I sobbed my way through the ‘A Walk to Remember’ movie as a teen, and that devastating (in the best way) experience is what prompted me to read the book it was adapted from. Cue my Nicholas Sparks obsession that led to a book + movie marathon of his work.
He was the first author to introduce me to coming-of-age stories and love stories set in small towns, and the nostalgia for his charming, bittersweet novels are strong even now when I open a book set in a small town.
Since his debut in 1996, Nicholas Sparks has published over 20 books, and every single one of them has been a New York Times bestseller. So far, 11 of his books have been turned into movies and I have to say, the ones I’ve seen have captured the essence of the books so beautifully.
It was not at all easy to choose the best Nicholas Sparks books as I’ve read and loved them all, but I have narrowed down a list of 12 books perfect for anyone looking to start reading his books.
How I rated these books
I’m a mood reader, so whatever I felt at the end of the book makes it into my rating. But there are a few more things I think about when deciding on it:
- Whether the plot makes sense
- Whether there are interesting characters and character arcs
- If the style of writing is appealing
- Whether the book is worth a second read
- What other readers say about them
Best Nicholas Sparks Books List
Since these are contemporary romance novels with some spice in them, my spice meter can come in handy. Your smut preferences might vary, but the meter will give you some idea of the level of smut in each book.
- 🌶️– sexual language and a little on-page action
- 🌶️🌶️– a lot of sexual language and some on-page action, may be occurring a couple times
- 🌶️🌶️🌶️– some explicit action and dirty talk, occurring frequently
- 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️ – a lot of explicit action and dirty talk, occurring frequently
- 🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️🌶️ – super graphic and explicit, occurring very frequently
Best Nicholas Sparks Books Reviews
1. The Notebook – My Favorite
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Back in my high school days, a bunch of my friends and I were having a slumber party when one of the girls suggested we watch The Notebook, and by the end of the movie, we were all swooning over all those perfectly romantic scenes of dancing and kissing in the rain 🥰. Being the hopeless romantic (and bookworm) I am, I couldn’t resist the book – it became my favorite Nicholas Sparks the minute I finished reading it.
The Notebook is the first book in the Calhoun Family Saga, and it’s hands down one of the sweetest love stories I’ve read. I swear, I cried like a baby while reading it. It’s about two teenagers from completely different backgrounds who meet one summer and then fall in love for a lifetime. The beauty of this book is in its unique structure, where an old man narrates both Noah and Allie’s past and their present as they have grown old. It’s a story within a story, and that’s what makes it so special.
Our FMC belongs to a wealthy family and our MMC works as a laborer in a lumberyard before enlisting in the army. After many lost years, they see each other again and must confront their past, especially the case of Noah’s undelivered letters to Allie. As the story goes on, we learn that the old man reading the story is none other than Noah himself, and the story is actually about… well, I recommend reading it to find out!😄 Let me just say the tears at the ending are highly likely to be the happy kind.
For me, this book was more than just a story – it was an experience that I’ll never forget because it was one of the first bittersweet love stories I’ve watched on screen and then read. So, if you’re someone who’ll enjoy reading an achingly tender story about forbidden love, loss, and second chances, you have to check this out. The ending is sure to hit you right in the feels.
- Best for: Fans of small-town/second-chance romances
- Not for: Fans who are looking for a chronological narrative
2. A Walk to Remember – My First Nicholas Sparks
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When I first watched A Walk to Remember and had my heart completely shattered by it, I settled down to read the book because as devastating as the storyline was, I loved it so much that I wanted to experience the book version. It was even more heart wrenching than the movie, and remains one of my favorite Nicholas Sparks to date.
One thing I’ve noticed in Spark’s stories is that he loves to have his main characters walk down memory lane and relive their past through flashbacks – and this book is no different. The story starts with a heartfelt prologue from Landon when he’s 57, and then we get to see him as a 17-year-old high school senior.
Landon is a rebel but Jamie, our FMC, is down to earth and reserved so they cannot be more different. Their fates intertwine when Landon flips through the yearbook and decides to ask Jamie out for a school dance. The two of them hit it off, a beautiful romance blossoms between them and just like in the movie, Landon falls utterly and completely for Jamie. Their love story takes a tragic turn – a little differently than in the movie – but all the feels of a love that transcends time and loss are right there, making this a story full of heart and longing.
