Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore Valentine’s Day. Don’t bother rushing to the comments to remind me that it’s a capitalist conspiracy to make us spend our hard-earned on chocolates and cards and flowers – I am well aware. Be all that as it may, I think it’s as good a time as any to dig out a few romantic reads. I didn’t realise until I started trying to put this post together how few “romantic” books I actually read. I’m a bit too cynical to put up with any schmaltzy crap in literature. So, this is a list of romantic reads for Valentine’s Day that won’t make you throw up in your mouth.
Bridgerton: The Duke And I by Julia Quinn
Let’s start off with a regency romance. Bridgerton: The Duke And I is the first book in Julia Quinn’s wildly popular series, so it’s the first of many romantic reads you can pick up for Valentine’s Day. Each book in the series revolves around one of the Bridgerton siblings – in this case, Daphne, the eldest girl making her debut into society. As the eldest girl, there’s a lot riding on her finding a decent “match”, so why would she risk it all with a hare-brained scheme involving the dashing roguish bachelor-for-life Duke? Well, he’s hot, of course. The book isn’t as steamy as the Netflix series, but it’s still good fun. Read my full review of Bridgerton: The Duke And I here.
Emma by Jane Austen
It wouldn’t feel right to make a list of romantic reads for Valentine’s Day without including any Austen. The Elizabeth/Darcy fandom is well-established, so I’ve gone with a slightly less traditional choice: Emma. It took me a little while to understand its understated brilliance, but this tale of a wealthy, beautiful, self-indulgent match-maker is a great Valentine’s Day read (as long as you don’t need your stories to be action-packed to hold your interest). Read my full review of Emma here.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
While we’re in the 19th century, we should also consider Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Now, maybe it will make you throw up in your mouth, just a little bit, but bear with me. It’s definitely a problematic love story, what with the whole wife-locked-in-the-attic thing… but I loved it anyway! And that’s what makes me think it will warm the cockles of even the most hardened cynic this Valentine’s Day. It’s the perfect combination of romance, mystery, and coming-of-age, with a bad-ass female protagonist at its heart. I highly recommend it! Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.
Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
The romance is right there in the title: this is the story of Love In The Time Of Cholera. Pick this one up if you’re looking for all of the classic South American magical realism we associate with our favourite romantic reads. It’s passionate, it’s lusty, and it examines the way we understand love and what keeps it alive across generations. It’s long, but stick with it: it’s worth it in the end (if nothing else, proud singletons will find it keeps them distracted and helps them work on their patience in this trying time of Valentine’s propaganda!).
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Now, to something a little more fun! To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has a terrifying, but compelling, premise: what if everyone you’d ever admired from afar found out how you felt about them? What if they all found out at the exact same time? Yikes! That’s what happens to protagonist Lara Jean Song, whose secret love letters to her teenage crushes are mysteriously mailed to their recipients. I think that’s enough to instill fear in the heart of anyone who was once a teenage girl, but don’t worry: that panic is soon replaced by teenage hijinks and sweet romance. Read my full review of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before here.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Don’t you roll your eyes at me! If you approach Little Women with the right perspective, it makes for a wonderfully romantic read on Valentine’s Day. I know Alcott was pilloried by her publishers and her fans for the “unromantic” ending: headstrong Jo March turns down Prince Charming’s proposal, and instead chooses to marry the poor (old!) Professor Bhaer… but I loved it! It was realistic, which makes it lovely. Plus, it’s easier to imagine our heroine having a happy life with the stimulating professor, than with party-boy Laurie. I challenge you to give this American classic another go and see what you find this Valentine’s Day! Read my full review of Little Women here.
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell
And while we’re on romantic endings that aren’t exactly “happy”, if that’s your thing you’re really going to want to read Margaret Mitchell’s sweeping American epic Gone With The Wind. Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara connives and conspires her way through the Civil War, falling in and out of love with both the charming Rhett Butler and her best friend’s husband (sometimes at the same time). Sure, there’s also some gross romanticisation of slavery in the South, but it’s worth a read this Valentine’s Day nonetheless.
One Day by David Nicholls
If high-concept romantic reads for Valentine’s Day appeal to you, try this one on for size: One Day tells the story of two college friends, through the tiny window of a certain day in their lives each year. Through that one day (see what he did there?), Nicholas explores the importance of timing, the changing nature of relationships, and the need for patience when it comes to love. It may make you a little nauseated at times, but hopefully Nicholls’s humour and mastery of the craft will keep the vomit where it belongs. Plus, the ending… Oh, the ending!
Infamous by Lex Croucher
Lex Croucher’s latest, Infamous, is billed as “Bridgerton‘s wild little sister”. I’d call it more a Gen Z rom-com take on Mary Shelley’s lost summer with Percy and Lord Byron. Either way, it sounds like fabulous fun, doesn’t it? It’s a delightfully diverse and queer rom-com that interrogates gender roles and social obligation. It’s got a historical setting with a contemporary sensibility. Plus, it’s funny! Pick up this romantic read on Valentine’s Day if you’re in the mood for a young, fun read with corsets and covert desire. Read my full review of Infamous here.
Daisy Jones And The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
You might’ve avoided this multi-mega-million-times-over best-seller because you suspect it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. I hate to burst your bubble, but… it does. Daisy Jones And The Six is a fantastic romantic read for Valentine’s Day for fans of Fleetwood Mac and all the drama that went along with ’70s rock’n’roll. It’s got yearning, it’s got song lyrics, it’s got partying, it’s got multiple points-of-view, and it’s got heart. The electricity between Daisy Jones and lead guitarist Billy Dunne crackles right off the page, and the reader isn’t the only one who notices. As the tagline on the cover promises, everyone was there, but everyone remembers it differently. Read my full review of Daisy Jones And The Six here.