Celebrate under the covers

Wilted, overpriced roses by the bucketful. Long lines and grouchy cashiers. Fancy restaurants packed elbow-to-elbow. Expectant dates and anxious lovers. Whether it's the crowds, the high prices or our lack of a co-celebrant, most of us have some reason to criticize this fabricated holiday of love.

So this year, explore the real meaning of affection with some of the finest words ever written on love, companionship or the lack thereof. Purchase a bottle or two of your favorite therapeutic beverage and bunk down with one of these 14 books that should keep you entertained -- regardless of your views on relationships or your dating status.

For the hopeless romantic ...

"Jane Eyre"
by Charlotte Bronte
Originally published in 1847
Paperback 533 pages

If you struggled through it in high school or college, don't cringe. The book really is better than the CliffsNotes. The heroine, Jane, had a rough childhood. Orphaned and raised by her cruel aunt, she goes off to boarding school and eventually becomes the governess to the young ward of Edward Rochester. Jane is a strong, self-assured independent underdog. Rochester is the anti-hero: Unattractive, sarcastic and bitter, he harbors a secret and ugly past. The novel is an evolution of their feelings for one another: A cerebral "Sound of Music" without the singing, sunshine and the Alps. As further proof that this a great romance, some passages are written in French.

"None So Blind"
by L. J. Maas
Published in 2002
Paperback 256 pages

Lesbian romance is a growing genre, and this novel gets high marks from fans. Torrey and Taylor are college sorority sisters who miscommunicate about their feelings and sexuality. Taylor assumes the younger Torrey isn't gay and Torrey assumes Taylor isn't attracted to her, and neither speaks of the passion they feel for one another. The story mingles past with present, love with friendship, as the women meet again after 15 years and confront their emotions.

"Possession: A Romance"
by A.S. Byatt
Originally published in 1990
Paperback 555 pages

This award-winning novel is like two romances for the price of one. The first is a secret and slowly revealed affair between 19th century British poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The second blossoms between Maude and Roland, the literary scholars who fall in love as they uncover the journals, letters and poems their subjects penned to and about each other. The two stories are woven together and anchored by the poetry of Ash and LaMotte. The language is rich and sometimes difficult, but the story is thoroughly poetic, mysterious, suspenseful, witty, intellectual and yes -- romantic.

"The Bridges of Madison County"
by Robert James Waller
Originally published in 1992
Paperback 201 pages

So it's overrun with calculated lines like "his eyes looked directly at her, and she felt something jump inside," and at times it reads like a formulaic Hollywood script. But 10 years ago, this supposedly true-life account of a bored Midwestern housewife who spends four torrid days with a worldly, introspective National Geographic photographer passing through on assignment had readers longing for "true love." The writing is simple and matter of fact, and the entire novel can be digested in a few hours. There are no hidden meanings or themes -- just straightforward, heart-wrenching, nose-blowing sentimentality.

"Troubleshooter" Series
by Suzanne Brockman
Publication dates and lengths for the six-book series vary

Patriotic romantics dig this series about the gutsy heroes of U.S. Navy SEAL Team 16 and the independent women who steal their hearts. Make no mistake - these are romance novels, not great literary works. In fact, Brockman has cranked out the six books in the series -- "The Unsung Hero," "The Defiant Hero," "Over the Edge," "Out of Control," "Into the Night" and "Gone Too Far" (to be released in July 2003) -- in less than four years. But romance parlayed with military intrigue, espionage, adventure and even politics makes them appealing on many levels, especially at this time of heightened respect for our armed forces.

For the unlucky in love, jilted lover or terminally single ...

"Cowboys Are My Weakness"
by Pam Houston
Published in 1992
Paperback 171 pages

The narrators in this collection of short stories are strong, intelligent, adventurous women who, despite the fact that they know better, are invariably attracted to wild, wearisome men who abuse, ignore, cheat and disappoint. Houston herself is an experienced river and hunting guide, and her stories project the exhilaration and danger of being outdoors and confronting nature -- both human and earthly -- at its best and at its worst.

"Good in Bed"
by Jennifer Weiner
Published in 2001
Paperback 376 pages

After plus-size news reporter Cannie Shapiro reads her ex-boyfriend's new magazine column, which begins with the line "I'll never forget the day I found out my girlfriend weighed more than I did," she embarks on a comical and endearing adventure of self-discovery. Cannie is a witty and realistic heroine who, while struggling with the humiliation of the column, begins to confront other issues (namely the lingering weight of her father's abandonment) that have shaped her self-image. The story leaves readers cheering for Cannie and rewarded with her well-deserved happy ending.

"High Fidelity"
by Nick Hornby
Originally published in 1996
Paperback 323 pages

Banish all images of John Cusack playing a lovelorn record shop owner in the American film version of this British novel. Rob is a 35-year-old pop-music fanatic and vintage vinyl collector who has just broken up with his longtime girlfriend. Hornby combines painfully honest takes on romantic humiliation and heartbreak with amusing assessments of pop music and culture to create a masculine view of love and relationships that appeals to both genders.

"Rebecca"
by Daphne du Maurier
Originally published in 1938
Paperback 384 pages

If you've ever felt insignificant compared to the memory of an ex-lover, you'll relate to the young second wife of rich Maxim De Winter, who is so insignificant we never learn her name. The young bride accompanies Maxim to Manderley, his oceanfront paradise, where she learns that his charming and beautiful first wife Rebecca drowned just eight months earlier. Wife II is haunted by images of Rebecca -- her svelte figure, her glamorous clothes, the parties she threw, her home decorating prowess. But halfway through, Du Maurier throws us the most twisted of plot twists that will leave you proud to be a replacement lover.

