With summer already headed into the sunset in most locales, we’ll take a look at fiction set in the most famous of “into the sunset” areas–American-set and Western novels. After decades of tremendous popularity, with the exception of a few movies and books–the “Lonesome Dove” series and remakes of “True Grit”–the genre has been out of favor recently. But a few new and notable novels would like to reverse that trend.
Proceeding chronologically, we begin with 355: THE WOMEN OF WASHINGTON’S SPY RING by Kit Sergeant. Following the lead of the popular AMC TV show “Turn,” Sergeant presents the intertwining stories of three women who might have belonged to the secret spy ring referred to in Washington’s notebooks. Meg Moncrieffe returned from boarding school in Ireland to find a colony in revolt. Though her sympathies were initially with the British, her love for Aaron Burr persuaded her to look at another solution. Elizabeth Burgin’s loyalties lay strongly with the colonists’ side after her husband died aboard one of the notorious British prison ships. When a Culper Ring member approaches her, she’s ready to put herself–and her family–at risk to bring down the men who caused her husband’s death. Initially furious when her family was forced to house British soldiers, Sally Townsend decided to use the enforced proximity to gather information for the colonial cause. But the situation becomes more complicated when she falls in love with British Major John Andre. Sergeant deftly recreates the intrigue and danger of a fledgling new country struggling to emerge from its colonial past.
We move from the original thirteen states onto the Western frontier with MISS ETTA by Deanna Lynn Sletten. The facts of Etta Place’s early life are well-known. Beautiful and well-born, Etta fell in love with Harry Longabaugh, also known as the Sundance Kid, and accompanied her lover and the Butch Cassidy gang throughout their outlaw life, bearing Harry a son along the way. After the gang’s bloody end, Etta disappeared from history. In steps author Sletten to propose “the rest of the story.” In her tale, after taking refuge in a convent, Etta moves halfway across the country to begin a new life as widowed teacher “Emily Pleasants” in Pine Creek, Minnesota. She wins the admiration and affection of local merchant and banker Edward Sheridan–but can she dare respond to new love, knowing there’s always a chance her notorious past will catch up to her?
We move further into the frontier in PRAIRIE FEVER by Michael Parker. On the isolated Oklahoma prairie, two sisters struggle to make their farm a success, the practical Lorena and the dreamer Elise. Having always relied on each other, their bond is unbreakable–until teacher Gus McQueen arrives in Lone Wolf. The two sisters charm and challenge the inexperienced newcomer, but a catastrophic blizzard that strands Elise on the prairie will forever alter the dynamic between them.
We’ll finish up by returning to where this column began–the East Coast elite. Certainly one of the most spirited and interesting women to emerge from a political family was fiercely independent President’s daughter Alice Roosevelt, and in AMERICAN PRINCESS, Stephanie Marie Thornton brings her story to vivid life.
Determined to live by her own standards, Alice rebelled against the rules of proper maidenly behavior, smoking, playing poker, and chewing gum in public. But love can waylay even the unconventional. Falling for Nick Longworth, a canny Congressman who eventually becomes Speaker of the House, Alice must weather alcoholism, infidelity, and the destruction of two World Wars–as well as a notorious feud with her Roosevelt cousins–to emerge as an icon of Washington Society, a woman who remained both controversial and influential throughout a very long life.
The US doesn’t have the wealth of history boasted by such favorite historical venues as Tudor and Edwardian England, France and Italy of the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Enlightenment, but as these stories show, its two hundred fifty-odd years inspire plenty of fascinating tales. As fall chills down your world, I hope you’ll make time to brew a warm beverage and sample some of them!
BOOKS MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:
Women Spies #1
Who was the Mysterious 355?
Culper Ring members such as Robert Townsend and Hercules Mulligan are well known for the part they played in the Revolutionary War, but who was the mysterious 355 that could “outwit them all?” Inspired by many of the same characters featured in AMC’s Turn and the Broadway musical Hamilton, 355: The Women of Washington’s Spy Ring chronicles the lives of three remarkable women who use daring, skill, and, yes, a bit of flirtation, to help liberate America.
British sympathizer Margaret (Meg) Moncrieffe expects to find the carefree America she remembers as a youth when she returns from her Irish boarding school. Instead she finds the new country at war, with her father on one side and her new love, Aaron Burr, on the other. When her misguided attempt to end the war results in dire consequences for the Continental Army, Meg switches allegiances in order to amend the damage she caused.
After her husband Jonathan is captured by the British and dies aboard one of the notorious prison ships, a pregnant Elizabeth Burgin realizes she is stronger than she once thought. When a prominent member of the Culper Ring enlists her help on a heist of the prison ships, Elizabeth readily accepts, putting herself and her family in jeopardy in order to save the lives of strangers.
Patriot Sally Townsend wants nothing more than freedom for America. When her family is forced to take in enemy soldiers, Sally seizes the opportunity to garner information from them and pass it on to her brother, Robert, knowing that one false move could result in the noose for both of them. Instead of finding herself in danger when British intelligence officer Major John André shows up at her family’s doorstep, Sally finds herself falling in love. But Major André is playing the same dangerous game as her and Robert, albeit for the other side.
