REVIEW: If His Kiss Is Wicked by Jo Goodman
Dear Kensington Books,
Dear Author is in the epistolary form of these reviews, I thought it would be okay to address this one to a publisher. Jane’s review of Jo Goodman’s new release If His Kiss Is Wicked did a wonderful job of articulating much of what I loved about the book, and I share Jane’s confusion as to why Goodman isn’t an outright star. After all, her books are rich in historical detail, sophisticated in the witty and intelligent dialogue, supple in their richly drawn protagonists, passionate, and emotionally satisfying. So what is it? What’s up with the completely disconnected cover, for example? Not only does that cover NOT evoke any historicity, but the cover model is the physical opposite of the hero, Restell Gardner, who is most often described as a “Viking” because of his blonde hair, blue eyes, and light complexion. I also wonder about whether Goodman has a reserved lay down date, because I bought If His Kiss Is Wicked at Borders more than a week before its stated release date. All I can think is that more readers simply need to be made aware of the quality of Goodman’s work, and I cannot resist the chance to offer my recommendation of If His Kiss Is Wicked.
Like all Goodman novels, If His Kiss Is Wicked is built around a complex and compelling heroine. We meet Emmalyn Hathaway, a young woman who has lived with her flirtatious cousin and famous artist uncle since the death of her parents, when she seeks out the unusual services of Restell Gardner following a brutal attack she believes was aimed at her look-alike cousin Marisol. Despite his carefully cultivated rakish reputation, Restell is a man of honor and intelligence who uses his social and financial influence to protect and assist any number of desperate individuals in exchange for the mere promise of a future favor. From their first meeting, Restell is intrigued by Emma, as much for what she shows him –" courage and intelligence and wit –" as for what she doesn’t. Their relationship grows along with the mystery surrounding what happened to Emma and Restell’s stubborn insistence on protecting her, even as she insists she is not the one in danger.
By nature a peace-maker –" pacifying her vain cousin and caretaking her increasingly debilitated uncle –" Emma is uncomfortable with the terror she feels following the attack, incapable of believing she was the intended victim and unused to feeling confined by fear — victimized but hardly a victim. Because she cannot remember the details or duration of her abduction and assault, Emma lives on the edge of panic, set off unaccountably by a sound or a quick movement. When she turns up at Restell’s clad in black, he asks Emma if she is in mourning: “Only as it applies to me, . . . I mourn the loss of self, of that part of me that enjoyed freedom of movement and freedom from fear.–Ã‚ Emma doesn’t flaunt her independent mind or spirit; she’s not that feisty Regency miss so prevalent in historical Romance. Rather, she balances society’s rules with the demands of her own dignity, compromising on the surface but fiercely committed to her own self-respect. When Restell calls Emma a bluestocking, for example, she quietly points out, “If I were a man, you would call me a scholar.–Ã‚ While some may mistake her “serious temperament” and lack of personal ostentation for passivity and inanity, Restell recognizes the strength of Emma’s will and is drawn to the contrast she presents of sparking energy contained by almost unflappable composure. That she asks for protection of her cousin reflects both her stubbornness and her strength of character.
That Restell is drawn to Emma is no surprise; after all, he is much the same, even though he has reversed inner and outer appearances. Steadfastly refusing marriage, ensconced in his step-brother’s home and fortune, Restell’s appearance belies the serious-minded and honorable man he is. Like Emma, he is protective of his freedom and independence, tolerating a certain social image for the sake of preserving both. And, like Emma, Restell is a natural caretaker, which accounts both for his unusual vocation and his attraction to Emma. What privately romantic guardian of justice wouldn’t be drawn to a beautiful, intelligent woman who refuses to believe she needs protection and comfort? That she has secrets makes her positively irresistible. And Emma, who has already suffered a significant romantic disappointment in her past, cannot help, despite her best efforts, but be drawn to Restell’s relentless dependability, insight, and refusal to patronize her as a ‘mere’ woman. And the fact that he’s as gorgeous as he is smart doesn’t hurt, either.
