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FOR A BRIDGERTON FIX: The Duke & I by Julia Quinn
Thanks to all the furore around the release of Bridgerton on Netflix, ardent fans of the television series might have missed that the franchise originally started out as a series of seven books – each one focused on a different Bridgerton sibling. We suggest you start from the beginning by picking up The Duke & I, which tells the tale of Daphne Bridgerton and her pursuit for an eligible husband. After teaming up with the handsome and aloof Duke of Hastings to dupe the rest of society into thinking they’ve ‘formed an attachment’ – really, the idea is simply to make Daphne more alluring to potential suitors – the two grapple with their feelings for each other, and the ramifications it could have, not just for their two families, but society at large.
THE CONTEMPORARY PICK: Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers
It’s 1957 in the south-east suburbs of London. Jean Swinney is a features writer on a local paper, disappointed in love and – on the brink of 40 – living a limited existence with her aggressively defiant mother. When a young Swiss woman, Gretchen Tilbury, contacts the paper to claim her daughter is the result of a virgin birth, it is down to Jean to discover whether she is a miracle or a fraud. But the more she investigates, the more her life becomes strangely intertwined with that of the Tilburys: Gretchen herself, her husband Howard and her charming daughter Margaret. But they are the subject of the story Jean is researching for the newspaper, a story that increasingly seems to be causing dark ripples across all their lives. Jean cannot bring herself to give up the chance of finally tasting happiness, but there will be a price to pay.
AN AWARD WINNER: Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
It's 1983, and 17-year-old Elio is staying with his family at their villa in Italy. He soon meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student who's working as an intern for Elio's father. Each is unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, when, during the restless summer weeks, unrelenting currents of obsession, fascination and desire intensify their passion. Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. The Oscar-nominated film, starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, really captures sun-soaked summers in Italy, all soundtracked by Sufjan Stevens’ soft piano compositions and 80s classics. And Aciman’s 2019 follow-up, Find Me – which tracks Elio and Oliver’s lives after Italy – is everything you want from a sequel.
BEST FILM ADAPTATION: The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
If you’ve only seen the Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams film, you need to pick up the book. Noah Calhoun has just returned from World War Two. Attempting to escape the ghosts of battle, he tries to concentrate on restoring an old plantation home to its former glory. And yet he is haunted by images of the beautiful girl he met there 14 years before, a girl who captured his heart like no other. But when these distant memories begin to slide into reality, the passion that lain had is ignited once more. And though so much is in their way, the miraculous force of Allie and Noah’s love refuses to fade.
THE TEAR-JERKER: The Light Between The Oceans by ML Stedman
Tom Sherbourne, newly released from the horrors of the World War One, is now a lighthouse keeper, living on a remote island with his wife Izzy, who is content in everything but her failure to have a child. One April morning, a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man – and a crying baby. Safe from the morality of the real world, Tom and Izzy follow their hearts and decide to keep the child for themselves – a decision that has devastating consequences. This novel is a New York Times bestseller for a reason, and was adapted into a 2016 film starring Michael Fassbender and Alice Vikander, who met on set and married a year later. Whether you’re reading the book or watching the film, we recommend keeping a box of tissues nearby.
A TOUCHING LOVE STORY: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Cyril Avery is not a real Avery. At least, that's what his parents make sure to remind him. Adopted as a baby, he feels more and more disconnected with the family that treats him more as a curious pet, rather than a beloved son. So, as a young adult, Cyril decides to embark on a quest to find his place in the world. Sometimes misguided and often in the wrong place at the wrong time, life has dealt him a difficult hand, but Cyril is resolute that he can change things, and find the courage to be himself. In doing so, he comes across Catherine Goggin, a young, pregnant woman finding herself alone and isolated at only 16 years old. There is a place in the world for both of them, and Cyril is determined to find it. At once epic and heart-breaking, this isn’t traditional romance as you know it, but the love story at the heart of this book is touching and devastating in equal measure.
THE NEW RELEASE: Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
Looking for a truly modern-day love story? This debut novel about two Black British artists falling in and out of love might fit the bill. Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists – he a photographer, she a dancer – trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. They fall in love, and even though it seems they’re destined to be together, any couple is at risk of being torn apart by fear and violence. At once a beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a label and how to find safety in love, only to lose it. Dubbed “the most essential British debut of recent years” by critics, we predict this is the book everyone will be talking about in 2021.
FOR OLD-FASHIONED ROMANCE: Emma by Jane Austen
She might have been described by Jane Austen herself as a character 'whom no one but myself will much like', but the irrepressible Emma Woodhouse is one of literature’s most beloved heroines – and one of the more unusual picks when it comes to classic tales of romans. Clever, rich and beautiful, she sees no need for marriage herself, but loves interfering in the love lives of others, until her matchmaking plans unravel, with consequences that she never expected. Fans of the recent film release starring Anya Taylor-Joy will love getting stuck into this over Valentine’s weekend.
A MODERN CLASSIC: One Day by David Nicholls
David Nicholls’s mega hit One Day was published in 2009. Each chapter covers the lives of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew on 15th July – St Swithin's Day – over the course of 20 years. After one day together in 1988, Emma Morley and Dexter begin a friendship that will last a lifetime. She is a working-class girl of principle and ambition who dreams of making the world a better place. He is a wealthy charmer who believes the world will be his playground. For the next two decades, key moments of their relationship are experienced over several Julys in their lives. Together and apart, we see Dex and Em through their friendship and fights, hopes and missed opportunities, laughter and tears. Somewhere along their journey, these two people realise that what they are searching and hoping for has been there all along. And as the true meaning of that one day back in 1988 is revealed, they come to terms with the nature of love and life itself. Well worth a re-read if it’s been on your bookshelf since it came out.
FINALLY, SOME EROTICA: Delta of Venus by Anais Nin
As influential and revelatory in its day as Fifty Shades of Grey is now, Anais Nin's Delta of Venus is a ground-breaking anthology of erotic short stories conjuring up a glittering cascade of sexual encounters. Creating her own 'language of the senses', she explores an area that was previously the domain of male writers and brings to it her own unique perceptions. Her vibrant and impassioned prose evokes the essence of female sexuality in a world where only love has meaning. Published posthumously, it’s only a shame the author didn’t live long enough to see her work accepted by a far wider and more receptive audience.