If you’ve ever read Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, picture the exact opposite of that. Then make it 100 times more confusing and cockamamie, and about half as sexy, and you’ve got First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
Ok, that was harsh. Let me explain.
Cornelia Case is the First Lady of the United States. The president, Dennis Case, has recently been assassinated, and because his vice president is not married (does that even happen?), Cornelia — or “Nealy”, as she calls herself — must remain in her position as First Lady. (Also, the president was secretly gay and dating one of his staff members the whole time he was married to Nealy, so she has mixed feelings about his death and him in general.) Nealy is quite sick of her job, though, so she develops a scheme to escape the White House and run away. She uses a clever “disguise” — dying her hair and wearing a fake pregnancy bump under cheap Walmart clothing — to rent a car and drive west, but her journey is cut short when she leaves the keys in the ignition of her rented car while at a diner and the car is stolen. Enter love interest Mat Jorik.
Mat is a tall, dark and handsome manly man and former journalist, and he’s just found out his ex-wife is dead and she left her baby and teenage daughter in his care. He needs to prove to the child services lawyers that he is not the girls’ real father, so he takes his dead ex-wife’s RV, packs the girls up and hits the road to Iowa (where their grandmother is, and he wants her to take care of them instead of child services). Mat stops at the very same diner Nealy does, and when she realizes her car has been stolen he feels bad and invites her to ride along with him and the kids. The four quickly form a weird little family — a little too quick, if you ask me — and Mat and Nealy obviously become very attracted to one another. Alas, eventually two Secret Service agents track Nealy down and ruin her whole escape plan.
But don’t fret, Nealy ends up adopting the two girls, running for Congress, marrying Mat and becoming President of the United States. And here are my many issues with this story:
- There is not adequate sadness and shock over the death of the president. That’s, like, an important part of the story. And considering the whole gay thing, perhaps it would have been more interesting if Dennis had been alive when Nealy ran away, no?
- Nealy. Seriously? What is that name?
- The disguise. I think it would be pretty hard not to recognize Michelle Obama or Hilary Clinton, even if they were in a half-@ssed disguise, and especially if you were up close and personal with one of them for 24 hours a day, several days in a row.
- The heat. Or lack thereof. I like my romance novels with serious heat between the main characters — like, they should definitely 100% not at all be together but they just can’t keep their hands off each other for another second and it’s so wrong but feels so right, that kind of thing. Nealy and Mat didn’t really give me enough of that.
- The end. Nealy adopting the girls, marrying Mat and becoming president is just TOO unrealistic. I know it’s a book, but I don’t like when ALL the loose ends are SO perfectly tied up, you know?
So I don’t really recommend this one. I liked the first Susan Elizabeth Phillips I read, Breathing Room, a lot more. But I’m starting to think this is just not really my genre.