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I’m a huge romance reader. I will read pretty much anything as long as it has some form of romance in it. Hence, this compilation of the 50 best love story books – the sweetest, the most epic, the most emotional – I’ve encountered in my travels.
While I do also read a lot of dark romances, this isn’t the place for them. (Click here if that’s what you’re looking for). You may have read some of the books in this article before; however, I’ve also included my lesser-known favourites, so hopefully there’s something for everyone. I’ve divided them up into YA love story books, fantasy, historical, and contemporary if you want to skip directly to the genre you like best.
Several strands of diversity have also been showcased in this collection, with plenty of queer and/or non-white protagonists. Most of the books simply have the Amazon descriptions added, but I’ve added brief captions to those I particularly recommend.
- 1 Best Love Stories: Contemporary Romance
- 1.1 The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
- 1.2 Truly by Carmel Rhodes
- 1.3 Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
- 1.4 The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
- 1.5 Feels like Summer (Summer Storm #2) by Six de los Reyes
- 1.6 Intercepted (Playbook #1) by Alexa Martin
- 1.7 A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole
- 1.8 The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang
- 1.9 Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
- 1.10 Friends Without Benefits (Knitting in the City #2) by Penny Reid
- 1.11 Ryan’s Bed by Tijan
- 1.12 Ruthless Knight (Royal Hearts Academy #2) by Ashley Jade
- 1.13 Cry No More by Linda Howard
- 1.14 The Chocolate Temptation (Amour et Chocolat #6) by Laura Florand
- 1.15 You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sarah Manning
- 1.16 Shade’s Fall by Jamie Begley (The Last Riders #4) by Jamie Begley
- 1.17 Cruel Idols by Sorcha Black
- 1.18 Lola and the Millionaires by Kathryn Moon
- 2 Best Love Stories: Young Adult
- 2.1 The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
- 2.2 Immortal Plunder (Pirates of Felicity #1) by Kelly St Clare
- 2.3 Song of the Abyss (Tower of Winds #2) by Makiia Lucier
- 2.4 Cloudwish (Six Impossiverse #3) by Fiona Wood
- 2.5 My Love Lies Bleeding (Drake Chronicles #1) by Alyxandra Harvey
- 2.6 The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black
- 2.7 Red Winter (Red Winter #1) by Annette Marie
- 2.8 Not Even Bones (Market of Monsters #1) by Rebecca Schaeffer
- 2.9 Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson
- 2.10 Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
- 2.11 Huntress (Night World #7) by L.J. Smith
- 2.12 The Merciful Crow (The Merciful Crow #1) by Margaret Owen
- 2.13 Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
- 2.14 Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
- 2.15 Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton
- 2.16 Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars #1) by Elizabeth Lim
- 2.17 Sanctuary (Sanctuary #1) by Caryn Lix
- 3 Best Love Stories: Fantasy Romance
- 3.1 Angels’ Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh
- 3.2 Between Jobs (The City Between #1) by W.R. Gingell
- 3.3 Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews
- 3.4 Best Knight Ever (A Kinda Fairytale #4) by Cassandra Gannon
- 3.5 Sebastian (Family of Lies #1) by Sam Argent
- 3.6 The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab
- 3.7 Darkfever (Fever #1) by Karen Marie Moning
- 4 Best Love Stories: Historical Romance
- 4.1 My Wicked Enchantress by Meagan McKinney
- 4.2 The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys
- 4.3 The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
- 4.4 Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
- 4.5 Dangerous to Kiss (Dangerous #2) by Elizabeth Thornton
- 4.6 Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
- 4.7 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
- 4.8 Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
- 4.9 Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister #4.5) by Courtney Milan
Best Love Stories: Contemporary Romance
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew Nichols is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…
Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is not something Alexa Monroe would normally do. But Drew’s proposal proves hard to resist.
After their wedding date turns into a whole weekend of fun in San Francisco, Drew and Alexa return to their all-consuming careers – his in LA and hers in Berkeley. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about each other…
It could be the long-distance dating disaster of the century – or Drew and Alexa could be just a flight away from what each of them truly wants.
Truly by Carmel Rhodes
The summer after senior year was supposed to be the best summer of my life.
It was supposed to be full of adventure and self-discovery and making love under the stars.
It was supposed to be about losing myself and finding my way.
Only, it wasn’t supposed to start like this.
I wasn’t supposed to go to that party.
He wasn’t supposed to notice me.
The hot jock with the trust fund and chip on his shoulder.
My ex-boyfriend’s half-brother.
Noah Tedesco is so far out of my league he might as well be playing a different game.
Noah wasn’t supposed to look twice at a girl like me, but he did.
Now that I’m on his radar, my life will never be the same.
[This is a dark romance with dark themes, but one of the reasons I’ve chosen to include it is because of the Black heroine (and author). I’ve yet to see many heroines of colour in dark romance.]
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan and a list. After almost – but not quite – dying, she’s come up with a list of directives to help her ‘Get a Life’:
– Enjoy a drunken night out
– Ride a motorbike
– Go camping
– Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex
– Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage
– And . . . do something bad
But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written out step-by-step guidelines. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job: Redford ‘Red’ Morgan.
With tattoos and a motorbike, Red is the perfect helper in her mission to rebel, but as they spend more time together, Chloe realises there’s much more to him than his tough exterior implies. Soon she’s left wanting more from him than she ever expected . . . maybe there’s more to life than her list ever imagined?
