Saturday, June 30, 2012


I’m pleased to congratulate Naomi Baltuck who has won Shirl Henke’s book, CHOSEN WOMAN! Naomi, if you would contact Shirl through her website ( and provide your address, she will send you the book. I know you’ll enjoy it--and thanks for commenting!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Favorite Author and Guest Blogger Shirl Henke on HOW I LEARNED TO LOVE THE WEST AND “HALF-BREED” HEROES

“If either Freud or the Navajo speak true, westward we shall find the hole in the earth through which the soul may plunge to peace.” -- Bernard DeVoto, The Year of Decision: 1846

When Regan invited me to blog during her Western Romance month, I was honored and delighted. I love writing the West. But as the quote above might indicate, I was a history teacher before I became an author. The Western frontier has always fascinated me. I believe it is a thing of the imagination, not of boundary lines. To the European, a frontier is simply a diving line bordering a foreign nation. To the American the frontier is as limitless as his own dreams and aspirations.

Why does the West still hold such a deeply rooted place in our imagination? It promised many things to many people. It was freedom to begin again, to reinvent oneself in whatever form a man or a woman required, perhaps to escape the long arm of the law, or the crippling despair of poverty. The West offered the lure of quick wealth, but people came for a great deal more than material success. Trailblazers like Hugh Glass and John Colter thirsted to see what was beyond the far horizon. Lewis and Clark’s journals narrate an epic adventure that surpassed Jason and Odysseus by over a thousand miles.

These frontiersmen were surely hero material, friends. The West of their dreams was as spiritual as it was material. In fact, I believe it is the stuff of primal myth. I don’t think it’s accidental that Star Trek became a classic franchise. The opening line says it all: “Space, the final frontier….” Marshall Dillon and Captain Kirk had a lot more in common than Hollywood ever imagined.

What infinite potential for great stories with fascinating characters to fill them! No other time and place in history ever brought so many people from across the earth to participate in so vast a movement as did the western expansion of the 19th century on the American frontier. Every national, racial, religious and ethnic group lived in the West. Native Americans battled to survive as land-hungry peoples from around the globe challenged them, beginning with the Spanish conquistadors whose legacy reached from Mexico across the arid plains of Texas all the way to sleepy Old California.

Czarist Russians crossed the Bering Straits and staked their claims as far south as California. Then came French fur trappers from distant Quebec and steamy Louisiana, colorful and intrepid adventurers who first dared the treachery of the Missouri, a river to make strong men weep and rich men poor. Anglo riflemen from the hardscrabble hills of Kentucky and Tennessee were next, those of Dan’l Boone and Davy Crockett‘s fame.

Cattle barons were often literally barons, titled gents from England, France and the Germanies. The dispossessed came from everywhere—Scandinavians searching for rich farmland, wily Scots merchants who drove hard bargains, brawling Welsh and Irish to dig canals and lay rails across a continent. Chinese sailed from Canton to do the most skilled and deadly job of all, opening the hard rock mining frontier. Kanakas from Hawaii became scalpers on the Texas/Mexico border. Blacks, newly freed after the bloody carnage of the Civil War, poured across Texas and all the way up into Kansas. The Freedman farmed and punched cattle, became gunfighters, lawmen, and the Buffalo Soldiers of legend. There was not a city of any size in the West that did not have a Jewish community. Can you imagine any venue offering richer raw material for storytelling than this?

The Western and the historical romance compliment each other uniquely. What is more primal and powerful than the male/female relationship, marriage and the recreation of life? What better place for a man and a woman to start a new life than in the West—to reinvent themselves, and in the process of self-discovery, discover love?

Back in the late Pleistocene when I first started to daydream, all my plot ideas were set in the West. Of the thirty-plus books I’ve published to date, most are Western. I’ve set novels in Regency England, Renaissance Italy, the Caribbean and Revolutionary War Georgia, but I can’t resist crossing the Mississippi again and again. Let me back up and give you a little personal history, and yeah, admit as Marsha Canham says, that I’m one of the authors who started working when chisels were the only tools and writing was done on stone tablets.

I grew up in the era of the TV Western: Maverick, Have Gun—Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Cheyenne, Bonanza, and many more. I read Luke Short and Zane Grey, and went every Saturday to the movies to see Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy. As a kid I was hooked on “cowboys and Indians.” Then my parents took a trip from our hometown of St. Louis to Wyoming. As the jagged majesty of the Tetons appeared on the seemingly endless horizon, I grew spellbound. That same summer the movie Shane was released. I thought I knew all about what made the West, well, The West—gunfighters, cowboys, and the cavalry rescuing wagon trains from marauding Indians who were mostly the villains.

