Valentine’s Day is approaching and it’s the month of love. This means that it’s time to heat things up with some swoon-worthy novels that will have you feeling all warm inside.
From brand-new releases to old-school classic tales, our resident bookworm, Anna Evdokimou, has got each and every trope to satisfy all kinds of romance readers this Valentine’s Day.
The Catch, Amy Lea
Release date: 15 February
We’ve now entered an age where digital influencing is a career path obtained by book protagonists. While I initially thought this would infuriate me, the character of Melanie Karlsen brings an authenticity to the profession and a fragility that turns out to be quite eye opening. In The Catch, fashion influencer Melanie winds up in a rural fishing village on the east coast of Canada, attempting to rescue her brand from the brink of irrelevance. Enter Evan Whaler, a burly fisherman whose personality contradicts Melanie’s in a way that’s both humorous and oddly heartfelt. When Melanie and Evan decide to fake an engagement to please Evan’s family, chaos and forced proximity ensures. If you’re looking for a slow burn romance that addresses the complicated divide between tradition and modernism, this is it. And, if you’re a fan of Tessa Bailey’s It Happened One Summer, then this really is the pick for you.
The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
There’s a rhythmic pace to Greek mythology that’s hard to replicate in other genres. From Stephen Fry’s Mythos to Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne, each chapter of these modern retellings lulls you deeper into an intricate story that, while bound to end tragically, will still have you frantically turning pages, hoping to happen upon a happy ending. Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles can be added to this list. In a heroic attempt to retell one of the most famous ancient stories, the Battle of Troy, Miller captures the heart-breaking friendship between Achilles and his closest comrade, Patroclus. While the story itself is tragic enough, it’s Miller’s metrical prose from Patroclus’s perspective that truly tugs at the heart strings, encompassing the pain that comes with love. In The Song of Achilles, Miller beautifully describes feelings that are often quite impossible to communicate.
Normal People, Sally Rooney
In 2020, the BBC series Normal People took over many people’s TVs and social media. But if you’ve seen the series and haven’t read the book, I highly recommend picking up a copy to commemorate the month of love. It’s not that I don’t think that the series captured the story brilliantly, it did, but it’s only in Rooney’s fraught writing that you get a real sense of the electrically blurred lines between Marianne and Connell. While it’s not your typical romance, the book communicates brilliantly what it’s like to have a love that spans different stages of your life, the highs and lows that come with this and whether we can still be with the person who we loved when we were young, when we aren’t the same person who initially fell in love with them.
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Honey & Spice, Bolu Babalola
I unashamedly pick up any book recommended by Reese Witherspoon’s book club. Firstly, because I know it’ll be good, and secondly, because I love her. In Bolu Babalola’s debut novel, protagonist Kiki plays a witty and often snarky narrator, who prides herself on being able to spot a boy with bad intentions from a mile away. But when she meets Malakai, a new student at her university, Kiki can’t quite put a finger on his intent. It’s through this that Babalola captures the complicated endeavour that many women must go through to find love: facing vulnerability and dealing with mistrust. Babalola discusses these issues in a light-hearted way through a fabulous romcom — this is a great pick for those looking for an upbeat read that depicts modern romance.
Hannah Tate, Beyond Repair, Laura Piper Lee
Release date: 22 February
The theme of reinvention is a classic occurrence in romance novels. Whether that be the protagonist moving cities to start over or changing careers to achieve their dreams. In Hannah Tate, Beyond Repair, Hannah is neither chasing her dreams nor happily starting afresh but is instead practically forced to relocate after a brutal dumping and dramatic break-up with her boyfriend and father of her child. Now, Hannah finds herself in Georgia, US, renting her parents’ basement and trying to create a new life, despite not wanting her former one to end. If you’re a sucker for a love triangle, second chances and the complicated feat of beginning again, this book is a great choice. Plus, there’s a love interest who’ll be sure to capture your attention.
Atonement, Ian McEwan
Ian McEwan is a masterful writer, whose books portray a myriad of love stories infused with provocative depictions of society. In Atonement, McEwan uses an understated and intimate relationship between the eldest daughter of a wealthy family and the son of their housekeeper to comment on war, class, guilt and forgiveness. But amid the chaos of the Second World War, emerges a heartbreaking and poetic love story between two free-spirited individuals. If you haven’t seen the 2007 film starring Kiera Knightley and James McAvoy, I highly recommend switching that on, accompanied by a pile of popcorn, after you’ve finished the book.
Say You’ll be my Jaan, Naina Kumar
Calling all lovers of a fake dating trope: I’ve got your next read ready and waiting. Released in January this year, this charming debut novel by Naina Kumar follows Meghna as she desperately tries to dodge her parents’ attempts at arranging a marriage for her. But when her best friend Seth, (who she’s always secretly harboured a crush on) asks her to be his ‘best man’, she finally relents and allows her parents to set her up with Karthik. And, in a bid to ease both their families’ worries, Meghna and Karthik agree to fake an engagement for three months. With all the feels of a 90s romcom, this classic story with a twist is a punchy treat for those who love a feel-good book.
One Day, David Nicholls
As the series has just come out on Netflix, I couldn’t miss out the unlikely and frustrating relationship between Dexter and Emma. If you haven’t already binged the series in its entirety, I’d suggesting picking up the paperback first, and then comparing it with the different remakes (including Anne Hathaway’s slightly controversial portrayal of Emma). Set over 20 years, this story follows two college graduates who spend one day together in 1988 and develop an instant bond. But as the years go by and their lives go in separate ways, Dexter and Emma’s differences become increasingly poignant. Every chapter takes place on the date they met, 15 July, and snapshots of the relationship are revealed as the realities of life become increasingly apparent to them. The book stands as a fantastic symbol for modern love and presents an incredible character in Emma — one that I think any woman would be able to relate to at some point in their life.
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Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami was once described by a reviewer as drawing on the work of Fitzgerald, Capote and Chandler within his writing, and Norwegian Wood is a perfect amalgamation of these literary greats, infused with the Japanese tradition. In this novel, our protagonist is forced to decide between his future and his past. As the hum of a song reminds him of Naoko, his first love from 20 years ago, Toru Watanabe finds himself once again lost in the adolescent rush of first love. So when Naoko ends up walking back into his life, which now includes a wife and children, Toru questions whether his life has been full of wrong turns. It might not be your traditional romantic comedy or a typical Valentine’s read, but Murakami’s writing is evocative, compulsive and moving.
The Last Romeo, Justin Myers
In The Last Romeo, we meet fed up and tired 34-year-old James. His six-year relationship with Adam has ended, he hates his job, and his best friend has just announced that she’s moving to Russia. So, feeling adrift and alone, James throws himself into the online dating game, blogging about each encounter anonymously and calling himself ‘Romeo’. But when James begins to garner a following and he reveals all about a wild night with a closeted Olympian, things take a sour turn. Funny, candid and highly relatable — especially for those who’ve ever dipped a toe in the online dating world — Myers presents a tale that really sums up the trials and tribulations of trying to meet someone in the modern day.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
It wouldn’t be a romantic book roundup without the inclusion of an Austen somewhere or other and, for me, it has to be Pride and Prejudice. Whether you’re acquainted with the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy through the 1995 series, the 2005 film or perhaps even through Bridgerton, you must still read Austen’s original telling at least once in your life. If not for her delightful depiction of the arrogant Darcy, then for the beautifully described friendship between the Bennet sisters, which will be sure to warm your heart this February. The witty and compulsive repertoire between Elizabeth and Darcy is one that thousands of authors and filmmakers have attempted to replicate since its conception, so if you’re looking for the original enemies-to-lovers story, this is it.