It’s that time of year. Paper hearts are being strung in the windows of shopfronts, cinemas are screening classic romances, and restaurants are fixing a special menu. You might be out celebrating with a loved one, or celebrating yourself, or even celebrating a lifelong friendship. Whether you’re looking for bittersweet symphonies or the dark side of romance, we have a collection of swoon-worthy and heart-stopping stories from around the world that are sure to take your breath away.
Explore love in a different way. Here, we have a list of recent novels that delve into love, and its implications, around the world.
Loner by Georgina Young
Text Publishing Company, 9781922330130, p/b, £8.99, out now
A sharp and unlikely coming-of-age debut novel from Australia’s Sally Rooney.
Lona spends her days developing photographs in the dark room of the art school she dropped out of, and her nights DJ-ing the roller disco at Planet Skate. She is in inexplicable, debilitating love with a bespectacled former classmate. She is in comfortable, platonic love with her best friend Tab. When Lona’s grandfather moves into her home, she finds herself bonding with him just as she watches his health decline. When she is promoted to manager of checkout three at Coles, she argues for a demotion to trolley-girl. When she meets a bass-playing, cello-shredding, charming-as-all-hell suitor, she is bewildered by the idea of finding herself in a romantic relationship with another human being.
A stylish and exciting debut novel, exploring issues of feminism, art, friendship and family from a new adult perspective.
Chase Of The Wild Goose by Mary Gordon
Lurid Editions, 9781739744106, p/b, £12, out now
“Sharp, witty, and utterly compelling, Mary Gordon’s story of two women who chose each other, and a life of freedom will conquer every heart.”—Patricia Duncker
Late 18th century Ireland. Two women from noble families, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, meet and form an intense romantic friendship. Against the will of their families – and overcoming many obstacles – they leave Ireland and settle at Plas Newydd. Here they become famous, as the Ladies of Llangollen.
The Performance by Claudia Petrucci, translated by Anne Milano Appel
World Editions, 9781912987313, p/b, £13.99, out now
What happens when the boundaries between love and possession become blurred? What happens when your identity is defined by the person you’re with?
Giorgia was a talented actress before she abandoned her stage career and fell in love with Filippo. She settles into a life of quiet compromise — until one day she bumps into her old theater director, Mauro, who fans the acting flame back to life. But setting a restless soul on fire can be dangerous if the leading actress loses sight of the boundary between reality and fiction — and Giorgia collapses, ending up in a clinic. Filippo and Mauro find themselves both accomplices and adversaries, seduced by a dangerous game to heal and win back Giorgia: by writing the script for her perfect life.
The Carnivorous Plant by Mayo, Andrea & McGloughlin, Laura
3TimesRebel Press, 9781739823634, p/b, £14.99, out now
A controversial choice for a Valentine’s Day pick, but it’s important to recognise when to disentangle yourself and find your true power within.
What makes a carnivorous plant trap you? How can we avoid it? How can we escape from it devouring us? For the protagonist of this story, it is already too late when she realises that she is completely trapped in a toxic relationship with Ibana (her partner). The Carnivorous Plant is divided into 9 sections and 81 short chapters, all of which begin with the number 1, as a metaphor for the main character being in a labyrinth with no way out. Each section starts with a brief story, inspired by classic fables. These short and brutal tales revolve around the different phases of mistreatment (cruelty, anger, abuse, violence, isolation…). This book is a portrait of horror. A synthesis of all the violence that exists between couples, friends, at work or in the family. It reflects about the limits of human relationships, focusing on the abuse and its multiple psychological consequences. This novel is about power rather than love.
Fear And Lovely by Anjana Appachana
Verve Books, 9780857308344, h/b, £19.99, out now
Mallika is a painfully shy young woman growing up in the heart of a close-knit, sometimes stifling New Delhi colony. Though she is surrounded by love, her life is complicated by secrets that she, her mother and her aunt work hard to keep. After suffering a trauma aged nineteen that causes her to lose three days of her memory and spiral into a deep depression, Mallika must find a way out of the abyss, back to herself and those she cares about. But she must also hide her mental illness from her community. In a narrative that unfolds elliptically from the perspectives of Mallika and the seven people closest to her, the astonishing story of these characters’ intertwining lives emerges. For Mallika’s family, childhood friends and the two men she loves are also hiding truths. As each gives voice to contending with their own struggles, secrets and silences shatter.
