I had to stop reading this a few times to soothe my aching chest. There is an undercurrent of melancholy in Carla de Guzman’s A Match Made in Lipa that gives depth to the sweet and hopeful childhood friends to lovers romance.
Kira and Santi played together as children in Lipa until Santi’s grandfather demanded the family move to Manila. Years later, Santi is wandering through Osaka, having just been fired from the family hotel business and cut off from all family money. He runs into Kira in a convenience store when they both reach for the same onigiri. Their conversation sets Santi on a path back to Lipa, and though they kiss, their relationship stays firmly platonic for another few years. Kira has also been let go from her dream job, so she pivots to chocolate making and managing her family’s commercial property, The Laneways. Two things, I would love to go back to Japan and this time I will know to go into every convenience store I find. Second, A Match Made in Lipa is a gloriously foodie romance. So much good food is described.
Santi and Kira have been in a holding pattern. Santi wants to prove to his grandfather that he deserves to be brought back into the family business by making a falling down old hotel into a shining star. But, he also knows that his grandfather is manipulative and will always withhold approval. He wants Kira, but he doesn’t want her to be exposed to his toxic family. Family and business are tightly linked for both Santi and Kira. Kira has been waiting, for something? For love to come along? She’s not sure. She knows she loves making chocolate, her chocolate shop, matchmaking, The Laneways, and her family. She’s frustrated with Santi’s “we’ll talk later” line. When her family lets her know that the family board will be reviewing their investment in her chocolate shop, Kira realizes she has to stop waiting and work on saving herself. When Santi’s grandfather asks Santi to do something that will hurt Kira, he knows he needs to choose between returning to his old life in Manila or the life he’s built in Lipa.
Carla de Guzman gives everything layers and complexity. Kira’s family loaned her the money he start her business, but they also want her to justify that investment. She has built a community around her, but she’s convinced she has to solve her problems herself. Santi’s grandfather is objectively awful, but he remembers the loving grandfather of his childhood. Kira and Santi don’t have to learn to love each other, because they have always loved each other. They do have to learn that they don’t have to solve problems alone. Time and again, their community comes together to help. There is a constant awareness of impermanence and fragility, and a tension between family and individual. But community comes together and generosity inspires more generosity.
If you are not familiar with Filipino food and culture (my familiarity is limited) have Google at the ready. It is absolutely worth the time.
CW: toxic family, threats of financial ruin, and an epilogue set during the pandemic.
I received this as an advance reader copy from NetGalley and Carina Press. My opinions are my own.