Close Reading Snapshot: Love at First by Kate Clayborn

It’s release day for Love at First, the most recent contemporary romance from Kate Clayborn. I’ve already talked a bit on this blog about how much I love Kate’s writing, and I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this book from the publisher. For those of you who are considering picking it up, here’s a little snapshot of the writing – and loving treatment of romance tropes – that awaits you if you do. First, the cover and blurb:

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . .

No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can’t work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance.

Buy links at the author’s website. CWs can be found in Leigh’s review here.

The passage I’ve chosen for this snapshot takes place as Will and Nora sit a veterinarian’s waiting room, as they deal with a pair of kittens that have appeared rather inconveniently in their shared apartment building. It occurs fairly early on in the book, yet we can still see how Nora intertwines the details of a short but meaningful shared history into her description of Will:

He looked down at her, all stubble-faced and kitten-scratched and unwinking, and he may have had a serious expression on his face, but she felt oddly like their shared laughter still lived between them, same as the way their weeks-gone golden hour always did.

Will and Nora first “meet” as teenagers: Nora on the balcony of her grandmother’s apartment building, Will on the ground below. They then reconnect across the space between balconies in the same building – one that has become a home for Nora, and source of conflict for the couple. Thanks to this first half-remembered meeting, Will and Nora have a kind of physical memory of knowing each other that haunts their interactions. That feeling comes through beautifully in this quote, where Nora takes the few interactions they’ve had – sparring with kittens, laughing together, sharing a golden hour – and grafts them onto her description of Will. As will be true of the rest of the book, we find comfortably familiar romance idioms (like the serious, buttoned-up, stubble-faced hero) alongside moments that feel sharply specific to who Will and Nora are as individuals.

Love at First also makes masterful use of physical space and material items as anchors for its love story. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another romance novel that has so many things that stick in my memory: towel racks and upholstered couches and summer tomatoes and flower crowns. While they all lend texture to the world of the novel, they also articulate so much about how Will and Nora feel about each other. The above quote gives us a quick glimpse of the opposite effect, which is just as prominent: intangible things like laughter that live, in an almost physically embodied way, in ineffable spaces like the golden hour, or the space between Will and Nora. I’m deeply impressed at how the book can make both the emotional and the tangible seem not just intertwined, but anchored to the same type of meaning.

So! If you pick up Love at First, here are some other things you’ll find:

  • A take on a Romeo-and-Juliet balcony scene as a setup, that informs the novel without taking over it (or its plot! HEAs all around).
  • Many a familiar romance trope that feel somehow new, because they’re deployed in a way that is so specific to who Will and Nora are as characters. There’s a real “reading your favorite book again for the first time” vibe to this one.
  • A close sense of space – most of the plot takes place in Will and Nora’s apartment building – that recasts living inside the four walls of your apartment as a comfort, which I found particularly soothing in pandemic times.
  • A fairly gentle touch of humor that periodically cuts through the angst and longing without disturbing the mood of the book.
  • Some real tear-jerker moments (I periodically cried because the prose was so good, so if that’s at thing that happens to you too, stock up on tissues).


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