Then I majored in history in college where I learned that the West was a great deal more complex—and fascinating. The concept of “West” is linked to our nation’s expansion. The first settlers pouring across the Cumberland Gap defined it as Kentucky. Men pursued by the law crossing the Sabine called it Texas. Dirt farmers saw the promise in what scoffers labeled “the Great American desert.” They called it Kansas. To gold seekers, it glittered in California, then rode on Nevada’s zephyr winds and beckoned under Montana’s Big Sky. Later it called from the lofty grandeur of the Colorado Rockies and finally, the ice palaces of Alaska.

Remember, I never started out to become a writer. I was just a dreamer who drifted into college teaching. My years in academe fed my fascination with the American frontier. Then I discovered historical romance! I read voraciously in my spare time, and over summer breaks, devouring mostly Westerns by such pioneers as Lisa Gregory, LaVyrle Spencer, Francine Rivers and Rosemary Rogers. Around this point I gathered up my courage and admitted I wanted to write a book. Finally, I dared to scribble down eleven pages of plot outline for a story set in Old California. Disclosure: one of my favorite TV Westerns was Zorro. Then I called my best friend and read those pages to her. She loved ‘em! Considering that I used more “white-out” than paper, she offered to type for me. Yep, this was before computers were available. I sharpened a dozen pencils, opened a ream of loose-leaf notebook paper and wrote my first novel, GOLDEN LADY.

At the time I began reading historicals, romance authors had written about Native American heroes and Anglo heroines for many years. Although the books were bestsellers, I had a problem believing that an Indian man from a tribal society, no matter how noble, could build a relationship with a woman educated in the white world. How much more credible would it be if that hero was a man caught between those two worlds, a half-breed who was educated yet still rejected by white society? Ironically, because of his white blood, he seldom could gain full acceptance in his tribe either.

To most white women in the 19th century West, all Indians were “savages.” But how exotic and forbidden for a heroine to be attracted to a man of mixed blood, a man outside the pale of “civilization.” His education might intrigue her, but it would only make him aware of the boundaries between them. But with such a bold and unconventional woman, he could trade quips and even quote Shakespeare. In spite of everything against them, the half-breed and the heroine could bond intellectually, not just physically. It would be them against the prejudices on both sides of the racial divide.

For my third novel I had a story concept that didn’t fit anywhere I wanted to go. It was about a disinherited son. His father wanted to replace him with a new heir for a vast estate. Unfortunately, the idea sounded like a Medieval and I wanted to write Westerns. But if my hero was a half-breed and his father was a white cattle baron, I could use the plot, and try my hand at creating my first hero caught between red and white worlds. The result was Hawk Sinclair. His father sent him East to school to be “civilized.” But he quickly learned that he had no greater acceptance there than he’d had from the cold, ruthless Noah Sinclair. When Hawk grew up, he became a gunman, drifting aimlessly, belonging nowhere—until he met his father’s new wife. Younger than him, Carrie was also a victim of his father’s cruelty, forced into a loveless marriage that left her desolate.

Before I was halfway finished writing CAPTURE THE SUN, I loved Hawk, especially when he and Carrie started to spar. It really worked having him shock her with his erudition and charm her with his wit. Yeah, I was on to something with my twist on Indian heroes. I could explore racial prejudice while I built sexual tension. Part of the “code of the West” was that white women did not marry “breeds.” This prejudice caused irreparable splits in families.
In A FIRE IN THE BLOOD, it was the heroine’s father who disowned his only child. In NIGHT WIND'S WOMAN, I created the Irish mercenary Conal Quinn, the most purely evil villain I’ve ever written--although the uncle in Endless Sky comes a close second. All these men hated those they considered “their inferiors.” The intelligence, education, honor and decency of my mixed blood heroes only served to underscore the virulence of society’s bigotry.

After I wrote about Hawk, the Cheyenne, I created Lipan Apache, Sioux and Muskogee protagonists. These were all proud, lonely men who stood outside looking in at two societies, neither of which accepted them. To hide their pain, oh, and I do love to torture my heroes, they became hard-edged and mistrustful…until they met the right women, whose unconditional love made them whole. Only then could they belong for the first time in their lives.

One truism in history is that it’s always written by the victors. What really happened at the Little Big Horn? Crazy Horse might have won the battle but the U.S. Army won the war. Ultimately, all the Sioux, Cheyenne and their allies paid a bitter price. Telling their side of the story compelled me to write THE ENDLESS SKY. My half-breed hero was the heir to the Remington fortune in Boston, yet gave it all up to return to his father’s people. He and his white wife lived with the Indians whom Custer attacked. I recreated that epic battle with them as eyewitnesses. They survived but Chase Remington's beloved Cheyenne family did not fare so well after the story ended.

