Love at First by Kate Clayborn
02/23/2021 by Kensington
Joint review by Melinda and Melanie
Melinda: Kate Clayborn has become one of the top contemporary authors for me that I look to for emotion and character development. I’ve come to appreciate the love and care that comes through with her writing so much.
However, Love at First strikes an uneven tone for me and had flashes of that brilliance that I expect from her, but it didn’t feel like it was carried all the way through. The parts I loved touched me so deeply and will stick with me, but the parts that didn’t were very average in a way that I don’t associate with her.
Melanie: I love Kate Clayborn’s books, there’s something so lyrical and poetic about her prose, the way she describes settings and emotions and lays the groundwork for her characters and the way they behave. And while I did like this book maybe more than you did, I will say that it wasn’t a 5 star read that blew me away. Uneven is a good way to describe it, there were moments that did take my breath away but the book overall failed to meet the high expectations I hold for a Kate Clayborn romance.
Melinda: Will and Nora have a brief passing moment in their teens and then meet again as adults when they become adversaries of sorts.
Melanie: Their first (second) meeting takes place around 4 a.m. from their respective apartment balconies and it’s such a soft, quiet, warm moment, the “golden hour” of Nora’s solitary early morning moment broken by this mysterious stranger on her recently deceased neighbor’s balcony.
Melinda: The escalation of Nora trying to get Will to keep the apartment and not sell didn’t land for me and I can’t put my finger on why. Their romance is sweet but I think part of what is uneven for me is that I’m not used to the romance in a book not being my main connection to a book. The pieces I love the most about this book are the side relationships.
Nora’s grief over the death of her grandmother hit me right where it hurts and I felt every emotion she did. That longing to have them near and wanting to keep every memory perfect, I could absolutely relate to, but I felt a bit removed from this character.
The shining star for me in this book though was Will’s friendship with Gerald. Every interaction made me laugh but also felt realistic because I have men in my life that absolutely relate to other men like that. The awkwardness of their relationship made me think of my in-laws, which is absolutely a compliment.
Melanie: So, I’m typically a heroine-centric reader in that I normally fall for the heroine and then spend the rest of the book allowing the hero to win me over by way of wooing the heroine. This is that rare book where I fell hard and fast for Will and remained largely ambivalent towards Nora. There’s nothing objectively wrong with her. She’s fine, lovely even but I didn’t feel a sense of connection to her.
My lack of connection to Nora is further strange because she’s dealing with a loss I know all too well, the loss of her beloved Nonna, her grandmother. And while I could fully empathize with her loss, I had trouble relating to the whole concept of not wanting to change anything and desperately wanting everything to stay exactly the same.
My affinity for Will didn’t stem from me seeing myself in him but rather, I saw a lot of my own husband in him. Both are doctors, natural at taking care of those they love, and while my husband definitely doesn’t share the same painful backstory as Will, they are both charming and easygoing, incredibly gregarious in social situations and almost laughably awkward when it comes to one-on-one interpersonal relationships.
I, too, adored Will’s burgeoning and awkward friendship with Gerald, found myself laughing over their uncomfortable interactions and looking forward to their surprisingly honest exchanges. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I was far more interested in the developing friendship between Will and Gerald at times than I was in the romance between Will and Nora. And that probably underscores why this book didn’t land in the 5 star column for me. I went looking for a lovely, sweet romance and while it was there, it definitely didn’t feel like the star of the show for me.
Melinda: We have so many of the same reading habits and I loved Will, but not quite as much as you did. I’m that heroine-centric reader too and an author that can make me love the male protagonist is unusual. Clayborn reminds me a bit of Mia Hopkins with that talent.
And I have to mention a weird side thing that couldn’t stop bothering me. This is an apartment complex in Chicago and we never get any racial descriptions of almost anyone who lives there. So maybe they are not all white or maybe they are, but we don’t know and this felt weird to me? This could be a me thing, but I’d vastly prefer descriptions of people so white is not the default.
Melanie: This stood out to me as well. Aside from Nora’s best friend, Deepa, whose name alone makes me suspect she may be South Asian, there are no physical descriptions given for any of the side characters. This seems especially unusual given Kate Clayborn’s propensity towards descriptive prose. She describes the apartment building and the “units” and even something so seemingly benign as a shower curtain rod with such specificity, the lack of physical descriptions seems a deliberate choice on her part and a weird one at that.
Melinda’s Grade: B
Melanie’s Grade: B