Joint Book Review: A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman

Lou: Jo Goodman is an autoread for many of us at The Bookpushers and I was so excited to read A Touch of Frost. While I liked the hero and heroine, sadly I struggled with the rest of the book for a multitude of reasons. I’ll talk about the good first! I adored Phoebe and Remington. Their witty banter and romance is what kept me reading the pages during the times I struggled. Phoebe is smart and witty and her disguise on the train was awesome. I loved that her background came from a theatre and I would have loved to have seen her in that atmosphere and setting. Anyways, the beginning of the book had me hooked. A train robbery, a confident gun-shooting Phoebe taking lead while poor Remington got knocked unconscious and wasn’t there to save the day. It was a really neat flip.

E: Like Lou I struggled with A Touch of Frost. I think I had to read it a few times before I clearly understood the main characters and their relationships with each other. I ended up resorting to drawing a mental map and connecting the dots because I really felt like I was reading five different relationships (not all romantic) between five different people but the connections weren’t evenly distributed. I really liked Phoebe and Remington – their inner strength, inner quietness, and their secrets. Their relationship was a slow-burn one and despite looking the most complicated on paper ended up being the most straightforward. Their “meet-cute” had me laughing and I enjoyed seeing their trust slowly build. However, the other relationships along with something which is seeming to become a trend with Goodman’s recent writing has left me less than thrilled.

Marlene: I’m on the same page. Remington and Phoebe’s bantering relationship completely sucked me in. Every time they were together, the dialog absolutely sparkled. I also loved the way that Phoebe stood up for herself with Remington, and that he understood that the only way anything would work between them would be if they were equals. But the other relationships, and the central suspense plot, dragged more than a bit. I’ll also confess that I very much found myself wishing that Phoebe and Fiona’s names were so similar, and Fiona’s status so frequently obscured, often by her own machinations, that I kept getting them mixed up.

Lou: Yes their slow-burn romance was lovely–and I’m a huge fan of slow-burn romances–and they were the tower of strength amongst a host of other characters that confused me to no end. Firstly the identities of the kidnappers and how they were interconnected with the town left me scratching my head at times. Their brief POV chapters didn’t seem to add anything to the story, except adding to my confusement. Then there is Remington’s father, who is married to Fiona, who is Phoebe’s sister. Fiona…was not an easy character to like. At all. I’m not sure I would even call her an interesting character, because her sole purpose seemed to be a tension stick between Remington and Phoebe. She wasn’t very nice to Phoebe. She tried something with Remington back in the day that once Phoebe learns about is literally physically sick. Learning about Fiona’s history made the way she behaved understandable. But another reveal just added to the overall confusement. One aspect I did not like at all was something that happened in another Goodman book where an older woman character is made out to be the bad guy. And this book had a similar theme, and it’s like, what gives?

I’m still mulling over what Goodman did to Phoebe when she was younger.

[spoiler]Phoebe was raped multiple times and the way Goodman revealed this was done in such a casual and matter of fact manner. Then there was the reveal of who Fiona was to Phoebe, which ties in with the rape of Phoebe. [/spoiler]

E: The villains..well let me clarify, the train robbers/kidnappers started off as minor/bit players but then they seemed to take on an autonomy almost like they wanted to become main characters. Looking back, I think the shift was meant to illustrate a couple of different things, first how lucky Phoebe and Remington were during the initial kidnapping which was already evident but seemed to mostly work within the story. The second thing I took away was an example of how a single bad deed can quickly snowball into worse actions which didn’t seem to fit because the kidnappers weren’t individuals I had any vested interest in so it threw me out of the story. I will agree Fiona was an extremely difficult person to like and she was involved in three of the primary “relationships” not always to her credit. I actually wanted to see more of Thaddeus and Fiona’s relationship not just the contentious tense parts. I got the feeling their courtship and coming to consensus would have revealed a lot.