To that point, my heroes had always longed for acceptance in red society. They tried to return to the simple and honorable traditions of tribal loyalty. What if my educated half-breed hero rejected his Indian blood and wanted to be white instead? Wow, where did that one come from? I mulled the idea over and wrote the outline for SUNDANCER. Cain turned his back on his mother’s people in a vain attempt to win recognition from his cold and ruthless railroad baron father. Roxanna forced him to realize he needed to accept both red and white sides of his heritage before he could find peace and their love could flourish.

As I said, I’m always trying a different twist. What if the heroine had mixed blood? PALE MOON STALKER actually came about because of a young girl I introduced in THE RIVER NYMPH. Sky Eyes, raised in both white and Sioux worlds, was the foster sister of the white hero. I had to pair a mixed blood woman with a white man to set up a good cross-cultural conflict. I decided on an English lord turned bounty hunter. Max was the perfect guy for a formidable gal like Sky—an embittered remittance man who earned his living in a dangerous profession. It just so happened that he needed a wife to regain his title, and she needed a fast gun to bring her dead husband’s murderer to justice. Marriage of convenience works in a Western just as well as in a Regency.

As you can see from the above examples, most of the characters in my books appear in my other books. Sometimes they are descendants of protagonists from earlier stories. When Sky and Max rescued a little Cheyenne girl named Fawn, she wrote the epilogue to that book for me. I knew she would be my first full-blooded Indian protagonist, the CHOSEN WOMAN. Educated in St. Louis society, she was destined to guide her Cheyenne people during the turbulent era of the Oklahoma land rush. And, like Sky, she would meet her match in an unlikely white man.

As yet, I have not created a full-blooded Native American hero, but since the Indians have at last received recognition in fiction, if sadly not in fact, I’m sure I’ll come up with a worthy hero to make some heroine’s heartbeat speed up. But he’ll have to be able to exchange quips with her and quote poets. Some things don’t change…at least for me.

I’d love to have a discussion with Regan’s readers on this blog. Please give me your opinions. I’ll be happy to reply to anyone who comments. Also, I'll be giving away my book, CHOSEN WOMAN to a random person (in the US) who comments!

Why do you like or dislike Western and/or Indian romances? What are your personal keepers? (Regan has posted her Best Western Romances list and I’m pleased to be on it!)

Do you think characters from various ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds enrich Western/Indian romance? Before Capture the Sun was published in 1988, do you know any other Indian romances with mixed-blood protagonists who have been educated in the white world?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New Review: Shirl Henke’s A FIRE IN THE BLOOD – Enthralling Love Story from Wyoming Cattle Baron Days

Not many romance authors would start their story with the black moment (or one of them) but Henke does it and does it well. This is an absorbing story, very well told, of a hero who thought he’d never belong and a heroine who had everything but him—another Western historical keeper from Shirl Henke. Meticulously researched, Henke serves up a worthy love story from the days of the cattle barons, the powerful cattlemen of the Cheyenne Club who ruled over Wyoming Territory in the late 1800s.

Jess Robbins and his father, though Texans, fought with the Union in the Civil War. Jess also did a stint with the French Foreign Legion. By the spring of 1881, he was a fast gun and had a talent for spying out cattle thieves. So it was no surprise Wyoming rancher Marcus Jacobson hired Jess as a stock detective to find out who was stealing hundreds of head of cattle from the sprawling J Bar ranch. The first time Jacobson’s only daughter and heir, 19-year-old Lissa, catches sight of Jess Robbins, she is drawn to the man. A mixture of white man, Mexican and Indian, Jess was exotically handsome, virile and very sure of himself. Lissa had many suitors, including an older man her father would have her marry, but she wanted Jess. Though each was forbidden to the other, they could not stay away.

Henke captures the nuances of a relationship that was initially forged in passion but held something deeper, a lasting bond that would not be denied. Lissa grows up and her strength comes to the foreground and Jess realizes he cannot live without this woman.

How it all comes together is fascinating and held my attention for 435 pages, right up to the sweet ending.

You’ll like this one!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Favorite Author: Shirl Henke and her Wonderful Western Romances with Those Half Indian Hunky Heroes!

Note: Shirl will be a guest on my blog this Thursday and Friday so come back and see what she has to say—I promise it will be worth it!

Shirl Henke is the award-winning author of more than thirty novels and has contributed to four anthologies. She has been a RITA finalist and won seven awards from Romantic Times. She has also made the USA Today bestseller list.

I absolutely love her novels and highly recommend them! Her Western romances are among my favorites as you can see from my Best Western Historical Romances list posted this month. (I haven’t read all of hers or there would be more on the list!)

Though she has written mostly Western historicals, she has also written contemporary and Regency romances. (Her trilogy, The American Lords, covers three different time periods in England: Regency, Victorian and Edwardian.)

She pioneered the well-educated, half Indian hero (see my reviews of CAPTURE THE SUN, NIGHT WIND’S WOMAN and A FIRE IN THE BLOOD posted earlier).

