For the person in your life who can't get enough romance novels and likes to spend Christmas sighing wistfully over a Bucks Fizz while everyone else opens presents or watched telly – we have the perfect list for you.

Below are tales of lifelong affairs, thwarted passions, star-crossed lovers and a fair few rolls in the hay, including novels new to 2021 and time-honoured classic you may have missed.

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller (2021)

A seemingly perfect marriage, a first love that never quite finished, and one woman stuck in-between. Miranda Cowley Heller's compelling read unfolds over 24 hours and 50 years, examining the near-misses and late-night kisses that make a lifelong love. Can Elle, our heroine, ever recreate the love that saved her girlhood, or will she throw it all away for the father of her children? The Paper Palace has had readers discussing its provocative ending for months on end. Why not join the conversation?

Read more: So just what happened at the end of The Paper Palace?

You and Me on Vacation by Emily Henry (2021)

Holiday romances: can they ever be more than the stuff of fantasy? Perhaps – if given enough time. Emily Henry's dazzling follow-up to international bestseller Beach Read follows Poppy and Alex, who, a decade after they first meet, and decide they hate one another, take one final trip to decide their fate. This is a romance that will have you laughing as well as longing, from the writer some are calling the New Nora Ephron.

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (2021)

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s debut novel is a short and heartachingly beautiful story of a photographer and a dancer who meet at a pub in London. Their connection is instant, and they fall slowly and sweetly in love, despite the challenges to their relationship from outside forces.

Open Water is a look at existing in a world where you’re seen only as a Black body, and a tender and soulful book about love. 

Ghosts by Dolly Alderton (2020)

Modern love can be complicated, what with matchmaking apps and “trends” like ghosting, and no one captures that more perfectly than Dolly Alderton in her first novel, Ghosts.

The book follows Nina Dean, a successful food writer in her 30s. When she meets Max and he tells her on their first date they’ll get married, she’s all in. But life is complicated, with fading friendships, a dad who had dementia, and a mum who is in the midst of a mid-life makeover. Ghosts captures love in the 21st century in all its facets. 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The enemies to lovers trope is a popular one, and no one does it better than Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth Bennet's first encounter with Mr Darcy involves him insulting her family and everything she knows, so it doesn't seem like a relationship for the ages. But the Bennet family is in need of financial security, and when Mr Bingley falls for Elizabeth’s older sister Jane, Elizabeth finds herself constantly thrust into Mr Darcy's company. Austen’s classic novel is romantic, yes, but also witty and astute.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Lou Clark is happy working at The Buttered Bun teashop and dating her long-term boyfriend Patrick, even if the two might not have much in common. But when Lou loses her job, her only option is to take up a position as a carer for Will Traynor. A motorcycle accident changed Will's life and took away his desire to live, but Lou's friendship and love could offer him something he'd given up on. A warning: you’ll need a pack of tissues to mop up the tears that will come from reading this book.

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Sophie Kinsella's Rebecca Bloomwood sits alongside characters like Eizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre as among the most famous in romantic literature, albeit a more modern version. Rebecca is a financial journalist who writes about how to manage money wisely, but her own spending is out of control (and out of sight, thanks to the credit card bills hidden under the bed). The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic is the first in Kinsella's Shopaholic series, and introduces us to Becky's quest to take control of her life, and find love.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Linda and her sisters, and their cousin Fanny, are on the hunt for the ideal lover. But finding the perfect match is no easy task. Linda first dates a Tory MP, and then becomes involved with a handsome but humourless columnist. But it's when she risks everything on a chance at real love in war-torn Paris that she could find her happily ever after. Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love is a funny and sharp novel about growing up and finding love, and it still resonates today.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Vikram Sith's A Suitable Boy is an epic love story set in India, and it's likely one of those big books you've been meaning to read for years. That makes it the perfect story to listen to, and this full-cast BBC dramatisation, recorded on location in India, will bring all the characters to life. The book follows four middle-class families: the Mehras, Kapoors, Khans and Chatterjis. University student Lata Mehra is under pressure from her mother to get married, but there are standards to be met and soon finding a husband for Lata becomes a family affair. Sweeping and all-encompassing, this love story is also a tale about family and friendship.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle features one of the most famous opening lines in literature, and is the perfect introduction to Cassandra Mortmain, a teenager living with her impoverished parents and siblings in a crumbling castle. When two American brothers – the heirs to the castle – arrive, Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time. Smith's novel is a coming-of-age story that's as much about finding yourself as finding love.

A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan

A moving and funny novel about love, sex and heartbreak, A Love Story for Bewildered Girls follows three women. Grace has no husband and children, and is envied by her straight friends. When she meets a beautiful woman at a party, she falls into the kind of sudden and desperate love she's been longing for. At the same party, lawyer Annie meets the man of her dreams, who also happens to live up to her mother's standards. And across town, Violet is falling in love with a woman for the first time in her life.

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes is the queen of combining humour and romance, and offering it up in a book that will speak to the deepest parts of your heart and soul. In Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, the titular character is 26 and living it up in London, until a visit to a psychic changes everything. The fortune teller predicts that Lucy will be married within a year. But Lucy – addicted to self-help books and on a steady diet of wine and anti-depressants – has no boyfriend, and no real chance of getting one. Is her fate really written in the stars, or will Lucy use this chance to take control of her destiny?

Anna K by Jenny Lee

Anna K is a modern retelling of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, set in New York. Anna K is the golden girl of high society: beautiful, kind, unbelievably rich, and with a perfect boyfriend. But a chance encounter with playboy Alexi Vronsky could be the catalyst to bring Anna's perfect life crashing down around her shoulders. With a vast cast of characters that would make Tolstoy proud, this is a love story for the Instagram generation.

Exit West by Mohsin Ahmed

Some loves transcend time and space, others can travel through them. In Exit West, Nadia and Saeed meet and fall quickly in love. But the pair are living in a country gripped by war, and soon realise they need to escape if they want a future. They've heard rumours of doors that are appearing all over the world, and that can transport them to other cities, countries and lives. When they find a door, Nadia and Saeed step through. But the doors only go one way, and unable to ever return home, the pair must navigate their new lives and their love for each other. 


Image: Bianca Bagnarelli for Penguin Random House

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