The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai
Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionised romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career – and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
– Nude pics are by invitation only
– If someone stands you up, block them
– Protect your heart
Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former sports star Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night…and then disappears.
Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful – and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…
Feels like Summer (Summer Storm #2) by Six de los Reyes
Five-minute girlfriend. This is what Jett signs up for when she meets Adrian and his band Arabella at beach music festival Summer Storm. One kiss and the attraction is too electric to ignore, but Jett has no room for love and Adrian is Mr. Relationship who’s getting over his recent breakup. The solution? Keep it simple. Keep it casual. For three months (that’s the rule about breakups, right?), Jett helps Adrian move on and Adrian shows up on Jett’s bed whenever she wants.
Then the three months are up and neither of them are in a hurry to be the first to leave. Does Jett walk away from a potential disaster or does she finally let someone into her closely-guarded heart?
Intercepted (Playbook #1) by Alexa Martin
Marlee Harper is the perfect girlfriend. She’s definitely had enough practice by dating her NFL-star boyfriend for the last ten years. But when she discovers he has been tackling other women on the sly, she vows to never date an athlete again. There’s just one problem: Gavin Pope, the new hotshot quarterback and a fling from the past, has Marlee in his sights.
Gavin fights to show Marlee he’s nothing like her ex. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready to let her escape her past. The team’s wives, who never led the welcome wagon, are not happy with Marlee’s return. They have only one thing on their minds: taking her down. But when the gossip makes Marlee public enemy number one, she worries about more than just her reputation.
Between their own fumbles and the wicked wives, it will take a Hail Mary for Marlee and Gavin’s relationship to survive the season.
A Princess in Theory (Reluctant Royals #1) by Alyssa Cole
Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.
Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.
The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?
The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, not big, important emotions – like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better – that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly refuses to consider a relationship, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.
As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. So when the opportunity arises to go to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down. This could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go quite as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working… but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.
As Esme’s time in the United States dwindles, will Khai let his head catch up with his heart? Will he find the strength to let go, and let love in?
Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been overtaken by a demanding teaching job. Her boisterous Muslim family, and numerous (interfering) aunties, are professional naggers. And her flighty young cousin, about to reject her one hundredth marriage proposal, is a constant reminder that Ayesha is still single.
Ayesha might be a little lonely, but the one thing she doesn’t want is an arranged marriage. And then she meets Khalid… How could a man so conservative and judgmental (and, yes, smart and annoyingly handsome) have wormed his way into her thoughts so quickly?
As for Khalid, he’s happy the way he is; his mother will find him a suitable bride. But why can’t he get the captivating, outspoken Ayesha out of his mind? They’re far too different to be a good match, surely…
Friends Without Benefits (Knitting in the City #2) by Penny Reid
There are three things you need to know about Elizabeth Finney: 1) She suffers from severe sarcastic syndrome, especially when she’s unnerved, 2) No one unnerves her like Nico Manganiello, and 3) She knows how to knit.
Elizabeth Finney is almost always right about everything: the musical merits of boy bands are undervalued by society, “benefits” with human Ken dolls are better without friendship, and the sun has set on her once-in-a-lifetime chance for true love. But when Elizabeth’s plans for benefits without friendship are disarmed by the irritatingly charismatic and chauvinistic Nico Manganiello—her former nemesis—she finds herself struggling to maintain the electric fence around her heart while avoiding a Nico charisma-electrocution or, worse, falling in love.
Ryan’s Bed by Tijan
I crawled into Ryan Jensen’s bed that first night by accident.
I barely knew him. I thought it was his sister’s bed—her room. It took seconds to realize my error, and I should’ve left…
I didn’t. I didn’t jump out. I didn’t get embarrassed.
And that night, in that moment, it was the only thing I craved.
I asked to stay. He let me, and I slept.
The truth? I never wanted to leave his bed. If I could’ve stayed forever, I would have.
He became my sanctuary.
Because—four hours earlier—my twin sister [died by suicide].
[While Tijan is more hit than miss, Ryan’s Bed is a real standout for its heart-wrenching portrayal of grief and a sweet, strong love story.]
Editor’s Note: Publisher’s synopsis modified for word choice.
Ruthless Knight (Royal Hearts Academy #2) by Ashley Jade
Cole Covington is the most popular heartbreaker at school.
Every guy wants to be him and every girl wants to screw him.
His devastatingly good looks, golden arm, and flirty smiles don’t do it for me anymore…because I know what’s lurking underneath the star quarterback’s gorgeous armor.
At least I thought I did.
Sometimes the most beautiful people…hide the ugliest truths.
And sometimes the only way to save someone… is to walk beside them through hell.
Sawyer Church is the bible-thumping nerd of Royal Hearts Academy.
Girls pick on her and guys don’t notice her.
Sweet, curvy, and sarcastic, she’s impossible to ignore.
No matter how much I try.
Everyone at school has her pegged as the chubby, Jesus loving geek, but unlike them—Sawyer’s real and never pretends to be someone she’s not.
Until I ask her to be my fake girlfriend.
Sometimes the most beautiful souls… hide the greatest pain.
And sometimes the only way to save someone… is to fight for them.
[My favourite instalment in this series. It’s packed with drama, humour, and romance.]
