June Kearns

‘An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy’ by June Kearns – More Than a Romance

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I discovered June Kearns’ books through the lovely Rosie Amber’s blog when I reviewed ‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’ (see my review here). I enjoyed it so much that I had to read ‘An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy’. Hope you enjoy my review and the extract from the book that follows. You can read my interview with June here.

Review

This is a lovely book, thoroughly enjoyable, well written and with a cast of characters that you’ll love and hate!

Annie Haddon is dragged to the American west by her horrible aunt and vile cousin. Bullied and brow beaten, and threatened with marriage to a man she finds revolting, Annie is resigned to a miserable life as she travels by stagecoach  across the hot, dusty plains. But a hold-up sees her rescued by the handsome and dangerous Colt McCall and Annie is led into a series of mishaps, dangers and adventures.

Feisty but not perfect, Annie is a character that it’s easy to identify with. I so wanted her to escape the clutches of her horrible family and find the happiness she deserved.

June Kearns has once again invented a strong yet vulnerable main character, a leading man that you’ll fall in love with and a romance that is anything but soppy. And the social constraints that point to nothing but a life of misery for a girl who has so much to her and so much to give are a poignant reminder of how many women were denied happiness because they didn’t fit in with society’s idea of normal.

Highly recommended.

gold star

Extract

Annie’s  eyes  probed  the  shadows. Even  with  the  moon  up, it  was  hard  to  see  more  than  a  few  feet. Dark  shapes  and  silhouettes, all  perfectly  still. Trees, rocks, scrub. She  sensed  life  but  could  see  no  movement, nothing  to  suggest  they  were  not  entirely  alone. It  was  eerily  quiet.

    ‘Are  those  Red  Indians  still  behind us?’

    McCall  didn’t  answer  straight  away. Then, ‘Yep. Right  on  our  tails.’

    ‘I  can’t  see  any  sign  of  them.’

    ‘You  can’t  hear  them  either, but  they’re  there.’

    ‘Why  don’t  they  say  what  they  want?’

    A  careless  shrug. ‘They’ll  get  around  to  it, eventually. Right  now, they’ve  got  everything  their  way, they’re  in  no  hurry.’

    ‘Can’t  you  just … parley  with  them  or  something? Ask  them  to … go  away?’

    ‘You  mean  offer  a  handful  of  beads  and  greetings  from  the  Great  White  Queen? England  Rules,’ he  drawled, as  the  colour  rose  in  Annie’s  face  again. ‘I  wouldn’t  count  on  conversation  if  I  were  you. I  don’t  think  that’s  what  they  have  in  mind.’

    ‘Why  don’t  we  go  on, then?’ she  said. ‘Now  that  it’s  dark. I’m  feeling  much  better. Couldn’t  we  creep  away  while  they’re  not  looking?’

    A  faint  snort. ‘Comanche  are  always  looking. We’re  not  creeping  anywhere, we’ll  hole  up  here.’

    ‘Hole?’ she  said. ‘Up?’

    ‘Make  camp. Sleep, rest  the  horse.’

    ‘Here?’ Staring  blankly  round, Annie  stiffened. ‘In  the  open?’ Her  voice  rose  sharply. ‘Together?’

    ‘Good  water, some  shelter. What  more  do  you  want?’

    Doors, she  thought. With  locks. Walls. Privacy! She  was  covered  in  confusion.

    ‘You  can  rest  easy.’  McCall’s  mouth  twitched. Clearly  he  had  managed  to  add  mind-reading  to  his  list  of  talents. ‘I  never  move  in  on  a  woman  without  a  clear  invitation. No  matter  how  alluring.’

    Oh, ho. Annie’s  eyes  rolled. Very  funny. She  didn’t  need  mirrors  to  know  that  she  looked  a  fright. Face  scorched  by  wind  and  sun, hair  a  wayward  red  bush  down  her  back. Probably  blood-shot  eyes  and  a  coated  tongue, as  well.

    But  men  like  McCall  had  never  shown  the  slightest  interest  in  her  before, even  when  she’d  been  well-dressed, nicely  shod  and  prettily  groomed. Why  would  things  alter  now?

    He  passed  her  a  blanket, then  stretched  out  full-length, propping  his  head  on  his  saddle.

    ‘Are  you  sleeping  there?’  She  shot  him  a  startled, side-ways  look.

