Not all love stories are created equal. Sure, sometimes we want a squishy, feel-good tale of two people who can’t live without each other. But then, other times, we want something less happily-ever-after and more dangerous. So, I thought I’d offer up some Valentine’s Day reading suggestions both sweet and bitter – kind of like chocolate, really.
What makes a good love story? The answers are varied, of course, but there are some classics qualities that turn up over and over. A really skilled writer can steer couples away from the clichés and into the sunset.
PASSION – no one likes a wishy-washy love story. We want to read about characters that are ALL IN. Jane and Rochester from Jane Eyre.
MEANT TO BE – That sense of the inevitable, there’s just no way they can’t be together. It’s written in the stars. Fated. Romeo and Juliet, for instance.
MEANT TO BE, BUT CAN’T BE/ FORBIDDEN LOVE – This is one of my favourites. I love angst. Couples that are meant to be with each other, who are passionate, but – for a variety of reasons, just CAN’T be together. That’s my total jam. Buffy and Angel.
MEET CUTE – some unusual way to throw our lovers together.
Really great – okay, maybe I shouldn’t say ‘great’ – love stories find a way to hook our characters up, tug at their emotions (and hopefully ours) and make us feel all swoony or – heartbroken, I like that too – at the end.
So here are a handful of LOVE stories, some traditional, some not so much, for your reading pleasure.
YOU – Carolyn Kepnes
Read this book if you like a side of psycho with your roses and chocolates. This first person narrative tells the story of NYC book store manager, Joe, who falls in love with a beautiful wannabe writer, Beck. This is an interesting thriller because Joe isn’t your garden variety psycho. He’s crazy, for sure, but he’s also crazy smart. He’s instantly smitten with Beck and he finds a way to insinuate himself into her life. He wants her and he won’t let anything prevent him from having her. This is a page turner that’s actually really well-written. You can watch the series on Netflix, too. It’s a pretty true-to-the-book adaptation.
Sadie – Courtney Summers
Okay, this is not a romance novel by ANY STRETCH, but I have to include it on this list because I think everyone should read Courtney Summers and this book is getting a ton of buzz.
It’s the story of Sadie, a teen whose younger sister is murdered and the culprit is never caught. Sadie is pretty sure she knows who did it, and so she sets off to find him. Running parallel to her story is a true crime podcast about the crime. This is not a traditional love story, like it’s not boy meets girl, but it is about love…because Sadie puts her own life in jeopardy out of love for her sister.
Starry Eyes – Jenn Bennett
Of all the books on this list, Starry Eyes is likely the most traditional. It concerns 17-year-olds Zorie and Lennon. They’ve been in each other’s lives forever and things were just starting to heat up when it all fell apart. When the story starts, the two are barely speaking to each other. Then they end up on a hiking trip together and things between to thaw between them. As teenage love stories go, this one is well-written, with believable, imperfect characters that it’s almost impossible not the fall in love with…as they fall in love with each other.
Simon versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
This novel won lots of awards and praise and it is delightful in every possible way. Simon is 17. He’s amazing in every category: bright, self-aware and gay. He isn’t really out yet, but he has confided in Blue, a guy he’s met online. When another student stumbles upon Simon’s emails to Blue – too complicated to explain how that happens – and starts to blackmail Simon, life gets complicated. Watching Blue and Simon fall in love without meeting is pretty much the best thing ever. All the feels.
Book Love by Debbie Tung
This is an adorable book of comics all about the ways in which bibliophiles love their books. Tung is a writer/illustrator from Birmingham, England, and she has totally captured what it means to be in love with all things bookish. Never mind the candy, give your book-loving sweetheart this as a gift instead. Marie Kondo would definitely not endorse this book about buying/owning more books. That makes Ms. Kondo wrong, imho.