August 15, 2012

Levi Grant

Levi Grant was my first Karen Witemeyer hero. I read his novel cover to cover--it was that great--even though I had to pay someone to cut my grass. It's a good thing, or I would have read it while mowing and probably ended up with I-heart-Levi Grant crop-circled into my yard. You wouldn't think a tight-lipped, ex-con, blue-collar blacksmith big enough to be what my sister's kids would call "freakishly large" would immediately send you to 'epic hero' in your head. But trust me, Levi is one of the greats. A prodigal son with a painful past and precarious present, the gentle giant is one of the first heroes who came to mind when I conceived the idea for FHF. If you don't already know why, let's find out together.

From To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer:

          After he hung his hat on its customary top hook, he strode into the reading room and collected his book from the shelf. The quiet rustle of a woman's skirts echoed behind him. He didn't turn. In fact, he lengthened his stride until he realized there was something different about the corner he usually sat in. The vacant space had been filled with a large leather wing chair. A sturdy chair. A masculine chair. A chair he'd never seen before.
          He did turn then.
          "I thought you might prefer it to the floor." She met his eye briefly, then looked away. "Harvey brought it in from my father's study. Since Father rarely visits, I doubt he'll mind if we borrow it for a while. I can use it for my story time, as well."
          Levi stared at the woman before him, her thoughtfulness pouring light into a place inside him that had long been darkened. A place that reminded him of family and acceptance, of belonging. His mind scoffed at the tender reaction stirring in him. It was just a chair--leather, wood, some stuffing. It wasn't new or even really his. But the gesture left him shaken nonetheless. He'd not received such a gift since he left home so many years ago.
          Miss Spencer waved her hands in the air as if his response was unimportant to her, but Levi caught the sidelong glances she shot his way as he kept silent.
          "If you don't like it, I'll ask Harvey to move it back."
          He tried to shape his gratitude into words, but before his sluggish tongue could spit them out, she exhaled a heavy breath, and her arm flopped to her side.
          "You know what? I'll just go fetch him right now. He's probably in the kitchen with Verna." Her face flushed as she spun away from him.
          She didn't understand.
          Levi tossed his book onto the seat of the chair and lunged forward. He snagged her hand and tugged her to a halt. Still, she didn't look at him. He wanted to call to her, to urge her to face him. Using her given name would be too presumptuous, though, and calling her Miss Spencer would embarrass them both. So, letting go of her hand, he cupped her shoulders and gently forced her around.
          He waited, his hands holding her in place.
          Finally she looked up, her bottom lip trembling slightly. Perhaps he should have smiled to ease her nerves, but he couldn't. That sort of surface smile would only cheapen the sentiment he wanted to express.
          "I like it. Very much. Thank you." He gazed into her eyes while he spoke, hoping that somehow she would comprehend the depth of his gratitude despite his inadequate words. Those mossy green eyes peered back at him, and for a moment the chair, the library, the house--all of it--disappeared. All he saw was her.

Excerpt used with permission. All rights reserved.

Gallant Score: Levi is a fierce protector (except of himself), with a wellspring of honor inside. Those of you who already know Levi know he earns these rescuing damsels in distress, saving lives even when it means facing his own painful past, always standing up for Eden, and not breaking his vow even when it will probably cost him his life.

Wounded Score: Levi is keeping two big secrets. The first is a speech impediment he is able to hide through sheer determination in one of my favorite facets of the story. The second is something far more painful that sent him to prison where he was broken in every way. I still tear up thinking about it and I've read Levi's novel at least five times. For those who know, the moment in the church after Levi's letter was like getting a prizefight punch to the gut for me too. I was trying not to cry all over the pages!

Softie Score: It's not only Levi's compassion for strays (because let's face it, he is kind of a stray himself) that make me adore his soft side. Whether it's the town's reject dog or a saloon girl trying to make a better life for herself, he never turns away, even when it makes more sense to do just that. And picking flowers for Eden, and helping her press them and design her art? There's something very attractive about a big, burly man happy to take on "girly" tasks. Especially when sincere, like Levi is, and not simply a ploy to get the girl.

Stupid Strikes: Zero. Levi takes everything the world gives him straight on the chin, often literally, and always does the right thing, even when it hurts. Even when it hurts bad and makes for a lot of log splitting in what is my all-time favorite scene. I couldn't give him an orange head here for losing it in his shop after the nasty run-in / mad-dogging session over Eden between him and the sheriff. Yes, he grabbed a piece of iron and did some serious abuse to the wall. But I felt his pain, his regret, his fear and loss so much in that moment, I wanted to grab a piece of iron, stand beside him and bang the wall too. Considering what he could have done, while the wall and the branding iron might not have deserved it, Levi more than deserved to finally let it out.

