The Chase Is On by Brenda Jackson

thechaseison.jpg 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.

You can visit Brenda Jackson here and purchase this book here or here.

9 thoughts on “The Chase Is On by Brenda Jackson

  1. First, let me commend you for making the effort to read romances by black authors.
    In my opinion, Brenda is at heart a category romance writer. Black women read a lot of short category romances written by white authors. What Brenda does is turn out a predictably satisfying category romance, the same as many, many white category romance authors do. She has a legion of extremely dedicated fangirls who simply want a taste of category romance fare in the same color as they are. In my opinion, Rochelle Alers, Shirley Hailstock and Francis Ray are mistresses of the category romance.
    The main difference in their books from others? The tint of the skin. Nothing else.
    Do you suppose this is a deliberate attempt to spoon feed a nonwhite romance to a predominately white romance buying public?
    No. White people aren’t flocking to pick up any romances with black faces on the cover and consistently haven’t done so for ten years. Brenda feeds the needs of mainly black readers and her characters are more than black enough for them. As I’ve written many times before, it’s a newsflash to many white romance readers that black folk are simply not that different from themselves.
    Or, is the intention that romance novels are a culture unto themselves where characters are first and foremost defined as Heroes and Heroines?
    The characters are romance characters written by a romance author. Culture comes into it if you’re writing urban street lit about characters who live in the inner-city and rarely, if ever, venture into mainstream America. But black romance writers don’t write urban fiction. They write romance. What could be the difference if we aren’t inherently different from whites?
    We’ve lived in America for generations and unless we’re members of the underclass living in the ghetto, we have to mesh seamlessly with it. Ao romances about blacks as people living in the mainstream (usually urban professionals with the same socio-economic status as whites) have very little difference from white romance as far as plotlines or characters other than stated race.
    Brenda, Rochelle and Shirley are now writing for Harlequin’s Kimani short category black romance line. Are they going to still be able to write as many titles for the “white” Desire line or are they going to be more segregated from white writers who are no different from them other than skin tone?
    The question that could be asked is why is it necessary that black romances be segregated into a different line when there is so little difference in substance between their books and white romances? I think the question is so seldom asked by white readers, because they don’t want to hear the answer.

  2. Hi Monica, thanks for stopping by. Yes, we are reading black authors as well as Asian, Indian, bi-racial, Jewish, we just picked a Latina author for January, anyone who reflects the multi-religious, multi-culture, multi-ethic world we live in is on our reading radar.
    That this romance is a romance, period, was exactly our point. It was important to both of us to point out, for anyone who might look at the cover and think, oh that’s not for me, that it is for everyone.

  3. “Do you suppose this is a deliberate attempt to spoon feed a nonwhite romance to a predominately white romance buying public?”
    Hmmmm, I think I’ll ask her this if she decides to particpate in my weekly interviews.
    I hate family feud-led books. They bore me stupid, and if the feud is over recipe’s, that just makes it worse. Who give’s a sh*t who stole what recipe from whom?
    I’ve already ordered this book from Amazon in an effort to re-familiarise myself with her writing style. God I hope I like it better than you guys did. Sigh.

  4. In my view, romances should not be segregated into lines or imprints by race. That sends a strange messages – that somehow I can only relate to romances written by white people. That’s ridiculous. One practical reason for my view is that, by habit, I search out romance from one section of the bookstore – the romance section. Putting Jennifer Crusie in fiction, chick lit in literature, hiding erotic romance somewhere in the back of the store and shoving multicultural romance into another place – all that does is make a mess and guarantee I’ll miss something. On a deeper level, as Wendy said, our point (and the point of the question and answer) was that this book is a romance, pure and simple. Anyone who picks it up should be able to relate to it on that level.
    My problem with this book was the execution. Unlike Karen, I love the family feud saga. No idea why, but it’s a favorite. Here, a flat storyline, limited conflict and a hero who didn’t strike me as all that believable kept me from loving a type of romance I usually love.

  5. She has a huge back list, Karen. Maybe you should scheck out the plotlines of them too to see if you like them. I’m not a category romance reader (they ALL bore me silly) so I can’t make any recommendations.

  6. I used to read her books a while ago, but I can’t recall a single one. I think they were all category though, which would explain my lack of recall. I didn’t even know she was black until just recently, mind you, I used to mix her up with Lisa Jackson all the time, not sure why!

  7. I think I’ve read one of her books, though for the life of me, I can’t remember.
    I’m pretty sure that Mia Zachary had a black heroine and hero for at least one of her categories (Blaze) and I remmeber really enjoying the story.
    I really just don’t pick up many Desires, they hardly ever seem to have storylines that appeal to me, this one included.

  8. Hi, ladies.
    Yes, my last November 2004 Blaze 9 1/2 DAYS not only had black characters, but I was very pleased that my cover had the first black models in the Blaze line.
    Also my first book, an April 2003 Blaze RED SHOES & A DIARY had a black heroine and a white hero, though the cover doesn’t really show that.
    My other two Blazes feature a white/ Latino couple and a white/ Asian couple respectively.
    In response to Wendy’s question, I do make every effort to get the reader to see my characters as people first and foremost, not black people or Cuban people or Japanese people.
    Yes, part of that is playing to the market, but the choice of how my people are portrayed was mine and mine alone. I’ve never hidden anyone’s skin color, though many readers tell me they had no idea of the characters ethnicity. My goal has always been and will always be to bring the hero and heroine to life in a way that the reader can put herself into the story, no matter what color skin she or the characters have.
    I’m going to go on the record while I’m here by saying I hate having ‘African American Romance’ lines, and not just at Harlequin. Love is universal and I don’t think it should or needs to be segregated.

  9. Hi Mia,
    Thank you for stopping by and contributing to the discussion. I will now eat everything I’ve ever said about being an observant reader and admit that when I read Red Shoes & a Diary I had no idea the heroine was black. Now I need to go find my stash of Blazes and reread.
    The separate lines for AA romances baffle me. I’ve looked through the Kamini Press titles and synopses and wondered why these books—that could fit anywhere else in Harlequin’s lines—have been set apart. It’s 2006, haven’t these battles been fought already?

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