The Emotional Power of Kai’s Healing Smiles

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.


Kai’s Healing Smiles is available now. Find out more about the book below:

Amazon

Goodreads

Bookbub


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.


My Journey Through Avalion

Flame in the Palace by Seluna Drake, Book One of Lady of Avalion: released today!

Avalion is a kingdom of magic and mystery. It is a land of rolling hills, lush forests, flowering meadows, and towering mountains. Imposing castles, sprawling cities, and grand manors lie at the heart of its five duchies. Around these, the landscape is dotted with roadside inns, small towns, and humble villages. Each duchy is unique, specializing in different trade goods and occupying distinct geographic features that set them apart both physically and culturally from one another. At the heart of all this is Ilona, a sweeping, bustling city anchored by a magnificent, towering royal palace. While the island kingdom seems a unified monolith, undercurrents of political machinations fueled by jealousy and greed threaten to tear it apart.

Flame in the Palace by Seluna Drake launched today! I wanted to take some time to help spread the word about this wonderful story and share my own journey through Avalion.

I must be honest; I am biased when it comes to Flame in the Palace. Seluna Drake hired me to edit this book, and over the course of our collaboration on the project, we became good friends.

However, I would not be putting my professional credibility on the line if I didn’t think this book deserved the attention. Also, I’ve gushed about other titles I’ve edited when the author has publicly acknowledged my involvement, such as with The Quest for the Golden Plunger by Jackson Dickert or They Stole the Earth by D.W. Hitz, so my friendship with Seluna Drake has also not created a unique situation in regard to Flame in the Palace.

All that said, I’m too close to the book to write an unbiased review, but I didn’t want that to stop me from sharing my journey through Avalion.

As mentioned, Avalion is an island kingdom. The setting is a medieval fantasy world filled with magic, but it is unlike many of its kin. It is low fantasy in many regards, with no elves, dwarves, or goblins. There are rare instances of fantastical creatures, and a solitary minotaur features early in the book. Magic is a closely guarded secret of the nobility, a thing of mystery and wonder to most.

Noble houses lord over the five duchies of Avalion, and the king rules from the central palace of Ilona. The books protagonist is Myria, a humble maid working at her grandmother’s roadside inn near the town of Everhaven, in the duchy of Fairthorne. She is an estranged member of House Bramble, the lords of Fairthorne, and cousin to the duke. Little does she know that this strenuous tie to the nobility will soon thrust her to the center of a web of political intrigue and romance.

The main thrust of the plot in Flame in the Palace is the custom the royal family uses to arrange marriages for their heirs. Prince Leor, soon to be King of Avalion, is in need of a wife. Thus, as is customary, each of the five ducal houses sends an eligible suitor to compete over a summer of contests and social events, ranging from state dinners and ballroom galas to a joust and other adventurous challenges. Duke Bramble, having no eligible daughters of his own, must turn to his cousin should they wish to participate.

Myria has little desire to enter the theater of politics, but upon meeting Leor, she is smitten by the charismatic prince. Her cousin the duke promises to save her grandmother’s financially struggling inn and the only home she’s ever known, and she is promised access to the arcane secrets so jealously guarded by the nobility.

Thus is the fiery, fiercely independent Myria taken from the familiar comforts of the Morning Glory tavern and the surrounding Talking Tree Forest to be plunged into a world of political intrigue. Along the way, she gets to know the other members of her family and is mentored by her aunt, the dowager widow Olympe. She also must contend with her rival suitors, some with whom she forges bonds of friendship, others from whose machinations she must guard herself.

Chief among these new friendships is Emiri, the court mage of the royal household and close friend—nearly a brother—to Prince Leor himself. As Myria contends for Leor’s favor in hopes of one day becoming queen, she also studies under Emiri to learn the secrets of the nobility’s magical ways.

While Avalion is full of lush forests, sparkling rivers, and soaring palaces, there are shadows in the cracks that threaten the foundation upon which this peaceful kingdom is built. And as Myria peels back the layers of these mysteries, she finds herself at the center of an existential crisis for the entire island nation.

I wish I could say more about Flame in the Palace, but I don’t want to spoil the journey for you.

I normally am not a fan of romantic tales. I stick to fantasy that concerns itself more with battlefields than ballrooms, but Flame in the Palace struck a chord with me. I found myself enthralled by the large, wonderfully well-rounded cast of characters and the detailed, varied, and immersive environments. As Myria travelled across the kingdom, I felt like I was along for the ride. When she felt sparks of love and pangs of loss, I felt them as well. I dove deep into this story and was forlorn when I had to leave Avalion to come back to our reality. I’ll be returning to Avalion for the second book, hopefully sooner rather than later, and I am confident the sparks kindled in the first book will grow to a raging inferno in the second.

Get your copy of Flame in the Palace today! I am confident your will enjoy your journey into Avalion!

Find Flame in the Palace in paperback or for Kindle at Amazon.

Find Flame in the Palace at other eBook retailers.


About the author of Flame in the Palace

Seluna Drake is a high school English teacher who writes and independently publishes a variety of fantasy novels, poems, and potentially narrative-based games. Most of the time she passes as a chaotic creative who spends way too much time on video games and not enough time talking to her therapist.

Future Epic Fantasy Project

I have hinted in the past about some epic fantasy brewing in the background.  I’m still in the planning phases, but have a general idea for a concept and have put together an aesthetic that hints at the feel of it.

FAE epic aesthetic.png

The immortals of the faewilde have been waging a war for millenia, and the fallout from this conflict is starting to affect reality as we know it.  One man has the power to end the war.  Can a mortal put an end to a conflict older than memory itself, or is the world doomed to destruction as it is torn asunder by the magic of the fae?