I really, really love a contemporary romance that features an emotionally fluent hero and real conflict that’s handled with respect and intelligence. Sleepover by Serena Bell hit both these nails on the head, making it one of the best, most emotionally satisfying contemporary romances I’ve read this year. It’s also got some crazy-hot sex scenes which is a nice bonus.
Sawyer Paulson and his son Jonah move into a Seattle suburb two years after the death of Sawyer’s wife and Jonah’s mom, Lucy. Sawyer plans to rehab the house then rent it out. Jonah is immediately thrilled to discover that he has a neighbor his age, Madden. Sawyer is less thrilled to discover that Madden’s mom, Elle Dunning, is a woman he had a one-night-stand with a few months back. Awkward, right?
Elle is recently divorced. She always suspected her husband was still in love with his high school sweetheart, and he spent their relationship gas-lighting her that she was crazy and insecure. Until he divorced her to marry that high school sweetheart. Seriously. Fuck that guy.
So both parties here are dealing with a lot of pain. Elle feels like her marriage was a lie and that she was horribly used by her ex. Sawyer is still grieving for the wife he loved very much.
But also these two had crazy hot sex and both really want to have it again.
Because Madden and Jonah become best friends and spend their time running between both houses, Sawyer and Elle get to spend a lot of time together too, which makes the hot sex question more pressing. Neither one is ready for a relationship, but can they be friends with benefits?
First of all, the conflict in this book is pretty substantial. You’ve got a lot of pain on both sides. When Elle realizes she’s falling in love with Sawyer, she’s terrified. She never wants to be in a relationship where she’s the second-run option to another woman. Even IF Sawyer is ready to move on, he’ll always love Lucy and she knows she’s not ready to handle that yet.
Sawyer is similarly afraid. He reflects:
Lucy was the only woman I’d ever loved, and I’m pretty sure she’s the only woman I’ll ever love.
For one thing, I’m not the kind of guy who falls in love. I guess maybe you could say I’m a misanthrope. Or maybe just a loner. Whatever. At any rate, there aren’t very many people in the world I genuinely like spending time with. Brooks and Chase, in small doses. And Jonah–but I figure that’s because in that respect he’s kind of a mini-me–a loner too.
And for awhile there, there was Lucy.
Lucy was the one woman I ever knew who didn’t seem to think there was something wrong with me, who wasn’t always trying to offer me a penny for my thoughts or get me to talk more. And the funny thing was, that made me more talkative. It was like during the time I was with Lucy, there was a light on inside me. And when she died–
Well, it went out.
And I don’t know if want it lit again. Because the snuffing out was pretty much the most awful, painful thing you can imagine. Watching Lucy fade away, from who she was to, well, nothing…
Yeah. Not going there.
Anyway, the odds that there’s someone else out there who could do that to me–light me up like that again?
Not playing that lottery.
It makes sense that both Elle and Sawyer are really afraid of being hurt. The trauma they both experienced is the sort of thing that stays with a person their entire lives. But they’re also cognizant of their boys’ emotional state, and how both of them are healing too. Both Jonah and Madden have been struggling, understandably, to grieve in their own ways, and the fact that Elle and Sawyer put that before their potential relationship or even sexytimes, meant so much to me as a reader.
I also think this may be one of the first books I’ve read where the hero has a really good cry (while talking to his brother). I’ve seen a lot of grovel, but not a lot of “I need to sob some of this pain out” which seems really healthy especially when he’s navigating grief.
All of this may make you think this book is a downer. It’s not. It’s got some sad parts, but mostly it’s incredibly hopeful and very, very sexy. Both Sawyer and Elle are sex-positive people who enjoy a healthy sex life. No one’s genitals went on hiatus due to divorce and the death of a spouse, and that’s treated as a totally okay thing that’s handled responsibly and maturely. There’s a lot of really hot, dirty-talking in this book if that’s your catnip.
I was concerned that the conflict would be too much for Elle and Sawyer to surmount because it is A LOT but I was satisfied by the end of this book. I bought the resolution and the romance.
If you’re looking for a contemporary with a solid conflict, a lot of Feels, a hero who knows how to have a cry, and some super hot sexytimes, then Sleepover is for you.