The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman #Review

The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman #ReviewThe Devil You Know by Jo Goodman

Series: #2 The McKenna Brothers
Genres: Historical Romance
Published by Berkley on May 3, 2016
Pages: 414
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher
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four-half-stars      four-flames

Clinched it with this latest book!  Jo Goodman is now one of my top western historical romance authors.  Flawed yet engaging characters, western life, a plot varied with intrigue, passion, and humor, and the sort of storytelling that compels the reader to keep turning pages and rooting on the heroes.  I immediately picked this one up when I saw it and I am ever so glad I did.

While I didn’t notice anywhere that it was touted as such, this is actually the second in a duology about the McKenna Brothers.  The first book, This Gun For Hire, leads to this one.  They can be read standalone, but this one has brief scenes with the pair from the first book and reads better in order.

The story opens when young Annalea Pancake finds a wounded man a few miles from the family ranch house.  Annalea has the sense that the stranger is a good man, but her older sister Willa is a vast deal more suspicious.  He was nearly dragged to death behind a horse and even as she and the others work to save him, she wonders if it was do punishment for a bad man.  And the wounded man can’t really help her much because he only remembers his past up to a certain point.  He shares that he is Israel McKenna and he has no idea what he was doing in the area and how he came to be drug to near death.

Israel knows more than he is telling, but it isn’t really pertinent to the issue at hand.  The Pancakes and their ranch hands take him in and he heals.  Israel decides to stick close to the ranch and earn his keep by working for the Pancakes.  Willa is a hard woman with high expectations of herself and those who are around her, but Israel sees beyond her flinty expression and icy eyes to a woman hiding behind a wall she has built up.  And he slowly chisels away at her barriers.

Slowly, Willa and Israel piece together what they think happened even as the ranch next door has ambitious ideas about the Pancake Ranch and Willa.  As the pair begin to form a bond, Israel knows that he needs to talk about his past and hope Willa can see that he has changed.

The story has a few different plot points even beyond the growing romance between Israel and Willa.  There is the mystery of Israel’s lost memories, the growing conflict between the two feuding ranches, secrets from the past, and even Israel’s brother on his trail and thinking the worst.

I liked the gritty, hard life feel to the story and the inclusion of scenes of life on a small ranch.  The reader gets a real sense of place when reading the book- ranch land, ranch buildings, saloon, hotels, trains.

The writer doesn’t pull any punches with her strong-willed characters and the colorful way she draws them.  They are shades of gray types whether it is hero or villain.  Raw feelings and passions are unapologetically included.

I enjoyed the romance between Israel and Willa.  They were good for each other and their relationship had to grow out of suspicion.  Israel was not intimidated by a strong, capable, intelligent woman and Willa had to learn to appreciate Israel’s strengths, too, even if they weren’t always easy to spot.

He is handsome and charismatic.  He lived by his charm and wits and now wants to prove he is substance and hard work.  Israel is extremely observant and misses nothing which is why he sees past the front that Willa puts up.  She is harsh and critical and pushes herself most of all.  Willa denies feelings and pleasure.  Her attraction to Israel confuses and scares her.  Work is her life.  She can’t abide weakness so is disgusted when her pa grieved his wife’s passing and took to drinking.  She can’t see the changes in him until Israel points them out.  It is only the arrival of Israel that challenges her to see things differently and see her coldness as a front to hide behind so she didn’t have to confront her own inner demons.

As with the previous book, my only niggle was the distraction caused by Willa’s way of speaking.  It was odd and stilted.  I adjusted and the story was powerful enough to keep it from being more than a small thing in the background, but it is noticeable.

In summary, this was a fantastic western historical full of danger, mystery, passion, grit, humor, and life in the Old West.  I can definitely recommend it.

My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Challenges Met:

Romance Roundabout #158 HR
Bad Boys #22

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.
  • Oh, this sounds really good, Sophie Rose! Can you believe I’ve never read a Jo Goodman book? I guess that needs to change now. Great review!
    I hope you’re having a great week.
    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

    • There are so many good ones that I need to get around to as well, Lexxie. I love her books and want to read more.

  • I like rancher type romances and this one sounds fun. Great review.

    • Oh yes, there are some chuckling moments for sure, Mary!

  • Wow…. Pancakes is really their last name? At first I thought you were joking but then I kept reading and discovered that… you were in fact not joking. teehee! But aside from that, this sounds like a book I would sit in bed and read all day while it’s raining. Plus, it’s a Western and I’m such a fan of that setting, with all the dusty roads and stuff. So I’m glad this was a good read for you lovely!

    XOXO! <3

    • Yeah, I got the giggles when I saw their last name and the name of their ranch. It was so absurd that it just made it seem more authentic.
      Oh yes, this is a good one to cuddle up with while it’s raining outside.

  • Israel and Willa sound like a great couple. I can’t remember a Western historical romance that I’ve read, if ever. So glad you loved it!

    • I don’t see too many compared to other historicals, but I have a few writers that really make the west come alive.

  • Wow. I just googled the last name Pancake and it’s real! Pretty shocked. Old west books are OK but if I am going to read historical fiction I want Scotland or Ireland and the 1700’s or early 1800’s. I know…picky. However you make this one sound so good! Thank you for sharing!

    • Isn’t that name a hoot? I figured it had to be real just b/c it was so odd.

      It’s okay to be picky. 🙂 That’s what you like and I like those places and periods, too.

  • Ahh another on my list that *should* have been read but hasn’t quite been. lol

    Glad to see it’s so good! That niggle…yeah I’ve had that with hers as well. But still love the reads 😀

    • I have a few ‘should have beens’ too.
      Yes, the speech pattern is noticeable, but doesn’t detract from the actual story. I mention it b/c it takes some getting used to which I’m sure you remember. 🙂

      • Yup. Usually by about the 50% mark I stop noticing it. But so far that’s been the case with all of the ones I’ve read of hers.

        • It comes and it goes each time I have to set down the book and then pick it up. I think I notice it most when she pairs it with another character in dialogue who effects the Western drawl.

  • oh I do love a good gritty western romance and boy do I need to read this author!!!

    • I think you’ll like her books, Renee. If you go with this series start with This Gun For Hire so you get Israel’s brother’s story first. That was a good one, too.

  • Oh I think I am due a western romance (honestly I don’t think I have read one since I was 18). This sound wonderful, you have me convinced. I am adding it to my TRL.

    • That’s great, Maggie! Crossing my fingers that you’ll enjoy it since it’s your first western in a bit.

  • Sometimes it’s tricky finding out the book order. I nowadays always check goodreads first, especially when I am on netgalley as they never list whether books are part of a series. Also I had to smile about that surname of that family, Pancakes, lol.
    I like the sound of the gritty feel and the romance and the mystery. And that’s great you really get a feel for the ranch, I like it when I can imagine how the place looks like. That’s too bad about that way of speaking, writing style or style of speak can niggle at me sometimes ( I recently had a book where that happened), but usually you do eventually get used to it. Great review!

    • Yes, book order is tricky. In the case of this one, not even GoodReads had it listed as a sequel. I just happened to have gotten lucky that I read it after the previous one so I caught that the other couple in the story were from a previous book and happened to be his brother. Sometimes I get books out of order on purpose, but usually it’s because I didn’t realize about the series. I’m doing better depending on GoodReads, too.

      For sure! I giggled when I saw their family name, too.

      Yes, the description of the Old West setting and the attention to the characters acting and living like they should be there is one of the best parts. It takes a while, but I did end up getting adjusted to the style of the heroine’s speech. You’re right, it just takes getting used to.

      Thanks, Lola!