It’s extremely rare for me to write to another author and ask permission to review their work. But when I read June Kearns’ The 20’s Girl, the Ghost, and All That Jazz, I immediately asked her to be my guest here so we could talk about her books. (Okay, first I grabbed An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy because I just couldn’t resist. Then I asked June. Don’t judge me.)
My review follows, but first please join me in welcoming June.
- Star War, Star Trek, or Starfly? Star Wars – the start of a long love-affair with Harrison Ford
- Who would you most like to sit next to on an airplane? I’d like to sit between the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis. All that wisdom and serenity would stop me worrying about being suspended thousands of miles above the earth in the tummy of a big metal bird.
- Who would play you in the movie? Reese Witherspoon? I haven’t got the looks, of course, but she’s blonde and small, (short legs?!) like me.
- What is the one thing you can’t live without? Hair-dryer and straighteners. I know, I know – it’s so superficial, but I have serious frizz, which turns to fuzz. In the1960’s, I used to iron it, (my mum always said I’d be bald before I was thirty.)
- As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? A writer! I spent hours copying out pages and pages of my books to see how the authors did it.
- Are the names of the characters in your novels significant? I needed a no-frills, plain-ish sort of name for the main character in An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy, and ‘Annie’ just seemed to fit the bill. Gerardina – in The 20’s Girl – comes from Saint Gerard Majella, the patron saint of expectant mothers. My character was named by the nuns in India – her mother screamed at them to take the squalling brat away – and it seemed to fit. (It’s also the middle name of my sister-in-law who told me about the saint, and I liked the connection!)
- What is the single biggest challenge of creating the settings in your novels? It’s always a challenge with historical fiction. Researching An Englishwoman’s Guide meant tracing the path of cattle drives from the southern states of the US to the north, after the Civil War. Texas looked phenomenal on maps, just huge – with every kind of climate, every sort of landscape – from ocean in the south to mountains in the north. As someone brought up in tidy England, with neat fields and hedges, I was just entranced. Part of The 20’s Girl is set in Texas, too. (One day, I’m going to visit and see it for myself!)
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard? I spend a lot of time staring at the wall in front of my desk – a hotch-potch of writing advice and helpful quotes!
One of my favourites: Stop apologising! Relax! Just write the story that you want to READ. Another from Samuel Beckett: Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
The American West, 1867
After a stagecoach wreck, well-bred bookish spinster Annie Haddon, (product of mustn’t-take-off-your-hat, mustn’t-take-off-your-gloves, mustn’t-get hot-or-perspire Victorian society) is thrown into the company of cowboy Colt McCall – a man who lives by his own rules, and hates the English.
Can two people from such wildly different backgrounds learn to trust each other? Annie and McCall find out on their journey across the haunting, mystical landscape of the West.
1924. The English Shires after the Great War.
When her jazzing flapper of an aunt dies, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter inherits some silver-topped scent bottles, a wardrobe of love-affair clothes, and astonishingly, a half-share in a million-acre cattle ranch in south-west Texas.
Haunted by a psychic cat, and the ghost voice of that aunt, Leonie, Gerry feels driven to travel thousands of miles to see the ranch for herself.
Against a background of big sky, cattle barons and oil wells ,she is soon engaged in a game of power, pride and ultimately love, with the Texan who owns he other half.
Review: 5 of 5 stars for both The 20’s Girl, the Ghost, and All That Jazz, and An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.
It’s funny. Reading June Kearn’s books feels like coming home. Home to old-fashioned glamour, romance, and love stories. That’s why when I went to write about them, I was so surprised to realize that these books are like nothing I’d ever read before. Her heroines are in the fine old tradition of (strait-laced/gloved/hatted/tea-drinking/chat-about-the-weather-then-indomitably-triumphing-over-evil-doers-or-the-ill-bred) British ladies. Her heroes are… not. Tall, taciturn, moody-bordering-on—and often achieving—rude, they could just be another iteration of Rose Sayer vs Charlie Allnut from The African Queen, where Hepburn’s proper British spinster meets Bogey’s gin-swilling reprobate. But there’s more going on in these books than a clash of cultures.
In An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy, corseted, gloved, proper Victorian British spinster Annie Haddon is the poor relation who is never allowed to forget the debt she owes her relatives for taking her in and raising her. All that changes when her aunt insists on a trip to the American west, only to have the stage they’re riding in come under attack. Rescued by cowboy Colt McCall, Annie finds her growing appreciation of the wide open landscapes around her includes the tall half-native-American cowboy in front of her.
In The 20’s Girl, the Ghost, and All That Jazz, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter is coping with the death of her beloved guardian, the enchanting, glamorous, improvident Leonie who left her a bookstore and a mountain of debt. Her world, the tiny irresistibly-named Lower Shepney Market, is still reeling from the Great War, so eligible marriages that might have defined her future are not possible. The bookstore faces financial ruin, and she’s about to lose her home when she discovers that she’s the half-owner of a ranch in Texas—to the annoyance of her co-owner Coop.
As I read Gerry and Annie’s stories, I realized that they are about more than the clash of differing cultures. They are even about more than ‘opposites attract, fight, kiss-kiss, and ride into the sunset’. Those stories are fun, but we’ve all heard them before. No, what June Kearns investigates—in the lightest, most entertaining, often laugh out loud funny way—is what home means. Annie, Colt, Gerry, and Coop are all people who are in some way cut off from their own place. Each is surrounded by the world they grew up in, but not defined by or ultimately at home in that world. In Kearns’ books, that search for a home that accepts you for who and what you are defines and motivates the characters. Sometimes, of course, those characters get it wrong. But luckily for them, Kearns’ books also have enchanting hints of supernatural spirits or even grumpy cats who don’t hesitate to point out their charges’ mistakes and nudge them back to the path to happiness.
Having made the reverse of her characters’ westward journey—I moved from the American west to a tiny English village—I was captivated by both the loving descriptions of English village life and the admiring pictures of the American west. Arguably, neither world still exists, but through these books you see not only those places, but the way they define and inform their modern day equivalents. You still can attend an afternoon cricket match that lasts the whole day, or ride a horse for hours across a western landscape. And the best part? Kearns accomplishes all of this so lightly that you never feel her touch. Her books’ dialog sparkles, her descriptions of the two different worlds have you picturing western expanses and British teas, and her pacing is perfectly timed to deliver her characters to their combined British/American just desserts. That’s y’all done. Cheers.**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
was inspired by the style and fashion of the 1920’s, and that time in England after the Great War, of crumbling country houses and very few men. A co-founder of the indie publishing group The New Romantics 4, I live in Leicestershire with husband and family.
For a chance to win one of June’s books, fire up your lie-dar and tell us which of the following summer jobs you think was June’s worst ever:
- Sitting on a production line in a sweet factory and having to wear a turban
- Washing up at a motorway service station.
- Standing in the street dressed as a tomato to advertise a new brand of sauce.
Stumped? For a bonus chance to win, tell us—What is the one thing that says “home” to you?