HelenKay: The real-life and well-known feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys started in the late 1800s over a stolen hog. That battle officially ended a few years back with reunion of the descendants. In The Chase Is On, the idea of family feud lives on in Atlanta between the Westmorelands and the Grahams. Here, stolen recipes stand in for stolen livestock. There’s no bloodshed, but there is plenty of baking. The fight falls to the grandchildren – Chase Westmoreland and Jessica Claiborne – to continue. They just have to figure out they are enemies first.
Chase leads a settled and prosperous existence surrounded by a loud and loving family. After an injury grounded his athletic career, he followed in his grandfather’s culinary footsteps and opened a successful soul food restaurant, Chase’s Place. As his siblings marry off one-by-one, despite lifelong protests to the contrary, Chase focuses in on his work. Then Jessica opens a bakery down the street. From the start he is attracted to the mysterious woman with the killer chocolate chip cookies. Little does he know she’s one of "them."
Jessica is in town to clear her grandfather’s name. Years before, Chase’s grandfather accused his then business partner, Jessica’s grandfather, of stealing secret family recipes and selling them to a competitor. Jessica’s grandfather denied the charge. The resulting argument tore the friendship apart and battered the Graham name. Jessica arrives, ready to investigate what happened and set the record straight. She meets Chase and takes an instant and, one could argue overblown, dislike to him. By the time she figures out Chase is a Westmoreland, she’s already moved from dislike to interested. Rather than tell him the truth, she hides their joint history, dates Chase and continues with her investigation. The familiar set-up leads to an expected confrontation, one that is delayed to the very end of the book then resolved in quick and summary fashion.
Jumping into the middle of an ongoing family series always poses a risk. Faithful readers have high expectations. Readers unfamiliar with what has gone before wonder if they will feel left out and confused by starting in the middle instead of the beginning. Jackson successfully avoids the alienation problem in this installment of the Westmoreland family series. The Chase Is On stands alone and is easy to follow. Siblings appear and play very minor roles. They are introduced here more to satisfy loyal fans of the Westmoreland saga than to move the plot forward. The device, while unnecessary for those new to the Westmoreland clan, does not interrupt the flow of the story.
While Jackson sidesteps one problem, she falls into a few others. One of the weaknesses here is Chase. He possess the typical hero mindset of "I will never marry" but has no real basis for the strong aversion to the institution. The happy marriages of his siblings make his stance even less comprehensible. His backstory consists of having a woman leave him as soon as his professional athlete prospects dried up. This explanation for his terminal bachelorhood doesn’t fit with the rest of Chase’s character and lends to a shallow portrayal of him as the hero. Yes, he is strong, attractive and smart, but his growth from start to finish is limited.
Another problem is in the romantic histories of these two people. They are vibrant and motivated people. The idea that Chase couldn’t get past a vapid woman who dumped him solely for monetary reasons isn’t believable. It is more likely he would say "good riddance" than let the incident rule his lovelife. The idea that Jessica had sex once – but not really – then lives the rest of her life as an asexual woman is not workable in a contemporary setting either. There isn’t any explanation for this healthy woman’s choices or her lack of understanding of her own body.
The limits on Chase affect the conflict and the pace of the romance. The plot here moves fast, but there is a general feeling that nothing much is happening. Jessica conducts her investigation, which consists mostly of posing questions people refuse to answer. She separates that aspect of her life from her growing attraction to Chase. Instead of having these parts of the story weave together and push and pull these characters, the family feud – which is set up as a main focus of the book – is pushed to the back and fails to blend in with the romance. The loss to the reader is in never feeling as if these two people have an obstacle to overcome.