    ‘Yep.’ He  tilted  his  hat  over  his  eyes. ‘This  is  as  private  as  it  gets. Just  you, me  and  the  lone  prair-ree.’

    ‘But … what  about  those  Comanche?’      

    ‘Whatever  they’re  planning, they  won’t  come  in  tonight. They  rarely  risk  dying  in  the  dark. Think  their  souls  might  lose  their  way.’

    In  spite  of  everything, Annie  felt  stirrings  of  interest. Hadn’t  she  yearned  for  travel  and  adventure? Epic  journeys  to  far-flung  parts  with  an  elderly  female  relative  as chaperon? Well, here  she  was. Another  dream  shattered.

    It  was  some  time  before  she  could  settle  down. So  many  strange  and  unfamiliar  sounds. The  whisper  of  water, wind  in  the  cottonwoods. Rustlings, night  noises. Birds – a  covert glance  at  McCall – and  beasts.

    Had  the  man  no  consideration? Couldn’t  he  climb a  tree, sleep  in  that?

    A  harsh  wail  echoed  a  way  off. Annie  sat  up  sharply. ‘Mr  McCall!’

    He  didn’t  stir.

    ‘Was  that  a  wolf? A  coyote?’

    ‘I  sure  hope  so.’ The  drawl  drifted  up  from  beneath  the  brim  of  his  hat.

    That  was  it? No  reassurances, no  sleep  well? No  keeping  watch?  ‘But,’ she  said, breathing  hard, ‘what  if –’

    ‘I  sleep  with  one  eye  open. Try  it  yourself.’

    Hauling  the  blanket  up  round  her  ears, she  lay  down  in  semblance  of  sleep. Eyes though, were  wide, fixed  on  black  velvet  sky  and  a  million  stars  over  her  head.

    ‘If  you  need  anything,’ he  said, the  amusement  clear  in  his  voice. ‘I’m  only  six  inches  away.’

    Annie  lay  stiff  as  a  board. The  lamb  stretched  out  next  to  the  lion. But  would  the  lion  be  licking  his  lips  in  the  morning? 

You can buy a copy here (UK) and here (US)

June is on Twitter: @june_kearns

on Facebook

and at: www.junekearns.com

www.newromantics4.com

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

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As part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Challenge (check it out here) I was lucky enough to read June Kearns’ wonderful novel ‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’. June has kindly agreed to be my guest on the blog today and to share some of her insights and experiences about writing, reading and life in general. My review and an extract from the novel follow June’s interview.

June Kearns

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

As a solitary little girl (only child!), who was always daydreaming, I started writing my own stories almost as soon as I could read. In the 1970s, I won a National Magazine Competition for the first chapter of a romantic novel, and years later, a version of that became the beginning of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.

How did you come up with the title of your novel? 

It wasn’t easy! I’d almost finished the book when the roaring 20s became a real trend – the new Gatsby film, Downton setting and all those art deco and flapper fashion references. I wanted to somehow give a sense of that era!

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your novel?

My least favourite is probably Mrs Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. You can probably guess because I gave her a name with two hyphens, and said she had something of the dowager about her – with little finger sticking out at a perfect ninety-degree angle as she held her teacup.

What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing your novel?

Hiccups? Ooh, yes! The novel has two settings – the English shires and Texas. Checking and double checking different types and conditions of travel, times of journeys, ships, trains, timetables and distances, then factoring in weather – left me cross-eyed.

What are you working on now? 

At the beginning of the year, I was writing something set in the 1930s. It wasn’t going well, and I’d started making any excuse not to get on with it – de-fleaing the cat, washing socks. Then someone on Twitter asked for 60s memorabilia, and I had one of those light-bulb moments. This, I thought, is what I should be writing about! So, I’ve started – London setting, photographer hero – and it’s going well.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The wall in front of my desk is covered in post-it notes with encouraging little phrases and bon mots! Here’s one that I really like: Stop apologising! Relax! Just write the story you want to read. Also: Write for your readers, not for other writers. Having said that, the New Romantics 4 give me constant support and encouragement

What writer would you choose as a mentor?

It would have to be Jane Austen. She was such a master of romance – combining fabulous characters, comedy, complications and reversals with great pacing and cracking dialogue. How did she do that? I need her to tell me!

Who is your favourite author and what do you love about their work?

