First Lady
by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, contemporary (2000)
Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-80807-2


Since this is the first SEP review on this site, forgive me if I ramble a bit. Many SEP fans can be most fanatical in defending their favorite author's honor (not you, of course, SEP fan), and a recent debate on the Avon Ladies BBS only proves me right. I'm feeling defensive already, because, trust me, this review isn't going to be gushy or sterling. Far from it.

First off, I must confess that I don't see what's the big deal about many of this author's stories. Funny and well-written, yes, but most of the time the stories are nothing more than big babies trapped in the bodies of Playgirl centerfolds being spoiled by ditzy, virginal, naive women from the Good Side Of Town. The author also uses cliches liberally, and First Lady isn't any different. Babies and koochie-moochie gaga is the main theme here.

And one more confession: two things keep lingering in my mind as I read FL: the really funny and roguish Kenny Traveler of the previous SEP romance Lady Be Good (the only Peter Pan I feel done right so far) and the romantic White House movie Dave. Compared to Kenny, Mat Jorik is nothing more than a petulant boy sulking for the cookies on the high shelf, and everything about Dave puts this baby-as-a-catalyst-for-romance story to shame.

Let's start with the plot. First Lady Cornelia Litchfield Case's hubby is assassinated, but she is made to remain as a First Lady because the new President is old and needs her charisma. Since our Cornelia is raised to be a Princess Diana since young by her controlling daddy, our heroine is exhausted, fed up, wants to live a normal life, etc etc, so one day she dons her disguise as an old lady and flees. While pretending to be a pregnant woman, she loses her car and 98% of her cash, so she has to stick to our Slovak hunk Mat Jorik.

Mat Jorik isn't happy. His ex-wife left him with a crying baby called Button and Button's teenaged sister Lucy who has an Attitude. Like all poor maligned Ex-Wives of Our Heroes, the ex-wife is slutty, promiscuous, drunk, mistreats her kids, and has to grace to die in an accident. The kids should be grateful they end up in Hunky Mat's care even though Mat treats them like dirt.

So there they go - the Peter Pan who wants nothing but schmooze, self-pity, and boinking after a football game on TV (pass the beer, babe) and the pristine pure, sheltered rich girl from uptown (okay, White House, Washington DC - that's as uptown as you can get).

Fun? Well, the dialogues are funny and well-done, although I've read better.

Trouble starts at page 8 when I'm sold the idea that Bill and Hillary Clinton are the Romantic Couple Of The Decade. I like to think I'm imaginative, but to my dismay, I'm not that imaginative. And while I'm on a pseudopolitical soapbox, what would Hillary say to the fact that this book implies that:
(a) She would never make it to Senate or anywhere. Move over, Hillary - shove off, make way for Cornelia, and
(b) The only way the First Lady can be popular is to don a Princess Di mantle and be who you are, not what you can do?

Then I get to know Mat who is whining about the kids and going on and on about how he wants to be a good journalist again, how he wants no responsibility in life (since this contradicts the first want, this proves how focused our hero is), and how macho he is because he wants to be a Real Man with a Typewriter instead of a sissy laptop. But never mind, I tell myself, all heroes start out on the wrong foot. That's their charm.

But Kenny Traveler is rude and charming, while Mat Jorik is rude and obnoxious. Too much time is spent with Mat either lusting after Cornelia or prancing around to the Self Pity Blues. He may have the hormones and the ability in the bedroom, but when it comes to the emotion department, our hero's still in the mailing room. And Cornelia, well, what can one expect from a stereotypical Good Girl Who Is Born To Please? Naturally, she volunteers to be the babysitter for these three children, and soon Nanny Connie is off taking her charges Mat, Lucy, and Button across the country.

Why does Mat love Cornelia? I have no idea - all he seems to see is her beauty. Likewise, Cornelia is attracted to Matt because she hasn't feel any hormonal surge like this before, and it's okay if Mat acts like an overgrown brat, because he sure looks good. Even towards the end when the author tries to clean up Mat's act, Mat is still throwing tantrums and sulking. And Cornelia, who I'm supposed to cheer because she finds her assertiveness and tells her overbearing Daddy off, only transfers her Let Me Make You Happy servitude to her newfound babies.

The last few chapters when Mat decides he wouldn't let her go are fun, but Kenny Traveler did it better in Lady Be Good, y'know. I adore Lucy and Button, even though I wish the author wouldn't use something as mundane as an overused Silhouette/Harlequin category plot device in her story. But whenever I warm up to FL, Mat would act bratty, Cornelia would act wimpy, and I would tune out once again.

And the epilogue! Oh my God! Someone pass me my insulin shots. (My sympathies to the FL population of the United States of America.)

Sometimes well-written dialogue isn't enough to carry a romance, and it shows in FL. I wish I have loved it like everyone else, but sorry bub - FL is definitely lacklustre as far as this reader is concerned. Now excuse me while I barricade my doors from the irritated fans of SEP out there howling for my blood.

Rating: 52


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