Saturday 15 May 2021

#CBR13 Book 14: "Second First Impressions" by Sally Thorne

Page count: 354 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Ruthie Midona is mid-twenties going on old-age pensioner, dressing like a Golden Girls-cosplayer, and has dedicated the last six years of her life to the Providence Luxury Retirement Villa. She doesn't just work the front desk there and go out of her way to make life flow smoothly for the residents, she also lives on-site and hasn't really had any complaints. In her spare time, she cares for the endangered turtles who populate the grounds of the retirement community, having given up on her dreams of becoming a vet because of a lack of funds. The arrival of two new people at Providence, who are both young, vibrant, and exciting in different ways makes Ruthie question her choices. Could there be more to life than just catering to wealthy retirees' every need?

Theodore "Teddy" Prescott has very different plans for his future than his father does. His father is the wealthy property developer who recently bought the Providence Retirement Villa, and he would like nothing more than for his son to one day be part of the family business. Teddy, on the other hand, has spent the last few years mostly living a life of leisure, crashing on the couches of friends, acquaintances and other benevolent guardian angels. He's an artist by nature and wants to save up enough to buy a share in his own tattoo studio. Teddy is tall, handsome, and incredibly charming and generally used to life working out for him. Now that he needs a place to stay, his father makes him get a job at Providence, hoping his son might come to his senses.

Ruthie is the daughter of a minister and only ever had one boyfriend, and a deeply religious one at that. So she doesn't exactly have a lot of experience with men, but even she knows that a man like Teddy is not for her. He may shower her with compliments, but he's obviously going to have very different plans for his future than being a homebody at a retirement home, so while she can practice her flirting on him, she'd do well to stay far away from him romantically. Melanie Sasaki, the temp also working at Providence absolutely agrees. She's beautiful, confident, and stylish, all qualities Ruthie wishes she possessed. Melanie decides to take Ruthie under her wing and help her find lasting love through "The Sasaki Method" a multi-step matchmaking program of Melanie's own making.

It's obvious to both Ruthie and Melanie that Teddy could use some humbling. Since Mr. Prescott wants him to find a job, they introduce him to the elderly and eccentric Parloni sisters, who have had a series of errand boys, none ever surviving a week, due to the absolutely preposterous tasks the old ladies ask them to perform. The wealthy women are bored and devious, and no one expects Teddy to last very long. However, he happily cuts their Big Macs into bite-size pieces, buries unwanted clothing of theirs in the garden, runs their errands, wears whatever they tell him to, and keeps up his cheerful demeanour and charm. 

While Ruthie is fully aware that Teddy seems destined to break her heart, and everyone around her, from the Parlonis to Melanie tells her the same thing, she can't really stay away from him (a task made more difficult since he lives next door to her and the walls are paper-thin). Is Teddy going to mend his roving ways, or is Ruthie doomed to a life of loneliness once he leaves to start his tattoo studio?

The Hating Game is one of my favourite contemporary romances. I adore that book. It may not be perfect, but every single aspect of it works for me. 99 Percent Mine was Sally Thorne's difficult second novel, so eagerly anticipated by everyone, and it was fine. Not awful, not something I regret devoting my time to reading, but also not a book I've ever found myself wanting to re-read. There are very few authors who write books I pretty much without exception adore. I can count them on one hand (probably even if I lost a few fingers). So my expectations should probably have been lower for the follow-up. This is Thorne's third romance, and I'm happy to say that I liked it more than 99 Percent Mine, and I wasn't really expecting to love it as much as The Hating Game. 

There is a lot to like in this book. Ruthie is a wonderful protagonist and I felt for her and the way she'd made herself a safe haven at Providence, unpleasant experiences in her past made it so she barely ever felt comfortable leaving the grounds. Her absolute dedication to her job, or to her favourite TV show in her spare time. Since I moved back to Norway in 2004, I haven't had regular access to a bathtub, and I have to respect and adore a woman whose idea of a good time is nightly soaks. Man, I miss having a bathtub. Anyway, I digress. 

Ruthie is great. Melanie would probably be rather exhausting to work with, but she is a hoot to read about. I would happily read her romance at some point, as well. The Parlonis are also great, although they seem like they might be rather nightmarish as employers. They are apparently a result of Sally Thorne and one of her best friends dreaming up what it would be like if they were wealthy elderly ladies with too much time on their hands. 

Teddy is the weak link here. While he is gorgeous, charming, and quite sensitive, I wasn't entirely convinced he was a good match for Ruthie. Yes, he kept complimenting her, and he worked hard for the Parlonis and made enough money to start his own tattoo studio, but he also seemed quite happy to ingratiate himself into Ruthie's house, eating her food and lounging on her sofa, and I wasn't convinced by his quick turnaround at the end of the book when he's suddenly all in on committing to her. Romances, where I'm not sure the hero is worthy of the heroine, are never going to work fully for me.

Still, your mileage may vary, and I've seen a lot of very enthusiastic reviews of this book. So just because I thought it was merely fine, if more enjoyable than 99 Percent Mine, it doesn't mean it's not going to work better for someone else. 

Judging a book by its cover: I really think the cover designers missed out when portraying these little cartoon people. Frumpy woman, seen from above. Perfectly fine. Turtles, also fine (although at least one of them should have had some sort of red markings on the shell). Guy seen from above - this can't possibly be our hero, who is described as having beautifully rendered ink on his hands and arms - where are the tattoos, cover designer? Where are the tattoos?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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