Overall Grade: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2
Rules of Engagement is my entree into J.T. Geissinger’s world of books. As a newer blogger/book reviewer (I’ve only been doing this for two years), there are so many authors whom I have yet to read. I’ve seen Geissinger’s name in various promos over the past year, but Rules of Engagement is the first book of hers that I’ve had the honor to read. I know that she writes both contemporary romance and romantic comedy. When I saw the promotion of Rules of Engagement, the blurb drew me in instantly. I mean, c’mon, a Southern lady matchmaker and a rough, gruff hero who is looking for a wife. This seemed like rom-com dynamite. And it is every bit of it.
The story follows Maddie and Mason (can we acknowledge our love for alliterative pairings). Mason is a professional football player who has found himself in trouble time and time again due to his less than stellar attitude towards life and relationships. As a way to appease his agent and football team, his agent decides that he needs a wife to tame his image. Mason is the variety of hero who is beastly and gruff. Finding him a wife proves difficult. Mason’s agent, Dick, enlists the help of a matchmaker: Maddie. Maddie is every bit the Southern lady, well mannered, a little uptight, and controlled. When these two meet, fireworks ensue as each challenges the thinking of the other. The question of their story becomes will Maddie find a wife for Mason, or will she fall for him herself?
Every single page of Geissinger’s story kept me engaged. There is a depth to the story that underlies the hilarity and aggression of Mason and Maddie’s journey. The only way to describe it lies in the word “dense.” Geissinger lends a density to their hate-to-love evolution. Each word felt intentional whether it was to examine Mason’s underlying motivation in life or to highlight Maddie’s need to control all the details of her life. There is simply an intentionality to Geissinger’s storytelling and prose even when it’s disguised as a witty rom-com.
Rules of Engagement is a modern-day Beauty and the Beast tale. Mason has chosen beastly attributes as a means to hide his insecurity and beliefs about love. From the first page, it’s clear that Mason hyperbolizes his responses to people because he simply doesn’t feel “good enough” for meaningful relationships. This realization can be felt by Geissinger’s readers. Maybe we don’t act as grizzly as Mason, but we hide behind ineffectual coping mechanisms to escape our inner traumas. This is probably my favorite part of rom-coms, especially Geissinger’s. There is always something deeper beneath the surface of the seemingly light-hearted machinations of the hero and heroine. It’s a constant reminder that humor can act as a mask for a deeper issue. It’s the reason that a well-written rom-com holds the same power as an angsty, dramatic contemporary romance.
For me, Maddie is my favorite character. Yes, she’s controlled, and, as her aunt notes, walks as though she has a stick up her butt. However, it’s easy to see that it has become her defense mechanism in life. Beyond that, it becomes clear early in the story that she has the ability to see deeper into other people. She struggles with personal introspection, yet Maddie’s superpower, at least for this story, is “seeing” the real Mason. As such, she pulled at my heart-strings every time she articulated his feelings that he couldn’t tell her. That’s usually one of my favorite plotlines: when a hero or heroine sees his/her love interest completely. Maddie’s ability to move past Mason’s defense mechanism makes her the ultimate hero in Rules of Engagement.
Lastly, this story incorporates points of view other than Maddie’s and Mason’s, offering us context to the progression of their relationship. Incorporating Dick and Aunt Waldine’s perspectives not only helps us better understand Maddie and Mason; they also act as further hilarity in the romance. Aunt Waldine’s seances coupled with Dick’s meddling add the right amount of flair to keep the reader further engaged in Mason and Maddie’s journey.
For my first J.T. Geissinger book, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have read Rules of Engagement for an honest review. In reading her acknowledgments that she wrote this book during a difficult time in her life, it’s amazing that she was able to infuse so much comedy into the gravity of a story about self-love and finding completion by allowing yourself to love fully, and it highlights Geissinger’s storytelling genius. Once I began reading Rules of Engagement, I couldn’t put it down. It’s a story of finding a deep love even when we tell ourselves that our pasts have damaged us too much for anyone to love us. That we can be more than we ever allow ourselves.
In love and romance,