Not nearly as angsty nor sexy as I usually prefer, but presents some poignant themes on the significance of family and features a great POC character. Please—can we have more?
This review is part of our series of reviews featuring this year’s finalists for the Romantic Book of the Year awards.
The last time I was on a medical romance reading bent was a few years ago, but after picking up Tom’s Redemption by Fiona Lowe at the Mills and Boon table at this year’s ARRC, and then devouring it on my flight back to Melbourne, I knew that I’d continue reading the Sydney Harbour Hospital series. And despite my better judgement (like my incredulity at the lack of people of colour—*cough* Asian nurses and doctors *cough*—in such an esteemed albeit fictional Australian hospital) I have enjoyed reading the whole collection. Mostly.
That said, Zoe’s Baby, the second novel of nine, is the only exception in the SHH series. Yep, the hero, Dr Teo Talua, is Samoan! I know, right? It’s like winning triple lottery because it is SUCH a rarity to read of a Pacific Islander hero in a contemporary Australian romance novel, AND who holds such a professional position. Actually, this may have been the very first I’ve seen. Maybe my glee over that fact clouded my overall impression of the story, but damn I really liked Teo. He is so cuddly and generous and gorgeous—just lovely.
Teo and Zoe first meet in a less than stellar situation: a three-car collision on a motorway. She is an intensive care paramedic, while he is an SHH paediatrician just driving through, but stopping to help out. They strike a curiously easy rapport, given the incredibly tense circumstances. While they each take notice of their chemistry, they don’t think too much of it.
But here’s the thing: Zoe is also a single mother with a six-month-old baby, Emma. Zoe is still struggling to connect with her daughter, after going through post-natal depression. And Zoe’s own parents pretty much don’t care for her either (the mum’s apparently a psycho, the dad blames the daughter—so what’s new in Dark Secret Story tropes?).
Teo discovers this when he rescues Zoe from mortification at the paediatric clinic, calming an hysterical Emma in the waiting room. Zoe is grateful, but she resents the warm ease with which Teo handles her child. Teo is perplexed by the two Zoes he’s witnessed: the capable and confident Superwoman Zoe at work, and the nervous and helpless Zoe as a mother. On the semi-pretence of returning a lost wallet, Teo enters Zoe’s home, getting to understand both mother and child better. Slowly, Teo breaks down Zoe’s barriers, opening her up, helping her build self-confidence by opening himself up to her first: he invites her into his family sphere, and his culture, letting her learn the nuances of a loving family in action.
Teo’s generosity leaves a remarkable change in Zoe, but anxieties still plague her. What’s so impressive is just how perceptive Teo is when it comes to Zoe:
‘I don’t think you’ve had maternity leave,’ he said quietly. ‘Maybe that’s the problem.’
‘What?’ He thought she still had a problem? That made her feel … small in some way. Undesirable.
‘You had sick leave,’ he said carefully. ‘Maybe maternity leave is exactly what you need now.’
So she takes that maternity leave on the glorious island of Samoa, which Teo has also conveniently returned to for a while. Zoe bonds and relaxes with her daughter a lot more, perves on half-naked Teo moving in time to native dances, and then afterwards she and Teo make sweet love on the sandy beach by the moonlit night, and Zoe realises she’s so besotted with Teo she’ll never love anyone else the way she loves Teo. No, I’m not exaggerating.
I really like Teo. He doesn’t condescend to Zoe (unlike many of his other Mills and Boon counterparts) despite her hang-ups and uncertainties. He listens, he’s humbled when he realises he’s wrong, he’s solid and warm—a real gentle giant. It’s genuinely touching to see Zoe relax and be herself, to find confidence in her love for Emma, and for Teo. Teo has his own issues to get over—most significantly loving his mother to death (sort of). Sometimes he comes across as just a little too perfect, so it’s good to know he has his own Dark Secret Story, too (!).
Given that the strongest theme binding this story is the importance of family—indeed, the very concept of family—I like that Teo and Zoe teach each other that loving someone and/or loving your family, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, is not a liability. If it is in your power, you should try to mend those broken threads, and strengthen them, regardless of time or distance or circumstance. Most families in real life are not nearly so clear-cut—downright outrageous even—but at the risk of sounding maudlin I do appreciate Teo’s sentiment: ‘family’s family’.
Yay or nay?
While Zoe’s Baby is not nearly as angsty nor sexy a medical romance as I usually prefer (and I don’t generally like reading baby stories either!), it totally fits the Sweet bill, and presents some sentimental but poignant themes on the significance of family. Thank you, Ms Roberts, for writing such a great POC character. Please—can we have more?
Who might enjoy it: Saps for sweet romance
Who might not enjoy it: Cynics and the estranged (although this may just be what the doctor ordered)