Saturday, September 10, 2011

Review of Ann Christopher's The Surgeon's Secret Baby

Title: The Surgeon’s Secret Baby
Author: Ann Christopher
Publisher: Kimani Romance
Formats: Mass Market Paperback & Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5

This category romance was a delightful find! I’ve written elsewhere that category romances are not my favorite genre, mostly because the heroes seem to be jerks and the heroines doormats, but Ann Christopher’s The Surgeon’s Secret Baby was a pleasant surprise, because it could have so easily followed that formula but did not. The romance was sexy and the characters so very likeable that I will soon be seeking out more of Ms. Christopher’s books.
The novel begins with FBI analyst Lia Taylor following Hopewell General Hospital’s chief of staff around the facility. She was caught hacking into the hospital’s sperm bank database, but instead of facing prosecution, she’ll be shoring up the hospital’s computer security system. During the tour, she overhears a doctor telling off an intern and lets him know her low opinion of bullies. Naturally this means that the Doctor Bradshaw she’s looking for later turns out to be said bully. Never fails, right? And the situation becomes all the more awkward when she informs Thomas Bradshaw that he’s the father of her son, eight year old Jalen. Thomas believes Lia is nuts, until she shows him a picture of her son and tells him that she and her now-deceased husband had used a sperm bank and Thomas is in fact the biological father of her son. Lia isn’t looking for a handout, however. Jalen has polycystic kidney disease, and after a bout with E.Coli two years before, he’s desperately in need of a kidney transplant. Lia’s hoping that Thomas will prove to be a match and be willing to donate a kidney to save her son’s life. The resulting sparks that fly between the doctor and the Special Agent are a complete shock to the single mother and doctor, leaving Lia wondering how the doctor will deal with the shocking news that he has a son who is dying and if the two should act on their smoldering attraction.
There was so much to like about this book! Children in romances can often be little more than props, but Jalen was a hoot and extremely believable. I like that he’s a real character instead of a plot device that brings the two protagonists together. His toys are all over his room, and when Lia makes the faux pas of calling his pajamas “jammies,” big boy Jalen corrects her IMMEDIATELY, which made me laugh. His reaction to his birthday present also struck me as true to life, since his parents put a lot of time and effort into choosing his present, only to get a lukewarm reaction to a gift they thought would thrill him, a response I’m sure all parents can relate to. They can also relate to Lia’s terror over the thought of losing her son so young. While hacking into a hospital’s database seems extreme, I suspect most parents will understand her willingness to do whatever she can to save her son’s life.
Lia and Thomas’ romance is also a huge selling point, as it’s fun and sexy. Lia feels a natural reluctance to enter into a relationship while her son’s health is so precarious, especially since Thomas wants to be part of Jalen’s life, complicating any future relationship between the two. I particularly liked that the two acknowledged their attraction for one another but allowed the romance to develop gradually, which is difficult to accomplish in category romance, since the books are relatively short. And the scene in Thomas’ office when they “play doctor” was smoldering.
I even find the “big misunderstanding” towards the end of the book to be not only believable but perhaps even inevitable. Given Jalen’s health and how stressed and exhausted Lia is throughout the book, I think her reaction to Jalen’s visit to the emergency room and Thomas’ choices completely natural. What makes this stand out for me, though, is that the two protagonists are both mature adults who react in a reasonable manner to very trying circumstances. I like that while they have a fight, they manage to work things out and don’t turn it into a huge drama.
I do have two small complaints about the novel, however. The first is that Lia seems to be completely isolated in the book. We see Thomas interact with several male friends and colleagues (which is pretty darn funny, by the way), and his father, a retired admiral, is an important character in the book as well. But we don’t see any of Lia’s friends or family, which strikes me as odd, because it’s never addressed. Is she an orphan or estranged from her parents and her deceased husband’s parents? Has she had to deal with Jalen’s illness all on her own while working a highly stressful job in the FBI? The absence of her friends and family is all the more notable because of how involved Thomas’ father is in the book, and while I think we’re supposed to consider her a strong, single mother, I’m not sure how having a support system would have changed that.  
My second complaint is more a matter of pure curiosity, as I don’t think it detracts too much from the novel – I just have to wonder why Thomas donated to a sperm bank to begin with! This is never dealt with, and I kept wondering about it throughout the book. I can certainly understand his shock at being confronted with a son 9 years after the fact but no mention is made of why he donated in the first place. Again, I don’t think it detracts from the plot, but it did drive me a bit crazy while reading.
Overall this was one of the more engaging category romances I’ve read in a while. I love reading contemporary romances with reasonable, mature adults, and this is definitely a charmer. If you’re in the mood for a short, satisfying read with appealing characters and smooth writing, I highly recommend The Surgeon’s Secret Baby.

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