RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Country Roads by Nancy Herkness

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Title: Country Roads
Author: Nancy Herkness
Publication Info: Montlake Romance September 2013
ISBN: 978-1477807699
Genre: Contemporary Romance

Book Country Roads This RITA® Reader Challenge 2014 review was written by LauraL. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Contemporary Romance category.

The summary:

When sheltered artist Julia Castillo flees her family home, she has just one goal: to prove to her overbearing family once and for all that she can make it on her own. In Sanctuary, West Virginia, her horse paintings promise to take the art world by storm. Yet Julia finds her courage tested as never before—by her love for a handsome country lawyer, by her bond with a dangerous black stallion, and by the secret she is so 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. But the day he rescues Julia Castillo from the side of the highway, his staid, responsible life changes forever. Irresistibly drawn to the fiery but unworldly artist, Paul will do anything to protect her—even sacrifice his own happiness to guarantee hers.

Dramatic and emotional, Country Roads is a heartwarming tale of two people struggling to balance the bonds of family with a passionate love of their own.

And here's LauraL's review:

When Amazon presented me with Take Me Home and Country Roads by Nancy Herkness as suggestions based on other purchases, I did a “What the hell is a ‘whisper horse?’ ” I have volunteered with riding for the handicapped and with pet-assisted therapy, so I know firsthand what time spent with an animal can do. As a life-long horsewoman, I am really selective about the books I read with horses and horse people in them and a “whisper horse” sounded rather New Age-y. At first, I ignored the suggestions. They kept coming back. Eventually, I took the leap and bought Take Me Home, then Country Roads, and read my way through the two stories and enjoyed the ride.

In the RITA-nominated novel, Country Roads, we first meet the artist Julia Castillo by the side of the road with a truck full of paintings. She has broken down on the interstate a few miles outside her destination of Sanctuary, West Virginia. A black Corvette slows down, then stops. A tall, dark and handsome man with silver gray eyes offers to help. Thus begins the story of a couple whose time it was to meet and they bring with them a maze of baggage and family obligations.

Paul Taggart is accused by his friends (Claire and Tim from Take Me Home) of having a Damsel in Distress syndrome. He is driven to help and protect his family, his town, and ultimately Julia. Julia comes to him after running away from home to get her latest art in front of a different set of eyes as her family has begun to doubt her talent. She is naïve, has been protected by her family for years, and is almost lacking in life skills. Her stay in Sanctuary changes her, and ultimately changes Paul. Paul has anguish of his own and opportunities he hasn’t taken because of family obligations. He is drawn to Julia, yet protective of her, and she has never experienced this type of relationship before.


As his fingers closed around her wrists, she shivered with the knowledge that she was poking at a tiger. It was thrilling and a little frightening, but she was determined to enjoy this experience fully. She’d never been involved with anyone like Paul Taggart before; he was protective of her, yes, but he treated her as an adult woman, unlike her family. In fact, he thought she was fascinating.


There are lots of sexy times as Paul immediate feels lust for Julia. The lust becomes something more as the story unfolds during the short time they spend together. Julia is inexperienced and Paul makes sure she makes up for lost time. I mean, he really makes up for her lack of experience in all sorts of places.


Two hours later Julia snuggled herself up against Paul in his big sleigh bed. “I’ve never had sex like this before.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

She felt a blush creep up her neck to her cheeks. “I mean this intense, this, I don’t know, sexy.” She realized she sounded like an idiot so she made it worse. “You’ve probably had lots of great sex, but I haven’t.”

“I’ve never had sex like this, either.”


We get to see how the pieces of Paul and Julia fit together as they work through the challenges they both face and they grow as characters. We know of Julia’s secret from the beginning and it takes a key event for her lover and new friends to learn what has kept her away from society in general in her past. We learn of Paul’s anguish and the burden of his urge to protect those he cares about. His charm and self-deprecating humor keep him interesting.

The secondary characters are well-drawn and add to the story. We see a lot of Claire and Tim Arbuckle from the first book in the series, along with Sharon Sydenstricker, the owner of the local stables. She reminds me of riding instructors and trainers I have met in the past, and yes, some of them are a little off center.