I love lots of women writers, but especially Anne Tyler. She’s quirky and clever, but with a deceptively simple style. Ladder of Years is one of my favourites. Lovely!

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

In my twenties on a trip to Canada, I (briefly!) worked as a waitress in a drive-in restaurant, on roller skates. It wasn’t a success. Have you read Allan Ahlberg’s Mrs Wobble the Waitress? There were incidents. I was sacked.

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‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’ – My Review

I loved this book! June Kearns has created a romantic page turner devoid of soppiness but full of heart, laughter and wonderful characters that draw you in to their well-drawn world.

Gerardina Chiledexter is struggling to fund the run-down bookshop that is all she has been left by her extravagant, glamorous aunt (except for a mountain of debts). Just when it seems she has nowhere left to turn, she receives a surprise inheritance – half a cattle ranch in Texas.

We are swept away with Gerry to the wildness and heat of Texas, where she is made less than welcome by co-owner Coop. Confused by her conflicting feelings towards him, Gerry makes some rash decisions that lead her further into debt and seem to pave the way to a life of lonely spinsterhood.

However, there are twists and turns and surprises galore, along with a helping hand from some friendly spirits hoping to guide Gerry towards a brighter future.

The author does a fantastic job of bringing two very different places to life – the contrast between the dry heat of the vast plains of Texas was contrasted beautifully with the cold wet winters of England. I could feel Gerry suffocating as she listened to the rain dripping on to the windows of Prim’s tiny cottage.

The context of the novel was really interesting. The lack of eligible men to marry after the end of WWI was a real problem for women who had few other opportunities in life. Gerry, although a bright, funny and lovely girl, is not immune to this pressure, or to the fear of spinsterhood. I hate it when writers give us feisty female heroines from history who live independent, happy lives immune to social pressures. It’s refreshing to have a realistic heroine who is more than aware of the social constraints that have a very real bearing on what she is and isn’t allowed to do. And the little quotes at the beginning of each chapter offered a real insight into the pressures put on women at the time.

I thoroughly recommend this novel and will definitely be reading more of June Kearns’ work.

Five out of five stars.

You can buy a copy on Amazon (and I strongly recommend that you do!)

June is on Twitter: @june_kearns

on Facebook

and at: www.junekearns.com

www.newromantics4.com

 

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

Autumn 1924. The English Shires.

    She would. She wouldn’t. She might.

    Pushed  down  the  lane  by  a  wet  wind, Gerry  held  onto  her  hat  and  her   bicycle. Hedgerows, trees, fields, flew by in a blur. It  was  weather  for  woollies  and  wellies, but  she  hadn’t  got  either  of  those.

    Instead, she  was  drenched  in  scent   and  in  something  crêpe-de-chine  with  flapping  skirts  from  the  bottom  of  her  aunt  Leonie’s  trunk.

    Why? Because she hadn’t decided what to do yet.

    What was wrong with her? Anyone  would  think  she  was  feather-headed, the  number  of  times  she’d  changed  her  mind. Goodness  knows  there  were  few  enough  men  to  go  round  anymore, and  how  many  of  those  were  beating  a  path  to  her  door? She should be grateful.

    Squishing  bicycle  wheels  through  leaves  at  the  side  of  the  road, she  chewed  the  knicker-elastic  under  her  chin, there  to  stop  her  hat  from  flying  off. A  gang  of  rooks  in  gothic  black  rose  up – caa  caa – to  swirl  over  ploughed  fields  behind  the  hedge.

    If only the invitation had been for something else. Afternoon tea with Archie’s parents? Just thinking about it made her twitch.

    So  what  if  she  was  pushing  thirty, with  the  chill  wind  of  spinsterhood  gusting  round  her  ears? She  wasn’t  ready  yet, for  trial  by  Major  and  Mrs  Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. Nowhere near.

    ‘All right, Miss-Change-Your-Mind,’ Prim had said. ‘What’s wrong with Archie?’

  1. Engaging good looks, a winning way. The sort  of  suitor  to  bring  a  grateful  tear  to  any  mother’s  eye. It wasn’t him, it was her. Small, unexceptional, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter.

    ‘He’s nice,’ she’d said. ‘I’m flattered. But what have we got in common? A  sort  of  junior  squire  from  a  county  family, who  hunts  and  shoots  things – and  me.’ She had paused. ‘D’you think it’s money?’

