By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I discovered Sarah Mayberry's lovely, down-to-earth, Australian contemporaries about a year ago (with Her Best Worst Mistake, which I loved), and I've gradually been working my way through her back list. Not all of her stories work for me, but I usually appreciate their authenticity: the characters are generally relatable, ordinary people, and the conflict in their relationships develops as they work through relatable, ordinary issues. So this book, where the hero is not 'ordinary' but a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter with chart-topping hits and multi-national performance tours under his belt, seemed a bit of a change of pace. Yet this book is not about Will's fame. Leah, a cardiovascular surgical resident, has been so busy with school and work that pop-culture, including Will's meteoric career, has completely passed her by. When they meet, she doesn't recognize him, which he finds refreshing after a hectic year of papparazzi flashbulbs going off in his face.
Leah and Will are both at a crossroads. Leah has decided that being a cardiovascular surgeon was her mother's dream, not hers, and over her parents' strong objection has decided to switch to immunology. She is talking to herself about her mother's reaction to this news on her balcony when she meets Will, who is in a corporate rental property next door. (He had been on his adjacent balcony with his guitar, but when he heard her "Shakespearian soliloquy," he got up to leave to give her privacy, only she noticed.)
Will's fame is not the only secret he keeps from Leah. He has been diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition, and he's visiting Melbourne to await a surgery that might save his life or might kill him on the operating table. Usually I am not a fan of the "Big, Dangerous Secret" trope (since romances are about good relationships, and good relationships require honesty), but in this case Will keeps his secret for good reasons. Just as it is refreshing that Leah didn't recognize him as a famous musician (and she quickly realizes her mistake on that front), he enjoys having one person in his life who isn't fussing over his medical condition. He also knows that if she knew about it, their budding friendship would become all about him and his needs, when up to that point most of their conversations have focused on Leah's family turmoil.
The other reason the Big Secret trope works for me here, and not in other books, is that Will knows they shouldn't have a relationship until he can be honest, so he intends to keep things platonic until his future is not so much in doubt. He only wavers in that intention the very night before his surgery, when Leah knocks on his door when he is in the middle of trying to write an in-case-I-don't-make-it letter to his parents. In the midst of that emotional turmoil, when Leah offers herself, he simply doesn't have the will to refuse. Yet still he is honest, letting her know that he has only this one night to offer.
The only thing that didn't work for me about this story (which is a prequel to Her Favorite Rival, about Leah's sister Audrey), is that as honest and emotionally-rich as they are, both Leah and Will seem to me to be a little bit flat as characters, a little bit too-good-to-be-true. I can't put my finger on exactly why, because they both have very human flaws--(Will can be cussedly stubborn, and Leah's eagerness to please her parents has led her to be unintentionally very cruel to her sister, which she has only just realized at the ripe old age of thirty)--but I think it's that they are both just a shade too nice, and that makes them, and this story, just a little bit too predictable.
P.S. I've just joined Sock Puppet's A to Z reading challenge, and I'm using this book for K is for Keyboard (at least one character plays a musical instrument).