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REVIEW: In Want of a Wife by Jo Goodman

in-want-of-a-wife

SHE HAS NOWHERE LEFT TO TURN

Jane Middlebourne needs a way out. In 1891, life in New York is unforgiving for a young woman with no prospects, especially when her family wants nothing to do with her. So when Jane discovers an ad for a mail-order bride needed in Bitter Springs, Wyoming, she responds with a hopeful heart.

HE HAS EVERYTHING TO LOSE

Rancher Morgan Longstreet is in want of a wife who will be his partner at Morning Star, someone who will work beside him and stand by him. His first impression of the fair and fragile Jane is that she is not that woman. But when she sets out to prove him wrong, the secrets he cannot share put into jeopardy every happiness they hope to find….

Dear Ms. Goodman,

I know I say this a lot but you’re another author I’ve been meaning to try for quite a while. I’d read Jane’s reviews here and think, “Yep, gotta read a Goodman book one day.” Well, one day finally came when we were offered this book to try. It nicely coincided with my decision to read a Western and voila, a review was born.

Since I was a Goodman virgin, I decided not to go back and (re)read any past reviews either here or at other sites in order to approach the book with no preconceptions. I know it’s usual to start out talking about the hero and heroine but I’m just bursting with love for almost all the secondary characters here, especially the two brothers Finn and Rabbit – and with their given names I’d pick nicknames, too. I generally can take or leave child characters but these two jump off the pages and despite the fact that they’re harder to get rid of than a tick, they’re so much fun to read about that I enjoyed every scene they’re in. The fact that they bedevil the villains of the book is an added plus. Keep in mind that this is an eleven year old being held hostage by men with guns saying this.

Finn set his folded hands on the table with great aplomb and regarded the man who was charged with keeping them in the kitchen. “So,” he said gravely, “what sort of name is Dicks anyway? No villain should have a name that sounds like his man parts.”

Ida Mae Sterling is a treat too with the way she manages everyone and everything that comes within sound of her voice. The four ranch hands Morgan employs as well as the sheriff and his wife – do I correctly sense they had a book? – round out the good guys. Even the villains were cold, calculated menace, well that is when the boys weren’t aggravating them.

Now for the main event. “Wife” is told in what seems like two separate parts. It starts with mail order bride Jane arriving in the small Wyoming town of Bitter Springs to an uncertain welcome. The man waiting for her was expecting a much different woman, one he thought would be physically bigger, stronger and thus more suited to western ranch life. Jane immediately impressed me by taking charge of the situation, setting mutually agreeable terms to resolve the misunderstanding, letting Morgan know that she would be an equal party in the decision and telling him she wasn’t going back no matter if they married or not. She soon proves herself, regardless of the misconceptions she’s gained about the west from pulp fiction novels, and shows Morgan and his ranch hands that she’s the equal of anything that comes her way.

Morgan is the very model of the taciturn, quiet western hero. He says what he means, does what he says he will, takes care of his own and doesn’t allow anyone to mess with him. He has a hinted-at past, which is kept brief thus allowing the initial story to focus on his growing relationship with Jane, but has already spoken with the town sheriff and fears nothing. He is thrown a bit by Jane, though but soon comes to appreciate her practical nature, which is so much like his own. The two settle into a relationship of getting to know the other before the physical side of marriage is entered into. Readers looking for hot and steamy will have to wait a spell but once Morgan and Jane decide to share a bed, they scorch the sheets.

Morgan’s past finally catches up with him in the second half of the book. It’s also here where he and Jane confess to each other the dark secrets they’ve not revealed. Jane’s issue is the result of the ruse she used against a despised relative in order to get the money to go west and wasn’t a big surprise. Morgan’s childhood is heartbreaking. It’s here that I had an issue. What he tells Jane seems as if it would have shocked most 19th century, well brought up women but she immediately swings into an almost counselor mode and accepts it with little pearl clutching. Perhaps because they both grew up in dysfunctional families there’s a bond between them.

