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It’s almost Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk romance! I’m not a person drawn to traditional romance novels. I don’t often want to read a book whose main focus is a love story. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against love stories being elements of a books, I just don’t want them to be the main focus. My kind of love stories need to be embedded in a much richer, bigger picture. I want the romance to be only one element of deeply layered story. I like it even more when the love is delivered in a completely unexpected or unconventional way. So, today I’m sharing fourteen amazing books that feature fourteen unconventional love stories as just a portion of what makes them great books.
In no order, other than alphabetical.
22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson – This story is about a Polish couple separated during WWII, as they finally reunite in England after the war. As you would expect, the five years they spent apart during the war change them both, leaving ghosts in their relationship, haunting their marriage. Moving back and forth between the war years and their new life in England, 22 Britannia Road was not your usual WWII book.
All Stories Are Love Stories by Elizabeth Percer – The title might make you think that this is a mushy, overdone romance type story, but that would be so, so wrong. Instead it’s the story of three people under extreme circumstances trying desperately to reunite with the ones that matter most in their lives. Elizabeth Percer paints a very honest picture of what really matters to us when life takes desperate turns and how hard we can fight for those we love. (my review)
A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve – Taking place in the 1970’s, A Change in Altitude is about a newlywed American couple who move to Kenya for a year of adventure. There they become involved in a horrific climbing accident on Mt. Kenya. The tragedy, how each deals with the aftermath, and their relationship itself are at the heart of this unconventional love story. I can be up and down on Shreve books, but I enjoyed this one from start to finish and loved the ending!
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope by Rhonda Riley – This book truly is a love story, but it’s premise is so unique, and it’s delivered so powerfully that for me it rose well above romance status. Set on a rural North Caroline farm during WWII, Adam Hope is both a man and not a man. Young Evelyn Roe falls deeply in love with Adam. Magical realism plays a big part in Riley’s story making it a book that might not be for everyone, but I loved it.
The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell – I loved this story of two women living in London 50 years apart. Lexie was a “modern woman” who moved to London on her own in the 50’s. Elina was a woman of today who had just given birth to her first child and nearly died in the process. Plus, her boyfriend is acting strangely. You know these two women have to be connected, but seeing why and how it unfolds was pure pleasure.
I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows – Here, a wheat farming family in 1934 Oklahoma fight the dust storms that have arrived with a vengeance while dealing with their individual longings for escape. This weather phenomenon brought dark changes to the members of an already fragile family. The mother, Annie, began to long for a different sort of life as her husband searched for his own very different means of escape. (my review)
The Longest Night by Andrea Williams – A rocky sort of love story if ever there was one, this book features a military couple living in Sand Point, Idaho in the late 1950’s. Paul works at the nuclear facility there and Nat is bored out of her mind. As Paul raises red flags at work (something that does not go over well), Nat looks for excitement and companionship elsewhere, both causing scandals in the small military community.
The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman – Hoffman’s books often have a little magic to them, but this one was different. Instead, it told the story of Coralie, a young woman born with a birth defect that her father used to his advantage making her part of his boardwalk freak show. At the same time, Eddie, a Russian Jew, was finding his own way as a tailor’s assistant and eventually as a photographer. Slowly, these two wounded souls found each other.
The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver – A woman faces a choice: kissing a man that is not her husband or not kissing that man. If Irina kisses him her life goes in one direction, if she doesn’t it goes in another. In alternating chapters Shriver told both sides of her story calling into question the impact of even small choices we make. Like Irina, I went back and forth on which path seemed the better one for her life to take.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Ivey’s book explores love on many different levels. First, there’s Jack and Mabel, recent arrivals to a homestead in 1920’s Alaska. The two are childless and long for that to change. Then there is the love they both feel for a strange girl, a snow child, that unexplainably enters their lives. Finally, there is the love that snow child feels as she grow and finds her own love, forever altering her life.
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny – I loved this story of a mismatched couple like no other. Graham is a more introspective man who values quiet time with his family around him. His second wife, Audra is a more the free-spirited type, opening their home to a string of guests Graham barely tolerates. And then there’s Elspeth, Graham’s first wife who re-enters his life and sends Graham spinning wondering if he’s made the right decisions along the way.
The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon – This might be the most unconventional love story of all. At its heart are two people institutionalized in the 1960’s. Lynnie is a developmentally delayed young woman and Homan, a slightly older, deaf African American man. The two become close and a child is born. They flee the institution to keep her safe, but all does not go well and they spend the next 40 years searching for each other and their daughter.