Henke loves “anything Hispanic," from Medieval Spain to Mexico during their turbulent civil war in the late 1860's, and says while most of her books have been set in the 19th Century, a pair spanned the late 15th--early 16th Centuries (Discovery Duet) and several were set during the 18th century (NIGHT WIND'S WOMAN and LOVE A REBEL…LOVE A ROGUE).

She has her B.A. and M.A. in history from the University of Missouri. After earning a job at a university where her husband was a tenured professor, Henke taught history and other subjects. But that job was to end and it’s a good thing for us. She sold her first novel in 1986. Two years later, she left her teaching career to become a full-time writer. Her husband, Jim, took early retirement in order to assist her burgeoning writing career: brainstorming, research and now tracking all her Kindle sales! (What a great guy!)

She wrote her first twenty-two novels in longhand with a ballpoint pen. (“It's hard to get good quills these days. Dragged into the 21st century, I now use one of those ‘devil’ machines. Another troglodyte bites the dust.”)

Here are her wonderful novels:

Old California Couplet

Golden Lady (1986)
Love Unwilling (1987)

Texas Trilogy

Cactus Flower (1988)
Moon Flower (1989)
Night Flower (1990)

Discovery Duet

Paradise And More (1991)
Return to Paradise (1992)

Santa Fe Trilogy

Night Wind's Woman (1991)
White Apache's Woman (1993)
Deep As the Rivers (1997)

Colorado Couplet

Terms of Love (1992)
Terms of Surrender (1993)


Love a Rebel, Love a Rogue (1994)
Wicked Angel (2001)
Wanton Angel (2002)

American Lord

Yankee Earl (2003)
Rebel Baron (2004)
Texas Viscount (2004)

Wild West

The River Nymph (2008)
Pale Moon Stalker (2008)
Chosen Woman (2009)

The Cheyenne Series:

Capture the Sun (1988)
The Endless Sky (1998)
Sundancer (1999)

Single Novels

Summer Has No Name (1990), released in 1994 as Bouquet
A Fire in the Blood (1994)
Bride of Fortune (1996)
Broken Vows (1998)
McCrory's Lady (2002)
Finders Keepers (2005)
Sneak and Rescue (2006)
Love Lessons at Midnight (2010)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

New Review: Ellen O’Connell’s DANCING ON COALS – Heartrending Story of an Apache Warrior and the Fierce American Woman who Loved Him—Simply superb!

The latest from new Western historical romance author O’Connell is a keeper just like her others so far (EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD and SING MY NAME).

Set in Arizona Territory and Northern Mexico in 1881 (late in the time of the Apache wars), this one tells the story of Katherine Grant, who on her way home to New York, is saved from stagecoach bandits by a band of Chiricahua Apache. ("I jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Before long I'll be dancing on the coals.") The bandits were the frying pan; the handsome young Apache who spoke English and saved her from them was the fire; and the coals were Gaetan, the Chiricahua brave who hated all whites and Mexicans for what they did to “the people.” He wanted her dead. But Gaetan promised his dying brother that he would care for the white woman, so he had no choice but to take her with him.

I absolutely loved Katherine. She was funny, courageous and an independent thinker. No whimpering, reticent female here. Raised on ships sailing the world with her father and 5 brothers, she is a hellion who became a lady but never gave up her love of adventure and her willingness to take on any challenge. And she has lots of them following the Apache warrior, Gaetan. I was on the edge of my seat with outlaw, renegade Apache, Mexican soldier and miner attacks. As Katherine and Gaetan’s relationship developed, O’Connell made me really care about what happened to them. My heart was committed to seeing them end up happy and together (thankfully this is romance and so you know you’ll see that in the end!). It’s an absorbing story I did not want to put down.

O’Connell said her story was inspired by the “very strong and very masculine” face of the Apache chief Victorio (pictured), who fought for his people in the late 1800s. She does a superb job of portraying the Apache way of life and the impossible situation they faced, wedged between the Mexicans who wanted to annihilate them and the Americans who wanted to imprison them on reservations where they became “the dead.” And in the middle of all that were the two lovers who came together from different worlds, and though unlikely, were absolutely perfect for each other.

You won’t be disappointed in this one!

Monday, June 18, 2012

New Review: Shirl Henke’s LOVE UNWILLING – Old California masterfully brought to life through the loves of two brothers!

This was Henke’s second book (GOLDEN LADY was her first and the two comprise her Old California Couplet). LOVE UNWILLING is really two romances in one—a bonus!—and Henke does it really well, entwining the lives and loves of two brothers who make very different choices.

