Full Readers’ Comments

Sunny Gale

Sunny Gale Cover - History of Rodeo In Forbes’ historical novel, a woman fights for the right to compete in rodeos—and becomes a star in the process.

When Hannah Brandt, who comes from a hardscrabble background in Ohio and Nebraska, first gets to ride a horse in 1895 at the age of 14,she realizes that there is no going back to the way things were: Her destiny is to be a rodeo star and break new ground as a female bronco rider. She wins first place in a race at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo at 18, and soon she’s known by a new name: Sunny Gale. Her marriage to her first husband, Luke Mangum, ends in divorce and she’s taken in by the Pickering clan, who are rodeo royalty. After she marries Tad Pickering, her star continues to rise as she and her spouse amaze crowds with “Roman Riding,” each of them standing astride two galloping horses. When tragedy occurs, Sunny quits the clan and moves on again, leaving behind her mother, Francine; her daughter, Mollie; and her son, Scott. She experiences more ups and downs as the years go by, including times of great sadness. She finds a refuge in New Mexico with one-legged rancher Angus Laroche, who dispenses tough love to her when she really needs it. But her love life continues to be complicated, and the novel’s resolution sees her life come full circle, after a fashion.

This is a story of rodeos, marriages, sexism, and social mores—all churned together. In a wonderful afterword, Forbes offers a little-known real-life account of when women competed in the roughest of rodeo events from the very end of the 19th century to the early 1930s, In fact, Sunny Gale is modeled on the real-life Prairie Rose Henderson, and her rival, Ruth Pickering, is inspired by Bonnie McCarroll. These women’s competitions became as big a draw as the men’s, and they were quite lucrative; it was only after some tragic mishaps that censorious men took the opportunity to subjugate female riders again. The uneasy truce between the sexes is evident on every page of the novel; for example, after Hannah’s first outing and win, Luke proudly announces to the press that she’s “Mrs. Luke Mangum.” However, it’s made clear that, for Sunny, the rodeo always comes first—no matter how rough that is on her spouses and, notably, on her children. Forbes effectively portrays her as a sympathetic rather than annoyingly self-involved. Most readers will understand her actions, simply because she’s consistently self-aware and never forgets the costs of her choices. Forbes is an experienced author, and her latest novel is beautifully, even poetically, written with well-developed characters. At one point, while sidelined by pregnancy, Sunny glumly realizes that “fecundity, not horsemanship, was the exalted state toward which women were to aspire.” Yet, years later, reflecting on the vital dates on Mollie’s tombstone, a stricken Sunny gazes on “Time locked in brackets which even the stoutest heart couldn’t break.

A moving, memorable, and fully realized rodeo saga. — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


Suzie Housley for Midwest Book Review

Synopsis: Step into the captivating world of Forbes’ historical novel where Hannah Brandt, a woman of grit and determination, defies all odds to pursue her passion for rodeo competitions. From humble beginnings in Ohio and Nebraska, Hannah discovers her calling as a bronco rider at 14. As she triumphs in the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo and transforms into the renowned Sunny Gale, her journey unfolds with twists of love, loss, and resilience.

Witness Sunny’s meteoric rise to fame alongside her partner Tad Pickering as they dazzle audiences with their daring Roman Riding act. Sunny’s unwavering spirit propels her forward through triumphs and tragedies, leaving a trail of inspiration in her wake. Join in celebrating the indomitable spirit of a true pioneer in rodeo whose legacy transcends time and continues to inspire generations.

Critique: Sunny Gale is a captivating rodeo saga bound to leave a lasting impression. This moving and fully realized story takes you on a journey through the rodeo world, filled with unforgettable characters and compelling narratives.

Jamie Lisa Forbes showcases her remarkable storytelling skills, promising readers an unforgettable experience. Prepare to embark on an exhilarating journey as you dive into the captivating world of rodeo, filled with heart-pounding excitement and profound emotions. Get ready for the gripping narrative to sweep you off your feet and be prepared to fully immerse yourself in the magic of Sunny Gale.


