10 Best Nicholas Sparks Books You Should Read First

Nicholas Sparks is one of the most beloved romance authors. Every single one of his books have become New York Times bestsellers. So, it can be difficult to narrow down which are the best Nicholas Sparks books.

We’ve managed to create a list of his ten best books through using Goodreads data. These books span from his debut until well into the 2000s for a comprehensive snapshot. So, keep reading to find out which are the 10 best Nicholas Sparks books.

Who is Nicholas Sparks?

Since his debut in 1996, Nicholas Sparks has published more than 20 other books. This list is going to look at only his top ten in terms of popularity. But if you would like to find out more about everything he has written, you can check out our article about all the Nicholas Sparks books in order.

All of Sparks’s books are poignant love stories. He always chooses a theme, whether that be everlasting love, love after grief, first love, love and danger, or so much more. He then weaves together a story that is both heart-wrenching and beautiful.

Frequently he draws inspiration from events around him or from members of his family. This lends an achingly realistic element to his stories. Also lending a realism to his novels is that all his books take place in his home state of North Carolina.

Collectively there have been more than 105 million copies of his books sold in more than 50 languages. Eleven of his books also have move adaptations that cumulatively have made more than $750 million at box offices worldwide.

Best Nicholas Sparks Books

Labelling anything as the best can be incredibly subjective. So, in an effort to gather a greater consensus, this list of the best Nicholas Sparks books has been collected using Goodreads data. In looking at the highest rated and most read books by Nicholas Sparks on that platform we’ve compiled a list of his best books according to tens of thousands of readers.

The Choice Best Nicholas Sparks Books

10. The Choice

The tenth best Nicholas Sparks book to begin our list is The Choice. On Goodreads it has more than 166,000 ratings for an average 4.00 rating. This book is one that Nicholas Sparks describes as paralleling the popularity of his debut The Notebook. It presents similar obstacles for our love interests to imbue a similar emotional element.

In Sparks’s typical fashion the characters are inspired by real people. The male protagonist Travis is inspired by Sparks’s own brother and the female protagonist Gabby by a former assistant. Unlike The Notebook, this book is an entirely contemporary story told in third person. It takes place in Beaufort, North Carolina.

Travis Parker has everything a man could want. He has a good job, loyal friends, and even a waterfront home in small-town North Carolina. In full pursuit of the good life — boating, swimming, and regular barbecues with his good-natured buddies — he holds the vague conviction that a serious relationship with a woman would only cramp his style.

That is, until Gabby Holland moves in next door. Despite his attempts to be neighborly, the appealing redhead seems to have a chip on her shoulder about him…and the presence of her long-time boyfriend doesn’t help.

Despite himself, Travis can’t stop trying to ingratiate himself with his new neighbor, and his persistent efforts lead them both to the doorstep of a journey that neither could have foreseen. Spanning the eventful years of young love, marriage, and family, The Choice ultimately confronts us with the most heart-wrenching question of all: How far would you go to keep the hope of love alive?

The Guardian Book Cover

9. The Guardian

The ninth best Nicholas Sparks book is perfect for any dog lover. It has an average rating of 4.16 on Goodreads from nearly 173,000 ratings. This book, Sparks says, he wrote because he wanted to write a story that combines love and danger.

Unlike his other books, The Guardian derives entirely from his own imagination. It takes place in Swansboro, North Carolina.

Julie Barenson’s young husband left her two unexpected gifts before he died — a puppy named Singer and the promise that he would always be watching over her.

Now, four years later, twenty-nine year-old Julie is far too young to have given up on love. She may be ready to risk caring for someone again.

But who? Should it be Richard Franklin, the sophisticated, handsome engineer who treats her like a queen? Or Mike Harris, the down-to-earth nice guy who was her husband’s best friend?

