Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Price of Desire by Jo Goodman *****

I am a fan of Jo Goodman's writing. I think she writes clever, witty, luscious, layered and complex prose with interesting, three-dimensional characters meeting and finding love in less-than-usual circumstances. There. I've said it.

But I don't always love her work. While A Season To Be Sinful once held the #1 spot in my favorite list (now I guess it's #2), and I liked the Compass Club and Hamilton series, I'm having a hard time getting through the McClellans, with Tempting Torment not so tempting in my TBR pile, since the first 2 were so... not great. I did like the Thorne Brothers ok, but not enough to re-read or even to suggest them to others.

I'm rating this new release 5 stars but I don't love it as much as the others in the Grantham series (which starts with A Season To Be Sinful, making this one #4 after One Forbidden Evening and If His Kiss Is Wicked). And can I just ask, who makes up her titles? Is there some kind of weird contest to make the oddest titles for her books or what?

The hero of Price is gaming hell owner Griffin, Viscount Breckenridge, whom we met at least once before in Restell's book (If His Kiss Is Wicked) when his wife went there under the assumed identity of his mistress. Griffin won the business in a wager, and he's been running it profitably as the main source of support for his inherited title - the property and the dowries of his sisters were draining the coffers. He "wins" our heroine, Olivia, when she is given as a marker for the debt of her brother Alistair while he tries to get his father to give him an advance on his allowance to cover his debts.

Olivia is Alistair's older half-sister whose mother died in childbirth. We learn slowly, painfully so, about the reasons for her estrangement from their father in her teens; mostly all we know at first is that she has an incredible knack for card play and that she calmly accepts her station in life as the woman given as payment to men. Alistair is a misguided young man of only 21 who loves gambling and women and liquor - and he makes a few mistakes along the way, which land him in the predicament of having to give over his sister.

Of course it's always interesting to me, on a side note, that heroines can be this young and yet so mature, and heroes need to be at least 29 to be taken seriously... (shaking head - wait, maybe it's true)

There are so many complications in the lives of Griffin and Olivia - for one, Griffin has a wife who fled the continent some years before to avoid Griffin's divorcing her sexually-addicted self. He actually could have divorced her, but there are rumors about that he murdered her so he's reluctant to start divorce proceedings until she's located alive. Olivia's secrets are many, and uncovering only some of them isn't enough for Griffin.

He does consent to let her deal faro at the hell since she manages to bring in a lot of customers and profit, but she does it under an assumed identity to avoid scandal. A wig, some makeup, next thing you know she's Ann Shepard, his mistress. And eventually, she decides she must give in to him sexually - although, mind you, he hasn't so much as hinted that he expects or even desires it. I guess it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop - she decides she must go to him to control the outcome of this meeting. I believe her exact words were "to have done with it".

There are still more complications - one external one involves the gentleman villain, a man who finds his way into Olivia's room, presumably to rape her - but she manages to outwit him and almost strangle him. Then he seems to be gone, but appears from time to time, without warning, and may be stalking her.

Meanwhile, Griffin allows his "marker", Olivia, more and more freedom and responsibility, and they slowly develop a friendship and partnership, business and romantic, while running the gaming hell together.

I was entertained and engaged throughout the book but not moved to much emotion or tears, even at the shocking revelations and continued introduction of more and more complications that seemed to make their lives a living hell (oops pun). Maybe it was all too much, or maybe I just have to be in a certain mood to be touched by the sorrows of others. I never worried that we wouldn't learn what motivated Olivia (indeed, I guessed many of the reasons early on), or that their relationship was in any danger, or anything. Of course, in a romance, there's always a HEA - but I have read books where I did wonder and anguish over how in the world the author would even get them past their obstacles. I did not do that with this story. But still, I felt it was worthy of 5 stars because I liked it much better than other books I've rated 3 or 4.

Now that reading challenges are motivating my reading, I'm trying to figure out how to make it fit any one of the 3 I'm involved in - and it doesn't. Hmmmmm.

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