It is a bit of a slow burn because it takes some time for Landon and Jamie’s relationship to develop but Sparks’ beautiful writing makes it earnest and emotional so you might not even feel the slow pace.
If you’re looking for a love story full of longing and a swoon-worthy hero who falls hard for the girl, then this book might hit all the right notes for you. All I ask is, have some tissues ready
- Best for: Fans of bad boy/good girl trope, Fans of coming-of-age novels
- Not for: Fans of HEAs
3. The Lucky One
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I picked up this book because I saw the movie trailer and thought I should give the book a chance before I watched the Zac Efron starrer. Turns out, this book is a little different from the author’s usual bittersweet-but-full-of-love storylines – it’s got a bit of a dark side and way more suspense as it’s about a man who has some close calls with death, serving as a marine before he ends up finding the love of his life.
One of the things I really like about this read is that there’s a mystery right from the beginning. It all starts when Logan finds a photo of a girl while he’s on duty in Iraq. On the back of it, it says, “Keep Safe, E!” with no indication as to whose keepsake this is, or who “E” is. When Logan’s friend thinks the photo is his lucky charm and encourages him to find the girl, Logan heads to North Carolina to try to track her down.
Sparks (the attraction kind, not the author kind) take to the floor as they meet, and wanting to get to know her better, he volunteers to work with her. Elizabeth is working through some hard times and it was just heartwarming to see them find each other in their times of need and help each other heal from their past wounds.
This Nicholas Sparks book was different in that it had a lot of suspense and tackled dark topics that kept me at the edge of my seat right until the very end because I was so afraid he wouldn’t give us a happy ending. And let me tell you, that final chapter is extra, extra sneaky!
So, if you’re looking for an unforgettable story about the unexpected turns life can take, then this is your stop. It’ll also make you want to believe that destiny is a path that’s already been mapped out for us, and if we follow it, we may just come across the true love of our lives.
- Best for: Fans of Colleen Hoover, fans of suspense thriller romance
- Not for: Readers sensitive to domestic abuse, emotional abuse, sexual assault, war, death
4. Dear John
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Since I loved Sparks’ first U.S. Marine story, I decided to immediately give this one a shot as well, and let me tell you, this author has a thing for bittersweet endings! Dear John is about a love lost but not forgotten and it was the utterly devastating yet achingly hopeful read I was looking for.
I immediately fell in love with the MCs. John is a bit of a rebel raised by a single parent and struggling to find the right footing in life while Savannah is an all-around good girl. Neither John nor Savannah expect to fall in love but their attraction is palpable and their connection inevitable. When circumstances force them into a long-distance relationship, the two try to keep in touch through handwritten letters but sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else. Then we have John trying his ultimate best to win back his girl, and his yearning for her broke me in ways I didn’t even think was possible.
Although the story was a heartbreaker, I enjoyed the realistic aspect of the story – I mean, things don’t always go the way we plan in life. So, if you want to read about love, loss, and the inevitability of life, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this. Pick this up along with a box of tissues and your comfort snack!
- Best for: Fans of long-distance romances and bittersweet stories
- Not for: Fans who are looking for an HEA
5. Safe Haven
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I’ve been meaning to read this book since I saw the movie (and loved it!), and I finally got to read it a couple of years ago. Safe Haven isn’t just a passionate love story, it’s also a suspenseful thriller filled with questions right from the start that had me turning all the pages in one sitting.
To start with, our FMC, Katie, is on the run and trying to find footing in a small town in North Carolina, where everyone knows everybody else (you know the drill by now!). The townsfolk are intrigued by the pretty new waitress because she keeps to herself so much – something that’s rare in this heartwarming town full of welcoming people.
With a reserved FMC trying to hide more than one secret, it was a bit of a slow burn in the beginning, but I was relieved to see her allowing herself to breathe again – letting her guard down, bonding with people (especially with Alex and his two adorable children), and falling in love.
But you know how the stories go. Just as she starts to dream of a future with a man who won’t hurt her, the demons she crossed the country to forget come crashing back into her life. We find out how hard her life has been, with Sparks delicately bringing out these sensitive, intimate issues surrounding family life – an aspect of his writing which I really admire.
Safe Haven’s a story full of page-turning twists and turns, mystery and surprise, and a lot of love throughout. Give this book a chance to see Nicholas Sparks taking the drama a notch up high!