What makes the story of Restell and Emma so compelling is not the obvious logic of their mutual attraction; rather, it is the delicious evolution of their romantic attachment. As collaborators in finding Emma’s attackers, Restell and Emma must share a certain intimacy that comes from the very personal nature of the crime against Emma. Emma, however, is not comfortable with feeling dependent or vulnerable:
“You are safe, you know.–Ã‚
“I understand,” she said quietly. “It does not seem to matter that I know it.–Ã‚
“You are very pale. Do you think you might faint?–Ã‚
“It is discouraging that you sound hopeful.–Ã‚
Restell chuckled. “I assure you. I am not. You have yet to look out the window. You have lovely hands, but I wonder that they can be so interesting.–Ã‚
When she raised her eyes, they were not directed toward the window. “Do you mean to nip at my heels for our entire journey?–Ã‚
“It is only one turn in the park. Nipping will not tire me overmuch.–Ã‚
She finds herself more and more afraid that she is going mad, set off, as she is, by particular sounds or movements. Restell finds himself more and more urgently catalyzed to uncover the truth of what happened, and in the process his respect for Emma becomes deep affection, which is communicated primarily through his interactions with her rather than through narrative telling. Likewise, by the time Restell proposes to Emma, we know that she is deeply attached to him, even if she is not ready to acknowledge her deeper feelings, still fearful of her own sanity and vulnerability. Marriage, for this couple, is a path to love, rather than the end of that particular road, as they struggle to accommodate deeper levels of physical and emotional intimacy. That it is Emma who resists the intimacy is yet one more way in which Goodman thwarts traditional Romance expectations, as is the straightforward intelligence each character brings to the relationship:
“Lady Rivendale announced to your mother, your married sisters, and Marisol that I clearly love you. You will not credit it Restell, but I am certain she’s right. . . .
“So you came home and prostrated yourself across the chaise. Yes, I can see how that would be the thing to do. The compress makes me think the feeling has not yet passed.” . . .
“You are amused by my condition.–Ã‚
“On the contrary, I am made hopeful by it. . . Does it make you afraid?–Ã‚
“Then I am not the only one. That is good to know. . . . Do you think I’m never afraid, Emma? I hope I am never so foolish as to be without fear. It humbles me. It makes me cautious, and on occasion it makes me clever. Loving you is like that. From the outset. The fear that you would never know the same for me has made me humble, cautious, and –" ”
Emma removed the compress and placed one finger against his lips. “And very, very clever.–Ã‚
The great satisfaction in Emma and Restell’s relationship comes not solely from love or need, but from the interplay of many different forces and factors. Like growing a second skin, these two become entwined on every level, independent and interdependent, connected but distinct and wholly individual. Their feelings are realistically rendered, their passion obvious, and their ultimate happiness a choice they know is worth making. Goodman’s protagonists are always fully grown men and women, and while they may be in need of healing, Goodman never relies on cheap parlor tricks to achieve that end, relying instead on the strength she builds into her characters and their relationship.
Goodman’s own strength as a writer has historically been in the province of characterization rather than plot, but in this book, the prose and command of the mystery have tightened considerably, with the pacing much more even and the nature of the villainy more subtly rendered. The ending did not feel rushed, and while I guessed early on who was not to be trusted, there were still revelations that I didn’t expect. Even the rhythm of the prose is toothsome, and luxurious, in part, perhaps, because Goodman’s characters are so fleshed out and psychologically authentic.
After twenty-something books, the fact that Goodman’s work continues to strengthen and deepen is rewarding to me as a reader. That I felt a certain level of emotional distance from the protagonists at critical moments was this book’s only substantial flaw for me. But the pleasure of this fictional journey still far exceeded most of my other reading experiences this year, and for that alone, I find myself frustrated and confused as to why Goodman’s books have not earned her star status yet. If His Kiss Is Wicked was nothing less than an A- read for me, and already I am looking forward to her next book.
This book can be purchased at Amazon or at Fictionwise in ebook form.
Heh – the cover is pretty awful, and I haven’t even read the book yet. Still, Goodman has not been lucky in her covers. I didn’t like those floral, glittery covers any more than the more recent super glossy clinches with their anachronistic gowns and oddly hairless and airbrushed heroes.
Goodman is one of my top 3 authors. Been reading her ever since I discovered My Reckless Heart tucked away innocuously in the romance shelf of my local library 7 years ago. That’s still my favourite romance and even though I think Goodman’s become little too rich in her recent outings (her regencies are really not working for me; please go back to America!) she’s still excellent by any objective standard.
In a way I quite like the fact that Goodman is a well kept secret in the genre: it’s my litmus test when I’m reading reviews. If the reviewer is familiar with Goodman, and rates her, I know I’m in good hands.
I’m awaiting IHKIW and look forward to reading it after TWO positive reviews from such stringent reviewers.
I really enjoyed this book and will have to say that this book just made my top 10 reads for 2007.
Yes! Yes! Yes!
I discovered Jo Goodman last year; I’ve only read 6 of her books. I have enjoyed each and every one I’ve read, but this one tops them all. I love how layer after layer is peeled away. For a lengthy historical, it’s amazing how not one word is wasted. Goodman shines with her dialogues.
