Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: October 15, 2019
Received From: Review copy from the author
Snow, steam, and a second chance.
Reluctant socialite Kai has thirty-five days before his family starts shooting the next season of their reality TV show, revealing a life he’d rather keep private—and one that feels increasingly scripted. Desperately needing a break, Kai escapes to his childhood best friend Hiro Asada’s inn in rural Japan. He finds peace in the thousand-year-old hot springs, but his yearning for Hiro resurfaces at the worst time: Hiro is about to inherit the inn, and his parents expect him to marry within the year.
Hiro’s traditional family loves him for who he is, but they can’t imagine two men running the inn. Meanwhile, Kai has a TV contract his lawyer insists can’t be broken. Hiro and Kai need to think outside the box—and solve their problems before Christmas Day, when Kai’s show shoots its annual holiday special.
ROMANTIC ORIENTATION: homoromantic
TROPES: childhood friends to lovers, friends to lovers, class disparity, mutual pining
TAGS: adult, contemporary, romance, queer romance, queer characters, Japanese characters, biracial character, Shinto characters, Buddhist characters
WARNINGS: ableism, mental illness (panic attack, anxiety), binary language, heteronormativity, classism, slurs, gendered slurs, hatred towards homeless people, anti-native language, poaching mention
This story was a cute, friends to lovers romance. As that’s one of my favorite tropes, I was excited to read another story with it, and it was written so well! I very much enjoyed the mutual pining depicted from both main characters and the way Veriani built upon the attraction the two have felt towards each other for years, though never acted on. It was interesting to watch them adapt to their feelings with the new information of Hiro’s sexuality–Hiro struggling with having it out in the open but not being able to do anything about it because he thinks Kai doesn’t feel the same; and then Kai adjusting to the knowledge that his best friend is not nearly as straight as he thought all these years and realizing there could finally be something between them.
Additionally, I loved the setting of an inn in the Japanese countryside and how important that, and Hiro’s family, was to the plot. The strong descriptions made picturing what was happening, and where, easy to picture, and brought with it a vivid sense of home. As did the continued presence of Hiro’s family! They were all really enjoyable characters, who clearly cared a lot about both main characters, and it was so lovely to see how they embraced both Hiro and Kai with open arms.
The only aspect that felt out of place at times was the vicious hatred towards homeless people and poor people from one of the supporting cast. It honestly felt shoehorned into the plot in order to add some extra conflict for Kai, and frankly, felt unnecessary. There were plenty of other things to cause conflict–said character included, outside of these situations–so I really didn’t feel it needed to be included, and certainly not with as much vitriol as is expressed.
But overall, it was an enjoyable story with interesting characters.
Anna Veriani was born with a deep love of queer lit and .99¢ New York pizza slices. After graduating from NYU with a degree in East Asian Studies, she set sail for Ishikawa, Japan. Now she spends her days writing by the river and dreaming of opening an expat pizzeria.