With Valentine's Day right around the corner, we thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite recent literary love stories—and our thoughts on what makes them memorable.
Of course, our compilation of five books is hardly comprehensive, considering the countless options to choose from. So, we're hoping you'll help us expand the list by voting for your favorite love story in our poll. Voting will be open through Valentine's Day, and we'll share the results the following week. Without further adieu, our favorite recent literary love stories:
Lynn, BookPage Editor
Helen Simonson's debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, proves that a love story about an older couple can be just as enchanting—and just as appealing to readers—as the connection between two freewheeling 20-somethings. Pettigrew, a retired (and very reserved) British military man, is irresistibly attracted to Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani woman who runs a shop in his village. But with Pettigrew’s son and the narrow-minded ladies of the village standing in their way, can the major and Mrs. Ali build a life together? Simonson shows a wonderfully deft hand in exploring the personal and cultural issues that frame this touching story.
Read our review>>
Trisha, BookPage Managing Editor
Samuel Park’s moving first novel features a strong, memorable heroine torn between love and duty in Korea during the 1960s and 1970s. When Soo-Ja meets Yul, she immediately feels a connection. Unfortunately, she has just agreed to marry another man. Since going back on her promise would mean disgrace for her family, Soo-Ja rejects Yul to marry Min, a decision that haunts her for 20 years. Though Soo-Ja and Yul see each other only periodically, and usually by chance, their fraught encounters are tense with the passion of unrequited love. Fans of grown-up, realistic love stories like Ha Jin’s Waiting or Austen’s Persuasion will devour this debut.
Louisa Clark and Will Traynor: The fact these two are such an unlikely pair makes their love story all the more moving. Freshly laid off and desperate for work, “ordinary girl” Lou takes a job as a companion to Will, an acerbic quadriplegic, former adrenaline junkie who’s understandably despondent due to his predicament. Lou speaks her mind, has a razor-sharp wit and is self-deprecating in a way that dares readers not to succumb to her charms, as Will himself eventually does. Yes, Me Before You is a multiple-hankie novel, but the end brims with such hope and promise that readers will find themselves smiling despite their tears.
Cat, BookPage Associate Editor
We often think of brilliant writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda as a fast-burning, glitzy mess at the heart of Jazz-Age NYC. Therese Anne Fowler’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald promises a beautiful and damned love story, but also something more. Fowler peels back the layers of history to reveal the unglamorous and rather normal story of their love. It’s the perfect book for readers who like a little dark truth with their romance.
Read our interview with Fowler>>
Hilli, BookPage Editorial Assistant
Eleanor & Park begins when two misfit teens meet on a school bus in 1986. There are no vampires and they don’t live in a dystopian society (depending on your view of suburban Omaha). Rainbow Rowell painstakingly captures the experience of young love—the bliss of holding hands, the shaking fits of glee after a first kiss, the mixtapes—but refuses to shy away from the confusing, untidy aspects that come with the territory. Eleanor and Park are real people with real complexities and a real, grown-up story that will break your heart in the best possible way.
Read our interview with Rowell>>
What do you think, readers? Chime in with your comments, below, and be sure to vote for your favorite literary love story—stay tuned for the results!
They don't call Linda Lael Miller the "First Lady of the West" for nothing. The beloved author of more than 100 romance novels—most of them set in the West—knows of which she writes: She grew up on a ranch in Washington state, her father the town marshall who also competed in rodeos.
Miller's authenticity has certainly struck a chord with readers, with all five of the books in her wildly successful Big Sky series landing on the New York Times bestseller list. The just-published sixth—and final—book in the series, Big Sky Secrets, returns to Parable, Montana, to share the passionate love story that unfolds between Landry Sutton, a self-made tycoon, and Ria Manning, the new owner of a flower farm neighboring the Sutton ranch.
In this guest post, Miller reflects upon the ways that her childhood has influenced her career as an author.
My life certainly has influenced my writing in the past, and it continues to do so, I’m glad to say.
I like to say I grew up in the Old West. I rode my first horse before I was two—sharing the saddle with my cowboy dad, of course—and even then, I reportedly loved “cutting the brush,” which is country-speak for chasing stray cattle out of the bushes, etc., on horseback.
