Rating: 4.5 stars
Sebastian Stremmel is a trauma surgeon at a large Boston hospital, rumoured to be the chief of staff's pick for the next chief of surgery. He's also known to be grumpy, rather antisocial, and a workaholic. Sara Shapiro is an introverted plastic surgeon working at the same hospital who forces herself to be cheerful and friendly in public to hide her own social anxiety and unease around others. Sebastian finds Sara annoyingly chirpy, she finds him unbelievably rude and arrogant. They try to avoid one another as much as possible, despite living in the same apartment building along with other surgeons from the hospital.
After Sara furiously confronts Sebastian about the treatment of a patient of hers, a series of unlikely events lead to a wrecked exam room in the ER. The two doctors find themselves forced to do eight weeks of mandatory conflict resolution counseling, which not only involves weekly meetings with a therapist but a lot of homework where they have to spend time together outside of work. It doesn't take long before their extreme antagonism causes a reaction and they find themselves tearing each other's clothes off after every mandatory counseling session. Initially, they keep studiously avoiding one another outside the therapy sessions, assigned "homework" interactions, or their hate f*cking sessions. As the weeks proceed, however, they slowly begin to share more personal stuff and their feelings begin to change.
As far as I could tell, several of the supporting characters in this book have featured in other Canterbary novels in the past. I'm assuming Sebastian and possibly also Sara may have appeared previously in a supporting capacity, but I didn't feel like I was missing out on any significant backstory by beginning with this book.
Both Sebastian and Sara have significant emotional baggage which makes it difficult for them to open up to others and neither are exactly wildly sociable. Sebastian is part of an established friend group of doctors, who keep wanting to include Sara as well. While he's frequently surly and stand-offish and very much a workaholic, his friends clearly accept him, flaws and all, and he doesn't seem to mind the gentle ribbing he gets from them. Sara projects a pleasant and outgoing facade in public because she has learned to be a people pleaser, but in private she's nothing like her chirpy work persona and keeps to herself. She tries to avoid social situations because anything involving food and/or drink will likely become deeply awkward since she has extremely strict dietary needs since she's recovering from a serious eating disorder and her body cannot handle a lot of foods and certainly not alcohol without her getting violently ill.
One of the things about her that drive Sebastian up the wall is the small bags of snacks she keeps carrying everywhere and insists on grazing from. Yet even before he discovers the true reason for her odd snacking habits, his need to nurture and care for others manifests itself, and he begins silently picking out and removing the parts of the trail mix she never eats so she won't have to worry about them. There are a lot of such show, don't tell moments throughout the story, where Canterbary show the readers who her protagonists really are, and why they'd be so perfect for one another.
With my reading slump this year, just finding a book that so fully holds my attention that I finish it in less than a weekend is a great feeling, and while I wanted to give this book a full five stars (I might, upon a reread), I did think there were a bit too many angsty moments of "oh, I'm not good enough for him/her" in the latter half of the book before I got to the satisfying happy ending. Still, I will absolutely be seeking out more of Canterbary's novels, to see if any of her many other books are as entertaining and satisfying as this one.
Judging a book by its cover: You don't often see bearded heroes on the covers of romance novels, at least not if the character in question isn't a biker or lumberjack or some such. As our protagonist in question is a surgeon at the top of his field, one might wonder if the beard is even something someone whose job it is to perform surgery should have, what with the associated hygiene risks. Having looked it up, it seems it is OK for surgeons to have facial hair, but they have to wear additional protective gear to ensure the patients' safety.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.