As far as TBR Challenge books go, this is a pretty big failure. This month’s theme is to catch up on a series you were behind on. Not only was I not behind on this series, but I bought the entire series Sunday night after reading book one. No TBRs were harmed in the making of this review. YOLO, my friends.
I am not, as a rule, a big fan of serials, so this was an unusual acquisition for me. I remembered seeing a review from Tina a while ago and loving the premise and the cover art, but not wanting to get into a serial. With the last installment published early last month and the entire series available as a bundle (which I didn’t notice until after I’d bought book one, but I’ll live), I decided to give it a try. I tore through the series, reading until 1:30 in the morning, so it was pretty alright.
Marketing admin Chloe Brooks opens the first book thinking, “What am I going to do with all this soup?” She was trying to be a good girlfriend and bring some chicken soup to her boyfriend after he told her he was home sick that day. When she let herself into his apartment she found him in bed, but he wasn’t resting, or alone. First her roommate moved out on short notice, then her boyfriend’s stepping out on her, and now she’s stuck with a bunch of soup she doesn’t even like. This month so isn’t tipped in her favor. When all the women who come by the apartment turn out to be too perky, too religious, too “ghetto fabulous” or too old for her to imagine them as roommates, things don’t seem to be getting any better. But when the “Pat Murphy” she thought was a woman shows up and turns out to be a Patrick, luck seems to be on her side once again. He’s an aspiring actor with a steady day job, they talk easily like old friends, and he promises to put the toilet seat down. She’d never thought of living with a guy before, but she’s willing to try.
I’m really glad that I waited to get this until all of the books were out because having to wait weeks between books would’ve given me heart palpitations. Those who dislike insta-lust would like the slow, deliberate pace of the romance and how she stretches the sexual tension across multiple books. While there’s attraction between Chloe and Patrick in book one, the book is more focused on setting the stage for who the characters are and what’s going on in their lives. It’s only in the last line of this book that Patrick even thinks about wanting to kiss her. They don’t actually kiss until the end of book two, they spend book three in a kissing and cuddling-only sorta relationship and it’s not until book four that they go to bed with each other.
Most of this time is spent showing who they are through the relationships they have with their friends and family. Chloe has a number of strong, positive relationships with women and girls in her life. Her cousin and goddaughter are important to her and so is her best friend Myra. Patrick also has a pair of close friends in his hometown buddies Paul and Max. Where Chloe and Myra are opposites balancing each other out, Patrick is a sort of pivot point between the loutish football coach Max and the quiet, closeted Paul. Friendships play an important role in the story’s character development. Every conversation, argument and fight shows who Chloe and Patrick are, where they came from and what they value. Patrick and Chloe have a tight bond with their families and their friends, and it was one of my favorite things about this book. I liked knowing that they have an army of a support network to rely on.
Another strength of the book was the dialog and the author’s voice. The series is told in alternating first-person and starts off mostly in Chloe’s POV before gradually adding more and more from Patrick’s perspective. There’s a minimal amount of replaying the same scene from different view points, so the few times it does happen it packs the appropriate sense of “so that‘s what happened” without feeling manipulative. The narration has a good amount of character to it, so that you can tell who’s speaking, even though the chapter headings name the narrator for good measure. Chloe’s narration is infused with little bits of urban slang here and there – her ex is “tripping,” her cousin’s deadbeat baby daddy is “trifling” and Patrick’s snarky comments are met with an ““Oh, you got jokes.” Patrick’s narration isn’t quite as colorful and is distinguished from Chloe’s less by what language he uses than the language he doesn’t use. He’s more animated in dialog than he is in the narration, but he’s far from flat.
They say writers should read dialog out loud to see if it sounds natural, and I think Perez must’ve taken this to heart. It’s tight, zippy and sounds exactly how people speak in real life.
“You wouldn’t mind living with a white girl?” Myra raised a perfectly arched eyebrow.
I sensed a trick question. If I said no, that would be a lie. It’s not like I have anything against white girls, but I grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood where my exposure to white people was limited. It might be kind of weird to live with a white girl, but at this point as long as she could pay the rent and not get in my way, I’d live with a green girl. I tried to relay that to Myra.
“And what happens when you come home with a fine-ass chocolate brother and she wants that?”
“Myra please, I’d have to hurt that girl.”
“I know that’s right!” We slapped hands in a high five.
The story starts out light and fun, then grows darker and heavier around books three and four. Chloe and Patrick grow together as friends and draw on each other for support as Chloe deals with her uncle’s poor health and Patrick worries about his sister’s suspected drug use. When that friendship turns romantic, not all of their friends and family are on board. Myra doesn’t trust white men at all, and lets Patrick know exactly what she thinks.
“And what, exactly, do you mean by guys like me?”
“You know what I’m talking about. Don’t try to play like you don’t.”
“What?” I sneered. “Actors?”
She stepped closer, putting her face in mine.
“White. Boys . Used to getting everything you want. You think you can have a little fun by screwing a black girl and then what? You mean to tell me you’re going to take her home to meet your parents? I don’t think so. I know how your people think, and I’m telling you right now that I’m not going to let you play Chloe.”
Patrick’s mother, meanwhile, doesn’t have a problem with black people, you see, shes just worried about those other people who do have a problem making their lives difficult, and she just wants the best for her son. She’s just very concerned, is all.
“Mrs. Murphy, your son is a grown man. If he wants to move back home, that’s fine, but I’m not going to break up with him because you have a problem with the fact that I’m black.”
She blinked twice and her mouth opened and closed before she finally found the words. “I don’t have a problem with black people.”
“Really? Because I heard you at Thanksgiving and it sure sounded like that to me.”
“You and Patrick both misunderstand. I don’t care that you’re black. I care that he loves you, would do anything for you. I saw that the moment he introduced you to us. I know my boy. I’ve never seen him look at anyone the way he looks at you. And that makes me happier than you can ever imagine. You’ll only know that feeling when you have children of your own. And because of that , I care that other people will care that you’re black. They’ll care that Patrick is white and that you’re together. I can’t see any more pain or hardship brought to my children. I can’t.”
Myra comes around fairly quickly and even encourages Chloe to reconcile with Patrick when an acting gig in L.A. breaks them up. It’s clear to me that Myra’s reaction was based on something in her past and that she supports Chloe and Patrick when it really comes down to it. Patrick’s mother doesn’t come around until the very end, however, and I found it much less satisfying. I have my doubts that his mother truly accepts Chloe, but the rest of the family – and Patrick’s one of seven kids – clearly does, so the HEA feels safe enough.
Patrick is front and center on the cover of book five, Winter Wishes, which is fitting since the story focuses heavily on him for this book. One of the plot threads running throughout the story is his younger sister Charlotte, and how he suspects the drastic change in the college student’s appearance and behavior is due to a drug problem. That thread is resolved in this book, and it’s a punch to the gut. The resolution bucks romance conventions somewhat – I think I’ve read something like this in only one other romance ever – but it’s an honest take, and not played for melodrama. I liked seeing the different ways people reacted to and interpreted what happened. Like real life, there was little that was black and white about it
The only weakness the story has is in the ending to the final book. It tries to tie up all the loose threads and tie them into a perfectly neat bow. Compared to the low-key, true-to-life story that makes up the bulk of the story, the ending is straight out of romance central casting. It’s a fine ending, but it’s just that: fine. A great book deserves better than fine.
Final Assessment: This serial was the most fun I’ve had reading a book in a long time. Great characters, sparkling dialog and a slow-building romance with lots of sexual tension. B+