (as the whole story basically revolves around the main character finding true love), but it’s romance that’s done right (before all the bodice-ripping and cheesy covers came about).
Emma Woodhouse is spoiled, rich, and a bit annoying, but somehow still quite likeable (at least I’ve always thought so) because her heart manages to be in the right place, even if her head isn’t always. Since finding her successful at setting up her governess with a local widower, she fancies herself the ideal matchmarker and proceeds to try and set up love matches wherever she may. What follows is the often hilarious (and sometimes cringeworthy) events that follow, and in the end, she ends up discovering where her own heart lies, which is something she never set out to do.
I once had a roommate who listed this book as her favorite of all time, and she literally re-read it every single year (and had been doing so for quite a number of years). During the same time I roomed with her, the movie came out based on this title, and after seeing the film, I was determined to give the book a try for myself. What I found was a story largely about a love that lasts for decades, even while the girl in love has no hope of her love being returned.
Sayuri is torn from her family as a young girl and sold into a geisha house, where she is trained from a young age to dance and pour tea and do all that is expected as a geisha. As a young child desperate for love from any source, she is deeply moved by the single act of a compassionate young man (a stranger), so much so that it changes the entire course of her life. I will say that there are multiple triggers in this book, but I found the book sufficiently worth the effort and compelling enough that I included it in my top WWII books that I’ve read.
When I had recently graduated from college, I remember feeling so excited about being able to read whatever the heck I wanted, but I also remember not knowing what on earth to pick up since the only books I’d been hearing about for several years were basically all classics or dry old textbooks. Through a blog, I heard about this particular book and immediately purchased it for a road trip I had coming up. I thought it would last me the whole week-long vacation, but I was wrong—I instead polished it off in about a day and a half, hardly daring to believe that reading could be so easy or so fun (remember, I’d just spent 5 years picking apart everything).
In short, this is a book of a former married teacher whose life had been going just fine…until it wasn’t. After spending several months in a mental institution, he ends up back at his parents’ house and desperately trying to win his ex-wife back. Quirky and funny, this is a book about finding yourself (and finding love, of course) after life throws you some major curve balls.
Personally, I find Jane Eyre to be by far one of the more accessible classic works, though I know I’m biased towards it because I happened to be lucky enough to read it for the first time while driving through the European countryside described in the book, which definitely added a level of atmosphere and realness to the book I couldn’t have gotten in any other way.
Dark and mysterious, Jane Eyre starts with a mistreated orphan who eventually goes off to school to become a governess, which she then is employed as at Thornfield Hall, an estate owned by the brooding Edward Rochester. As Jane gets to know the house and its inhabitants, she also comes to learn of the secrets the house holds, as well as the secrets of her own heart.
Fans of the iconic movie, if you have not read the book that the film was based on, you should waste no more time getting your hands on a copy and giving this one a try (and–bonus–last I checked, a new paperback of this one cost only $4.99 on Amazon). I read this book twice growing up (once in 8th grade, and again in high school), and I think I’m long overdue for a re-read as an adult.
While the movie is a brilliant adaptation of the book, the novel contains some things the movie simply couldn’t, including a fascinating background sketch of Fezzik (the giant) and Inigo Montoya, and how they came to find each other and to find Vizzini. One of my favorite nonfiction reads of last year was As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales of the Making of The Princess Bride, which was written by Cary Elwes (who playes Westley in the movie). If you want to give yourself the funnest assignment of all time, read this original novel, then As You Wish, then treat yourself to the movie–you’ll find the background reading gives the movie a depth you’ll appreciate much more than before.
Another of my top ten fiction favorites of last year, My Lady Jane was also a completely unexpected win for me. On the surface, it looked nothing like a book I would enjoy, but since I was hearing good buzz about it seemingly everywhere I turned (and from people whose book tastes I generally admired and was compatible with), I finally gave it a try. What followed was an over-the-top hilarious book that poses as a historical fiction, but with generous dashes of fantasy and a little romance in there too (though it’s clean romance).
Basically, this book rewrites the history that happened after King Henry VIII died and his son Edward took over the throne, and it does so in the same kind of adventuring, funny, lovable way that The Princess Bride does, actually (so it makes sense that they would both make the list). Also, though I haven’t listened to it myself, I heard the audio on this one is fantastic (and you can get two free audiobooks through Audible by clicking here.)
This is a perennial favorite with local book clubs around here for a reason, though it took me really getting into the heart of the book to see why. Basically, this book follows Sarah Agnes Prine as she makes her way out West with her family to settle the New Frontier. At the beginning, she is barely literate and thus, the writing at the beginning will drive any grammar lover up the wall. But, if you stick with it (and with the many hardships and depressing things that happen seemingly on every page for the first while), you’ll find a heroine worth admiring, celebrating, and even emulating. (And of course, you’ll find a fabulous love story, though this book is about a lot more than that.)
Note: There is also a sequel to this book called Sarah’s Quilt, though I’ll admit that I haven’t read that one yet.
Another favorite from my WWII Top 10 list, The Nightingale is much more than just a love story, though it has one of the more memorable ones I’ve read in recent years, for sure. The book basically follows two sisters in France during the Second World War, and it shows how bravery comes in many different forms and with many different faces.
Basically, one sister wants to fight the evil she sees in Hitler’s Germany by joining a secret underground movement to thwart his power and help those who were suffering, and her sister wants to protect her daughter and the lives of those she loves by keeping her head down and not causing trouble. In the end, they’re both called upon to test the limits of their courage, but in very different ways.
Fun fact: endings can often make or break a book for me, and this one has one of the best ones I’ve read in recent years.
So, if you’re looking for a little love story to put some extra romance and fuzzy-wuzzies and cuddly good stuff in this, the Month of Love, check out one of these titles–I guarantee you’ll find a memorable love story in them all, as well as just a good story, period.