I heard a lot of great stories as a child, and some of them later turned up in books, slightly altered. My father and uncle both followed the rodeo circuit back in the day—Dad rode bulls and Uncle Jack rode broncs. Dad gave it up after he drew a particularly bad bull and got himself banged up, but Uncle Jack continued to compete for a long time.
Naturally, tales of the rodeo—and attending a number of them myself—sparked a lot of ideas that came in handy later.
As kids, my brother and I (we have two sisters, but they’re a lot younger) spent a lot of time on the Wiley ranch, outside of our old hometown, Northport, Washington, where Dad later became the town marshal. He had the star-shaped badge and the whole shebang.
Our honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, grew up on a farm outside of Coffeyville, Kansas, and she told some great stories while cooking many a meal on the old cast-iron woodstove she refused to give up, even after the ranch got electricity.
My favorites were 1) an account of the night Jessie James slept in the Heritage family barn and 2) the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in Coffeyville. It seems the townspeople got wind of the plan ahead of time, and when the Daltons rode in, the local men were waiting with rifles and pistols. The whole motley bunch was shot to death in the space of a few minutes, and later, their bodies were strapped to old doors and boards and propped up against the wall of a building on the main street as an object lesson to anybody who might be considering a life of crime.
Gramma heard the shots from the farm, but though folks came from far and wide to view the spectacle, her father was ahead of his time and refused to parade his children past a row of dead outlaws, thank you very much.
Television was a big influence on my writing style, too, I must admit. I LOVED “Bonanza,” or more properly Little Joe Cartwright, as played by Michael Landon, and I’m pretty sure I learned the concept of scenes by noticing how they began and ended on the show. Obviously, something had to be happening before the commercial break to bring the viewers back after Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet…”
Today, I’m living in the country again, just as I did in the early days. Guess you could say I’ve come full circle!
Thank you so much, Linda! Big Sky Secrets is available now. Will you be checking it out, readers?
(Author photo: John Hall Photography)
The Son, Philipp Meyer's epic, time-sprawling Western novel, landed in the #5 spot of our Best Books of 2013. Our reviewer called the family saga "a shining second step in a promising career." (Read the full review here and our interview with Meyer about the book here.)
We were curious about the books Meyer has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share:
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
This was recommended to me by Cressida Leyshon, the New Yorker editor, at a recent holiday party. By some miracle, despite being drunk on gallons of free champagne, I managed to remember the title. Turns out everyone in New York is reading this book. Often that’s reason enough to avoid something, but this book is actually brilliant. It’s being billed as the new version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, but it’s not. It’s better. It is a goddamn excellent book.
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
I have been beating the drum on this one for a while. Before this book, Atkinson was known mostly as a crime novelist, but this is an absolutely brilliant work of literature. This is not the same as saying there are no differences between literature and entertainment, because those differences are real. But Atkinson is one of those rare writers who will be master of whatever she sets her mind to. It made me furious when this book was passed over for the Man Booker prize. But now it’s popping up on every best book of the year list for 2013, for very, very good reason.
Kafka on the Shore
By Haruki Murakami
I went through a huge postmodernist phase in university, but I thought it had been flushed from my system along with all the dope I smoked back then. I grew up into a fairly modernist writer, and the fact that every hipster wanna-be loves Murakami was enough to make me give him a wide berth for years. But Murakami actually belongs in his own category. Unlike a lot of other postmodern writers, his writing has real emotional depth. He doesn’t do anything just to be clever. There is always a point to his twists and turns. And the fact that this guy didn’t even start writing until he was nearly 30 years old . . . you’ve got to love a person like that, who in his late 20s picks up a pen for the first time and by his 40s is one of the modern masters. I think Kafka on the Shore is the one for everyone to start with.
What do you think, readers? Did you enjoy The Son, or do you plan on checking out any of Meyer's recommended books?
You voted, we counted, and in yesterday's edition of XTRA, we shared the results of our Readers' Choice Best Books of 2013 survey! While this year lacked a breakout hit the likes of last year's Gone Girl, it turns out that you guys agree with us on Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which came in at #1 on your list, as well as ours. Coming in a very close second—with only one vote less—is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
Also making appearances on the list are mystery page-turners, stunning debuts and edge-of-your-seat thrillers, including Stephen King's Doctor Sleep and NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (King's son), which both received the same number of votes! See the Readers' Choice Top 15 Books of 2013. Did your favorite book make the list?
