Nicholas Sparks is arguably the most well known and prolific romance writer of contemporary literature. Many of his works spawned hugely successful films starring famous Hollywood actors and actresses such as Mandy Moore, Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, and Ryan Gosling. Sparks has a total of 17 published novels, each a unique and heart-wrenching tale of love and loss bound to bring any reader to tears. He has a mesmerising way of delivering emotional twists and turns with incredible timing, and no matter what sort of novels you enjoy reading, there will be a Sparks novel for you. Below is a list of his top 10 titles, all favourably reviewed on GoodReads, and if you’re looking for a good cry, or just to read the book version of one of your favourite movies, this is the list for you.
Landon Hughes needs a date to his prom and reluctantly asks Jamie Sullivan, the pastor’s daughter. Jamie is an outcast but feels no desire to be a part of the popular crowd the way that Landon does. She agrees to attend the dance with Landon, with the one condition that he must not fall in love with her, a condition Landon believes he’ll have no trouble adhering to. However, as the pair spends more time together, it becomes clear they share a connection, and Landon finds it difficult to keep his promise to Jamie, ignorant to the reason why she’s made this request. A perfect tale of first love, A Walk To Remember reads like The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, setting up an eager audience for more teen romance stories.
Teenagers Ronnie and Will meet during the summer before they head off to college. Ronnie and her little brother move in with their father at his home in Wrightsville beach after she is caught shoplifting. Meanwhile, Will works at the local aquarium and comes from a wealthy family. He appears content with life but beneath it all is dealing with the trauma of losing his brother in a car accident. When the pair meet on the beach one day, Ronnie is unphased by Will’s popularity, which only makes Will more keen to know her. The two eventually start dating, their differences be damned. What makes this one of the best Sparks novels is beyond the romance between Ronnie and Will; it’s the exploration into the relationship between estranged parents and their children as Ronnie rebuilds her fractured connection with her father. The Last Song explores love in all the ways it exists.
3. Safe Haven
Katie arrives in Southport, North Carolina, running from a past she’d rather forget. She’s just passing through, committed to avoiding connections and spending her time alone, unaware of the close-knit community she has walked into and the curiosity she has sparked in the long-time residents. One of these residents is Alex, a widower with two children who is finally ready to love again, and upon several meetings with Katie, it’s clear the two are falling for each other. But what Katie has left behind is not willing to let her go, and it’s not long before her past creeps up on her. This novel is a romance mixed with a mild thriller—the secrets Katie is running from are intriguing and keep the reader engaged. Sometimes Sparks novels can lose their sparkle (no pun intended) because they’re just romances and don’t have a strong enough plot, but Safe Haven rises above this category.
4. Dear John
In the late 90s, John meets Savannah while on leave from the Army. Like in many Sparks novels, the two come from different worlds, but for this one summer that doesn’t matter. John returns to the Army and the pair continue their correspondence through letters for a few years with the mutual idea that once John finishes his tour, he will return to Savannah and they will begin life together. But in the wake of 9/11, John can’t come back to Savannah, and Savannah can’t keep her life on hold for someone who may never return to her. This is a story where love is not always enough in the face of problems that are bigger than two individuals. Dear John is unique in this way to some of Sparks’ other novels. Personally, I prefer the alternate ending of the film adaptation, but the novel does provide more detail and may be more realistic than the film.
5. The Notebook
It seems the whole world has at least heard of The Notebook. Many people’s first introduction to actors Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling came from their roles as Ally and Noah. This is a tale of two star-crossed lovers as they journey from being lovesick teenagers to practical adults whose lives quickly travel in opposite directions. Ally’s family moves her away from Noah, disapproving of his background and believing their daughter needs to focus on her education. In their time apart, while Noah joins the American World War II efforts, Ally becomes a nurse and meets Lons, an injured soldier she cares for and eventually falls in love with. But neither Noah or Ally can truly escape one another, no matter how much time has passed. Like Dear John, the film adaptation of The Notebook outshines the novel but, of course, would be nothing without its source material.
This novel combines two love stories. The trials and tribulations faced by Ira and Ruth, a couple who met in the 1930s just before World War II, are compared to Sophia and Luke, a couple who have just met at a college party in the 2010s. When Luke and Sophia happen upon 91-year-old Ira after a car crash, they come to his aid and begin to learn his and Ruth’s story as they navigate through their own differences. This novel focuses on the problems that make it difficult for couples to stay together—both Ira and Ruth and Sophia and Luke suffer from huge issues that threaten to end their relationships and tear them apart. For both couples there are obstacles that seem impossible to overcome, and this novel asks the age-old question of whether love is enough in the face of such adversity. The Longest Ride proves the complication of writing paralleled storylines as one couple ends up being more interesting and one falls flat.
7. The Guardian
Julie was widowed by her husband’s passing four years earlier, and she’s beginning to consider dating again. She’s taken the time to grieve, and with the assistance of her husband’s parting gift, a Great Dane named Singer, she is now strong enough to consider getting into a relationship. It’s not long before she’s confronted with two options: Richard, a successful businessman who adores her, or Mike, a down-to-earth guy, complicated by the fact he was her husband’s best friend. What Julie doesn’t realise is the seed of possession and jealousy that has grown in one of these men that may just put her life in danger. This is perhaps the least Sparks-like novel on this list, but that makes it refreshing. Though there is emotional poignancy and romance, there’s also something sinister that makes this more of a thriller, a genre Sparks hadn’t really stepped into before. Though it’s not the most compelling thriller ever written, The Guardian is a nice change if you’re binging his novels.
Logan Thibault is a U.S. Marine, serving a term in Iraq when he finds a photograph of a woman buried in the mud. Unable to find the owner of the photograph, he holds onto it, only to be followed by a series of good luck. When he returns from Iraq, he is hell-bent on finding the woman he considers his guardian angel, and is surprised when he discovers she is a recently divorced mother named Elizabeth. Logan wonders whether or not to tell Elizabeth about the photograph, as he’s worried such a revelation might impede their growing relationship. The Lucky One is a little far-fetched to say the least, however if you can suspend your disbelief, it is a wholesome read about the love that develops between two people who are no strangers to loss.
9. The Choice
Travis Parker loves his life—he’s well-liked, has a good job, and owns a beautiful waterfront home that allows him to enjoy his favourite activities. He’s never given much thought to the idea of settling down, holding the belief that a woman would tear him away from the things he loves in life. That is until he meets Gabby, and this perception he has for his life begins to disintegrate in place of his desire for her. Although this novel has its charms, it falls flat in comparison to some of the other stories on this list. The love story isn’t as grandiose, and after reading so many Sparks novels, The Choice just doesn’t quite live up to his earlier works.
10. The Return
Sparks often writes about war veterans, and The Return is no exception. Trevor Benson is forced to return to North Carolina from Afghanistan when he is injured in a devastating explosion. He takes sanctuary in his late grandfather’s cabin and decides he wants to return to medical school as he recovers from his injuries. He doesn’t expect to fall in love with one of the locals, Natalie Masterson, but the closer he gets to her, the more she guards herself, downtrodden by a secret she can’t share with him. The Return has the typical Sparks story arc of people falling in love who shouldn’t, however both Trevor and Natalie come across as unlikeable. Though this factor isn’t necessarily a fault in most novels, it impedes one where we’re supposed to be rooting for their love.