• The cover of the book The House of Mirth

    The House of Mirth

    Poor, beautiful Lily Bart: the striving and naïve social climber of Manhattan’s Gilded Age who is perpetually unlucky in love as she moves from sprawling country estates to Fifth Avenue mansions to glittering Mediterranean resorts. Of course, a lot of this bad luck comes from her own foolishness. You root for her to make the right decision, to see what she has with Lawrence Selden, to understand that true love might be right in front of her. This novel is a masterful depiction of how pride, vanity, and stubbornness can derail a person’s chance at happiness.

     
  • The cover of the book The Night Watch

    The Night Watch

    This novel has a bold and unusual structure: we begin at the ending and then move backwards in time. Among the tendrils in this story is the beautifully rendered relationship between two women, Helen and Kay, who fall in love in wartime London, in the midst of bombs and rubble and terror. The backwards-in-time approach makes their love story incredibly poignant. When a relationship ends, one can’t help but think about the beginning, the early and rosy infatuation. With a gentle and sure hand, Waters gradually brings us back to that beginning, like an emotional version of time travel.

     
  • The cover of the book The Paris Wife

    The Paris Wife

    Paris, Hemingway, love—who can resist? I was completely swept up in McLain’s novel about Hadley and Ernest Hemingway’s marriage and their journey from poor anonymity in Chicago to literary fame in Paris. It’s fascinating to peer behind-the-scenes of this relationship and witness a young Hemingway realizing his ambition. But it’s equally fascinating to watch their marriage evolve over the years, to realize that fame and ambition come with a cost, and that love can’t always adapt to the circumstances of a changed life.

     
  • The cover of the book Rebecca

    Rebecca

    At the beginning of this book, you might think the central love story will be between our narrator and her new husband, Maxim de Winter. But the story takes a creepy and delicious turn. The version of love that courses through this gothic novel is more like dark obsession: the husband and his servant Mrs. Danvers cannot let go of Rebecca, the first wife who preceded the narrator, and whose death is fogged in mystery. There’s such a sinister, spooky atmosphere to this novel—a reminder that love can easily be warped into something jealous and dangerous.

     
  • The cover of the book The Portrait of a Lady

    The Portrait of a Lady

    Oh, Isabel Archer. It breaks my heart to even think about her. Isabel is a heroine who tries so hard, who means so well, but who discards her chances at genuine happiness and winds up trapped. There’s a danger in being too heedless about love, of throwing caution to the wind and falling too quickly. But there’s equal danger in too much self-consciousness, in choosing whom to love based on some strident calculation. If you haven’t read this book, you must. The Portrait of a Lady is a masterpiece: a sprawling, intricate, psychologically astute novel that’s both a time capsule of an era and absolutely modern.