Cry No More by Linda Howard
On a sultry afternoon in a small dusty village, Milla Boone faces every parent’s nightmare. Two assailants kidnap her six-week-old son, leaving Milla in a pool of blood. For ten years Milla’s resolve to find her son never wavers. Returning to the scene of the crime, Milla begins to piece together not only her son’s fate, but the fate of countless other children who have disappeared in to what appears to be an elaborate and highly lucrative baby smuggling ring. Cautiously, she joins forces with James Diaz, a dangerous stranger with his own agenda, a man who is as untrusting as he is untrustworthy. As Milla’s search for her son intensifies, along with a growing desire for Diaz, the quest becomes more treacherous. Suddenly entangled in an intricate criminal network of conspiracy and murder, Milla finds herself the hunted – the target of a lethal force of hired assassins that aims to silence her permanently.
The Chocolate Temptation (Amour et Chocolat #6) by Laura Florand
She hated him.
Patrick Chevalier. The charming, laid-back, golden second-in-command of the Paris pastry kitchen where Sarah worked as intern, who made everything she failed at seem so easy, and who could have every woman he winked at falling for him without even trying. She hated him, but she’d risked too much for this dream to give up on it and walk out just so he wouldn’t break her heart.
But he didn’t hate her.
Sarah Lin. Patrick’s serious, dark-haired American intern, who looked at him as if she could see right through him and wasn’t so impressed with what she saw. As her boss, he knew he should leave her alone. The same way he knew better than to risk his heart and gamble on love.
But he was never good at not going after what – or who – he wanted.
He could make magic out of sugar. But could he mold hate into love?
[Lovely and sweet, with an Asian American heroine and French hero. Even reading this blurb makes me want to eat chocolate.]
You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sarah Manning
Sweet, bookish Neve Slater always plays by the rules. And the number one rule is that good-natured fat girls like her don’t get guys like gorgeous, handsome William, heir to Neve’s heart since university. But William’s been in LA for three years, and Neve’s been slimming down and re-inventing herself so that when he returns, he’ll fall head over heels in love with the new, improved her.
So she’s not that interested in other men. Until her sister Celia points out that if Neve wants William to think she’s an experienced love-goddess and not the fumbling, awkward girl he left behind, then she’d better get some, well, experience.
What Neve needs is someone to show her the ropes, someone like Celia’s colleague Max. Wicked, shallow, sexy Max. And since he’s such a man-slut, and so not Neve’s type, she certainly won’t fall for him. Because William is the man for her… right?
[An absolute must-read. Body-positive romance with adorable characters, realism, and just enough angst to savour.]
Shade’s Fall by Jamie Begley (The Last Riders #4) by Jamie Begley
Shade is everything Lily doesn’t want in a man. He’s rude, obnoxious and he’s definitely not a cowboy. The tattooed enforcer for The Last Riders is a mystery Lily doesn’t want to solve. He’s too much for her to handle, especially with the nightmares from her past constantly threatening her sanity.
Lily is everything Shade wants in a woman. She’s sweet, kind and submissive. When she discovers the truth about The Last Riders, it threatens to tear apart every relationship within the club. Her rebellion causes the predatory instincts to rise in the ex Navy SEAL sniper.
When The Last Riders are threatened by another motorcycle club just as determined to claim Lily, Shade is her only hope of surviving the approaching confrontation. Could their passion be Shade’s downfall?
[I actually can’t stand most of this series, because it’s packed with ridiculous amounts of drama and some unlikeable characters. But Shade and Lily are unmissable. In terms of quality and enjoyment, this book (and its companion Shade) are head and shoulders above the rest.]
Cruel Idols by Sorcha Black
How can my favorite author be such a suspicious alphahole?
All I wanted was an autograph, but Vandal Stokes is livid when he finds me on his property. The sketchy contract he makes me sign traps me alone with him and his gorgeous friend, Zero, for months.
While we adjust to the awkwardness, Zero volunteers to be my writing mentor and assists me with my unsettling research. Vandal can’t resist getting involved, and the tension between the three of us ignites.
Our situation feeds into my most sinister fantasies.
Two against one.
A dark basement.
One torrid summer could very well change my life—and me—forever.
[This MMF romance can have some pretty dark themes, including extensive BDSM roleplaying and kinks. However, it’s extraordinarily well-written. All three of the main characters are also authors, which leads to some fascinatingly meta discussions about what it means to write a good story.]
Lola and the Millionaires by Kathryn Moon
Lola Barnes only wants one thing, to get her life under control. No more chasing alphas who abuse and toss away betas like her. No more hiding in her cousin’s apartment licking wounds that won’t heal. Armed with her dream job and her less than dreamy apartment, Lola is ready to start a new chapter of her life without alphas. But that’s easier said than done when one stumbling incident after another leads Lola closer to an alluring pack of captivating men.
These alphas are everything Lola dreamed of, but they already have an omega—a playful male model who won’t stop flirting with her. And Lola is only a beta, one who comes with deep scars and an unshakeable aversion to alphas and their powerful presences. If only she could resist their perfect beta, Leo, whose patience and determination to see her heal breaks down one wall after another.
When the alpha who all but destroyed Lola tries to start a game of cat and mouse that’s all claws, the safest place for Lola may be the one she’s most terrified of, in the arms of an alpha pack.
