Two years ago, Chris and his boyfriend escaped the turmoil of the big city to settle in a small town at the US-Canada border. Eager to settle into forever, Chris bought the Frontier Café and Bakery. A year later, his boyfriend dumps him, leaving Chris the only gay man in town and resigned to a life of romantic solitude and baked goods.
Hank is a loner who’s spent the last ten years travelling through the country for his job as a water plant engineer. Deeply closeted, he’s extremely careful about the men he meets. Like the rivers he studies during his travels, he flows fast through the land, never slowing down enough to be caught.
In town only for a few weeks on a water treatment facility project, he’s intent on getting the job done and returning home out west to take care of his father. But when he sets eyes on the local ginger baker standing behind a table full of decadent desserts, the temptation is too much to resist.
I requested this on NetGalley because I instantly liked the title and the description. It looked like it would be a sweet romance and, in many respects, that was completely true.
Chris and his boyfriend leave New York in 1992 during the height of the AIDS crisis because they are tired of burying friends and move to a small town and open up a bakery. They break up and Chris’ boyfriend moves back to New York, leaving Chris as the only gay man in town. Enter Hank who is there to test the old water plant and things kick off. Rivers play a huge part in this book, bringing the main couple together and continuing to be something which remains a theme of the book.
I really like the variety of characters there were in this book. While the main plot was between Chris and Hank, there were smaller subplots of Shirley and her husband, Troy, coming out of prison, Donnie and his strained relationship with his father and Drika wanting to do the right thing for her nephew while risking her relationship with her brother. Bossa creates varied characters that you can understand, even if you don’t agree with their decisions. Liliana wants to send her son to a gay conversion camp because she believes it would be the best thing for him and the psychological, emotional and physical abuse of these camps was not nearly well publicised twenty years ago, nor how completely pointless they were because it led to encouraging self-hatred and denial rather than actually turning people straight. I completely disagree with this decision of hers but Bossa makes it very clear that this ignorant, misguided decision has good intentions behind it and she does this for a lot of bad decisions in this book. We can see why Hank is so scared of being out but we know it is going to stop him being happy if he continues like he is.
This book is set in 1992 and the setting really drives the book. There are all the misconceptions about gay people and AIDS itself which were even more prominent back then, when the only information you got was from books and the media. Sometimes I forgot which time it was set in but it was always brought back to the forefront because it was such an important part of the plot. Hank and Chris find the long-distance relationship even worse when they have only landline phones to communicate on and I really felt for them when events were going on in Chris’ life and he didn’t want to talk about them over the phone.
Then we come to the relationship. I absolutely loved the last two-thirds of this book where Hank and Chris had confessed to each other but it wasn’t a happily ever after, as the two of them had to work through their own issues and outside conflicts as well. It was so nice to see a romance novel where the conflicts weren’t based around stupid misunderstandings or mistaken cheating or one breaking up with the other for their own good. Their fights and conflicts stemmed from understandable fear and distance between each other and I loved how it was resolved as well. That being said, the first third of the book was incredibly insta-lovey and if this book wasn’t such an easy read, I would have given up on it. I’m really glad I didn’t give up on it but I found myself rolling my eyes at how quickly Hank and Chris’ relationship developed and wished we could have gotten a more slow-burn start to their romance.
If I was reviewing the first third and the second two-thirds separately, there would be two very different ratings. Together, I would say this book is 3.5 stars and I would recommend it, as long as you get through the first third.