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Learned Behaviors by Jayce Ellis

It is entirely possible that Jayce Ellis wrote this book especially for me. Look, I’m not bragging or anything, but has a book EVER been so exactly tailored to somebody’s preferences? I THINK NOT. Let’s take a look:

  • single dads

GIVE ME ALL THE SINGLE DADS. And the best part here is that both of these men are single dads and they’ve approached fatherhood in very different ways. Parenthood isn’t a monolith, and fatherhood in particular comes with a lot of baggage. JaQuan is the single father of a daughter who’s wrapped his entire life up in hers to the potential detriment of his own; Matthew is the divorced dad of three kids who is baffled to realize that the approach he took to raising them has resulted in distance he didn’t intend. The upsides and downsides of both are handled here so gently and lovingly that fatherhood becomes an intrinsic part of the romantic story, which is so, so rare.

  • college-aged kids

Older characters! People in their 30s and 40s with established lives and careers! YESSSSSS. How often do we see single parent stories that feature folks whose kids are leaving the nest? Almost never, right? This is such a refreshing change because that transitional period is a Big Deal, and when you add romance for the parent in to the mix, life can be a LOT. There’s a sub-plot about the college kids’ romantic storyline that intersects beautifully with the dads, and the contrast between the two is deftly handled without disparaging either one.

  • extremely hot for each other in many sexy ways

Um, excuse me, these men are basically eye-fucking from the second they meet, and I am HERE FOR IT. Resisting the urge! Sensual tension! Will they! Won’t they! (spoiler: they do, and it’s super hot) Everything about the sex in this book is really, really good, from the moment Matthew gets turned on by hearing JaQuan’s voice to the first time they actually Do It to the intense scenes when they’ve committed to having a relationship. It’s all so steamy and so well written.

  • community, family, and found family

There are so many bits here to unpack. JaQuan’s circle of friends who embrace him willingly – fellow gay parents, and don’t mistake me, I got a little weepy about it, because this is a beautiful community – and who are also delightful themselves (and are given PERFECT setups for their own books in, like, two sentences, tops? How do you even DO THAT, it’s so good. I can’t wait for the next one). Matthew’s BFF, who I may or may not have a small crush on. And – possibly my favorite – his ex-wife, who is presented with loving, complex detail as a perfectly nice person. They were married for twenty years – it would be disingenuous to make her some kind of villain, and cast doubt on his taste in romantic partners, and yet we see it SO MUCH in romance. I absolutely loved seeing them as people who grew to understand that they weren’t the right fit, but still care about each other even though they’ve hurt each other in the process. They manage to be supportive of each other’s new relationships even when it takes work – and it does take work. But that’s real life. And of course, the kids – all of them – are delightful. In another world, this book would be about them: they’re all about the age of your standard romance protagonist. How awesome is it that they’re the supporting cast, instead? 

  • they work in luxury home goods design 

I mean come on. This is what gave it away. This HAS to be written for me, right? I loved everything about the work angles in this book. I’ve written in other reviews of Ellis’ books that one of the things she does best for her characters is give them realistic careers and believable job experiences, and it still holds true here. We’re not looking at a tech billionaire who came by his money in some improbable way; these characters earn their livings at real jobs, believable ones. Ellis has written everything from paramedics to financial advisors; here, she’s got a project manager for a department store home goods department and an executive assistant to a home goods designer, and everything about their work interaction from the people they work with to the projects they work on is the real deal (and also, I would like one of the pillows described, please).

All of this is to say, I loved this book SO MUCH – possibly even more than I loved the last Jayce Ellis book (honestly, mature characters took it over the edge for me here). Ellis just keeps doing everything right, and everything I said about JEREMIAH and ANDRÉ is still true here, and more so. Keep going! More, more, more!