Scarlett Peckham


#100Romances: TEXAS DESTINY + A Meditation on Catnip

Today our survey course on modern history’s favorite romance novels brings us to a book by Lorraine Heath called TEXAS DESTINY.

But what we are really going to talk about is catnip.

By "catnip", I of course mean the romance term of art to describe those tropes, authors and subgenres that make a reader one-click as if by reflex alone. A premise you see and think: GIT IT IN MY EYES.

texas destiny.jpg

Before going any further, let me tell you some things about myself. I am constitutionally unmoved by the rugged beauty of the untamed prairie. Sleeping under the stars makes me dream of scorpion injuries. I try to avoid antebellum nostalgia and "cowboys vs indians" plots in my mindless entertainments. I prefer pubs to saloons. I am maybe the only person on earth who doesn't like horses.

What I am trying to say is that I am not a fan of Westerns.

Not in movies (even the Tarantino ones). Not in big-budget HBO dystopias (sorry Westworld). Not even in Loony Tunes (looking sideways at you, Roadrunner). 

So in romance, Westerns are very much not my catnip. And Texas Destiny, as you might have gathered by the title and fabulous vintage cover design, is a Western. 

Now, this did not stop me from getting back on the proverbial horse. Clearly this is a book people adore, and since I'm a fan of Ms. Heath’s regency romances, I was curious to see if she would convert me. But the end result was, unsurprisingly, that it just ain't for this cowgirl.

Apparently, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink.*

And that’s ok. Because reading it made me realize something very nice about romance as a genre: once you learn your tropes, your subgenres and your squicks, you can infinitely customize your reading list to suit your exact tastes. You can chase your catnip like Houston and Amelia on a pack of wild Palominos. (That would be the hero and heroine of Texas Destiny, who do, in fact, do a lot of chasing of wild Palominos.)

A quick glance at my Kindle library shows what I chase: House Parties.

Do you have a house party taking place in a magnificent stately home in rural England between 1740 and 1870, populated by a feisty but sensitive woman who strains at the conventions of her age, and an older and more experienced man with a dark and painful past?


Does your story have minimal external plot and a boatload of internal angst?


Do people spend most of their time being discovered in their nightrail in the library and sneaking into bedchambers, implausibly, via trellises?


Does a Secret Baby materialize in Act III?


I decided to do this project specifically to broaden my horizons and read outside my comfort zone, and I'm glad I read this book because it reminded me of one of the reasons I love romance: it is a vast and yet easily categorized genre that rewards specificity.

The more you know what you like, the more you can be sure of being satisfied. 

If you want to go completely nuts on boring house parties, or Westerns, or tentacled pansexual shapeshifter dragon fighters, or nebbish Victorian detectives, you absolutely can. You learn, over time, the catnip authors and themes and tropes and worlds that are guaranteed to make you, personally, feel happy and floaty and transported. You begin to know by instinct when a book will keep you up all night. 

Next week’s book was supposed to be The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley, but I belatedly realized it is not available as an e-book, so I will wait until my print copy arrives from the US. Until them I’m skipping to the next book on the list, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley. 

*Forgive me for beating a dead horse?