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Blackjack
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A Touch of Frost, Jo Goodman (B-) – I enjoyed the first half of this book quite a bit but felt that the second half really lost steam. It lost so much steam for me, in fact, that it took me weeks to read what should have been days, hence the lower grade. That is unusual for a Jo Goodman book.

In the first half, Phoebe is a likeable young woman traveling on a train from New York City to Colorado to visit her sister who is newly married to a much older man. Phoebe realizes en route that a very attractive man on the train appears to be watching her, but she is intrigued more than worried. However, before readers can wonder if the story is about a man stalking a single woman traveling alone, everything abruptly switches gear as the train comes to a screeching halt and is hijacked by bandits. I like that Goodman keeps throwing the readers off balance and this is a novel where in medias res works well to keep us guessing about the plot. By the end of the first half, it would seem almost as if Act I had been wrapped up. Remington Frost (what a name!), the incognito man, is a hero rather than stalker, and he manages to save the heroine, who did, alas, need saving despite her resourcefulness. The two banter their way to Phoebe’s sister’s ranch, where Remington is coincidentally also heading. It turns out that Remington is the son of the older man and had been on an appointed mission to see Phoebe to safety.

The second half of the novel felt far less coherent. The bandits are still on the loose, but who are they and why did they want to kidnap Phoebe? The answer was surprisingly disappointing and even a bit uninteresting. Fiona and Thaddeus present a potentially interesting secondary romance though I would have liked to have seen more from them to explain how they ended up together. Ffiona is withholding a huge secret that also did not satisfy me and felt distracting. My biggest disappointment with the second half though is due largely to the lack of a deep romance between Phoebe and Remington. Their banter is fun but I felt that they jumped from banter to love far too quickly. Too much of the novel is mired in the bandits’ back story, Fiona’s secrets, the housekeeper’s secrets, and then Phoebe’s secret past life.

I will add too that the theme of rape felt so odd in this book. Phoebe reveals early in the novel to Remington that she is a surviving rape victim. And she was not raped just once but multiple times from different men! The situations that led to her rape are never really explained or relevant to the current plot, and this plot is quickly discarded after Remington expresses horror and sadness and they hug it out. Then Phoebe moves on to enjoy a healthy sexual relationship with her new lover. That did not ring true for me, and it surprised me in a Goodman book as she is an author who does not shy away from exploring trauma in depth. Why was it even here?

Overall, a fairly mediocre read for me.