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Sally Thorne’s ‘Second First Impressions’ is full of cracking attraction and cackling laughs

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With “Second First Impressions,” best-selling author Sally Thorne stays true to form, writing an addictive romance filled with deep feeling, crackling attraction and cackling laughs.

Buttoned-up Ruthie Midona serves the aged residents of Providence Retirement Villa, where she lives as a 24/7 administrator. Her total lack of social life makes her feel decades older than her 25 years, but she’s not quite ready to retire on-site. She’s not ready to move on either, which makes the property’s sale to a real estate developer a threat she must face down for her own sake as much as the residents’.

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She’s taken aback when the new owner walks into a meeting with an unlikely-seeming associate. Teddy Prescott, the owner’s son, is inked all over with intriguing tattoos, is blessed with creation’s most mesmerizing head of hair, and is being ordered by his father to park his few possessions and relentless charm next door to Ruthie while he saves money to open his own tattoo shop.

The elder Prescott hopes Teddy will soak up some practical business experience, but Ruthie offers his services to the Parlonis, obstreperous retirees whose personal assistants seem to come and go through a revolving door. Unfortunately for Ruthie, Teddy meets the cantankerous high jinks of nonagenarians with weapons-grade affability, and despite repeated warnings from literally everyone, she can’t help but be dazzled by him. Conditioned with raw-hearted insecurity, Ruthie’s convinced his flirting can’t be serious. She tells him, “Your magical powers probably work on girls a lot, but they won’t on me.” They continue as friends while their desire grows in a slow, inexorable burn.

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Ruthie revives her online dating profile, rededicating herself to not dying alone. But the profile becomes less about scoring dates than about making herself available to life, to friends, to experience. A cast of truly hilarious, individually rendered supporting characters help coax Ruthie out of her shell. She jumps into a geriatric water aerobics class that Teddy is leading: “ ‘Please welcome to the class Miss Ruthie Midona,’ he tells the group, and now I’m getting the smiles and cheers,” Ruthie thinks. “I get it now. Life requires full, up-to-the-neck participation.”

Even with that realization, the course of true love doesn’t run smoothly. Ruthie and Teddy each have to address their demons, but these leads are refreshingly aware of their flaws and willing to do the work to overcome them. Their ragged edges and growing affection fit them together like symbiotes. The stakes of this love story aren’t sky high, but Thorne’s genius is in layering the emotions with idiosyncratic details that take your breath away. Tattoo artist Teddy, always with a sketchbook at hand, tells Ruthie, “You’re so pretty I need to buy a pencil sharpener.”

Things might wrap up just a touch too neatly, but this compulsively readable romance will have your heart squeezing and soaring from beginning to end. As soon as you turn the last page, you’ll be fighting the urge to flip back to page one. And if you’re like this reader, you’ll lose.

Ellen Morton is a writer in Los Angeles.

Second First Impressions

By Sally Thorne

William Morrow. 352 pp. $27.99

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