As Good as the First Time
K.M. Jackson’s latest romance, As Good as the First Time, features a driven, practical heroine conquering past hurts when she returns to the small town where she had her young heart broken. Naturally, the boy who left her among the walking wounded has grown into a handsome, heroic single dad and wouldn’t you know it, he’s just recently moved back to the same small town our heroine is about to visit.
Olivia (Liv) Gale has had a heck of a day. First, she got ‘restructured’ out of a job. Then, hoping for some loving comfort from her boyfriend she returns instead to an apartment emptied of his clothes – and her television. Taking a deep breath, she loads up her signature pies and heads to her father’s retirement party, determined to keep it together and not rain on her daddy’s parade. The pies are a huge success but her reunion with her family is not. She bickers with her sister Drea incessantly and this event is no exception. The two women begin snarking at each other almost immediately and keep at it for most of the evening. The only lull is when the sisters learn their parents are thinking of postponing/cancelling their dream vacation in order to help out at the Goode’N Sweet, the family bakery in Sugar Lake, Georgia. It seems Aunt Joyce, who runs the establishment, has broken her hip and could use some help. Rather than let their parents cancel their trip, Drea and Liv determine to go in their stead.
The journey from New York to Georgia goes fine, but they arrive to find the bakery surrounded by firemen. While the oven fire is nothing to be concerned with, Fire Chief Clayton Morris is very much a problem for Liv. He’s the reason she stopped spending summers in Sugar Lake. They’d been hot and heavy for a whole season when he’d up and left her without so much as a goodbye. Seeing him again -ever- had never been in Liv’s carefully executed life plan.
Clayton knows he owes Liv an explanation for how poorly he treated her after their last date all those summers ago. He just never thought he’d have the chance to tell her in person how much she meant to him and why he felt he had to give her up. Seeing her again stirs all the feelings he’s kept repressed for years but it’s clear that she wants to keep their encounters professional, polite and pithy. Clayton wants none of that; he knows if he doesn’t have the courage to speak this time, he’ll never have a shot again. Now if he can just get her to listen. . .
While I found the opening chapters a bit difficult because they involved a lot of bickering – between Liv and Drea, Joyce and her sister, another aunt and her children – the text fortunately smooths out and the author seems to hit her stride and find her voice. As a result, fans of small-town romance will find a lot to love in this story. Quirky relatives, the charm of country living, the healing balm of familial relationships, the folksy wisdom of the locals – all the standard tropes make an appearance here.
The bulk of the story is devoted to setting up the needed conversation between Liv and Clayton. What the reader knows almost from the start is that Liv has never been able to trust a man since Clayton broke her heart. Initially I rolled my eyes at this, but when I learned the details surrounding the break-up, I found myself a bit more sympathetic to Liv’s point of view. Clayton’s timing was bad, his excuses flimsy, and his behavior during that time was immature. As an adult, he seems aware of his past mistakes, but he still seems to struggle with immaturity. It is Liv who speaks to him about the effect any possible relationship they form might have upon his daughter, and who pushes him to look beyond the trite response of, “She’ll be happy if I’m happy.” This attitude highlights a problem in both the relationship they develop during the course of this book and the one they had in the past: Liv tended to think through issues while Clayton emoted his way through them. I couldn’t help but wonder if this wouldn’t prove to be a serious obstacle as they went forward.
The characters also seem to have a hard time communicating, mainly because neither of them really wants to. Both of them suffer from some insecurities which keep them bracing themselves for the next big letdown; fearing conversations because they fear those discussions will be focused on their shortcomings as people. They had issues in their past which explained this – his divorce, her recent job loss and numerous failed relationships – but I wasn’t sure that being together would magically cure these previous pains. Overall, I liked the idea of Liv and Clayton as a couple, but felt that the problems that pulled them apart as teens remained with them as adults. The text didn’t show us any growth in that area apart from the magical healing of their reunion love, which I struggled to accept. I do understand that’s par for the course in many a romance novel, though, so didn’t grade down for it. Let’s just say it’s a personal pet peeve I feel obligated to point out to others.
The tale keeps its primary focus on the romance but also involves a small mystery, which is handled very well, playing out in the background and fitting smoothly into the overall plot of the narrative. It gives us some nice relationship rebuilding between the two sisters, too, and teases some possible career changes for them in the future.
As Good as the First Time perfectly executes many standard romance tropes, making it an entertaining read that doesn’t offer anything new but delivers on plenty of beloved standards. If you’re a fan of small-town reunion romance, this will probably be a perfect fit for you.