I finished this yesterday afternoon. It is hard to pick up another book and start in as I’m still thinking about this one. Like Danielle, this book is definitely in my Top 10 for this year. Really, it should be a best seller.
Great read. And you know, until I read the review for it here at DA, I’d never heard of this author, never picked up one of her books. I’ve been missing out.
I am nearly finished with this book, my first by Ms. Goodman, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I bought it based on the review here on DA (although I didn’t read much of it, because I wanted to come to it sort of….virginally).
One of the things I love about it is the strong mystery element that is so integrated into the story, and is not a tack-on.
I’ll definitely be reading more of her books if they’re all as literate, witty, and compelling.
I commented on how much I adore her books when the first review was done but I didn’t think I’d read If His Kiss is Wicked at the time. Since then I read and was once again blown away but what a truly wonderful writer she is. This is also one of my very top books of the year.
I agree with Phyl – it is the way she layers her characters and makes every word work that makes her so good. And to Colleen, yes indeed all her books are like this. It’s so good to see other readers finding this gifted writer.
I don’t mind the cover since I find the model attractive, but he definitely belongs on a different book since Viking is not a word I’d use to describe him. As for what’s inside, I heartily second the review. Goodman doesn’t rush her characters, you see the growth of their interior lives as well as of the relationship in ways that feel quite natural to me. These are definitely grown-ups, and you see Restell fall in love with Emma (and vice versa), not generic Jaded Rake fall for generic Innocence Personified. Consequently I believe in their HEA, whereas in all too many romances I wonder what will happen in five years when she’s not so innocent and he’s grown bored because there’s nothing to the relationship beyond that. One of the reasons I like Goodman so much is that you are never left wondering “what did s/he see in him/her?”
I’m with Charli on this. Without you guys pointing to this book, it never would have gotten on my radar screen. I had never head of Goodman before. Have now. Thanks!
Argh….quit tempting me with this book! :) The reviews are so good, I decided to go get it. Then, because I’m in the middle of this whole “get out of debt” thing, I decided a good incentive for paying off the balance of a credit card this month would be…..no new books until it’s paid off. Which should have been the end of this month, but due to a family situation, might be next month. But I can probably still swing it this month…..
Anyways, this book is tempting me to ignore or rationalize away my incentive, and this doesn’t help! Arghhh! :)
Anna, there’s always the library, and if your local one doesn’t have it, interlibrary loan.
I can’t wait to read this. Based on all the stellar reviews I’ve seen for this book, I installed Mobipocket reader on my PDA, and have now bought and dl’d If His Kiss is Wicked. Yay!
Janine – I just checked. The local library doesn’t have it. But, I’m better now. For a little bit. :)
I LOVE My Reckless Heart; it’s probably my favorite Goodman in terms of the characters, the setting, the historical events in the novel’s background, and the economy of prose. That both Decker and Jonna were proud and defensive and independent made the trajectory of their relationship so delicious, IMO. My first Goodman was Wild, Sweet Ecstasy, and that book is probably my sentimental favorite of Goodman’s books. But I also adored the Compass Club books, and think that Goodman’s genius of setting four books *simultaneously* has really been under-recognized by the Romance reading community.
Danielle: Me, too.
Have you read any of her older ones, Phyl, or just the newer ones? Although I think Goodman keeps getting stronger as a writer, I find her older books delicious, as well, in part because she set a number of them in America, including her Dennehy sisters series, her Hamilton brother books, and two of her “Heart” series books. Plus, I love the way she portrays male friendships.
I’m so glad that Jane created another convert; Goodman has an enormous — and worthy — backlist. If you haven’t read the Compass Club series, I highly recommend that, as well as her recent release A Season To Be Sinful. There are really very few Goodman books I wouldn’t recommend, actually. I mean, how many authors can make an ex-nun’s story sexy and romantically convincing?
I think this is one of Goodman’s most suspenseful and best paced books in terms of the mystery plot, but because Goodman is always so interested in the psychological dynamics of her characters, her pacing issues never eclipse the powerful strengths in her writing.
Kristie: aren’t you already looking forward to next summer? If we could only get her to write more books a year!
So true! Goodman’s books remind me that it’s not the “types” that are tired; it’s the way they’re served in different books. Goodman always breathes life into her characters so that they move quickly beyond their surface type and become real people with real issues. So their love always feels real to me.
HelenKay: I hope you enjoy her books!
Anna: I second Janine’s recommendation for interlibrary loan. Or maybe even Paperback Swap.
I really hope you enjoy it, Ann.
Janet: I am looking forward to her next book. But unlike many authors, I’m content with only one a year *g* because her writing is so rich and deep and layered, I’d hate to see her rush. It’s as if each and every word she writes is thought out and carefully put together.