Wendy: Category romance is full of millionaire cowboys, secret babies, Sheiks, virgins, and now, thanks to Brenda Jackson’s The Chase is On, series romance can claim at least one virgin-who-didn’t-know-she-was-a-still-a-virgin virgin heroine. While a split hairs discussion on whether oral sex is sex isn’t needed here, let’s agree on something now, so this virgin/not really a virgin scenario doesn’t happen again: if a girl who falls on a fence post and breaks her hymen is still a virgin, then a woman who has one disastrous, penetrative sexual experience wherein her hymen wasn’t broken is no longer a virgin. It’s the lack of sex that defines the first and the sex act that defines the second. The thin membrane plays into neither. All clear on that? Good.
The Chase is On is simple and straight forward, if familiar, fare. The Westmorelands and the Grahams, once friends and business associates, have feuded for the last eighteen years over stolen recipes. Scott Westmoreland accused Carlton Graham of passing Westmoreland family recipes onto a business rival and the seeds of distrust and the sting of a tarnished reputation have filtered down to the men’s respective grandchildren, Chase Westmoreland and Jessica Claiborne. Chase doesn’t trust Grahams and Jessica is compelled to clear the family name. On opposite sides of this not-quite-State-secrets breach, Chase and Jessica are instantly (and naturally) attracted to one another.
Chase and Jessica are amiable characters whose romance is a foregone conclusion because the conflict between them isn’t their fight and the story’s action and strife happened years before their story begins. Jessica moves to Chase’s hometown of Atlanta intent on getting to the bottom of the stolen recipe scandal and coincidentally opens a patisserie in the same shopping area as Chase’s restaurant. Despite their mutual physical attraction, some initial thoughtless words between them create some hollow and easily-gotten-around discord. That is until Jessica learns Chase’s last name. While she suspects that he is a good guy, by virtue of his last name and their families’ history, she’s willing to paint him with a broad brush and make assumptions that do not correlate with the man in front of her. Hoping to clear her grandfather’s name, Jessica chooses to conceal her lineage from Chase. As Chase and Jessica grow closer and fall in love, Jessica’s lie by omission hangs between them.
The basic conflict is difficult to be compelled by. Recipes, even treasured ones passed down through generations, seem a precarious peak to teeter so much on. Since the core of the contention has so little value, it’s not easy to accept the main characters deriving motivation from it or any of the characters caring after so much time has passed, to say nothing of the actual recipe thief who guards the secret of their involvement as though jail time might result in the truth coming out.
The Chase is On is full of short handed category predictability, most notable in Chase and Jessica’s personal back stories: he was burned by a money hungry woman; she doesn’t trust men because of her father. And, with such limited space, there isn’t room page-wise to world build and really establish the center stage love story. Disappointingly, The Chase is On doesn’t give its sexy, heat generating couple enough solid, convincing story to blossom in. Without real obstacles to fight against, it’s difficult to root for Chase and Jessica.
Wendy’s Question: Brenda Jackson is a popular African American romance author, though The Chase is On is fairly colorless in that Chase and Jessica could have been any two people, from anywhere in the country, with any background. Do you suppose this is a deliberate attempt to spoon feed a nonwhite romance to a predominately white romance buying public? Or, is the intention that romance novels are a culture unto themselves where characters are first and foremost defined as Heroes and Heroines?
HelenKay’s Response: I’m not sure if Jackson was trying to teach us something or not, but one of the lessons of The Chase Is On is that romance is universal. This book centers on two people falling in love. Race was irrelevant to the attraction, the writing and the plot. Some people may see this as a negative, but I disagree. While race and ethnic background can be defining issues and set a romance apart from others, as in Imaginary Men, that should not be the requirement. To do so would suggest that African American writers can only write about African Americans, and Caucasians about Caucasians, and so on. That myopic view belittles authors and their talents. This should be about creating a world that allows the reader to believe in the fantasy and cheer on the hero and heroine. To do that, we need to care about these people as people. Relate to them. Having a hero or heroine be of a different race shouldn’t matter so long as the crucial connection between reader and characters occurs.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts There’s no chase in The Chase is On.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: Light conflict and cursory character development keep this from being as good as you want it to be, but for those who enjoy a family feud romance, pick it up and take a look.