Goldenrod by Ann McMan is the third book in her Jericho series and to say it’s been worth the wait is an understatement. I think you could read it on its own, but I have no idea why you wouldn’t want to read Jericho or Aftermath first when they’re both such wonderful books.
Everyone in Jericho seems to be seeking equilibrium these days. Maddie and Syd are still together, trying to figure out what their home is now that their foster son, Henry, is living with his father again. James and Henry are establishing their own life in Jericho, and while Henry is making friends with Dorothy and Buddy, James is feeling unsettled now that he’s out of the military. Maddie’s mother, Celine, is living fulltime in Jericho too, remodeling an old house and denying that her life is undergoing a little remodeling of its own thanks to her relationship with a younger man. Roma Jean Freemantle is over her attraction to Maddie and is experiencing the exciting rush of attraction with another woman (who happens to find her clumsiness adorable). Everything would be great if it weren’t for the bigoted mayor who starts ramming through a bunch of ordinances clearly aimed at one thing—hurting immigrants and gay and lesbian business owners in Jericho.
Goldenrod is a nice mix of familiar and new characters. I adored spending time with Maddie, Syd, and the people they care most about because it was like visiting old friends. More than that, though, I was particularly impressed with how quickly Ann McMan was able to make me care about new characters. Dorothy and her storyline held me by the throat and I was so invested in her story that I needed to know what was next for her as soon as I finished the book. (Yes, I asked the author. No, I won’t tell you if I even got an answer.) I also appreciated getting to know James a lot better and seeing him struggle with finding his way with Henry in Jericho. On the opposite end of the spectrum, is the mayor, Gerald Watson, who is easily one of the most hateable characters going. He’s the perfect worst-of-the-worst right winger who isn’t happy unless he’s messing with basic human rights for anyone who isn’t straight or white.
I’d like to make a special shoutout for Azalea Freemantle. I adore her new job and everything related to that, which I won’t spoil by sharing here because it’s best to just experience it.
The Writing Style
Make no mistake. This is no retread of Jericho, and thank goodness for that. While Jericho is a fabulous romance and Aftermath is a love letter to small town life, Goldenrod has tremendous depth as it explores the idea of family. There are good parents, dangerous ones, and everything in between. Through the families of blood and families of choice that fill the town, Ann McMan interrogates what it means to truly be a good parent, even if it isn’t what other people would expect. That so many of the parents are searching for their new normal is especially interesting because it reveals which family members are up for the task.
Goldenrod tackles some tough stuff and thankfully does so without ever becoming overwhelming or relentless. Much like how Backcast’s difficult subject matter is handled, the hardest passages to take in are balanced by the humour and gentle tone of the rest of the book. This meant that no matter how angry or upset something made me, I was quickly cajoled out of it, keeping me invested in the book and ensuring I didn’t need to take long breaks to process what I’d read.
And goodness is that writing ever gorgeous sometimes. For example, when Roma Jean’s girlfriend, Charlie, thinks back on a design class she took and how it relates to her relationship with Roma Jean:
One of the first things they talked about was how you needed to know the difference between subtractive and additive color. One system started with white and ended with black—and the other started with black and ended with white. The whole point was that black and white were the results you got when you either subtracted or added all colors together. Whether you were adding or subtracting, it took all colors to reach opposite ends of the spectrum.
It was a tough concept to grasp and she never really understood it.
Not until she met Roma Jean.
Roma Jean was a perfect mix of all colors. And her contradictions proved how opposites could coexist in perfect harmony. It made no sense, and it made all kinds of sense. And it didn’t take Charlie very long to figure out that adding a hefty dose of Roma Jean to the darkness of her own life was resulting in a fantastic explosion of light.
Reading that for the first time was so good that I had to immediately go back over it to savour the words all over again. There’s a rhythm to it and in so many other parts of the book that just works beautifully, especially if Buddy is in the scene—trust me, you’ll see what I mean.
As always, Christine Williams knocked it out of the park. Her voice is perfect for bringing the people and situations of Goldenrod to life and I hope to hear many a future Ann McMan book narrated by her.
With politics being what they are right now in the United States and a lot of the world, this is a book we need. It draws a line in the sand about what’s right and what’s not, in our homes and in our communities. Even better, it does so in a way that’s warm, witty, and engaging.
I said (and celebrated) earlier that Goldenrod isn’t another Jericho and I’ll say it again here because that is a definite pro. Goldenrod has that essence of Jericho, ensuring that they belong in the same series, while still being a better book.
This is sort of spoiler territory, but it’s hinted at in the prologue, so you’d find out as soon as you pick up the book anyway. If you still want to avoid the spoiler, skip to the conclusion.
Still with me?
This is more of a content warning than a con. Dorothy’s father physically and verbally abuses her and we sometimes see it on the page. It’s never gratuitous and it’s handled very well, but I know it’s a no-go for some people.
With each book, Ann McMan goes from strength to strength, and Goldenrod is no exception. It has the heart of Jericho with the maturity and complexity of Backcast. In my entirely biased opinion, it’s tied with Backcast as her best book, and I cannot wait to see what Ann McMan has in store for us next.
Excerpt from Goldenrod by Ann McMan
Maddie took a break from her grating and picked up her wine glass. They’d opened a bottle of Invetro because the full-bodied super Tuscan was big enough to stand up to tonight’s menu. Maddie sniffed it and let its dazzling aroma fill up her senses. She took a conservative sip and savored it while she listened to the staccato sound of Syd’s knife contacting the chopping block.
“What are you doing over there? It sounds incredibly tedious.”
“I’m making salsa.”
“Making salsa? What’s wrong with the kind that comes in the jar?”
“Maddie?” Syd turned around again. “Keep it up and you’ll be eating Marshmallow Fluff for dinner.”
Maddie brightened up at once. “Do we have some of that?”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“You’ll have to get in line.”
Syd rolled her eyes and walked to the stove to stir the ground meat and seasonings. “I’ll claim prior privilege.”
“That might work.”
“Not that any special inducements are required, but who else wants to kill you?”
“Today, or in general?”
Syd laughed. “Let’s start with in general and go from there.”
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781612940830
- Publisher: Bywater Books
- Audiobook Publisher: Audible Studios
- Narrator: Christine Williams
Ann McMan Online
Note: I received a free review copy of Goldenrod by Ann McMan. No money was exchanged for this review. I will always review books as honestly as possible and on occasion I refuse to review books.