A big box of 10 books is on its way to one lucky voter, Amy from Illinois, whose favorite book is And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (#9). A big thank you to everyone who voted—we look forward to helping you discover more great books in 2014!
This fall, Jesmyn Ward followed up her 2011 National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones with Men We Reaped, a poignant memoir in which she reflects upon the untimely deaths of five men in her life over the course of five years. Our reviewer calls the book—which came in at #4 in our list of the Best Books of 2013—"searingly honest and brutal." (Read our full review here.) We were curious about the books Ward has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites. She graciously agreed, sharing four recommendations, in fact:
SON OF A GUN By Justin St. Germain
Justin St. Germain’s memoir Son of a Gun has stuck with me like few other books this year. He and I have both written about our losses, to understand them better, and so others will, too. Although the circumstances are quite different, we bonded over these shared experiences. Justin tragically lost his mother to murder, in 2001, just after the World Trade Centers came down. She was shot by Justin’s step-father, his mother’s fifth husband. I remember that time clearly: a whole nation suffering from grief. I had recently lost my brother, so spent those days doubly reeling, as did Justin. We both began our books as Stegner Fellows and spent time talking about how to approach these challenging topics. Son of a Gun is not a who-done-it, and it’s more than simply a memoir of loss, although that would be enough. Justin looks at the wider context of guns and violence in the United States, particularly in the West, where he’s from. And he examines the terrible plight of women who are victims of domestic violence. In his careful telling, Justin helps us all understand not only his mother but the culture of violence that leads to stories like these.
THRALL: POEMS By Natasha Trethewey
I am a new mother and I teach, so poetry, which I’ve always loved, has real appeal for pleasure reading. Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall is among my recent favorites. Natasha was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, not far from where I grew up, and she and I have tread some similar terrain in our work, too, about race and history, complicated family, the South, but she does it with so much elegance! Her use of imagery, the precision and grace of her language, the overall craft of her work. She is rightly our Poet Laureate.
After a nearly 20-year career and millions of books in print, best-selling romance author Brenda Jackson has reached an impressive milestone with the publication of her latest novel, A Madaris Bride for Christmas—her 100th book!
Back in 1994, Jackson's first novel, Tonight and Forever, introduced the Madaris family. Matchmaking matriarch Mama Laverne has helped the Madaris men and women find everlasting love over the years, delighting and entertaining countless readers along the way. In A Madaris Bride for Christmas, Lee Madaris, one of Mama's grandsons and owner of one of the hottest hotels in Vegas, is determined to find a woman on his own, and has his sights set on pastry chef Carly Briggs.
With memorable characters, lots of sizzle and a few twists and turns, A Madaris Bride for Christmas is sure to satisfy fans of the series, hook some news ones and leave all readers looking forward to Jackson's 101st novel.
Karen Joy Fowler's riveting novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves landed in the #6 spot on our list of the Best Books of 2013. Our reviewer described it as, "a masterful account of a woman unraveling a tangle of family history, memory and the complex emotions that arise from the way she was raised." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Fowler has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
I have been on book tour lately, hitting some of the book festivals around the country. The pleasure of a book tour, for me, is the chance to meet new writers combined with considerable time on planes and in airports, time in which to read their books. Since plane travel now involves inevitable delays, cancellations, hours on the tarmac and a myriad of other irritations, a book, a really good book, is a travel necessity.
Among my most recent modes of transportation:
As someone who was there during the '60s, I seldom think anyone gets the period quite right. It is far too easy to fall, one way or another, into caricature. Arcadia, which starts in the sixties but extends into the future, is a gorgeous exception, a perfect illustration of the writers’ maxim that careful use of the particular is the way to evoke the universal. This is a deep and deeply touching book.
Another big and beautiful book, this one about California during the Great Depression. Silver makes a wonderful job of the big canvas—poverty, politics, class, life and death—but it is the little moments of crystalline observation that I loved the most. She has a way of taking a familiar emotion and opening it up, turning it, so that we see it freshly, think about it harder. Wise and inspiring.
And now for something completely different. This is the book I am currently reading. Very suspenseful! Don’t tell me how it ends!