[spoiler]In several of her books and with what appears to be an increasing frequency the heroine has been raped or dealt with attempted rape – in some cases it was a villain in the story and other cases in the past. There are other ways to describe evil and to add emotional punch. While Fiona and Phoebe share a special bond due to rape/attempted rape and the impact of those actions does strongly inform the present day, in story time personalities, I think Goodman is starting to lose me as an autobuy because of the prevalence. [/spoiler]

Marlene: [spoiler]This is where some serious mixed feelings come into play for me, too. There are plenty of other ways for a woman to be traumatized besides either rape or a stalker, which is a trap that too many romantic suspense series fall into. But getting down off my soapbox, Phoebe’s reveal of her past rape felt too casual. Not that she couldn’t have found a way to deal with it, but something about that scene just didn’t feel right. [/spoiler]

As far as Fiona went, I did figure out their actual relationship before that reveal, but Fiona was such an unlikeable character for so much of the book that I didn’t necessarily feel all that bad for her. The way she treats Phoebe was abusive enough when it seemed they were sisters, but felt way over the top once the truth came out.

The rest of the villains seemed like paper tigers. There just wasn’t much there, there, and their perspective added more confusion than substance.

Lou: Yes I could have done without the POV from the villains. A more active subplot of a whodunnit would have been much more entertaining. Which brings home another issue I had with how slow the plot meandered at times. It took me almost five days to finish this book. Apart from the scenes with Phoebe and Remington, the other POV from other characters added nothing much to the story. Instead of creating a secondary romantic subplot with Thaddeus and Fiona, we got petty jealousies and insecurities that had me not caring in the slightest about what happened between them, especially with how unlikeable Fiona was as a character.

[spoiler]Yes I too have noticed Goodman heavily relies on rape for emotional impact in her books and I agree with E and Marlene’s points. There are other ways to describe evil in a harsh time period that doesn’t include sexual violence towards the heroine. [/spoiler]

The story also ended very abruptly with a quick conclusion to the kidnappers. This book really was a miss for me compared to the previous Goodman novels I’ve loved. Not sure what happened with this book. I liked Phoebe and Remington and their romance, but the other issues in the book made me feel somewhat relieved that the story was finished. You know the dreams you have where you’re running from something but you don’t actually move? This book was sort of the equivalent where I kept reading and reading and nothing much was happening. It’s over 400 pages long, which to me was overcooked considering there wasn’t much happening in the book itself.

Sadly I’m giving A Touch of Frost a C grade. Like E, I am going to be hesitant in picking up future books if they have similar themes we discussed in the spoiler tags.

E: I also noticed the “it’s complicated” relationship that did or did not exist previously between Thaddeus and his housekeeper. This was the catalyst to a lot of the unrest Phoebe arrived to find after Remington rescued her, but it didn’t come up until well into the story when I was already confused about Fiona’s reactions to certain comments. I really feel like this story lost its way leaving me disappointed and wondering if/why I liked Goodman’s writing previously. I literally went back and reread one to remind myself of why I had eagerly waited a year for this release. I really hope Goodman is back on form for her next release but unfortunately I am going to temper my eagerness and expectations as a result.

I give A Touch of Frost a C-/D+

Marlene: I did finish this book in a single day. As much as the kidnapping plot dragged out the end, and as much as I really, really did not like Fiona, the scenes with Remington and Phoebe carried me through. But, and it is a very big but in this instance, A Touch of Frost is nowhere near the book that This Gun for Hire is. I liked Phoebe and Remington, and I loved the fact that this is a romance of equals, and one done realistically well for this time and place. I was happy that of all the many, many misunderstandings that power the plot of this story, none of them involve a misunderstandammit between Remington and Phoebe.

In my full review of A Touch of Frost at Reading Reality ( I gave it a B, and I should probably stick to that. But after reading all of E’s and Lou’s comments, I’m thinking I was probably a bit generous. C’est la vie.

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