Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Season to be Sinful, by Jo Goodman [2]

**/***** (2/5)

Solid writing, good intrigue, mature characters (for the most part) and a very absurd, nonsensical ending sums up my experience of Jo Goodman's A SEASON TO BE SINFUL. As you can tell, the end ruined the book for me. I could not understand the hero Sherry's actions at the end. He wants to ensure the villain's silence and force him into exile? He feels no anger for the man who physically and emotionally abused the woman he loves? Huh? When the villain Woodridge denigrates Lily right in front of him, Sherry feels no anger? How can Sherry live with himself letting the man who not only terrorized Lily but other young women, just walk away? By letting the villain to live, Sherry only ineptly stretches the ending and allows the villain a chance to return and terrorize some more! For a hero that's believable for the most part, the finale he maneuvers to contrive was pretty dumb. The book contains some entertaining and humorous banter, witty dialogue, and suspenseful plots of intrigue. Unfortunately, I thought the hero and heroine desperately lacked chemistry even though they enjoyed some witty banter.

Interaction between the lead pair was weird, off . . . forget about any equal ground here, appeared as though Lily went out of her way to ensure she was the dominant persona between herself and her hero Sherry. Didn't seem like a romance or an empowering love between the two, seemed more like Lily jostling to come out on top in every way. Poor Sherry, he honors Lily, respects Lily, never goes against any of her wishes or obscenely violent demands, voices the words I-Love-You early, mouths heartfelt words of affection early and often, and yet, Lily grinds him into the dirt. I understand Lily has been through a lot prior to meeting Sherry, but the relationship between Lily and Sherry seemed too much of a one-way street. Even at the end when both are supposed to love and trust each other and after both are married, I thought Sherry's love for Lily dwarfed Lily's love for Sherry (Goodman writes from Sherry's perspective specifically so we're witness to his lovesick thoughts and actions in the epilogue). It almost seems like Lily enjoyed having Sherry debased before her. I liked that Lily is aggressive sensually and didn't melt at Sherry's every touch so typical of romance novels, but it seemed to go beyond just aggression. Lily really doesn't do anything to justify Sherry's debased worship of her, because if she did, it would seem more like love. Sherry has to prove himself to Lily again and again, and when she reveals that she's barren, Sherry doesn't blink twice. We'll always have the orphaned children, Sherry notes, and Lily is thrilled to have Sherry by the balls.

Sherry sacrifices everything for Lily and the orphaned children despite having everything to lose. Lily has everything to gain and nothing to lose with a kind and loving Sherry.

This book belongs to Lily and the three "scoundrels," orphans Lily takes responsibility for. The hero Sherry cheers them on from the sidelines for the entire book. What is the hero Sherry's trivial purpose in the novel? Well, Sherry stages the scene towards the end which allows Lily and the 3 children to play their dangerous roles while Sherry timidly steps aside. It's Lily who pummels and scratches the villain Woodridge. It's Lily who cripples Woodridge when he returns later on. The children play key (but dangerous) roles stripping Granville of his weapons and then having the foresight to recognize Woodridge will return when Sherry lets him go alive.

Sherry is clueless and his actions (or lack thereof) indicate a complete void of sense and intelligence. During a confrontation involving Sherry, Lily and the villain Woodridge, Woodridge insults the woman Sherry loves (Lily) pretty badly. Sherry doesn't seem to notice or care, he doesn't even get angry. It's Lily who pummels and claws at the villain Woodridge. After learning of all of the despicable abuse Lily suffers at Woodridge's hands much earlier in the book, Sherry doesn't resolve to just kill Woodridge outright but instead concocts a harebrained scheme to force Woodridge into exile and silence, a scheme which leads to the initial confrontation among Sherry, Lily and Woodridge. I want to know how exactly Sherry is supposed to enforce the exile, and ensure Woodridge remains at his country estate without any backup from his secretive confederacy? Sherry tells Woodridge that Sherry will know if Woodridge steps outside of Woodridge's country estate, but how will you know Sherry? Will you post guards along the circumference of Woodridge's estate 24/7 for the rest Woodridge's existence? You don't care of the potential for Woodridge to come after Lily and the children? How big is Woodridge's estate anyway, how many guards will be required to watch along the periphery of the estate? Sherry doesn't resolve to kill Woodridge from the start, he doesn't get angry at Woodridge's treatment of Lily, he's actually cheering and happy after the dumb scheme which allows Woodridge to live (after Woodridge signs a confession and supposedly heads off to his exile)!

