Washington, DC

7 of the Best Books for the True Romantics

Claire Handscombe

If you love love, books are a great place to go. And these seven, in particular, are intelligent and evocative depictions of romantic relationships and their impact on our lives -- many of them with more than a hint of heartbreak.

Come to the Edge, by Christina Haag

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Christina Haag writes movingly of the deep love she shared with John Kennedy, Jr. Her writing is exquisite. “Lyrically and precisely recaptures the frenetic ecstasy of early love,” the Washington Post review said of this memoir, and I wholeheartedly agree. But it’s tinged with sadness from the beginning: you know this joy won’t last, that it’s all the more precious for it, and that adds a beautiful poignancy to the book.

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, by Lydia Netzer

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I’d heard so much about this book over so many months, mostly from the Book Riot podcast, that I just couldn’t resist it. They’d described it as a book which explores what happens when parents bring up their kids to be soulmates, which sounded right up the alley of my romantic heart trapped inside a body it shares with a cynical mind. It wasn’t quite what I expected – it was certainly much less sweet and innocent than I’d expected – but the writing style is lovely and if you’re into science in general or astronomy in particular, and/or like to think about the differences between “head people” and “heart people”, then give it a go. It’s quirky but also resonates deeply emotionally.

The Light We Lost, by Jill Santopolo

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As soon as I saw this book mentioned and compared to One Day, I leapt onto Netgalley to beg for an advance copy, which the good people at Penguin Random House granted me immediately. I knew I’d love it, and I was right: it’s a novel that explores that age-old dilemma of steady, comfortable, dependable, good-enough love, versus the explosive, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime love that breaks your heart.

Like Water for Chocolate, by Laura Esquivel

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I love impossible love and heartbreaking romance, so that would be enough to get me reading, but this novel has so much more. Published in 1990, it was a huge success in Mexico. It was an international best-seller, and with good reason. Food has magical powers in this book, as do tears and sexual attraction.

When Tita meets Pedro, neither has any doubt: they are destined to be together. But Mexican tradition disagrees; Tita’s destiny is something else entirely. As the youngest daughter, her role is to care for her (not particularly likeable) mother until she dies. In desperation, Pedro agrees to marry Rosaura, the older sister, so he can be near Tita. If you like your heartbreak with a touch of magical realism, this is the book for you.

One True Loves, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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This book asks an interesting question: what happens when your husband, whom you have mourned, believing he was dead, comes back into your life just as you have moved on and are making a new life with another great guy? I read for vast stretches of time and kept reordering things at restaurants so I could stay there and keep reading. I was really looking forward to this one and I wasn't disappointed! I did have to suspend disbelief a little about a couple of things but it was worth it. It was a page turner and an easy read and I felt invested in the characters and their outcomes – the author did an excellent job of leading me through the emotional arc without making me feel manipualted.

Star Crossed, by Minnie Darke

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This might be the best book I’ve read in years. The story was a delight and the writing was beautiful — it had the feel of a fairytale for grownups, in the best way. I'll be recommending this one for a long time!

The Song Is You, by Arthur Phillip

Julian’s first love has always been music. His second was his wife, Rachel, but he has lost her in the midst of sad family circumstances. When he wanders into a bar and hears Cait O’Dwyer sing, he thinks he may have found the third. This is a novel of wistful longing, of desperation for the unattainable. Arthur Phillips makes poetry out of the everyday, like the clicking of the wheel on an iPod (remember those?) as Julian walks along a Brooklyn street.

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

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