The First Kiss
I’ve read and loved Grace Burrowes’ historical romances, so I was happy to see what she could do with a contemporary. And while the writing itself is up to Burrowes’ high standards, my final conclusion upon finally finishing The First Kiss is that I far prefer her stories set in the past over those set in the present.
Virtuoso pianist Vera Waltham has just ended a bad marriage and has retreated to a tiny, rural Virginia town to lick her wounds. She’s taken herself off the concert circuit to spend time with her daughter, Twyla, but her ex-husband/manager isn’t too happy about the engagements he arranged that are now going unfulfilled and costing him potential riches. Vera suspects it’s Donal who’s vandalizing her car and breaking into her home, despite the restraining order she has against him.
Enter attorney James Knightley. James is a ladies’ man who has recently decided that his life is missing something. Perhaps he needs a hobby. Or maybe he needs to get a pet. All he knows is that the abundance of meaningless sex he’s always enjoyed simply isn’t enough any more, and a relationship with the lovely Vera is just the ticket to give his life meaning. When Vera’s ex-husband Donal appears determined to insinuate himself into Vera’s life, James takes it upon himself to be her personal protector.
Despite Vera’s determination that she’s incapable of properly judging a man and therefore should stay out of any new relationships, James is just as determined to become a part of Vera and Twyla’s life. As Vera gets to know James, he’s finally able to open up about the miserable time he endured caring for his alcoholic mother after his older brothers had left home. Vera is able to confess the truth about her first marriage. Meanwhile, the mystery about who has been harassing Vera grows more complicated.
Going in to this book, I was under the impression that it was a love story involving older people, as in a hero and/or heroine who were in their late thirties or forties. Indeed, heroine Vera is widowed and divorced and raising an eight-year old daughter, all traits of someone out of their new adult years. James is an established partner in the family law firm. The very writing itself, including internal monologues and external dialogues, read as if these people are very mature. Imagine my shock and surprise to learn that James isn’t even thirty and Vera barely so. Say what?!
The problem, I soon figured, is Burrowes’ history with historicals. While The First Kiss is supposed to be set today, the language of the writing sets it in some past time. Dialogue such as this, when Vera is explaining a past lover’s indiscretion, is far from what I’d consider contemporary:
“That was the worst part, his unflappable conclusion that his peccadillo had been no slight to me, but merely his considerate way of indulging my need for rest. Casual encounters were something a sensible wife tolerated.”
First of all, no-one today talks like this. Not to mention use of words like peccadillo which I can’t see ever becoming part of the Urban Dictionary. The end effect is modern American characters who sound as if they are British or very old English professors or time travelers from the past. When one character used the word “beknighted” more than once, my thinking was that Burrowes’ transition to contemporary might not be the best use of her talents.
As far as the characters, neither James nor Vera appealed to me all that much. It rubbed me wrong how quickly James insinuated himself into Vera and Twyla’s world. The very first time he meets Vera, he ends up helping himself to her kitchen to make his special mashed potatoes, assists Twyla with her homework, and insists that he replace the battery in Vera’s car. We are told over and over and over what a stud James is, how he has a little black book the thickness of a telephone directory, and how he never even has to ask for a booty call because so many women come panting after him. While I had no desire for scene after scene of James’s bed-hopping (perhaps this occurred in the first book in the series), this was an example of too much tell and not enough show.
Vera works fine as a Regency ingénue, but as a thirty-year old woman of the twenty-first century, her unfamiliarity with a condom and sex in general made me want to hurl the book against the wall.
“Vera found a condom in the drawer – one of several? “What do I do with this?”
“Scoot back a bit. You tear off a corner of the foil and toss that into the drawer, then roll the condom down on me starting from the tip.”
“Why can’t you see to it?”
“We’ll do this together.” James’s hands found hers, and his fingers tore the little packet.
“This end up,” he said, taking her fingers and showing her which way he’d oriented the condom. “Now, unroll it on me.”
To do that, Vera would have to put her hands on his erection, something he seemed perfectly happy for her to do.
“Is this necessary, James?”
Despite the fact that Vera is a mother, her complete ignorance gave her the air of a virginal widow, something that just doesn’t cut it in a contemporary.
Mostly, however, this book was simply too slow. A third of the way through the book and Vera and James have done nothing more than think of the other as somewhat appealing. Not that I was super anxious for them to jump into the sack or anything because I never felt a single spark of chemistry between the two. It became a chore for me to pick up the book and read another chapter.
If you adore Grace Burrowes and you don’t mind a very slow, somewhat pedestrian romance, The First Kiss might work for you. Personally, I’d say give it a pass and spend your reading time on one of her much more enjoyable historicals.