Choosing one of them should bring her more happiness than she’s had in years. Instead, Julie is soon fighting for her life in a nightmare spawned by a chilling deception and jealousy so poisonous that it has become a murderous desire… The Guardian contains all the qualities readers expect from Nicholas Sparks. But here, he adds a new electrifying intensity — and page after page of riveting suspense.

The Rescue Book Cover

8. The Rescue

Next up on our list is The Rescue, which also has hints of mystery woven throughout. It has an average rating of 4.12 from more than 190,000 ratings.

Sparks describes this book as his most personal as it was inspired by his second son, Ryan. The Rescue takes place in Edenton, North Carolina.

When confronted by raging fires or deadly accidents, volunteer fireman Taylor McAden feels compelled to take terrifying risks to save lives. But there is one leap of faith Taylor can’t bring himself to make: He can’t fall in love.

For all his adult years, Taylor has sought out women who need to be rescued. Women he leaves as soon as their crisis is over and the relationship starts to become truly intimate.

When a raging storm hits his small Southern town, single mother Denise Holton’s car skids off the road. The young mom is with her four-year-old son Kyle, a boy with severe learning disabilities and for whom she has sacrificed everything. Taylor McAden finds her unconscious and bleeding, but does not find Kyle.

When Denise wakes, the chilling truth becomes clear to both of them: Kyle is gone. During the search for Kyle, the connection between Taylor and Denise takes root. Taylor doesn’t know that this rescue will be different from all the others, demanding far more than raw physical courage.

It will lead him to the possibility of his own rescue from a life lived without love. But it will require him to open doors to his past that were slammed shut by pain. This rescue will dare him to live life to the fullest by daring to love.

Message in a Bottle Best Nicholas Sparks Books

7. Message in a Bottle

The seventh best Nicholas Sparks book according to Goodreads data is Message in a Bottle. It has an average rating of 3.97 from nearly 348,000 ratings. It is a heart-wrenching novel about happenstance, desire, and the choices that matter most.

This is Sparks’s second novel, published after the success of The Notebook. He didn’t want to recreate his debut, so Sparks chose the theme of love after grief. This book was inspired by his father following his mother’s death. It takes place in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Thrown to the waves, and to fate, the bottle could have ended up anywhere. Instead, it is found just three weeks after it begins its journey.

Theresa Osborne is divorced and the mother of a twelve-year-old son. She discovers the bottle during a seaside vacation from her job as a Boston newspaper columnist. Inside is a letter that opens with, “My Dearest Catherine, I miss you my darling, as I always do, but today is particularly hard because the ocean has been singing to me, and the song is that of our life together….”

For Garrett, the message is the only way he knows to express his undying love for a woman he has lost. For Theresa, wary of romance since her husband shattered her trust, the message raises questions that intrigue her. Challenged by the mystery, and driven to find Garrett by emotions she does not fully understand, Theresa begins a search that takes her to a sunlit coastal town and an unexpected confrontation.

Brought together either by chance or something more powerful, Theresa and Garrett’s lives come together in a tale that resonates with our deepest hopes for finding everlasting love.

The Lucky One Book Cover

6. The Lucky One

The next best Nicholas Sparks book is The Lucky One. It has an average rating of 4.12 from nearly 348,000 ratings on Goodreads. According to his website, this book is the only one that was inspired by an image. From the image of a weary Marine staring at a photograph, Sparks spun this story.

Amidst a tour in Iraq, The Lucky One takes place in Hampton, North Carolina.

When U.S. Marine Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a smiling young woman half-buried in the dirt during his third tour of duty in Iraq, his first instinct is to toss it aside. Instead, he brings it back to the base for someone to claim. But when no one does, he finds himself always carrying the photo in his pocket.

Soon Thibault experiences a sudden streak of luck — winning poker games and even surviving deadly combat that kills two of his closest buddies. Only his best friend, Victor, seems to have an explanation for his good fortune: The photograph — his lucky charm.

