Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

 

People who don’t read romance tend to assume the books are fluff. And I love fluffy books where couples meet cute and banter through silly misunderstandings until they fall in love. However, some of my favorite books in the genre are emotional heavyweights, where  main characters deal with some pretty dark emotions and difficult situations in order to get to their happily ever after.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai is one of those books.  It follows a couple that were each other’s first loves, until a tragedy tore apart their families. Now over a decade later, they can’t stop wanting each other, but their family and personal issues still keep them apart.

Over a decade later, Nicholas runs the business every one knows was stolen from Livvy’s family. Livvy has just kept on running, moving from one city to another, working as a tattoo artist. The only constant in her life  is the one night a year they both meet up for steamy sex, and no discussion of their current lives or past relationship. Livvy finally ends the encounters when she turns 30, and at the beginning of the book, she has finally returned to town to help her mother recover from surgery. Nicholas knows a relationship with Livvy would be disastrous, but he still wants answers about what happened.

While Livvy and Nicholas are trying to fix their relationship, they also work on trying to have healthier relationships with the people in their lives.  Livvy has dealt with depression her entire life, and she is realizing that leaving her family behind and losing touch with people she cares about has made things worse.  She’s trying to reconnect with family and friends she hasn’t been there for, but as everything family related, it’s complicated. Her mother is not eager to have her adult daughter show up out of the blue, and she’s still adjusting to her aunt and best friend sharing opinions on her life, or forcing her to rethink family dynamics.

While Livy is trying to reconnect with her family, Nicholas is trying to untangle his. His father is power hungry and volatile, and Nicholas tries to play peacemaker with him at work, while protecting his sister’s place in the family. Since he can’t control his father, he maintains tight control over his life, leaving no room for emotion or indulgence, except for his one night a year with Livvy.

Both Nicholas and Livvy are still mourning people they lost when their families fell apart, and part of the story is figuring what really happened in the fallout, and taking a look at how the past is still impacting them.

Between family secrets, steamy romance, and two main characters with a lot of issues, this book has a lot going on, and Rai’s strong writing  pulls it all together. In the end, the emotional payoff is worth all the drama we went through getting there. We don’t get every  answer to the families tragic past, but there are two sequels planned, and they sound good. (Wrong to Need You, about Livvy’s best friend  is coming out the end of November.)

How to Hygge: The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life by Signe Johansen

 

Spending more time in nature. Cuddling up on the couch with a good mystery. Taking breaks for cake and coffee. Lighting candles.Between fall weather finally approaching and the busy school year settling in, I’m trying to remind myself to make time for rest and comfort. How to Hygge, by Signe Johansen explains the Danish and Norwegian word hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) doesn’t have an exact translation in English, but it suggests coziness and slowing down to enjoy life. Johansen applies the lessons she learned growing up in Norway to her busy life in London, as well as how people from other cultures can adapt the philosophy of hygge to their lives.

The book doesn’t offer all of the answers to life’s problems, but a lot of little ways to be happier. The author offers her own stories balancing being a high achiever with hygge, such as her father making her take a break from studying for important high school exams to gather wild lilies of the valley. She didn’t think she had time to fit everything in, but after taking time to slow down, she was able to put her exams into perspective and resume her studies more focused and less stressed out.

The advice Johansen offers is easy to apply in small doses until they become habits. One I’ve taken to heart was to take time to exercise in nature. I took a (very slow) job along the Mississippi the next day, and came back with my mind clear and ready take on the rest of my day. To counteract some of that exercising, the book  includes over 90 pages of recipes for comfort food (I had to smile at a cocktail recipe that involved sparkling wine and gummi bears.) It’s heavy on home care and decorating suggestions, that tend to favor easy to clean, simple items.

However, as the book continues, it moves past cooking and decorating tips to sections about how connect more with the people we care about and prioritize the things that make us happy. In the end, the message is to focus on the little details that make your life warmer and cozier.

How to Hygge is available at all three branches of the library. If you are interested in learning about the concept from another point of view, we also have The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking.

Slayer of Words: Beverly Jenkins wins Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award

I can’t think of many people who deserve the Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award more than Beverly Jenkins. She has been writing romance novels since the 1990s, telling stories set in African American communities at different times in history (as well as some contemporary novels.) Her books  have strong heroes, even stronger heroines, and a lot of warm and humor to balance out the steamy scenes.

Whether you are a romance reader or not, Jenkins’s acceptance speech at the RITA Awards this July is a must watch. She traces the power reading has impacted her family as they moved from being illiterate former slaves in the 1870s, to her own decisions to work in a library and later to become a writer. (And the end of her speech is a doozy. I dare you to watch it without sniffling a little.)

(The video is of the entire ceremony, but it should start at 49:38, the beginning of the speech.

Jenkins’s books are rooted in historical research and communities of well-developed supporting characters. I recently read Forbidden, which draws inspiration from an archeological dig in Virginia City, Nevada,  and the details about an African American saloon that operated during the late 19th century.

Rhine, the hero, is a former slave who passes as white, and has gained wealth and the respect of the white community.  Eddy, the heroine, leaves Denver due to  increasing anti-black discrimination in Denver, and dreams of owning a restaurant in California. Eddy gets stranded in the dessert, Rhine rescues her, they  fall for each other, but they both know the relationship can’t go anywhere. What makes the book shine is the the side characters who (mostly) help Rhine and Eddy sort out their feelings about themselves and each other, as well as have their own stories.

The big draw to romance is the Happily Ever After, that despite many obstacles, people can find happiness and love. Jenkins shows that not only is happiness possible even when the couple faces inequality, but that a couple can’t find joy alone, and it’s through helping build strong communities that our dreams really come true.

Jenkins writes some contemporary novels as well, including Deadly Sexy (she’s working on turning that into a movie) You can find several of her print books at the different library branches, and we have a few more (including the Destiny series, which I need to finish) on Overdrive.