THE WHISPER HORSE SERIES
Take Me Home, Country Roads, to The Place I Belong
REVIEW OF SERIES
Any native West Virginian knows every word of John Denver’s legendary hit and can sing the lyrics from the time they can follow the tune and form the words (or near sounds). “Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong. West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads.” Driving down the back lanes of the winding mountain roads you can almost hear the strains of the banjos and guitars blowing with the wind through your hair as it whistles through open windows of your vehicle.
There is a sense of having arrived and wanting to belong, a sense of finding home every time you visit, or come back home. I should know, I lived in one of the most remote areas of the state, not too far from the settings of these three novels, for almost five years. Just like the scenes and places in the great Louis L’Amour’s novels, even though the names of the locales and business were fictionalized, I have walked the streets of similar towns in the area and am well acquainted with the personalities of many of the small locales. Nancy nailed the spirit of the small, isolated town in rural West Virginia. She was able to verbalize the spirit and genuineness of the people. In these three novels Nancy single-handedly dispelled the longstanding aura of “dueling banjos” that has so haunted the area and villainized the souls of people who lived there. No wonder outsiders who wander through or seek a place of solace, find themselves putting down roots and settling in this little piece of heaven on earth.
The central focus the three novels revolved around was a horse stable run by a former Olympic medalist. The name of the stable was Healing Springs Stable. Sharon, the owner of the stable, took in horses nobody wanted anymore or were old or ill. She also believed that every person had a Whisper Horse. Whisper Horse? No, not a horse whisperer, but a whisper horse. “A horse you can tell all your troubles to.” Horse owners have a special connection with their animals. Horses will run themselves to the ground for their owners, they respond to body language, to voice nuances. They are highly intelligent. Sharon’s idea of a whisper horse is not a bad idea. Horses need to be needed as much as humans need someone. Nancy recently quoted on her FB page about the friendship between man and his horse.
“When your horse follows you without being asked, when he rubs his head on yours, and when you look at him and feel a tingle down your spine…you know you are loved.” –John Lyons
This energy and joy was evident throughout her novels. Until you have known the joy of a horse’s love, you have not known the joy of unconditional love.
The stories, though each is a stand-alone, grow and build upon the one before it. The characters have active full lives that are not narrow in scope. They care about each other, their neighbors, and their community. They are close knit, and beware he/she who threatens one within their community. In fact, “community” is very much a subplot through the entire series. Community is very much a way of life in the mountains of West Virginia.
Nancy Herkness has been recognized for her literary skills and abilities. In 2014 Country Roads received the nomination for the coveted RITA award for Contemporary Romance Novel. Then in 2015 The Place I Belong also received a RITA nomination. It is a privilege and honor to be able to write a review on this series.
TAKE ME HOME
When Claire Parker left Sanctuary, West Virginia, she thought it was for good. But now she’s back, reeling from an ugly divorce.
Readjusting to small-town life is harder than Claire expected, so she’s surprised, and grateful, to find companionship in Willow, an abused Thoroughbred mare. Willow is Claire’s “whisper horse,” and they share a special, rare bond. Except Willow isn’t the only one helping Claire heal; Willow’s ruggedly handsome veterinarian, Dr. Tim Arbuckle, is sympathetic…and secretive.
Devastated by his wife’s death, Tim thought he’d never find love again. The stoic, sexy doctor was sure he’d left his heart behind when he came to Sanctuary. But Claire stirs up emotions he thought he’d buried long ago. For the first time, the doctor tries to see past his grief.
When Willow falls gravely ill, Tim and Claire must work together to save the horse’s life and to find a love so encompassing, so intense, their lives will never be the same again
Nancy Herkness assaulted the senses with each turn of the page in the first of the Whisper Horse novels, Take Me Home. I found myself sucking in deep breaths on more than one occasion as I felt Claire’s pain of desolation in the aftermath of her divorce. She had been ground down and her spirit powdered to the point of becoming but dust-in-the-wind. Self confidence in her work, as a professional, and self-worth in who she was as a person was at nil. There was little evidence left of who she formerly was.
The story of a deep love and attachment between a woman in deep sorrow and a horse who reached back spoke to this reader’s heart. When the human love interest was introduced in the form of a huge crotchety bear of a man, who also happened to be the local country vet, it was like adding all your favorite spicy flavorings to the pot from the kitchen cabinet and giving the pot a good stir.
The interactions between Clair and Doc Tim ignited in sparks and fire from the beginning. As we all know, where there are sparks and smoke, there is fire. Fire did take hold and the pages and chapters burned with the flames of their burning passions as Claire and Tim worked through the issues that prevented them from fanning those embers and ultimately setting the sheets on fire.
Pages could not turn fast enough as I followed this fast paced love affair and affair of the heart through to the end. I was so thankful that book two of the series was sitting on the table waiting for me to pick up the next evening.
Consistently, Nancy’s love stories leave me short of breath and longing for more. This story did not disappoint. I gave this book a solid FIVE STAR review.
