Losing a soulmate is like losing two limbs, or all of them at once. Suddenly, you don’t know what to do with your body. You go through life like a zombie, with infrequent flashes of awareness which anchor you to the world around you, if you’re lucky.
There are many things that go into making a good book. Some are subjective, like evocative storytelling, interesting settings, and exciting action. Others are more objective, like a good plot structure, adherence to genre traditions, and quality writing.
I’ve edited dozens of books over the last few years. I’ve worked on everything from middle grade fantasy to war memoirs. There is always something that the “good” ones have in common: Characters that pull the reader in and form an emotional attachment to the story.
Kai’s Healing Smiles by Vivi Anne Hunt pulls this off masterfully.
For me, that flash was Kai.
However, before we can talk about Kai, we have to talk about coffee.
Disclaimer: As the editor of Kai’s Healing Smiles, I am unable to give an unbiased review on the book. However, I still wanted to share my thoughts on this wonderful story.
Despite romance not being a genre I would read outside of work, I found myself enthralled with Kai’s Healing Smiles from the first chapter, snippets of which appear throughout this article. The story opens on Silas, a middle-aged widower who is exceptionally average in every way. He has a good job and is rather well-to-do, but not rich and famous. He’s an architect, so nothing as exciting as an astronaut or race car driver. However, an emotional connection is almost instantly established as he reminisces about his late wife. We see him trapped in a routine where he lives almost entirely in the past and never looks forward to the future.
Even though I could afford it, Starbucks always seemed overpriced. Ellie and I argued about it endlessly. She would drag me inside and make me order the most ridiculous drinks with the most ridiculous names and pay a ridiculous price for the privilege of imbibing at that shrine to the holy bean.
After she was gone, Starbucks was the only place I went for my coffee. I would torture myself, recounting every conversation we had ever had inside, then go home with tear stains on my cheeks and a hole in my heart.
Then, we meet Kai, the namesake of the novel’s title. He’s essentially the complete opposite of Silas: Young, awkward, a bit goofy, and always looking forward to something grander than where he is in the moment. He has his future ahead of him and isn’t burdened by the scars of the past. He’s a charming character with a sense of hopefulness that is a breath of fresh air, especially in contrast to the mourning and robotic routines of Silas. It is little surprise that the positivity and enthusiasm that Kai radiates triggers something in Silas and inspires a change to his years-long status quo.
Despite that, I would go back. One day as I walked inside, before I even smelled the brewing coffee, I saw him. A new barista. Kai. Out of nowhere, this young, outgoing, smiling creature with a bright smile and eyes appeared—and he never left. For five months, he has been the only shot of energy I’ve needed. He is my color and light throughout my gray days.
Vivi approached this change in a very clever way, though. A way that makes this story feel more real. Silas doesn’t just open his eyes one day and decide his life would be entirely different. Meeting Kai doesn’t make him instantly abandon his emotional baggage. Just like people must do in real life, Silas must struggle to incorporate these changes into his life alongside the past he has lived, and Vivi shows us this in many ways. Right from the start, it is clear that Silas must struggle with this duality of mourning the past while attempting to look forward to the future. I think this plays a large role in making Silas’s story more believable.
I start my day with Kai and finish it with… well, staring at a photo of me and Ellie. The only one I kept in our bedroom.
However, this isn’t only Silas’s story. We get to see both his and Kai’s point of view. We get to see that hesitation about meeting somebody new and not knowing what the other person may or may not feel from both perspectives. Later, we get to see their relationship grow from both sides, and the troubles from both sides, and more. This goes a long way toward forming an emotional bond for both of the main characters in the book. Even when there are disagreements, we can empathize with both perspectives. It makes the roller coaster journey of Silas and Kai’s relationship all that much more thrilling.
In addition, the story is supported by a wonderful cast of colorful characters. This isn’t just two lost souls in the void, but an entire community brought to life. Again, this isn’t the kind of book I would normally read, but I enjoyed it far more than many books that are of the kind I would normally read. Why? Because Vivi Anne Hunt did such an amazing job bringing the characters to life and making me care about them. Because I cared about the characters, I care quite a lot about this book.
Meet Vivi Anne Hunt, the Author of Kai’s Healing Smiles
Vivi Anne Hunt writes steamy m/m romance books about men who love and protect each other fiercely. She’s a big fan of age difference and hurt/comfort, so you will often find those elements in her books.
As a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community, she advocates for more diverse representation in books. As a proud self-published author, she supports the indie author community however she can.
Vivi lives with her cat and her bossy muse. You can find her tweeting obsessively @ViviAnneHunt. Come say hi.