The 10 best romance novels of all time

Books in which man meets woman, man woos woman (or woman woos man), and man and woman live happily ever after are a dime a dozen. Enjoyable, for sure, but not what you'd call memorable. So, Reader’s Digest have come up with a list of 10 of the best romance novels that tell favourite, and timeless, love stories, each of which goes above and beyond basic romance.

Whether it’s glimpsing 19th-century Russia in Anna Karenina or witnessing endless family drama on the Australian outback in The Thorn Birds, each of these fabulous books has something special.

“These are much more than love stories; they are life stories,” says US Select Editions editor-in-chief Laura Kelly.

“If you like a good love story, books are so much more satisfying than movies,” she continues.

“Books take you into the minds of all the characters, where their hopes and dreams will really fire up your own imagination.”

1. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (1977)

Set in 1915 Australia, this remarkable saga chronicles the forbidden love between a beautiful, headstrong young girl and a priest.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll stay up way too late reading this fabulous story.

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

“Reader, I married him.” Charlotte Brontë’s gothic masterpiece, with its unyielding heroine, dashing love interest Mr. Rochester, creepy manor house, and foggy English countryside, has become synonymous with 19th-century romance.

And writing love stories ran in the Brontë family – Charlotte’s sister Emily’s classic Wuthering Heights is also a strong contender for this list of best romance novels.

3. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (2013)

Technically a collection of short stories, This Is How You Lose Her counts as a novel because the stories all somehow connect back to the same one character’s life.

The impressive way the Pulitzer Prize-winning Díaz weaves together multiple love stories – happy and sad, fleeting and lasting – from all around the world makes this one of the best romance novels of the 21st century.

4. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (1996)

Nicholas Sparks has made a name for himself as the writer of some of the best romance novels in recent years.

Though he’s written more than 20 books, his first has stood the test of time for a reason.

Noah and Allie’s tear-jerking, decade-spanning story remains the wonderfully escapist romantic read it was 20 years ago.

5. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman (2007)

Even if you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning film, this enchanting story of first love and self-discovery is still more than worth a read.

Prepare to fall just as in love with the magnificent Italian setting as with the story of summer romance and intoxicating attraction.

6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles (1969)

A Victorian gentleman is engaged to a wealthy and suitable woman, but when he encounters a beautiful, mysterious woman rumoured to be the forsaken lover of a French lieutenant, he becomes utterly smitten.

Truly magnificent entertainment.

7. Beautiful Disaster by Jamie McGuire (2012)

With an edgy, modern twist on the good-girl-meets-bad-boy theme, Beautiful Disaster has topped must-read romance lists for a reason.

After reinventing herself just before college, Abby finds herself involved in a tantalising bet with her school’s resident tattooed player.

Neither of them is prepared for the results.

8. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (2003)

Every love has its challenges, and while your husband being an unwitting time traveller may not be one you’re familiar with, this four-hanky tale will still tug on your heartstrings.

9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)

Trapped in a loveless marriage, Anna Karenina succumbs to temptation and embarks on a dangerous affair with the handsome Vronsky.

Tragedy unfolds amid the canvas of 19th-century Russia, in the most famous of doomed love stories.

A memorable and enduring classic.

10. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1991)

A powerhouse time-travel romance, this is the first in Gabaldon’s hugely successful series.

Strong, beautiful Claire Randall leads a double life, married to a man in one century, with a lover in another century.

Filled with humour, passion, wit and wonderful Scottish scenery, this is one fast read for a 600-plus page book.

Enjoy the wallow!

Written by Reader’s Digest Editors. This article first appeared in Reader’s Digest. For more of what you love from the world’s best-loved magazine, here’s our best subscription offer.