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REVIEW: If His Kiss Is Wicked by Jo Goodman

Dear Ms. Goodman:

0821777777.01.LZZZZZZZI’m never sure a) why I started reading you so late (only two years ago) and b) why not everyone has caught onto your genius by now. If His Kiss Is Wicked is another solid entry into your catalog of published books.

I don’t want to give any of the plot away because what happens is quite a surprise and I wouldn’t want to ruin that for the readers. My summary, thus, is a bit vague. Emma Hathaway is a gentleman’s daughter who went to live with her uncle and her cousin, the beautiful Marisol, a few years ago upon the sudden and accidental deaths of her parents. Her cousin is flighty and tends to engage in flirts with men not her fiance. Emma agrees to pretend to be Marisol and put an end to the most recent flirtation. What happens at the meeting pushes Emma to seek out Restell, a man who solves problems.

Restell Gardner is known to be a bit poor, a bit disreputable, and a bit of a rake and over the course of the story, the reader finds out what is truth and what is fiction. He does, however, help Emma and does because he cannot help but admire her strength. Over the course of his “helping” Emma, he finds in her a woman who is not only admirable but desirable and falls in love with her. What is so interesting about this book, though, is that the happy ever after doesn’t begin at the point of falling in love or at the point of marriage or at the point of consummation. The HEA is an achievement that both Restell and Emma work hard at securing for themselves, both individually and together.

The one major complaint I had was that there were a number of individuals from previous books who had small screen time and I had a difficult time keeping track of people. I almost would have liked a “cast of characters” introduction. Many of the characters were interrelated which was probably a very accurate snapshot of the ton back in that period, but because I only visit with these characters for a few hours every 6 months or so, it’s hard for me to remember everyone’s name and place in relation to the main characters. The other complaint is that one of the villians seemed so obvious from the start and it was a bit jarring because everyone else was so nuanced.

What I appreciated was the subtle shadings of character, the dialogue, and the pictures that you painted with your words. I.e., I never once had to be told that someone was clever or witty or funny. I could discern that myself from their own actions. Many of the conversations, particularly the exchanges between Restell and Emma, were terribly amusing.

“Do you sulk?”
“I brood. It is the masculine form of the expression.”
“I did not realize.” She speared a small stack of carrots. “What of fussing? Do men fuss?”
“They stew.”
“Yes, I can see how they might. It sounds even masculine. Very meaty.”
Restell was having difficulty maintaining a tone as dry as hers. “Men are not harried either. We are plagued.”
“I see. It must be a great trial to you, being a man. I am sure I would not have the stamina for it.”

I’ve often thought that the endings of your books have been the weakest part but not in this one. The story had wonderful movement, much more so than a traditional romance. There were more ups and downs and it all built toward this climactic ending. Jayne mentioned yesterday that she was so engaged in Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade that she “cursed when it was the last second [she] could leave for work and not be late.” Me? I took the book to work with me and read it during breaks that I manufactured and finally finished it over a long lunch. I hope that in six months you ruin another work day for me. A-.

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased at Amazon or at Fictionwise in ebook form.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

22 Comments

  1. Ann Aguirre
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 15:47:44

    Ok, I’m sold. I’m adding this to my Amazon shopping cart. That dialog is pure genius. Oh, how I love banter! When I reach 100 bucks, I’ll finish the order and have it shipped.

    Mmm, books. Thanks for the review!

  2. Meriam
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 17:02:03

    I used to love Jo Goodman – My Reckless Heart is probably my all time favourite romance, I’ve read it more times than I could tell you. With one or two exceptions, I’ve read everything she’s written. I love her heroes – almost unique in Romance land for being strong without overpowering the heroines. As for the heroines – almost unique in Romance land for being equally strong without becoming Mary-Sues or otherwise obnoxious. She’s great. BUT, her most recent works (the regencies) have left me a little cold.

