The 20’s Girl, the Ghost, and All That Jazz by June Kearns

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 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 the other half.

I have absolutely no idea why it’s taken me so long to get round to reading this book. I think I’ve had it on my Kindle since publication day, and I also have the beautiful shiny paperback, too. No excuses. Somehow, time slipped away from me and the book remained unread. Until yesterday, when I switched on my Kindle, scrolled through the long (very long) list of books on the device, saw the pretty cover of this novel and tapped on the image. I began reading and…Wow!

It’s quite a long novel, but I read it in two straight sittings over two consecutive days. I would have devoured it in one day, if it wasn’t the inconvenience of having a pesky day job. Yes, it was that good.

It’s the story of Gerardina Chiledexter – Gerry to her friends. Gerry was the product of two rather selfish, uncaring parents, and spent her childhood being passed around from one reluctant relative to another, until good fortune landed her on the doorstep of her mother’s sister, Leonie. Leonie was unlike anyone Gerry has ever known – beautiful, elegant, and huge fun. More than that, she made Gerry feel welcome, wanted, loved. After Leonie’s death, Gerry is struggling. She misses her aunt. She misses that sense of belonging. And she’s drowning in debt, because, the one thing that Leonie wasn’t, was good with money. Leonie lived for the day, and she didn’t put finances in place to pay her bills, leaving Gerry with a huge headache. She’s running her aunt’s bookshop and it’s in massive danger of closing. She owes money to just about everyone, the building is falling down around her ears, and no one seems particularly interested in buying books. It seems her only option may be to accept the desperate proposal of Archie, in spite of his parents’ very obvious disapproval and muttered objections.

Then, unexpectedly, Gerry is thrown a lifeline. Out of the blue, she discovers that – as Leonie’s only heir – she has been left half of a ranch in Texas, by a man she has never met, but who intended to leave it to her aunt. She is given this news by the owner of the other half. His name is Coop, and he’s not too happy about discovering that the land he thought was all his is now shared with this odd, stubborn, Englishwoman, with a very weird dress sense.

Events – and a ghostly presence – conspire to send Gerry over to Texas, where she is determined to take a good look around the ranch for herself, before agreeing to Coop’s request – or should that be order? – that she sell her half to him. Texas is an alien world, and Gerry struggles to fit in. Coop doesn’t seem keen to help her adapt, and neither does anyone else in that hostile territory, particularly the feral Scoot, and the high-and-mighty Hallie-Lee.  Gerry truly believed she was going to America at the wishes of her deceased aunt. At times, she feels Leonie’s presence so strongly that she can actually hear her aunt’s voice in her ear, smell her perfume, hear the swish of her dress across the floor. At other times, she feels abandoned and alone. Has she made a dreadful mistake in travelling so far away from home?

After spending several awkward and uncomfortable months on the ranch, Gerry makes some discoveries about her business partner, and comes to a decision that is guaranteed to stir up trouble back in England – something which is quickly confirmed on her return. Hurt, bewildered, and absolutely broke, it seems Gerry’s troubles will never be over. But was Leonie’s guidance really just a product of her over-active imagination, or is  her aunt still trying to give her niece the happy ending she deserves?

This book is so beautifully written. The descriptions are perfection. With a few deft lines, June Kearns transports the reader to the dusty plains of Texas, and lets you feel the scorching heat on your back, before taking you back to England, where the cosy, damp, cricket-and-afternoon-tea environment comes alive within a paragraph or two of clever prose.

The characterisations are excellent. Coop is an enigmatic, alpha male, with a brooding presence and hidden depths. I absolutely adored Gerry, with her can-do attitude, and her determination to carry on without complaining, in spite of some pretty appalling treatment by far too many people. I loved the stoic Prim, the kindly Doc, the wildcat Scoot and poor, dear Archie – he of the hideously awful parents and the dark, desperate secret.

