It’s February – the month of cold wet weather and love. Valentine’s is a day to spend as a couple or treat yourself with a cheeky bit of self-love. This year, snuggle up with a feel-good book about love, life and occasionally, a laugh. Here are the Book section’s favourite books to read around Valentine’s Day.
Mistakes Were Made
Written by Meryl Wilsner, Valentine’s is the perfect time to read a sapphic romance novel that doesn’t shy away from an age-gap trope. For a queer book, Mistakes Were Made centres on the two main protagonists finding love against everyone else’s opinion, choosing each other and finding the love and happiness they deserve.
The novel opens in a bar where Cassie Klein is avoiding a family weekend at her college and Erin Bennett is trying to avoid spending time with her ex-husband. However, they meet again unexpectedly over breakfast the next morning, but how will the previous night together change their relationship as they find out that Cassie’s best friend is Erin’s daughter?
The dual narrative helps navigate the story through forbidden feelings of love and questions whether being honest about their love is worth the cost. Unlike most gut-wrenching queer romances, Wilsner presents an easy-to-read novel that centres around pure happiness and love ending with a queer happy relationship that seemed destined to fail from the beginning
The Woman in Me
Released late last year, you’ve likely heard about The Woman in Me. Following decades of being in the spotlight and a conservatorship, Britney Spears finally released her long-awaited autobiography. It’s fair to say that when discussing the events of her life, specifically the men she endured, she left no prisoners.
Justin Timberlake, Jamie Lynn Spears, Kevin Federline, Jamie Spears and Lynne Spears were among the many caught in the direct firing line of Spears. However, her critiques focus on each individual’s behaviour to utilise her fame, income and hard work to their own advantage. The constant watch and commentary of those around her drove her to seek a life of privacy in an environment that profited from her publicity and her subsequent downfall. That’s where The Woman in Me draws the line, calling for an end to the hounding pressure and degradation female celebrities endure.
However, there is satirical humour, with Spears pointing out the double standards she faced. The chapter on Jamie Spears slagging off her ‘crazy’ daughter is hilarious, as Britney Spears satirically points out that Jamie’s other much younger daughter (Jamie Lynn Spears) got knocked up at the time, making her a teen mother. As Britney summarised: ‘classy’.
The book is intimate without crying for sympathy. It is both empowering and enraging as Spears details the persistent ‘bullshit’ she faced. It’s humbling, tearing away at the prestige placed on Spears to reveal a tired, middle-aged woman, who just wants to rest.
Soft Lad follows the queer, Northern and messy life of Nick Grimshaw. Grimshaw is hilarious. If you don’t know him from Radio 1’s Breakfast Show, then you may know him from Gogglebox or his podcast with Angela Hartnett, Dish. Eitherway, get to know him, he’s good.
Soft Lad is a feel-good, coming-of-age autobiography featuring, Mrs Grimshaw (our Eileen), Mr Grimshaw (our Pete) and occasionally Madonna. Oh, and a lengthy gay fantasy about David Beckham in a bathtub – a shoot that seemed to erupt a mass queer sexual awakening across England in the 90s. What more could you want?
Honestly, I loved it. It felt personal and self-deprecating, especially when Grimshaw discusses his adolescence and insecurity about making his way into the media world. Effectively, Grimmy produced a self-help book disguised as a comedy disguised as an autobiography. Soft Lad is a book you can find yourself in, and feel okay not having your shit together. It’s just about having a giggle – nothing more, nothing less.
I Would Leave Me if I Could
Written by artist and performer, Halsey, I Would Leave Me if I Could is another one of those celebrity poetry books. Often, these books have limited commercial success beyond their fans, and are highly criticised for their contents – just because you can write a ballad to a backing track, does not automatically make you capable of profound poetry. I’m looking at you Lana Del Rey. However, while Halsey does at times fall into the traps of questionable poetry, the poems explore themes of love in a poignantly honest way.
Inspired by her third studio album, Manic, and struggles with Bipolar disorder, Halsey explores love like someone explores grief. The book is littered with hate, idolisation, child-like naivety, and regret. It deals with the relative that the family will leave no child alone with. The pure desire and admiration of a new love. And even, the destruction and pure hatred one experiences as everything falls apart.
It reads at times like a song and at other points a diary. The imagination and imagery portrayed in each poem are what stuck with me. I could see every scenario, every tear and every glimpse of a smile. The poetry may be written by a pop star, but it reads like a song in all the best ways. If the front cover doesn’t lure you in, the symbolism and emotive descriptions will.
Darling by India Knight is a brand new retelling of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love. Our protagonist Linda Radlett grew up in the idyllic countryside of Norfolk with her two sisters and adopted cousin, Frances, our narrator. The family dynamic is disjointed, the girls are raised by the bohemian ex-rockstar Matthew, and his wife Sadie but their love for one another and for each of the girls is what constitutes this comforting read as one for Valentine’s.
The novel follows Linda’s life as she leaves Norfolk and each of her romantic relationships that she forms along the way, all from the perspective of her loving cousin. Because of the distinct position of our narrator, the book more clearly focuses on the impermanence of these relationships in Linda’s life, and these failing quests are starkly contrasted by the continual, solid presence of each of her family members.
This text is completely character-led, following a very loose and meandering plot that is held up by the underlying message that romance is about loving yourself and feeling loved in return. It’s a quick and comforting read, full of emotion and warmth to leave your soul fulfilled. It is a gratifying book that explores the nurturing powers of all forms of love.
David Nicholls is perhaps best known for his novel One Day, soon to be hitting our small screens on Netflix, but a lesser-known, yet equally fantastic read is his coming-of-age romance Sweet Sorrow. Set in the summer after GCSEs, Charlie Lewis tries to find any escape from home after his parents have suffered a long and painful divorce.
Looking to pass the time between the end of school and results day, Charlie rides his bike and reads books, but in a chance meeting with Fran, Charlie is introduced to the world of acting when he is forced to take part in a local production of Romeo and Juliet.
In this summer of transformation, Charlie not only admits to his love of Fran but also his love for literature and the arts despite his future working at the local garage. The writing of the clumsy teenage love is both comedic but also heartwarming, revelling in the awkward brevity of adolescent school romances.
Like all of Nicholls’ texts, the characters are lovable, faulted, and in some places painstakingly realistic. In reading Charlie’s growth, this book reminds every reader how far they have also grown, and the importance of perspective – funny, uplifting, and a love letter to the arts, a perfect Valentine’s read.