- Best for: Fans of Colleen Hoover, fans of suspense thriller romances
- Not for: Fans sensitive to domestic abuse and violence
6. The Rescue
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When I first saw The Rescue, it was in a bookstore, and the first line read, “Why had this happened? Why, of all the children, was Kyle the one?” I was immediately curious because Sparks had chosen a child character as a big plot device, so I picked it up, went straight home, and started reading.
This book touched my heart from the very first chapter and gave me all the aching feels of a bittersweet story until the very end. Our FMC, Denise, is the star of the book because her strength as a woman and a mother is just admirable. Through the eyes of Denise, the novel deeply explores themes around family like parents’ unconditional love for their children. This was a fresh take in a Sparks book, so I was invested from the get go as well.
Taylor and Denise’s story is also about them fighting their own demons while they race to find the missing child. Taylor’s childhood trauma has led him into this risky job, where he’s still coming to terms with his past. In one way or another, his past relationships were never successful because he has always felt he doesn’t have the capacity to commit to a lasting relationship.
With Denise, he finally learns to put the demons of his past to rest and to commit to a relationship again. All of this combined with his brooding, slightly broken personality meant that I fell for him just as Denise did 🥰.
I definitely recommend The Rescue to all of you who are looking for a tense, yet heartwarming and slow-burn romance. The bonus, of course, is the brooding yet dreamy MMC, Taylor.
- Best for: Fans of Jojo Moyes, fans of small town/new girl in town tropes, slow-burning romance
- Not for: Readers sensitive to death of parent, fire/fire injury, car accident
7. The Longest Ride
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This book was recommended to me by a friend who told me she was instantly sucked into the story, and I dove right into The Longest Ride book (then watched the movie!). Boy, am I glad I did, because it turned out to be the sweetest story about a city girl falling in love with a cowboy in such a heartwarming and aching way all at the same time.
This novel moves between two stories and two couples of different ages – Ira and Ruth, and Sophia and Luke. This contrast between a lifetime spent in love and a love that’s just kindling into life moved me beyond words that I was left in awe. Honestly, how does Sparks manage to punch me right in the gut every single time with these storylines?
Also, the setting in this book is to die for – Sparks really does have a way with his visual imagery. One of my favorites is Luke’s ranch during a harsh yet beautiful winter, showing us the warmth of love set against the fierce cold. I absolutely loved that scene where Luke takes Sophia horseback riding for the first time that made me want to go horseback riding with a man I’m slowly falling for.
I was so caught up in the beauty of the plot and the settings that I didn’t see the ending coming at all, but it couldn’t have been better. The lives of all three MCs unexpectedly and poignantly weave together to remind us that sometimes tough decisions can lead to amazing journeys beyond despair and death, and into the farthest reaches of the human heart.
From cowboys to horse rides to that feeling of falling in love for the first time and to that contentment of a lifetime filled with love,this book has it all. Check out this book if you want to indulge in hope and nostalgia all at once.
- Best for: Fans of Jojo Moyes, fans of parallel love stories, fans of new girl in town/cowboy tropes
- Not for: Readers sensitive to drug and alcohol use or violence
8. The Last Song – My Second Favorite!
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The Last Song made me remember why I was such a big Nicholas Sparks fan growing up. His novels always feel so real and close to heart, and The Last Song is no different and it remains one of my favorite Sparks to date. It’s a coming-of-age novel which follows an angry teenager who is sent to spend a summer with her father where she has to face forgiveness, grief, and her first love.
Coming-of-age novels hold a special place in my heart because of the growth and development that characters go through, making them relatable and closer to home. In The Last Song, we get to see how Ronnie grows so much by the end of the story – from a confused and rebellious teenager to a young woman who’s ready to face the world with a mature and kinder perspective on life.
Above all, what had me captivated by this story from the start was the heartwarming father-daughter bond. At first, Ronnie is rude toward her father because she’s angry that he left her after the divorce. But as the novel progresses and secrets come to light, we get to see how much Ronnie loves him, and it was beautiful to finally see their relationship start to heal with the one common passion – music.
