I love Valentine’s Day; not in the “spoil me materialistically, buy me flowers/chocolates/jewelry” way but in the “let’s celebrate loving your partner/friends/family in a cheesy, fun, and open” way. Baking heart-shaped cakes, dancing to love songs, wearing pinks and reds – finding joy during the coldness of mid-winter.
I have also been trying to get back into reading. Through middle school and high school, I read more books than I could count. Then the hectic chaos of college, the forced undergraduate reading assignments, got in the way – I lost the desire to pick up books that entertained me. My New Year’s resolution was to read more. I was not going to force it by tracking how many minutes I read daily or make a monthly quota to meet. I just bought a few books and decided to try my best, to be mindful that picking up a book is still a desirable option. And just maybe I would fall back in love with it.
I struggled at first. I started with Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion; while fascinating to dive back into the 1960s through her journal-esque writing, it was not cutting it for me. So I shifted gears and went full romance. As of February, I have completed two books. I have decided that extremely cheesy, and slightly over-saturated with love, and tropes of young-adult romance novels are not only my favorite, and I cannot seem to put them down, but also the break my brain needs from the real world when I wish to escape into a book.
So for the lovers and the readers, here are five book recommendations – some of my favorite love stories – to pick up before Valentine’s Day.
Alone With You In the Ether by Olivie Blake
trigger warning for the book: mental health and addiction
This was the first book I finished this year and is unlike any story I have read before. The book follows the slow-burning romance between Charlotte Regan and Aldo Damiani – and by slow burn I mean be prepared to put your head between the pages and scream “just admit you love each other already!” The book itself is written in five sections, and every few pages shift back and forth between the POVs of the main characters. The story delves into the raw beauty of love while refusing to sugarcoat the struggles each character goes through mentally and physically, it will make you laugh and cry on the same page. As a reader, I have never had a love story feel so real as if it were friends of mine telling me their story.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
This was the second book I read this year and I could not put it down! I read half of it in a day and the only reason I did not stay up all night to finish it was because I had my booster shot that morning and physically could not keep my eyes open (but if I could have, I would have). Fangirls, this story reads as every Wattpad cliche in the best of ways – and the main character is aware of it. In fact, there’s even a conversation along the lines of “I will room with you as long as there is more than one bed.” The story follows the fake relationship between graduate student Olive Smith and professor Dr. Adam Carlsen, and readers are dying to know if they will fall in love. I was devastated when I finished the book, I wanted more, luckily if you sign up for the author’s newsletter you get access to a bonus chapter!
Normal People by Sally Rooney
This story is one of my absolute favorites! I fell in love with Marianne and Connell’s romance watching the Hulu original series adaptation and immediately read the book afterward. The book follows the two from high school through college and how they keep coming back to each other in different ways, through friendship, in love, to barely knowing each other, and coming back again. I cry every time I read the book or watch the series, not out of sadness but out of my love for their story. I want to end my recommendation of this book with a quote to hook you in, “Marianne, I am not a religious person, but I do sometimes think God made you for me.”
The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks
I feel I cannot talk about romance books without mentioning Nicholas Sparks. We have all seen the Notebook and know the chokehold this man has on women our mothers’ age when it comes to romance. The Longest Ride is the exception of his stories; I firmly believe it was written for women in their 20s. This story follows the convergence of two couples, Ira and Ruth with Luke and Sophia – their stories are separated by decades but end up interlocked through love letters. Like other works by Nicholas Sparks, it can be gut-wrenching and heartbreaking but in the best of ways.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
trigger warning for the book: mental health and suicide
I have read this book more times than I can count. I found the story of Violet and Finch when I was in high school and will forever be impacted by it. The two, who are stereotyped as unlikely to ever interact, are partnered for a school project to find the wonders of Indiana. While they find small adventures, they find each other. This book is not a traditional romance, and I cannot promise a happy ending. If you decide to not read it, Netflix made a movie of their story, and it follows the book almost word for word.