Kiss and Cry by Mina V Esguerra. Bright Girl Books. 2019.
Content Warnings for review: Brief discussion of misogyny, references to kink.
I really enjoy Esguerra’s romances, her writing style, the way she approaches tropes and twists them just enough that they feel specific and unique but still really hit that sweet spot, give me as a reader what I’m looking for from my favorite tropes. This was no exception.
Kiss and Cry is a second chance romance, and it grounds itself in that trope deeply. It’s as much about what was lost, the missed opportunities, as it is about claiming new possibilities. I appreciated that so much about it, because I think sometimes romances don’t explore that aspect enough, and it felt like such a rich complex resonant engagement with that aspect of a second chance. This also has a bucket list aspect to it, with a time limit (what I think of as the ticking clock trope, but there are other names for it); the MCs agree to date and fulfill each other’s bucket lists for the period of time that the hero is in town, and then it is all supposed to end. Those things served both as avenues to explore what was lost as well as build in little intimacies between the MCs and raise the stakes.
The hero is a hockey player who travels back to The Phillipines regularly to continue to play ice hockey, something few people in his life in the United States understand. His arc around figuring out what he actually wants instead of following expectations was really compelling, and I liked the way the story explored his sense of alienation and yearning, and didn’t present any easy solutions for that. He grabbed me by the heart with that aspect of his character, how much he yearned to feel like he belonged, had a home. He is planning to retire, this is his last trip to Manila, and this makes their dating/bucket list plan very fraught, high stakes and emotional in a way that felt very real, and drove the story along.
The heroine is a former figure skater who now runs ice shows, and whose entire life has been devoted to skating. Her coach and family broke up the MCs ten years ago because they assumed it would interfere with her skating, and this created a fracture in those relationships, an isolation for her, and a deep pool of anger at their mistrust and assumptions that she would let anything interfere. Her arc around airing this as an issue and claiming her life for herself, including her love life, is intensely compelling. I loved her so much as a character, loved the way she owned her sexuality, her devotion to skating, and her awkwardness at trying to build something with the hero when she never tried to have a romantic relationship before and really didn’t have a clue what it might look like.
I liked the casual bi representation (the heroine’s brother is bisexual), and in general was really into the bi secondary character, and the tidbits of his story we got to hear about. I am hoping he gets his own book, because I enjoyed their sibling relationship and would love to spend more time reading about him.
There are a bunch of adorable moments, including one that references The Cutting Edge that I definitely appreciated. I also loved the family dinner, it was funny and riveting and complicated. The hockey and skating elements are woven in, but with a lighter touch. This is a definitely hockey romance, but at the center I think the second chance aspect is what drives the story and the romance arc. It felt different from any of the other hockey romances I’ve read, was much less about team dynamics, and the hero wasn’t hypermasculine or dominant, there weren’t issues around fame or jealousy, it didn’t have nearly the amount of unchallenged misogyny that many of the hockey romances I’ve read have had. There was misogyny, but it was named as such and called out, and it didn’t come from the hockey aspect of things.
I really appreciated how sweet the hero was, how he could be presented as clearly very athletic and a talented devoted hockey player without him being hypermasculine or possessive. In general, I appreciated the gender dynamics, how she was extremely driven and career focused, how much she cared about being in control of her life. I liked that when they played with light kink in the bedroom, they switched some, but it often felt like she was dominant. He was so gone over her, so devoted, and I adored him for it, because I totally got why of course he would be. He cared about pleasing her, about her well being, about giving her what she needed, it was at the center of things for him, and he really won me as a romance hero because of that.
It ached to read about them recognizing what they had lost ten years ago, and witnessing them trying to honor what each other needed while not asking for too much for themselves. The ending really worked for me, and I liked how it felt kinda like a beginning in a way. This is happy for now, but not a shaky happy ending at all. I believed in them as a couple, was rooting for them, and so glad they figured out a way to be together, despite considerable obstacles.
I loved this romance, it’s one of my faves I’ve read in 2019, and it beat out my former favorite Esguerra romance for the top slot. So far, the Six 32 Central series is really wonderful (I also recommend book 1, What Kind of Day), and I am excited to see where it goes next!
- Filipino MCs
- Filipino bisexual secondary character.
- Filipina woman author.
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
Parental controlling behavior. References to grandparent being at the end of his life. On the page sex. Consensual light kink.
- Source of the book: ARC from the author
- I have had some contact with the author on Twitter.
- All links to Amazon will be affiliate ones. If you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money on that sale (which I plan to use to buy more books to review), but it will not add any to the cost of your product. It comes out of the company’s profits.
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