Swoon Score: See, I will give a five, LOL, it just has to be the exact right mix of gallant, wounded, and that "something" that has me casting the hero in the movie and replaying his best lines and moments to myself while I'm stuck in traffic or rereading his novel over and over. Or maybe random planetary alignment (okay, probably not that one). I know there are a few of you who might not have read this book yet, so I won't go on and on about all the reasons Levi deserves every single one of these because he has so many great moments that (A) it would ruin the story for you and (B) it would triple the length of this blog post.

Of all the scores on FHF, this is the most subjective to my individual reader tastes and preferences as a hero-girl. That said, Levi has the honor of being the first hero to pull five orange heads as a swoon score here on FHF. (Teaser: the next hero coming 9/1/2012 also pulled a full swoon score and is FHF's first contemporary suspense hero.)

About Levi Grant's novel (released May 11, 2011):

After completing his sentence for the unintentional crime that derailed his youthful plans for fame and fortune, Levi Grant looks to start over in the town of Spencer, Texas. Spencer needs a blacksmith, a trade Levi learned at his father's knee, and he needs a place where no one knows his past.

Eden Spencer has sworn off men, choosing instead to devote her time to the lending library she runs in the town her father founded. When a mountain-sized stranger walks through her door and asks to borrow a book, she's reluctant to trust him. Yet as the mysteries of the town's new blacksmith unfold, Eden discovers hidden depths in him that tempt her heart.

Eden believes she's finally found a man of honor and integrity. But when the truth about Levi's prodigal past comes to light, can this tarnished hero find a way to win back the librarian's affections?

Amazon  Barnes & Noble

About Levi Grant's author:
Two-time RITA® Finalist and winner of the coveted HOLT Medallion, CBA bestselling author, Karen Witemeyer, writes historical romance fiction for Bethany House, believing that the world needs more happily-ever-afters. She is an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. Karen makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

Now for the Fiction Hero Feature Exclusive not found in the novel--directly from the author:

Levi's wavy hair (which so enticed Eden's fingers) was inspired by the actor who played Dr. Niel MacNiell on the TV series Christy. Having been a huge fan of Catherine Marshall's classic novel, I watched every episode of the series during the 1990s. The actor who played the good doctor, Stewart Finlay-McLennan, had such a gorgeous accent and a no-nonsense way about him, that I was immediately drawn to him, curly hair and all.

Now for the giveaways:

We are giving away one print copy of Levi Grant's novel To Win Her Heart to a randomly chosen commenter in the drawing that closes at midnight central time on August 31st.

And if you already know Levi and his novel, and he's won your heart, you can be entered for a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card, winner's choice. Just leave the name of a character who isn't Levi, Eden, or Harvey and Verna (they were in the excerpt!) and once that character is named in the comments, you have to pick someone else.

As always, if you aren't a blog follower, leave me your e-mail address in an anti-spammer format like gentlegiants (at) awesomehero dotcom so that I can notify you if your name is drawn. Now let's play!

August 1, 2012

Jack Elder

We've got another lawman, this time a Texas Ranger. Jack is everything you like about a man too stubborn for his own good. He carries a tender heart that's been boarded up tight to be able to do the job he does without complications. But Elizabeth Cole has complications of her own, which include delivering her baby by herself in the middle of nowhere. Neither planned for the other to be more than a bad memory the next day, but Jack can't leave Elizabeth and her newborn to the mercy of the frontier or the band of outlaws that might be after her. And how he handles that, and overcomes his own stubborn heart, earns him a spot on FHF.

From Winning the Widow's Heart by Sherri Shackelford:

          Horrifying images of Mrs. Parker's suffering flooded Elizabeth's thoughts. They were alone. With the storm raging, and the nearest farm quarantined, no help was coming. "Perhaps we could save these stories for another time?"
          "Oh, right." Jo flicked her head in a quick nod. "What is it Ma's always saying?" She snapped her fingers. "I remember now. She distracts 'em by talking, and telling 'em to concentrate on that beautiful baby they're bringing into the world."
          "That's better."
          "Hey, remember all those clothes we sewed this fall?"
          Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "You're the worst seamstress in the county. I sewed all those clothes while you complained you were dying from boredom. You'd rather be out shooting game than threading a needle."
          "See? You're doing better already." Jo sat back on her heels. "Now deliver this baby so we can decide what to do about that man I locked in the barn."
          "I'm a Texas Ranger."
          Jo gasped at the intrusion. Hands fisted, she twisted to block Elizabeth while keeping her defiant gaze fixed on the Ranger.
          Slanting a glance upward, Elizabeth found Mr. Elder filling the doorway and looking madder than a wet hen. His coat was torn at the shoulder, and an angry scratch slashed across his cheek.
          Gracious. This day just kept going from bad to worse.

