JOINT REVIEW: A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman
After his train is robbed at gunpoint, Remington Frost awakens from a blow to find the bandits gone…along with the woman he was shadowing for protection. No stranger to risk, Remington will do what it takes to bring Phoebe Apple to safety and her kidnappers to justice. But ransoming Phoebe is just the start of trouble…
Phoebe is shocked to learn that her mysterious rescuer is none other than Remington Frost, the son of her sister’s new husband. Home at Twin Star Ranch, she falls happily into western life—and cautiously in love with Remington. But danger hides close to home, and their romance illuminates a web of secrets and betrayal that may put the rancher and his intended bride past the point of rescue.
Kaetrin: I’ve been having trouble settling to something to read. I had actually started two other books before this one – technically they’re not DNFs; I just haven’t picked them back up again yet. But Jayne asked me if I wanted to review this one with her and I do like a joint review so I thought I’d give it a try. I was happily surprised when A Touch of Frost turned out to be exactly what I wanted to read. I pretty much sank into the book from the first page and I continued to enjoy it right the way through.
Jayne: Is this the first Jo Goodman book you’ve read? And strangely I’d had that exact problem with setting books aside and needing something else to sink into.
Kaetrin: No. I’ve read many Jo Goodman’s. I always enjoy her books but for some reason I haven’t read many lately. I’m feeling bad about that now.
Jayne: And I’m feeling bad that I haven’t got back and read her backlist yet.
Kaetrin:Most of the conflict in the book is external; while I found the romance between Phoebe and Remington entirely delightful there was little keeping them apart and they were clearly very compatible from the first. Phoebe has a wonderfully astringent wit and is not at all shy about putting her point of view.
“You were right about something,” he said instead.
“You’ll have to specific. I’m right about a lot of things.”
The banter between the pair was vastly entertaining.
“Your thoughts do that often? Hop like a frog from lily pad to lily pad?”
“They do. You have to learn to follow because I generally don’t take time to explain. I made an exception.”
It is, for the most part, good-humoured and it was obvious to me that their marriage would be mostly one of equals – where there was a question, it seemed to me that Phoebe was more likely to get her way. This didn’t bother me at all because Phoebe did not misuse her advantage and Remington did not lose out in their bargain.
Jayne: I totally agree on the banter. It’s subtly humorous without turning into comic for comic sake which generally annoys me after a while. The exchange where Remington informs Phoebe of the “local courting customs” is wryly hilarious. And I do see Phoebe as the one in charge. Remington might have an abundance of roguish charm, experience and confidence and it might take Phoebe a while to truly believe in her attractiveness to him – well, she had been in Fiona’s shadow for so long – but he sees more than her physical beauty. He notes and appreciates her cleverness and strength.
Not only does she persevere and learn to ride a horse but she informs Remington that after their marriage, she’s not going to sit at home darning socks or be separated from him. She knows that she might have to sleep on the ground and drink bad coffee but she’ll do it because she’ll be with him and that’s what counts.
Kaetrin: I loved that!
When the story begins, Remington is shadowing Phoebe on a train journey to Frost Falls. His father, Thaddeus had recently married Phoebe’s sister, Fiona. Both Fiona and Phoebe had grown up in the New York theatre crowd. Thaddeus had invited Phoebe to join him and Fiona at his ranch in Colorado, the Twin Star. The train is robbed and Phoebe is abducted. Remington rides to the rescue. I am a fan of a good rescue so this was pretty much catnip for me. There is more to the robbery and the abduction; the how and why of it and the ongoing fallout of it as well as investigating the mystery of it form the backbone of the book.
Jayne: I loved the “in media res” start. It might not be clear where the plot is going but as with the other Goodman books I’ve read, I’m always happy to hang onto the saddle and follow it wherever it leads. You can see from the get-go that Phoebe is no shrinking violet when she first gives an “elegant expression of derision” and then informs one of the robbers that she’s already been through two other robberies after which she shoots him. I never did quite figure out why Thaddeus had Remington tailing Phoebe. I could see if he asked his son to accompany Phoebe but why tail her? There seemed to be a definite shift in the pace of the book going from the robbery/rescue to working out the mystery.
