12 Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don’t Like Romance

February 13, 2018 Book Lists 39

Unconventional Love Stories


So…Valentine’s Day is actually one of my least favorite holidays. I feel pressure to participate in the cheesiness even though cheesy feels so uncomfortable to me. Luckily, my husband isn’t really into Valentine’s Day either.

Since it’s almost the big red day, you’re probably seeing lots of lists of “the best romances, etc” around the bookish internet. Here’s what bugs me about traditional “romances.” The predictable (no matter how unrealistic) happy endings, the cheesy dialogue, the equally cheesily written love scenes. Shall I go on? I promise, you won’t find those elements in these unconventional love stories. Most readers probably wouldn’t even call these love stories. But, I do and they’re the kind I prefer.

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Linking up with Top Ten Tuesday hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

12 Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don’t Like Romance

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood (my review)
Some would call this love story horrifying. I definitely did at times. But, it’s also different than anything I’ve ever read and Greenwood makes you question what you thought were your rock solid convictions.

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An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (my review)
What happens to a love story when a husband of only a year and a half goes to prison? Oprah sure wants her book club members to find out!

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (my review)
Most people probably wouldn’t consider this sci-fi page turner a love story. But, ultimately, Jason is fighting tooth and nail to be with his wife and child…his idea of home.

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Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift (my review)
An illicit affair between a British heir and his neighbor’s maid. It definitely doesn’t have a happy ending, but I finished the book completely satisfied.

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Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (my review)
Two older people (Louis and Addie) stop caring what everyone else thinks and do what they need to do to be happy. It’s sort of like they read The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight.

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Sunburn by Laura Lippman
A love story where the two lovebirds are totally messing with each other and you have no idea who will come out on top.

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Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (my review)
This is the kind of love story that many of us had in our youth (especially if you lived in NYC) and look back on with horror. We wish we would’ve been stronger, smarter, and valued ourselves more. It’s raw and most definitely not sweet.

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Tender by Belinda McKeon (my review)
A story of friendship, unrequited love, desperation and obsession. This one will make you uncomfortable…I was cringing often.

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The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (my review)
Probably the most F’d up love story you’ll ever read (with a love story you can actually root for buried amid the horror)…starring a supremely dysfunctional family.

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The Rules of Magicby Alice Hoffman
Love permeates this story about family and magic. Can the Owens children find love? Should they? 

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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoby Taylor Jenkins Reid (my review)
The true love story of this book isn’t the one you think it will be.

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White Fur by Jardine Libaire (my review)
A classic “wrong side of the tracks” love story…told in a raw, gritty, edgy, and uncomfortable way.

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How do you feel about romances? Do you prefer the traditional or unconventional type?

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Valentine's Day Books: 12 Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don't Like Romance #reading #book #bookish #bookworms #booklovers #booklist #valentinesday

39 Responses to “12 Unconventional Love Stories for Readers Who Don’t Like Romance”

  1. Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Books

    This list is totally for ME!!! I don’t usually read any romance, and I’m generally not a big fan of the romances that make it into the types of books I do read. SWEETBITTER and SUNBURN are 2 that I’m definitely interested in… and I’ve always been curious about DARK MATTER. Thanks for the recs!!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yay! A decent number of romance anti-fans are coming out through this post…love finding my tribe!

  2. bermudaonion (Kathy)

    I think there’s a difference between a love story and a romance and I enjoy the former but not the latter. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is certainly unconventional. I need to check out the others on your list.

  3. Ann Marie

    So many great titles here, Sarah! Funny that you mentioned Dark Matter. All through that one I kept thinking. Wow. She must really be something. He really, really loves her! It was like she had cast a spell on him or something.

  4. Angela

    Totally agree with Dark Matter! I went into it thinking it was going to be all sci-fi, and it really was so much more than that.

  5. Susie | Novel Visits

    What a great post idea. I wish I’d thought of it! Love the dark titles you included, like Sweetbitter, Roanoke Girls, and White Fur. Those are the sort of love stories I really enjoy. Your list makes me want to read Sunburn and Mothering Sunday even more.