Told from the viewpoints of these three women–including the one operating under the code name 355–355: The Women of Washington’s Spy Ring is an absorbing tale of family, duty, love, and betrayal.
Historical [Self-Published, On Sale: December 17, 2017, e-Book, ISBN: 9781981196739 / ]
She rode with the most famous outlaws of her time. Then she vanished.
In the fall of 1895, Etta Place falls in love with Harry Longabaugh, alias the Sundance Kid. She gives up everything to follow him and his partner-in-crime, Butch Cassidy, in their outlaw life across the continent and beyond. Breathtakingly beautiful and every inch a lady, Etta can also ride and shoot as well as any man. As their fugitive life begins to crumble, she finds herself alone and living in a convent with her newborn son. Knowing she can’t hide away forever, she moves halfway across the country to begin anew. Etta prays her past won’t catch up with her.
In 1911 Emily Pleasants steps onto the train station platform of Pine Creek, Minnesota with a teacher’s contract in hand and a secret life she’s fled. A young widow with a small son, she’s searching for a safe place to raise her child where no one will recognize her. She meets Edward Sheridan, a successful merchant and bank owner, who quickly falls for her beauty, intelligence, and kindness. Still, she worries her notorious past will threaten the one thing dearest to her—her son.
From the deserts of Texas to the sweeping vistas of Wyoming, the refinement of New York City to the lush valleys of Argentina, Etta followed the outlaw men she loved so dearly. And then, she disappeared.
One woman, two separate lives. What became of the elusive Etta Place?
“Michael Parker has captured a time, place, and sisterhood so perfectly it hurts to turn the last page. A riveting, atmospheric dream of a novel.” –Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
Set in the hardscrabble landscape of early 1900s Oklahoma, but timeless in its sensibility, Prairie Fever traces the intense dynamic between the Stewart sisters: the pragmatic Lorena and the chimerical Elise. The two are bound together not only by their isolation on the prairie but also by their deep emotional reliance on each other. That connection supersedes all else until the arrival of Gus McQueen.
When Gus arrives in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, as a first time teacher, his inexperience is challenged by the wit and ingenuity of the Stewart sisters. Then one impulsive decision and a cataclysmic blizzard trap Elise and her horse on the prairie and forever change the balance of everything between the sisters, and with Gus McQueen. With honesty and poetic intensity and the deadpan humor of Paulette Jiles and Charles Portis, Parker reminds us of the consequences of our choices. Expansive and intimate, this novel tells the story of characters tested as much by life on the prairie as they are by their own churning hearts.
A sweeping novel from renowned author Stephanie Marie Thornton…
Alice may be the president’s daughter, but she’s nobody’s
darling. As bold as her signature color Alice Blue, the
gum-chewing, cigarette-smoking, poker-playing First Daughter
discovers that the only way for a woman to stand out in
Washington is to make waves–oceans of them. With the canny
sophistication of the savviest politician on the Hill, Alice
uses her celebrity to her advantage, testing the limits of
her power and the seductive thrill of political entanglements.
But Washington, DC is rife with heartaches and betrayals,
and when Alice falls hard for a smooth-talking congressman
it will take everything this rebel has to emerge triumphant
and claim her place as an American icon. As Alice soldiers
through the devastation of two world wars and brazens out a
cutting feud with her famous Roosevelt cousins, it’s no
wonder everyone in the capital refers to her as the Other
Washington Monument–and Alice intends to outlast them all.
Buy AMERICAN PRINCESS: Amazon.com | Kindle
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ABOUT JULIA’S LATEST HISTORICAL ROMANCE:
After five seasons…
She was still on the shelf!
Part of The Cinderella Spinsters. Miss Emma Henley knows she’s neither pretty nor rich enough to land a husband. Instead she’s thrown her passion into good causes. But this season she’s tempted by a flirtation with Lord Theo. The dashing rake is just as determined to stay unwed as she is. It’s scandalous…but if she’s never to marry, perhaps he can show her the pleasures of the marriage bed!
Romance Historical [Harlequin Historical Romance, On Sale: September 17, 2019, Paperback / e-Book, ISBN: 9781335635419 / eISBN: 9781488047565]
About Julia Justiss
Real, intense, passionate historical romance
After twelve years as a vagabond Navy wife, an adventure that took her from Virginia Beach, VA, to Monterrey, CA, to Tunis, Tunisia to Oslo, Norway and back, Julia Justiss followed her husband to his family’s East Texas homeland. On a hill above a pond with a view of pasture land, they built an English Georgian-style home. Sitting at her desk there, if she ignores the summer heat, she can almost imagine herself in Jane Austen’s Regency England.
In between teaching high school French and making jaunts to visit her three children (a Seabee in Gulfport, MS, a clothing buyer in Houston and a mechanical engineer in Austin, TX) she pursues her first love—writing historical fiction.