I picked up Jo Goodman’s Marry Me last week when Jane Litte (of Dear Author) mentioned on Twitter that it was free on Amazon. (It’s not anymore — must have been a one-day promotion.) For a variety of reasons that aren’t worth getting into, I don’t usually read historicals, but I knew Jane liked Jo Goodman, and I also knew Jane has high standards, so I thought it might be worth checking out. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be out any money.
But I did like it. Oh so very much.
I hesitate to put the blurb up here, because I’d love it if everyone approached the book as I did — with zero preconceptions and no knowledge of what it would be about (except the category, “historical romance,” of course). So, should you wish to do that, feel free to skip ahead to my thoughts on the book below. For those who are too stubborn to do such a thing, here’s the blurb:
Rhyne Abbot is fierce, brave, and used to a life of isolation on her father’s spread on the outskirts of Reidsville, Colorado. But when, overcome with sickness, she collapses, she knows she must return to town if she is to have any hope of recovery. Only there is no place for her but the new doctor’s home, and he wants more than just to heal Rhyne. He wants her hand in marriage. Doctor Cole Monroe’s hands are already more than full with his orphaned little sister to look after, and yet somehow he can’t resist the magnetic pull of Rhyne’s bewitching eyes – or her tempting kiss. But convincing her to trust him won’t be easy. For Rhyne’s heart needs as much tender care as her ailing body. And the only cure is the thing she most fears: to let herself fall in love… *
* Note to Kensington/Zebra: (1) The cover and blurb are a horrendously bad match for this novel’s contents. This would appear to be a contemporary novel about a wedding planner, perhaps? Or an obsessed bride? Whereas it’s actually a western historical about a hard-edged heroine who could kill and gut a squirrel in four minutes flat. Goodman deserves better marketing. (2) If you name your Kindle file “Marry Me (A Zebra Historical Romance),” I will have no idea what the author’s name is. Goodman deserves to have her name on her own book.
What I most enjoyed about this novel is an aspect that some of the Goodreads reviewers have complained about: the slow pacing of the development of the romance story. I think I was about 35 percent through the novel before I encountered the first indication of any sexual chemistry — or even sexual interest — between the novel’s protagonists. Indeed, if I hadn’t known this was a romance novel, I might not have had the slightest idea Cole and Rhyne were attracted to one another.
But I did know it was a romance novel, of course, and I’m fascinated by how just this tiny bit of readerly knowledge colored the characters’ interactions. It made me watch them closely and really appreciate how Cole and Rhyne fit together as people. They spend a hundred pages sort of circling one another. Watching. Figuring each other out. They keep their admiration quiet, but it builds, and these pages show Cole and Rhyne learning each other’s minds, rather than obsessing over each other’s bodies. And then, when they finally kiss … whoompf! (That was a flame noise.) Things heat up fast.
A slow build to a chaste kiss is typical of a certain kind of romance novel, but this is not that kind. It’s not exactly any kind, in fact. Marry Me is wonky, mostly (but not always) in a good way. As Sonoma Lass points out in her review at Dear Author, the romance part of the story seems to be drawing to a close, and then the plot picks up again and there are a few more chapters, and you think perhaps the book is about to end again, and then there’s some more… The structure is strange for a romance. The romance itself is fairly understated, both in terms of the way Cole and Rhyne talk to one another (they don’t really do deep heart-to-heart conversations, or soul-searching, or confessions of any sort) and in terms of the relatively low obstacles preventing them from finding happiness. Furthermore, Goodman never writes in deep heroine point of view, which some might find frustrating because she’s created an exceedingly interesting heroine with deep wounds, and one might reasonably expect to be able to watch those wounds heal over the course of the novel.
It’s a flawed book, I suppose. I can understand why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. And yet I couldn’t put it down. I enjoyed it just exactly the way it was, enjoyed the characters’ unique way of dealing with one another and their particular rapport. I didn’t want it to be another book. I wanted it to be this one.
You can buy Marry Me from Amazon here.