I am, probably, a fundamentally cold person.
My Goodreads profile prominently features a GIF declaring me to be dead inside. (Granted, the seriousness of this is lessened by the fact that it is a GIF, and also of Michael Scott, but still.)
As everyone who isn’t currently experiencing their first visit to this blog knows (and if it is your first visit, welcome and good luck and leave while you still can), even when it comes to reading (my favorite thing), I am critical and annoying.
I listen to a lot of Phoebe Bridgers.
Like, a concerning amount.
So, in short, I am very picky about romance. And yet I read a lot of it, in a desperate attempt to discover that I have magically developed normal feelings.
As a result of this long-term quest: Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day by talking about the few romances I have actually liked.
(In this post, I’ll be posting reviews if I haven’t already added them to this silly lil blog, and if I have, it’s links all day baby.)
The holy grail of romance subgenres, the one I read the most, AND the one I’m pickiest about.
Let’s talk recs.
You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
Banter city, population all of us!!!
This is a popular book and yet, to me, it is underrated. It could have as many copies in circulation as the Bible, or better yet, the Da Vinci Code, and I would probably still say that.
Recommend for: the girlies who read Pride & Prejudice for Lizzy (or prefer the 2005 adaptation, in other words), who like enemies to lovers for the angst, and who don’t know what they’re doing with their lives but are pretty sure they’re in the top 10 funniest people on earth.
I love Sarah Hogle.
Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle
Have I mentioned I love Sarah Hogle 😏
She is my only tried-and-true, never failed, always winning romance author. She is probably the only author who has written books I have exclusively five starred without exception.
She’s only written two, but still. Her next one is Christmasy so signs point to five.
Recommend for: girlies who say they’re cynical but are actually gooey and corny and soft, who like the idea of Hallmark movies but struggle to deal with the low quality.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Helloooo, the power of perseverance.
When you four star the first book in a series and two star the next, and yet you find it within yourself to finish the series, you should always be rewarded with a five star.
This is the universe righting itself. (Whenever nice things happen to me that is the universe being correct.)
Recommend for: the girlies who believe men should be seen and not heard, the escapist readers, the smut appreciators.
The genre I read the least and like the most.
I am a creature of logic and rationality. I am the daughter of the STEM nerds you couldn’t bully.
This is all a complete lie. Classics recs time.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
This book has, as you may know:
Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.
And if you like any of those things, or all of those things, or several of them or none of them, or if you find any of them exciting, or compelling, or curiosity-inducing at all, then you simply have to read it.
This is one of those extraordinarily rare cases when the film adaptation sometimes prompts people to say the uncommon phrase “The movie is better than the book.” Those people are wrong, but less wrong than those who usually say it.
The movie is funny, and exciting, and brilliantly casted, and truer to the book than anyone has any real right to expect (thank you, William Goldman, for adapting your own work).
But here’s a by no means exhaustive list of what it’s missing:
- the full extent of the author’s wit
- character backstories so rich you’ll feel their trials and tribulations intensely
- a fictional history so convincing that I spent most of my childhood (and some of my adolescence) believing that Europe included long-warring countries called Florin and Guilder
- masterful themes on the meaning of storytelling and truth in literature
- the chance to be awestruck by a book over and over and over again
So yes, you should watch the movie. Sure. It’s great.
But more than that, you should read the book.
(I’ll even say it’s okay if you’ve seen the movie already. Your fun won’t be spoiled in the slightest.)
Bottom line: I truly and sincerely pity anyone who has not read and has no intention of reading The Princess Bride.
It’s the best thing in the world, after cough drops.
Anything by Jane Austen
I was going to put Pride & Prejudice here as a point in favor of sheer unoriginality, but why would I when I have the chance to make this a little personality quiz!
Northanger Abbey, recommend for: Girlies who want the best and most underrated Austen love interest, who understand and appreciate satire (this is not a snub, because it only applies to me about 50% of the time)
Emma, recommend for: Girlies who read lit fic about unlikable women, whose favorite Sally Rooney is Conversations with Friends
Persuasion, recommend for: Girlies who want a grand romance but read P&P too recently, whose favorite romcom has Meg Ryan in it, who prefer the miniseries P&P over Keira Knightley’s
Pride & Prejudice, recommend for: everyone, obviously.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I am a very pretentious person.