Sunny is a very strong and interesting protagonist and shows that strength throughout the story in the losses that she suffers and her ability and determination to never give up on her dreams. This author has presented readers with an excellent main character and so many secondary characters who are just as well-developed and important to the story. Even those characters who the reader may dislike are extremely well-written and have a place in this story. The dialogue is excellent, and the descriptive writing makes one feel that they are really in the wilderness trying to survive or in the rodeo ring trying to win, right alongside Sunny and the others.

Sunny Gale is exciting, well-written and developed, and will make the reader laugh and cry throughout. While this is the first book that I have read by this author, it will definitely not be the last. I was extremely impressed with the whole story and cannot wait to see what else is out there for my reading pleasure. I would highly recommend the story to all.

Quill says: Sunny Gale is a wonderful example of a story that will pull readers into a new world, in this case, one of rodeo riding and the entrance of women into the sport. With its wonderfully descriptive writing and historical accuracy, I am sure that it will be a great success and of interest to many. — Kathy Stickles for Feathered Quill Book Reviews.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars: Though some of Hannah’s issues are specific to her time period, her saga serves as a poignant, timeless reminder of the complexities that lie beneath the surface of seemingly glamorous pursuits. Those who have an interest in historical fiction and historic women’s rights will find this book enlightening. It’s an eye-opening read and an evocative mixture of fact and fiction. — Reviewed by Michaela Gordoni for City Book Reviews

Sunny Gale is a story about a woman who bucked social conventions, asserted her independence, and sacrificed much to satisfy her dreams. Author Jamie Lisa Forbes has written a truly engaging novel. — Reviewed by Philip Zozzaro for City Book Reviews (Tulsa)


Eden – by Jamie Lisa Forbes

Eden - Jamie Lisa Forbes - Historical Fiction

When college-bound Rowen Hart is left reeling from his father’s suicide, he finds himself having to become the man of the house and navigate the waters of his rural, very racially divided town in 1950s North Carolina. What will his future hold now that the aftermath of his father’s death has left him and his mother in undesirable circumstances? Jamie Lisa Forbes takes readers along Rowen’s journey through manhood and adulthood and shines a light on the pivotal people he meets along the way in her newest novel Eden.

Eden begins with Rowen months after his father’s suicide, in his new home on the outskirts of town with his bedridden-from-grief Mama and devoted housekeeper Adeline. He is discouraged by his inability to hold a steady job and perform tasks that every man in White Rock, North Carolina is expected to have perfected by his age. Daddy never taught him how to fix anything or lift a finger for that matter, and so the broken gate out front remains broken and the land at Sawyer’s remains untended to. One morning, he decides to be late for work on Sawyer’s property, but not for any common excuse. There’s a murder trial taking place – Franklin White has been accused of killing his drunkard brother-in-law, Birch Whitney – and Rowen is curious and thankful for another scandal to be overshadowing his father’s untimely death.

Rowen’s interest in the case is soon piqued for another reason. Eden, the murder victim’s 10-year-old firecracker of a daughter, is called to the stand. She witnessed her uncle kill her father right before her eyes and is happy to tell anyone who will listen. Rest assured the whole town is listening, but believing her account is another story. Eden’s mother, if you can call her that, has decided she’s had enough of her daughter’s testimony and shameful presence, so what is a 10-year-old accused of lying to do? Run away to the outskirts of town and have someone else take her in.

When Eden shows up at Rowen’s home with only the clothes on her back, Adeline and Mama are pleased to take in the child. Rowen, however, is not. Eden is brash and brazen for her age, curious and ill-mannered too. Between his boss Sawyer, his co-worker Sammy, his greedy Uncle Hugh, Eden, Adeline, Mama, and his soon-to-be-wife Jewell constantly breathing down his neck, Rowen struggles to keep up with demands and expectations. An unforeseen bright spot throughout Rowen’s toils, however, is his budding friendship with Eden. As he spends more time with her, Rowen begins to see the world through her eyes, and regrets not being more of an open-minded young man. Then one day, everything changes – again. Eden’s mother has come to take her back. Rowen doesn’t know it yet, but he won’t see Eden again until she’s grown with adult struggles of her own. What will become of their reconciliation? It’s an emotional ride for readers as well as the characters in Eden.

