I don't do book reviews here often, since that's part of my job at the shop. Sometimes, though, an exception has to be made, and this is one of those times.
For those of you who get the shop's ezine, our weekly newzine that has upcoming events, reviews, trivia and sometimes general lunacy, this is the review I'll have in it (with perhaps some slight changes) this week:
The legend of La Llorona is the basis for Cate Culpepper's book, River Walker (Bold Strokes Books, $16.95, signed copies available). Grady Wrenn has come to New Mexico to teach a class in cultural anthropology, and she's sitting by the banks of the Rio Grande when she hears an unearthly scream. Completely unnerved, Grady's sent into full panic when a woman steps out of the river.
But Elena Montalvo is no tormented ghost; she's a flesh and blood woman, a curandera, and her mission in life is to soothe the angry soul of La Llorona, the weeping woman by the river. However, men are dying in that river, and while La Llorona is blamed, the people of Mesilla are looking for a more corporeal scapegoat, and Elena's in their sights. While she doesn't believe in all this ghost nonsense, Grady finds herself drawn into helping Elena. The stakes are high, threatening not only Grady's heart but her life.
Cate Culpepper, while a current resident of Seattle, has a long history with southern New Mexico, and her love of the area shows in River Walker. Her easy and smooth style brings Grady and Elena to life, and while most of the story focuses on Grady, the chapters where Elena talks to her Goddess, her Diosa, are beautiful counterpoints to Grady's practical and no-nonsense attitude.
Exploring cultural diversity and taking a compassionate look at a long-standing legend, River Walker is more than just a ghost story. It's a story of the heart, of passion and fear, and of love.
So okay, here's what I'm not telling the thousands of people we send this review to.
I've known Cate for years. We went to college together, we were part of the Rainbow Fantasy Players together (and no, that wasn't a gay rights thing, it was a children's improvisational group from college), we worked on plays at Las Cruces Community Theatre together. We have history.
I knew Cate as "Cathy" for ages, and on some levels she'll always be Cathy to me. But here she's an author, and her professional name is Cate, so that's who she is for now. If you want to know more about her, follow this link for a great interview.
Now, about River Walker. Cate's an accomplished author, this is not her first book by any stretch of the imagination. She has a devoted following for her "Tristaine" books, an ongoing series about a group of modern day Amazon warriors. She's won awards, and her popularity as an author is growing.
It's always dicey when you read a friend's work, because it's possible that the friendship will outweigh the actual writing. I'm lucky in that my job has taught me how to separate the two, with a few exceptions and those exceptions run the other way, generally -- I don't like the author as a person so I stop reading the books. And it's possible too that I'm a bit harder on a friend's writing simply to overcome any bias.
Not a problem here. Not at all.
I forgot all about Cate while I was reading this book. I didn't care who was writing it. All I cared about was what happened next. She has created real people, and having lived in the area, in Las Cruces and Mesilla, knowing the legend of La Llorona, it was like coming home. I'd love to know how it reads to people who haven't been there and aren't familiar with the whole culture. But for me, it was a small vacation home while meeting new people.
And okay, the fact that she describes the food at La Posta really well doesn't hurt! I had to come home and make enchiladas. It was really evocative and totally evil. Brilliantly done!
Cate's stopping by the shop tomorrow to sign books for us. I've got some of Lou's music to give her and a photo of her in one of the many incarnations of RFP. We haven't seen each other in years, even though she lives up here in Seattle. I hope this is the beginning of more visits, but we're both hermits in our own ways, and we respect that. But she's not getting off too easily -- she's got a Westie, Kirby, whom I want to meet!
So it's not just because she's a friend -- in a way, that's just an added bonus for me -- and while the Grady and Elena are gay, that isn't the primary focus of the book. It's more about cultural diversity and facing your demons. No it's simply because River Walker is a good book that I'm encouraging people to read it.