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!
Kelly Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from UPenn, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins, and he takes all that surgeon's knowledge and puts it to better use (in my opinion, but I'm biased) with his debut medical thriller, Doing Harm.
We meet chief resident Steve Mitchell, a rising star with a bright surgical future who our reviewer calls "engagingly flawed." But then a patient dies of mysterious circumstances, and the killer starts toying with Steve, threatening his career, his marriage and even his life. And with an actual surgeon behind it, Doing Harm is the perfect blend of authentic hospital atmosphere and tense life-and-death moments.
To find out more about the high-stakes hospital world, we chatted with Kelly Parsons in a Q&A about patients, medical school and the fascinating character of Steve Mitchell—who we're reluctant to trust, or even like. And Parsons agrees:
"Readers shouldn’t necessarily trust Steve. They certainly don’t have to like him. But what I hope they do, on some level, is relate to his dilemma. I want readers to understand why he makes the choices he makes, however flawed those choices may be. The story is essentially about Steve’s moral journey. With some help along the way, Steve finishes the book a much different individual than when he began it."
Doing Harm is out today! Will you check it out?
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?
Merry Christmas Eve, readers! Now is the time to fully indulge in Christmas themed everything before the big day passes, forcing you to pack up your Santa sweaters and tinsel for another year. Popular novelist Debbie Macomber admits she tends to overdo it a bit with her love of all things Christmas, but her latest book, Starry Night, gets it just right with a blend of romance, adventure and a little touch of Christmas magic. Carrie Slayton, a successful gossip columnist wants more out of her newspaper career, but when she comes upon the scoop of a lifetime in small-town Alaska, she must decide between her career or her heart. Watch Macomber excitedly introduce Starry Night in the trailer below. What are you reading this Christmas?
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.
Up next in the long list of Austen re-imaginings is the HarperCollins' Austen Project, in which six beloved contemporary authors provide modern takes on Austen’s classic works. As with every reworking of a classic, we were skeptical. We all get a little protective of our favorite stories, even when in the hands of accomplished writers.
Kicking off the Austen Project is Joanna Trollope's Sense and Sensibility. It's a pretty straightforward re-imagining, as it transports the Dashwood family drama to modern times. If you're one of those readers groaning, "Not another one!" and judging the cover of Trollope's Sense and Sensibility (complete with earbuds), read what our reviewer had to say about it:
"Trollope does an exceptional job remaining true to the original characters. She accurately captures Austen's classic theme of 'head versus heart,' even as she updates the characters in believable ways (Elinor, for example, is studying architecture). Trollope’s version of Sense and Sensibility reminds the reader that the world may be changing too quickly around us, but matters of the heart remain constant."
Next in the Austen Project is Northanger Abbey by internationally best-selling crime writer Val McDermid, coming in May. Sheltered minister’s daughter Cat Morland loves losing herself in Gothic novels—maybe a bit too much. So when she attends Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and meets Henry Tilney and his sister, Eleanor, she starts getting suspicious of their perfect little lives.
As with Trollope's book, it sounds like we can expect the story to play out like the original, but it will be interesting to see McDermid, "the acknowledged queen of the psychological thriller," take on Austen's famous Gothic parody. Especially after reading this interview, where McDermid says, "I think Jane Austen builds suspense well in a couple of places, but she squanders it, and she gets to the endgame too quickly."
Hmm. What do you think? Does Northanger Abbey have room for improvement?
Anyway, happy birthday, Jane Austen!
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!