First Kiss
by Kylie Adams, contemporary (2005)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21581-8


Poor Kylie Adams. I don't understand how her books always end up reviewed by people who will start pointing out how "immoral" or "unlikeable" her characters are. While I'm glad that the author persists in staying within the romance genre because I absolutely loathe paying the price they charge for chick-lit trade paperbacks, she will no doubt find a more welcoming reception among chick-lit readers. First Kiss is chick-lit in every sense of the word: the romance with the playboy hotel tycoon Fabrizio Tomba (it's a wonder that the poor man didn't up being a porn star with a name like that) is secondary to the madcap adventures of our diva heroine Kiki Douglas (real name: Kiki Sonntag), a struggling actress whose ambitions and optimism of her capabilities far outweigh her common sense.

I would strongly think ten times before even labelling Kiki as "immoral" because she's not immoral as much as she is an unapologetically shallow floozy with a heart of gold. Should the fact that she is not a virgin, she isn't afraid of having sex with beautiful men, and she prides herself on her skills in fellatio make her "immoral"? "Immoral" is when Kiki starts killing puppies for kicks. Kiki is shallow, self-absorbed, and fabulously funny with occasional displays of unintentional wisdom coming from her - think of a bizarre sequel to Legally Blonde starring Paris Hilton - and while she is a lousy friend at times, she is never malicious. She's just... Kiki, bless her. I really love her - she gives me some of the best laughs I've had in months.

Oh, Kiki. She isn't living the life of a superstar like she always dreamed of and her soap career is on a downhill slide after they killed off her character in All My Children. But when she is photographed in a compromising position with the media's golden son, the very married Tom Brock, she finds herself villianized as the new Monica Lewinsky in the tabloids. She seeks sanctuary in the fabulously fashionable hotel Affair (a place where rich people go to for expensive rendezvouses - and yes, Ms Adams is aware of the joke) where she eventually finds herself embroiled in romantic intrigues with the owner Fab. That's just the scratch of the surface of this story which is more about Kiki than anything else. Kiki really entertains me as the bimbo with the heart of gold and occasional flashes of wisdom.

Sure, the story is farcical, but the author has her tongue firmly against her cheek as she writes the story. She knows how silly and self-absorbed Kiki is and she trusts me to get the joke, although never at Kiki's expense. This is because Kiki, despite her grand levels of self-absorption, is never stupid and neither does she hurt her friends. In fact, self-absorption is Kiki's only crime. Even so, it's hard to dislike a woman who (a) takes no nonsense from anyone who dares to look down on her, (b) chooses to make life happen for herself and heads straight towards making her dreams come true even if everyone around her laughs at her, and (c) make things happen because she is smart enough to take advantage of situations like her fifteen minutes of infamy following her tabloid debut. She is unapologetically sexual, she doesn't shy away from frank sex talk, and no, the sex scenes in this book are not pornographic in my opinion. I've read Zane. I've read some of those infamous letters from Penthouse thanks to online adult groups at MSN. If two people in lust with each other getting it on is "pornographic", then let me drown in pornography and die a happy woman. If anything, Ms Adams has actually become more like a romance author, so to speak, in the sense that she has noticeably stopped having the characters exchange dirty sex talk using words like "cunt" and other words that push some romance readers' buttons.

Apart from the fact that Kiki is a refreshing antidote to all those "moral" frigid victim heroines in too many romance novels, Ms Adams has plenty of hilarious one-liners and scenes to tickle the funny bone if bitchy humor is your cup of tea. She also litters her story with plenty of pop culture references. A quick test: do you understand what Kiki is saying when she tells Fab that he is channeling "Lorelai Gilmore"? If you do, this book is a treasure trove of nudge-wink mentions of Paris Hilton, the Olsen sisters, and other current pop culture personalities.

As I've mentioned, Kiki's romance with Fab isn't the most important storyline in this book. It is, in fact, just one of the many things going on in Kiki's life in this story. If you want to read a romance story - one with familiar conventions where characters, storylines, and values are concerned - and nothing else but that, this book will sorely disappoint, I suspect. But if you think you will enjoy following the zany and farcical adventures of a woman whose nuggets of wisdom include one particular memorable scene where she points out that it is unfair that beautiful women going after rich men are called gold diggers because every woman dreams of a rich man and the beautiful ones get maligned because they get these men easier, a woman who has no qualms about embracing cosmetic enhancements and surgeries as something never to be ashamed of, and a woman who loves her friends, her beautiful men, her money, and her life, Kiki Douglas has a story to tell you. Me, I love that story, I have a great laugh reading that story.

I have to admit also, the devilish part of me delights in seeing how Kylie Adams torment some romance readers out there that are right now flailing with their heads spinning three-sixty because cosmetic surgery is EVIL and marrying men for money is EVIL EVIL EVIL and Kylie Adams is PURE EVIL, but not as much as I would have if the result isn't a lynch mob that often portrays the author's books as something they never are in the first place (porn, smut, immoral, et cetera). Sometimes, I find myself thinking that maybe Kylie Adams should really switch the label of her books from romance to chick-lit. How the author remain sane and retain her sense of humor in the face of such irrational behavior, I will never understand. With books like First Kiss, however, I think first and foremost that Kylie Adams should just keep writing the way she does because I love her books and I'm selfish enough to keep wanting more.

Some points are deducted, by the way, for the author not having the guts to go all out with Janice Dickinson and settling instead for Jackie Dickinson. Why stop when the ball is already rolling?

Rating: 93


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