Set in 1848-1853, it tells the story of David and Miguel Kane, heirs to the sprawling Cien Robles (Hundred Oaks) ranch in Southern California. Their parents’ marriage had been one of necessity in order for the Alvarez family to infuse money into their Spanish land grant after California became a part of the US and subject to Yankee laws. The marriage was so divisive that David was named and claimed by his father, the rich Yankee sea captain, and Miguel by his mother the Californio aristocrat (who’d planned for him to become a priest). Years later, when David gets into trouble, killing a man after a card game, and flees with an Irish lass he has deflowered named Kate, Miguel’s father claims him as heir and tells him he’ll marry the neighboring rancher’s daughter, Ellie St. Clair, originally intended for David.

David and Kate flee to gold country where David supports them on his gambling winnings and Kate keeps house, soon falling in love. Miguel stays home to take on the ranch and finds he loves it, but he’s not interested in marrying the St. Clair girl and she doesn’t want him either.

We’ve all seen the family where the oldest son is expected to be the one to assume control of the father’s business, but what if it wasn’t so? What if it were the younger son? (Or, these days, a daughter?) Well, this story shows what can happen when the apple cart is thrown off the intended course. It’s about choices and second chances and making your own life, not just fleeing the bad choices of your family. I have to say my favorite character was Kate…the strength of Irish womanhood and beautiful to boot. The brothers were both cads for much of the book, though for all his faults David was faithful to Kate. Miguel, on the other hand, had a bad habit of visiting whores during as well as before his marriage. And he believed a cattle rustler over his loving wife. Ugh!

Kudos to Henke who sets this story in the Old West at an interesting historical time when the Californio rancheros were fading and their culture losing out to the Americans who were flooding into the state. Meticulously researched, LOVE UNWILLING brings this time to life with great characters, engaging dialog and wonderful descriptions. Henke is truly a master storyteller. I recommend it!

Friday, June 15, 2012

New Review: Kaki Warner’s PIECES OF SKY – Unusual, Worthy Western Historical from New Mexico Territory, 1st in the Blood Rose Trilogy

This is the first in Warner’s Blood Rose trilogy, named after the roses that surround the RosaRoja ranch owned by the three Wilkins brothers in New Mexico Territory. Set in 1869, it tells the story of Jessica Thornton, on the run from her home in England and the brother-in-law who raped her and left her pregnant with his child. She is trying to get to the only man she trusts, her brother. At a stagecoach stop she encounters Brady Wilkins, oldest of the Wilkins brothers. He’s just taken a spill from his horse and looks beat up, and to Jessica, talks rough. But she does love his blue eyes, which appear to her like pieces of sky. Brady finds the Englishwoman’s strange ways funny (their exchange and Jessica’s thinking are very funny)—and he hasn’t laughed in years. And then came the stagecoach crash…

Both Jessica and Brady have scars; and each has sacrificed their own happiness for others. Both are bound by duty, and though from different worlds, inexplicably drawn to each other. I loved their exchanges, her dry wit, his suggestive banter. Warner writes beautifully, expressively (“Like a blind foal on a short lead, Brady knew he would stumble along wherever he was led—as long as she was on the other end of the rope.”)

In this and the two stories that follow, there’s lots of action, a despicable nasty villain and a fair amount of violence (sometimes told through flashbacks that bring the horrible to mind). There’s the budding romance between two unlikely people to add sweetness, but this is no sweet love story, for it’s a tale of vengeance. Warner’s style is unusual, complex and detailed. She gives you the gory details when it comes naturally to the story. She slowly develops her characters like a stew simmering all day on the stove. The three brothers and their interactions are priceless and very well written. This first book also has some great humor early on as Jessica, a very proper British lady, encounters Brady, the rough American rancher and domineering older brother.

Most of the three stories take place on the sprawling RosaRoja ranch. Warner paints vivid word pictures of the historic setting and the environs that give you a sense of the rugged, open West and make you feel like you’ve lived there.

Warner’s stories are a bit different, her style unusual. And while there are some very tender moments between the hero and heroine, the love scenes are abbreviated. That was ok with me.

You’ll have to be patient as each story unfolds, but I think you’ll find the wait is worth it. All the stories are related with several common characters, including the brothers. Warner does a great job of tying up all the loose ends in the last book, CHASING THE SUN.

Here’s the Blood Rose trilogy—do read them in order:

PIECES OF SKY (RITA winner for Best First Book) – Jessica and Brady
OPEN COUNTRY (RITA finalist) – Molly and Hank
CHASING THE SUN – Daisy and Jack

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Review: Shirl Henke’s NIGHT WIND’S WOMAN – Superb Storytelling in this Love Story from the Old West!

Let me just say at the outset that I am a HUGE fan of Shirl Henke, as you’ll see when she is a guest on my blog the last week of this month (June). CAPTURE THE SUN is a particular favorite of mine, and I’ve reviewed it on this blog. But all of her Western historical romances that I’ve read are excellent. This is no exception. It’s the first in her Santa Fe Trilogy (NIGHT WIND'S WOMAN, WHITE APACHE'S WOMAN and DEEP AS THE RIVERS) and tells a great tale.