"Waiting to Exhale"
by Terry McMillan
Originally published in 1992
Hardcover 409 pages

McMillan's bawdy breakout novel is the story of four women in various stages of singlehood, their friendships, and their often disastrous but always funny encounters with men. Matronly Gloria is devoted to her teen-age son; ditzy Robin can't break her addiction to good-looking, abusive men; Bernadine is recovering from her husband's abandonment for another woman; and smart, sexy, successful Savannah is determined to find Mr. Right. If you're considering passing on the book in favor of the movie, don't. You will miss out on its description and humor, including Robin's vivid account of her encounter with a grunting, groaning sexual partner.

For those who think love is a four-letter word ...

"Dead by Sunset"
by Ann Rule
Originally published in 1995
Paperback 532 pages

Brad Cunningham is The Perfect Catch. Good looking, smart, ambitious and charming, he slips into womens' beds and lives without much resistance. But Ann Rule, a master of the true-crime story, introduces us to the real Brad: A deceitful, unconscionable control freak who bludgeoned his ex-wife to death on the side of an Oregon freeway. Rule's thorough research reveals the events leading up to Brad's 1994 trial and conviction for murder. Along the way, we meet the many intelligent and independent women who fell prey to Brad's charms. We see underneath the surface of a true sociopath, and we learn to become wary the next time someone says, "I know the perfect guy for you."

"Ethan Frome"
by Edith Wharton
Originally published in 1911
Paperback 77 pages

A stranger arrives in the lifeless, remote New England town of Starkfield and meets Ethan Frome, an impoverished, taciturn farmer who walks with "a lameness checking each step like the jerk of a chain." By degrees, the visitor learns the tale of Ethan, his exacting and infirm wife, and the pretty young relative who awakened his dreary life more than 20 years ago. The story is grim and mesmerizing -- from Ethan's restrained fury toward his wife to the tragic consequences of his affair. Embedded in all this is Wharton's trademark criticism of social conventions and misplaced loyalty.

"George Bush, Dark Prince of Love"
by Lydia Millet
Published in 2000
Paperback 159 pages

If the thought of being in love with George Bush doesn't make you swear off romance (sorry, Barbara) what will? It's not so much a love story as a satirical, zany and totally fresh take on society. Rosemary is fresh out of jail, dating an octogenarian cocaine junkie, and harboring a major obsession with our 41st president, whom she affectionately calls GB. Rosemary begins a letter-writing campaign, erects an effigy to GB in the basement and eventually moves to Washington where she disguises herself with wigs, make-up, colored contact lenses, walkers and wheelchairs to take repeated tours of the White House. Rosemary is a droll and garish narrator; even if the political undercuts don't entertain you, her insouciance will.

"Gerald's Game"
by Stephen King
Originally published in 1992
Paperback 445 pages

A romance by Stephen King? Not quite. This is more of an anti-romance, guaranteed to make you glad you're sitting home alone on Valentine's Day without a partner or lover to worry about. And when you read about what happened to Jessie after she agrees to partake in a kinky afternoon tryst with her husband, you won't just swear off romance, you'll take a vow of celibacy. King is at his best when he plays with your psyche. There are no monsters or evil spirits to haunt you in "Gerald's Game" -- only the darkest thoughts of the human mind.

For those looking to better themselves...

"Better Than Beauty: A Guide to Charm"
by Alice Thompson
Originally published in 1938
Paperback 164 pages

How can you be kind to rude people? Avoid the gossip mill? How much should you tip? If you're looking for a self-improvement or etiquette book for the real world, this delightful handbook is full of timeless advice presented with plenty of humor. Thompson's hints, tips and tricks are guaranteed to boost your charm quotient and win the admiration of friends, family and suitors.

"He's Just Not That into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys"
Greg Behrendt, Liz Tuccillo
Published in 2004
Hardcover 176 pages

If you can't stand the thought of breaking up with that loser you're dating, take the authors' advice: "Don't waste the pretty." Based on a popular episode of "Sex and the City," the straightforward, gutsy advice in this book will free you from the mixed messages that keep all women guessing. It teaches you how to tell when a guy isn't into you so you can stop making excuses for a dead-end relationship. The authors also remind you to see yourself for who you are: a beautiful, smart woman who deserves a man who is crazy about you.

"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better"
Ted Allen, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, Jai Rodriguez
Published in 2004
Hardcover 256 pages

While its unlikely that a man will pick up this book for himself, it's a great handbook for the guy who might be a bit fashion/grooming/decorating/food/culture-challenged. The Fab Five have compiled their common sense advice into one book that will help any guy be "you -- only better." Flip through the book to find practical and savvy advice on how to find a suit that fits; how to use different hair products; how to make his pad reflect his personal style; how to choose a great bottle of wine; and how to host a great party.

Finally, the Bonus Book Built for Two ... for inquisitive couples who want to celebrate Valentine's Day together:

"All About Us: A Question Book for Couples"
by Philipp Keel
Published 2000
Hardcover 116 pages

Sharpen your pencils and pull on your thick skins. This little fill-in-the-blank therapy journal for couples will have you giggling at questions like "Are you disgusted when your partner farts or burps?" But more often, you'll find yourself doing some serious self-assessment when asked to name the last time you thought it would be nice to be single again, or to reveal the greatest fear about your relationship. The questions on romance, sex, family backgrounds, daily routines and personal aspirations are, according to the author, designed to translate "the secret language between two people that is rarely expressed to the outside world and often even to the partners themselves."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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