By Jeff VanderMeer
Four women—a psychologist, an anthropologist, a biologist and a surveyor—are sent into Area X, an abandoned, uninhabited terrain from which 11 earlier expeditions have either failed to return or returned completely changed. VanderMeer’s descriptions of this mysterious world and the people traversing it are vivid, lush and increasingly ominous. I am finding this book unsettling and un-put-downable—like an old-fashioned adventure story, only weirder, beautifully written and not at all old-fashioned.
Check out all of our Best Books of 2013 coverage right here!
Kristina McMorris' third novel, The Pieces We Keep, is a gripping tale of love, grief, family and secrets—and an exploration of the intriguing notion that firsthand memories can be shared between different generations. In this guest blog post, McMorris discusses the real-life experiences and stories that inspired her to write the book:
My childhood home was haunted.
It all seemed to come out of nowhere: the TV and lamps started turning on by themselves; my sister’s room gained distinct “cold spots,” similar to ones you might detect in a swimming pool; my mother would be cooking dinner and smell perfume behind her, though nobody else was there; or, I would be alone in the house, and the floor above would suddenly creak with enough footsteps to indicate a party in the making. Later, we learned that our next-door neighbors had also noticed oddities occurring in their own house around the same time.
Eventually, my parents invited our family’s pastor over for advice. When he arrived and noticed an exotic carved mask, a recent gift from a friend’s travels, he expressed an uneasy feeling and suggested my parents remove it—which they did. Our pastor then blessed the house, room by room, and all the strange happenings came to a stop. Only later did we discover that the mask had been purchased in the notoriously mysterious country of Haiti, and that our house had been built on the edge of what was originally a cemetery.
(Poltergeist memories, anyone?)
Whether our experiences were actually born of the paranormal, or simply dramatic perceptions of logical instances, I couldn’t tell you for sure. What I do know is that, as a result, I grew up with a mind open to possibilities beyond explanation.
Perhaps this was a large part of the reason a particular news segment piqued my interest two years ago. Apparently, as a toddler, the boy in the story suffered from recurrent night terrors about dying in a plane crash. His knowledge of obscure historical facts ultimately convinced his skeptical parents that he’d once been a WWII pilot who perished in battle.
On a personal note, my oldest son had also suffered from night terrors in his toddler years and would even speak of a grandmother who didn’t exist. Could they have been merely the creative ramblings of a youngster? Absolutely. Still, the writer in me began to wonder: What would I have done if he, too, had spouted historical details he couldn’t possibly have known? What if those details were secrets other people wanted to keep buried?
From these questions a novel started to take shape. Completing the premise was a declassified report a friend had shared with me: an astounding case of Nazi saboteurs who were dropped off by U-Boat on the East Coast of America in 1942. As I researched the topic further, I discovered a trail of romance and tragedy, deceptive dealings by J. Edgar Hoover, and a secret military tribunal convened by FDR. It all seemed the elements of a Hollywood film, a fascinating tale I couldn’t resist.
Needless to say, I hope readers feel the same about The Pieces We Keep.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Pieces We Keep? Find out more about McMorris and the book on her website.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
The brilliance of Adelle Waldman’s debut novel is subtle, not flashy. You might think that a voyeuristic peek into the mind of a 30-something male writer as he navigates the Brooklyn literary and dating scenes would be salacious or titillating, as the “affairs” of the title suggests. Not so. Waldman’s nonjudgmental, unsentimental narrative allows readers to determine for themselves whether Nate is sincere (if oblivious at times) or a fickle cad—or a mixture of both.
In her Darkest London series, Kristen Callihan has concocted a winning blend of history, the paranormal and sizzling romance that's seriously swoon-worthy. Set in Victorian London, the latest book in the series, Shadowdance (out today!), follows Mary Chase, of the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, as she teams up with loner Jack Talent to solve a murder. Neither wants to be working with the other, but lurking beneath their rivalry is an undeniable attraction that swells with each of their many heated exchanges.
As part of its Get Hooked on Historicals campaign, Callihan's publisher, Forever Romance, challenged five of its authors with the same task: Write a scene featuring a dishonored heiress with a complicated family situation as she meets her handsome rake in a cloakroom. Here is Callihan's scintillating scene:
Fur was creeping up her nose. Min pressed her body further into the silks and satins surrounding her and tried not to sneeze. Bloody inconvenient, this. There were far better places for this sort of thing. She’d be having words with Timmons when she was done here.
