Hate to Want You
I think I would have come around to romance novels years earlier if I had only realized how much angst could precede the genre's requisite happy endings. Hate To Want You nailed both angst and satisfaction.
This steamy tale follows Livvy and Nicholas, once-lovers separated by family disapproval and time, who find that years of miscommunications and misunderstandings loom as large as ever . . . but so does the sizzling chemistry between them. I started out feeling somewhat lukewarm toward the characters but had heard enough praise of Alisha Rai's books to keep me going. I was a little afraid initially that it was going to be a litany of Rich People Problems, but it was refreshingly more than that. And slowly, as the layers of hurt and complicated emotions are peeled away revealing strong but scarred and complex characters, I began to fall into the story, thus ending a weeks-long personal reading drought. The rich supporting cast of family and friends who are equally scarred by the fallout of the families' feud really helped make the story (well, ok, there was one absolutely toxic, irredeemable jerk, but come on, that's verisimilitude right there). Rai admits she was inspired by the soap operas she watched with her grandmother, and the high drama certainly reflects that, but the stakes always feel human and derived from genuine characters with real misunderstandings and issues.
Hate to Want You does several other things well that I appreciated: the diverse cast of characters, from the Kane family's unfortunate legacy of being detained in Japanese internment camps to the lovely, Pakistani-American, bisexual Sadia (who finds her own Happily Ever After in the following book, which I immediately devoured in short order); its dealing with mental health issues like depression; and its handling of the fallout of emotional abuse (see above re: irredeemable jerk); and ultimately, its handling of love--not just the obvious romantic one--in all its messy forms from emotionally detached parents to once-close siblings torn apart through tragedy and trying to mend those bridges.
This is a novel in which Mistakes Were Made, a great many of them, and it's a novel where things are messy as a result. But it's also filled with people trying to do what they need to live with and take care of themselves, sometimes resulting in miscommunications, and sometimes providing beautifully understated moments of working things out in finally understanding each other. The ending leaves a strong sense, not that everything is going to be perfect, but that people are going to try harder in the face of their fears and insecurities, and that is breath-takingly lovely.