    I’m SO with you on Valentine’s day. It’s the worst! (Try hanging out with 800 hormonal middle schoolers for the day and then you’ll truly hate it.)

  6. Kari @ Kari Reads and Writes

    Ha, the husband and I don’t like Valentine’s day much either (though I kid him it’s so he doesn’t have to buy all that expensive jewelry they show on the commercials). We used to share a box of good chocolates, but don’t even do that anymore as we’re eating healthier.

    I like a good love story if the rest of the plot can hold up on its own, so these are interesting choices for me. I read Dark Matter and really got ito it! A few of the others are already on my radar to read someday and a few new to me. Thank you!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      A box of chocolates sounds perfect!

      And – great point – the story has to hold up without the love part. Like the story could take it or leave it.

  7. Kay

    I don’t read much romance these days. I used to read more of it. We’re not big Valentine’s Day people either, though we did get engaged on Valentine’s Day 1980. He cooked me dinner and then went off to a night class. He was still in college. I went to go tell my folks about the engagement. Ha!

    Good notion that Dark Matter is a love story of a sort. It is. That’s the only one of these that I’ve read.

  8. renee

    Great post idea Sarah!! I’ve read 3 of these and still have The Rules of Magic sitting on my shelf…must get to that one! I’m interested in Mothering Sunday, especially since you said it doesn’t have a happy ending, I actually tend to prefer that type of ending verses neat, tidy and predictably happy

    • Sarah Dickinson

      It’s a really unique book…wasn’t what I expected. And – it’s super short, so try to work it in!

  9. Cori

    Very creative post! I agree with your short descriptions of each book that I have read. The way you wrote about Roanoke Girls it makes me feel less guilty about actually enjoying the book. (Minus the messed up parts, of course).

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha! I remember in my review writing something like “I felt like I should be embarrassed to be reading this book and double-y embarrassed that I liked it.”

  10. Tara

    YAY for Sweetbitter! That one is definitely holding up as a favorite of mine; I still see it around quite a bit, even though it’s backlist now.

  11. Madeline

    Great V-Day post! (Although Valentine’s is nothing but a Hallmark holiday.)

    I read 6 of these. Loved two: Tender and Roanoke Girls. Despised White Fur and Bittersweet. Wasn’t in love with Dark Matter either.

    I might try the Graham Swift. Liked his “Last Orders” (which is surprising as I believe it won the Booker, and Bookers don’t usually agree with me).

    If we’re throwing in our own I’ll vote for “The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo.” I don’t think it hit the national radar; it’s a Bay Area (Marin County) story.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – 100% agree about that Hallmark holiday!

      White Fur and Bittersweet were both really polarizing…I remember reviews being either extreme love or extreme hate when both came out.

      I haven’t read Last Orders…need to try it! And Bookers are generally no-go’s for me too.

      Will check out Last Cowboys!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I think you’re probably not alone! I certainly was embarrassed that I liked it, but couldn’t stop reading!

  12. Amanda Summers

    The books I’ve read on this list I loved so much that I feel like I need to move the others up my TBR. I really need to finally read Dark Matter soon I think. I need my library holds to start moving!

  13. Kate @ Parchment Girl

    I love a good unconventional love story. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things is one of my favorites. I also finally got around to reading Mothering Sunday. I love Swift’s writing. It’s so evocative of the time and setting. An American Marriage is on my TBR stack right now too.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Wasn’t it great?! So unique I thought. And I think you’ll love American Marriage.

  14. Ann

    Chose “An American Marriage” for my book club pick in March. It’s the closest I could get to a “romance” novel. My book club has complained, nicely, about the darkness of my choices in the past (No Country for Old Men for example). I think “An American Marriage “will make for some good discussion. Love everything by Kent Haruf. And now I have a whole list of books to read!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha! My mom always complains about the dark books I talk about on my blog, so I’m right there with you! For some reason, I like dark in my reading! And, I’m eager to read more by Haruf. What should I try if Our Souls is the only one I’ve read?

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