First Love
by Cheryl Faye, contemporary (2000)
Arabesque, $5.99, ISBN 1-58314-117-0


Isn't love a beautiful thing? I'm a cynic, and I gag at the mushy Nora Ephron stuff Hollywood throws my way. I want to throw up when I see all those cutesy family-love commercials of insurance and fashion houses on TV. If I see that fake "author" in that Calvin Klein perfume ad going "I never like cameras. Until now *chuckle*" one more time I will definitely get ill.

But in First Love, I find myself sighing, laughing, and going all giddy over the courtship of shy, dreamer romance reader Lena Caldwell by her man Quincy Taylor. This is a slim story (barely 350 pages, large font), but it emphasizes on a budding relationship between two down-to-earth, likable people. And what a romance it is. No murder, no family secrets, just love in all its beautiful shades and sizes.

Lena and Quincy are two happy people. Believe that! Okay, not exactly happy. Lena, brought up by loving parents that somehow held on a bit too long and too tight, is an easy-going, amiable lady whose fault is that she is shy, very shy. Everybody likes her but nobody knows her. She's the "nice girl at work or next door" who spends her time reading romance novels and dreaming of a nice handsome prince to sweep her off her feet.

Quincy is also a nice person. He is gregarious where Lena is introverted, however, and his close-knit family has brought him up to be a nice, normal guy. How nice. When Quincy gets a job at the bank where Lena works, he is surprised by his attraction to this pretty but obviously withdrawn (snobby? proud? shy?) lady who greets him so nicely on his first day on the job. A budding friendship grows and blossoms into romance.

And it's so lovely and wonderful in a way courtships should be if we're all so lucky. Lena slowly comes out of her shell, and Quincy, oh, what a fun guy. He takes her to places and lets her do things her strict parents never let her do - visit amusement parks, late night phone calls, movies. And she, she has to blossom.

Of course, this is a fantasy. A lovely one, even seductive one nonetheless, of a shy mousy lady who wins the affections of a handsome, effervescent man - her, when there are so many classier ladies around! - and ends up a happier, better woman for it. It's not just a one-sided thing, for with Lena, Quincy discovers the completion of that something-missing-thing in his life. Still, what a lovely fantasy.

The story weakens when an ex-flame of Quincy shows up, and the story totters slightly into the mediocre her-or-me territory, but luckily the author never lets that unnecessary angle go on and on to the point of sabotaging her work. By the last page, as Lena and Quincy hop off to their honeymoon, I have to wipe a tear from my eyes. First Love is simply an exhilarating romance.

Rating: 84


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