The last week or so I’ve been reading Catherine Gayle’s Tulsa Thunderbirds series. The first four books – Bury the Hatchet, Smoke Signals, Ghost Dance and Rites of Passage were re-reads for me as I worked my way up to reading the fifth book Rain Dance for the first time. That’s my thing you know, re-reading the previous books in a series to prepare for the new(est) release. Now here’s the thing about Catherine’s books: I got Breakaway, book 1 of the Portland Storm series, for free. I decided to give a “Hockey Romance” a try because Heli Dad (my hubby) and I had started watching and going to our local WHL team’s games and I figured ‘why not?’
Then I fell in love.
Not just with the series – though I’ve since bought every book in both of her series, and I do love everything about the characters, their interactions, and the fictional world within the real world that Catherine has created – but with the topics of the books and the writing itself. Much of the reading I do is purposely driven to act as an escape from my normal life and all the things and issues affecting me. I read romance novels, almost exclusively, because they give me a fantasy to immerse in that generally ends with a happy-ever-after. I don’t leisurely read biographies or about history, or commentaries on what’s wrong with the world today; when I’m looking for an escape I want fiction, I want a story that may rip my heart out in the middle but leaves me happy in the end.
In that, Catherine’s books are different.
Like all good stories, the characters of her Portland Storm and Tulsa Thunderbirds series have issues – things they need to work through (on their own or as a couple) to reach their happy ending. But unlike a lot of books, the issues her characters face are… larger. That’s probably not the word I’m really looking for but it’s true nonetheless. The issues are larger, but more importantly they’re real. I know, I know, that can be said for a lot of books and a lot of the issues that the characters in them face. I guess what I really mean is that the issues that Catherine places in her books are the very real, but also sort of taboo issues that most authors seem to fear writing about.
Sexual assault. Abuse in all its many forms.
The dangers inherent to the pornography and prostitution industries.
Adultery. Drug use and abuse. Cancer. HIV. Racism. Doctor-assisted suicide.
The stigma of being openly gay in today’s world. And oh, just so much more.
Catherine takes these dark, taboo topics and shines a light on them. Inside the fictional world she’s created, she’s taking a big ole’ spotlight and yelling “pay attention” at the top of her lungs. She’s doing it because, whether we want to admit it or not, they are all very real issues that affect millions, if not billions, of lives every single day. And the truth is, until they affect us personally we simply brush them aside and rarely, if ever, even think of them. In the Portland Storm and Tulsa Thunderbirds books, Catherine is simply giving us a chance to think. She’s putting the realities of those issues on our minds, and maybe she’s hoping that more of us will want to engage because of it.
I’ve seen readers argue online that fiction, maybe especially in romance novels, shouldn’t have these dark topics in them. My argument in return is that the happy endings we search for in romance, and all fiction really, can only be happier if the issues the characters face are raw and real. The more real they are, the more difficult the circumstances, the happier the ever after will be.
See the full list of Catherine's works on her website.
And hey, happy reading!