I loved the way England was contrasted with Texas, and against all my expectations, I enjoyed the American segment of the book as much as the English ones. The addition of the ghostly presence of the wonderful Leonie was a touch of genius, and as for the quotes at the beginning of each chapter – priceless! For instance, “Women approaching thirty may have lost all chance of inspiring affection.” (Advice to Miss-All-Alone, 1924), and “Try not to have ‘opinions’. Rather, learn to cook a decent dinner.” (How to Attract a Man, 1923). The book beautifully illustrates a serious point, however, which is that in the 1920s, thanks to the First World War and the ‘flu epidemic, men of a marriageable age were in very short supply, and there were many, many women who faced a lifetime of spinsterhood – not half as much fun in those days as it is now! So I could really feel for Gerry, who, fast approaching thirty, had given up all expectation of marriage, and was therefore even more desperate to earn a reasonable living. I could quite understand that she would consider accepting Archie’s proposal, even though she knows that marriage to him could never make her happy.

Like An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy, June’s previous novel, this book contrasts a young Englishwoman, her lifestyle and manners, with a hunky American male, used to behaving in a very different manner to the gentlemen the heroine usually meets, and she does it with love, humour and understanding. I loved her first book, and I actually think this one is even better.  I’m sort of sorry I left it so long, but then again, I’m glad to have had the pleasure of Coop’s and Gerry’s company this last couple of days. An excellent book. I really hope there’s a new one from this author very soon. 5/5

You can buy The 20’s Girl, The Ghost, and All That Jazz here.

Easing off the Accelerator

I apologise for not posting anything on here last week. The fact is, I took a break from writing – anything. I had reached breaking point, frankly. I was stressed, over-emotional, and tired. I found myself dissolving into tears at the slightest thing. I couldn’t concentrate at work. I couldn’t even focus my mind enough to read, never mind write. I gave up.

Luckily for me I had already booked a week’s holiday from work and boy, it’s amazing what a week off can do for you. My flagging spirits have been restored. I have felt less tired, less weepy and quite positive.

The main event of the week was that my daughter got a job. Okay, it’s not her dream job and it’s not what she trained to do, but it’s reasonable pay and full time and she has a mortgage to pay so … good times. She’d already decided to use her enforced free time to continue her training in her chosen field and has been accepted back at her old college to take a degree in canine behaviour. It’s mostly distance learning apart from the odd day so she will be able to fit her job around it. It’s such a massive relief.

My relationship with DH took a positive turn this week, too. Maybe because I wasn’t feeling so tense and pressured we relaxed with each other for the first time in ages and had a friendly meet-up with some of our children. That was a massive relief, too.

My driving lessons are going well. I had two lessons this week and my instructor assures me I’m almost ready for my test although, as I’d just stalled at a major roundabout when she said it, I have my doubts! For some reason I was mixing up my brake pedal with the accelerator on my last lesson. I have no idea why, as it’s not usually something I have any problem with. Probably not a good thing to do, especially when you’re trying to reverse into a side street, but hey ho.  As with life, I had to remember to calm down and take it more slowly, as my instructor forcefully pointed out as I careered round the corner like Lewis Hamilton. I really enjoy driving, though. I can’t wait for the day when I can finally rip up the L plates and get myself a little car all of my own. The freedom of not having to rely on family members for lifts will be fantastic. I caught a bus last week for the first time in ages and it wasn’t much fun, let me tell you. Waiting at a bus stop for twenty minutes in the freezing cold, with an icy wind taking off the top layer of your skin, and having a very dodgy looking man with a Dumbledore beard, a long grey mac and a suspicious looking carrier bag standing far too close to you, is an experience I’d rather avoid, thank you very much.

I’ve also managed to catch up on some reading at last. My to-be-read pile is horrendous and growing every week as so many lovely and talented authors publish their latest novels. The trouble is, they all look so good. I can’t resist them. This week I read June Kearns’  An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy. You can read my review on this blog. I’m currently reading Mandy James’ A Stitch In Time and I have about another ten lined up ready to read after that. (That’s just the new releases. I have a backlog of about four years’ worth of novels waiting to be read.)

And, having taken the pressure off myself and taken a break from the novel, I have found myself feeling much more optimistic and relaxed about my own writing, too. I have deliberately not switched on the laptop apart from to browse the web and write this post and review. I haven’t looked at my WIP all week. However, I have had my notebook out and have been playing around with plot points and character notes, jotting down ideas and doing bits of research. The relaxed approach has been amazingly productive. I don’t feel tense about the novel any more and have had quite a few problems solved without even trying, after weeks of worrying and intense concentration.