    She’s become more verbose than ever and I feel like her characters get lost in all the angst. I think it’s also a bit of the Nora Roberts syndrome; after a while, despite the author’s best efforts, everything just starts feeling the same.

    The other thing is, I feel like she was more interesting writing in other time periods. I really dislike the rigid confines of the regency period and I don’t think it suits the type of heroines Goodman does best – capable, successful, ballsy rebels. (I loved Jonna from My Reckless Heart; Mary Margaret – the doctor – from Forever in My Heart; Katy Dakota the actress from Passion’s Sweet Revenge – ahem). Interestingly, all Americans. I’m English, so this isn’t rabid nationalism raising its ugly head.

    She’s still among my top 5 authors and maybe my dissatisfaction is unjust. I’d be curious to know what other long-time Goodman fans think of her recent work. In any case, I’m glad Goodman is getting the recognition she deserves.

  3. sula
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 17:06:55

    I also came late to the Jo Goodman party and have been slowly making my way through some of her backlist. I loved the Compass Club books, but the more recent outtings have been hit and miss. While I’ve always liked her writing style, her heroines tend to annoy me. That said, she really hit it out of the park with this one (for me at least). Just as Jane said, she SHOWS you and doesn’t just tell you that the characters are witty and intelligent. The dialogue quoted was a perfect example. And there were loads of great dialogue exchanges. The HEA was not a tacked on ending…it develops slowly over the course of the entire novel. While previous Goodman heroines have had me pulling my hair out with their constant martyrdom and deep secrets, I felt that Emma had the right balance of vulnerability and strength. Restell was also a perfect match for her; he doesn’t bully or coerce her but he’s also intelligent enough to read between the lines and see beneath the surface of what she tries to project. Not sure if I’m making any sense, lol. That said, it was a really meaty book and felt like a substantive meal and not a light snack. At 400+ pages it took me all of two days to devour. :)

  4. Kristie(J)
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 19:34:15

    *buffing my nails, looking at them and whistling most annoyingly *
    I’ve been reading Jo Goodman for quite some time now. I find her books very rich and creamy with every book a different vibrant tongue tingling taste. They are so layered that the hero or heroine you think you know at the beginning of the book, has grown by such dimensions by the end.
    While I really enjoy her English set historicals, like Meriam, I wish she would move around a bit more again in location like she used to. Having said that though, her Compass Club series is my favourite of all her books. I haven’t read her earliest books and I haven’t read all the Mary books. But starting after those, I’ve read everything she’s written – and she is a wonderful story teller.

  5. sybil
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 19:36:43

    Love this novel! I didn’t have a hard time at all with the characters and really thought you could read it without having read A Season to Be Sinful or One Forbidden Evening. Of course I have read AStBS about four times (once right after finishing this just cuz :) ) and OFE at least 3 times – so you might be a better judge about that.

    I admit to gasping in shock (leave me alone I am a Jo Goodman Fangrrl) when I saw the 3 star rating at RT. And expected different complaints from the reviewer. It is easy for me to see how some could find her too wordy (when I sigh and find far, far too much to be amused). But the thing I thought odd was the reviewer said the ended was too open.

    I felt it was completely wrapped up. Did you have any issues with it?

  6. Charlene Teglia
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 20:14:22

    Why have I never read this author? I love the dialog. I see more book shopping in my future.

  7. anu439
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 21:07:06

    Hello, longtime lurker, first-time poster. I’m really excited to see IHKiW get a good review! Goodman is one of my favorite authors.

    Question though: How does IHKiW compare to One Forbidden Evening? I thought OFE was fairly lackluster (tho it had its moments), especially after the phenomenal StbS. I’m hoping that IHKiW signals an upswing.

