Desert Isle Keeper
Powder & Pavlova
I read and enjoyed a couple of books by Jay Hogan last year, so I was more than happy to jump into Powder & Pavlova, the first book in her Southern Lights series of m/m romances set in and around Queenstown, New Zealand. This is a May/December story featuring a pair of engaging and well-rounded protagonists whose flaws make them seem all the more real, and their romance is a gorgeous slow-burn, full of chemistry that fizzes and pops every time they’re together on the page. Powder & Pavlova is charming, sexy and poignant; funny at one moment, heart-breaking the next, and I loved every minute of it.
Twenty-three-year-old Ethan Sharpe planned to travel for a year or so when he left school, intending to use the time away to figure out what he wanted to do with his life before returning home to Queenstown. But that one year became two; two became three, then four… until Ethan received a phone call six months before the book opens and he discovered his mother had terminal cancer and just a few months left to live. Now, just months after her death, Ethan is spending most of his time trying to keep the café she’d loved from going under and trying to do the best for his sixteen-year-old brother Kurt, whose grades are nose-diving at school and whose teenage attitude and snark always rub Ethan the wrong way. Ethan recognises his brother is hurting, but so is he; and it hurts even more when he remembers how he’d thought that he and Kurt would be there for each other – yet now he can’t seem to do anything right.
Tanner Carpenter is a former champion snowboarder whose career ended due to injury fourteen earlier, and who has never been near the snow since. He now works for a PR company that is looking to extend its profile and snag some contracts in the sports arena – rugby and snowsports specifically – and he’s in Queenstown for five months, heading up a small team whose brief is to test the market and come up with a pitch for contracts in the next Audi Quattro Winter Games. He noticed Ethan in the kitchen of the local coffee shop when he was on an office coffee run – and now makes a point of doing the runs himself; after all, nothing says ‘team culture’ more than the boss pitching in and getting the coffee in.
Well, that’s his excuse and he’s sticking to it.
Ethan has noticed Tanner, too, but the hot, almost-silver fox with the devastating smile and maturity and confidence painted all over him is way out of his league – and even if he wasn’t, Ethan doesn’t have time for dating or anything else. But the next time Tanner comes into the café, he engages Ethan in an unmistakeably flirtatious conversation and Ethan can’t help but flirt back; the sparks really do fly between them right from the start, and flirtation soon turns into a genuine friendship. Both men acknowledge the strength of the attraction they feel towards each other, but agree not to cross the boundary between friendship and something more. Ethan has his hands full trying to keep the café’s head above water and Tanner will be returning to his life in Auckland in a few months, so getting in any deeper is a terrible idea.
The trouble is, of course, that there comes a point when friendship isn’t enough for either of them. Even as the friendship the couple decides is all they can allow themselves grows and deepens, the author is showing readers how absolutely in tune they are; even as they recognise that they’re asking for trouble by embarking on a relationship, she’s showing us that they’re perfect for one another romantically – and the emotional connection she creates between them simply leaps off the page.
I generally enjoy May/December romances, although it’s not every author who can pull it off successfully and achieve the right balance of youth and maturity in the make-up of both characters to make the relationship believable, but Jay Hogan does it extremely well here. Ethan has a lot on his young shoulders; he’s still grieving his mother, he feels guilty about not being what his brother needs, and even more guilty about the possibility of failure when it comes to his mother’s business. Tanner is fifteen years older and more settled, even though he has his own fears and insecurities to overcome. I loved that these guys are so supportive of each other, and that even when they disagree, they’re strong enough and mature enough to admit when they get something wrong, further strengthening the bond between them.
The relationships between Ethan and his friends, Adrian (the mysteriously tight-lipped barista – I hope he’s getting his own book!) and Lucy, are well written, and the sibling relationship between Ethan and Kurt is skilfully handled. Even though we don’t get Kurt’s PoV, the author is able to convey his hurt and frustration so well that it’s easy to empathise with him, even when he’s behaving like a shit towards Ethan, and I was rooting for them to repair the damage and get things between them back on track.
This review wouldn’t be complete without my mentioning the mouth-watering food and desserts Ethan and his team regularly prepare, or the wonderful descriptions of the South Island scenery; the view across Lake Wakatipu, the snowy mountains and the Aurora Australis, for instance, which all made me want to look up the price of a plane ticket!
Funny, sexy, sweet and touching, Powder & Pavlova made me smile and it made me cry, and I was so captivated by it that I raced through it in a couple of sittings. Jay Hogan has earned a place on my list of ‘must read’ authors, and I’m really looking forward to the next instalment in the Southern Lights series.