Review: Kai’s Healing Smiles by Vivi Anne Hunt (2022)

Heat Factor: Well, that Daddy stuff sure surprised me

Character Chemistry: They are both so clueless and so googly-eyed about each other

Plot: Kai and Silas start dating

Overall: I believed this HEA

This is a non-tropey, slice-of-life romance. Now, I generally prefer my romances tropetastic and over the top, but every once in a while, these gentle, calm romances just really hit the spot. I give it bonus points for actually taking place in a Starbucks, instead of a twee local coffee shop. Now, I love my twee local coffee shops, but the reality is that many many Americans get their coffee fix at Starbucks, not Twee&Tea, so it was kind of fun to see that reflected in the story.

The basic premise is that Silas is mourning his wife, who died three years ago. As part of his mourning ritual, he goes to Starbucks every day and orders a different disgusting drink from the menu. Kai is a barista at said Starbucks, and over the past six months, Silas has gotten to look forward to seeing Kai smile at him when he gets his daily coffee. Kai, for his part, harbors a crush on the sad, handsome, older man who comes in every day and methodically orders the next drink on the menu. The book then tells the story of these two men starting to date and falling in love.

While I would not call this a particularly eventful book, the path to true love doesn’t run smoothly. Both Kai and Silas are simultaneously being (aggressively, inappropriately) courted by other men—and both Kai and Silas are clueless that courtship is what’s happening until things come to an ugly head. This dynamic makes the book structurally interesting; it allows both Kai and Silas to go through the same cycle of jealousy, as well as similar cycles of shock and discomfort when they realize what’s actually going on.

I was a little bit worried, based on the premise, that this was going to be a story of Kai “fixing” Silas with his sunshine—especially when Kai is assaulted and stops being all perky for a while. But that’s not what happens. While the sunshine magic might initially pull Silas out of his funk, Hunt makes clear that their relationship quickly builds on mutual care and connection. For example, after Kai is assaulted, Silas steps into a caretaker role, which, in turn, further pulls him back into living fully instead of only mourning what he no longer has. Overall, I thought Hunt manages Silas’s grief journey well, showing how he grows into loving Kai while still holding space for his wife in his heart.

I do want to talk about the Daddy dynamic, because it definitely caught me off guard. The first half of the book is so innocent—longing glances, characters being in the flustered zone of “does he like me????”, a brush of the hands while passing a coffee cup—that when they had sex at the halfway point and the Daddy dom comes out, I was surprised. And these guys go all in on the Daddy, as that dynamic quickly permeates their full relationship, with Silas also taking on caretaking, lavish gifts, and financial support. (Here’s a piece the team wrote on Daddy kink last year where we discuss the Daddy archetype in greater detail.) I did think it was interesting that there is no discussion between Kai and Silas about this shared kink and where the boundaries might be; it pops out in the bedroom, and when they both like it there, it just kind of spreads into their whole life, to the point where when we’re in Kai’s point of view, he no longer refers to Silas as “Silas,” but rather as “Daddy.” It didn’t veer into creepy territory (despite the age gap), and Kai does grapple with this new identity of simultaneously playing in this space where he’s a “boy” while also being an adult man in thoughtful ways, but I thought the quick slippage was an interesting choice, particularly since the blurb gave no indication that this is what was coming. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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