For fans of Monica Ali and Arundhati Roy, as irreverent and funny as it is serious and anguished, Fear and Lovely is a tender, character-driven story of love, longing, terror and healing that will keep you turning pages, and won’t let you go.
Experience Points by Nicholai Avigdor Melamed
Microcosm Publishing, 9781648410741, p/b, £12.99, out now
It’s time to get steamy as we enter into a world of sexual freedom and unapologetic filth. Alex Mazor is a transmasculine horror artist struggling to make a living in Toronto who invites one of his patrons home to model for his next project with not entirely artistic motives in mind. But Matt Connors, local fantasy geek and perpetual DM-without-a-party, is an unlikely model and an even stranger bedfellow. Follow their relationship, from steamy modeling session to some exhibitionism at an art exhibit, and a road trip that pushes the pair to bring their trust to a new level. While exploring one another’s kinks and insecurities, will they be brave enough to find intimacy as well? This series chronicles two lives at a crossroads of healing and self-discovery.
A More Perfect Union by Tamye Huf
Myriad Editions, 9781912408979, p/b, £8.99, out now
Henry O’Toole sails to America in 1848 to escape poverty and famine in Ireland, only to find anti-Irish prejudice awaiting him. Determined never to starve again, he changes his surname to Taylor and heads south to the state of Virginia, seeking work as a travelling blacksmith on the prosperous plantations. Sarah is a slave. Torn from her family and sold to Jubilee Plantation, she must navigate the hierarchy of her fellow slaves, the whims of her white masters, and now the attentions of the mysterious blacksmith. Fellow slave Maple oversees the big house with bitterness and bile, and knows that a white man’s attention spells trouble. Given to her half-sister as a wedding present by their white father, she is set on being reunited with her husband and daughter, at any cost.
Inspired by the true story of the author’s great-great grandparents, this dazzling debut touches on themes of identity, sacrifice, belonging and survival and is an eye-opening love story that will strongly resonate with any reader.
Love’s Last Messenger and Other Stories by Earl McKenzie
LMH Publishing Ltd, 9789766570750, p/b, £9.99, out now
In this collection of short stories, Earl McKenzie explores themes such as filial and romantic love, thanksgiving, education, community and the relation between the visual arts and society. We meet four members of a family who give their own perspectives on an estranged son; a man who mourns the death of the first woman he loved; a poet who seeks the forgiveness of a woman he once hurt; a yam farmer who cannot forget a kindness; and a young Rastafarian artist who mounts an exhibition of his paintings in the square of his home district. A variety of storytelling techniques are used to offer these vivid interpretations of Jamaican life.
Love After The End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit & Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction, edited by Joshua Whitehead
Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551528113, p/b, £17.99, out now
“The stories here are difficult, they’re beautiful, they’re hilarious and sad and frightening and hopeful. But more than all of that, they guide us back to ourselves and to our relations on a shimmering trail of song and stardust.”—Daniel Heath Justice, author of Why Indigenous Literatures Matter
Get ready to explore a range of dystopian, fantastical and sci-fi stories from an indigenous, queer perspective.
This exciting and groundbreaking fiction anthology showcases a number of new and emerging 2SQ (Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous) writers from across Turtle Island. Here, readers will discover bio-engineered AI rats, transplanted trees in space, the rise of a 2SQ resistance camp, a primer on how to survive Indigiqueerly, virtual reality applications, motherships at sea, and the very bending of space-time continuums queered through NDN time. Love After The End demonstrates the imaginatively queer Two-Spirit futurisms we have all been dreaming of since 1492.
Seoulmates by Jen Frederick
Bantam, 9780593100165, p/b, £14.99, out now
Now this is a book you have to read if you want super-quick, super-fun, super-everything read that will sweep you off your feet.
When Hara Wilson lands in Seoul to find her birth mother, she doesn’t plan on falling in love with the first man she lays eyes on, but Choi Yujun is irresistible. If his broad shoulders and dimples weren’t enough, Choi Yujun is the most genuine, decent, gorgeous guy to exist. Too bad he’s also her stepbrother. This is the eagerly awaited follow-up to Heart and Seoul, further exploring themes like cultural identity, family, and adoption.
Heart & Seoul by Jen Frederick
Penguin Putnam, 9780593100141, £14.99