Caleb is the proud owner of BrewBiz, a Deaf-owned and run cafe. Caleb loves the community he and his employees have formed and the shop is doing well. But when Caleb is publicly dumped outside the cafe, it brings him unwanted internet fame as the video of him and his ex angrily signing goes viral. Suddenly, BrewBiz is getting all kinds of attention, but while Caleb appreciates the additional business, he hates the gawkers that are curious about his public humiliation. It makes Caleb stressed and grumpy and he inadvertently takes out some of his frustration on Bodhi, one of the college students who works at BrewBiz.
Bodhi and his twin, Ravi, grew up with abusive grandparents who refused to let the boys sign or have any part of Deaf culture. Now that they are seniors in college, the twins are away from that horrible environment, but it has left emotional scars. Bodhi was only able to learn sign language at college and he still struggles with fluency; it doesn’t help that Bodhi is very shy and self conscious about signing in public. Bodhi is also autistic and can get overwhelmed and, at times, is unable to speak with either voice or sign. Bodhi loves his brother, but it can be hard watching things seemingly come so easy for Ravi while Bodhi struggles. Bodhi knows that Caleb doesn’t really like him, knows that his slow signing and lack of comfort with the Deaf community irritates Caleb, all of which makes him more stressed when he is at work.
Once Caleb has moved past the initial crisis of the leaked video, he is able to calm down enough to realize he has treated Bodhi poorly. The fact that he finds the man so attractive and is wary about any kind of relationship given they are boss/employee doesn’t help either. But after Caleb’s sincere apology, the men start developing a friendship, as first Bodhi is there for Caleb when he needs a friend, and then Caleb offers support for Bodhi when his own crisis hits. It gives the pair a chance to get to know one another and, soon, to begin exploring a sexual relationship as well. Caleb wants to take things slow, as all things sex and relationships are new to Bodhi. But as the men begin to build their relationship, it becomes clear there is really something special between them. Now that they have taken the first steps together, Bodhi and Caleb may just find they are meant for something long term with one another.
Affogato is the first book in E.M. Lindsey’s new BrewBiz series. The series focuses on the BrewBiz Deaf Café, which is both owned and staffed exclusively by Deaf or hard-of-hearing employees. Virtually all the characters who appear here are also Deaf/hard of hearing and so almost all the dialog is English translated from ASL. Deaf culture is very important to many of the characters, particularly because they have often been denied access while growing up. In Bodhi’s case, he and his brother were raised by cruel grandparents who issued harsh punishments for signing or not adapting to the hearing world. Caleb and his brother, Wren, were both given cochlear implants as kids, though Caleb’s failed and so his parents reluctantly sent him to Deaf school. Part of the importance of the cafe is to provide a safe space for workers and customers who can’t hear, though sadly they don’t always get it due to occasional hostile or difficult customers. So the story really does a nice job giving focus to Deaf culture and community.
Things between Bodhi and Caleb start off with an enemies-to-lovers vibe, at least on Caleb’s end. Caleb is upset and horrified by his fight going public. It is bad enough to learn his ex had been cheating on him, but his clear attempt to gain attention by publicly dumping Caleb is even worse. But, on top of that, the fact that they were signing has drawn even more attention, with gawkers who want to know what they were saying or who show up at the cafe out of curiosity. It puts Caleb on edge and he ends up taking some of that out on Bodhi. Caleb also gets frustrated that Bodhi signs so slowly, that he doesn’t seem to have found a place in the community. So, at first, Caleb isn’t the nicest guy and he takes out his frustrations on an easy target in Bodhi. But it doesn’t take long for him to realize what he is doing and to sincerely apologize and work to make amends. It took me a while to warm up to Caleb as a result, but I did enjoy these guys as a couple.
This story introduces a new cast of characters (as well as reunites us with baker Peyton from Nothing to Lose, which is set in the same world). I really loved getting to know these guys and there are so many interesting stories we just start to learn about that seem great fodder for future books. However, we do meet a lot of new people all at once and, at times, I found it hard to keep everyone straight, particularly early on. Also, while Caleb and Bodhi are very different and distinct as characters, some of the details surrounding them were similar and I sometimes had trouble remembering specifics. For example, both men are Deaf with brothers who are also Deaf and all four men work at the cafe. Both Bodhi and Caleb had difficult childhoods with parents/grandparents who were not supportive of their inability to hear. Both men also love their brothers, but harbor some resentment over feeling like life is much easier for their sibling than for them. So there are a lot of broad similarities and it took me a while to then remember some of the specific details about each man. That said, I really enjoyed getting to know these folks and I think Lindsey has created a great cast for future books. It looks like there are at least three more stories planned in this series, one more coming out this year, and I am really looking forward to following along.