And can we just talk about Will for a second? Starting from the first meet-cute between him and Ronnie at the beach festival where he accidentally spills a drink on her to that very last scene where he proves just how much he wants to be with Ronnie, Sir Will Blakelee is an ideal stealer of hearts. Perfect, dreamy, and absolute book boyfriend material. No further notes.
If you’re in the mood for a classic coming-of-age story that can leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, The Last Song is an amazing pick. It’s got everything from first love to parent-child relationships to have you tearing up, smiling, and thinking of our own connections with our loved ones.
- Best for: Fans of coming-of-age novels, fans of father-daughter and first love tropes
- Not for: Fans who are looking for an adult romance
9. Message in a Bottle
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I first picked up this book after seeing the intriguing title – Message in a Bottle (so mysterious and romantic!). Just a few chapters into it, I knew this was going to be a winner because Sparks’s enviable ability to capture the depths of the human heart came through the story and the characters.
This is a story about pure love and second chances with the perfect amount of passion, raw emotions, and humor. It all starts when our FMC, Theresa, discovers a corked bottle with a scrolled-up message (that looks like a love letter) from a writer named Garrett Blake. When two more similar letters turn up, Theresa’s curiosity is piqued, pushing her to go looking for the writer.
I really wasn’t ready for the heartbroken man she found – a man who has been mourning his late wife for three years. As the plot develops, we learn that Garrett might be ready for a new relationship and that Theresa could be the one for him.
Although the depiction of Garett’s loss was so heart wrenching in this book, the message that I took away was that it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Sparks captured this message so poignantly with his writing, and I absolutely admire him for it.
So if you’re in the mood for a timeless story about love, loss, and second chances – don’t miss this Nicholas Sparks novel. A warm drink and comfort food are highly recommended for when you pick up this book!
- Best for: Fans of second chance romances
- Not for: Readers sensitive to death and grief
10. The Guardian
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After reading The Lucky One and Safe Haven, I was telling a friend about how I enjoy it when Sparks’ love stories get mixed with mystery and suspense. That’s when she suggested I read The Guardian, a romance and thriller mash-up which was full of suspense and drama.
I got what I wanted because the thriller elements in this book were bone-chilling. There were some scenes where I was truly frightened for Julie’s (our FMC) life as she dealt with dangerous newcomers and mysterious happenings. Sparks doesn’t shy away from the suspense, and this kept me turning the pages real quick, because I was itching to find out the truth behind all the puzzling events.
And the love story? Oh my god, Mike is the most beautiful human being and their second-chance romance was such a satisfying slow burn. I loved watching Julie come to terms with the loss of her husband and how she intends to keep his memory alive, all the while realizing that loving another won’t hurt that memory if she’s with the right person.
That ending had me at the edge of my seat but the final choices our MCs made truly moved me. So if you’d like a Nicholas Sparks book full of both suspense and love, you should definitely give The Guardian a go.
- Best for: Fans of suspense thriller romances
- Not for: Readers sensitive to dark themes like stalking and murder
11. See Me
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After reading The Guardian, I was craving for another suspense romance thriller and decided to go for See Me because a book reviewer was commenting about how the romantic suspense in the book was so thick it could be cut with a knife. I was instantly drawn into the story, and it ended up being another one of my favorite romance thrillers by Sparks.
Our MMC, Colin, is a young man with some anger issues and a past he regrets so we find him trying to make the most out of his second chance by focusing on his studies. Little coincidences bring him close to Maria, a successful lawyer who has been raised in a loving home – or so he thinks – and in other words, the exact opposite of him. When they slowly start to fall in love, they realize that coincidence sometimes has a reason, especially as they start to recognize more similarities in each other than what meets the eye.
This slow burn romance isn’t all that’s there to the story though. As I kept reading, Sparks built up the mystery and suspense so flawlessly that I felt shivers run down my back. So to clue you in one plotline – Maria receives creepy anonymous messages from an unknown stalker and we get to know that she is the target of a deeply-twisted and horrifying plot of vengeance.
The mystery kept me captivated, but it was that hope and tenderness of the love blossoming between Colin and Maria that really moved me. Despite his tough exterior and battered past, Colin is the epitome of a sweetheart – a character that truly makes you think that tough experiences do have the potential to make you into a gentler person. I loved his love for Maria, and our girl truly deserves it because she showed admirable strength and character in the face of true evil.