It just shows you what a change of habit can do. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back, take a few deep breaths and clear your mind of all the clutter. Life can get very frantic and it’s easy to get swallowed up in the panic of trying to sort everyone else’s problems out while dealing with your own, and achieving nothing because you’re just too stressed to be of any use to anyone, least of all yourself.

There is one major sadness in our family at the moment and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. This week has helped me to accept that and to realise that not everything can have a happy ending, and I can’t be responsible for everyone. I can feel huge empathy and sympathy for the people involved and try to support them as much as I can, but I can’t actually make anything better and I can’t make it go away. I think accepting that has brought me a serenity and a peace that I haven’t felt for a long time, in spite of the sadness.

I may be hitting fifty this year, but it seems life is still teaching me something new every day.

Have a great week x

Spring Has (almost) Sprung!

So here we are in March. Already! It seems only days ago that we were taking down the Christmas tree. Actually, it was only days ago. Well, I may not have mentioned this before, but I’m currently living with my daughter in her spare room, (I live in the spare room, we don’t share it!) and all my worldly belongings are crammed into there and the little box room. I moved in on the first of December, and to cheer myself up I stuck up a tiny fibre optic  Christmas tree, although, as things turned out, I only switched it on once. It was stuck in the corner of the room and I had so much junk around it that I forgot all about it and only finally took it down and packed it away when I sorted the bedroom out last week.

Anyway, I digress. Spring is almost here. The skies have been decidedly brighter lately, daffodils are appearing, snowdrops are everywhere and when I gaze out of the office window longing for home time there is still daylight. It won’t be long before I’m actually leaving work in the light instead of darkness. I can’t wait. I get decidedly gloomy in the winter and find it very hard to see the positive side of things.  I love spring. Everything seems so fresh and clean and new and there is a feeling of optimism and hope in the air. Or is that just me?

I always loved Easter more than I loved Christmas. That may have had something to do with the endless supply of chocolate Easter eggs but I doubt it. I mean, we were hardly short of chocolate at Christmas. No, it was just the feeling of a clean page. I’ve always loved that feeling. Could explain why just lately I’ve been staring at so many of them…

Yep, I’m still struggling with the novel at the moment. My mind is full of different ideas and I just can’t make up my mind which one to go with, which is why I haven’t gone with any. I did buy a nice new notebook, though. That’s always a treat. I’ve written two thousand words every day this week in an effort to unblock my mind and unravel the tangled ball of wool that my novel has become. Instead, I’ve written about five different beginnings and I’m still not sure I’ve found the right one. I have a whole load of later scenes that are absolutely fine, but it’s getting to them that’s proving the problem. And I’m really not sure what to do about it at the moment.

On the plus side, I’ve been reading. Just finished Vampire State of Mind by the wonderfully talented Jane Lovering. My review of that is available elsewhere on this blog, and also on Goodreads and Amazon. If you haven’t read it I really do recommend it. I’ve also been watching the creepy new programme Lightfields. It was so scary that I had to have every light in the house on just to go upstairs afterwards. Scary stuff and I just don’t mix. I’ll still be watching the next episode, though. Ooh, and the new David Tennant programme starts next week, too. Must NOT miss that!

I’m just about to start reading An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns, one of the four lovely ladies who make up the New Romantics 4. I’m really looking forward to that.

And my other big news this week is that I have booked my theory test. Yes, at the grand old age of 49 I am resuming driving lessons and taking the next step to independence. I was taking lessons early last year, but unfortunately my instructor was unable to work for several months and so I haven’t driven for eight months now. I’ve probably forgotten everything I learned, but I’m absolutely determined that this will be the year I finally pass my test. Fingers crossed!

So with everything going on it promises to be a very busy spring.  All I need now is to get on with this dratted novel. How to untangle the threads and work my way through it? That is the question that will be preoccupying me most this month, I fear. Sometimes I think I should just give up and forget all about it. Life would be much easier and less stressful if I didn’t write. Just think of all the books I could read, all the television I could watch, all the people I could visit…

Something stops me. Something always makes me carry on, no matter how stressful it is. Something tells me that I have to do this, the alternative is really unbearable. I suppose that says something after all…

Have a great week x