Jane's Melody by Ryan Winfield
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jane first sees Caleb at the cemetery, standing at her daughter's new grave, but he vanishes before she can talk to him. She next runs across him playing his guitar on the streets of Seattle, where he is reluctant to speak about her daughter, Melody. The third time she finds him, he has just been mugged, robbed of his guitar and hence his livelihood, so she makes the impulsive decision to take him home with her, hire him to do a major yard renovation, in the hopes that he'll open up and tell her more about her daughter's last days and weeks before her drug overdose. She soon learns that Caleb is mature far beyond his 24 years, and his presence in her life might be the balm she didn't know she needed, if only she is brave enough to take the necessary leap.
For a romance novel, there is an enormous amount of grief and melancholy permeating the pages. Jane's life hasn't been easy--from her family of addicts and enablers, to the boyfriend who abandoned her when she got pregnant in college, to raising her daughter on her own on an insurance agent's unpredictable salary, to the heartbreak of losing her daughter to drugs and alcohol. Still, she has created a life for herself in spite of her obstacles. She has a close circle of friends and a nice home. What she lacks is self confidence, which is one of the three reasons I had difficulty suspending disbelief on occasion. I just couldn't always buy that Caleb would be so attracted to a woman who had no concept of her own self-worth that he'd think a 16-year age difference was irrelevant. What did he find irresistible about a grieving woman who had no faith in her own lovability?
The second quibble I had with the story was also related to Caleb's age. Twenty-four is still in the "Knight" phase for men (see Alison Armstrong's PAX Program) where they are seeking adventure and testing their mettle. Had Caleb been a few years older--say, 30--it would have been far easier to believe he was wanting to find his "Queen" and build his castle, so to speak. Likewise, it would have been more plausible that he had had time to cultivate domestic and handyman skills. It jolted me out of the world of the story every time Caleb demonstrated knowledge and aptitude for something that it didn't seem likely he'd have learned while homeless or couch-surfing, although I suppose some of those skills might have been learned when he was still a kid.
My third bone to pick with the book happened mostly in the middle of the novel when Jane and Caleb were having sex in every conceivable room on every conceivable surface all the time. I think it's a male delusion that (sorry for the blunt language ahead) women orgasm due solely to penetration. Almost no women can do this (see Mary Roach's book Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex). I guess it just makes men feel better to believe what works for them also feels earth-moving to their partners? So it was absurd to have Jane in raptures at Caleb's prowess when most of the time he was just demonstrating stamina, not finesse. My eyes rolled so hard, I think I sprained muscles.
That said, I really did enjoy large chunks of the story. The scene where Jane reads Melody's baby book had me bawling. Jane's friendship with Grace was beautiful and also had me in tears sometimes. When I could forget the age, self-esteem, and sex issues, I was totally absorbed in the book.
For readers' advisors: character doorways is primary, story and setting (Puget Sound area, mostly) secondary. Clearly there are sex scenes, so don't suggest it to anyone who asks for "clean reads." It's a contemporary romance, the first in a series that continues with Jane's Harmony.
I received a free ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
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