As Valentine’s Day gets closer, love is on many of our minds, in many of our hearts, and perhaps on many of our bookshelves. This year, as your Valentine’s Day gift from me, I interviewed three Canadian authors, who have each written a very different kind of love story, and I wanted to share their words with you.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle L. Jensen, author of A Fate Inked In Blood,  Bal Khabra, author of Collide; and Leanne Toshiko Simpson, author of Never Been Better. Among other things, they spoke about their books, love advice, and their favourite love stories.

Whether it’s the messy complexity of an unrequited or inappropriate crush, the steamy chemistry of a forbidden romance, or a love set in a world of magic and gods, there’s something to love in all of these books.

Danielle L. Jensen’s A Fate Inked In Blood is the first book in a new, Norse-inspired fantasy romance series about Freya, a woman who is trapped in an unwanted marriage, dreaming of becoming a warrior. Her dreams soon become reality when her husband betrays her, landing her in a fight for her life. While trying to survive, Freya is forced to reveal her secret: She is a shield maiden — possessing a drop of the goddess’ blood, and with it, the ability to repel any attack. This power of hers is dangerous, especially when discovered by a power-hungry king, who wants to use it for his own gain.

I spoke with Danielle L. Jensen about the popularity of romantic fantasy, her favourite love stories, and more:

Romantic Fantasy (or romantasy) books have become more and more popular, especially as of late. Why do you think readers are being drawn to love stories with a magical twist? 

I don’t think the trend is as new as many people might think. Romantic fantasy set in alternate worlds has been incredibly popular in the young adult market for well over a decade, so I think the rise of adult romantic fantasy is the natural evolution of the genre as readers age into their twenties and thirties. Fantasy and romance have always been escapist genres, and the blend of the two in high-stakes and magical settings truly transports readers whenever they open their book.

What did writing this book teach you about love?

A Fate Inked in Blood taught me that finding love, whether that love is for yourself or someone else, is never simple. It can be messy, unpredictable, and painful, but worth the journey in the end.

What, in your opinion, is the best love story of all time?

The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of the most beautiful romances ever written. It’s a story about love persevering despite countless obstacles. The unpredictability of Henry’s travelling makes every moment he spends with Clare precious, even when their circumstances are dire. The stakes are always high, and nothing is taken for granted. Clare and Henry have an incredible story, though it’s bittersweet, and it has stuck with me since I read the novel many years ago.

In Bal Khabras Collide, an ultimatum from a professor thrusts aspiring sport psychologist Summer Preston into an unexpected collision with hockey captain Aiden Crawford. Aiden has long enjoyed the perks of being captain of the college hockey team, but soon a reckless mistake by his team threatens their inside season. As a consequence, his coach nominates him to be the subject of a research paper… One written by the uptight Summer Preston. They can’t stand each other, and things are off to a difficult start, but will the sparks between them thaw the ice?

I spoke with Bal Khabra about what writing Collide taught her about love, the advice she’d give her characters, and more:

What did writing this book teach you about love?

Like my main character, Summer, I often find myself engrossed in my work, and disregarding my mental health and relationships. Although both my characters have different approaches to love, it was imperative that they find a balance and discover how to let love in while maintaining their individual identities. As someone who struggles with this, I’ve learned through writing this love story that finding that balance is the key to free myself from the carousel of work to-do lists and deadlines that are a constant in my mind. 

If you could give your main character a piece of advice about love, what would it be?

To let it happen. My female protagonist, Summer, is guarded in her approach to forming new relationships and letting people into her life, and it takes her a while to connect with the male lead, Aiden, on a level that he had reached long before her. By guarding ourselves from something as beautiful as love, we’re only missing out on emotions that make us feel alive. Life isn’t fun if we’re just existing, it’s the experiences—good and bad—that make it worthwhile. 

What, in your opinion, is the best love story of all time?

As someone who has read hundreds of romance books, I can’t pinpoint just one. Everything from Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights to more modern gems like Normal People and Beach Read come to mind. Some real-life love stories such as Cleopatra and Mark Antony or Marie and Pierre Curie are also the definitions of great love stories to me. The list is long, and I think as a romance lover it’s near impossible to just pick one.

Leanne Toshiko Simpsons Never Been Better is an offbeat, hilarious, and sweet comedy about one bipolar woman’s messy search for love. Dee, Misa, and Matt were the “three musketeers” of the psych ward. Now, a year after being discharged,  Matt and Misa are tying the knot in Turks and Caicos, surrounded by guests who don’t know how the couple actually met, which doesn’t sit right with Dee…especially since she’s hopelessly in love with Matt. Dee arrives at the swanky resort, trying to decide if she’s here to celebrate her friends, or confess how she feels, and potentially disrupt her best friends’ wedding. 

I had the chance to speak with Leanne about different kinds of love, her favourite love stories, and more:

Never Been Better is about the many ways we express our love (even the messy, and complicated ways). Why was it important for you to portray this story, and these characters in all their messy and complicated, and mentally ill splendour? What do you hope readers take away from the “messiness”? 

Although the novel centers on a chaotic love triangle at a destination wedding, Never Been Better is really about learning how to love yourself and the people around you even after you’ve made mistakes while dealing with your illness. I often say that a mental health diagnosis is like a second adolescence, where sometimes you lash out, fail to take care of yourself, or hurt people you love . 

The hardest part of that journey is realizing where you might have caused collateral damage in your efforts to heal, and the guilt that comes with that knowledge. That’s why I hope that Never Been Better helps readers appreciate the strength, empathy and accountability that comes with living through mental illness – and how showing up to do that internal work every day, even when you’re not feeling your best, is an incredible demonstration of love. 

What did writing this book teach you about love?

I think as a psychiatric survivor who lived to write, I spent a lot of time hoping that there would be some sort of “point” to what I had been through – that if I did something incredible, maybe it all would have been worth it, and that would be the happy ending I’d always wanted. But it’s been over a decade since my hospitalization, and the truth is, love sneaks up on you most of the time. 

While I’m excited for Never Been Better to finally be out in the world, I learned to love in the small moments I never thought I’d be able to appreciate again. Love is a committed practice, not a magical destination. And that’s the kind of love that has helped keep me here through my most challenging years. 

What, in your opinion, is the best love story of all time?

About Time, starring Rachel McAdams and Domhnall Gleeson. In the film, the young protagonist realizes that re-doing the past means that you might miss out on what is meant to be. I think a lot about how much I struggled in my 20s with bipolar disorder, and as much as I wish things had been easier, I do accept those challenges as stepping stones to the life I am lucky to have today. Especially since my son arrived, it’s been harder to have regrets over what I really couldn’t control – I’ve been grateful to find that my love for him helps keep me firmly planted in the present.

Ameema Saeed (@ameemabackwards) is a storyteller, a Capricorn, an avid bookworm, and a curator of very specific playlists, customized book recommendations, and cool earrings. She’s a book reviewer, a Sensitivity Reader, a book buyer at Indigo Books & Music, and the Books Editor for She Does the City, where she writes and curates bookish content, and book recommendations. She enjoys bad puns, good food, dancing, and talking about feelings. She writes about books, big feelings, unruly bodies, and her lived experiences, and hopes to write your next favourite book one day. When she’s not reading books, she likes to talk about books (especially diverse books, and books by diverse authors) on her bookstagram: @ReadWithMeemz