Nicholas Sparks is known for writing epic love stories—the tear-jerking, heart-squeezing kind that pair well with a pint of ice cream, a pack of tissues, and a truckload of feels. Though they don’t always have the traditional ending of most romance novels—that is, a proper happily-ever-after—Sparks packs so much swoonage in his stories, they’re nothing if not romantic. But with more than 20 novels published (ten of which were made into movies), how do you choose the best of the best? Well, we’ve done the work for you. Here's our list of the top 12 best Nicholas Sparks books. Grab some Kleenex and get ready to go on an emotional rollercoaster.
Must-Read Books by Nicholas Sparks
While Sparks might be best-known for his hits in the 1990s and early 2000s, The Wish (published in 2021) proves that he can still bring the heat. Nominated by Goodreads readers for the 2021 Award for Best Fiction, The Wish begins in 1996, when Maggie Dawes is sent to live with her aunt in North Carolina's Outer Banks. There she meets Bryce Trickett, and together they are swept up into a whirlwind of a first romance.
More than two decades later, Maggie is still trying to come to terms with her past. When her flight is grounded over Christmas, Maggie finds herself confiding more than she ever imagined in her young photography assistant.
Nights in Rodanthe
This 2002 Sparks novel is an emotional love story for those who enjoy second chances at love. Adrienne is 45, divorced, and struggling to care for both her teenage kids and her father. To get a break, she goes to an inn in Rodanthe, North Carolina, for the weekend, where she meets 54-year-old Paul, a divorced surgeon estranged from his son. As a storm rages outside the walls of the inn, the two fall into each other’s arms.
The book was adapted into a 2008 film of the same name, with Diane Lane and Richard Gere playing the leads. This one has an ending that may make you want to throw your tissue box at the TV, but this is Nicholas Sparks, after all. Didn’t you know what you were getting into?
Sparks’ seventh romance, The Guardian, has a shiver of suspense woven into the romantic plotline—plus a dog for animal lovers. When Julie’s husband dies, he leaves her a Great Dane she’s kept ever since. Julie knows she needs more love than her puppy can provide, but she’s not sure whether to choose perfect-seeming Richard, or Mike, her late husband’s best friend.
Singer the dog tries to help Julie out by indicating which of the two men isn’t just wrong for her, but downright dangerous. But will Julie listen before it’s too late?
Love triangles, enemies to lovers, dogs, and of course hard choices ... The Choice has everything you could want in a dramatic romance. Travis Parker is a veterinarian who lives in Beaufort, N.C., and is intent on living the bachelor life until he meets his new neighbor, Gabrielle Holland. In Part One of the novel, Gabby is a physician's assistant who must decide between sticking with her longtime boyfriend Kevin and taking a chance on Travis. Readers will immediately root for the romance between Gabby and Travis, but that decision will not come without consequence. In Part Two of The Choice, Travis must make a decision that will impact both his and Gabby's lives forever.
One of Sparks’ earlier novels, The Rescue tells of the unexpected romance between Denise, a single mom of a boy with special needs, and firefighter Taylor, who has a hero complex and serious commitment issues. After they’re in a car accident, Taylor helps rescue Denise and her young son. But when it comes to the growing feelings between them, history shows that the heroic firefighter might be destined to pull a hit-and-run on Denise’s heart. With all the love for firefighters as romance heroes, this one is sure to make many readers’ shelves.
Message in a Bottle
Message in a Bottle was the first Sparks novel to be adapted into a film. The impressive cast of the 1999 feature includes Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, and Paul Newman. When journalist Theresa finds a love letter in a bottle on a Cape Cod beach, the heartfelt message inside reignites her interest in love after a traumatic divorce...and makes her determined to discover the story behind the note. It turns out the note-writer is Garrett, a shipbuilder still grieving Catherine, his lost lady love. But maybe Theresa can nudge the sentimental Garrett to move on … with her? As with many of the most enduring love stories, Garrett and Catherine's relationship isn't smooth sailing—but you'll be glad you came along for the ride.
Another Nicholas Sparks tale adapted into a movie (a 2013 one starring a rugged but sweet Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough), Safe Haven delivers another second chance love story set in North Carolina, with a dash of suspenseful thrills reminiscent of The Guardian. When Katie moves to a small North Carolina town, she begins to fall for Alex, a widowed single dad. But Katie is running from a dark past … and it may just catch up with her. Sure, this one boasts a strange, M. Night Shyamalan-like twist that is revealed at the end, but that’s part of the fun. (And picturing Josh Duhamel. Did I mention Josh Duhamel?)
The Lucky One
With nearly 300,000 ratings on Goodreads, The Lucky One is no slouch on this list. The 2008 book (and 2012 film) center on Sparks’ common themes of love, loss, and destiny. The tale follows U.S. Marine Logan, a man who finds a photograph of a woman while on duty in Iraq. It soon becomes his good luck charm, but Logan is desperate to find the woman—which he does, in Sparks’ beloved North Carolina. A divorced single mom, the pictured Elizabeth falls for Logan. But he can’t seem to bring himself to tell her about the photograph—or what it means for her life.
The Longest Ride
Two couples’ lives intertwine in this complex Sparks story that earned him a 2013 Goodreads Choice Award Nomination for Romance. As 91-year-old Ira is stuck in the aftermath of a car crash, he’s visited by a vision of his dead wife, who recalls the story of how they fell in love. At the same time, we see cowboy Luke fall into a relationship with college girl Sophia. How their loves and lives connect makes for an emotional, tear-jerking conclusion. If the book doesn't make you cry enough, you can also check out the 2015 movie .
Love is rarely as heartbreaking as in 2006’s Dear John, where a troublemaking guy enlists in the military, then falls for Savannah, a girl who’s his opposite in many ways. After John leaves to serve his country, the two write letters and plan their future. But when 9/11 happens, John makes the difficult decision to re-enlist and Savannah moves on without him. The movie, in case you’re wondering, starred Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried, and is the third-highest grossing Nicholas Sparks film to date.
A Walk to Remember
Nicholas Sparks brings the tears and the tragedy to earlier in the 20th century with his third penned love story, A Walk to Remember. Set in 1958, former bad-boy Landon narrates the story of his senior year in high school, when he fell for the most unlikely girl: Jamie, a minister’s daughter with a good heart, a kind smile, and a heartbreaking secret. Sparks’ own sister, who passed away, was the inspiration for Jamie’s character. The touching tale was brought to life on screen in a 2002 adaptation starring Shane West and Mandy Moore. You may have watched it after a breakup or two while laying on your couch and eating too many carbs.
Last but not least—particularly not in any Ryan Gosling-lover’s mind—is The Notebook. This was the very first love story that Nicholas Sparks penned and the one that jump-started his career when it was published in 1996. With over a million ratings on Goodreads, it’s Sparks’ most well-known and loved novel, and with good reason: It's a classic. After a tumultuous teenage romance in North Carolina (of course), young lovers Allie and Noah are separated by her well-to-do parents. After the second World War, heartbroken Noah returns home and begins building his dream house.
Allie, now engaged, sees Noah's picture in the paper and decides to visit him to get closure—but winds up falling back in love with her passionate ex. Noah is played by Ryan Gosling in the 2004 film, and he and co-star Rachel McAdams had an infamous romance in real life. They're no longer together, but the notoriety of The Notebook endures. Read the book now to see where the legend began.
Featured still from "A Walk to Remember" via Warner Bros.