  8. sula
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 21:47:12

    Hi anu439. I’m also a long-time lurker and recent poster, but I think I can answer your question. Or at least answer as to my impression. I agree with you that OFE was pretty lackluster and I know that StbS was one that I quite enjoyed. IHKiW was better (to me) than both of them. Certainly better than OFE. I found myself giggling in delight at the rich dialogue and interplay between the h/h and really enjoying the feeling of watching a relationship being built. Also, even though there was much in the storyline that was dark, it wasn’t oppressive. And as I mentioned earlier, Emma was a better heroine (stronger in many ways and less…how to put it…tortured?) imho than many of the previous Goodman heroines I’ve read. To me it represents a positive direction in her writing and I’m eager to see what comes next (although I guess I’ll be waiting for a long while now. lol)

    Sybil, regarding the ending…do you think that the reviewer in question was referring to the matter between Sir Arthur and Marisol? Restell thinks about it but tells himself that he may never know the answer; seemed to me that it was hinted at but never really elucidated. (trying to avoid giving spoilers here) As for the identity of the villain and the climax, I thought it was pretty clear cut so no complaints from me. Overall, a satisfying read and I may never look at my hairbrush in quite the same way again. ;)

  9. Jane
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 21:49:13

    I am probably not a good person to answer the question because I did like One Forbidden Evening. I thought the ending was poor but I think I ranked OFE a B+.

  10. sybil
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 22:11:51

    You should read it :). But I would give OFE a B grade too and Season an A.

    Sula I think it goes back to what Jane said the showing vs telling. Jo Goodman has a gift for treating her readers like we have a brain. I think the end was very clear. Loud and Clear – through the actions of the characters.

    Which of course doesn’t make the RT review wrong but I wondered if I missed something.

    The only goodman I can think of I disliked is one of those Thorne bro’s books. I am thinking My Steadfast Heart. But I could be wrong, might be reckless. And I was meh about one of the Mary’s. LOVED the nun’s book though… And the Compass Club. Happy sigh

  11. Ann Bruce
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 22:22:02

    I’m a Jo Goodman virgin, but after trying Loretta Chase because of the recommendations from DA and loving her (thanks, BTW!), I might have to place an order with my local bookstore for this one.

    And I’d just put a sizeable dent in my TBR pile, too.

  12. Janine
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 22:45:26

    So glad the Loretta Chase recommendations have worked out for you, Ann!

  13. Janine
    Aug 28, 2007 @ 22:47:31

    Oh, and I also want to welcome anu439, sula and any other lurkers! :)

  14. Heather (errantdreams)
    Aug 29, 2007 @ 12:28:20

    Well, that bit of dialogue alone convinced me to put this on my wishlist. *sighs at the size of that wishlist*

  15. vanessa jaye
    Aug 29, 2007 @ 14:07:29

    I just bought the Goodman book based on this review. I particularly like the excerpt which ‘shows’ just the type of banter/exchange between h/H that I enjoy. Thanks, guys!

  16. anu439
    Aug 29, 2007 @ 19:50:45

    Sula, thanks for the insightful comments. I agree with you about Goodman’s heroines. They do tend to be full of martyrish angst. I can easily forgive that, however, when they are so well realized overall. To me, Goodman is one of the few authors that writes a heroine as well the hero. Also, you’ve raised my expectations for IHKiW when you say that it’s even better than StbS, which I really think is one of Goodman’s best.

    Jane, the problem that I had with OFE is that it showed the weaknesses in Goodman’s leisurely writing style. In general, I love that her h/h take their time getting to the HEA. That they are normal adults falling in love and struggling with it. OFE, however, felt drawn out, not measured; the h/h were so prosaic about their relationship, I wasn’t even sure how much they were interested in their romance. I enjoyed them, I thought Cybelline especially was very realistic. But their story overall lacked spark. Having said that, I agree with sybil’s B grade. I’ve read it twice, and I’m sure I’ll read it again. Goodman’s stories are lovely comfort reads.

    sybil, there is no question I’ll read IHKiW. Just wanted to be prepared, tho.:) Re: Goodman’s worst. I loathed the last in the Thorne brothers trilogy, With All My Heart. H/H didn’t make sense, story was irritating, and the reunion b/w the brothers was not as good as it should’ve been. But I also LOVE Only in My Heart, Mary the nun’s story. One of my favorites.