[I like this because it’s almost tooth-achingly sweet. Lola is a highly damaged heroine, but her slow journey back to self-acceptance is beautifully chronicled. Though this reverse harem (with M/M) has alpha/beta/omega dynamics I’ve classified it as contemporary because there are no fantasy/paranormal elements, just alternative humanity.]
Best Love Stories: Young Adult
The Diabolic (The Diabolic #1) by S.J. Kincaid
A Diabolic is ruthless. A Diabolic is powerful. A Diabolic has a single task: Kill in order to protect the person you’ve been created for.
Nemesis is a Diabolic, a humanoid teenager created to protect a galactic senator’s daughter, Sidonia. The two have grown up side by side, but are in no way sisters. Nemesis is expected to give her life for Sidonia, and she would do so gladly. She would also take as many lives as necessary to keep Sidonia safe.
When the power-mad Emperor learns Sidonia’s father is participating in a rebellion, he summons Sidonia to the Galactic court. She is to serve as a hostage. Now, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia. She must become her. Nemesis travels to the court disguised as Sidonia—a killing machine masquerading in a world of corrupt politicians and two-faced senators’ children. It’s a nest of vipers with threats on every side, but Nemesis must keep her true abilities a secret or risk everything.
As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns there is something more to her than just deadly force. She finds a humanity truer than what she encounters from most humans. Amidst all the danger, action, and intrigue, her humanity just might be the thing that saves her life—and the empire.
[One of my favourite YA books. Nemesis is a unique antiheroine and the Rome-inspired sci-fi world is brilliant.]
Immortal Plunder (Pirates of Felicity #1) by Kelly St Clare
I’m a pirate. One with six overprotective fathers for a crew. And if I’m telling the honest truth, not just the pirate truth, having so many fathers is working pretty well for me so far.
When I’m caught eavesdropping on the pirates of Malice, they retaliate with violence, and my fathers become set on revenge. But simple payback cascades into shattering misfortune.
Unexplainable magical happenings and impossible creatures propel me toward a fate much darker than stealing plunder. A terrible beast drags forth horrible truths of my fathers’ pasts which call my entire life into question. Now, my sheltered upbringing is swelling into a furious storm that I must, for the first time in seventeen years, navigate without my crew.
An intense russet-haired landlubber seeks to help me. A savvy silver-eyed Malice pirate strives to hinder me. But the further I drift, the more I wonder—am I helping or hindering myself?
Can I stand on my own two feet to claim victory?
And if so. . .what will that victory cost?
[Kelly St Clare is one of the best discoveries I made last year. She has a range of incredible books, but this series – featuring a pirate heroine of colour and her slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance – is probably the best. I urge you to check out her entire backlist.]
Song of the Abyss (Tower of Winds #2) by Makiia Lucier
As the granddaughter of a famed navigator, seventeen-year-old Reyna has always lived life on her own terms, despite those who say a girl could never be an explorer for the royal house of St. John del Mar. She is determined to prove them wrong, and as she returns home after a year-long expedition, she knows her dream is within reach. No longer an apprentice, instead: Reyna, Master Explorer. But when menacing raiders attack her ship, those dreams are pushed aside. Reyna’s escape is both desperate and dangerous, and when next she sees her ship, a mystery rises from the deep. The sailors–her captain, her countrymen–have vanished. To find them, Reyna must use every resource at her disposal . . . including placing her trust in a handsome prince from a rival kingdom. Together they uncover a disturbing truth. The attack was no isolated incident. Troubling signs point to a shadowy kingdom in the north, and for once, the rulers of the Sea of Magdalen agree: something must be done. But can Reyna be brave enough to find a way?
[Though technically second in a series, this works fine as a standalone. The romance is relatively understated in a typically YA way, but it’s absolutely ADORABLE.]
Cloudwish (Six Impossiverse #3) by Fiona Wood
For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn’t even know she’s alive? Pointless.
So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality-keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother’s PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably (possibly magically) comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, confounding parents and confusing friends, Vân Uoc can’t help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end?
[This has got to be one of the BEST love story books I’ve ever read. Though I’m neither Vietnamese nor Australian, I related so much to her experience of growing up in an immigrant family in a western country. A super-sweet romance is the cherry on top.]
My Love Lies Bleeding (Drake Chronicles #1) by Alyxandra Harvey
The Drakes are rather different to your usual neighbors. They are vampires and some of the members of the family date back to the twelfth century. One of the children, Solange, is the only born female vampire known and, as such, she poses a direct threat to the vampire queen. Her best friend Lucy is human, and when Solange is kidnapped, Lucy and Solange’s brother, Nicholas, set out to save her. Lucy soon discovers that she would like to be more than just friends with Nicholas. But how does one go about dating a vampire? Meanwhile, Solange finds an unlikely ally in Kieran, a vampire slayer on the hunt for his father’s killer.
[Do me a favour and ignore the cliched blurb and cover. THIS BOOK IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT. It’s hilarious, well-written, parodies a lot of vampire tropes, and has a ‘best friend’s brother’ romance so amazing that it’s stuck with me for the last 11 years. Another note: it seems that in the U.S., it has the infinitely inferior title ‘Hearts at Stake’. I prefer the UK cover and title though.]
The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black
Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.
Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.
[Does this book even need an introduction? Though I admit the last book of the trilogy falls a little flat, the twists the romance takes in the first two books is awe-inspiring. Holly Black is a great writer – here’s an article on some of my favourite quotes from her.]
