Wednesday, June 4, 2008

More Than You Wished by Jo Goodman *****

I just can't say enough about how much I love Jo Goodman's writing! More Than You Wished by Jo Goodman is another one that just swept me up and away - and yet it's different than her regencies, reflecting a difference in how English was spoken in England in the 1820s and America in the 1870s I guess. Or maybe it's a reflection of her growth as a writer, as reviewers at Dear Author pointed out (the Regencies being later releases). A Season To Be Sinful is one of the Regencies, and it's my #1 favorite romance, hands down.

This is the sequel to More Than You Know, with Rand Hamilton and Claire Bancroft going to the South Pacific to find buried treasure. The heroine is Bria Hamilton, Rand's younger sister who is left managing the family plantation through Reconstruction after the Civil War. The plantation now belongs to her stepfather Orrin Foster whom we met in the first book. He's an alcoholic, abusive Yankee who bought Henley for back taxes after the war and married the plantation owner's widow, Bria's and Rand's mother.

The hero is Lucas Kincaid, another Yankee who appears to be a drifter - he's been all over the country, doing handyman jobs, mostly construction related. He shows up and asks Bria for a job helping out around the plantation, with the intention to make money to afford to go home to New York where his mother and 6 aunts live.

Boy - I missed the whole Seven Sisters reference there until almost the end, too - although it's not really related to the Hamilton Riddle from the first book. Duh.

Luke is quick to recognize his attraction to Bria, but he's perceptive too - comes from being raised by his mother and her sisters, as well as his grandmother, I guess. He doesn't push her; in fact, he somehow lets her believe she is manipulating him, while it's apparent that it's the other way around most of the time. Bria has so much baggage - the deaths of her brothers and father during the Civil War, the abuse both she and her mother suffer at the hands of Orrin, the sinking and reported death, and her rape during the War. She thinks she is beyond feeling anything and just "acts" emotions to keep them suppressed.

Luke has his own agenda for being there, and for his wanderings as well, and while it concerns money, it isn't about his making some but finding the man responsible for the downfall of his mother's friend. It's exposed cleverly in the story, and makes the eventual HEA even sweeter once revealed and resolved.

Bria comes up with a plan when she learns that Luke is an accomplished gambler - it's far-fetched, but she proposes a marriage of convenience, temporary, legal and definitely un-consummated, during which she will pay Luke handsomely to win the plantation for her in a card game. The only reason he goes along with her plan is because of his developing feelings for her. It's hard to deduce if he is feeling confident he can bring her around to loving him or not - maybe on a re-read I can see that. Her mistake is to think he is motivated by money. I wondered more than once how she could believe he would win the plantation and just give it to her and leave, especially if he were motivated by money. But I guess she thought he was such a drifter that he planned to leave no matter what.

On re-reading my post, I decided I didn't really finish. The marriage takes place, and the card game takes place. Of course, being Goodman, there's quite a lot more taking place all along - the growing feelings that Bria has for Luke and how Luke manages to ease her into acting on those feelings. On the one hand, Luke was almost mean about it. He convinces her, rightly, that they have to share a bedroom or no one will believe they are actually married. Then he decides that no matter what, he will be sleeping in the bed - making her have to choose whether to share it or sleep on the floor. When she chooses the floor, he lets her. It's one way of backing her into a corner for coming up with the entire scheme, and it works well to show both how stubborn she was (and wrong-headed about the idea of an unconsummated marriage), and how patient and manipulative he could be to bring her around. And yet, I found his actions credible and, well, right. Not mean.

SPOILER ALERTS wherein I reveal some hints about things you might not want to know before you read the book. If that is the case, stop here. Step away from the computer.

I finally figured out before the Big Reveal the truth about his upbringing, in one "slip" of his tongue (well, in his mind) about his mother's business running a boarding house. Of course that is the point at which the reader is supposed to figure it out, no doubt. And no doubt other readers figured it out even sooner - mother and 6 sisters all living together running a boarding house... With grandmother still alive and not helping... hmmmmmmmm.... could it be?? Yeah, ya gotta hit me over the head with some of these plot devices.

I suspected all along Goodman wouldn't dare kill her previous hero in this book, and the epilogue proved me right and had me smiling.

5 stars - a keeper

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