Having really enjoyed Jay Hogan’s Digging Deep when I read it last summer, I was eager to read more of her work. First Impressions – the first in her Auckland Med. series – is her début novel (recently republished), an enjoyable enemies-to-lovers romance with an element of suspense/crime drama thrown in. The central characters are engaging and strongly drawn but flawed, and the chemistry between them is fantastic; plus there’s a nicely rounded-out secondary cast, and I thoroughly appreciated the vibrant, laid-back New Zealand setting, which made a refreshing change.
After a tragic event which sent him into a downward spiral of drink and depression, Los Angeles-based ER doctor Michael Oliver took the opportunity to relocate to Auckland as part of a two year exchange program. He’s been in New Zealand for six months and he loves it; he loves his work, he’s made some really good friends and is more than happy with his revolving door of bed-partners. His personal life went tits up around the same time his professional life imploded, making Michael more certain than ever that relationships aren’t his thing. We first meet him when he’s out cruising, making his move on the hot guy he’s decided is going to be his for the night, when his plans are interrupted by a raid on the club and he’s confronted by six-foot-four of scorching hot, snarky cop, an ansty German Shepherd glued to his side.
K-9 officer Josh Rawlins doesn’t have time for the mouthy, arrogant guy obviously checking him out, and has shut down his attempts to flirt when all hell breaks loose and shots are fired. While Josh and his dog, Paris, are involved in the fight to stop the shooters from escaping, Michael jumps in to help an officer who has been shot, keeping him alive until the paramedics arrive.
Josh and Michael take an instant dislike to each other and Michael takes a particular delight in deliberately needling Josh by attempting to flirt with him. But Josh is having none of it. His priority is his eleven-year-old daughter, and what he wants most is to make a loving home and family for her – but following his last long-term relationship, which ended after Josh discovered his partner had been cheating on him throughout, Josh has been wary of getting involved again. He certainly isn’t prepared to put himself and his heart on the line for someone like Michael who, Josh thinks, has impermanence written all over him, no matter how tempted he may be.
And Michael Oliver is most definitely tempting. Josh has to admit he’s funny and sexy and smart, and that something about him turns him on “like a fucking switch” . When the two of them at last give in to the intensity of the attraction between them, things get steamy pretty fast and Michael is surprised to find himself craving the space to just… let go that Josh offers. They agree to a NSA fling, but somehow things don’t stay that way and ‘casual’ soon develops into something neither man had anticipated. Josh doesn’t think Michael can ‘do’ relationships, and Michael has labelled himself the same way; he deliberately destroyed his last relationship when he was in that drink-fuelled downward spiral and has convinced himself he’s not cut out for anything long-term. But as the men spend more and moretime together, they are forced to confront the fact that their first impressions of each other were completely wrong and that perhaps they really do want the same things from life. The problem is admitting that – to themselves and each other.
I really liked both characters, even though Michael is a bit of a dickhead to start with, and their relationship is very well developed. The chemistry between them is explosive, and they have a lot of sex, but they laugh and talk and just hang out, too; they enjoy each other’s company and open up to one another, both feeling safe to let themselves be vulnerable when they need to, and I loved seeing that trust build between them. I was also relieved that the author didn’t take an obvious turn down Big Mis Lane at a point later in the story. There’s a great secondary cast, too – Josh’s daughter is a fairly believable eleven and their relationship is nicely done, as is that with his sister, and his friend and fellow cop, Mark; and Michael’s friend and colleague Cam Wano, a gloriously femme, snarky charge-nurse is a highlight – his story is told in the next book in the series. The crime drama storyline I mentioned at the beginning is perhaps distributed a little unevenly throughout the book – it sort of disappears for a bit in the middle before resurfacing towards the end – and there’s another sub-plot revolving around Josh’s homophobic parents which is quite heart-breaking – and quite honestly, I wanted Josh to tell them where to get off rather earlier than he did! I also had issues with the ending; it’s difficult to say too much without spoilers, but while I understood why Michael did what he did, I nonetheless found it rather selfish and needlessly hurtful.
Still, First Impressions was an engrossing read and one that I got through in only a couple of sittings, which is always a good indication of my engagement with a book. In spite of my reservations about certain aspects of the plot, the central relationship and romance are really well done, the characters are likeable and if you’re looking for a contemporary romance set outside the US, it’s definitely one to consider checking out.
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