Red Winter (Red Winter #1) by Annette Marie
Emi is the kamigakari. In a few short months, her life as a mortal will end and her new existence as the human host of a goddess will begin. Carefully hidden from those who would destroy her, she has prepared her mind, body, and soul to unite with the goddess-and not once has she doubted her chosen fate. Shiro is a yokai, a spirit of the earth, an enemy of the goddess Emi will soon host. Mystery shrouds his every move and his ruby eyes shine with cunning she can’t match and dares not trust. But she saved his life, and until his debt is paid, he is hers to command-whether she wants him or not. On the day they meet, everything Emi believes comes undone, swept away like snow upon the winter wind. For the first time, she wants to change her fate-but how can she erase a destiny already wrought in stone? Against the power of the gods, Shiro is her only hope… and hope is all she has left.
[Soooooo good. A Japanese mythology–based fantasy with a romance that makes me wish I could just reread this book over and over again.]
Not Even Bones (Market of Monsters #1) by Rebecca Schaeffer
Nita doesn’t murder supernatural beings and sell their body parts on the internet—her mother does that. Nita just dissects the bodies after they’ve been “acquired.” But when her mom brings home a live specimen, Nita decides she wants out — dissecting living people is a step too far.
But when she tries to save her mother’s victim, she ends up sold on the black market in his place — because Nita herself is a supernatural being. Now Nita is on the other side of the bars, and there is no line she won’t cross to escape and make sure no one can ever capture her again.
Nita did a good deed, and it cost her everything. Now she’s going to do a lot of bad deeds to get it all back.
[A whole cast of ethnically diverse characters, asexual protagonists, and a superb antiheroine.]
Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid Paulson
Per her 537 rules, Harper Campbell keeps her life tidy—academically and socially. But the moment Sterling Lane transfers into her tiny boarding school, her twin brother gets swept up in Sterling’s pranks and schemes and nearly gets expelled. Harper knows it’s Sterling’s fault, and to protect her brother, she vows to take him down. As she exposes his endless school violations, he keeps striking back, framing her for his own infractions. Worst of all, he’s charmed the administration into thinking he’s harmless, and only Harper sees him for the troublemaker he absolutely is.
As she breaks rule after precious rule in her battle of wits against Sterling and tension between them hits a boiling point, she’s horrified to discover that perhaps the two of them aren’t so different. And maybe she doesn’t entirely hate him after all. Teaming up with Sterling to save her brother might be the only way to keep from breaking the most important rule—protecting Cole.
[An amazing enemies-to-lovers YA, packed with humour and one-of-a-kind characters. Unfortunately, the author hasn’t posted anything on her social media channels for almost four years, and her website is now gone, despite stating she would be publishing another book soon. I really hope she’s okay! If anyone knows anything, please drop me a line.]
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
When Ollie meets Will over the summer break, he thinks he’s found his Happily Ever After. But once summer’s ended, Will stops texting him back, and Ollie finds himself short of his fairy-tale ending.
A family emergency sees Ollie uprooted and enrolled at a new school across the country – Will’s school – and Ollie finds that the sweet, affectionate and comfortably queer guy he knew from summer isn’t the same one attending Collinswood High. This Will is a class clown, a basketball jock and, well, a bit of a jerk.
Ollie isn’t going to pine after a guy who isn’t ready for a relationship. But as school life repeatedly throws them together, from music class to the lunch table, Ollie finds his resolve weakening.
With the noisy drama of their friends as the backdrop – from ambitious Juliette and frosty Lara, to big-hearted Darnell and king-jock Matt – Ollie has a decision to make.
The last time he gave Will his heart, Will handed it back to him trampled and battered. Ollie would have to be an idiot to trust him with it again. Right?
Huntress (Night World #7) by L.J. Smith
Jez Redfern is unique. She’s a vampire hunter… who’s half vampire. Raised in the Redfern family, the girl with fiery hair and silvery-blue eyes was the undisputed leader of a gang of vampire raiders. Then came the discovery that shattered her life– her mother was a human. Now, Jez hunts her former friends, protecting humans from the Night World.
But when Circle Daybreak sends her on a search for one of the legendary Wild Powers, Jez has to rejoin her old gang. They want her back– especially Morgead, the gorgeous green-eyed vampire who used to be her second-in-command. Jez wants to stay faithful to Hugh Davis, the human she loves. But Morgead swears he’s her soulmate and he’ll do anything to lure her back to the old ways. With danger and temptation around, Jez finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. And she’s afraid that if she tastes blood again, she’ll become the evil huntress she once was…
[Smith published most of her books back in the ’90s, so she’s kind of dropped off the map a little. I discovered her as a kid when the success of Vampire Diaries meant her other series were also republished. The Night World series is great paranormal romance. Each novella focuses on a different couple, but the seventh one is my favourite. Sadly the very last book in the series hasn’t been released yet, and probably won’t ever be finished. There are people who have been waiting for it for longer than I’ve been alive…]
The Merciful Crow (The Merciful Crow #1) by Margaret Owen
A future chieftain.
Fie abides by one rule: look after your own. Her Crow caste of undertakers and mercy-killers takes more abuse than coin, but when they’re called to collect royal dead, she’s hoping they’ll find the payout of a lifetime.
