Graphic designer Diana can’t even run a block without tapping out, but when her office crush Paul invites her to join his running club, she figures it’s worth a shot just to get closer to him. To her surprise, she finds that she grows to enjoy running, and while the idea of running a half-marathon still feels daunting, training actually turns out to be fun, especially with running buddy Josh at her side. Her heart races whenever she’s with him, but that’s just what they call runner’s high, right?
I absolutely loved Love at First Run. The romance is super sweet, and Angel C. Aquino is a master at the slow burn kilig, a Filipino term that refers to the giddy thrill of romance. I often found myself screaming at my iPad for the characters to just kiss already, dammit! Or yelling at Diana to just admit her feelings already, because dear god, she shouldn’t risk this guy getting away. The characters had adorable chemistry right from the start, and I love how their friendship developed almost effortlessly, because it shows how perfectly they fit together as friends beyond the initial attraction. The sizzle between them going unfulfilled for so much of the book made me want to skip to the end at times, but I admit the ending was worth the wait.
I’m absolutely not a runner, so I love that Diana starts off out of shape as well and can’t even run a block before she joins the club. At her first training session, she notices a heavyset middle aged woman and a man in his sixties matching her pace, and her pride pushes her to speed up even more despite her legs beginning to cramp. This of course does not end well, but it’s totally what I would do in her place, so of course I swooned when a hot guy comes to her rescue with a water bottle.
I also loved Josh and how caring and considerate he was for others’ needs. I loved that, even though he’s run marathons, he keeps pace beside Diana to keep her company during training. I especially loved that he never made a big deal about it, nor did he ever make her feel self-conscious about being one of the slower runners in the club. Instead, he pushed her to be a better runner while also encouraging her to take as many walk breaks as she needed to finish the race. He also made the time go by quickly by chatting with her about other subjects until she loses track of the time they’ve been running. What really made me melt was a race where Josh lets Diana run ahead so he can be with an older runner who was anxious about the rockiness of the terrain. While his kindness to Diana may be partly due to his attraction to her, this shows how much he’s a caring person in general, and I like how kind he is to others.
I also love how vivid Aquino’s descriptions are. Filipino food and scenery are almost as prominent in the story as the characters are; they feel so real. Take for example a passage after Diana and Josh go to a ramen place for dinner:
I tried not to think about how close he was, how safe and comfortable I felt beside him. I caught a whiff of peppermint and lavender mixed with the smell of ramen on his shirt. He gripped me tightly and I felt the muscles on his chest expand and contract with every breath. [p. 56]
Ramen isn’t exactly a romantic scent, but here it works really well because it recalls their date in a small, hole-in-the-wall ramen place. We can just feel the fragrant steam from the ramen permeating the humid Manila air and settling into their clothes, and Aquino brings this scene to life with a single line. I also love the muscles on the chest expanding and contracting because it makes us feel the tightness of their embrace, and you can almost imagine her breath falling into the same rhythm.
Finally, I love how the book isn’t just about the romance but rather about Diana’s growth as a person, which she comes to realize through her running. There’s a great passage where she reflects about the challenges she’s overcome while running and how this can be applied to her own life. This book could also be read as a love letter to running, and what a fun and fulfilling activity it is beyond just improving physical fitness. It reminds me of the time I was taking karate classes, how good it felt to push myself physically and how much the stuff I learned in the dojo I could apply in my real life. I found Diana super relatable, and I loved her story.
To learn more about the author, visit www.angelcaquino.com
Thank you to the author for an electronic advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Full disclosure: The author is a friend, and I’m super proud of her for writing a novel, but all views expressed on this blog are my honest opinions.