    A snort from Prim. ‘You haven’t got any.’

    ‘Archie doesn’t know that, does he? We  don’t  talk  about  those  things, we  don’t  even  laugh  together  much.’

    Prim had enquired, rather sourly, what there was to laugh about. ‘Look at me,’ she’d said. ‘I’ll  never  bag  a  husband  now, the  competition’s  far  too  cut-throat. It’s not fair; I’ve been cheated. My  destiny, whoever  he  was, is  probably  under  the  mud  of  some  awful  French  battlefield.’

    ‘Is there such a thing,’ Gerry had murmured, ‘as destiny?’

    ‘Your aunt believed in it. Did  she  have  an  opinion  on  Archie, as  a  matter  of  interest?’

    ‘Erm …’ (‘Well-bred, but weak, darling. A mother’s boy. Fingernails too clean. And that name! Hardly trips off the tongue, does it?’)

    Of  course, Leonie  had  an  opinion  on  most  things, and  hadn’t  been  shy  about  sharing  them, either. Physics, fortune-telling, foreign money. Not that her views had always been reliable. Who  cared  though, when  she’d  taught  you  to  dance  the  hoochie  coochie  and  the  turkey  trot, wearing  ostrich  feathers  and  waving  an  Egyptian  cigarette  in  a  long  black  holder?

    Wild, wonderful Leonie. Why did you leave us in such a mess?

    Gerry  careered  down  the  hill  to  the  higgledy-piggledy  part  of  town, past  Peagrams  Drapers  and  Outfitters (Dresses  for  all  seasons), and  Hazeldines  Bakery (Bread  with  purity  and  nutty  flavour).

    Clattering  over  cobbles  to  the  saggy  frontage  of  Bent’s  Fine  and  Rare  Books, she  came  to  an  abrupt  halt.

    ‘Igor! Move.’

    A  scar-nosed, frayed-eared  hooligan  tomcat, big  as  a  small  bear,  sat  in  the  doorway, eyeing  her  coldly.

    ‘Shoo!’ She rang her bell, stamped her foot. ‘Shoo, shoo!’

    Turning  his  head  with  infinite  disdain, Igor  didn’t  budge  an  inch.

    After  some  complicated  manoeuvring  of  wheels  and  cat’s  tails, Gerry  banged  up  the  steps  into  the  narrow  three-storied  building  that  housed  the  bookshop. The bell over the door jangled its annoyance.

    ‘That cat,’ she announced, ‘is scary! A witch’s cat. Not a whisker of loyalty to anyone.’

    From  behind  a  pile  of  catalogues, business  letters, bills  and  receipts, Prim  peered  over  her  spectacles. ‘Did you look in a mirror before you came out?’

    ‘It was windy.’

    ‘Well, a man called to see you, apparently. Left a note on the door. Better smarten up a bit before he comes back. That’s  not  a  suitable  dress  to  ride  a  bicycle  in.’ She  held  out  a  handkerchief. ‘And there’s oil on your nose.’

    ‘Which man?’ Rubbing her face, Gerry noticed Prim’s tight bun unravelling. Always a bad sign.

    ‘Name of …’ Prim rummaged for the note, ‘hmm … let’s see. Yes, Cooper.’

    ‘Who? Do we owe him money?’

    ‘Gerry dear, we owe everyone money.’

    Almost everyone. They  were  sliding  out  of  control, that  was  for  sure, and  it  was  Gerry’s  responsibility  now, all  down  to  her, and  the  reason  for  layers  of  bags  under  her  eyes.

    Debt, they were in debt. Aunt  Leonie’s  bookshop  sinking  under  a  huge  wave  of  bills  and  final   demands  and  Gerry  couldn’t  sleep, because  of  dreams  of  being  dragged  off  to  debtor’s  prison  by  crowds  of  baying  creditors.

    ‘Can’t we at least ask Cyril to mend that window?’

    ‘No.’ Prim tapped her teeth with a pencil. ‘Even Cyril and his ladders are beyond us now. I  wouldn’t  take  your  coat  off   either, if  I  were  you. There’s no more coal for the stove.’

    The  few  early  customers  in  the  shop  weren’t  likely  to  save  their  bacon  either – someone  from  the  Light  Opera  Group  looking  for  music  and  one  of  the  Miss  Webbs  after  the  new  Ethel  M. Dell.