Thursday 19 October 2017

#CBR9 Book 91: "Hate to Want You" by Alisha Rai

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Olivia "Livvy" Kane and Nicholas Chandler were teenage sweethearts, growing up as neighbours, heirs to the successful grocery chain their grandfather's worked together to found. Then a tragic car crash changed everything. Nicholas' mother and Olivia's father both died, and shortly after the funerals, Nicholas' father bought Olivia's mother's shares for far less than they were worth. Olivia's twin brother was arrested for suspected arson of the flagship store, and the Kane and Chandler families, who had been so very close  for three generations became bitter enemies. Nicholas broke Livvy's heart by breaking up with her, just as she was dealing with the utter chaos her life had turned into.

Not that Livvy has been able to forget Nicholas entirely. One night a year, on her birthday, they meet for one night of pure passion, never speaking of the gulf between them the rest of the time. Nicholas can't make himself tell Livvy that he clears his entire schedule and waits impatiently for her text message summoning him to each new encounter. Then, when Olivia turns thirty, there was no message. He waited in vain.

Now Olivia is back in town. Her mother is injured and Livvie is determined to do right by her, even if it means living entirely too close for comfort to Nicholas. He can't stay away from her, even as he knows his father will never accept them resuming their relationship. Can Nicholas atone for the hurt he caused Livvie in the past. Can the two work through their differences and rebel against their warring families' wishes to reconcile or are they both doomed to heart-break once more?

This contemporary romance take on Romeo and Juliet (with a decidedly better final outcome) has been very favourably reviewed on a number of romance sites I frequent online. It was a book club selection book at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books in August and is October's book club selection over on Heroes and Heartbreakers. Having never read anything by Alisha Rai before, I figured this might be a good starting point, and I was not disappointed.

Fair warning - while this book is very steamy (if the protagonists aren't having sex, or there are flashbacks to their previous encounters, they are probably thinking about having sex with the other person), there is also a serious amount of angst. This is a proper enemies to lovers story, where the couple were once so very in love, until their families' complicated intrigues caused them to be forced apart, leading to years of resentment and heartache. Apart from that one night of no-strings passion a year, there has been no contact between them until Olivia returns to her home town for the first time since shortly after her life imploded. For a number of reasons, it's not easy for her to be home, but she hides her pain behind a decidedly tough girl exterior. A talented tattoo artist, Livvie has been travelling the US and perfecting her skill in the past decade. She may seem like she's surrounded by an unbreakable shell, but if anyone can crack through her defences, it's Nicholas.

Nicholas is the chosen heir of a hugely successful business empire, feeling torn constantly between the loyalties to his grandfather and expectations of his domineering father. As both are the majority shareholders, who frequently disagree, Nicholas is caught in the middle, trying his best to keep the peace in the family. He's deeply protective of his younger sister and they both suffer through deeply uncomfortable family dinners weekly, hoping to avoid the worst of their father's angry outbursts. Nicholas doesn't know why his father approached Kane's widow and persuaded her to buy their half of the company for a pittance of what it was worth, neither does his grandfather. Nor do they entirely understand why Livvie's mother would give up her children's legacy without a fight. They are both trying to run the company in a way that honours both founders, even when this goes against the wishes of Nicholas' father.

As well as having a couple of protagonists with their fair share of complicated baggage and a family feud out of the most delicious soap opera, this book portrays depression very well. One of the secrets that Olivia was keeping from Nicholas, even before their youthful love was destroyed by the new rivalry was her occasional bouts of deep depression. After Nicholas broke up with her, she even considered suicide and the only one who knows the truth about this is her twin brother. It's clear that Olivia's mother is also a sufferer, and Livvie is convinced that her clearly incurable affliction is one of the things that makes it impossible for her to ever be with Nicholas, even if they do ever get over their families' objections towards the possible match.

I have mentioned Nicholas' sister and Olivia's twin, as well as their remaining parents. The family ties, although sometimes rather dysfunctional, are strong in this book. Olivia's older brother is dead, but his widow is Livie's best friend and she tries her best to be a presence in both her and her little nephew's life. She rarely has contact with her wayward twin, and her relationship with her mother appears to always have been strained, but Livvie is determined to forge a connection and make things work, now that she's back to help her mother recover from her injury.

Another thing that Ms. Rai does absolutely effortlessly is present a multi-cultural and interesting cast of characters. Olivia and her brother's are half Japanese, half Hawaiian. Her widowed sister-in-law is a Muslim. There are mentions of the grandfather being in internment camps during World War II. I am fully aware that I need to challenge myself to read more diversely and while romance, like most of the other literature I favour, has leaps and bounds to go, authors like Ms. Rai are taking the genre in the right direction.

This is the first book in a trilogy. The second book (out at the end of November - not long now!) seems to be about Jackson, Olivia's twin brother and their older brother's widow, which promises to be another rather dramatic pairing, while the third and final book is about Nicholas' little sister. Both of the books are on my TBR list and I am very much looking forward to both.

Judging a book by its cover: This is a very sexy book and it seems only suitable that it has a cover that really conveys the steaming hot passion between the protagonists. It's unusual to see a romance cover where the cover models seem to accurately reflects the description of the characters in the book, but Avon have done a marvellous job here, especially with the female cover model and her intricate tattoos (that I have to imagine are skillfully photo-shopped onto the lady's arm). Well done, cover department.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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