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Book recs: Kansas City book lovers share their picks for Valentine's Day reading

Carley Morton is the owner of Under the Cover KC, Kansas City's first romance bookstore.
Melanie Dusseau
Carley Morton is the owner of Under the Cover KC, Kansas City's first romance bookstore.

Love comes in all shapes, sizes, and plotlines. Up To Date's panel of romance readers recommends celebrating non-traditional love stories this Valentine's Day.

If you’ve been struck by Cupid’s arrow this season, these local bookworms have you covered with a variety of love stories highlighting self-love, diversity, compassion for others, and found family dynamics.

Lucy Donnelly, a reader’s services specialist for the Kansas City Public Library, pays close attention to book recommendations from TikTok.

Kari Bingham-Gutierrez, the Assistant Customer Service Manager at the Olathe Public Library, is optimistic about the diversifying readership of love stories.

“I see more and more men at the library checking out romance novels, too,” Bingham-Gutierrez says.

Carley Morton is the owner of Kansas City’s first romance bookstore, Under the Cover KC. Many of her recommendations come from her own store’s inventory.

Donnelly, Bingham-Gutierrez, and Morton joined Up To Date with recommendations for non-traditional love stories on theme for Valentine’s Day.

Lucy Donnelly’s recommendations

30 Things I Love about Myself” by Radhika Sanghani. Relationship Fiction.

It’s Taurus season and Nina finds herself at her lowest when she lands in jail on the eve of her 30th birthday. Enter the book that changes everything: How to Fix Your Shitty Life by Loving Yourself. Radhika Sanghani makes the characters breathe on the page with their quirks, and dysfunction, and makes their challenges realistic. This is a great book for those looking for literary inspiration to love themselves. It is on the lighter side while not shying away from life’s reality.

This is How you Lose the Time War” by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone. Science Fiction and Romance.

Red and Blue are on opposite sides of a war stretching beyond time, yet they are drawn to each other. Told through creatively located letters, this book is sure to grab the attention of a wide range of readers. Perfect for fans of stylistically complex and moving writing.

Spoiler Alert” by Olivia Dade. Contemporary Romance.

The stars align for April Whittier when after posting a picture of a cosplay she lands a publicity date with the heartthrob lead of her favorite TV show. “Spoiler Alert” takes the reader on a roller coaster as April and Marcus find true feelings for each other and even more in common than appearances would suggest. This is a good read for those looking for thoughtfully complex romances, especially if you are looking for fat gal representation done well and enjoy the miscommunication trope.

Kari Bingham-Gutierrez’s recommendations

Our Wives Under the Sea” by Julia Armfield. Romance and horror.

Haunted by a disastrous deep-sea expedition, Leah struggles to cope with the aftermath alongside her wife, Miri. As they grapple with their transformed relationship and the impossibility of returning to normalcy, their journey through love and loss unfolds in this literary horror novel. Our Wives Under the Sea delves into the depths of heartbreak, revealing the profound grief one can experience over the presence of a loved one who seems lost.

Silver in the Wood”by Emily Tesh. Fantasy and romance.

This is a male-male fantasy romance novella that is a retelling of the green man folklore. Tobias Finch, the wild man of Greenhollow, lives a tranquil life in the forest until Henry Silver, a folklore scholar, becomes the new owner of Greenhollow Hall. With Henry's arrival and their burgeoning feelings, the calm and quiet of Tobias's life is thrown into a tailspin as long buried secrets emerge.

You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty” by Akwaeke Emezi. Slow-burn romance.

Delve into an age-gap romance rich in themes of consent, open communication, and the journey towards healing. Following the tragic loss of her husband five years prior, Feyi re-enters the world of dating and finds solace in a seemingly ideal partner. Yet, during a tropical island getaway to his family's home, Feyi unexpectedly forms a deep connection with his father. As emotions grow complex, Feyi grapples with her past, embarking on a path of self-discovery and emotional renewal to embrace a second chance at love.

Carley Morton’s recommendations

Girls with Bad Reputations” by Xio Axelrod. Romance.

This book has queer representation (Ty, the hero, is bi) and portrays the found family dynamic. The Lillys, an all-girl rock group, are on tour and gaining popularity. The first book in the series, “The Girl with Stars in her Eyes,” follows the bassist for the group. This story follows the drummer, Kayla. Xio writes natural POC rep and includes characters of many different cultural backgrounds.

Upside Down” by NR Walker. Gay romance.

Jordan, an awkward librarian, realizes he's asexual when he meets and befriends Hennessy on his regular bus commute. Hennessy has just moved to the area and started an Ace support group. The bus rides are full of colorful characters who develop found family relationships.

This Could be Us” by Kennedy Ryan. Romance.

The Skyland Series started with “Before I Let Go,” and this is the second book in the series (to be released in March). Three best friends are dealing with family struggles while they try to find (and sometimes re-find) love. The series is currently being adapted for television.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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