Kaetrin: Yes, that part was a little less than clear. I wondered if Remington suspected Thaddeus of matchmaking and wanted to make his own mind up before approaching her? That’s a bit thin though…
When Phoebe arrives at last at the Twin Star, it is obvious to her that there is trouble in paradise. Fiona is clearly unhappy and Thaddeus is convinced she wants to leave him. He’s not wrong. Remington doesn’t like Fiona at all, although the cause of the difficulty between them is not something either is eager to talk about, albeit for quite different reasons. Ultimately all of it comes together. There were a couple of moments in the book where I was a little confused but those things became clear by the end and why they were hidden earlier made sense.
Jayne: I’m used to Jo Goodman taking her time to slowly reveal how all the disparate plot threads are going to weave together. It might take a while to get the whole picture but she drops hints along the way so it’s not a “where did that come from?” ending.
What did you think of the justice meted out to the perps and organizers of the robbery? Was it enough?
Kaetrin:There was one person in particular whom I felt got off way too easy. And there was one person whose involvement in the whole thing I wasn’t entirely clear on! I know there was some involvement but it seemed to me the extent of it was very minor and if I’m right on that then how it worked out made sense.
Jayne: Yep, I think I’m thinking of exactly the same two people and have the same feelings you do. But one of them will have to live with the unexpected consequences and I think that’s going to be a heavy burden.
Kaetrin: Indeed. A rough kind of justice I suppose.
As Remington and Phoebe get to know one another, he is charmed by her wit and cleverness and bowled over by her beauty. What I liked best about him was that he did not seek to limit her at all. In fact, he was more likely to include her and expand her horizons than any other person and it seemed to me that Remington’s willingness to see Phoebe as a person with agency was even more attractive to Phoebe than his dark good looks.
When he lifted his head, she searched his face, saw the evidence of self-denial in his taut features and in his clear, steady gaze. He did not hide his need from her but neither would he allow it to overcome him, and this was his gift to her, would always be his gift.
Jayne: There’s one lovely part when Phoebe reveals something in her past and she tells Remington how much it means to her that he’s willing to just sit, listen and let her talk.
I usually like books which have a little more internal conflict but A Touch of Frost had enough of conflict that it was just a relief and delight to see that Phoebe and Remington working through those obstacles together. I am always happy when characters don’t let misunderstandings get in the way and I loved the way the couple dealt with each other, the respect and care they showed to on another, as well as the witty banter and affectionate good humour.
Jayne: I found this a very character driven plot. A quieter western, if you will. Yes, there’s the robbery start and some riding and shooting but there’s a lot of conversation and thinking. Phoebe tells Remington that he thinks “louder than any man (she) knows.”
Jo Goodman does great characters; even the secondary or tertiary ones are always well drawn and as memorable as the leads. Here I loved busybody extraordinaire Mrs. Jacob C. Tyler and Handy “I can get you anything” McKenzie. He reminds me a bit of Finn from “In Want of a Wife” and Annalea Pancake from “The Devil You Know.” I’ve never found Goodman’s child characters to be cloying or overly sweet. Nor are they plot moppets.
Kaetrin: I totally agree. Although I haven’t read In Want of a Wife yet. (It’s on the TBR.)
There are some heavier topics covered in the book. (Trigger warning: off page rape). In some ways, these issues seemed matter-of-factly treated – in a “that’s just the lot of a woman” kind of way and I didn’t necessarily see any pushback in the narrative on that idea. Perhaps that’s merely accurate given the setting? And certainly neither Thaddeus or Remington displayed any acceptance of the status quo. Maybe there was some pushback after all. However (and contrarily) I also felt there was a deft touch in evidence. A few simple sentences painted such a powerful picture that no more was needed to tell the story.