Back home in Colorado, Thibault can’t seem to get the photo — and the woman in it — out of his mind. Believing that she somehow holds the key to his destiny, he sets out on a journey across the country to find her. He never expects the strong but vulnerable woman he encounters in Hampton, North Carolina — Elizabeth, a divorced mother with a young son — to be the girl he’s been waiting his whole life to meet.

Caught off guard by the attraction he feels, Thibault keeps the story of the photo, and his luck, a secret. As he and Elizabeth embark upon a passionate and all-consuming love affair, the secret he is keeping will soon threaten to tear them apart — destroying not only their love, but also their lives.

Safe Haven Nicholas Sparks

5. Safe Haven

Sliding into the top five best Nicholas Sparks books is Safe Haven. It has an average rating of 4.21 from nearly 364,000 ratings. This book also combines elements of suspense with Sparks’s classic romance.

Safe Haven introduces something new but similar to The Guardian, as Sparks wanted to include something about danger.

When a mysterious young woman named Katie appears in the small North Carolina town of Southport, her sudden arrival raises questions about her past. Beautiful yet self-effacing, Katie seems determined to avoid forming personal ties until a series of events draws her into two reluctant relationships.

One with Alex, a widowed store owner with a kind heart and two young children; and another with her plainspoken single neighbor, Jo. Despite her reservations, Katie slowly begins to let down her guard, putting down roots in the close-knit community and becoming increasingly attached to Alex and his family.

But even as Katie begins to fall in love, she struggles with the dark secret that still haunts and terrifies her… A past that set her on a fearful, shattering journey across the country, to the sheltered oasis of Southport. With Jo’s empathic and stubborn support, Katie eventually realizes that she must choose between a life of transient safety and one of riskier rewards…and that in the darkest hour, love is the only true safe haven.

The Last Song Best Nicholas Sparks Books

4. The Last Song

As we inch closer to the top three books on our list, the fourth best Nicholas Sparks book is The Last Song. This book has an average rating of 4.15 from nearly 537,000 ratings.

You may remember that Miley Cyrus starred in the movie adaptation. She is also partially the inspiration behind the creation of The Last Song. Sparks had settled on writing a love story between characters younger than 20 or older than 60, when an agent phoned him about how much Cyrus loved A Walk to Remember and wanted to star in something similar.

The details continued to elude him for weeks. But then he eventually settled on the bones of what would become The Last Song. Sparks actually ended up writing the screenplay first in this instance. It takes place in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Seventeen year-old Veronica “Ronnie” Miller’s life was turned upside-down when her parents divorced and her father moved from New York City to North Carolina. Three years later, she remains angry and alienated from her parents, especially her father…

Until her mother decides it would be in everyone’s best interest if she spent the summer in Wilmington with him. Ronnie’s father, a former concert pianist and teacher, is living a quiet life in the beach town, immersed in creating a work of art that will become the centerpiece of a local church.

The tale that unfolds is an unforgettable story about love in its myriad forms — first love, the love between parents and children — that demonstrates, as only a Nicholas Sparks novel can, the many ways that deeply felt relationships can break our hearts…and heal them.

Dear John Book Cover

3. Dear John

The third best Nicholas Sparks book according to Goodreads data is Dear John with an average rating of 4.04 from nearly 578,000 ratings. This book is the epitome of what Sparks likes to refer to as his bittersweet endings, although readers tend to disagree and refer to them as tragic.

Sparks says that this novel is his favorite in many ways, and one that will resonate with readers long after the last page. It also takes place in Wilmington, North Carolina.

An angry rebel, John dropped out of school and enlisted in the Army, not knowing what else to do with his life. Until he meets the girl of his dreams, Savannah. Their mutual attraction quickly grows into the kind of love that leaves Savannah waiting for John to finish his tour of duty, and John wanting to settle down with the woman who has captured his heart.

But 9/11 changes everything. John feels it is his duty to re-enlist. And sadly, the long separation finds Savannah falling in love with someone else.