Excerpt used with permission. All rights reserved.

Gallant Score: Jack's orange heads really stack up fast, beginning with not retaliating for being knocked out and locked in the barn. (Much, hehe.) Because we're allowed deep in his head by Sherri, we see he doesn't just do the right thing because of the badge he wears.Being honorable and saving the day are such a part of who he is under the vest, and we get to see that several times in the story. Unfortunately, his perceived failure he's desperate to correct grows out of this and gives him a wound we'll look at next.

Wounded Score: Jack messed up. Losing someone close to him clouded his professional judgment and now a man's life hangs in the balance of making that right. But so does Elizabeth's and her child's and he's being pulled two different directions like one toy between two kids. His wound isn't crippling his every waking moment, thus the one orange head instead of five, but it simmers beneath the surface of some hard decisions he must make.

Softie Score: These are all from the baby. There isn't a whole lot of soft to Jack Elder, Texas Ranger. If there were, he wouldn't be good at his job. But that cover says it all. =)

Stupid Strikes: Zero. Because I can't do a half-head. Well, I could but it would be a lot of photoshopping and truthfully I'm a little scared of Sherri and Jack both if I did it. :-p
It would be a spoiler to tell you why I think Jack deserves half an orange head but let's just say the women in his novel are no shrinking violets and really smart in their own rights. Jack ends up needing them as much as Elizabeth needs Jack.

Swoon Score: See cover! Tall, handsome, protective to a fault, Texas Ranger, great with babies, knows his way around a lady as well as his way around outlaws. Yes, Jack Elder is your quintessential Old West hero. Yet fresh and well-written, getting the bad guys and saving the damsel in distress who he has no idea is going to save him too.

About Jack Elder's novel (Released June 5, 2012):

When Texas Ranger Jack Elder stormed the isolated Kansas homestead, he expected to find a band of outlaws. Instead, the only occupant is a heavily pregnant woman--and she's just gone into labor. A loner uneasy with emotion, Jack helps deliver widow Elizabeth Cole's baby girl and can't get back on the trail fast enough. The robber and murderer he's after killed one of Jack's own, and he vows to catch the man. But when he returns to check on Elizabeth and her little one, he discovers that she may hold the key to his unsettled past--and his hoped-for future.

Amazon  Barnes & Noble

About Jack Elder's author:
A wife and mother of three, Sherri's hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, "Why did I just come in here?" A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul. Sherri loves to hear from readers. Visit her at, or e-mail her at sherrishackelford at gmail dot com.

Now for the Fiction Hero Feature Exclusive not found in the novel--directly from the author:
Jack has a real weakness for sweets! He especially loves pastries. He knows every baker between Wichita and Paris, TX--and they're used to seeing him when he is in town. When Elizabeth needs to warm him up to something, she makes sure she bakes her famous Kolaches - peach are his favorite!

Now for the giveaways:
We have one print copy of Jack Elder's novel Winning the Widow's Heart (2011 Genesis Finalist I might add!) to give a randomly chosen commenter in the drawings at midnight 8/14/12. I say DRAWINGS (with an S) because you great blog readers loved the gift card option last post so much I'm going to do that for the life of FHF! But the sames rules will apply. You have to have already read the featured hero's novel and prove it to me. Like Jack Elder, I'm not very trusting, hehe. For the gift card drawing, name a secondary character from the novel that isn't Jack or Elizabeth, and once that character has been used, you have to pick a different one. And I'll take anybody, even the chicken, and yes, the dear sweet girl has a name!
By the way, Jo doesn't count. She's in the excerpt. =)
As always, if you aren't a blog follower, leave me your e-mail address in an anti-spammer format such as jackeldertexasranger at awesomehero dot come so I can notify you if you're name is drawn for Winning the Widow's Heart or for the $10 Amazon or B&N gift card (winner's choice.)
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