The First Love Cookie Club
by Lori Wilde, contemporary (2010)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-198842-4

There is a good reason why Lori Wilde's The First Love Cookie Club was released shortly before the Christmas season. Full of manipulative and saccharine goo, this book needs the alcohol and the wild sentimentalism that fly around the period to make it a palatable read. When read sober, I will only realize that there is nothing but clichés underneath the sugary swill covering the whole thing.

Now, in Twilight, Texas, there is this belief that you will dream of your one true love if you sleep on Christmas eve with some kismet cookies under your pillow. Hmm, that doesn't seem hygienic. At any rate, eight-year old overweight and awkward Sarah Collier did just that in the prologue, and dreamed of Travis Walker. Sure, he was hot to trot and all that, but it was true love, not hormones, that had Sarah dreaming of him. So, convinced that she and he were meant to be, when she was fifteen, she rushed to stop his wedding to Crystal, whom he'd knocked up, only to be humiliated and fled the church with tears streaming down her Krispy Kreme face.

That was nine years ago. However, can you believe that Sarah is still thinking about Travis twenty times a day while being convinced that her experience at the church that day taught her that she must never open her heart to anyone ever? It's so grotesque how this woman manages to exist in the last nine years with no friends and with nothing but apparently time to relive her humiliation and sigh about Travis endlessly. It's not that she had become even more overweight that she had to become a shut-in that resembles a walking mountain of florid dough, mind you. According to Travis, Sarah is now "a willowy woman" with "long, shapely legs", "regal, square shoulders", and "a really nice pair of breasts". I can only suggest that all those cookies Sarah consumed when she was a kid had gone to her brain.

At any rate, Sarah is the bestselling author of a book that had captured the imagination of everyone all over the place, but she has writer's block when it comes to her second book. A fan mail from a sickly girl finally brings Sarah back to Twilight, where she discovers that the girl, Jasmine or "Jazzy", is the daughter of Travis. What do you know, Travis is now a standard small town action hero who is legally allowed to use a gun on the job - the best kind of romance hero ever - and his ex-wife predictably turned out to be a selfish skank who abandoned the daughter to try to make it big as a country singer after discovering that she is not going to find Dollywood with Travis. Travis's aunt and a bevy of old women surround them to intrusively match them up, giggle and sigh on cue, and blink happily like Estelle Getty wannabes. Ten years after its cancellation, we are all still paying for The Golden Girls, ugh. Of course, we can't forget Jazzy. As passionate music swells in the background, she wishes - within everyone's earshot, of course, that attention-seeking tart - aloud, "I wish for a mommy so my daddy won't have to be all alone when I die."

This story is completely predictable. Everything can be seen coming from ten miles away. It's like having drunk sixteen glasses of beer and stumbling drunkenly home only to realize that the TV is switched on to the Hallmark channel and there is some movie with dying little girls that is exactly like other Hallmark movies I've seen, only with the drunken haze I'm in, I can't remember much about this one when I'm sober. That's what reading this book is like. It is spectacularly unoriginal and, therefore, bland beyond belief.

Worse, Sarah is such a wet noodle, her entire personality revolving about being a determined martyr for love with no life. It's hard to root for this passive wretch who has more issues than anything. She's hot, gorgeous, and successful, and yet she's whining endlessly about her past when she's not reliving her pathetic teenage infatuation and trying to pass that off as the thwarted love of the century. Sarah is simply banal - she's nothing more than a skinny big-breasted bag of joyless heroine clichés. Travis is at least a more pleasant kind of bland: he loves children, he is good at his job, and now that Sarah is a skinny big-breasted bag of joyless heroine clichés, he conveniently believes that perhaps they really are soul mates. Just like I'm sure I'm the soul mate of Hugh Jackman. Or any hot guy - I'm not picky, I'd let the cookies do the talking. Just keep those ugly guys away from me - I refuse to believe I'm their soul mate. Anyway. I'm not even going to start with poor Crystal, who is treated like a convenient plot device to make Sarah come off as a saint.

If it's Christmas and you just have to read The First Love Cookie Club, get royally smashed first. After all, reading this book is better than, say, making out drunkenly with that creepy guy in Accounts during the office Christmas party and spending the next five months regretting that five minutes of shame. But if it's not Christmas and for some reason you still have to read this one... well, just get the alcohol anyway.

Rating: 53

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