Jamie Lisa Forbes details 1950s small-town North Carolina in a way that makes readers feel like they’re sweltering in the heat of the courtroom and shivering amidst the coldness of racial and class prejudices. To be able to communicate to the audience different relationship dynamics, whether it’s intimate relationships, friendships that break racial barriers, family ties, or the relationship an individual has with themselves, in such a heartbreaking and realistic way shows her dedication to understanding diverse backgrounds and what it meant to have grown up in the south during such emotionally charged times. This book is the perfect reminder for readers that life would be much less colorful if not for the people we meet along the way.

Quill says: Unexpected relationships can be the most rewarding, and award-winning author Jamie Lisa Forbes details them beautifully throughout Eden. — Nellie Calanni for Feathered Quill Books.


Rating 5 out of 5 stars – When I started reading the first pages, I knew I was in for an adventurous ride. First, I liked how the author builds suspense. Also, the writing style is engaging and sometimes witty. The characters were well-developed, each having distinct traits that made them more endearing. Eden turned out to be my favorite. The girl is very courageous and quite a rebel. The story was captivating from start to finish, and I noticed the plot was a bit fast-paced. I liked how difficult it is to predict the events in the book; it made it even more interesting.

The novel boasts themes of friendship, family, romance, racism, injustice, and betrayal, among others. . . . Although families are supposed to have each other’s backs, there are often betrayals. Eden by Jamie Lisa Forbes is an amazing novel, and I would highly recommend it to readers of young adult fiction novels.

Reviewed by Maria Yinks for Portland Book Review


Rating 4 out of 5 stars: There isn’t anything predictable about this story, which makes it a pleasant reading experience. Rowen’s future cannot be seen, nor can Eden’s. Jamie Lisa Forbes is also an author who doesn’t forget any of her characters. She gives all of them some sort of significance, bringing them back in at times when you don’t expect it. And few elements of the story are fair or right, but that’s life. And it seems like it was Forbes’ intent to make this story almost as lifelike as possible, which she pulled off, indeed.

Overall, this is an interesting, well-written southern story that starts out in 1950s North Carolina. Given the time period and place, it does incorporate a theme of racial prejudice. Essentially, it is an excellent historical fiction piece with appropriate details, names, and lingo. It’s one of those rare books that sinks into your head for days as you continue to contemplate the characters’ choices long after you’ve turned the last page.  — Reviewed by Michaela Gordoni for City Book Reviews

Rating 5 out of 5 stars: “Jamie Lisa Forbes weaves a tale in this novel that is both heartbreaking and genuinely moving. I found myself crying and laughing in equal measure while reading which, is the sign of a truly great book. I can’t wait to find out what Forbes will write next and I hope that she continues creating strong characters that I could read about for hours!”–Linda, Goodreads

Rating 5 out of 5 stars: Eden is a compelling read with unforgettable characters and an insightful look at our culture in a time and place where the color of one’s skin tainted every aspect of life.”  –Virginia Campbell, Amazon

Rating 4 out of 5 stars:  “I am pleased to recommend Forbes to family and friends. Her prose rides right up there with the classic southern novelists. This is a story to savor.”  –Bonnye Reed Fry, NetGalley

Rating 5 out of 5 stars:  “Jamie Lisa Forbes really captured not only the time period but the atmosphere of the American South in such a beautiful, fulfilling way.”–BettyBee306, Goodreads

Rating 5 out of 5 stars: “Motivational, heart moving.” –David Nduhiu, Goodreads

Rating 4 out of 5 stars: “. . .very touching novel. I enjoyed the depth of characters and fell in love with them. The story moved at a good pace and I stayed engaged with the story throughout the book. It is a very thought provoking novel and days after finishing I find myself still thinking about the characters and the choices they made.” –Hillary Swiers, NetGalley

Rating 5 out of 5 stars: “A powerful absorbing book right from the first page. I felt as though I was part of the story right along with the characters.”– Erin Stetler, Netgalley

Rating 3 out of 5 stars: “Woven throughout this book are themes of racial and economic prejudice, identity and family value systems. Although parts of it were emotionally draining, Eden was an enjoyable read” –Janet Ashcraft, Netgalley

Rating 5 out of 5 stars:  “Forbes has a deft hand at crafting space, time and character.” –Deborah Cleaves, NetGalley


The-Widow-Smalls - WINNER HIGH PLAINS BOOK AWARDS 2015--short story categoryThe Widow Smalls 

4/7/2017–Amazon verified purchase by ArtZFriend–5 stars: 

“I recommend this book to those who love the simple life as well as the hardships of the simple life.”

