The best books with beautifully sad love stories

Why am I passionate about this?

I write romcoms as Harper Ford, yet I also write historical fiction as Rebecca Mascull and Mollie Walton. You’ll probably notice that all of my choices are either historical fiction or writers from the past. I just love an old-timey love story! My romcoms are funny (or at least they’re trying to be). But funnily enough, it’s the tragic, heart-rending love stories that stick in my mind when I think about romance in books. I hope you enjoy these novels as much as I have. But don’t forget to have a box of tissues to wipe away the inevitable tears…there aren’t many laughs to be had here! But hopefully a transcendent reading experience instead.

I wrote...

Divorced Not Dead

By Harper Ford,

Book cover of Divorced Not Dead

What is my book about?

Meet Frankie: fifty, divorced, and getting back on the horse. After leaving Twatface – her husband of twenty years – she's starting again from scratch. And when her son also flees the nest for university, Frankie decides it’s time to throw herself back into the dating game with a vengeance. On best friend Bel's recommendation, Frankie signs up to two dating apps: one for love, another for casual hook-ups (because why the f**k not?!).

However, as she navigates this new frontier of catfishing, kittenfishing, ghosts, GILFs and everything in between, she realises the whole dating thing has changed quite a bit – and it really is a bloody jungle out there… Will Frankie find love on the apps? Or the perfect shag? Or – if there’s any justice in the world – both?

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Ethan Frome

Harper Ford Why did I love this book?

This is a very short book, only around 100 pages, so you could read it in an afternoon. But, oh my, does this book pack a punch!

They made a movie out of it, so just shows there’s plenty in this very short novella to deal with. Written in 1911 and set in the mountains of New England in the U.S., it’s the story of a married couple – Ethan and Zeena whose lives are changed forever when the wife’s charming cousin Mattie Silver comes to stay.

The characterisation is brilliant, the setting of the harsh winters of New England is stunning and the love story is intense and heartbreaking. 

By Edith Wharton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Ethan Frome as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

Book cover of Atonement

Harper Ford Why did I love this book?

Atonement is a historical novel by McEwan, also made into a very fine movie with James McAvoy and Keira Knightley. Before you watch the film though (and even if you have), try the book as it’s a different experience (as books to films often are).

This book is really all about stories, narratives, and lies. Set in 1935 and beyond, the protagonist is a young girl Briony – a budding writer from a wealthy family and highly observant kid – who becomes fascinated by her older sister Cecilia’s relationship with local working-class lad Robbie.

The central romance between Cecilia and Robbie is beautifully wrought, passionate, and sexy, especially with its taboo across-the-class-divide vibe. Prepare for some tears though…

By Ian McEwan,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Atonement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a…

Book cover of Cold Mountain

Harper Ford Why did I love this book?

Cold Mountain tells the tale of two people separated and ultimately drawn inexorably together by the American Civil War in the 1860s.

We follow Inman, a wounded soldier, as he abandons the battlefield to make his way across the war-torn country to Cold Mountain, where his love Ada lives. She is trying to scratch a living from her dead father’s farm in terrible conditions.

The whole story is written in exquisite style, with the narrative moving forward as one stays still while the other slowly moves towards their joint goal of being together once more. Get those tissues ready for a good cry…you’re gonna need them…

By Charles Frazier,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Cold Mountain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1997, Charles Frazier’s debut novel Cold Mountain made publishing history when it sailed to the top of The New York Times best-seller list for sixty-one weeks, won numerous literary awards, including the National Book Award, and went on to sell over three million copies. Now, the beloved American epic returns, reissued by Grove Press to coincide with the publication of Frazier’s eagerly-anticipated second novel, Thirteen Moons. Sorely wounded and fatally disillusioned in the fighting at Petersburg, a Confederate soldier named Inman decides to walk back to his home in the Blue Ridge mountains to Ada, the woman he loves.…

Book cover of The Blind Assassin

Harper Ford Why did I love this book?

This book is actually hard to describe, because there is so much in it to think about, but the reading experience is very straightforward and utterly compelling.

In the 1990s, Iris looks back on her sister Laura’s mysterious death just after WW2, while the rest of the story ranges across the 1930s and beyond, focusing on a beautiful love affair with a rebellious science fiction writer. The Blind Assassin of the title is a novel within the novel and it’s utterly gorgeous.

It’s a complex and stunning story all about stories – those we tell about ourselves and those we tell others. It’s probably one of my favourite novels of all time!

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Blind Assassin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

By the author of The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace

Laura Chase's older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister's tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following.…

Book cover of Wuthering Heights

Harper Ford Why did I love this book?

Maybe you’ve read this book, maybe you haven’t, but to me it still remains one of the greatest love stories of all time, mostly because it’s a very screwed-up love story! That’s what I love about Cathy and Heathcliff: they’re both pretty awful people!

She’s a spoilt brat and he’s been ruined by his tough upbringing and their relationship is a mess. But the love that they have for one another is elemental – an absolute force of nature – that not only destroys their own lives but those of all around them, like a catastrophic storm.

As messed up as they are, I still can’t resist their passion, found in beautiful lines like: “I am Heathcliff!” I’m fully aware that this book carries a lot of controversy these days due to the utterly toxic nature of their relationship.

But that’s why this love story is so fascinating! It trounces all expectations of what love should be and instead presents us with a dreadful, awful love, but one that can’t be stopped. I love this book because it is the opposite of well-behaved! 

By Emily Bronte,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Wuthering Heights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the great novels of the nineteenth century, Emily Bronte's haunting tale of passion and greed remains unsurpassed in its depiction of destructive love. Her tragically short life is brilliantly imagined in the major new movie, Emily, starring Emma Mackey in the title role.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket-sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition of Wuthering Heights features an afterword by David Pinching.

One wild, snowy night on the Yorkshire moors, a gentleman asks…

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By John Winn Miller,

Book cover of The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

John Winn Miller

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Hunt for the Peggy C is best described as Casablanca meets Das Boot. It is about an American smuggler who struggles to rescue a Jewish family on his rusty cargo ship, outraging his mutinous crew of misfits and provoking a hair-raising chase by a brutal Nazi U-boat captain bent on revenge.

During the nerve-wracking 3,000-mile escape, Rogers falls in love with the family’s eldest daughter, Miriam, a sweet medical student with a militant streak. Everything seems hopeless when Jake is badly wounded, and Miriam must prove she’s as tough as her rhetoric to put down a mutiny by some of Jake’s fed-up crew–just as the U-boat closes in for the kill.

The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

What is this book about?

John Winn Miller's THE HUNT FOR THE PEGGY C, a semifinalist in the Clive Cussler Adventure Writers Competition, captures the breathless suspense of early World War II in the North Atlantic. Captain Jake Rogers, experienced in running his tramp steamer through U-boat-infested waters to transport vital supplies and contraband to the highest bidder, takes on his most dangerous cargo yet after witnessing the oppression of Jews in Amsterdam: a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution.

The normally aloof Rogers finds himself drawn in by the family's warmth and faith, but he can't afford to let his guard down when Oberleutnant Viktor…

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