Which brings us to the whisper horse. Horse-crazy girls may dream of the horses they read about in books, maybe a pinto like Misty of Chincoteague or Black Beauty, or maybe the Black Stallion. In this story, we have Darkside, a black stallion who nearly killed his former owner. Sharon sees this horse as waiting for someone and having potential, and has kept him for some time despite his rogue ways. A black horse has appeared in Julia’s dreams and is the focus of her current work, Night Mares. We learn that Sharon has determined that Darkside is Julia’s whisper horse and he lives at Healing Springs Farm.


“He’s my whisper horse?” Julia was incredulous. She turned to see Darkside slam a back hoof into the fence as a groom walked by, leading another horse. “He’s not what I’d call a sympathetic listener”

“Everyone needs their own kind of whisper horse. Your spirit matches his in some way only the two of you know.”

Julia understood why Sharon’s friends didn’t talk much about her theory. However, she couldn’t deny the sense she understood Darkside, and he might have something to offer in return.


With Darkside, Julia overcomes some of her past as well as receives artistic inspiration from him. The stallion also overcomes his past for Julia, and is a cute part of our happily ever after.

So now I am a believer in this idea of a whisper horse and am looking forward to the next book in this series, The Place I Belong. The folks of Sanctuary, West Virginia, have captured my heart. I wish I could buy one of Julia Castillo’s paintings. I wish I could hang out with my horse at Healing Springs Stables. And I now know I had a “whisper horse” in my younger days. A whisper horse is similar to what dog people call a “heart dog,” another way of saying an animal soul mate. My whisper horse is buried in a horse cemetery overlooking a pasture on a country road near where Thomas Jefferson’s family once lived. With him is buried my youthful secrets and likely the secrets of a few other horsy girls as he was an excellent listener. His journey took him from a show jumping career in the Midwest to carrying me on cross-country rides in four different states, including West Virginia, to retirement in Virginia. My current specimen of the tall, handsome Appaloosa geldings I favor is not so much a whisper horse as the barn drama king. But I can say I had a whisper horse in my life and mean it, even if my friends laugh at me a little bit.


This books is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Wifeshee says:

    This book is free on Amazon if you’re a prime member

  2. 2
    kkw says:

    I also volunteer with therapeutic horse riding, and it’s magic. There’s no way to talk about it without sounding like a complete whackadoodle, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, some of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen, and I feel enormously privileged to participate. All of the explanations I’ve heard for why this works sound ridiculous. I (still) know next to nothing about horses, can’t ride myself, have no better theories. Undoubtedly it does work. So fine, there’s a mystical bond, horses can recognize and respond to autism – I’m not disagreeing, there is something real and amazing there, I just…whisper horse? Really? I’ve seen kids who won’t talk whisper to their horse, and it’s some powerful shit, I get it, I do, but *whisper horse* still just sounds so…Heart dog?! Ugh. We could invent any terminology for these phenomena, why does it have to sound so pathetic? I’m not great with naming, I haven’t better suggestions, but surely someone does? LauraL has experienced this herself, surely many others have, how would you talk about it if you didn’t want people to snicker?

  3. 3
    Melissa says:

    The RITA reviews have been a real treat to read because many have at least a background in the subject matters that books are covering. This review makes me want to read the book, even though I have no interest in horses (other than a sense of protecting them). Do you need to read the first book or can this series be read out of order?

  4. 4
    LauraL says:

    @ kkw –  I am so glad you volunteer! It truly is rewarding and magical to witness and participate in therapeutic riding. I had the great honor of being the first person outside of her family and health care helpers an autistic girl addressed. She thanked me for teaching her how to ride and I can still get choked up 20 years later. I think so often the horse gives the rider a sense of freedom they rarely have, even though we are all hovering around them. And those horses listen.

    Good question about the term “whisper horse” and I can’t think of a better term myself. I always cringe when “heart dog” is used among my fellow pet-assisted therapy volunteers and we do develop strong relationships with the pets who volunteer with us. I mentioned I was reading a book about a “whisper horse” to a horse trainer friend of mine and she giggled. And believe me, she had a whisper horse of her own, a beloved and wise old show horse she buried not too long ago.

    @ Melissa – The author weaves in the back story of Claire and Tim from the first book, so IMO Country Roads could stand alone.

  5. 5
    chacha1 says:

    Nice review.  I don’t often stray from historicals, but I may pick this one up.  I like a good horse story as much as the next girl.  :-)

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