Romance Review: The Roommate Problem

The Roommate Problem, by Mariah Ankenman

This was an ARC from NetGalley.

The Roommate Problem is the third installment in Mariah Ankenman’s Mile High Happiness series, whose heroines are co-owners of a wedding planning company.

Moira “Mo” Rossi has, by now, been left alone in the apartment she shared with Lily and Pru (the heroines of the previous two books), and is desperately hoping the roommate due to arrive any day works out. The apartment is right above the Mile High offices, which makes for a convenient commute, and she doesn’t want to have to find another affordable rental in Denver.

Into this situation comes August Porter, whose grandmother Agatha is a florist and one of Mile High’s favorite vendors. Agatha, who is also like a grandmother to Mo, has asked August to come help her run the shop, and arranges for him to be roommates with Mo. The story -and conflict- begins with August’s arrival: he wasn’t expecting “Mo” to be a woman, and is dismayed to find that his grandmother has tricked him into this living arrangement. He’s also appalled at Mo’s housekeeping (or complete lack thereof), since he’s a neat freak and she does things like keep food in the bathroom (shower cheese, anyone?). Mo, however, is determined to make it work, because non-creepy roommates are hard to find, and she can’t afford to keep the place to herself. For his part, August’s mission is to convince Agatha to sell her shop and move with him to the countryside, where he plans to start his own flower farm.

I liked the premise of the novel, and found the general conflict (August wanting to leave with Agatha, and Mo wanting them to stay) fairly compelling. My main issue, though, was with Mo’s character. I admit that this is, in part, because I related so strongly to August as a quiet introvert. The moment Mo started bouncing around him, trying to drag him out to see Denver nightlife when he wanted no part of it, I started to tune out of the relationship. Opposites do attract sometimes, but not if one is constantly steamrolling the other, and he does eventually call her out on this:

“I don’t think you really know what makes people happy. You know what makes you happy, and you assume everyone else will be satisfied by the same things. You put on this air of live and let live, but you’re always pushing people out of their comfort zones. Trying to get them to live their lives the way you think is best. That’s not compromise. That’s bulldozing.”

The Roommate Problem

Granted, he’s doing something similar to Agatha (and he does realize this eventually), but throughout the novel it’s Mo’s attempts at trying to bring August “out of his shell” that are the dominant action. I think if Mo’s backstory had been developed in more detail, and we could understand what made her tick, she would have been a lot more sympathetic. We know August’s backstory as the child of divorced parents, and we understand his need to control his environment, but we don’t have a similar explanation for Mo’s often childish behavior and her inexplicable quirks in areas like food and cleaning. The result is that she feels cartoonish; the fact that she feels the need to explain at the start that she’s not actually a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, even though she acts like one, is a sign that her character needed better nuance.

This, unfortunately, affects the chemistry between the protagonists. We’re shown that there’s something electric whenever they look at each other, or brush hands, but it feels superficial. At one point in the story, they decide to get their mutual attraction out of their system, and set up a “roommates with benefits” arrangement, which goes as well as one would expect.

I found August’s relationship with his grandmother much more interesting, because both sides of this particular conflict are very compelling. August wants to take care of Agatha, and give her the same sense of security she provided for him as a child constantly shuttled between his divorced parents’ homes. Agatha, for her part, knows she’s slowing down, but wants to hold on to the business that’s been in the family for so many years, and which is her only remaining link to her deceased husband. In the end, they both get their wish, but not before a major falling out involving Mo.

In the end, the novel might have worked for me if I’d read the two previous books in the series (assuming that Mo’s character had been somewhat fleshed out there). However, even individual parts of a series need to feel developed enough that they can be read on their own, given that each presents a separate romance arc. The exception is when there’s an overarching plot throughout a series (as I pointed out in my review of Who Wants to Marry a Duke); but even then, the featured romantic storyline and its protagonists need to feel fully fleshed out. So, while this was a fun, entertaining read, giving Mo more of a backstory and personality would have made it much more compelling.

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