“Dear John,” the letter read…and with those two words, a heart was broken and two lives were changed forever. Returning home, John must come to grips with the fact that Savannah, now married, is still his true love — and face the hardest decision of his life.

A Walk to Remember Book Cover

2. A Walk to Remember

The penultimate best Nicholas Sparks book is A Walk to Remember. This is another bittersweet-borderline-tragic love story, that will stay with readers long after they finish reading. It has an average rating of 4.19 from more than 763,000 ratings.

While Sparks is evasive in nailing down his definite favorite novel, he is loud in proclaiming A Walk to Remember was his favorite novel to write. This book was inspired by his sister, but we won’t spoil anything by revealing in what ways, just in case you haven’t experienced this heart-wrenching, beautiful story before. It takes place in Beaufort, North Carolina.

Every April, when the wind blows from the sea and mingles with the scent of lilacs, Landon Carter remembers his last year at Beaufort High.

It was 1958, and Landon had already dated a girl or two. He even swore that he had once been in love. Certainly the last person in town he thought he’d fall for was Jamie Sullivan, the daughter of the town’s Baptist minister.

A quiet girl who always carried a Bible with her schoolbooks, Jamie seemed content living in a world apart from the other teens. She took care of her widowed father, rescued hurt animals, and helped out at the local orphanage.

No boy had ever asked her out. Landon would never have dreamed of it.

Then a twist of fate made Jamie his partner for the homecoming dance, and Landon Carter’s life would never be the same. Being with Jamie would show him the depths of the human heart and lead him to a decision so stunning it would send him irrevocably on the road to manhood…

The Notebook Best Nicholas Sparks Books

1. The Notebook

Finally, the best Nicholas Sparks book according to many, many readers is The Notebook. It is rare that an author hits it out of the park with their debut in the way that Sparks did with The Notebook. It has more than 1.5 million ratings on Goodreads and a 4.13 average rating.

The story of Noah and Allie was inspired by Sparks’s former wife’s grandparents. It takes place in New Bern, North Carolina.

Set amid the austere beauty of coastal North Carolina in 1946, The Notebook begins with the story of Noah Calhoun, a rural Southerner returned home from World War II.

Noah, thirty-one, is restoring a plantation home to its former glory. But he is haunted by images of the beautiful girl he met fourteen years earlier, a girl he loved like no other.

Unable to find her, yet unwilling to forget the summer they spent together, Noah is content to live with only memories… Until she unexpectedly returns to his town to see him once again.

Allie Nelson, twenty-nine, is now engaged to another man. But she realizes that the original passion she felt for Noah has not dimmed with the passage of time. Still, the obstacles that once ended their previous relationship remain, and the gulf between their worlds is too vast to ignore.

With her impending marriage only weeks away, Allie is forced to confront her hopes and dreams for the future, a future that only she can shape. Like a puzzle within a puzzle, the story of Noah and Allie is just beginning.

As it unfolds, their tale miraculously becomes something different, with much higher stakes. The result is a deeply moving portrait of love itself, the tender moments, and fundamental changes that affect us all.

Final thoughts on best Nicholas Sparks books

To conclude, here is a list of the 10 best Nicholas Sparks books according to thousands of readers on Goodreads.

  1. The Notebook (1996)
  2. A Walk to Remember (1999)
  3. Dear John (2006)
  4. The Last Song (2009)
  5. Safe Haven (2010)
  6. The Lucky One (2008)
  7. Message in a Bottle (1998)
  8. The Rescue (2000)
  9. The Guardian (2003)
  10. The Choice (2007)

Nicholas Sparks has the ability to pull at your heart strings. All of these books contain evocative stories of love, with his trademark bittersweet or tragic ending.

His books will have you experiencing the highest highs of love, and the lowest lows. So, make sure you have the tissues handy before you dive into any of these great reads.

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