Desert Isle Keeper
A Touch of Frost
A Touch of Frost is, quite simply, a cracking good yarn. Jo Goodman takes us back to the old west in this amusing, emotionally intense, sensual and absorbing tale about a clever woman, the man bound to protect her, and the love that waylays their neatly formed plans.
The first time Phoebe Apple sees Remington Frost, she is traveling by train to visit her newly married older sister at her home in Frost Falls. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have much time to spare a thought for the man staring at her so intently, as a string of accidents – which culminate in her being kidnapped and Remington being injured – occur in rapid succession.
Remington is the son of Phoebe’s new brother-in-law, Thaddeus, who sent him to unobtrusively escort her to Frost Falls and ensure her safe arrival. After he rescues Phoebe from her captors, she settles in at Thaddeus’ ranch, and she and Remington start to bond and have long conversations while he teaches her to ride. New York native Phoebe, a one-time semi-professional actress and theatrical seamstress, hasn’t even seen the west coast before, but her innate toughness makes her a natural to plant her heels in the dirt and slowly grow toward loving ranch life. But her complicated relationship with her sister, Fiona, and the weight of their bond makes life awkward; Fiona’s continued struggle between wanting a purposeful life and wanting to live out her romance with Thaddeus shake things up, as does the fact that Phoebe’s kidnapping turns out not to be a random event but an organized act that puts her life and the lives of those around her in danger. Phoebe is going to have a tough row to hoe if she’s to make it to her happily ever after.
You know you’re reading a well-considered story when every single character is memorable. Phoebe is amusing and tough – her ice cold calm reaction to the robbery (the third she has experienced at this point) is too funny, and her breathless love of dime novels contrasts interestingly with the more jaded experiences her theatrical background has given her. But she has depth and heart and grit; she’s the kind of heroine who accidentally kicks her horse into a gallop while trying to smack the hero in retaliation for hiding information from her.
The inelegant, wry, smart Remington manages to be quite a competent rescuer – which is good because, much to Phoebe’s discomfort, she tends to need rescuing (thankfully Phoebe gets to return the favor as time goes on). Goodman loves laconic, honorable heroes with a sense of humor, and Remington is a good addition to that fold. He has loved and lost, but isn’t bitter about it, and has not given up on the idea of finding love again. His interactions with his father provide an interesting secondary relationship.
The banter between Remington and Phoebe is cute without being overly childish and prohibitive to the romance that is developing between them. They generally talk to each other like adults which is quite refreshing – although some of Remington’s choices when it comes to Phoebe are annoying in the very early stages of their romance. But these are minor problems within the scheme of their relationship, for it burns slowly and in a way that allows them to develop something true and solid between them – especially as they work through the issues that cause Phoebe to be reluctant to commit – and capture the audience’s hearts and emotions.
All the supporting characters are great, even the minor ones; I enjoyed smart little Madeline, Blue – a wise fixture of Frost Falls – and the gossipy busybody Mrs. Jacob C. Tyler. But then there’s also the stalwart, jealous Ellie and the complex Fiona, who loves her husband but behaves with reckless impulsivity and selfishness when it comes to her own needs and especially in regard to Phoebe. Yet mixed in with that self-centeredness is true tenderness, vulnerability and love for her sister and for Thaddeus. Even the dim gang that tries to kidnap Phoebe is fun in their scummy way. Equal weight is given to Fiona and Phoebe’s sisterly relationship, which is richly and lovingly wrought, and Thaddeus and Fiona’s romance is also solidly explored and deconstructed. The mystery as to who wants to eliminate Phoebe is handled well, with multiple red herrings keeping the guessing game going. There’s also a huge third act twist that I never saw coming.
The book’s general flaws are minor – besides some of the issues I had with parts of the very early courtship between Remington and Phoebe, there are a couple of grammatical bobbles and awkward name choices (people living in the 1800s wouldn’t speak of ‘the popular dime novels’, they’d just say ‘dime novels’, and Phoebe referring to one of her wannabe captors as “Mister Shoulders” feels a bit childish and awkward. At one point she “puts his [Remington’s] cock to the hot suck of her mouth” which just sounds weird). The writing style Goodman employs is otherwise well-honed, and its tone encompasses humor, adventure, character growth and some surprisingly dark drama.
A Touch of Frost offers up powerful romance, intelligent character drama and large helpings of humor. All in all, it’s a feast for the heart and mind.