To me, the child of an elementary school teacher (later middle school and then administration), Valentine’s Day is mostly a holiday for sticking adorable paper hearts in varied colors of red and pink to things and also, candy.
I like candy. Also chocolate, absolutely, big fan.
I have zero strong feelings about who gives me said chocolate and will happily buy it for myself, but I do love a good heart shaped box, and I would absolutely hang the felt hearts I sometimes hang up in the kitchen…except that the elves haven’t come to take the Christmas decorations down yet. Clearly, another story.
So I’m pretty much a Valentine’s fan, and also love a good romance or rom-con (a distinction largely involving the cover and target audience) any time of year. But I’m also a cynical Gen Z who sat in the theater watching Reality Bites and screaming at Winona to date Ben Stiller while he was useful, then ditch him for someone else but under no circumstances to waste another breath on the future disappointment that was Ethan Hawke.
All of that to say that I’m wholly qualified to offer you, before getting to the sweet stuff, the following deliciously salty takes on marriage and romance:
First off, Cackle (Rachel Harrison). The world/culture/etc expects us to be a certain way and do certain things, it is so very very true. If you are over and done with all of that in any way and especially in the sense of conforming to “the patriarchy” or online dating, and if you would just like to enjoy someone giving all of it a big old middle finger in a form that basically reclaims every witch in every fairy tale ever (wtf, Hansel, why are you vandalizing my house?), this one is for you.
The Start-Up Wife (Tahmima Anam): a glorious satire of start-up culture that follows a brilliant coder and entrepreneur as she builds an app that remakes social media (and also sends up religion and spirituality and influencer culture)—and lets her husband become its face and take all the credit—for both smart and dumb reasons. Watching her come into her own is every bit as satisfying as any traditional HEA.
But I do also love a good romance, I do I do I do. (These both happen to be cis-het, but I like them all.)
I was a little confused by how over the top Part of Your World was—Abby Jimenez doesn’t usually lean quite so hard on the traditional tropes—until I realized she was intentionally leaning into the fairy tale thing, and that’s absolutely what it is. It’s a grown-up fairy tale and it’s lovely and satisfying and perfect if you love opposites-attract, meant-for-each-other stories that also feature women defying family expectations to find their own happiness. Note that there’s also a domestic violence subplot here that resolves in a satisfying, wish-it-were-so way. I’m a former DV prosecutor so I have to say that.
Georgie, All Along is another perfect read, with my favorite-ever supportive romance parents (do NOT drink their tea) and a protagonist like I’ve never seen before, one whose challenge lies in accepting herself (ok, seen that) for NOT being the ambitious go-getter she expects herself to be (it’s better than that). I also love this for being a book that takes place in ordinary workplaces and homes, with waitresses and carpenters and spa-workers who are grittier and more regular than what we often see.
Grab any and all of these and you’ll get what you came for—whether you love Valentine’s Day, hate it or just can’t even be bothered to care. In particular, I’ve been in the mood for rock-solid endings lately, the kind where everyone gets at least part of what they deserve, in romance or anywhere.
SO: Have you read a book where you really loved the ending lately? Comments are open, kids.
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KJ, I think you mean you are a cynical Gen X. The oldest Gen Z is 26 and I don’t think they watched Reality Bites and only know Winona Rider from Stranger Things.
I could not agree with you more on the Ethan Hawke character in Reality Bites. I wanted to shout at the screen!
As for satisfying endings, I am proud to say that I wrote one for my standalone contemporary romance “Clean Break.”