Otherwise known as: the fresh scent of pine. Ahhh, this is such a fun niche trope. It generally happens in a ‘hero falls first’ situation, and let’s all admit together that we love us a pining hero. But there is the delicious potential for this uncertainty when any character falls first and is now vulnerable, unsure their love is requited. The best part about all of this troubled water our main character has to paddle through? There’s a happy ending waiting on the other side. Their love will, of course, end up being entirely returned and our emotions as the reader will come to rest in the beautiful catharsis of this knowledge. If only real life was ever this satisfying!
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For a change let’s start out with some contemporary romance. #Bookstagram has managed to drag me into this genre *purely* based on some stellar pining recommendations, which I am now giving to you.
Ali Hazelwood does pining beautifully with The Love Hypothesis. Bonus: Hazelwood freely admits MC Adam is based on Kylo Ren and this is a Reylo fanfic inspiration. Bonus Bonus: a kickass female MC in STEM. What else do you need?
I’ve used The Hating Game by Sally Thorne before (see: giant grump vs sunshine), but guess what? I’m using it again. Even though the entire book is from Lucy’s POV we are left in no doubt by the end that Joshua was pining hard, and that’s talent!
The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata is used as one of the keystone books for pining heroes, but I will warn you that this is the slowest of slow burns and I lost patience and flipped to the last few chapters ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Heated Rivalry by Rachel Reid has double the fun with two heroes pining. If you’re at all into hockey romance this one is really recommended.
Talia Hibbert has a great hero pining for the nanny in Untouchable (oh my heart at the end of this book!)
And Breaking it All by Kati Wilde has some intense pining. She is so good at emotional angst which truly makes your heart hurt, followed by some really hot tension resolution. This is a motorcycle club romance, part of Wilde’s series, and I recommend checking trigger warnings before you read!
In historical romance, we’ll lead off with the acknowledged Empress of Pine, Lisa Kleypas. From her you could try Scandal in Spring with Daisy (sunshine) and Matthew (buttoned-up, pining grump). Or you could try Again the Magic if you’re in the mood for serious angst, miscommunication, and tortured hero and heroine stumbling their way towards a second chance. To be honest, everything Kleypas writes has a touch of pine so you’re also safe trying Marrying Winterbourne or Devil’s Daughter.
Bridgerton is pretty famous right now and I will agree that George makes a great pining hero. But that book isn’t out yet, so you could try Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn if you want to find out ahead of the next season what happens to poor Penelope as she pines after the oblivious Colin. But if you really want to up the torture you should read When he was Wicked wherein Michael has been secretly in love for years with Francesca Bridgerton (no, we haven’t even approached this storyline in the Netflix series yet and ooooh y’all are in for a treat if they follow the book).
To Wed a Wicked Earl by Olivia Parker is a treat, with a rake who’s been pining after a spectacled wallflower. So. Damn. Cute. (A bit of plot whiplash though. I’d get this one from the library, enjoy it, and return).
Obligatory plug for my absolute favorite historical romance ever, To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt. I included this one in my groveling rec post, and hint hint, the grovel has something to do with how long Melisande has secretly been in love with her husband of convenience and the need for emotional justice after he finally figures it out.
And of course we can’t forget Elisa Braden for this list with The Truth about Cads and Dukes. The Duke of Blackmore is already lost deep in an entire forest of pining before he’s even prepared to think about admitting he might love his bluestocking Jane.
Moving on to paranormal/SciFi romance. The heat factor in these books goes up from the 4, 4.5 flames of the historicals I just recommended and into 10 flame territory, just to warn you.
Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole has not just her signature angst and grovel, but some excellent pining from the werewolf hero, Gareth. Lucia the valkyrie is kinda the definition of hard-to-get, but it’s worth it I promise.
Heart of the Dragon by Gena Showalter is an oldie but a goodie. The poor hero is pining after the heroine when he’s also been ordered to kill her to keep the secret of his magical world. Talk about obstacles in the way of their love story.
Ruby Dixon’s Barbarian Alien (Ice Planet Barbarians book 2), you have never seen a hero pine like Ra’ahosh after Liz and when she falls in return she is fiercely protective of her mate. You could also try Ruby’s Worse Guy (literal monster pining after his human, it’s adorable) or Barbarian’s Touch with Lila and Rokan’s story.
Krampus and the Crone by Honey Phillips has some excellent hero pining, plus some fun holiday tweaking on the Krampus myth.
Infinity’s Embrace by Anna Carven has an emotionless assassin discovering what pining is (he is not delighted with the discovery but he gets on board pretty quickly).
Zoey Draven has started a new series, for which we all give thanks, and we also thank the literary gods for Azur falling for Gemma so damn hard he can do nothing but pine in Desire in His Blood.
Every single book in the Sea Sands Warlords series by Ursa Dax contains some pining. She both hurts my heart and heals it. But the best pining is definitely Kor in Alien Exile. Check #BookTok if you don’t believe me.
V.K. Ludwig somehow manages to do light-angst omega/alpha romance (?!) and I super recommend Heat for Hire, just for Rhen. Because he is a golden retriever, wounded, pining Alpha, and if you read any omega sub-genre you know this is super unique.
Last but by no means least, I will leave you with Guarded by the Hybrid by Evangeline Anderson. Think bodyguard pining for his definitely off-limits charge, with a lot of sexual tension.