Jayne:This aspect of the story did bother me. It is the second book in a row with it (which also helped me figure out a few other plot issues well in advance). Phoebe tells Remington that he’s the first man she’s taken willingly which says a lot. And though in their first sexual encounter she fumbles a bit with the mechanics, it seems to me that her past doesn’t psychologically affect her as much as I might think it would. Yay! that they soon reach a stage of sexual ease and joyfulness but given her history, I was skeptical. Still this scene helped.
Remington used a forefinger to nudge her chin his way. Her eyes shifted from the ceiling to him. “Did I hurt you?”
Shocked that he even thought it might be a possibility, Phoebe found her voice. “No!”
Her vehemence was reassuring, but it did not help him understand the bent of her mind. “I’m not good at this,” he said. “You have to tell me.”
She shook her head but did not dislodge his finger. “I can’t,” she whispered. “I don’t have the words, not the right ones, but what you make me feel about myself, what you make me know, all of that is so much more than fine. You are good, Remington. Very good.” A faint smile lifted the corners of her mouth. “You’re blushing.”
He did not attempt to deny it. There was no point when he could feel the warmth rising under his skin. “Those words you said you didn’t have? They were nice.”
Kaetrin: I’m agreeing with you all over the place Jayne! When Phoebe told him she felt clean after being with him that was pretty special too.
Fiona is what one might call a “difficult woman”. She has far more nuance to her than at first glance however. At the same time, she’s never going to be remotely easygoing and she didn’t have a personality transplant by the end of the book.
…the bedroom door opened in a grand manner that could only mean that Fiona was about to make an entrance. In Fiona’s hands, the door had such a significant supporting role that Phoebe was always tempted to give it credit in the playbill. Such was Fiona’s gift.
Fiona is demanding, jealous, selfish and prone to dramatics. But she is also shown to be vulnerable, caring and fierce. She is flawed but there are enough admirable qualities in her that I could see why Thaddeus loved her and I understood the complicated relationship she and Phoebe shared and why they each valued it.
Jayne:That’s a good point about Fiona’s basic personality staying the same. She might change her attitude but she’ll never be Susie Sunshine. I found the relationship between Fiona and Phoebe to be very layered and complex. Phoebe is remarkably clear sighted about it but at the same time fairly vulnerable. Fiona is definitely not easy to live with though and Remington’s desire for he and Phoebe to have their own house – five miles away – makes perfect sense. I liked to see that by the end of the book, Phoebe seemed to be breaking free from Fiona’s dominating control.
Kaetrin: “Layered and complex” is exactly right.
There was one question tantalisingly left unanswered by the end of the book though. Looking back, it does bother me (just a little) that I don’t know the answer. It’s not essential to the romance but I dislike loose ends.
I loved Phoebe and Remington separately but even more, I loved them together.
“That’s it, Phoebe. You’re going to marry me.”
“It doesn’t sound as if you’re asking.”
“I’m not. There are some words a man can’t risk saying if he has to punctuate them with a question mark.”
Her smile widened. “You make a compelling argument for telling a woman what to do, but you’re still wrong if you think it works on me. I’m going to marry you, Remington Frost, but only because I want to.”
A Touch of Frost was one of those books I didn’t know I needed. Grade: B+
Jayne: LOL, I had written down a note about that same scene and how Remington didn’t use a question mark in his proposal! He also cheerfully informs Phoebe that he’s hoping for – at least four but maybe more – female ruffians in the house he’s going to build her. Plus his wedding gift shows a romantic bent.
This news of ownership was surprising and actually quite pleasing. “Really? You bought it?”
“Wedding gift. Please, Phoebe, the key.”
Grinning, she kept one arm around his neck and stretched the other to find the narrow ledge made by the frame. “This is a little ridiculous, you know. It’s not as if I don’t know where we are or that I haven’t been here before. Oh, wait. I think … yes, got it.” She fisted the skeleton key, but before she gave it to him, she raised her eyelashes just a fraction and regarded him from under their dark fan. “I’m sure there are brides who imagine honeymooning in Europe or New York or San Francisco, but I’m not one of them. This is the most romantic gesture you could have made, and I will always cherish that you did it for me.” She dangled the key in front of him and closed her eyes again.
This one is a B for me but the grade might drift upwards the more I think of it.