A fugitive prince.
When Crown Prince Jasimir turns out to have faked his death, Fie’s ready to cut her losses—and perhaps his throat. But he offers a wager that she can’t refuse: protect him from a ruthless queen, and he’ll protect the Crows when he reigns.
A too-cunning bodyguard.
Hawk warrior Tavin has always put Jas’s life before his, magically assuming the prince’s appearance and shadowing his every step. But what happens when Tavin begins to want something to call his own?
[One of my top reads of 2019. Also features a pansexual love interest and major gay and nonbinary supporting characters.]
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
All Samantha wanted was to move back to New York and pursue her music, which was difficult enough being a Chinese girl in Missouri, 1849. Then her fate takes a turn for the worse after a tragic accident leaves her with nothing and she breaks the law in self-defense. With help from Annamae, a runaway [enslaved person] she met at the scene of her crime, the two flee town for the unknown frontier.
But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls. Disguised as Sammy and Andy, two boys heading for the California gold rush, each search for a link to their past and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. Until they merge paths with a band of cowboys turned allies, and Samantha can’t stop herself from falling for one. But the law is closing in on them and new setbacks come each day, and the girls will quickly learn there are not many places one can hide on the open trail.
[One of the first YA books I ever read which had a non-white heroine, and I remember how much I loved seeing the diversity. The romance is cute too. Plus, I’m a sucker for the girls-disguised-as-boys trope.]
Editor’s Note: publisher’s synopsis modified for word choice.
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.
Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.
As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.
[A library-based fantasy world! The best I’ve read. Also a deeply satisfying slow-burn romance with a bisexual hero to round it off.]
Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton
Long ago, a village made a bargain with the devil: to ensure their prosperity, when the Slaughter Moon rises, the village must sacrifice a young man into the depths of the Devil’s Forest.
Only this year, the Slaughter Moon has risen early.
Bound by duty, secrets, and the love they share for one another, Mairwen, a spirited witch; Rhun, the expected saint; and Arthur, a restless outcast, will each have a role to play as the devil demands a body to fill the bargain. But the devil these friends find is not the one they expect, and the lies they uncover will turn their town–and their hearts–inside out.
[Lovely and atmospheric, this groundbreaking novel has the only polyamorous romance I’ve seen in the mainstream YA genre.]
Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars #1) by Elizabeth Lim
On the fringes of the Great Spice Road, Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land – but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. Then a royal messenger summons her ailing father to court, and Maia seizes her chance. Disguised as a man, she travels to the Summer Palace in her father’s place to compete for the emperor’s favour, and the coveted position of imperial tailor.
If Maia’s ruse is discovered, her life will be forfeit. But if she wins, she will achieve her greatest dream.
Yet nothing could have prepared her for the challenge ahead: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s bride-to-be. One from the laughter of the sun, one from the tears of the moon, and one from the blood of stars.
Accompanied by the mysterious court enchanter, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise, Maia’s journey will take her to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.
[Good writing and an amazing exploration of Chinese mythology.]
Sanctuary (Sanctuary #1) by Caryn Lix
Kenzie holds one truth above all: the company is everything.
As a citizen of Omnistellar Concepts, the most powerful corporation in the solar system, Kenzie has trained her entire life for one goal: to become an elite guard on Sanctuary, Omnistellar’s space prison for superpowered teens too dangerous for Earth. As a junior guard, she’s excited to prove herself to her company—and that means sacrificing anything that won’t propel her forward.
But then a routine drill goes sideways and Kenzie is taken hostage by rioting prisoners.
At first, she’s confident her commanding officer—who also happens to be her mother—will stop at nothing to secure her freedom. Yet it soon becomes clear that her mother is more concerned with sticking to Omnistellar protocol than she is with getting Kenzie out safely.
As Kenzie forms her own plan to escape, she doesn’t realize there’s a more sinister threat looming, something ancient and evil that has clawed its way into Sanctuary from the vacuum of space. And Kenzie might have to team up with her captors to survive—all while beginning to suspect there’s a darker side to the Omnistellar she knows.
[Brilliant YA sci-fi, with a great romance featuring a Chinese hero and generally diverse supporting characters.]
Best Love Stories: Fantasy Romance
Angels’ Blood (Guild Hunter #1) by Nalini Singh
Vampire hunter Elena Deveraux knows she’s the best – but she doesn’t know if she’s good enough for this job. Hired by the dangerously beautiful Archangel Raphael, a being so lethal that no mortal wants his attention, only one thing is clear – failure is not an option . . . even if the task she’s been set is impossible.
Because this time, it’s not a wayward vamp she has to track. It’s an archangel gone bad.
The job will put Elena in the midst of a killing spree like no other . . . and pull her to the razor’s edge of passion. Even if the hunt doesn’t destroy her, succumbing to Raphael’s seductive touch just may. Because when archangels play, mortals break . . .
[Such an old series by now but so good. Singh can basically do no wrong when it comes to writing.]
Between Jobs (The City Between #1) by W.R. Gingell
When you get up in the morning, the last thing you expect to see is a murdered guy hanging outside your window. Things like that tend to draw the attention of the local police, and when you’re squatting in your parents’ old house until you can afford to buy it, another thing you can’t afford is the attention of the cops.
Oh yeah. Hi. My name is Pet.
It’s not my real name, but it’s the only one you’re getting. Things like names are important these days.