The tension in the latter part of the story is slowly heightened, the danger grows, the menace increases and I was on the edge of my seat to see how Jane and Morgan would not only survive but triumph over the villains. Suffice it to say it’s done in fine style and was immensely satisfying – especially what Jane does.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. There’s no melodrama, no histrionics, just two evenly matched main characters who have suffered, weren’t looking for a love match but to their astonishment, found one. Jane and Morgan may keep some secrets but if they’re talking, they’re telling the truth. It’s got an almost – and I hesitate to compare it to another author’s characters – “Conagher” feel to it. Will it be for everyone? Maybe not if they want shoot-em-up action straight from the start but if a reader is willing to sit back and enjoy a slowly building relationship that blossoms into deep love, I think they will be rewarded. B

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

17 Comments

  1. Jenny
    May 05, 2014 @ 09:13:38

    So happy to see you enjoyed your first Jo Goodman, Jayne! I’m a big fan of hers, and if you’d like more of Rabbit and Finn (really, who doesn’t want more Rabbit and Finn?!), then give True to the Law a shot. They both figure quite prominently in that one too. My all-time favorite of her western’s has to be Never Love a Lawman though. She does the taciturn male lead so well, and Wyatt is an absolute gem of a hero.

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  2. Jayne
    May 05, 2014 @ 09:29:51

    @Jenny: I definitely want more Rabbit and Finn! Thanks for the recs. Going back and reading some of Jane’s reviews of this series, it seems like I have a lot of quiet, taciturn heroes in store for me.

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  3. Darlene Marshall
    May 05, 2014 @ 10:01:09

    I don’t read a lot of western romance, but Goodman is an autobuy for me. I love her characters because they seem so real, and they also seem like the kind of people you’d want to know. As you point out, her secondary characters flesh out the story–they’re not just “saloonkeeper” or “barmaid”, they’ve got their own tales to tell.

    Am I the only one wondering about Dr. Wanamaker? There seemed more to him than meets the eye.

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  4. Silver James
    May 05, 2014 @ 14:40:38

    Like you, Jayne, Goodman has been on my radar but I haven’t tipped over into buy mode. Until now. You said the magic word: Conagher. My next to favorite L’Amour right after the majority of Sackett books. :)

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  5. jamie beck
    May 05, 2014 @ 15:08:26

    Really nice review. I’ve never read her books, so maybe I’ll give this one a try. I like to hear about stories that have “normal” people working through issues without a lot of crazy thrown on top. I also like “dark secrets”….

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  6. Jessie
    May 05, 2014 @ 19:52:59

    So glad to see the good review of the newest Jo Goodman.
    She is also on my auto-buy list. I agree with Darlene’s comments that her characters always seem real, whether in the westerns or historicals. she puts her characters through emotional paces that are true to the characters and the story.

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  7. Sandra Owens
    May 05, 2014 @ 22:46:32

    I first discovered Jo Goodman’s Regencies and loved her voice and characters. She’s an auto-buy for me now, no matter what genre she writes.

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  8. Robin/Janet
    May 06, 2014 @ 16:44:44

    Probably my favorite Goodman book is My Reckless Heart, which is the second of the Thorne Brothers trilogy. You don’t have to read the first (it’s not the strongest of the series, either), and one thing that’s unique about the second is that it’s set in Boston and features the Underground Railroad. Heroine is the daughter of a shipping magnate, and the hero is the middle Thorne brother, who has a big chip on his shoulder because he doesn’t feel like he measures up to his older brother. Heroine has her own anger issues, which makes for a pretty dynamic relationship. This series is interesting more generally because the first book is set in England, and the third is set in San Francisco, so it covers a lot of terrain.

    I also have a soft spot for Wild, Sweet Ecstasy, which is the first (I think?) of the Dennehy Sisters series. They are six daughters from an adulterous but loving union (long-term, obviously), and the sisters range from journalist (WSE) to adventurer, to doctor, to nun (another one of my favorites (Only in My Arms).

    And, of course, there are the Compass Club books, all four of which are set simultaneously, each one featuring a hero whose nickname matches a direction of the compass, and all of whom are friends (and spies, of course) whose stories overlap to some degree.