Set in 1787 in the north of Mexico and New Mexico, it tells the story of a half Apache-half white renegade, Night Wind (his Apache name), who as a child was taken captive by the Spaniards and forced to work in the mines, virtually a death sentence. Keenly intelligent, he escaped and was raised and educated by the Catholic fathers. As an adult, he regained his Apache roots and works to free Indian prisoners and take vengeance on the Spanish conquerors. His hated enemy is an Irish mercenary who is now the Governor. Night Wind decides to take captive the son of the Governor and raise him as an Apache. Instead, by mistake he captures the Governor’s stepdaughter, Orlena Valdez, a beautiful golden-haired Spanish Castilian. Orlena is no shrinking noblewoman. She is educated, outspoken and willing to fight for fair treatment for the Indian prisoners. It never occurred to her that sneaking out in boys’ clothes to view a festival would land her in the arms of Night Wind.

In her well-researched, intricately detailed novel, Henke captures the feel of the Old West as she weaves a wonderful story of cruelty, injustice and revenge—revenge that is conquered by both goodness and love. She brings us into the time when Spain dominated not only Mexico, but what would one day become the Southwestern United States, a time when both the Apache and the Comanche were preyed upon and sought their revenge on the white man. As Henke recognizes in her Author’s Note, there were good and bad men among both camps.

I highly recommend this one!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New Review: Elizabeth Awbrey’s RECKLESS ANGEL – A Keeper of a Western Historical!

This was Awbrey’s (aka Elizabeth Stuart) first novel, published in 1988, and the only Western. She wrote four more before retiring in 1995 to raise a family. ALL of her novels have garnered 5 stars from me; one won the RITA award.

Set in Texas in the late 1800s, RECKLESS ANGEL tells the story of Katherine (“Kat”) Bennett, an independent beautiful young woman raised by her father, Judge Bennett, a respected rancher. Sent to Philadelphia to become a lady, she returns home years later, anxious to resume her involvement in the family ranch, “Three Creeks,” that will one day be hers. While she was away, her father hired a new ranch hand, now her father’s right arm—a gunslinger named Jason Cain (“Jase”). Jase bears many scars from a tortured past but he’s a fair man and loves Kat’s father, who treats him like a son. When Kat and Jase meet, the chemistry and the conflict are immediate. Kat resents Jase’s place in her father’s heart and she believes Jase has nothing but disdain for her. She is so wrong.

Awbrey is a superb storyteller and weaves in historical information so seamlessly you do not even realize you’ve traveled in mind back to the period she is writing about. Her characters are richly drawn and each one unique. Jase is an interesting man, a strong, tortured hero yes, but also intelligent, charming and endearing. Kat is a girl trying to find her way in a world in which she does not feel at home—neither a lady nor a tomboy, but somewhere in between. What amazed me is that I was totally engrossed in this story and yet I never traveled far from the Three Creeks Ranch and the nearby town. The detail in speech and descriptions is so meticulous you don’t realize how much work went into crafting this tale. Only a master storyteller can do that.

Trust me when I say you won’t regret getting this author’s whole backlist, including this Western historical—novels to curl up with on a rainy day…all keepers!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

New Review: Ellen O’Connell’s EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD – A Keeper of a Story with a Hard Bitten Hero and a Woman Whose Tenacious Love Will Not Let Him Go!

This was my first by O’Connell and I am happy to say I have discovered a new “favorite author.” This novel is, in a word, wonderful.

Set in Colorado in 1885, it tells the heartrending story of Anne Wells, who at 28 may be a spinster but she’s not about to accept a man her father would force her to marry. In her escape from being imprisoned in her own home, she inadvertently runs to Cord Bennett’s small ranch. Cord is the half-Cheyenne son of a wealthy rancher and considered by many to be the very devil. He lives alone raising horses and when Anne shows up, he’s delighted, until her father and some hired guns come looking for her. Her father's fury leads to violence against both Cord and Anne and all but Anne believe the worst of Cord.

Cord is one of those heroes who no matter what ugly things life throws at him, and the horrible way people talk about him, he still manages to keep his honor and defend the weakest, even at great cost to himself. O’Connell has a clever way of drawing us into Cord’s mind, seeing the world as he does—often as his enemy. At one point in the story I thought to myself, if one more bad thing happens to him, I’m gonna scream. I digress. Suffice it to say, he’s the kind of hero any “real” woman would love. Anne is feisty and courageous, a heroine worth cheering. I loved the way she defended Cord. Together they are a remarkable couple, but it takes them a while time to realize they are perfect for each other. O’Connell portrays them so well, it’s addictive. Oh yes, there are the “good citizens” of Mason, Colorado who do nothing and the really bad villains who do only evil.

