First Date
by Karen Kendall, contemporary (2005)
Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21555-9


Sydney Spinelli is determined to stop her sister Julia's marriage to Roman, a man Julia met and fell in love with after only a month. She gets sidetracked by Alex Kimball , the handsome son of the owner of the biggest (and only) ostrich farm in Fredericksburg, Texas and the best friend of Roman. What will Sydney do when she realizes that Alex is in cahoots with Roman and company to keep her from doing too much to ruin the wedding plans of Roman and Julia?

Sydney Spinelli, I'm afraid to say, is a total bitch and I say that in a negative manner. She's a frigid woman who refuses to believe in any possibility that Alex is in love with her, she intends to actually ruin her sister's big day because Sydney knows best, and the things Sydney says and does in this book make her come off as a borderline psychotic control freak. She's also an unpleasant character who judges people negatively just from their names or their jobs. For some reason that defies logic, she believes that Roman and his family are thieves and worse. Also, she makes fun of people's accent. Now, I'm not trying to be politically correct here. It's just that Sydney is already such an unpleasant emotionally-closeted control freak that she doesn't need all these small unpleasant traits to add up and make her an even more unlikeable character. Then again, Ms Kendall isn't above exaggerating her secondary characters' accents as if she believes that I will laugh uproarishly at someone's thick Texan accent. Well, it may be funny if Ms Kendall doesn't chicken out and has her main characters speaking in perfect English instead. That gives me this impression that she wants me to laugh at the accents in a sneering, condescending manner. Hmmph.

I honestly don't know what Alex sees in Sydney. Sydney has no redeeming qualities except as a caricature of what happens when a very stupid woman encounters too many unpleasant stereotypical encounters with men that she short-circuits permanently. Alex has some heavier issues on his mind like his mother's descend into Alzheimer's, currently one of the most popular plot devices by romance authors who want to make their (Hall)mark in the genre, and on the whole, he is a solid and pretty nice guy who deserves better.

Ms Kendall is fully aware of Sydney being a meddlesome control freak, a fact that is the sole saving grace to this trainwreck of a romance between Sydney and Alex, but she does not succeed in providing Sydney with a credible backstory that will make me understand Sydney better. Sydney is instead a cardboard character of a hysterical frigid shrew set up for a mighty fall. Alex comes off like a fool for love for holding out for Sydney. Lucky Sydney. Poor foolish Alex.

It's not that I need to like Sydney in any way to enjoy this story. I need to understand what makes her tick, however. Dropping everything and running off to ruin the wedding plans of her supposedly beloved sister on a very flimsy assumption that Roman, like all men in Sydney's estimation, is an ass and Julia is too stupid to think for herself - this is not the action of a rational woman. The author tells me that Sydney is a meddlesome creature. That's nice, yes, but I can see that for myself. I need more. I need to know why I should be rooting for Sydney - is there method underneath her madness?

Alas, all Ms Kendall has to offer here is her admittance that her heroine is a meddlesome control freak. I don't know. For everything else the story has to offer (mostly a likeable romance hero who deserves better), I don't think I'll be content to settle for that. My conclusion is that the First Date with Sydney Spinelli is a disaster. If I'm Alex, I won't give her my number, I'll give her a shrink's.

Rating: 54


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