With All My Heart
by Jo Goodman, historical (1999)
Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-6145-5


I haven't read any of the two Thorne brothers books that preceded With All My Heart, but I must say I am able to follow the developments of this story quite well. That's a plus. Also, the author's style is akin to the lush, epic-style of storytelling of yore, with lots of details and great engaging prose. Those are the plusses. The minus is... well, too much detail. I skipped a few chapters upon first (of two) reading and believe me, I could still follow the story well.

From my discussion with friends familiar with the Thorne brothers, this story revolves the romance of the third Thorne brother Graham with psychic Berkeley Shaw. Graham and his brothers Colin and Decker were separated at an orphanage, and each possesses a family heirloom (an earring) that would hopefully later be used as a means of identification and reunification. Well, Decker and Colin are happily together again, and now it's all up to Graham to make the family complete.

Unfortunately, Graham made his foster, Southern slave-owning family mad by becoming a vigilante of the slave-freeing Underground. Disowned, disgraced, the poor man had to get beaten up by his foster brother and was left to rot somewhere. Graham recovered with a big case of amnesia and starts life anew as "Grey Janeway".

Today, one sunny day in 1850: Colin and Decker and their wives hire Berkeley (who can sense things about the owners of objects she touches) to help locate Graham/Grey.

Berkeley and her husband Anderson take off to San Francisco to locate Graham, but halfway there Berkeley is abandoned by Anderson. Disguised as a boy, she bumps into - guess who? Grey! Grey hires her as a hostess in his new salon, and they put the many boudoirs to good use. But ah - is the nasty Husband really gone for good? How about this Grey's Past?

This story takes place in a surprisingly leisurely pace despite the frantic Gold Rush and rowdy gang fights and bustle that make the backdrop of With All My Heart, and for the first 200 pages, it's a riveting read. Grey and Berkeley are pretty decent romantic leads, although they also lack the it factor that makes a romantic couple stand out - be it witty repartees, conflagration of sexual tension, or just pure chemistry. Grey and Berkeley never actually stand out from the myriad of details in this story. They are actually more like part of the props of a stageplay than the star attraction - they don't stick as much as they should in my mind. Pity.

And if Arnold Schwarzenegger's gung-ho hero shows the finger at an incoming missile, shouting, "I'll take it like a he-man!", well, Berkeley, in the grand tradition of good psychics, stands timidly, fists clenched, and whimpers, "I'll take it like a martyr." That's right, folks, send her all the blame, guilt, despair, melancholy, and pity. She'll take it all in stride. Berkeley must be commended for her ability to shed tear, whimper or whisper in forlorn tones, and take the blame for everything bad in her vicinity. It must be tough be a romantic and psychic heroine - her spine is amazingly fragile.

Still, all these wouldn't be too bad if the story doesn't drag on its feet. Pages of pages of Berkeley reading fortunes and shopping for clothes and enjoying the view can really be sleep-inducing after 200 pages. Also, I am bombarded with so many details about their lives, histories, and hopes and wishes that don't do anything but to pad pages - with me on medication too, I can't resist the call of Mr Snoozy. Zzzz.

Perhaps that's the trouble with this story - it is the grand wrap-up of what is obviously a long, grand epic family saga, and I've just only jumped in at this late stage. Without the necessary background reading, I cannot appreciate the incessant bombardment of details. The author has to wrap up a family reunion, create a beautiful romance between Berkeley and Graham/Grey, settle Berkeley's problems, settle Graham/Grey's problems, and provide a warm family big hug scene at the epilogue. A daunting and almost impossible task indeed to fulfil in mere 429 pages. Ultimately, someone has to be left disappointed, and in this case it's me, a novice to the Thorne brother saga.

Can't they put a label on the cover, something like Hey, read the previous two books first!?

Rating: 73


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