Pick up this book if you’re in the mood for an intriguing and drama-packed story. It’s worth the read because it’s about a girl falling for the bad boy, dark pasts that come back to haunt, a love that’s put to test, and finding your way back in life.
- Best for: Fans of Christina Lauren, fans of suspense thriller romances
- Not for: Readers sensitive to stalking and mental illness
12. Two by Two
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I was waiting for Two by Two to come out after Sparks announced it at the start of 2016 as there was a hint that it was going to be one of those classic, tender, and wholesome family-oriented stories. It turned out to be just that, and so much more!
Sparks hits the jackpot with this family drama featuring the sweetest second-chance romance. You know by now that I’m a sucker for second chance romances, and Russ’ one managed to just solidify my love for the trope.
The story begins when Russ’ marriage with Vivian starts to fall apart, leaving him to care for their daughter, London, by himself. Now, I hated Vivian at first—the woman left her marriage in shambles without so much as a glance backward, but towards the end of the book when I learned her reasons and saw things from her perspective, I was able to look at her with more compassion.
I think that’s a testament to the message that Sparks so expertly manages to bring out in this book – marriages take a toll on everyone and lives take unexpected turns. When such events unfold, it is not always easy to make the correct decisions. I did see Vivian repenting the harsh decisions she took, and that made me see her in a better light.
True to a good Nicholas Sparks classic, there’s a blossoming romance which happens in the backdrop of a broken marriage. I loved the juxtaposition of these two relationships as it managed to paint a very realistic picture of what ‘true’ love means to everyday people. This book depicted a raw, tender version of love, different from formulaic love stories we often see on books and screens – and I was all here for it.
Two by Two is an emotionally stirring tale of what happens to love after the ‘I do,’ second chances, and the reasons to do better by love. If you’re interested in a warm family drama about love and loss, this is the book for you to pick up next.
- Best for: Fans of realistic fiction
- Not for: Fans who are looking for a mystery or suspense thriller
That rounds up my list of my all-time favorite Nicholas Sparks novels. You can hardly go wrong with his books because he’s got his time-perfected ingredients to write a good love story – beautiful settings, realistic and relatable characters, and storylines that stir readers’ emotions. If that sounds like a treat, I’m sure my list of Nicholas Sparks books features your next read. Happy (and bittersweet) reading!
What Are the ‘Must Read’ Nicholas Sparks Books?
The Notebook, Sparks’ debut fiction, is definitely a ‘must read’ because in addition to being one of his most famous works, its movie adaptation also went on to become a classic of the century.
A Walk to Remember is another must-read. This coming of age romantic novel is one of the best bad boy falls for good girl trope novels out there (and I’m not saying that just because I’m emotionally attached to it). Chances are you’re going to end up bawling your eyes out once you get caught up in Jamie and Landon’s emotional story.
The Last Song is an amazing Nicholas Sparks teen romance that should definitely be on everyone’s reading list. This book has won the hearts of so many people because it explores love in all its forms from young love to parent-child love and, most importantly, self-love.
What to Read Next
If you like the books on this list, you should definitely check out Nicholas Sparks’ more recent releases like The Wish (2021) and Dreamland (2022). Coming from the master of storytelling, these dreamy and charming love stories are gold mines for the romantic in us.
If you want to read more of contemporary romance, especially the happy kind, take a look at my list of best books from Emily Henry and my list of best Tessa Bailey books. Both authors are popular for their witty, warm, and fuzzy love stories mixed with some spice that I’m sure will keep your heart racing.
Hoover and Sparks are from different eras but arguably have the same impact with their books being the talk of the town. Their love stories are easy to follow and often heartbreaking to read about, keeping readers engaged throughout.
I’d say starting with The Notebook and The Walk to Remember is the best way to be introduced to Nicholas Sparks’ writing style and romance storylines.
The Notebook remains one of his best selling novels, having doubled its initial popularity with the release of the movie in 2004.
In August 2023, Sparks released Dreamland which follows the story of three unlikely people whose lives are intertwined by fate.
Sparks has mentioned over the years that some of his works of fiction were inspired by real-life stories. For example, The Notebook was inspired by the story of his ex-wife’s grandparents.
A lot of people love Nicholas Sparks because he writes soulfully, wistfully, and beautifully about love and heartbreak that occurs in the everyday. Once you finish one Sparks novel, chances are high you’d want to read more of his work.