    Janine, thank you! This is a great site. You all do a wonderful job.

  17. Janine
    Aug 30, 2007 @ 00:03:58

    You’re welcome, anu439. I think the title of that book is Only in My Arms, by the way. It’s my favorite Goodman of the five I’ve tried. I’m afraid I didn’t finish two of them, and one of those was A Season to be Sinful.

    I do so hate to say that, because there’s so much I like and admire about Goodman’s writing, including the intelligent, subtly shaded characters, the warm frienships and sibling relationships, and the witty, sublime dialogue.

    I can’t help but feel, though, that her descriptions need pruning, and I am a reader who generally likes descriptions. I often end up feeling, when I read Goodman, that there’s a beautiful book in there somewhere, buried like a crystal inside a larger rock, and that it needs to be brought out to the sunlight where it can sparkle.

    She has all the potential in the world to be one of the greats of the romance genre, but for me, she’s just not there yet and she won’t be until she tightens up her writing. I would so love to see some bright editor turn her into a writer of lean, streamlined, bowl-me-over-with-its-elegance prose. She has it in her, I know she does.

    But. So far (with the books I’ve tried) it hasn’t happened, and instead of getting an Arabian of a book, I sometimes get a horse that stops to eat every flower in the field.

    Maybe I’m just an impatient reader. I didn’t used to think so. I can point to several slow-paced books that I’ve loved, so I don’t think it’s solely a pacing issue, although it is partly that. But it is also an issue of Michaelangelo not chiseling the figure completely out of the stone. She needs to chisel more. That’s the best way I can articulate it.

    Sorry to ramble for so long…

  18. Anadaslu
    Aug 30, 2007 @ 14:57:08

    I cannot say how much I love her dialogue. But she’s a verrrrrrry slow read for me, so I tend to read only one book of hers every few months. In result, I have only read 3. I have to say my 1st book of hers is A Season to be Sinful and, although it was so slow I can’t really remember what it’s all about anymore, Pinch, Dash and Midge won me into buying another book. Are we getting books with those 3? Please tell me we do.

  19. readerdiane
    Sep 03, 2007 @ 21:03:02

    Ok, I am late to this party. I did buy this book based on the review and I loved it. I really liked the banter back & forth. After seeing some of the recs here I will try the other ones also.

  20. Jane
    Sep 03, 2007 @ 21:26:12

    Yeah, readerdiane, I am thrilled to hear that. I think Goodman is an under appreciated author. I enjoyed the compass club as well as many of the other readers. You might try those interconnected books.

  21. Trisha
    Nov 05, 2007 @ 06:39:32

    The one major complaint I had was that there were a number of individuals from previous books who had small screen time and I had a difficult time keeping track of people.

    This was my first Jo Goodman book, and when all of Restell’s siblings were introduced, I just knew that they’d already had their own books. I kind of wanted asterisks or footnotes after each name with the titles of those books just to confirm my suspicion.

    I’m with Meriam and Janine about Goodman’s writing, at least in this book. It was long, and all those paragraphs of dialogue started getting on my nerves. All the talking just decreased the intensity of the suspense for me. I’ve never considered myself a plot person (in the sense of being someone who reads mainly for plot development instead of another attribute, although considering my reaction to this and The Luxe, maybe I am), but the book just felt too long for the plot. I kept waiting for more. As for the characters, Emma and Restell were admirable, but too—I don’t know, self-possessed, maybe? They may have made for a compelling character study individually, but the shared focus—both in terms of the book being about the two of them and the suspense subplot—ultimately made both less interesting to me, particularly with the amount of action that goes on (or not) in this story.

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