Heartland by Julie Cannon

heartlandThe wonderful thing about romances is that you can read them in two days tops. And especially if you just have nothing else to do but don’t want to engage a lot of brain matter into the venture, romances are just perfect. Maybe that is why many people – me included – see the whole genre as trivial. But think about it this way: how much more difficult does it have to be to write in a genre that is so trivial, has so few tropes but so many clichées? It is, and I cherish the authors of this genre who can make me swoon and/or surprise me.

Julie Cannon is not one of them, though. Given, Heartland is the only novel of hers I’ve read so far. Here’s a synopsis:

Rachel Stanton needs a break from her work as political strategist and books ten days on a dude ranch. Shivley McCoy is the owner of same ranch and the two women meet ahead of Rachel’s stay there and fall in lust at first sight. And this is mainly what seems to be going on between the two of them: they flirt, they kiss, they watch each other with eyes filled with promises of wild, hot sex. But while sensuality abounds, the inner lives of these two are also stirred as they work together and settle in a routine that may lead both of them too far into terrain they’re either unfamiliar or too familiar with. Their pasts and presents collide and ten days are over in a heartbeat. (Yeah, I know it’s as vague as a book cover but sometimes I like to engage in a little bit of professional vagueness.)

The attraction between Rachel and Shivley is the focal point and there’s a lot of it. I’m not a great fan of the erotic romance novel – as I want to call it. I like two people to meet, get acquainted, become friends through and with the attraction, not the other way around. That said, I have to praise Cannon for turning the concept but still make it plausible why these two women fall in love, even if lust seemed the first and more forceful factor in their relationship. Cannon teases the reader endlessly, yes, but scenes of erotic near-experiences are paralleled by scenes of work and conversation on the ranch and it makes for a nice mix.

The writing itself is alright, not great but not abysmal. I sometimes became irritated when a scene was describes from both women’s views, as I feel this is unnecessary. Also, the use of both the protagonist’s names was a little overdone. The use of referential monikers like ‘the rancher,’ ‘the taller woman,’ ‘the blonde’ might not be the most innovative but is something I find necessary. This is a problem we face in lesbian romance – or really in any kind of genre and writing where two women meet and interact, which mainly means lesbian romance: using ‘she’ too often might leave the reader wondering of whom we are talking at the moment. Using names is a possible solution to this problem but – as I said – I found it a little bit overdone here, especially with a name that is as unusual as Shivley – after a while it just sounds strange in one’s ears.

On the whole, Heartland is a solid romance. It is sexy, the setting is beautiful and knowledgibly described by the author. I find myself drawn to rural settings, especially the cowgirl trope is fascinating as well as inspiring. A nice read for those first days of spring when the mood turns to casting out the cobwebs of a too long winter.


Thy Neighbor’s Wife by Georgia Beers

Back to lesbian romance, back to what I know. I’ve read the beginning of this novel sometime in June, I think (via kindle for pc – but let me not dwell on that just now). I liked it very much. Here’s a synopsis:

Jennifer and Eric Wainwright buy a house on Canandaigua Lake in upstate New York. Their neighbor is Alex Foster who has just become a homeowner on same lake herself. Alex and Jen become fast friends while Eric works a lot and cannot really come out to the lake. The women fall in love and struggle with it, with their families’ expectations and their own notions of selves.

The novel starts with two women who become fast friends, they indulge in easy banter and their mutual love of dogs (especially that one little pooch who is Alex’: Kinsey). The description of friendship here is very sensitive, it’s logical from the point of view Beers takes in those first pages. Jen is a socialite wife, Alex has just given up her job as teacher to write: they are not typical, they fight their demons but do not want to tell each other about them just yet. I like these pages, they feel real.

Unfortunately, the sensitive notions of fast friendship and early flirting do not last. There is not a detectable break in the book when you can presume that from now on it will go downhill, the decline is gradual. The reader has been told of problems with certain family members, antagonism with friends, the death of Jennifer’s father. These things seem to become somewhat important without ever taking center stage. They seem to be violent blips that appear and disappear as Beers needs them as plot-devices. The same goes for Eric. While I thought his point of view at first surprising and rather interesting, he disappears from the novel while the women fall in love then reappears in the wings when we are told that he and Jen spend time together. But it’s almost as if nothing happens in the wings. Both know that they have problems but they are not talking. And this lack of communication seems to spread among the characters until nobody is talking to each other, least of all the two main characters.

In the end, we have an author who hammers out plot while deconstructing her characters. Where Alex had been strong and easy-going she is suddenly full of insecurities, where Jennifer has been shy and sweet she suddenly becomes a sexual predator. Beers throws a little Freudian nonsense at us to explain this but it does not convince.

The problem seems to be that Beers does not give herself the time and space to develop the story naturally. Her predisposed notions of how a happy ending should look like, on how people should behave, and even of good and evil do not allow her to let her characters guide her. Characters that have been sympathetic and likable in the beginning, are just the contrary in the end.  This is sad because Beers has talent and ability – she did just not pull through.

Something else I found rather ill-adviced was the writing within the writing: excerpts of what Alex is writing. While Alex is supposed to be a good writer with some ambition the writing she does is not even as good as Beers writing. It lacks. Maybe this is supposed to be so, maybe we are to believe that Alex has not found her voice yet because she writes heterosexual stories when she herself is a lesbian. Maybe. I also seem to have a problem with the question why Alex would choose to write romance. She was an English teacher, one would probably expect her ambition to rise above the mundane and land on reinventing the great American novel. I don’t want to diss writers of romance (I am among them) but I think we should be so self-reflective to acknowledge that ours is not the most innovative of genres. Would someone like Alex chose to write it? Especially since she also claims to want to write about things she knows and still choses to write a heterosexual love-story?

And I don’t even know why this bothers me so much. Writing about writers does not seem a good idea. Maybe it shows a little too much affection toward our passion, a fascination with ourselves that we want  to spread around, the mystery of it, the torn artist stuff that nobody’s interested in but us. Well, I am at least greatful that Alex does not write a novel in one night but actually writes at a pace that any writer can appreciate.

I don’t want to end this review on a negative note. I do not want to say that I really disliked it because I didn’t. There was a lot of good in it, the premise is actually so interesting that I would love to take it up myself (but probably won’t because who’s got the time?). The writing is good, the banter between the characters (as long as it was there) was heartfelt and honest. It was mainly the ending that had me disappointed. Which means I expect to pick up another Beers at some point and like it.