Desert Isle Keeper
Kiss and Cry
There’s just something about ice skating stories.
Calinda Valerio and Ramirez Diaz-Tan met a decade earlier, when they were both regulars at the same Manila rink, she for figure skating, he for hockey. Calinda was twenty, but her parents demanded she not date, lest dating, or marriage, or pregnancy, interfere with her skating career (a demand they did NOT make of her younger brother). Both Cal and Ram went on to stellar careers with regional gold medals and both have been named to a list of achievers in their thirties – and both are curious about what they missed out when the other got away.
Cal is a terrific heroine. I love women who are great at something and who unapologetically own their competitiveness and their work ethic. She’s also funny when she embraces her petty side to spite the people who made her give up Ram a decade earlier. I loved Ram, and the author, from the moment that Ram tells Cal straight up that he’s going to quit hockey and move back to the States. No secret-keeping, no dramatic misunderstandings – just a real-life conundrum. His love-hate relationship with the city of Manila and the Philippines itself is lovely and nuanced.
And what’s not to love about a couple having this hilariously frank discussion of sex and careers?
[Cal said] “I had sex, and sort of … checked if dicks demotivated me.”
He hadn’t laughed so much in bed with someone and he wasn’t stopping yet. “And what was the verdict on dicks?”
She shrugged. “Um, they’re just dicks?”
“I’m sure they’ll be sad about that.”
Kiss and Cry also stands out because money is a significant challenge for Cal and Ram. That’s unusual in romance. Most authors would have, say, made Ram a former NHL player, or given Cal an endorsement windfall. The story is richer because Esguerra doesn’t do this. The authentic financial obstacles to Cal and Ram being together are so much more interesting than a contrived misunderstanding or commitment-phobia.
As with the city of Manila, the characters have a complicated relationship with the Philippines, which, as an outsider, was interesting to learn about. Ram proudly represents the Philippines in international sport and spends money he doesn’t have to help build youth programs in hockey, but he also holds a US passport and lives there forty weeks of the year. Cal always knew her skating career would be limited because she didn’t have the funds to train in the US, Canada, or Russia. They can be in the top thirty under thirty, and still feel subjected to the truth universally acknowledged that, as Cal reflects, “a better life was always Somewhere Else”:
“This isn’t about you and me, or how I feel. No one asks someone to stay here. Especially when they’ve got a way out already. You know that, don’t you, It’s just not done.”
What holds this book back? Honestly, just the fact that there isn’t more of it. Sometimes when you’re reading, you want more just because you love the book so much, but this was a case when I wanted more because I definitely felt like there was more to say, and I wasn’t surprised when I wrote up this review to discover that the book was just 171 pages. The epilogue is rushed – I would have liked to have read that stage of their lives as a full Part II of the story. I would also have enjoyed more scenes of Cal at work choreographing, since we got to see hockey more strongly than ice skating, and further exploration of Cal’s family dynamics.
That being said, Kiss and Cry is a great, fun book, and everything that is there is terrific. Plus, it taught me a great new word:’kilig’. Of Tagalog origin, ‘kilig’ is in the Oxford English Dictionary and captures the tingly, shivery, soppy-grin and giddy intoxication (sometimes described in romances as a ‘frisson’) of the early stages of love and crush. Thanks, Philippines, and Kiss and Cry, for introducing me to this word that Romancelandia so desperately needs!