First Kiss
by Marilyn Pappano, contemporary (2000)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58231-3

Call me crazy but I do adore the cover. It's so quaint and cute. And the title? Reminds me of that song - Where oh where can my baby be?... Okay, that song is about death in car accidents, but it has a nice tune.

First Kiss, the novel, is another well-written, technically faultless book that makes a fun read. The emotional issues are pretty lightweight, unlike the chronic bitterness that plagues Some Enchanted Season or the over-the-top Pamper My Babies antics of the otherwise excellent Father To Be.

But it has one prime meat for my meat cleaver of a nitpicking. It plays on my pet peeve: the presumption that promiscuous women are all from lousy broken homes and their secret wish is to be just like Ms Priss the Golden Contemporary Heroine. I can't help feeling whether this is some sort of vendetta against the most popular and easy cheerleaders in our schooldays.

Holly McBride is the Easy Lady in question. She runs an inn in Bethlehem and has played best buddies to the heroines in the other two books mentioned above. Finally, I thought, an author does the daring thing by giving the town sl... er, sloth? :D her own story. Too bad the humanization of Holly comes with an alcoholic mother and lots of emotional issues. Oh boy.

Tom Flynn, also a recurrent best buddy, also gets his story. He too is a male *sloth* who yearns for relationships but can't disentangle himself from the bevy of temporary night birds that keep flirting in and out of his life. When Holly teases him to wish for her over his (40th) birthday cake, he does just that, and oh boy.

Tom is a bit of a dunce when it comes to courtship. He can't measure her suitability with a calculator or a computer, so he decides to court her business style. She, in turn, takes on the Good Gal role and starts wondering if (a) she will ever be worthy of him due to her not-too-pristine home and background, (b) if Tom wants her or her genitals only, (c) if she will ever make babies and be a good mommy. In short, she completely goes into Auto-Worrier mode.

The storytelling is fine, flowing smoothly, but this time around, I'm a bit bored. Tom's the quissential too-silly overly-calculative millionaire. Despite her slu- er, slothiness, Holly is actually misunderstood. Spare her your judgments, readers - her mom drinks too much and didn't teach her never to give out. Boohoo. The passel of eccentric, cheerleading secondary characters - including the obligatory dotty old ladies and cute lil' kiddies - round up the Hallmark smalltown scene.

Wonder if one day happy slothy women would get their share of love in romance novels. As long as sloths get typecast as Oh hero, save me from my promiscuity and judge me not for I am from a broken home damsel, though, I think they're better off out of the limelight.

Rating: 80

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