The Widow Smalls – 3/20/2019–Amazon verified purchase by Dave Gilpin–5 stars

The Widow Smalls – Review by Terri Hoffman Curtis, Author Sly Fly and the Gray Mare

I do not usually read short story collections, but the subject of early ranching piqued my interest.  I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone, because I discovered a very talented writer in Jamie Lisa Forbes.  Forbes paints pictures with her words, being able to make the reader feel, taste, smell, hear and see what is happening.  There are no cliches in her writing, and no worn-out analogies.  She has discovered original ways of showing the scenes, the characters and the action.

I look forward to reading more of Jamie Lisa Forbes’ work.

The Widow Smalls – Review by Marjorie Boyd-Springer

Jamie Lisa Forbes’ book The Widow Smalls is a combination of several separate stories about hardships of using land to make a living. As you read through the stories you will meet a child’s struggle to make sense of her world. There is also a father who is trying one last time to earn his daughter’s love. There you’ll meet a couple of star crossed lovers. These are just a few of the people inside this great book. You will get to know Leah Smalls. She has been emotionally abused by her husband for thirty years. After he dies she ends up owning their ranch. She has no one to help her with the ranch. Her brothers try to take the ranch away from her. After they try to humiliate her, she takes that as the chance she needs to succeed and find herself.
This book is truly a must read for everyone. It is a page turner from start to finish. I really enjoyed reading it. I gave it 5 stars but wish I could’ve given it more. I highly recommend it to everyone. I look forward to more from Jamie Lisa Forbes.


The-Widow-Smalls - WINNER HIGH PLAINS BOOK AWARDS 2015--short story categoryThe Widow Smalls – 9/24/2018–Amazon verified purchase by J.E.B.–5 stars:

“Wonderful read.  Showed compassion yet strength of character development.”

The Widow Smalls – 5/29/2017–Amazon verified purchase by Michelle Geist–5 stars. 

“Unflinching, raw, wonderfully written novel that stirs up so many emotions.”

Cara Chamberlain for The Billings Gazette:

Forbes proves a wry and ironic—and yet deeply empathetic and authentic–observer of the rural West.


Unbroken – Jamie Lisa Forbes

WILLA Judge:

Unbroken - Unbroken, recipient of the 2011 WILLA Literary Award for Outstanding Contemporary Fiction.

Forbes’ debut novel is powerful and she presents a host of characters who are all complex emotionally flawed beings.  This is especially so in their Wyoming setting as the characters face extremely harsh winters and the difficult 24/7 life of ranchers.  The plot’s emphasis on two strong women struggling to maintain a relationship is unique against a dramatic background of infidelity, single motherhood. poverty and small town isolation.

David H. Keck–Amazon reviewer–5 stars

“Compelling, authentic.”

Crystal Fulcher, My Reading Room

“Unbroken was a very satisfying read for me.  I found myself putting off eating so I could read “just one more chapter” because I was so involved in the lives of the characters.  Ms. Forbes has a way of drawing you into the lives of the characters and making you feel like you are there living and working beside them, being friends with them.  It’s wonderful and when the book is over you feel sad, because you want more of the story even though the story has come to its conclusion.  But you want more because you don’t want to leave the characters.

To me that is the mark of a good book, when the characters and the storyline stay with me after finishing.  When I’m still thinking about something they said or did or wondering about a point the author was making or even applying something to my life.  Unbroken has something for everyone.  Descriptions of ranching life, romance, friendship, parenting, tough decisions and so much more.  There is never a lull in the plot and I found it to be an amazing read.

Suzanne Lilly the TeacherWriter

“The writing is realistic and true to the nature of life in rural Wyoming. Harsh winters, endless wind, and dependence on neighbors to survive form the backdrop of this novel. Ms. Forbes writes with a sparseness of prose to match the landscape. This book is one that opens a window onto a way of life few people experience.”-


Western, Award-Winning Fiction – Jamie Lisa Forbes – Sunny Gale, Eden, The Widow Smalls, Unbroken, Western Short Stories