Cathal Kinnery is an arrogant, overeducated jerk, and Damon Eglamore is not afraid to tell him so. But Damon married Cathal’s best friend, so they have an uneasy truce. Then she passes away. Now they’re stuck together in close quarters, trying to honor her memory without shouting at each other all the time.
At first, they have no idea how to move forward. Damon is a chef, but all his favorite recipes remind him of his late wife. Cathal would love to start tomcatting around town again, except for that annoying promise he made to his best friend about looking after Damon.
Then Damon’s son comes to them for help, convinced the only way to win over his first crush is a gender-bending Shakespeare production. After that, Cathal talks Damon into taking up baking as a new way to use his talents. Next thing they know, they’ve begun a new life working as a team instead of jumping at each other’s throats. But can they trust each other long enough to make it last, or will they fall into old bad habits again?
We are first introduced to the two MCs, Cathal and Damon, as the two meet by chance in a gay bar, Damon slightly drunk and slightly out of his element, and Cathal being a judgmental prick. I wondered immediately whether I was supposed to like Cathal, because I sure didn't, and how the author was going to make me care about him.
In the 2nd prologue, we meet Cathal and Damon again, this time under different circumstances, as Damon is dating Cathal's best friend, and she's begging him to get along.
And in the third prologue, the tears started.
From chapter one, grief permeates every scene in the book. Damon doesn't know how to cope after losing his wife, doesn't know how to keep living, doesn't know how to claw his way out of the darkness. He goes through the motions each day, because he has a teenage son (Felix) to take care of, but it is as if every single smidgen of joy has been sucked out of their lives. And Cathal, fulfilling his best friend's dying request, stands helplessly, realizing that his long-held antagonism toward Damon doesn't help one bit.
And so the two men, slowly but surely, begin to forge a new kind of relationship. They still grieve, each in their own way. For years and years and years, Damon struggled with low self-esteem, finding worth in being his wife's husband, and Felix's father, but now that half of him is gone, he sinks back to that feeling of not being good at anything. He was good at being a husband, but that was taken from him. He felt so real, so realistic, and he was hurting so badly, I just wanted to mother him.
And Cathal, judgmental, sarcastic, snarky, hides behind a mask, pushing back against anything that might get too close to the hurt boy hiding behind the massive walls he's built around his heart. He deflects with sarcastic humor and a sharp, sometimes cruel, wit, terrified to show anyone his true self.
Damon is a trained chef, so he cooks food that seems bizarre to Cathal, and since that too reminds him too much of his late wife, he tries to do something he hasn't really done before - he starts to experiment with baking. Cookies, cakes, you name it, Damon bakes it, and uses his son and Cathal as guinea pigs.
This is a pretty long book, and I won't tell you all the things that happen inside. Just know that there is a romance, slow burning, almost surprising our MCs, and Cathal's frozen heart thaws slowly and steadily.
Felix - what a delight. He too read like a real character, like someone you might know, someone you might meet in real life. He is dealing with his first teenage crush, and Damon and Cathal try to help him by being more than supportive.
Damon also meets a single baker, and Cathal grudgingly encourages him to go on a date, even though he hates doing so - he just doesn't quite understand why. Until he does.
This was truly a fantastic read, and I enjoyed every single minute I spend in the pages of this book. The one thing that niggled just a little was the relative time frame in which Damon and Cathal moved from being can't stand you antagonistic to confessing their feelings to each other, considering that they are both grieving still. While I didn't begrudge them their chance at starting over, at loving (again), I thought that maybe the time frame was a bit too short. Still not going to knock off any points from my rating though, because this book was as close to perfect for me as it could have been.
And it's a debut novel. An extraordinary effort from a new author. Superb. Would read again. Not many books make it onto my 'deserted-island' shelf but this one does. The chapter titles were a hoot. The writing is crisp, engaging, and emotional, but not OTT. I giggled so many times at Cathal's biting humor, and sniffled plenty of times also when grief threatens to overwhelm them both. Read this, I beg you.
** I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. **
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