by Carla de Guzman
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: October 19, 2020
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
All’s fair in love and prank wars
For barista and café owner Sari Tomas, Christmas means parols, family and no-holds-barred karaoke contests. This year, though, a new neighbor is throwing a wrench in all her best-laid plans. The baker next door—“some fancy boy from Manila”—might have cute buns, but when he tries to poach her customers with cheap coffee and cheaper tactics, the competition is officially on.
And Baker Boy better be ready, because Sari never loses.
Foodie extraordinaire Gabriel Capras wants to prove to his dad that his career choice doesn’t make him any less a man. The Laneways might not be Manila, but the close-knit community is the perfect spot to grow his bakery into a thriving business. He wasn’t expecting a gorgeous adversary in the barista next door, but flirting with her makes his heart race, and it’s not just the caffeine.
It’s winner takes all this Christmas. And more than one competitor might just lose their heart for the holidays.
Oh my gosh, this is just as sweet as the title (and that cute cover) implies! It’s a romance that sparks from a rivalry between a coffee shop owner and the new bakery owner during the Christmas season in the Philippines.
“It was competition, after all, and if Sari couldn’t be the best, what was the point?”
Sari doesn’t care for change, whether that’s something as small as a new bakery moving in next door to her coffee shop or as big as her little sister moving out. Maybe that explains why she doesn’t like Gabriel, the owner of that bakery, even though there’s every reason she should. He’s handsome, he has killer dimples when he smiles, and he dances when he bakes. Her initial enmity towards him leads to a prank war, which everyone around them seems to think is, well, flirting. Between in between all the karaoke and peppermint coffees, there’s definitely something there, but can either person step away from their businesses long enough for a little Christmas romance?
“So how are you and your neighbor ‘getting along’?”
“Ah, so it’s going badly.”
The thing I loved most about both characters is that they’re both insanely good at what they do. Reading about Sari expertly making an americano or Gabriel making mango-and-cream cake was not only delicious but deeply fulfilling – I adore competent characters. As Sari’s sister Sam describes them, they’re “[t]wo lonely, petty masters of their craft that refuse to see how perfect they are for each other.” That’s a pretty funny thing to highlight especially since most of the first part of the book consists of rom-com level silly pranks, but it works out well with the general tone of the book.
“Sari didn’t open her café to peddle pastries, she was here to dispense legally allowable stimulants in proper dosages, sometimes with milk and sugar.”
The book’s light on conflict. There’s the inevitable family disagreements – Sari’s struggling with her little sister moving out while Gabriel’s trying to prove himself to his dad who doesn’t believe that baking is manly, nor that it’s something that can support a family. He wants to prove himself to his dad by having a store in a mall, or even better, a franchise. Sari’s happy with the family cafe and roasting beans for the family coffee company, and has no plans to go anywhere other than Lipa. The romance happens pretty quickly, but Gabriel was such an absolute cinnamon roll that it was easy for me to accept. He’s immediately drawn to Sari, and it was adorably sweet watching him figure out how to get her to agree to go on a date with him. Not that he expected their date to be to a traditional Filipino advent mass at dawn, but, well, it’s still a date! There’s also several instances of absolutely lovely consent, and Sari isn’t shy about showing Gabriel what she likes in bed.
As for cons, I didn’t like the way the conflict with Gabriel’s family wrapped up. I know it’s a Christmas book so of course there’s going to be lots about family and reconciliation and all that, but it felt like a letdown after the giant buildup of how the past few years of Gabriel’s life had been a response to those actions. And, something that I personally enjoyed but might be a con for some readers, if you’re not familiar with #romanceclass, the stellar group of writers from the Philippines, you’ll probably have to spend some time googling various phrases and all the different foods and Christmas decorations (capiz parols!), but it’s completely worth it. Trust me when I say that you’ll spend most of the book craving one of Gabriel’s delicious pastries or an expresso from Sari.
Overall, this is a sweet Christmas romance, full of delicious food and rom-com hijinks. Definitely recommended!