Many of the action scenes in this story deal with raising and training horses and, in one case, an amazing race through difficult terrain. O’Connell describes the race so well you feel like you’re riding the horse, following Cord’s brilliant strategy and urging him on. Obviously O’Connell knows horses and knows how a good man trains one. It was a delight to read this. Though instructive, it never took away from the romance developing between Cord and Anne. Very well done.

One of my favorite passages in the story was a thought the heroine had: “…Anne believed she would in the end hear the words she, like all women, longed to hear, but if he never spoke of it, she would be content with this. He loved her, and she knew it, and he was capable of such tenderness it left her trembling, overwhelmed by her own love for him.” Ah…now that is love!

It’s a great story, well told. You will love it, I promise.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

New Review: Nadine Crenshaw’s CAPTIVE MELODY – Wonderful Love Story Set in 19th century California

This was Crenshaw’s second historical novel following her Golden Heart winner, MOUNTAIN MISTRESS (another 5 star romance). Like her first and all her others, it’s a keeper. I have only found a handful of other romance authors who are so consistently good, who deliver a 5 star story every single time.

This story pits a hurting vengeance-seeking hero against an innocent, courageous heroine who is thrown so many disasters, you will think you are reading the Perils of Pauline. Like many of Crenshaw’s, it includes treachery, a cruel villain and a heroine who needs convincing of the hero’s ever-consistent love. It’s one thing I love about Crenshaw: her heroes never stop loving their women. Yes, they get angry, but they fall in love early in the story and never give up.

Laura Upton wanted adventure and freedom from her controlling stepmother who drilled Laura unmercifully to make her a concert pianist, so Laura left her home in the East to travel alone to California in 1881. The first day she stepped off the train, she stumbled into the arms of Richard Laird, an overpowering rancher who started making decisions for her and the next thing she knew, she was engaged to him. On her wedding day, she regrets her hasty decision because the man she just married frightens her. But before the wedding night, Andre Sheridan abducts her. Andre has waited five years for Richard Laird to take a wife, so he could have his revenge on the man who raped and destroyed Andre’s young Chinese bride. He intended to steal Laird’s bride and use her to lure Laird into a fight so he can kill him. The young bride Andre stole was of no importance to him, but then he is won by her beauty, innocence and dignity. Instantly attracted to Laura, he cannot imagine any woman of quality willing to wed the evil Laird. And that is just the beginning of this complex tale.

It will hold your attention, I promise. I recommend it!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

New Review: Penelope Williamson’s HEART OF THE WEST - Magnificent Montana LOVE STORY from a master writer of romance!

Penelope Williamson has done it again! This historical romance will tear at your heart. It covers twelve years (1879-1891) in the lives of Americans trying to carve out a life in Montana frontier. Williamson weaves a masterful tale with incredibly accurate historic detail and dialog to bring to life the people who made the West: Easterners, cowboys, Indians, Chinese, Irish, miners, railroad workers, merchants, ranchers and those who preyed upon them.

You will feel as if you know these people; you will experience their dreams, their tragedies, their disappointments, their happiness and their loves. And, like the other great romances by this author, you will feel the emotion whether deep in the pits of despair or soaring with love's sweet reward.

And, it is truly a great love story.

The main story is that of a young woman, Clementine Kennicutt, the highborn daughter of a rigid, demanding and at times abusive minister in Boston. She dreams of freedom and of cowboys. When one stumbles into her life, though she doesn’t really know him, she is willing to elope with him to his ranch in Montana. Gus McQueen was raised in the south and in Boston but then as a young man he went looking for his younger brother, Zach Rafferty, who he had lost when they were separated as children. He finds him and they stake a ranch in Montana, which it seems is always just barely making it. When Gus, a man of dreams, meets Clementine in Boston on a trip home to see his dying mother, he instantly knows he can't live without her. So Gus, 25, and Clementine, 18, wed knowing next to nothing about each other.

Gus brings Clementine home to Montana and to a hard life she is not prepared for. Zach, the darker younger brother with a mysterious past (even at 23), realizes soon after Clementine arrives that he covets his brother's wife. And, though faithful to her husband, Zach becomes the passion of Clementine’s life--a passion denied. You can see the potential for great angst here, can't you? Here a sample of the words Zach speaks to her: "A heartfire, Clementine my darlin', is when you want someone, when you need her so damn bad, not only in your bed but in your life, that you're willin' to burn--". Yeah, well, a whole lot of burnin' goes on in this story before Zach gets his Clemmie.

