Elmore Leonard said: I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ''full of rape and adverbs.''

Saturday, 9 February 2008



Dear Jo Goodman,

Please stop writing regencies.

Let me be clear. I love your work. In the last eight years I’ve read all but three of your books and I wouldn’t rate any of them below a B. In a genre brimming with stock characters and recurring plots, you have consistently created characters and stories that shine with originality, plotting that shows careful thought and intricate implementation. You have mysteries that genuinely mystify, twists I don’t see coming and characters I can’t easily decipher.

I’m a fan. My Reckless Heart (which I must blog about) is one of my top 3 romances of all time.

In the twenty plus years you’ve been writing romances, your heroines have ranged from reporters, engineers, actresses, photographers, doctors and artists. There was even a nun thrown in, for variety. You’ve set your stories in Colorado, New York, Australia, San Francisco during the Gold Rush, the South during Reconstruction, the revolutionary period - and that’s just off the top of my head. More recently, your last seven novels have been set in Regency England. I believe your next novel is also a regency. Sadly, the hackneyed plot description does nothing to ease my mind.



If His Kiss is Wicked is the story of Emmalyn Hathaway and Restell Gardner (first seen in One Forbidden Evening) and it begins with a familiar Goodman premise: Emma is a woman mired in mystery, her life is quite possibly in danger and her closest family and acquaintances cannot wholly be trusted. She goes to Restell - the younger son of an aristocratic family - because she has heard he solves problems. And Emma has plenty of problems. You don’t really want to be Emma, even though she has blue-green eyes and a perfectly pared nose (all Goodman heroines do). I don’t want to spoil anything by being too specific for those of you who haven’t yet read it, because Goodman is the master of unexpected twists and there’s a pretty good one right at the beginning.

So, Emma hires Restell to protect her. Of course, Restell is fascinated by Emma. And credit to Goodman, all her heroines are more than worthy of their heroes, and vice versa. Forgetting their beauty for a moment (honestly, I don’t think Goodman needs to have beautiful heroines; they don’t need to be), a Goodman heroine is always

• Incredibly smart
• Gifted
• Selfless to the point of martyrdom
• Emotionally closed up (she always has the power in the relationship because the hero is constantly unsure of her whilst being utterly besotted himself)
• Carrying enough baggage to sink a barge
• Her family is almost always evil and consequently, she needs to hero even if she won't accept it at first (glaring exception: the Dennheys).

So, of course, this combination is fatal and heroes are snared all too easily. Restell is no exception. And, truly, you’d be into Emma too. By the time her really annoying traits are revealed, it’s far too late in the book for Restell to turn back: he’s well and truly hooked.

Restell is also a typical Goodman hero in that he is:
• A thoroughly good guy
• Not macho, but his masculinity is never compromised
• Smart enough to keep up with Emma
• Respects and admires her from the start
• Has a decidedly sane and healthy background which allows him to provide an emotional sanctuary for Emma.

Emma lives with her Uncle - a famed artist - and her cousin Marisol, who is everything that Emma is not: outgoing, vivacious, utterly self-absorbed and consequently a bit of a selfish monster, but charming enough to get away with it. Someone’s life is in danger but, because Marisol and Emma are very similar in appearance, it is up to Restell to discover whose.

Emma’s worst trait is her willingness to think the best of everyone, in spite of glaring evidence to the contrary, and a lack of care for her own well-being.

A deviation: I’ve been catching up on my shameful reading past, that is to say, I’ve discovered a wonderfully snarky blog about the Wakefield Twins and because the two things happened at the same time, I can’t help but compare Jessica and Elizabeth to Marisol and Emma. Because... they look alike and have blue-green eyes. Below, I've listed some further characteristics to illustrate these similarities.

Casey (over at the Diari Burger) diagnoses Jessica with a Histrionic Personality Disorder, which, hilariously, fits Marisol rather aptly - here’s a checklist
• Constant seeking of reassurance or approval.
• Excessive dramatics with exaggerated displays of emotions.
• Excessive sensitivity to criticism or disapproval.
• Inappropriately seductive appearance or behavior.
• Excessive concern with physical appearance.
• A need to be the center of attention (self-centeredness).
• Low tolerance for frustration or delayed gratification.
• Rapidly shifting emotional states that may appear shallow to others.
• Opinions are easily influenced by other people, but difficult to back up with details.
• Tendency to believe that relationships are more intimate than they actually are.
• Make rash decisions
• Threaten or attempt suicide to get attention

But I digress. My point is that Emma takes a little too much of Marisol’s crap and suffers for it by looking like a bit of a idiotic do-gooder/ enabler. In fact, like Liz, you could say that Emma is a typical co-dependent.

