Tuesday 23 February 2021

#CBR13 Book 7: "Love at First" by Kate Clayborn

Page count: 320 pages
Rating: 3.5 stars

Disclaimer! I got this book as an ARC from NetGalley. That has in no way influenced my review.

Sixteen years ago, Will Stirling first cast eyes on Nora Clarke and was instantly smitten. He was standing under a shaded tree, listening with a sinking heart to his mother pleading with the uncle he hadn't even realised existed, while she was up high on a balcony, throwing little tomatoes at thieving squirrels. 

Cut to the present day, when Will is an overworked doctor and has inherited his uncle's apartment. With the exception of seeing his intriguing mystery girl in the garden, he has nothing but bad memories associated with the place and he doesn't like the run-down building or location. The terms of his late uncle's will states that he can't sell the place for the first year, but he's planning on having it modernised and put up for short-term rentals, so he can go on with his life.

Nora Clarke and the other residents of the building where Will has inherited are appalled when they realise that Will wants nothing to do with the place, and is going to use his unit as a rental. Nora is still grieving for her grandmother, whose apartment she inherited and now lives in, having barely changed a thing since her dear Nonna was alive. Having always had a safe haven in the building, and feeling a strong sense of kinship with the other long-time residents, Nora can't understand why Will wouldn't want to be enveloped by their quirky community. She and the other owners decide to try to sabotage Will's efforts as much as they can.

As it turns out, of course, Nora and Will have a lot in common. Both grew up with distant and preoccupied parents, the difference was that Nora had a loving grandmother and the other residents in her Chicago apartment building. Will had no one else and was completely orphaned in his late teens. He's used to having to fend for himself, putting himself through college and medical school through hard work and dedication. He's never had any long-term relationships and seems frankly baffled by the many slightly off-beat traditions that the residents of his uncle's apartment building seem attached to. He's very attracted to Nora, though, even more so after he discovers that she is, in fact, the same person he saw on that balcony all those years ago.

The blurb for this romance describes it as a second chance story, but it's not like Nora and Will have this complicated past and just need to find back to one another. Their past encounter consists of one single encounter, where they didn't even speak or even see each other - Will is the only one who is aware of it having taken place. So it's more of a love at first sight story, as having seen the vivacious teenage Nora all those years ago seems to have made Will uninterested in all other women. 

I liked a lot of things about this book, but unfortunately, the actual romance between Will and Nora is probably third or fourth down on that list. Will and Nora on their own are both interesting and complex characters, both with a lot of emotional baggage they need to work through before being able to commit to a romantic relationship and finding a happy ending. The various supporting characters in the book are all awesome and made the book really come alive. They include Nora's best friend and colleague Deepa (who I will happily read a book about) and Will's starchy superior who's trying to reconnect with his ex-wife. There are the various individuals who live in the apartment building, all of whom are great and act as Nora's extended family and support network. I loved reading about all of them - I didn't really feel swept away by the actual central romance.

Kate Clayborn is a good writer and seems very skilled at writing memorable characters. I still clearly remember and think about several of the protagonists in her Chance of a Lifetime trilogy. There was a lot to like about this story as well, but the romance that should have been front and centre kind of came second to the found family narrative that I found most compelling. It was still a lovely read, and I'll keep my eyes open in case Clayborn decides she wants to give Deepa a book next. 

Judging a book by its cover: It's become quite clear that cute, animated covers for romance novels are the popular thing right now, and this is a really nice example. I may be biased because purple is my favourite colour and just look at that rich plummy colour, lightening towards the bottom. Gorgeous. It may be that I also prefer the covers not to have actual little cartoon people on them. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.  

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