Okay, just to make sure we’re all caught up, “Karan K Anders” is actually Andrea K Höst. I know a lot of you already know that, but just to make sure.
So. The Book of Firsts is a departure for Höst. It’s a contemporary … romance. Almost romance. Sort-of romance. Near romance. Anyway, a contemporary novel that is at least romance-adjacent, with a lot of sex scenes. You can see why she might have decided to go with a pen name for a book that’s so different from her other works … although as far as that goes, she does have a rather wide range, doesn’t she? And All the Stars isn’t much like the Medair duology, for example. Except in terms of certain themes and some ways of developing the characters and pulling off occasional shocking plot twists.
Anyway! The Book of Firsts.
Here’s the description from Amazon:
Three boys, the ‘kings’ of the school. One cynical newcomer. An outrageous competition.
When Mika Niles overhears the details of “The Book of Firsts” she’s at first bemused, then scornful, then intrigued. Judging which of three very handsome young men is best at kissing, and…?
With no time in her final year for serious attachments, a series of lunchtime trysts is more than tempting – and an opportunity like this might never come her way again. But this light-hearted game is also a scandalous secret, and few can play with fire and walk away unscathed.
I wouldn’t have been interested if this book had been written by someone else, but first, AKH, and second, reviews suggested that some things about the story would probably appeal to me. That impression turned out to be a little misleading. Practically everything about the story appealed to me. Let me count the ways:
1. First, just to get this out of the way, the sex scenes aren’t too detailed, and in fact become less and less explicit as the story progresses. If a reader is really into the hot, steamy erotica of modern romances, they’d probably be disappointed. For me, lowering the steam quotient of the story was of course a plus. I didn’t skip or skim even a single scene. Good thing too, as the setup required a LOT of sex scenes throughout the story.
2. Second, although reviews and AKH herself refer to this books a “lighthearted” and “fluffy,” it’s not really all that light. The setup is intrinsically unlikely, sure, but Höst makes it (reasonably) believable. More important, there’s actually considerable emotional heft to the story. But this doesn’t come from the romance elements. Mika, the female lead and the sole pov protagonist, is a very (very) emotionally self-contained person and not at all given to any kind of angst. The relationship between Mika and the male leads is not the heart of the story, even though Mika drives a lot of the plot.
3. The above is probably one reason I’m having trouble categorizing this book as a romance, straight up. I’ve gone back and forth in whether I would call this book a romance. The story does follow some romance tropes. But the relationship at the heart of the story is definitely not the romance, it’s the friendship between the three male leads – Rin, Kyou, and Bran – who are indeed, as all the reviews indicate, complicated and well-developed characters. This friendship, incidentally, never once falters. This is not that kind of story.
Also, imo, the growing friendship between the three male leads and Mika is much more emotionally important than any romantic connection between them. In fact, you could plausibly define their relationship as friends with benefits and not actually romance. Any way you look at it, this is a friendship-centered story, not a romance-centered story. So I think I finally come down on the side of not-quite-a-romance.
I know some of you have read this story. Agree/disagree on this point?
4. There is not the slightest doubt that everything will work out. The good guys will be fine. The bad guys will get slapped down. In fact, this is a story that proceeds in rhyming couplets: AB AB AB:
A) A problem occurs.
B) The problem is quickly solved in a satisfactory way.
A) Another problem occurs.
B) This problem is also solved satisfactorily in short order.
A) A third problem occurs …
And so on. There is one problem that extends through a large portion of the book – who has it in for the male leads and why? – but as a rule, specific problems are solved in a brisk fashion rather than pushing the reader into extended tension. This is great! I mean, sure, it depends on your mood and what you want in a story. But I read this book when I was somewhat stressed and trying to pull out of an ongoing bad mood, and I can’t tell you how much The Book of Firsts improved my day. It was just so satisfying watching things work out over and over. Granted, Mika is likely to seem overly competent and emotionally controlled to some readers, but she was just what I wanted. So were the three male leads, for that matter. I get what people mean about the lack of edges or the overmaturity of the characters. I did think of them as young men and women, not boys and girls. They do think and act in very mature ways. But this totally worked for me.
5) Also, this goes without saying, probably, but Höst is just such a good writer in almost every way. Smooth, witty, with an occasional unexpected emotional punch. Probably a decade ago I said firmly that I was dead tired of male leads who were gorgeous AND rich AND brilliant, and yet here we are, because this story worked fine for me even though it has THREE male leads fitting this description.
I’m really glad this is book one of a series. That gives AKH three ongoing series, and I hardly know which sequel I’d like to see most. Also, I’d always take yet another story set in the Touchstone universe. In fact, out of curiosity, please vote:
1. The sequel to Pyramids of London.
2. The sequel to Starfighter Invitation.
3. The sequel to The Book of Firsts.
4. Something in the Touchstone world, maybe going on from “Snow Day.”
I think … I think, if I could pick one to come out tomorrow, it might be (2). But maybe not! I’m really looking forward to the epic family meltdown that is no doubt scheduled for the sequel to The Book of Firsts. I wouldn’t like that it if turned into an angst-fest, but seen through Mika’s eyes, with Rin and Kyou prepared to coolly face down the drama, I will love it. As for “Snow Day,” I dislike Kaoren’s brother Arlen. But maybe AKH can change my mind, and anyway, I like the new characters from the short story and would enjoy seeing more of them. In contrast to the above, I have no idea what the sequel to Pyramids will involve, so it’s hard to anticipate it in the same way.
Okay! I have the Shinn story collection here, but before I look at that, I think I’ll re-read The Book of Firsts.