It’s not very often that you’ll find a review of a book first published in 2012 here on Being Anne – but I’ve begun to rather like this occasional excursion into books I choose to read “just because I want to”! Today I’m reviewing An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns, available for kindle (free via Kindle Unlimited) and in paperback – and it was a really salutary reminder that all the books worth reading aren’t necessarily the ones hot off the presses. The copy I read was my own, purchased for kindle via Amazon.
Over the last few years, there have been many book-related pleasures, but one of the greatest has been being welcomed with open arms by the Belmont Belles, the Leicester RNA chapter. Although all the ladies have included me so warmly, I’ve particularly enjoyed the friendship and constant support of the ladies who make up the New Romantics – June herself, Lizzie Lamb, Adrienne Vaughan and Mags Cullingford. Having already loved books by Lizzie and Adrienne (Mags, I have yet to catch up with yours!), I’ve been wanting to read one of June’s books for some time, and decided to go for her first. And that was quite a brave decision really: I’ve never been a particular fan of cowboys, although I did choose Western fiction for my grandfather as a child, and once enjoyed a visit to a cattle ranch in Arizona! But I do love a well-written romance, and I was confident that was what June would deliver – and my goodness, I was absolutely right.
Jane Austen meets Zane Grey
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.
This book was so much fun – but that’s most definitely not how Annie’s journey into the American West could be described, in the company of her entitled and obnoxious aunt and her self-obsessed cousin Charlotte. And then, after an accident that finds her in danger and alone, she encounters renegade cowboy Colt McCall – an intriguing (and rather hot) mixture of rough edges and tender care – who attempts to reunite her with her family. As she continues to show her uptight Englishness, and put herself in repeated danger – only for Colt to cover his eyes, groan a little, then take some timely action to get her out of it with body and virtue intact – the story progresses at a cracking pace, with humour on every page, and exchanges between the pair that crackle and fizz and can’t fail to enchant and delight.
Annie herself is a wonderful character – a spinster in the pejorative sense, bookish, frizzy-haired, put upon and controlled, naive about the ways of the world, rather defined by her pronounced limp, and buttoned up in every possible way. There’s one wonderful point in the book when she actually dances – yes, she gets that unbuttoned – having previously been led to believe that it’s something she can’t do, and it’s a moment that filled me with absolute joy.
The setting rather becomes a character too, and you get the impression that quite a lot of research must have gone into this book and background, and not just via the silver screen. The descriptions are wonderful – the desolate landscape, the wide open spaces, the lawless town of Red Rock, and the bar room/bordello that certainly opens Annie’s eyes to a different way of life. I liked the insights into native Americans too, their political position and treatment – and the introduction of one of their number as a scout and a bit of a hero at one point in the story.
As well as the high adventure of Annie’s return to civilisation (perhaps not quite the proper description), and the nicely developing romance, there’s a bit of a family mystery running through the story, very intriguing, wholly and satisfyingly resolved before the book’s end. Goodness, there’s even a wonderful tart with a heart, and a lonely and abandoned puppy… and a quite repulsive moustache swirling (maybe I made up the moustache) sweaty and slimy man that her family have unfortunately picked out as Annie’s future husband.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, every single moment, and raced through it in an afternoon, never without a smile on my face. The writing is quite excellent, the story so engaging with the strongest of characters, the humour and wit a wonderful escape from life. This book was just thoroughly lovely – in fact, rather like June herself.
About the author
June Kearns lives in Leicestershire with her family, and writes in a warm corner next to the airing cupboard, a bit like a mouse’s nest.
When she left teaching, June won a national magazine competition for the first chapter of an historical novel. After many, many more hours watching cowboy heroes bring order west of the Pecos, this became her first novel, An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.
Her next book, The 20’s Girl, was inspired by the fabulous style and fashion of the 1920s, and that time in England after the Great War, of crumbling country houses and very few marriageable men.
June is now writing another period romantic comedy set in London in the 1960s.