COUNTRY ROADS (2014 RITA AWARD NOMINEE)
When sheltered artist Julia Castillo flees her hometown, she has one goal: to prove to her overbearing family she can make it on her own. She knows they only want the best for her, but when they question her artistic vision, it’s time to break free. Julia’s search for independence carries her to the small town of Sanctuary, West Virginia. There, her courage is tested as never before—by her love for a handsome country lawyer, her bond with a dangerous black stallion, and a secret she is desperate to keep…
Paul Taggart abandoned his high-powered legal career to return to Sanctuary, giving up his own dreams to care for his troubled brother. Then Julia Castillo blows into town like a fresh mountain breeze, changing his staid, predictable life forever. Has Paul earned his second chance at happiness? Or does loving Julia mean having the strength to let her go?
Only someone who has had to run for their life, someone who has had to truly look over their shoulder in fear, could have expressed the fear and desperation that the young girl (Julia) was experiencing when she first arrived in Sanctuary, West Virginia. Nancy Herkness captured the essence of what it would be like to be suddenly on your own and alone. But what was she really running from or was it something she was striving to run to? The “White Knight” that comes to her rescue not only is the protector of her legal matters, but becomes the “Knight” who takes on the conquest of her heart.
Once again Nancy pairs our heroine, Julia, up with an injured horse at the riding stable run by the former Olympic star, Sharon. This time the stallion is one that has been abused and strikes out at any and all who reach out to him – until he meets the red-headed Julia. An immediate spark between the two leaves the entire staff at the stables puzzled and awed as the two become inseparable.
Nancy opened up in this telling of her story. The depth of the development of each of her characters, from the young artistic Julia and her love of painting horses to the gallant Paul who was the “white knight” and lawyer who fell head-over-heels in love with Julia from the moment he laid eyes on her. The characters lived and breathed as they walked between the pages. The back stories on some of the intricate details and focus points of the story gave it depth and weight that you would expect to “know” about everybody and everything in a small mountain town in the back woods of West Virginia.
There were times I felt like I was walking along with the characters through the lanes and down the streets of Sanctuary. I could feel the rip of the wind through my hair as we raced down country roads and felt my stomach flip and roll with the sharp corners. I even felt the sting of the gravel on the country roads when riding the bike. Oh and the smell of the pine and moldering leaves high in the mountains where there was no pollution and only the smells of nature to catch your attention as you set on that cool damp moss by the river. Yes, I lived and loved every word of this wonderful novel. It is no wonder that it was nominated for the 2014 RITA Award!!
A definite FIVE STAR review of my favorite novel by Nancy Herkness, to date!!!!
THE PLACE I BELONG (2015 RITA AWARD NOMINEE)
Fleeing professional scandal and a broken engagement, veterinarian Hannah Linden abandons Chicago for the mountain town of Sanctuary, West Virginia, hoping to put her troubles with men and the media behind her.
But when she encounters world-famous chef Adam Bosch, she finds herself increasingly drawn to the charming but darkly complex man and his troubled teenage son, Matt. Adam, a recovering alcoholic, fears he can never be a worthy father to the surly, distant boy he has just come to know, and enlists Hannah’s help in his struggle to connect with his son.
Hoping to coax Matt out of his shell, Hannah introduces the boy to an ailing brown pony who has the power to change his view of the world. But can the determined little whisper horse prove to Hannah, Adam, and Matt that they were meant to be a family?
As Nancy has continued with the Whisper Horse Series, her writing perceptions and story-telling skills have been honed and each story has shown her growth as a writer. The Place I Belong, is the crowning jewel of her, work, to-date. The complexity of the storylines, taking three separate stories and over-laying each one with the other, weaving them together like a work of art has created a masterpiece of the written word. To add color and additional depth to this already intricate story, Nancy reached back into each of the two previous Whisper Horse books and utilized the back stories of the characters from those novels to broaden and fill-out the beauty of The Place I Belong. Weaving these characters and their continuing stories into the current novel brought additional life to the pages. Suddenly, these were real, living people who interacted on a daily basis and lived as a community. The feeling of community seems to come out the loudest and most keenly in this, the final novel.
Like Country Roads, I think that The Place I Belong is some of Nancy Herkness’ best writing to-date. This set showcases her storytelling gift at its best. I loved this book because it was about finding family. It was about community. Oh yes, there were her wonderful pages where she showed her great skills at storytelling and description and leaves us all swooning, but to me, the story, not to be missed is about the priority of finding family and the priority of family in your life. This, her third novel in the series, gets a standing ovation and FIVE STARS in my review of her novel The Place I Belong.
A Down Home Country Christmas
After escaping an abusive marriage, Holly builds a haven of security for herself and her two young daughters. She’s helped along by police captain Robbie McGraw, who stood by her through the worst. Now he shows a different kind of interest, one that thrills Holly, even as she questions the wisdom of trusting another man so soon.
But Robbie is on the brink of fulfilling a dream—one that will send him out of the mountain town of Sanctuary, West Virginia, and away from the allure of Holly’s warm spirit and tempting body.
A wily little Christmas donkey and the magic of the holidays prove to Holly and Robbie that the courage to love can make dreams come true.
