Two years ago I had finished my drawer novel and Brave in Heart and had started writing Special Interests. I’d been telling stories in my head since forever, but I’d only been writing them down for about a year. But it turned out putting my ideas on paper was both harder and funner than my vague imaginings. And indeed I had realized I wanted to try and publish. So I decided to find a critique partner to help me become better at the writing part.
The process is sort of like online dating. You craft a profile, stress about it, and delete everything you’ve written. Then you rewrite the notice without the puns and close your eyes as you post it on different writer’s message boards and listservs. When you finally hear back from someone and parse her profile, you exchange chapters. You send notes, read the feedback, and ask yourself if you want to spend months reading this person’s work.
During the weeks I searched for a CP, I read a lot of good chapters and met several interesting people. But the only one I made it to the second-date stage with was Genevieve Turner. And her first book came out today.
I can’t be objective about this book; let the record show that I’m admitting that up front. I’ve read it many times and it’s a palimpsest for me. When I read Summer Chaparral, I see the book it was and the book it’s become and I filter it through Gen’s and my now long-standing partnership and friendship.
But let me tell you why I wanted to keep reading it during our “first date” and why I think you should too.
Summer Chaparral is a Romeo and Juliet tale about an American cowboy named Jace–seriously, the name gives me shivers–and Catarina, the eldest daughter of a Californio family. I’m a heroine-centric reader and Catarina was the hook for me. The closest cognate to her is Scarlett O’Hara, but I hesitate to say this because Gone With the Wind makes me stabby (I talked about that novel at some length here). She’s not beautiful and kind and self-effacing and delusional about her charms as some romance heroines are. She’s pretty and she’s knows it–but it hasn’t made her happy at all. She wants things. Little, normal things in her world, a home of her own and a family and a small measure of domestic power, but she hasn’t achieved them.
Jace wants things too. Like Catarina, the things he wants are small: his own ranch, a life that’s measured on his own (vs. his family’s) terms. And this beautiful, intriguing woman can help him get them. It all seems easy enough, but quite unbeknownst to them (except maybe not at all unbeknownst), they’re playing roles in old family and cultural dramas.
It’s a shot-gun marriage story, in which desire isn’t convenient and doesn’t solve the problems. But what happens after the marriage, and how this one couple must solve personal and sociocultural hurts, is what’s really fascinating.
It’s a story that’s deeply inflected by setting. Beyond Catarina, I wanted to keep reading because Gen is a beautiful writer of place. Her descriptions of the town of Cabrillo are breathtakingly specific and lovely. So between the vain but vulnerable heroine and the nature writing, I signed up for more. I’m really glad I did.
Again, this isn’t a review. I cannot fairly or objectively review this book and I want to support the Blogger Blackout. (Look at me, contradicting myself like a boss.) But, all that being said, if you like “unusual” historicals or spicy historical romance or Western romance or just plain old good books, I think you should check it out on Goodreads or Gen’s website or you can buy it Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo, and All Romance.