I try to seem “hip” and “cool” and “relatable” and “down with the teens” – and of course I totally am all of those things – but also I have my tendencies toward pretension. It’s who I am. Just last night I shuddered at the idea of popular music, like some kind of eight-hundred-year-old gremlin.
I am not proud of this side of me, but it’s who I am. And also it is important background information for you, dear Reader, going into this review. (That direct address to you as an audience member was me emulating this book, not an example of my pretension. Or was it???)
Anyway. It’s important that you know my capacity to be pretentious so that I can make this statement:
I don’t get how any reader can say they don’t like classics.
Oof. A doozy, right? Aren’t you glad I warned you? Now you know that that wasn’t just a one-off of self-serious condescension but rather a pattern of my personality and oh sh*t actually my explanation probably made the whole thing a million times worse. Now I’ve painted my insufferability as consistent.
Come back, everyone!!!! Let me explain!
What I need to explain is that this book is excellent, and also a classic. It is very very old but sometimes old stuff is still worth it! (I should know. I have the mannerisms of the type of grumpy old man that gets endearingly profiled in Scandinavian bestsellers.)
This is not the classic I would recommend that someone start with if they’re looking to get into the genre. It is very, very slow, and very wordy, and the language takes some settling in. But also this book is a literal gem.
It was published in 19th century England, which is no one’s idea of Progressive Central. But this book is jarringly feminist when the constraints it (and Jane) were working in are taken into account. Jane is an independent woman, and this book from eighteen freakin’ forty-seven tells her story.
Now, I love Jane Austen books as much as the next girl (if the next girl is pretty damn obsessed with Jane Austen), but that’s something not even all her books can say.
Here’s the thing about this book: I love nineteenth century fiction (or what I’ve read of it), but even if you didn’t you’d probably love this book. So much of this is unique, by the standards of then but also even the standards of today. It’s a romance, yes, which: extremely normal. But it’s a romance between two characters who are not conventionally beautiful, which is unbelievably rare.
It’s also not a romance that acts as basically the sole option for its female character. I love Pride & Prejudice, and I of course think Lizzie Bennet is a feminist (and awesome) character, but there’s no way for that book to end, really, that doesn’t include marriage for her. Three of the five Bennet sisters get married over the course of that book. It’s either that or old maid status, baby.
But not lil Jane Eyre. She does not allow marriage to be the only prospect for her!! She goes away and makes a life for herself and then decides whether she wants to follow that path. We don’t even see that in every 21st century romance.
Plus, Jane is an excellent character, and of a type we RARELY see. She’s serious and upstanding and smart and moral. She has a strong mind and she doesn’t shy away from that. She lacks the requisite features of today’s female subjects of romance: the quirkiness or the humor or the adorkable way she trips and falls/spills coffee/etc. She also lacks the nineteenth-century version of a lot of those traits. And it is so goddamn refreshing I can’t even tell you.
And on top of all that, the language in this book is so gorgeous I want the whole manuscript tattooed on me.
Which would be wild, because this is about a million pages long. And speaking of, yes, it is very slow and hard to get into and basically you have to adjust to a whole new reading experience. So I wouldn’t recommend starting off your nineteenth century fiction binge with this book.
But I would recommend getting into nineteenth century fiction solely for the purpose of reading this book.
Bottom line: IT’S JUST SO DAMN GOOD, YOU GUYS.
I call every young adult romance “a contemporary.” I don’t know why. I think it dates back to when I thought reading romance was cringe, but I guess reading the same books for a younger age group was okay?
Who knows. Let’s get into it.
Just One Day by Gayle Forman
The best part of this is not the romance, but that is good too, and I’m not exactly rich in five star possibilities here so we take what we can get.
I also just believe – and this goes for the next in this section as well – that Valentine’s Day is about love in general. So this qualifies under Self-Love and Friend Love and Family Love too.
Recommend for: girlies who travel or want to travel, who are anxious and have come out of or are working to emerge from their shells, who know that the real whirlwind romance is the friends we made along the way.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Okay, so again, this romance is not the best part of this book.
Well, there are two romances, and both of them come in approximately behind the characters, the writing, the character development, and the themes of love and fate and so on.
But there are romances that are pretty nice. And see disclaimer above.
Recommend for: girlies who like poetry but really just pretty writing, who are artsy-fartsy, who believe in True Love or would like to or can deal with it for a few pages, who love books that start sad to end happy.