There are lots of relationship combinations in this romance: Two men loving the same woman; two women loving the same man; one man loving a woman who should never have married the man she did; a good hearted whore who becomes a lady's true friend and the lover of the man her friend loves, different races coming together and children birthed and loved only to die of accident, disease and more. Through the lives of these people, Williamson so beautifully portrays, you will experience the life of the Americans who won the west and who made this country great. And you will experience love that endures through the years though denied. This novel is so worth it...another keeper from Williamson!

If you liked this one, you’ll love THE OUTSIDER…another Montana love story from this author.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

New Review: Meagan McKinney’s FAIR IS THE ROSE – Wonderful Wyoming Historical with Great Twists and Turns!

I am a huge fan of McKinney’s historical romances but this was my first Western romance by her. I was not disappointed and I don’t think you will be either.

Set in 1875, this second in the Van Alan sisters duology tells the story of Christal Van Alan, who was raised as a prominent Knickerbocker of Manhattan until the day she was accused of a terrible crime she didn’t commit. Three years on the run, she finally flees to Wyoming, disguised as the widow Mrs. Smith. Almost to her destination, her stagecoach is taken hostage by a band of outlaws, including Macaulay Cain who even death wouldn’t claim when he defeated the hangman’s noose. Both have secrets; both have a past they’d rather forget. Christal, though hard on the outside, has a soft innocence underneath she will protect at all costs. And Macaulay, whose cold eyes set him apart, is a better man than even she could know.

The story will grab you and just when you think you have the players figured out, all will change. It’s an intriguing tale with great twists and turns and more than one villain. McKinney’s writing is superb as always: great characters, wonderful description of the historic setting, places and people—and great storytelling. I recommend it.

LIONS AND LACE is the first in the duology.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

New Review: Catherine Anderson’s COMMANCHE MOON – Enthralling Saga of Love between a Comanche Warrior and a Fair Maiden of the “White Eyes”

This was my first novel by Anderson but won’t be my last. Her writing is superb and she is a great storyteller. This is the first in her Comanche series—an “epic” historical from the Old West.

Just reading “The Prophecy” at the beginning made me cry, so I knew I was in for a heartrending story. It begins in 1859 in Texas when Comanche brave Hunter of the Wolf’s tribe is slaughtered by the Blue Coats, and his wife, heavy with his child, was brutally raped and slain. He vowed to have his revenge. But even before that, Loretta Simpson’s parents were brutally murdered by the Comanche. And since that day, she has not spoken a word. Half-breed Hunter of the Wolf knows that according to a prophecy, he is to join with a white woman who does not speak and must treasure her forever. Years later and urged on by his mother, though he hates the white man, Hunter takes Loretta—a blonde mute woman--as his woman, leaving her uncle many ponies, forcibly stealing her away. Loretta hates the Comanche and is determined to escape Hunter or die trying.

Anderson’s descriptions paint vivid pictures, so clear you can see yourself in the action, feel the pain and hear the screams. When Loretta is hot you feel it and when she is chilled you feel yourself growing cold. She masterfully uses language to put you into the mind of the Comanche (“As had happened so many times in his life, his grief had to walk behind his responsibilities, like a woman behind her husband.”) As Hunter teaches Loretta the Comanche language, we learn it, too. Very clever. The action moves along at a good clip, with just the right amount of introspection. There are many threads to the plot, all skillfully woven into an amazing story.

It’s a story of prejudice, hate and vengeance—and the understanding, love and forgiveness that can change a heart. Trust me, you’ll have trouble putting this one down!

The rest of the series:

COMANCHE HEART (Loretta’s cousin, Amy and Swift Antelope)
INDIGO BLUE (Hunter and Loretta’s daughter)
COMANCHE MAGIC (Hunter and Loretta’s son)

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's Western Historical Month!

June is Western historical month on my blog! It's going to be a great one, with some reviews of wonderful stories--some keepers you'll want on your "to read" shelf, my Best Western Historical Romances list...and (drum roll) a special guest appearance the last week by Shirl Henke, author of more than 30 captivating romances, many with half Indian heroes. I've taken a peek at what she has to say and you'll find it fascinating, I promise! So rustle up some time to spend here with us cowboy and Indian lovers.

I know some of you likely think you'll never read a Western historical. I was once one of those. But when I saw some of my favorite authors had written Westerns, I couldn't resist getting them. And suddenly I was hooked! So try one of these great romances reviewed on my blog this month and I promise you will not be disappointed.

May's Contest Winners!

And the book winners are...

Lisa Kessler, chosen from those commenting on Laurin Wittig's guest post: Laurin Wittig's MacLeod duology, Charming the Shrew and Daring the Highlander

Mrs. Lvoe, chosen from those commenting on Paula Quinn's guest post: Paula Quinn's latest Conquered by a Highlander

Amanda Hughes, chosen from those commenting on my blog in May: Mary Wine's latest The Highlander's Prize