Honestly? I have no excuse for how long it took me to post this review. This book was so good, y’all.
As always, thank you Mina and #romanclass for the lovely ARC!
Title: Kiss and Cry
Author: Mina V. Esguerra
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Calinda met Ramirez when she was 20 and he was 22. She was the rising star of women’s skating, and he was the superstar forward of men’s hockey. Her parents and coach were against their relationship, and because Calinda wanted to prove that no hot guy would ever distract her from her dream, she chose skating over him — and also avoided him all together.
Ten years later, they meet again as gold medalists and prominent sports advocates, still single and undeniably attracted to each other. It’s still not a good time for them, because Ramirez is retiring from hockey and moving back to the United States. Calinda doesn’t do relationships, really, and proposes they use his final three weeks in Manila to explore what might have been, and do all the things they wish they’d done (there’s a list!). Then he can leave for good, and they can both move on with their lives without this one regret.
☕ Quotes ☕
“Ugh, she was so weak for casual national pride.”
“Kissing just for kissing. Kissing that wasn’t dismissive, that thing she gave a date before she said good night and goodbye, never to see him again. Kissing that wasn’t the thing she rushed through because there were more body parts to explore and pleasure minutes later. Kissing just ot kiss, and enjoy. Kisses that felt like warm mouths and also cool night air, that smelled and tasted like dessert and also faintly floral, because of the park flowers nearby.”
“The world is not two places.”
“This is the life I want right now. I’d be honored if you want to be part of it.”
☕ Plot ☕
I’m a sucker for second chance romances, okay? They have a special place in my heart, considering my boyfriend and I are pretty much a second chance romance ourselves. So when I read about Mina’s new book, I already knew I was going to adore it. And you know what? I was absolutely right.
Cal and Ram first met as young twenty-somethings, fresh faces in figure skating and in hockey with their whole careers ahead of them. Although there’s an initial attraction there, Cal’s parents and coach are against her starting a relationship with him, saying that they don’t want her to be distracted. She complies and focuses on her career to the fullest extent, eventually becoming a gold medalist figure skater. Ram does the same with his hockey career, and eventually also becomes a gold medalist himself.
Ten years later, they’re both back in the Philippines. Cal now runs an ice-skating program in the Six 32 Central mall (which readers of What Kind of Day will remember!) and Ram’s hoping to start up a hockey clinic, also at the same mall. When they meet at a photoshoot for a “top thirty-under-thirty” kind of thing, sparks fly – or rather, they fly again, I should say.
When they’re thrown together to collaborate on an ad campaign that could potentially bring in funds for their respective projects, Cal and Ram decide to explore the decade-old attraction that still lingers between them, and agree to a no strings attached kind of arrangement. Perfect for them both, really, because Cal doesn’t do relationships and Ram plans on retiring to the United States in three weeks. Too bad those arrangements don’t always work out the way we plan.
What I loved the most about this plot is that it managed to tackle several different issues at once: 1) the lack of funding any sport that isn’t basketball in this country; 2) the unfair restrictions Filipino society places on women; 3) allowing oneself to believe in others; 4) taking a leap of faith and trusting in good old-fashioned hard work. Mina’s novels always manage to teach the reader a lesson, and this one is no different. I appreciated this book so much for all that it emphasized, particularly its focus on planning for the future but also trusting in yourself and the people that care about you.
At it’s heart, however, Kiss and Cry is a heartwarming love story about seizing second chances when they’re offered to you. Life doesn’t often hand those out, so when you do get them, you need to make the most out of them. Getting to see Cal and Ram do just that was such a beautiful, satisfying journey, and you just can’t help but root for them to find their happiness in the end.
☕ Writing ☕
If I had to pick one word to describe Mina’s writing style, it would be this: expressive. Every word on the page seems almost deliberately chosen and placed so as to maximize the feelings and imaginings it elicits from the reader. I especially enjoyed Ram’s descriptions of what he saw, heard, and felt coming home to Manila after such a long time away. The nostalgia and reminiscing he experienced was immensely evocative and moving, and will resonate with anyone who’s had to be away from home for a long while.
Another thing I also loved is how the writing managed to capture the beauty of something as physical as skating. I’m normally ‘eh’ when there are passages in books describing things like fighting, dancing, sports, etc., mostly because I really can’t see it. However, this book managed to pull it off. In my mind’s eye, I could see Cal and Ram going through the exercises described, and that really added to the experience for me.
Something I found really interesting was the juxtaposition of the concept of sports, where there’s only one winner, and the idea that the key to making anything work is compromise. Cal and Ram are both athletes, highly competitive and good at their game, judging by the gold medals they’ve both won. But in order for their relationship to work on, they have to learn how to trust each other, how to compromise, and how to allow wiggle room.
But the best thing for me was the book’s worldbuilding. I know I’m always, always, always talking about worldbuilding in my reviews, but I want to point out something that reading this book has taught me: we often think of worldbuilding as something exclusive to SFF, but this is every bit as important to contemporary novels as well. In this particular case, I am absolutely loving how Mina is creating the community around the neighborhood of Six 32 Central, not to mention the hockey games, teams, leagues, etc. that are talked about in the book! I’m sure that this entailed lots and lots of research, and although I still couldn’t tell you one end of a hockey stick from another, I can always appreciate an author’s dedication to her craft.
If there’s one thing that I would be critical of in this book, it’s that the concept of migrating to the US being the be-all and end-all of Filipino ambition isn’t really ever addressed. The way the book was going, I thought there was gonna be a little bit of that. So when there wasn’t, I was kinda left with figurative literary blue balls. Nevertheless, it’s a very small issue for me that I feel doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book at all.
☕ Characters ☕
The really great thing about this book is that it made me care about Cal and Ram. The conflict was written so well, the emotions made so evocative and compelling, that you can’t help but hope for them to get their shit together, and more importantly – to get together.
In particular, I adore Cal. I have a soft spot for strong female MCs who know what they want, are unafraid to go after it, and don’t give a HOOT (my inner Amy Santiago slipping out once more) about what anyone else will think. You really get the feeling that Cal ended up disliking how she was made to bow to everyone’s wishes when she was younger, and that she’s even more determined now to live life on her own terms. You really gotta respect that.
Another thing that I enjoyed about this book – as with almost all the #romanceclass books, let’s be honest – is that it was super sex positive! Cal and Ram know what they like in bed – and Cal especially is unafraid to ask for what she wants and needs, in keeping with her go-getting attitude.
But the one character that found a special place in my heart is Colin, Cal’s twin brother. He’s bisexual and it’s not treated like it’s a bad thing or something that necessarily needs commentary (which is a whole ‘nother issue, let me tell you), and I really found the dynamics between him and his sister, as well as him and his family, incredibly interesting. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I want a book with him as the main character!
☕ Overall ☕
This book is intensely pensive and thought-provoking, and handles the issues of balancing one’s passions with financial realities, making compromises for a relationship quite well. The characters are well-rounded and provide us with some deliciously toe-tingling chemistry, not to mention are their own people outside of a relationship with each other. Kiss and Cry is Mina’s latest, and definitely one of her greatest.