Sunday 11 February 2024

The Coffee Pot Book club presents: Dude or Die by Lynn Downey

Book Title: Dude or Die

Series: H Double Bar Dude Ranch series

Author: Lynn Downey

Publication Date: October 15, 2023

Publisher: Pronghorn Press

Page Length: 328

Genre: Historical Fiction

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Dude or Die


Lynn Downey


It’s 1954, and San Francisco writer Phoebe Kelley is enjoying the success of her first novel, Lady in the Desert. When Phoebe’s sister-in-law asks her to return to Tribulation, Arizona to help run the H Double Bar Dude Ranch, she doesn’t hesitate. There’s competition from a new dude ranch this year, so the H Double Bar puts on a rodeo featuring a trick rider with a mysterious past. When accidents begin to happen around the ranch, Phoebe jumps in to figure out why, and confronts an unexpected foe. And a man from her own past forces her to confront feelings long buried. Dude or Die is the second book in the award-winning H Double Bar Dude Ranch series. 

Read an Excerpt of Dude or Die by Lynn Downey

 Synopsis: It’s 1954, and San Francisco writer Phoebe Kelley returns to the H Double Bar dude ranch in Tribulation, Arizona to help her late husband’s sister Mary, her husband Sam, and their young son Joe run the ranch for the fall season. Phoebe and the ranch were introduced in the first book in this series, Dudes Rush In. There’s stiff competition from a new guest ranch in town, called the Desert Grande, run by a powerful woman named Thelma Powell who seems determined to put other ranches out of business. Phoebe and Mary decide to put on a “dudeo,” a rodeo for both the ranch’s wranglers and the visiting dudes, to thwart Thelma’s efforts. They bring in a trick rider from California with a mysterious past named Eden Williams, and a man from Phoebe’s past also reappears. When accidents happen around the ranch, Phoebe must confront an unexpected foe.


Excerpt from Chapter 12: The “dudeo” events are over, and people are waiting for the trick rider’s performance.

 The morning had kept its warm promise, and by noon many of the spectators took off their jackets and sweaters before they headed toward the food tables, returning with sandwiches and cups of soda or coffee. The dude and wrangler events were over, and everyone had been encouraged to get something to eat before Eden’s performance.

 As they mingled, people chatted and laughed about how hilarious it was to watch the dudes, especially in the egg and spoon race. Mary had deputized Joe to clean up all the spilled eggs, and he had run into the corral and scooped up the splattered yolks with a short shovel and a bucket like a ball boy at a tennis match. When Sam questioned Mary about why she wanted the eggs removed, she retorted, “I don’t care if it is just a dirt corral, I’m not leaving a mess behind.”

 Jason McIntyre’s brother Matthew surprised everyone with his riding during the pole bending, coming in a close second to a girl from the Triple S Dude Ranch. Jacob Randolph’s little sister Ava Grace jumped and squealed when he won the belt buckle for the best performance in steer head roping. Chris, the other McIntyre brother, came in third. A boy from Jim and Laura Stevenson’s Bar K Ranch astounded the crowd with his egg balancing and easily took first prize for the event.

 None of the dudes from the Desert Grande joined the competition, but two wranglers entered the bucking bronc event. One of them was a very young man whose time on the horse was just a tick shorter than Gene Bowman’s. Phoebe caught sight of Mary when that happened and saw her scowl, but it didn’t last long. Lorraine was bested in the barrel race by Maggie, one of the wranglers at the Bar K Ranch. The two women were good friends, and Lorraine applauded when Sam announced Maggie’s winning time.

 Phoebe assumed that Mary or Sam would give out the prizes when the events were over, so she was surprised when a rodeo clown strutted into the corral dragging a large black drawstring bag. It took her a few moments to realize that it was Carl. He wore oversized jeans held up with ragged suspenders, a red-and-white polka dot shirt, and straw hat. He’d also painted his face and blacked out one of his teeth. He made funny faces at the kids when he dug into the bag to pull out their ribbons, stuffed burros, and pins, and did an exaggerated vaudeville bow to each of the winning wranglers. The crowd’s laughter just spurred him on to more antics, which included doing a few trick spins with a lariat that he also had in the bag. Phoebe thought he’d missed his calling, and planned to tell him so.

 Mary watched to make sure everyone was back in their seats after the lunch break, and once folks looked settled, she and Sam walked back into the corral, now cleared of poles, steer head, eggshells, and a few dropped bandannas. Sam turned on the bullhorn again, and passed it to his wife.

 “Ladies and gentlemen! We hope you enjoyed the first part of our dudeo, and we congratulate all of the winners.”

 The crowd applauded enthusiastically and a few people stamped their feet, making Mary chuckle and smile before she continued.