Any normal hero wouldn't be able to look at Woodridge after what he's done to Lily, much less talk to him at length. The entire time Sherry attempts to wring a confession out of Woodridge I'm thinking, how can you even bear to look at Woodridge considering what you know he's done to the woman you love?!? Sherry has nothing to do when Woodridge returns to Granville later at night and terrorizes Lily once again. Sherry thrusts a stiletto in Woodridge after Lily already maimed and incapacitated Woodridge [laughs]! So basically, Sherry talks to Woodridge at length knowing this is the man that abused the woman you love, shrugs off a disparaging remark aimed at Lily, allows him to live despite the potential for him to return and terrorize, secures his oath and exile, but in the end, endangers the children and Lily anyway. Way to go there, Sherry, really bright of you there!

Needless to say, A SEASON TO BE SINFUL highlights a horribly-contrived ending after some intriguing plot threads, and makes Sherry look pretty inept and dumb just so Lily and the children can shine. I think Sherry should start a 19th-century cheer leading squad.

The Story.

Sixteen year-old Miss Lilith "Lily" Sterling fosters at the L'Abbaye de Sacre Coeur, a convent in France after her parents died more than 10 years ago. The insidious Wycliff Standish, Baron Woodridge, visits the abbey seeking a governess for his children. Woodridge's intents for the potential governess extend beyond normal duties and into the realm of servicing his and friends' carnal pleasures. Lily's good friend and mentor Sister Mary Joseph arranges Lily's escape to London before Woodridge can snatch Lily.

More than five years later, we find twenty-one year-old Lily in London at Covent Garden as a common thief saving the life of Viscount Sheridan ("Sherry"), Alexander Grantham. Dressed as a boy and having her dark auburn hair dyed black, Lily takes a shiv in her side instead. Before Sherry can react, three boys haul Lily off while Sherry escapes unscathed. When Lily's condition deteriorates, the three boys ("scoundrels" as they're affectionately referred to) come to Sherry's home for succor. Sherry spares no expense enlisting a physician's aid to bring Lily back to health. Sherry himself cares for Lily and takes up vigil by her bedside for many nights.

In the process, Sherry comes to care for the three orphaned children ("scoundrels") as they never leave Lily's side either. A SEASON TO BE SINFUL features the scoundrels quite a bit in humorous subplots. In fact, I'd say the scoundrels Pinch, Dash and Midge overshadowed every plot and character in the book except for Lily.

As Sherry and Lily spend more time together, Sherry discovers more about the incident back at Covent Garden when Lily saves him. Sherry also glimpses into Lily's very dark and tortured past, as she reacts violently to many seemingly innocuous things. Despite Lily's attempts to prompt him into throwing her out and taking on the children into his household, Sherry begins to care for Lily and the children quite a bit. With everyone's permission, Sherry whisks everyone away to his far-away seat at Granville and has Lily teach the children as a proper governess. Sherry doesn't do anything without their permission of course even if it for their own good. Lily agrees on the condition that she's allowed to leave whenever she wishes, no questions asked.

While Sherry and Lily rendezvous more and more intimately, Lily also reveals more of her tortured past and what happened to her the 5 years between leaving the abbey in France and saving Sherry in London. I realize Lily's reservations and trust issues, but I still thought it took too long for Lily to trust Sherry as Sherry regales her with his affections and words of love.

The various threads of intrigue all come together and it seemed like every thing and everyone is interconnected, and the attempt on Sherry's life in London was no coincidence. Sherry's clandestine confederacy under the English Crown, Lily's parentage, Lily's wounded soul, Lily's secret history, her running, Woodridge, France, Nopolean, the scoundrels, and Sherry's godmother the Lady Georgia Pendelton, Countess of Rivendale, all come to a head. That was all good. What wasn't good was Sherry's contrived end-game delivering them from the villain Woodridge. As I mentioned before, it showed Sherry's complete lack of sense and intelligence. It also highlighted Sherry's apathy for the harm inflicted upon the woman he loves. A veritable ruse of an ending concocted to have Lily and the children play their dangerous parts, parts Sherry's negligence and provincial mind sanctions.

Ah, good writing, intriguing plots, and for the most part, mature characterizations completely ruined by a dumb ending and the hero's lack of foresight.


Anonymous said...

I read this and the book after this (One Forbidden Evening) because a lot of people kept on saying that Jo Goodman was a hidden treasure. I found nothing remarkable or memorable about them except that in both books, the sex wasnt all fireworks the first time out, which i appreciated.

I just read a Victorian that kinda reminded me of ASTBS. VOICES OF THE NIGHT (2007) by Lydia Joyce. I thought it was very good.

Caine said...

The blurb for VOICES OF THE NIGHT reminds me of the movie MY FAIR LADY, cool! Definitely going to check out VOICES OF THE NIGHT, thanks for the tip... I need some good romances to read while waiting for Hoyt's THE SERPENT PRINCE and Hunter's LESSONS OF DESIRE :)