If you don't have a date for Valentine's Day, or just fancy a quiet night in, here are some books to curl up with to vicariously enjoy observing someone else's relationship, with all its ups and downs. These books are from several different genres, including historical, contemporary, fantasy and paranormal, and vary in tone from dramatic to more lighthearted, so hopefully there's something in there to suit your mood and personal taste.
Persuasion by Jane Austen
"You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you." — Jane Austen, Persuasion
Anne Elliot broke off her engagement with a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, when her friend, Lady Russell convinced her that she could do better. Anne deeply regrets this, especially went Wentworth comes home from the sea as a wealthy and successful captain just as Anne's family is on the brink of ruin.
This one tends to get overlooked in favour of Pride and Prejudice, but it's a beautiful story too and my personal favourite of Austen's novels. It has already been analysed to death by people more qualified than I to discuss its literary merit, so I will just say that it is timeless and beautifully romantic. Wentworth's letter is THE romantic moment of the story.
First published in 1818.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
"He wondered how it could have taken him so long to realize he cared for her, and he told her so, and she called him an idiot, and he declared that it was the finest thing that ever a man had been called." — Neil Gaiman, Stardust.
Tristan Thorn is besotted with the beautiful Victoria, who is indifferent to him. One night he sees a shooting star and pledges to find it and bring it to her if she will marry him. He crosses the ancient wall near his village and enters a strange land full of mysterious people, witches and magic. Much to his surprise, the star turns out to be a person, named Yvaine, who isn't tremendously impressed by the idea of being dragged back across the wall to meet Victoria. Meanwhile others are also looking for the star for their own reasons, putting both Yvaine and Tristan in terrible danger.
Stardust is a fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman, the bestselling author of American Gods, Anansi Boys and Neverwhere. Gaiman isn't known for writing romance, but Stardust is a love story, and a rollicking good fun one at that. It's also a fairy tale, (though not for children, what with the occasional coarse language, sex and violence), featuring unicorns, magical travel by candlelight, flying ships etc.
Published in 2006 by Harper Perennial
Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane
"Terrible thought she was brave. She remembered it now, heard his voice in her head as if he stood next to her. "They scared. Not you, though." Terrible thought she was brave, and if he - a man whose name was Terrible, a man whose path people scrambled to get out of - thought so, it must be true. She could do this, she would do this." — Stacia Kane, Unholy Ghosts
Cesaria "Chess" Putnam grows up in a changed world, following the aftermath of an apocalyptic event. The dead rose as ghosts and slaughtered the living until the followers of the Church of Real Truth were able to imprison the ghosts. The orphaned Chess is employed by the Church as a "debunker", who goes to houses where ghosts have been reported to determine whether the sightings are genuine and where necessary exorcise the ghosts. It's a well paid job, and the extra money allows her to fall into bad habits. She finds herself owing money to a local crime boss named Bump, who uses this leverage to force her to work for him on jobs involving black magic.
Another fantasy novel, this time urban fantasy, Unholy Ghosts might not sound like a romance, but there is one smouldering in there if you care to go looking. Chess becomes involved in a love triangle between Terrible, Bump's enforcer, and Lex, the son of a rival crime boss. Chess and Terrible are both deeply damaged people, and it's wonderful the way they find each other. Terrible is not your average romance hero, being far from handsome, having scars and a nose broken many times in fights. Chess is physically a fairly typical paranormal romance heroine (the ones on the covers with their back to you, showing off a tattoo or three and some kind of weapon), but she is better fleshed out as a character. Their relationship develops slowly from book to book and I keep coming back for more.
There are sex scenes, violence and drug use and horror in this book, so it will not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you do like it there are five novels in the series to date, plus a number of short stories.
Published in 2010 by Del Rey.
Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella
"There's genuine pain in Eric's eyes. And I feel a stab of guilt. But you can't stay with people because of guilt. Or because they can drive a speedboat." — Sophie Kinsella, Remember Me?
Twenty-eight year old Lexi survives a car accident only to wake with no memory of the past three years. During that missing time she has somehow acquired a promotion, new designer clothes, a new set of friends and a multimillionaire husband. She finds herself confused and dissatisfied with her life, which is not quite all as it seems.
Remember Me is a contemporary romance by the author of the Shopaholic (Confessions of A Shopaholic, Shopaholic and Baby etc.) series. While Sophie Kinsella's books tend to be relatively lighthearted they're not without their poignant moments too. I don't want to say too much about the romance in this one for fear of spoilers. Just one word: sunflowers.
Published 2008 by Bantam
Born in Ice by Nora Roberts
"It shouldn't make you sad to know you're loved, Grayson."
But it did. It made him sad, and panicked, and for just a moment, wishful." — Nora Roberts, Born in Ice
Brianna Concannon runs a bed and breakfast in a picturesque corner of western Ireland. In the winter the B&B is more or less deserted and Brianna enjoys the peace and quiet until the American writer, Grayson Thane, turns up to stay and work on his latest novel. The two are thrown together as Brianna deals with a painful secret from her family's past.
Born in Ice is actually the second book in the "Born In" series, each of which focuses on a different sister in the Concannon family, but each of the books is a standalone novel, so it doesn't really matter which you read first. If you enjoy books that make you feel full of outrage on the protagonist's behalf this one will really hit the spot. Apparently I made a hissing noise like a goose at one point while listening to the audio version. This is also a good choice if you like intelligent heroes with intense personalities.
If you can get hold of the audio version the narrator's accent is pleasant to listen to.