And it’s not so much that I’m Pet.
I am a pet.
A human pet: I belong to the two Behindkind fae and the pouty vampire who just moved into my house. It’s not weird, I promise—well, it is weird, yeah. But it’s not weird weird, you know?
[SO GOOD OH MY GOD. It’s witty, well-written, complex, and has supernatural beings who actually behave like supernatural beings. The slow-burn romance with JinYeong, a Korean vampire, is absolutely swoonworthy.]
Magic Bites (Kate Daniels #1) by Ilona Andrews
Future Atlanta is an interesting place to live: one moment magic dominates, and cars stall and guns fail. The next, technology takes over and the defensive spells no longer protect your house from monsters.
Here skyscrapers topple under the onslaught of magic; the Pack, a paramilitary clan of shapechangers, prowl through the ruined streets; and the Masters of the Dead, necromancers driven by their thirst for knowledge and wealth, pilot blood-crazed vampires with their minds.
Kate Daniels likes her sword a little too much, and she has a hard time controlling her mouth. The magic in her blood makes her a target, and she’s spent most of her life hiding in plain sight. But when Kate’s guardian is murdered, she must choose to do nothing, and remain safe, or to risk her life by pursuing his preternatural killer. Hiding is easy, but the right choice is rarely easy…
[This very long series has a diverse cast and is rich in humour and romance.]
Best Knight Ever (A Kinda Fairytale #4) by Cassandra Gannon
What if a warrior falls in love with his fiercest enemy?
For years, Trystan and Galahad fought on opposite sides of the brutal Looking Glass Campaigns. Trystan is a gryphon, part of a winged race who battled Camelot’s invasion of his homeland. Galahad was a knight of Camelot, who helped his king wage a relentless war, before he saw the dishonor in it and gave up combat forever. The two men have every reason to hate each other.
Now, the Looking Glass Campaigns are finally over. Suddenly, these former opponents on the battlefield need to become allies as they search for a “treasure beyond counting.” Traveling through a fairytale world of scheming enemies, magical temples, and the occasional leprechaun, Trystan and Galahad will have to follow an ancient map towards the lost city of Atlantis. Galahad’s reputation for perfection irritates the hell out of Trystan. Trystan’s propensity to kill everybody upsets Galahad. But the attraction between them is undeniable and growing stronger all the time.
As danger mounts and romance swirls, can these two powerful warriors settle the past and find their happily ever after?
[I know I keep recommending this book but I DON’T CARE because everything Gannon writes is gold.]
Sebastian (Family of Lies #1) by Sam Argent
Sebastian Orwell did the only thing a smart wizard could do when he stumbled upon the wounded Crown Prince: he healed him and dumped him in a tavern where he could continue not being Sebastian’s problem. Unfortunately, the prince isn’t content with being alive, and he hunts Sebastian down to thank him personally. Not only is Sebastian stuck with the prince’s unwanted affections, he’s also confronted by growing evidence linking the assassination attempt to someone from his father’s past.
Lord Orwell is a lot of things: thief, liar, drunk, and all around horrible father, but Sebastian knows he’s no murderer. In order to prove it, Sebastian has to keep the prince alive long enough to discover the truth—a task made considerably harder because the idiot prince prefers wooing Sebastian over securing his own survival. On top of everything, Sebastian needs to save the day without revealing his magical powers and the real reason he hides his appearance.
Sebastian had no intention of playing the hero, but whoever is stirring up shit in his country will pay for destroying his quiet life.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Victoria Schwab
When Addie La Rue makes a pact with the devil, she trades her soul for immortality. But there’s always a price – the devil takes away her place in the world, cursing her to be forgotten by everyone.
Addie flees her tiny home town in 18th-Century France, beginning a journey that takes her across the world, learning to live a life where no one remembers her and everything she owns is lost and broken. Existing only as a muse for artists throughout history, she learns to fall in love anew every single day.
Her only companion on this journey is her dark devil with hypnotic green eyes, who visits her each year on the anniversary of their deal. Alone in the world, Addie has no choice but to confront him, to understand him, maybe to beat him.
Until one day, in a second hand bookshop in Manhattan, Addie meets someone who remembers her. Suddenly thrust back into a real, normal life, Addie realises she can’t escape her fate forever.
[I do think this book is seriously overhyped, and I don’t at all feel her big ‘love connection’ with Daniel. With the Devil, though? That’s another story.]
Darkfever (Fever #1) by Karen Marie Moning
MacKayla Lane’s life is good. She has great friends, a decent job, and a car that only breaks down every other week or so. In other words, she’s your perfectly ordinary twenty-first-century woman.
Or so she thinks … until something extraordinary happens.
When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death – a cryptic message on Mac’s cell phone – Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed – a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae…
[This is one of my ALL-TIME favourite series. The depiction of the fae is absolutely on point.]
Best Love Stories: Historical Romance
My Wicked Enchantress by Meagan McKinney
Torn from her ancestral home by her cousin’s treachery, the bewitching Scottish beauty Kayleigh Kerr found a new life in New Orleans as the notoriously proud pickpocket whom every man wanted but no man could touch. Keeping alive the dream of reclaiming her birthright, she was forced to flee once again…this time into the arms of St. Bride Ferringer, a handsome stranger who wouldn’t let her go.