And I also strongly recommend her Compass Club series. I thought they were brilliant!!
No, just the newest ones, starting with the Compass Club. I found More than You Know and More than You Wished on Fictionwise just now and I’ll buy those. I’ll have to see what I can find at the library from her backlist. It’s good to know her older stuff is worth seeking out.
This is why I started reading book blogs. I was running out of good authors and tired of wasting money on impulse buys that turned out really, really bad. I don’t trust Amazon reviews either. Too many people think crap books about rape and wife beaters are the ultimate romance. I had never heard of Jo Goodman before this. Because of your review I went out and bought it. I loved it! Thanks so much for turning me on to it.
Catherine, and anyone else looking for more Goodman novels, check out Jane’s review of One Forbidden Evening. The book before that, A Season To Be Sinful is related, and it’s probably my favorite of her most recent books, all three of which are loosely related. Goodman has a website, too, on which she provides the chronology of and relationship among her books.
Janet, how is the economy of prose in If His Kiss is Wicked? The main thing that is keeping me from trying Goodman again (after trying five of her books) is that I feel that her writing isn’t economical enough for me.
This is the biggest-minor complaint I have about Goodman. I think the only books that I didn’t feel that emotional distance was in Only in My Arms and Season to be Sinful.
The closest I come to pinning down the reason for the distance is the lack of mental lusting/loving in Goodman’s stories. She’s a show/don’t tell type writer, which means much less time is spent on characters mentally undressing each other, worrying over their changing feelings for each other. It’s shown instead through h/h interactions, conversations, how an H feels the gaze of the other H on them, for example.
Compare this to say Nalini Singh’s Visions of Heat, where the physical and mental lust was the primary characterization of the hero. But I felt like I knew who he was inside and out. I don’t think I would have if I didn’t “hear” from him so much, about how much he wanted the heroine.
It may be an unfair comparison–Singh is obviously doing something totally different from Goodman–but it’s illustrative of how varied approaches to characterization change the way readers relate to the h/h.
Goodman most reminds me of Jayne Ann Krentz, storytelling wise. JAK was always about two independent people coming together. While h/h clearly love and lust for each other, she never did the mental lusting that other authors did. And as much as I adore many of her books, I felt a certain distance from the h/h because I became so used to the other.
Janine: IHKIW is a much tighter book, IMO, than some of Goodman’s previous novels, but I can’t really predict how you will like it, since it still feels very much like a Goodman book. I would recommend some of her earlier books, especially the Thorne brothers books, beginning with My Steadfast Heart, then on to My Reckless Heart, and With All My Heart. The first is set in England, the second in Boston, and the third in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. Also, the Hamilton brothers books are good, too, and they are set in the Reconstruction South. And I love the first and last of the Dennehy sisters books, Wild, Sweet Ecstasy Only In My Arms. The first one is about a female reporter in New York, and the last one is about a nun and her Apache raised hero. I think Goodman’s style did change some when she went to Regency England as her primary locale, with a more stylized voice than in a lot of her earlier books. So if you want to try her again, I would suggest starting with her back-back list.
I definitely felt that ASTBS is one of Goodman’s most passionate books. But this is really the first where I felt the distance you’re talking about, anu. I think it’s interesting, though, that you locate it in the show, not tell aspect of Goodman’s style. I hadn’t thought about it like that, but I agree that Goodman is somewhat unique in that way, and that us readers are very used to being told how into each other the protagonists are. Maybe for me it comes down to whether Goodman uses that showing to express the passion she wants to. And now that I think about it, the books of hers I love the most — ASTBS, Wild, Sweet Ecstasy, My Reckless Heart, Only in My Arms — are also the most passionate. Very interesting point.
But what about the Marshall Brothers? If I had to rank Goodman’s considerable output Passion’s Sweet Revenge would be a top 5. What a title! Almost as memorable as Wild Sweet Ecstasy. (Can you say it with a straight face?)
My favorite Dennehy sister was Mary Magaret – Forever in my Heart. But then, as a middle sister myself perhaps I was predisposed to the middle Dennehy. I thought this book was emotionally intense. I loved it.
In terms of passion, I thought the first compass club book – Let Me Be The One(?) was very hot. It was also one of the few Goodman regencies I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Her prose has become more ‘stylized’ in recent years and I tend to agree with Janine on this: I would prefer tighter writing. (Which is why I second the Thorne Bothers and the Dennhey Sisters recommendation!)
Heh. Haven’t read any of the Dennehy series except for Mary and Ryder’s story, but My Reckless Heart is not one of my favorites. Mainly because I don’t like the plot–seems everybody in Romance pre-1865 is against slavery–and, more important, because I had the opposite reaction of you.
