Joint Review: The Devil You Know (McKenna Brothers #2) by Jo Goodman

Reviewed by: E, Lou, Marlene

1. Thoughts on the Hero

E: I really got the impression Israel was an anti-hero. While he claimed he didn’t know or remember what happened to bring him to Willa’s attention, he knew he customarily let people down and therefore she shouldn’t trust him. Yet as the story progressed he found himself for maybe the first time unwilling to fall back to his usual habits. Somehow Willa, her oddball family, and her determination made an impression on him. I enjoyed Israel as he “redeemed” himself and continually surprised Willa and the rest with his insights, behavior, and contrary nature. He was really ingenious as he worked to get to the bottom of both his awakening and Willa’s problems. I was left thinking he could have ruled the country if it was his passion and thoroughly enjoying how he kept Willa from taking him for granted.

Lou: Have I mentioned before I have an awful memory? It wasn’t until halfway through the book when Quill and Calico made an appearance that it finally dawned on me that Israel was his brother. Then I felt all sorts of stupid for not remembering, and then I got even more excited because I adored This Gun For Hire, which was one of my top reads of 2015. Anyways, Israel definitely gave off the impression he was an anti-hero. Not the worst of anti-heroes I’ve read, but he did something very shitty that hurt a lot of people when it was finally revealed what he did. But I did like him very much. Jo Goodman is so talented and the beginning of the book, with Israel and Annalea’s (Willa’s baby sister) funny introduction with her prodding at him with a stick to make sure he wasn’t dead set off the tone. Israel found himself a place at Pancake valley, and he was honest with Willa (almost honest) that he wasn’t a good guy and that he had sinned. Jo Goodman always writes in-depth characters and Israel and Willa’s romance was sexy, enthralling and kept me glued to the pages.

Marlene: The advantage of having just finished This Gun for Hire the night before last, I remembered that Israel was Quill’s brother. Although they often seem like opposites, under the skin they are a lot alike. They both kept fairly big secrets from their ladies until fairly far into the story. But initially, Quill was a hero and Israel an anti-hero. However, Quill certainly pretended to be an anti-hero for a chunk of that story, and Israel, after all, finds himself acting a hero part he never believed possible. Willa calls him a rascal and that’s so right. Israel is a charming rogue, just the sort of slightly bad boy that strong heroines love to fall for.

2. Thoughts on the Heroine

E: Willa was so much fun. She didn’t take anything from anyone including her father yet she took great care of her sister, Annalea, and her other responsibilities. Even though Willa ran everything, she never crushed anyone’s spirit, just expected them to live up to who they could or should be. At the same time she kept some pretty serious secrets and protected those she cared about without seeming to begrudge her choice. I really enjoyed seeing how she tried to relegate Israel to the same place as all the other men in her life and then watching the banter as he didn’t quite fit. I also admired Willa’s strength even as I wished she didn’t have to always be the responsible one.

Lou: I adored Willa. The boss of the Pancake valley and the homestead, she ran it with an iron but fair fist. With her alcoholic father, Happy, she had to be the boss, with the help of the ranch hands. And there’s Annalea, her sister, who she also raised. At no time did Willa struggle with the responsibility. She owned it and she gave what for to the dastardly neighbors, who the family have been in feud with over the land for years. Willa decided to take in the seriously injured Israel and I loved how sneaky she was in getting information out of him. It’s not long before Willa fell for Israel. Willa treated Israel as an employee like she did with the other ranch hands, but there was always this simmering tension between them that suddenly exploded one night in the barn, along with the adorable but funny John Henry, Annalea’s pooch. For reasons for their own, and with the help of Happy’s shotgun, Willa and Israel entered into a marriage of convenience and I lurve that trope.

Marlene: Willa is awesome. She’s someone I’d want to be when I grow up, assuming that ever happens. All the responsibility for the ranch and everyone on it has fallen on her shoulders, and she just carries it. She’s never sorry for herself, not even when she has plenty of reason. With everything that has happened to her, she just soldiers on, no matter what. At the same time, she has not lost her admittedly dry sense of humor or sense of the ridiculous. She and Israel make a good match – she helps him to take the important things seriously, and he helps her to take the unimportant things with the humor they deserve.

3. Favorite Scene

E: I have to say, I think most of my favorite scenes involved Annalea and usually John Henry her 4-legged sidekick. I really loved how she said what she thought, was really good at parsing what other people said, and still used her imagination. She struck me as someone whose brain needed to be kept occupied and also as someone who would be a joy to watch. I thought the way she worked around Israel and got him to reveal more than he intended was hilarious. She seemed to bring joy to the Pancake household and ranch.

Lou: I agree with E. The beginning of the book was fantastic and Annalea did steal a lot of the scenes with John Henry. I did love the barn scene that instigated the shot-gun wedding, and I loved the wedding night between Israel and Willa.

Marlene: Annalea and John Henry are adorable, because Annalea is adorable and John Henry is her partner-in-crime and protector. However, my favorite scene is the shotgun wedding. I could just taste Willa’s equal parts annoyance, chagrin, fear and joy.

4. Dislike about book

E: I think the biggest thing I disliked, really wasn’t a dislike but more of a regret about certain characters I think. Granted there wouldn’t be a story without them but I regretted the lost potential. As secrets and backstories were revealed I caught a glimpse of what might have been if… but then I remembered the opportunities given in the story itself and this feeling reduced to nothing which impacted my overall enjoyment.

Lou: Hmmm. I don’t think I have any dislikes in this book. If there is one thing I thought sometimes the pace was a little slow and I wanted there to be less talk (even though the banter and wit was great) and a little more story. Oh. And the side-story to Annalea felt a little out of the blue.

Marlene: I also felt that the book, especially the first half, went a bit slow. As much as I loved the banter between Israel and Willa, I wanted more stuff to happen. Even if the romance needed to be slow, and it did, the solving of the mystery of Israel’s arrival at Pancake Valley could have proceeded a bit faster. Or that’s my 2 cents. The Annalea thing also came out of complete left field for me.

5. Any other misc. thoughts along with grade

E: I really thought The Devil You Know was at its essence a story about family, familial expectations, and having the strength to live up to or refute those expectations. I really felt for several of the characters as their choices took a toll one way or another. It was fascinating to look back and see how each step took them to the final confrontation and the cost they all paid. I also had to go back and reread a few of Goodman’s previous novels when I finished reading because I didn’t want to let the “good book feeling” go.
I give The Devil You Know an A-

Lou: The Devil You Know was a fantastic follow-up to This Gun For Hire. Israel is very different from his brother and took to a different way of life. Israel wasn’t a bad person at heart. He did bad things and disappointed a lot of people, but he did redeem himself for me as a reader and he doesn’t pretend his past doesn’t exist. While I didn’t love it as much as This Gun For Hire, I really enjoyed this romance which was about finding a place and home for yourself.
I also give The Devil You Know an A-

Marlene: The Devil You Know was a terrific sequel to This Gun for Hire, and I’m really glad I read them back-to-back. It was interesting to see both the contrasts and the similarities between Quill and Israel. Calico and Willa remind me an awful lot of each other, and that’s in a good way. Annalea and John Henry are treasures. But as much as I loved Willa, this was Israel’s story of redemption, and it was earned.
I make it three for three. I also give The Devil You Know an A-

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