Desert Isle Keeper
Melt for You
One of the pleasures of reviewing books for All About Romance is the opportunity to interact with readers. Recently, one of them recommended Melt for You by J.T. Geissinger. I’m familiar with the author – I’ve read two of her earlier books, including the Slow Burn novel that precedes it. I liked, but didn’t love, either of them. I downloaded this one anyway and it languished in my TBR pile… until I recently picked it up on a whim and OMG, I couldn’t put it down. It’s wonderful on so many levels, and if you haven’t read it, you’re absolutely missing out. Charming, meaningful, laugh out loud funny, sweet, sexy and smart, Melt for You is the best contemporary romance so far this year.
In a top ten list, Joellen Bixby details her Top Ten Reasons Why the Holidays Suck. The list is alternately hilarious and depressing (have you ever listened to the lyrics to Do They Know It’s Christmas?), and concludes with a reminder that her love for Michael Maddox, CEO of Maddox Publishing, is still unrequited. The list very randomly opens this terrific book – and if nothing else, it establishes that Joellen has loved her married boss for a decade, she has self-esteem issues and her inner dialogue is alternately scathing and resigned. From this painful glimpse of our heroine and narrator, we segue into ‘A Day in the Worklife of Copywriter Joellen Bixby’: mostly ignored by co-workers, never takes a day off, frequently given extra work because she’s incapable of saying no, and socially awkward. Her list-making is interrupted by her least favorite person in the office, Editorial Director Portia, who insists she take on a massive project at 4:00 pm Friday afternoon with a Monday morning due date. Arriving home late that evening, Joellen is hungry, tired and cranky.
Unfortunately, her plan for a quiet late night are ruined by loud rap music and raucous laughter coming from the apartment across the hall. After silently fuming in her apartment, she bangs on the door, expecting to confront her usually quiet neighbor Kellen. Instead,
A man I’ve never seen before stands in the doorway. He’s tall, broad, solid as a mountain and about as large. He has shaggy brown hair, hazel eyes, lots of tattoos, and a devastating smile, which my brain notes at the same time it’s trying to process that the man is wearing unlaced combat boots, a kilt, and nothing else.
She’s mid-ogle on his chiseled abs when The Mountain interrupts and asks, “Can I help you, lass?” The huge, half-naked Scotsman continues to render her speechless, so he yells at his similarly half-dressed guests to turn down the music, belches, salutes her, and then slams the door in her face.
What follows over the next few days is a succession of hilarious confrontations wherein Joellen insists her new neighbor turn down his offensive rap music, he delights in tormenting her with his constantly naked torso and tight pants (she nicknames him Prancer) and gentle teasing, and they finally agree he’ll turn off the rap music if she’ll cook for him. He also insists on eating and staying a minimum of forty-five minutes in her apartment. And somehow, during these supremely funny confrontations, she confesses she’s in love with her boss.
Cameron McGregor is the Scottish rugby captain and according to him, the most famous athlete in the world. On a forced sabbatical after a fake news story splashed his name across the tabloids yet again, he’s swapped apartments with Kellen. He’s handsome and well-built, with an over inflated ego to match. He’s also ridiculously charmed by his new neighbor and her deaf cat Mr. Bingley. Despite her sharp (awesome) insults, which he bats away with a big grin, he thinks she’s funny and sexy – and he wants to spend time with her. So Cameron offers to teach Joellen everything he knows about inspiring desire – with a generous side helping of learning to love your body and yourself. OH, HE’S THE BEST. Friends, he’s adorable and I loved everything about him and I want to marry him. That he clearly loves Joellen is simply icing on the cake.
Melt for You’s friends-to-lovers premise is a favorite trope, but it’s the sublime characterization of its principal characters (she dislikes nearly everything about herself but is kind, smart, and loyal; he’s an über famous professional athlete with skeletons and scandals littering his past) and their wonderful chemistry that elevate this ugly duckling story. Joellen delivers some of the best set-downs in contemporary romance as a check against Cameron’s super inflated ego – but her inability to control her physical response around him or resist his charming entreaties/demands to spend time with her – make it clear her comments aren’t meant to hurt. He loves to wind her up, but it’s obvious Cameron has fallen for his sharp-tongued neighbor, and that Joellen, conditioned by her family to believe she’s overweight, unattractive and weird, is blindly oblivious to her own charms. Cameron is kind, adoring and Joellen’s biggest cheerleader, even as he’s (reluctantly) pushing her into another man’s arms. Every interaction between the pair is alternately laugh out loud funny, tender and affectionate, or awkward, and when the relationship finally crosses the line from friends to lovers, it’s impossible not to cheer for this pair.
Ms. Geissinger enhances her principal pair with a cast of memorable secondary characters: retired British stage actress Ms. Dinwiddle – Joellen’s slightly deranged, oft-drunk neighbor and regular Saturday night date; Mr. Bingley, her not-so-deaf traitorous cat who falls as hard for Cameron as every other human who spends time in his orbit; fellow office workers and Michael… well, I don’t want to give all the secrets of this story away, but let’s just say he’s memorable too.
Although it’s chock full of witty dialogue and memorable primary and secondary characters, Melt for You is also a lovely ode to body positivity, loving ourselves and quieting our inner critics. Cameron is constantly reminding Joellen of her value and beauty – he loves her unconditionally, and as the novel progresses, it’s a delight to see her finally learn to love herself.
I’ve spent so much of my adult life trying to not be unruly, to be smaller, more contained, more acceptable, but underneath it all I’m still myself. All the passions and desires and tempestuous needs, all the wants and hurts and sorrows, all the ugly and wonderful things. I am just unruly, peculiar me, and I’m so tired of pretending otherwise.
Cameron’s character has a similar arc – he’s struggling against his own demons – but the slowly evolving friendship between these two does much to heal their individual wounds. Ms. Geissinger incorporates these heavy themes with a lovely, light touch, and they elevate this already terrific novel.
I don’t know how to convey to you just how much I loved this delightful book, so let’s just say it’s my favorite of the year. I’m convinced every romance reader on earth should read it and tell their friends to read it and love it as much as I do, because Melt for You will make you melt for it. I promise.