Carla de Guzman’s A Match Made in Lipa is the sequel to Sweet On You and features another shopkeeper on the street called the Laneways, but you don’t have to have read Sweet On You to enjoy this one. And oh, how you will enjoy this one!
Anton Santillan (Santi) and Kira Luz grew up together in Lipa in the Philippines, until Santi’s controlling grandfather summoned his family to Manila to work in the family hotel business. Unfortunately, he froze Santi out with the same imperial iron fist that summoned him, so now Santi has been exiled to Lipa, where he has transformed a villa into a jewel of a boutique hotel. Kira, similarly, returned to Lipa after a bad experience in Manila. While she loves her business, Gemini Chocolates, it isn’t as successful financially as her investors (her own family) would like it to be. She and Santi combine lifelong friendship with business partnership and romantic attraction to form a delightful, fully-rounded relationship.
The highest praise I can give to this book is that absolutely all of it feels real. If you’re around or in your thirties, Kira is that friend you have (or maybe it’s you!) who is awesome and yet life, circumstances, and pure chance seem to have conspired to keep them single. When she reflects on life, it’s real and thoughtful:
She knew full well that losing friends was part of the process of growing up. People just fit different, or didn’t fit at all as you became the person you wanted to be. When she moved to Lipa, her Manila friendships just… fell away… But it hurt like a bitch every time.
Santi needs not only to journey towards Kira and towards Lipa, but away from his family and away from Manila. His family is toxic. His grandfather manipulates and plays his grandsons off each other. His parents accept the unfair and unequal treatment of their children as the cost of their own financial well-being. This genre often gives us eeeeeevil villains (not just cruel but also criminals and also with creeper sexuality and probably with bad B.O!). It was powerful to read about how devastating it is for Santi to come from a family that is self-centered and narcissistic, but straightforwardly so.
Meanwhile, Manila is It for the Philippines. “Success” isn’t really success unless it’s attained there. Despite the fact that he’s happier in Lipa, Santi struggles to let go of the belief that the provinces aren’t enough. Oh, and what a delight it is to see Santi be happier in Lipa. It is 100% shown, not told, how his work there is more fulfilling, and how being with Kira is unlike being with anybody else, and how he wants to feel the sense of belonging in the Laneways that even his family doesn’t give him.
I believed all the details here Kira’s chocolate enterprise isn’t just credible in the tasting and marketing, but also in the manufacturing process and logistics chain (de Guzman thanks her chocolatier sister in her postscript). Family members with MBAs take a different approach to business and investment from people who haven’t had profit and shareholder value drilled into them. Santi’s boutique hotel in Lipa makes financial sense but it also shows how he was incompatible with his family as a businessman, not just as a grandson.
Was there anything I didn’t like? The author seems to be heading for a predictable Big Mis, and even though she doesn’t go there, it soured my genre-reader experience to be reading and begging, ‘Please don’t ruin it with this’. De Guzman has a tendency to over-use dialogue tags, The book gets off to a slow-ish start; by the end, I completely blew up my bedtime because I had to finish it, but I didn’t have that same sense of urgency all along.
I gave the first book in this series a B. I’m so thrilled to see an author growing in her craft and improving with the follow-up book, and I’m delighted to wholeheartedly recommend A Match Made in Lipa.
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