ABOUT NANCY HERKNESS –
Nancy Herkness is the author of the award-winning Whisper Horse series, published by Montlake Romance, as well as several other contemporary romance novels. She is a two-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America RITA® award. Her new series, Wager of Hearts, follows the romantic adventures of three very wealthy men who make a life-changing bet.
A member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers, and Novelists, Inc., Nancy has received many honors for her work, including the Golden Leaf Award, the Maggie Award in Contemporary Romance, and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award.
Nancy graduated from Princeton University where she majored in English. In addition to her academic work in literature, she was accepted into Princeton’s creative writing program, and her senior thesis was a volume of original poetry.
After graduating, Nancy had a varied career which included retail management and buying, COBOL programming, computer systems sales and marketing, and a brief stint as a receptionist at a dental office. Once her children were in school full-time, she sat down and wrote A Bridge to Love, her first romance novel to be published.
Nancy finds nothing odd about writing in the genre she calls “the “Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world. It gets no respect.” She explains: “I was trained as a poet, but from the day my grandmother gave me my first Georgette Heyer novel I wanted to write romance. Romance is the genre of optimism, and that’s why I like it.”
A native of West Virginia, Nancy now lives in suburban New Jersey with her husband, two mismatched dogs, and an elderly cat. She cheers loudly for the New Jersey Devils hockey team.
A VISIT WITH NANCY –
Karen: Where did the idea for a “whisper horse” come from? Did you share all your troubles with your horse(s) when you were
Nancy: The idea of a “whisper horse” came from my real pony Papoose (pictured above) who was my constant companion all through my younger years. When I was upset or angsty, I would pour my problems into his ears. If you know horses, you’ll know their ears are very eloquent, so I felt I had a sympathetic listener. Not to mention that he would never share my secrets with anyone else. Horses are very discreet.
Karen: Growing up in a location that has a love affair with the art scene is a gift for any child. How did this affect you? Did you ever dabble in art? If so, what medium do you like to create in?
Nancy: My little hometown had an amazing number of artists when I was young and has even more now. Our school had an art contest every year, and I often won a ribbon with my crayon drawings. I think that started my interest in art. There was a local sculptor who offered lessons in clay sculpting which my parents enrolled me in. I still remember the horsehead I created; I was quite proud of it. I doodled pencil sketches of horses on all my class notes in school.
The one medium I never could get comfortable with was stone; I was terrified that one chisel stroke would ruin the whole piece, so I was a very timid stonecutter.
All of this made me a very visual writer: I see the scenes in my mind and then try to capture them as vividly as possible in words.
Karen: Do you still get to ride often? What breed of horse is your preference to ride? What style of riding to you prefer to ride?
Nancy: Living fifteen miles west of New York City is not conducive to my preferred kind of horseback riding. After galloping all over the hills, trails, and woods of West Virginia, trotting around a ring is just too tame for me. Whenever I’m on vacation, I try to find a great trail ride to go on. I grew up riding hunters and jumpers so I am most comfortable on an English saddle. Since my riding muscles have grown flabby from lack of use, I no longer ride over fences, but I sure miss the sensation of flying through the air!
Karen: Knowing the inspiration that you grew up with from living in around that area of West Virginia, how do you decide on what to write next? Will we see another Whisper Horse installment? Maybe one for Sharon and her story?
Nancy: Much as I loved returning to my roots in the mountains, there will not be any more Whisper Horse stories for now. While these books found many enthusiastic readers, there weren’t quite enough sales for my publisher to continue the series. So I had to bid farewell to my beloved Appalachian mountains and return to my current locale near the skyscrapers of Manhattan. I’ve now lived here longer than I lived in West Virginia, and my children are native New Jerseyans, so I’m quite comfortable setting stories in the NY metro area.
I hope my readers will follow me into the Wager of Hearts series, in which three very wealthy men make a life-changing bet on finding love in the steel canyons of New York City. While the setting is different, the characters still wrestle with the timeless issues of family and obligation, as well as true love. The first book, The CEO Buys In, was released in July 2015. The next novel is The All-Star Antes Up, scheduled for May 2016.
Karen: Congratulations on your nominations for the 2014 and 2015 RITA awards for Contemporary Romance novels. It speaks to the quality of your writing, the spellbinding stories you have to tell, and the connection you make with your readers’ hearts.
Nancy: Thank you so much! I’ve been hugely delighted and flattered by the honors my Whisper Horse novels have won. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I got those RITA nomination calls. I sure wasn’t expecting my quirky West Virginia characters to soar so high.
Karen: For fun…. Can you tell us one thing about yourself from growing up in WV that we don’t know?
Nancy: There is one secret about me that harks back to my youth in West Virginia: I am a Lady of the Golden Horseshoe. When I was in eighth grade, I was knighted with an antique sword by the state’s governor for getting my county’s top test score in West Virginia history. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a tiara.
Thank you so much for having me a guest on your wonderful blog! It was a pleasure to chat with you.
Karen: Nancy, it is always a joy to visit with you and I love delving into your books. Thank you for taking the time to share with us and letting us see into why the Whisper Horse series is so special to you.
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