More Than Friends? LEARNED REACTIONS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new M/M contemporary romance from Jayce Ellis. LEARNED REACTIONS is the second book in her Higher Education series that feature professional men of color finding both success and love. We get a friends-to-lovers story here that really burned up the pages. Check out my review of LEARNED BEHAVIORS for another great read, with connected characters.

About the book:
Carlton Monroe is finally getting his groove back. After a year playing dad to his nephew and sending him safely off to college, it’s back to his bachelor ways. But when his teenaged niece shows up on his doorstep looking for a permanent home, his plan comes to a screeching halt. Family is everything, and in the eyes of social services, a couple makes a better adoptive family than an overworked bachelor father. A fake relationship with his closest friend is the best way to keep his family together.

If things between him and Deion are complicated, well, it only needs to last until the end of the semester.

Living with Carlton is a heartbreak waiting to happen, and once the adoption goes through, Deion’s out. He’s waited two decades for Carlton to realize they’re meant for each other, and he’s done. It’s time to make a clean break. But it’s hard to think of moving away when keeping up the act includes some very real perks like kissing, cuddling and sharing a bed.

Even the best charades must come to an end, though. As the holidays and Deion’s departure date loom, the two men must decide whether playing house is enough for them—or if there’s any chance they could be a family for real.

My Review:
Carlton Monroe is a financial aid officer at Howard University in DC. He’s been there a long time, and he works hard. He’s an out gay black man whose “traditional” (read: bigoted and austere) parents are not really talking with him–mostly on account of him being gay. He’d always had a conflicted relationship with his parents, though, even before he came out. Once he did though, they mostly disowned him. He had a good relationship with his sister, whom his parents idealized as the golden child of their family, but she and her husband died a few years ago leaving their children, Trey and Olivia, orphaned. Carlton’s parents took custody of the kids, but Trey, who may be genderqueer, soon turned up on his doorstep–after too many fights with his stifling grandparents. Carlton took him in with no qualms, and helped him graduate high school and enter college.

So, now Carlton is a free man! No responsibilities and looking forward to spending some time with his longtime best friend, and former college roomie, Deion Jones. Professor Jones is taking a sabbatical, and has agreed to visit Carlton for a bit.

Thing is, Deion has literally been in love with Carlton for…ever. Since freshman year of college, for sure. Deion is a beautiful, virile Black gay man, and he’s always wanted a loving partner and family. He’s a little jealous that Carlton, who always professed to never wanting kids himself, has become an uncle-dad to his nephew. While Deion’s visiting Carlton Olivia turns up on the doorstep, crying and wanting to be free of her domineering grandparents. Olivia wants to wrestle on her high school team, against the boys–and Grams was having none of it. But it was also how her grandparents cut her off from communicating with Trey and Uncle Carlton that messed things up with Olivia. Deion is happy to help co-parent, for the time he’s meant to be in DC, but Carlton–with the help and advice of his friend Lawrence–is moving to formally adopt Olivia. To protect her from the toxic homelife he’d narrowly escaped with his folks. And, the social worker helping to facilitate the adoption mistakes Carlton and Deion as cohabitating partners.

It’s then that Carlton suggests that Deion extend his stay, stop sleeping on his couch, and move himself into Carlton’s plush bed. And, if they can add benefits to their friendship, all the better. Because Carlton’s been low key in love with Deion all along. He’s just been too afraid to chance anything more, because Deion’s the only constant and healthy relationship Carlton has maintained in his adult life. He might make himself out to be a Grindr fan and freewheeling bachelor, but he isn’t really that guy. He’s a homebody who thrives on late-night check-ins with Deion, whose relationships haven’t really panned out either on account of his pining for Carlton.

Their extended cohabitation and more-than-friends sexytimes are blurring the lines, however, and with Deion’s sabbatical coming to an end there are realities that need to be faced and discussed. Shame Carlton’s so tongue-tied with his affections. At first. It’s a bittersweet break, because Trey and Olivia LOVE Uncle Deion as much as he does them. His dream of being a dad is nearly complete, if only Carlton truly loved him as a partner, as a potential husband, not a pseudo-temporary-boyfriend just to finalize the adoption. Can he live without Carlton, even as a friend? Because it might kill their friendship if he does what he needs to do to protect his heart. Once Carlton gets a handle on his life without Deion in it on the day-to-day he realizes his family dysfunctions have set him up for a lifetime of happiness. It’s difficult for each of these men to change their habits, but a happy ending is on the horizon, if only they can break the patterns that have bound them in misery the past 16 years (or so).

Loved this one!! Carlton’s hot mess of a life is so chaotic, but his love for Deion is clear, even if he can’t speak to it. Their sexytimes are amazing, so steamy, and yet playful. They have been friends too long for much awkwardness, even in the bedroom. I loved the grand gesture that Carlton plans, and it was awesome to see their happy ending on the page. Deion’s future had looked so bleak, but he’s more than happy to be a dad, even to a teen girl wrestler. There are fun interactions with Jaq and Lawrence who we met in the first book of this series. Lawrence, especially, got good page time as very successful Black lawyer who happens to be a father many times over and a divorced pansexual man. I’m sure we’ll see this “daddy” find himself a partner in the next book. I absolutely look forward to it.

Interested? You can find LEARNED REACTIONS on Goodreads, Carina Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Jayce Ellis is an author and an attorney. You can connect with her on twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!