 “The H Double Bar is now proud to introduce trick rider Eden Williams and her famous horse, Berry-Wise, making their first ever appearance in Arizona.”

 More and even louder applause followed this announcement. It was obvious that the audience had been anticipating the climax of the day’s events.

 “I won’t make you wait a moment longer. I give you Miss Williams and Berry-Wise!”

 All eyes were aimed toward the barn, but a moment later everyone turned as a horse and rider burst through the corral’s far gate, which Phoebe had opened while people were getting their food.

 Eden and Berry stopped in the center of the corral, and the horse reared on its hind legs as Eden took off her cowboy hat and waved to the crowd, a brilliant smile illuminating her face as the audience clapped and hooted. Her tight black riding pants were tucked into short boots, and they were paired with a deep pink satin shirt with red piping. Embroidered on the back of the shirt, in shiny black thread, were the words Western Pride Berry Farms, Sebastopol, Cal. She also wore a pink bandanna around her neck, tied to the side with a jaunty bow. Phoebe thought she looked like a summer rosebush. Berry-Wise had dark pink ribbons braided into his mane and tail.

 The horse lowered his front legs and suddenly he and Eden began spinning in place. After a few revolutions, Eden brought him to a halt and with a swift movement she stood upright in the saddle, her feet tucked into what looked like extra pockets. Grabbing the reins, she made a slight movement and Berry-Wise began to gallop toward the open gate. But instead of going through it, the horse turned and began to run parallel to the corral. As he sped up, Eden bent over into a full backbend, keeping the position as the horse made one full circuit back to his starting point.

 Plopping back down into the saddle, Eden acknowledged the cheering crowd, and with barely a beat, goaded Berry into a gallop again. The crowd gasped when she seemed to fall off the horse, but she held on to the saddle, bounced on her feet in the dirt, and then jumped back on. She did the same movement five more times as the audience continued to cheer. 

 Eden then rode Berry again toward the corral’s center. Around her arm was a lariat and as she stood straight up in the saddle Berry-Wise began to trot around in a circle as before, while Eden twirled the rope around her head. She then made the loop wider and jumped into the air as she spun the lariat up and around her body. She finished with another flourish above her head and looped the rope over her arm.

 She then slid to the ground and after whispering something to her horse, Eden and Berry-Wise bowed in tandem to the audience.

 Before the applause died down, she leaped into the saddle, stood up in the stirrups, and took off her hat again in tribute to the audience. Berry turned and galloped toward the open gate, Eden did a final backbend, and they passed through the opening, a berry-colored blur.


This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.

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Lynn Downey is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, historian of the West, and native Californian.

She was the Historian for Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco for 25 years. Her adventures as ambassador for company history took her around the world, where she spoke to television audiences, magazine editors, and university students, appeared in numerous documentaries, and on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She wrote many books and articles about the history of the company and the jeans, and her biography, Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World, won the Foreword Reviews silver INDIE award.

Lynn got interested in dude ranches during her time at Levi’s. Her debut historical novel, Dudes Rush In, is set on an Arizona dude ranch in the 1950s; Arizona because she’s a desert rat at heart, and the 1950s because the clothes were fabulous.

Dudes Rush In won a Will Rogers Medallion Award, and placed first in Arizona Historical Fiction at the New Mexico-Arizona book awards. The next book in this series, Dude or Die, was released in 2023. And just for fun, Lynn wrote a screenplay based on Dudes Rush In, which is currently making the rounds of reviewers and competitions.

She pens short stories, as well. “The Wind and the Widow” took Honorable Mention in the History Through Fiction story contest, and “Incident at the Circle H” was a Finalist for the Longhorn Prize from Saddlebag Dispatches. The story “Goldie Hawn at the Good Karma CafĂ©,” won second place in The LAURA Short Fiction contest from Women Writing the West, and is based on her experiences in a San Francisco religious cult in the 1970s. (That will be another book one of these days.)  

Lynn’s latest nonfiction book is American Dude Ranch: A Touch of the Cowboy and the Thrill of the West, a cultural history of the dude ranch. It was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal, True West, Cowgirl, and The Denver Post, and was a Finalist for the Next Generation INDIE Award in Nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews said the book is “…deeply engaging and balances accessible writing style with solid research.”

When she’s not writing, Lynn works as a consulting archivist and historian for museums, libraries, cultural institutions, and businesses. She is the past president of Women Writing the West, a member of the Western Writers of America, and is on numerous boards devoted to archives and historic preservation. 

Lynn lives in Sonoma, California, where she sometimes makes wine from the Pinot Noir grapes in her back yard vineyard.


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1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for hosting Lynn Downey today, Judith!

    Take care,
    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club