REVIEW: The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by Jo Goodman will entice you to seek more of these romantic feel-good westerns. Jo Goodman always entertains western historical fans with her brand of subtle humor that comes across so beautifully in actions and words. Find a shelf and start stocking it with Goodman’s westerns and be prepared to reread them often since you’re going to crave them more than once.
Ten-year-old Annalea Pancake is pretending to search for water, with her dog John Henry by her side, using the divining rod she created from a stick. John Henry wants the stick, but instead, Annalea uses it to poke the almost-dead man she comes across lying in their pasture. The man looks as if he was dragged behind a horse quite a distance if his torn clothing and scraped-raw skin are any indication. He surprises Annalea by grabbing the stick she’s poking him with and tosses it, much to John Henry’s delight.
Before Annalea runs for help, she questions the man, fully aware he’s in no position to deny her anything. Even though he’s half alive, their conversation is progressively hilarious. Annalea is anything but subtle as she decides whether she’s going to help this injured stranger. The fact that John Henry seems to like him convinces Annalea to be a good Samaritan.
Wilhelemina “Willa” Pancake assists with running her family’s ranch and takes care of her little sister Annalea. Often drunk, their father, Happy Pancake, hasn’t been much help since his wife died. When Annalea runs home to report on the stranger collapsed on their land, they all vote on doing the right thing by caring for his injuries, then giving him a chance to explain himself and eventually offering him a job.
Annalea names the man Augustus Horatio Roundbottom, hoping that this insult will convince him to remember his name. Israel Court McKenna is thankful to the family who found him and saved his life. He eventually remembers his name and where he was supposed to be going, but he has no recollection of what happened to him.
Annalea steals the show from the very first page. I read the first three chapters a second time before I wrote my review and I laughed again at her antics. She’s quite precocious and keeps this a consistently entertaining book. This isn’t chick-lit like humor – it’s well placed and shown by actions as well as words, so it’s often subtle.
As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed Jo Goodman’s style. My quibble is when the main characters’ relationship climaxed before the book was half done, I was bereft at the loss, wondering where the book would go from there. What followed of the couple’s relationship is cute and endearing, but the book stalled for me in the middle. That’s completely normal for me as a reader because my preference is for the relationship to climax at the end of the book versus in the middle. There’s a valid reason to continue the plot and it’s intriguing, with several reveals that I didn’t see coming, but it just took me a few pages to get used to that idea.
Even though I felt the pacing was off in some chapters, this book is still an enjoyable story. In comparison to the first book, THIS GUN FOR HIRE, that I rated as a 5, this book is a 4 in my opinion. That said, I’d still rather read a 4 rated Jo Goodman western than books I’ve rated higher. I might be a tad harder on Goodman’s books because she is so gifted and I’m comparing her to herself. My expectations are extremely high and easily riled, even though I will reread the book no matter how I rate it. Who knows, I may rate it higher the second time around because I’ll know that my not-so-favorite-theme is coming.
Fans will enjoy catching up with Quill and Calico from THIS GUN FOR HIRE, book one in the McKenna brothers duology. Even though characters from THIS GUN FOR HIRE appear in THE DEVIL YOU KNOW, each book can be read as a standalone. Quill is the good brother and Israel claims he’s the bad brother. In the end, it’s up to you to decide if either one of them are good or bad, or if they’re both a little bit of each. Willa and Israel have a playful relationship that’s addictive. They’re just really cute together and as they get to know each other in more detail physically, their playful nature made me laugh. I found their relationship unusual and I especially enjoyed that I couldn’t predict how either of them would react once all their secrets are discovered.
What’s rare about Goodman’s scenes is that they can be read multiple times and they still feel as fresh as the first time. After reading the excerpt in the back of this book for THIS GUN FOR HIRE, I’m ready for a reread of that entire book. It pulled me right back into the story and I want to relive it. The same thing happened when I reread the first three chapters of this book.
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW made me smile and laugh a lot. Some of the humor is corny, some of it is subtle, while other parts are laugh-out-loud funny. The humor suits the situations and the characters perfectly. There are great historical mannerisms that slide right off the characters, creating one liners that sneak up and surprise. Thoroughly gratifying historical fiction with engaging characters that lead a merry chase, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW will tickle your funny bone while charming your heart.
Review by Dorine, courtesy of Romance Junkies and The Zest Quest. Digital ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley.
The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman
Series: McKenna Brothers, Book 2
Category: Historical Western Romance
Publisher: Berkley (May 3, 2016)
Rated 4 out of 5.
How do you like your westerns? Rough and tumble or filled with humor with characters who know how to laugh at themselves?