The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett – In her debut, Barnett imagined for us three different versions of two people’s lives. Jim and Eva have a chance encounter along a bike path while both are at Cambridge. The chemistry between them is unmistakable, but how they act on it and the rest of their lives unfold in three different, but very closely related accounts. It was fascinating seeing their connection played out all its different ways. (my review)
White Fur by Jardine Libaire -On the surface Jamey and Elise appear to be a stereotypical rich boy/poor girl couple. I assure you they’re not. As the story begins we see two distinct personalities emerge. One, confident and patient, willing to watch life unfold. The other, confused, frightened, unsure of what to expect from life. Yet these two personalities meld, initially on a purely sexual basis, but over time becoming so much more, becoming everything, spinning out of control. (my review)
Do you have a favorite unconventional love story?
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The Post-Birthday World was an interesting read. I was just looking at my copy of The Museum of Extraordinary Things the other day and thinking I needed a reread!
Some of my favorite unconventional love stories are Dark Matter, The One, and The Coincidence Makers.
I haven’t read Dark Matter, but really liked Recursion, so I should. I wouldn’t have thought of it as a love story at all, so thanks for letting me know.
I Will Send Rain sounds like a good read for sure.
My TTT .
I think it’s a completely underrated gem.
Patrick Prescott says
A great list. https://pmprescott.blogspot.com/2020/02/ttt-021120.html
Susan (Bloggin' 'bout Books) says
Same! I don’t read many books that are strictly romance. Like you, I don’t mind a romance, I just don’t want that to be the WHOLE story. Since we’re of like minds on this, I’m definitely going to check out the books on your list. I’m familiar with some of them, but not all. Thanks for the recs!
Thanks, Susan. Let me know if you find any here that work for you.
Patricia Anne Bryan says
Wonderful list.Versions of Us was one of my best reads last year.
A couple of others..A Simple Act of Kindness..bit deeper than chicklitty cover would indicate,My Real Children by Jo Walton..two for one depending on a decision,Tierra Lirra by the River..Aussie unlove story.
I love those two for one decision books, so My Real Children sounds perfect for me. Thanks!
Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out says
An interesting list, thanks for sharing
Wow! I consider us to have similar reading, but I’ve only read 4 out of your 14! That is wild to me.
One of the most unconventional love stories I ever read was All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. I’m sure plenty of people found it offensive and wrong, but I didn’t see it that way at all.
Someday I’m going to have to read All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. I think I read a Kindle sample and it wasn’t enough to draw me in. As for the books on this list, I think there are a lot you’d like.
Christie Kline says
I agree with Catherine. I am surprised to have never heard of many of these.
Did you miss the Time Travelers Wife, or is the love story to central? Talk about unconventional! Also Prince of Thieves by chuck Hogan. The book jacket sounds cheesy, but take everything in the synopsis and make it complex and you’ve got a tough and gripping love story.
I did read The Time Traveler’s Wife and I loved it. You’re right it was very unconventional. I didn’t even think about it, but could have easily included it. For the most part I was trying to stay away from super popular books. I’ll take a look at Prince of Thieves. Thanks!
Jessica at Booked J says
Lovely topic choice this week! Unconventional love stories are so wonderful to hear about, because they so rarely get the spotlight. I’m definitely adding quite a few of these to my TBR.
I always love helping those TBR list grow!
Gosh I’m drawing a blank on unique love stories at the moment. Though I too liked The Longest Night. I’ll have to look thru my shelves to find my favorite one. You have a good list.
Dedra @ A Book Wanderer says
Oh I loved The Versions of Us! I think it’s overlooked too often. I’m happy to see it here. <3
My Top Ten Tuesday
I agree about The Versions of Us. I don’t think it got nearly the attention it deserved.
Jade @ Reading with Jade says
The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is a new to me title but one I’m very intrigued by – thanks for sharing. Also, happy to see The Snow Child on this list; the element of love within that book (in varying forms as you have mentioned) is so beautifully captured. Great list!
Of all the books on this list The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is the one I most wish I could get more people to read. You have to be good with just accepting some magical realism, but if you can do that, it’s a wonderful story.
Beth F says
Some great picks here! I too liked Snow Child. Happy to see And I Will Send Rain — a book that didn’t get enough buzz.
I so agree with you on I Will Send Rain.
Yes, All The Ugly and Wonderful Things! I loved that book and definitely an unconventional love story!