Which was likely to be later rather than sooner, given that the inane babble drifting through her hiding place would not let up.
“Lord Elsmere went this way. I am certain of it.” This from Miss Whetherby, husband hunter of the highest caliber.
“Let us try the ballroom once more,” said her sister, Miss Jane. “Men cannot play cards all night long.”
Min rather thought men could, and would, but gave a mental wave of encouragement toward the sisters all the same. They bustled off, arguing now over whether the diamonds around Mrs. Standish’s throat were real or paste.
Min sagged against the cloaks. Finally. Her eyes had barely fluttered closed when an arm snagged about her waist, drawing her close to a hard male body.
Suppressing a squeak, she slapped a hand against a solid chest even as she grasped the handle of the knife hidden in the voluminous folds of her altered evening gown. But she halted when a familiar voice drifted down.
“Well, well, what do we have here?” Eyes the color of strong coffee smiled down at her.
“Surely not Miss Wilhelmina Post, London’s most notorious vixen, hiding out in the cloak room.”
Glaring, Min gave his chest a good shove, and he let her go, falling back in to the deep recesses of the closet with her. The man ought to look ridiculous surrounded by cloaks, but lean, long, and with the sleeve of a fur coat draped over his dark hair, Lionel August Cavanaugh was still elegant.
In her grandmother’s time, when Empire waists ruled, Cavanaugh would have been deemed a rake. Now, when one had to contend with bustles and waist-synching corsets, he was merely labeled trouble.
“My exploits are merely a prelude to your circus act, Cavanaugh.”
He chuckled, a dark rumble of sound. “Well you’ve got me there, sweets.” He moved a bit closer, bringing with him the warm scent of vetiver and linen. “Pray tell, what are you doing in the cloak room?” White teeth flashed in the dim. “No, let me guess. You had an assignation with a rather dashing overcoat, but were thwarted by an overprotective opera mantle.”
With pronounced deliberation, he plucked an ostrich feather from her hair and held it aloft.
She ignored it. “Excellent deduction, Cavanaugh. Your talents are being underutilized.”
His eyes narrowed, yet the corners of his lips twitched. “Yes, aren’t they just?”
They grinned at precisely the same moment, and then Cavanaugh gave her arm a friendly bump with his. “It is good to see you again, Min.” His tone was softer now. “When they told me you’d be my contact, I was most pleased.”
Pleasure warmed her cheeks. “It is good to see you too, Leo.”
Though she’d not had much contact with Cavanaugh over the last year, he’d been Tony’s closest and oldest friend. Cavanaugh had been witness to all the major moments of her life. Including her downfall.
The memory, and that of her brother’s loss, had her swallowing down a lump of regret. “Well, let us proceed. Eventually the attendant will return.”
“I paid him to keep guard.” Cavanaugh’s eyes twinkled. “Bloke fully supports meetings with fallen heiresses.”
The moniker ought to sting, but didn’t. Some things were worth more than respectability. Her loss of good standing was not really a sacrifice at all. Because she and her brethren were all that stood between humanity and monsters that crept about in dark corridors.
As if he were thinking along similar lines, Cavanaugh leaned in, and his warm breath touched her ear. “The demon is using Delacorte’s identity.”
Delacorte was announcing his betrothal to Lady Sarah Smithe at this ball. If they acted fast, perhaps they could find the real Delacorte and save him.
Cavanaugh moved closer. “I’m going now. Be sure to leave appropriately mussed.”
He moved to buss her check the precise moment she turned to do the same to him. Their lips met instead. It was the slightest of touches, a small exchange of breath, but Min felt the shock down to her toes, and her heart stilled.
Slowly, Cavanaugh drew back. The familiar insouciant expression he usually wore wasn’t there. No, this was far more worrisome. He appeared shocked, thoughtful, intent. Gently, he reached out and snared a coil of her hair with his finger. The auburn lock gleamed bright against his white gloves. How strange, all these years and she didn’t even know what his skin felt like upon her own. Dark eyes stared down at her. When he spoke, his voice was rough and thick. “Take care of yourself, Min.”