Criticisms aside, there are many reasons you should pick up a Goodman if you haven’t already. For one thing, she writes very well, and evocatively. Here’s a scene from the story:
Oak leaves turned their silver-green undersides upward as a rush of wind swept through the park. Slim birches shivered. Two young women walking side by side had to make an instant decision whether to save their bonnets or their collective modesty. They simultaneously put both their hands on their heads and let their skirts snap and flutter so that silken ankles , calves and even knees were revealed. Giggling, they spun about. ...

Can’t you just see it? Goodman’s dialogue has been praised, too, for its authenticity and whilst I agree that it is very good, I see her more as a late Victorian (truly, her tone is more a sly Wildean than breezy Austen. You can just picture Restell’s mother as a Lady Bracknell type). This is partly why I wish she would leave the Regency period behind. Her tone is really too dark for it. Plus, her characters deserve to be set in a period when their horizons are wider - all those smart and capable heroines would do so much better in a time when they could actually utilise their talents to become reporters, actresses, doctors, businesswomen.

Lastly, seven Regencies on the trot? Goodman is too good (heh) an author to go stale. The best - like Gaffney or Kinsale - experiment. They try new times and places. I don’t want to be a lone voice of dissent when Goodman is finally getting the recognition she deserves, but I’ve felt her last couple of novels have bled into each other to the point where I can’t even begin to tell the characters apart.

A B for If His Kiss is Wicked. Were it not for the deja vu my grade would be higher.


sybil said...

Oh I love love love love love this book.

for the rest of it... uh...


Meriam said...

Sybil, did I jut go on and on and on until my words lost all meaning? I can't keep my reviews under control.

As for the book, I think I would have loved it a lot more if it wasn't all so familiar. So instead of being engrossed in the story and enjoying the quality of Goodman's prose, I was hyper-critical. Maybe Jo Goodman and I need a long break.

Are you a long time fan? I wonder if there are any other Goodman devotees who feel similarly frustrated.

sybil said...

meriam, meriam, meriam

SERIOUS? LOL I love goodman. BUT I have to say If His Kiss Is Wicked and A Season to Be Sinful were two of my faves.

When you get a second though... drop me an email ;)

Brie said...

Great review Meriam, you even brought out the charts! I guess I graded this book higher because it didn't feel like deja vu to me, being that it was my first round with Goodman.

Kristie (J) said...

"Please stop writing regencies."

While I wouldn't quite go that far - I mean we need our well written regencies to keep us hopeful, I do with she would occasionally set her books in what I consider to be Americanna settings again on occasion. But sadly, I think that's more of a publisher thing than an author thing. Publishers seems to be much more narrow minded than they were in years past. In years past - also known as the good old days *g*, an author could write and get published, books from different settings.
I am still very much in awe of her writing talent. When I read IHKIW (which by the way got my vote for best books of 2007) each word, each phrase seemed to well thought out, crafted together to make one giant seemless story.
It's fantastic isn't it, to find her finally finding a larger readership!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And some of get to say we read her when :)

Meriam said...

Brie, I'm particularly proud of the table - it took me ages to figure it out.

But sadly, I think that's more of a publisher thing than an author thing.

Kristie(j), you may well be right. Seeing that Goodman's on a hot streak, perhaps they are encouraging the regencies.

Anyway, I wrote this review with great difficulty partly because I'm not sure how valid it is for me to criticise an author who is doing everything right, but no longer pleases me as much as she used to. Surely the problem is mine and I should just shut up and move on? (But I don't want to! I love her!)

I've been thinking in circles all week. Oh, well.

In other news, my cat is officially overweight :-(

Jace said...

I've never read Goodman before, so am intrigued by the current buzz about this book.

I try not to read Regencies, but love Victorians, so I'm much encouraged by your statement that her prose is more late Victorian than breezy Austen. LOL

Can you recommend one of her best books, preferably one with a dark hero (personality, not looks *grin*)?

Meriam said...

Goodman usually leaves the bulk of the angst to her heroines, but if you want damaged, broody heroes... I suggest the Marshall brothers. These might well be out of print but Midnight Princess and (for real) Passion's Sweet Revenge have very angsty heroes, and with good reason...

I really enjoyed this series.

Jill D. said...

Meriam, LOL the Wakefield Twins?! Wow, what a great comparison. Oh, the memories you bring back too. I used to read the series when they were in middle school. I never did read the high school books though. I am sorry that you were disappointed with IHKIW. All this talk about Goodman's other books has me really excited to glom her. Oh, so many books and so little time!

Jace said...

Meriam, thanks ... I'm off to look for the Marshall Brothers books.

Meriam said...

Oh, man, I think I read Sweet Valley Twins, Sweet Valley High and Sweet Valley University... a couple of Super Editions, The Wakefields of Sweet Valley...

Jace - enjoy.

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