I just didn’t find it especially passionate among Goodman’s backlist. Primarily I think because I didn’t get much of Decker’s perspective. We got very few glimpses into his thoughts, altho as I said before, Goodman does an excellent job of showing where he is mentally and emotionally through his actions, facial expressions and voice intonations. Still, the story is almost exclusively Jonna’s–whom I love–but I couldn’t really get into the romance because I did not feel connected to Decker.
Thanks for trying to steer me toward good books. Unfortunately, I tried the first Thorne brothers book (Was it My Steadfast Heart?) and couldn’t finish it. In fact I would say that of the five Goodman books I’ve tried, this was my least favorite. I don’t really want to try it again.
I read Only In My Arms and am happy to say that it’s my favorite of the five Goodman books I’ve tried. I got it out of the library so I don’t have it to reread, but if I did, I would probably consider it worth rereading. I do agree with you and anu that there is some distance to her writing sometimes, but I didn’t feel it in this book.
Hmm. It’s actually in part her new style that makes me more interested in her new books. Yes, the two more recent books I’ve tried, ASTBS and the second Compass Club book, both had problems and somewhat more emotional distance than the two Dennehy books I’ve read, and I didn’t finish ASTBS, but at the same time, I love that witty British-sounding dialogue and I don’t remember anything like that in the Dennehy books or even in the first Throne brothers book.
So I don’t really want a recommendation for her earlier books (though I have been trying to track down a copy of Wild Sweet Ecstasy for a while now; it’s not easy to find). What I’m hoping for is a recommendation for a new, European-set Goodman book that is more spare but just as elegant, more emotionally engaging but no less witty.
It’s tough for me to comment on her books because the things she does well, she does so spectacularly well that I want to love her books, and yet, I have very mixed feelings when I hear you and Jane say that she should be a big star by now. It’s difficult for me to imagine an author whose books I often struggle to finish as a big star. Yes, some things about her writing are truly exceptional, but…
Janine: I would really be interested in your reaction to her two most recent books, One Forbidden Evening and IHKIW. Although One Forbidden Evening didn’t get a lot of discussion when it came out, I was really, really intrigued by it, because Cybelline, the heroine (ASTBS Sherry’s sister) is experiencing a very, very complicated reaction to her husband’s suicide. I find angry heroines so interesting, and Cybelline was no exception. One of the dominant motifs in the novel was a Chinese puzzle box, and it was really appropriate. Plus the hero is a scientist and an inventor. If I could recommend anything to you, it would be that book.
Well, I am not sold on every star in the genre, so I guess me feeling is that I don’t find Goodman any less deserving as those authors who currently enjoy much more play. After all Brenda Joyce’s Dark Rival, to which I gave a D grade, has been on the bestseller list since its release. I don’t even think Goodman made the list.
I see what you are saying. Yes, not everyone on the bestseller list is a great writer. There are a lot of different aspects to writing but pacing is one that many readers really look for, I think, and that’s where (based on my reading of Goodman’s earlier books) I think Goodman could improve. I will try another of Goodman’s more recent books sometime and see what I think.
If His Kiss Is Wicked was the first Jo Goodman book I’ve read. I bought it strictly for the cover. I fell in love at first glance with the cover model. I’ve been reading romances for a long time and I’ve never paid a lot of attention to the cover models before, but now I’ve started a collection of Nathan Kamp covers – don’t care who the author is. I already have about 8 of them in my book collection anyhow, but none as wll liked as the Goodman cover.
I read a lot of comments by people who don’t like taking books in public with some of the covers used on romance novels. I don’t find them offensive at all. Many of them are photo art as far as I’m concerned. I did like the Goodman book and will read more of her in the near future. I’ve decided that a couple people on my Christmas list will like IHKIW. so part of my gift selection is already settled. For myself, working backwards into her other series should be interesting. I’ve already gone over her listing in Fantastic Fiction.
Coming in here very late, and quoting a sentence that has already been quoted:
While I definitely enjoyed If His Kiss is Wicked, I found I wasn’t nearly as emotionally involved as when I read ASTBS and OFE. I wasn’t sure if it was just my reading mood, or the book.
However, the plot itself was excellent and I kept reading to find out what exactly happened to Emma. Whereas in the other two books I kept reading because of the heroine and hero.
It did throw me out of the story somewhat when Restell takes Emma to the gaming hell. I just flat-out didn’t believe it would have happened and found myself wishing she hadn’t made that story choice.
Still, I’m a Goodman fan and can’t wait till Goodman’s next book is released!