St. Bride was a man who knew what he wanted. He came to New Orleans for revenge but soon he wanted more – he wanted Kayleigh, body and soul. Bewitched by the beautiful street urchin who some of highland castles, St. Bride vowed to tame her and maker her his own. But as the battle raged between them, he found himself succumbing to the charms of the woman he called…
[This is a bodice ripper. The love story between the protagonists is one of the richest and most complex I’ve read.]
The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys
Amid the gilded opulence and dark intrigue of Renaissance Italy grew a love that knew no bounds….
No woman’s heart is safe from the Silver Devil. From the moment he sees the beautiful Felicia, he must have her. Overnight he changes Felicia’s nightmare world of tavern drudgery into an erotic adventure as his royal mistress. He is the Duke of Cabria who holds his subjects in constant fear. He is troubled. He is ruthless. And Felicia is hopelessly in love with him – though at times he seems like the devil incarnate.…
[I don’t even have the words to express how much I love this book. It’s another bodice ripper, and absolutely like nothing I’ve read before or since.]
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
[Jaw-droppingly amazing. Will bring you to tears.]
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
As darkness falls, a man caught in a snowstorm is forced to shelter at the strange, grim house Wuthering Heights. It is a place he will never forget. There he will come to learn the story of Cathy: how she was forced to choose between her well-meaning husband and the dangerous man she had loved since she was young. How her choice led to betrayal and terrible revenge – and continues to torment those in the present. How love can transgress authority, convention, even death.
[This book has its haters, but it contains one of the best love stories in all of English literature. If I were stranded on a desert island, THIS is the book I would take with me.]
Dangerous to Kiss (Dangerous #2) by Elizabeth Thornton
Handsome, kind, and unassuming, Mr. Gray seemed the answer to Deborah Weyman’s prayers. For once she accepted the position he offered, she would finally be safe from the notorious Lord Kendal, a man she had good reason to believe had murdered her former employer — and was now after her. But there were certain things about Mr. Gray that Deborah should have noticed: the breadth of his shoulders, the steel in his voice, the gleam in his uncommonly blue eyes — things that might have warned her that Mr. Gray was no savior, but a very dangerous man….
Though she posed as a dowdy schoolteacher, Lord Kendal saw right through her disguise to the treacherous beauty beneath. Now, convinced that she alone can tell him the truth about Lord Barrington’s murder — and the whereabouts of Barrington’s young son — he coolly masquerades as the innocuous Mr. Gray. And only when it’s too late for Deborah to run will she learn what it means to be at his mercy — and powerless to resist his seduction….
[Adore this book. Thornton can be hit or miss, but this is a definite hit, with a heroine who gives as good as she gets.]
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
“One of you shall have her, and my fortune into the bargain…”
Such was the whimsical, some would say outrageous, statement of the ageing Mr Penicuik, to the three of his great-nephews gathered around him.
The future of his vivacious step-daughter, Miss Kitty Charing, was thus assured, provided she married one of the handsome beaux now seeking her hand. But Kitty was in no hurry to conclude such a contract. By hook or by crook she meant to go to London, where anything might happen and very often did…
[There are at least a half-dozen Heyer books which belong on this list, but I’ve picked one of her more unusual ones. An unmissable read.]
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell’s page-turning, sweeping American epic has been a classic for over eighty years. Beloved and thought by many to be the greatest of the American novels, Gone with the Wind is a story of love, hope and loss set against the tense historical background of the American Civil War.
The lovers at the novel’s centre – the selfish, privileged Scarlett O’Hara and rakish Rhett Butler – are magnetic: pulling readers into the tangled narrative of a struggle to survive that cannot be forgotten.
[I’ve read this book a hundred times. One of the most epic love stories in existence.]
Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran
Sick of tragedy, done with rebellion, Emmaline Martin vows to settle quietly into British Indian society. But when the pillars of privilege topple, her fiancé’s betrayal leaves Emma no choice. She must turn for help to the one man whom she should not trust, but cannot resist: Julian Sinclair, the dangerous and dazzling heir to the Duke of Auburn.
In London, they toast Sinclair with champagne. In India, they call him a traitor. Cynical and impatient with both worlds, Julian has never imagined that the place he might belong is in the embrace of a woman with a reluctant laugh and haunted eyes. But in a time of terrible darkness, he and Emma will discover that love itself can be perilous – and that a single decision can alter one’s life forever.
In spring, Emma and Julian must finally confront the truth: no matter how hard one tries to deny it, some pasts cannot be disowned… and some passions never die.
Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister #4.5) by Courtney Milan
Nobody knows who Miss Rose Sweetly is, and she prefers it that way. She’s a shy, mathematically-minded shopkeeper’s daughter who dreams of the stars. Women like her only ever come to attention through scandal. She’ll take obscurity, thank you very much.
All of England knows who Stephen Shaughnessy is. He’s an infamous advice columnist and a known rake. When he moves into the house next door to Rose, she discovers that he’s also wickedly funny, devilishly flirtatious, and heart-stoppingly handsome. But when he takes an interest in her mathematical work, she realizes that Mr. Shaughnessy isn’t just a scandal waiting to happen. He’s waiting to happen to her…and if she’s not careful, she’ll give in to certain ruination.
[I have a soft spot for this one – a Victorian novella featuring a Black heroine! Milan, however, has many excellent historicals.]