Sunday, June 1, 2008

More Than You Know by Jo Goodman *****

I think Jo Goodman is truly my very very favorite author of all time. Really. I just love her mastery of the English language, and the way she paints a story for us, with multiple layers, witty dialogue, warm and loving characters - I just love love love her stories!

More Than You Know is the first of a 2 story series, and is about Rand Hamilton, our hero, and Claire Bancroft, our beloved heroine. The second in the series, More Than You Wished, stars Rand's sister Bria. We meet Bria briefly (and she is called Bria, Bree and Brie in this book - typos or endearments??) when they stop in Charleston before heading to their destination.

It's 10 years after the Civil War, but Rand Hamilton is still not over the losses his southern family suffered - his father and 2 brothers died in the war, and his family's plantation is now in the hands of an alcoholic, abusive carpetbagger who has married his mother. His sister Bria has taken over running the place, while Rand - a naturalist - travels the seas in his ship to the South Pacific to study.

He needs funding to do this, and so the story opens with Rand in London trying to get backing from the Duke of Strickland. The duke agrees to back the voyage with the main stipulation that Rand take his goddaughter Claire along. Claire returned from the South Pacific 18 months ago, blind from no apparent physical cause, having left her father and half-brother there, possibly dead - she cannot recall what happened in the days before she left. She is hoping that her hysterical blindness and partial amnesia can be cured by a return to the islands.

There's a buried treasure legend as well - 300 years ago a fellow named Hamilton and his buddy/rival named Waterstone left a treasure on one of the dozens (or hundreds?) of islands that dot the South Pacific, leaving only 2 riddles behind as the key to finding it. Rand grew up with stories of the treasure and is interested in finding it (although he's actually more interested in studying plants, truth be told). His hope is that the treasure will allow him to buy out his stepfather's part of the family plantation. Strickland also has an interest in the treasure and wants a part of it as another stipulation on funding the trip. Of course, Strickland is so rich you wonder that he cares at all, but he seems to anyway.

The duke insists that Claire have a companion on the trip, and hires a Scottish male physician to fill this role - Stuart Macauley. This seemed odd to me - I figured he would want a female companion, but there ya go - he felt she needed someone who could help her with her blindness, and somehow everyone including Rand agreed on this.

I need to read it again to truly follow the path Rand takes to fall in love with Claire - it doesn't take him long but it sorta blind-sided me (no pun intended) when he did. Claire has a different way of thinking of their relationship - she never felt worthy of being loved, and has always assumed it was a fleeting thing that eventually faded. So she isn't expecting much - or should I say, she tries not to expect anything at all. But he convinces her otherwise - in fact he just informs her that they are getting married when they reach a port - it's a done deal with no chance for her to back out. Oh, not that she would - she loved him too.

They make the long voyage around Cape Horn to the South Pacific, come to the island and through lots of twists and turns, locate the treasure as we all knew they would so that they could have their happy ending. There is a villain who intends to keep the treasure for himself; there are the natives, who are protecting the treasure; there is the very real threat just of the danger of sea travel in the 1870s. Lots of plot twists make it a suspense story.

As I already said, I just love Goodman's way with words, so I just sat back and enjoyed the voyage - both to the South Pacific and to their happy ending. But I think I need to read it again just to be sure. Now on the Bria...

5 stars.

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