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  9. Robin/Janet
    May 06, 2014 @ 16:48:25

    I forgot to mention that for those of you looking to read an author who is completely sane and will not be bothered by a negative review, Goodman is most definitely on that list. In fact, I still remember her participating with incredible graciousness during an AAR discussion of her Compass Club books, and I suspect she gained a lot of readers from that conversation – it definitely made me a fan.

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  10. Kathleen
    May 06, 2014 @ 19:49:24

    Great review, Jayne, I’m so glad to see Jo Goodman getting some love!

    My favorite writing technique of hers is the pacing of her reveals: rarely does the reader know the “dark secret” before the H/h does. Yet her withholding of information never seems manipulative. Instead, it feels like the reader has to prove herself/himself to the characters to be trusted with the secret. I find it to be an incredible reading experience.

    I’m not sure if this is mentioned in Jane’s earlier reviews so I’ll go ahead with one caveat to glomming Goodman’s backlist: some of her heroines (and maybe heroes, I can’t remember) survive very, very traumatic childhoods. The trauma is usually re-experienced through flashbacks and later processed with the H/h. If that’s not up your alley, she also has plenty of fabulous novels that need no trigger warning.

    Enjoy!

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  11. SonomaLass
    May 06, 2014 @ 23:16:22

    I adore Goodman, in particular her Westerns. Marry Me (ridiculous title) is my favorite, but only by a narrow margin. I sink into a Goodman book with complete trust — I am looking forward to this one!

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  12. Jayne
    May 07, 2014 @ 04:02:41

    @Kathleen: Yes! to the lack of manipulation in the secret. I hates it when authors do thats. Usually I can guess at what it might be but coyness and pretzel twistiness to try and keep it hidden annoy me.

    Hmmm, can you give me examples of books without possible big triggers of abuse?

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  13. Jayne
    May 07, 2014 @ 04:03:28

    @Robin/Janet: A nun? Is the nun a heroine of a book? Am intrigued.

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  14. Robin/Janet
    May 07, 2014 @ 14:43:50

    @Jayne: Yes, she’s a nun, or at least she’s a just decided to abandon her vows. She’s the oldest of the five (I double checked, and it’s just 5 sisters) sisters, all of whom are named Mary, by the way, and her mother wanted one of them, at least, to become a nun to expiate what she feels is HER sin of bearing these children out of wedlock (also, her long-time lover/companion is married). It’s an interesting situation, because the father of the children claims them publicly, and he’s quite wealthy and powerful (this is America, too, not England, so it makes a difference).

    Anyway, Mary Francis is an ex-nun (a recent development) and Ryder is a white man who was raised by the Apache (and I know it sounds like it, given the genre, but this is NOT a white Indian/exotic, erotic other story). It is a captivity narrative, at least in part, but like all of Goodman’s books, it’s subversive rather than affirming of the stereotypes.

    I think you might like the Dennehy books, Jayne, in part because they are all unique heroines (one is even an engineer), they have grown up in a happy, loving, albeit unconventional household, and the books are US-set, which makes them slightly more unusual because they’re NOT all Westerns.

    Also, I don’t think the heroine of My Reckless Heart has any abuse in her past, since you were asking about that, as well.

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  15. Jayne
    May 08, 2014 @ 05:10:40

    Okay I need to check out some of these titles. Time to shuffle my TBR mountains and see if I have any from my early romance glom-’em-all days.

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  16. Jo Goodman
    May 08, 2014 @ 20:19:48

    My editor (and Robin) mentioned the review at Dear Author so I had to give it a look. I had to grin at Jayne’s observation regarding the heroine going into counseling mode when the hero reveals his secret. Can’t help myself sometimes, would be my answer to that. Readers more or less know that I’m counselor and that I work with kids and families. I catch some flack for the trauma I visit upon my characters, but I have been touched so often by the courage of real life survivors that I guess this is a way of working things out and giving back. The thing is, what I write doesn’t begin to touch on the stories I hear. Thank God for HEAs. Some days I need them in the worst way.

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  17. Jayne
    May 09, 2014 @ 07:01:42

    @Jo Goodman: Ah-ha. Well, the traumatic pasts and use of the H/H to help each other through these events makes perfect sense now. Thanks for stopping by.

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