Cephalopod Coffeehouse April 2018–SHELTER THE SEA

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

Hi there! This week I’ve tried to focus on reviews for books that had been released several months, maybe a year back, and I knew I wanted to feature this release from April 2017 from Heidi Cullinan. SHELTER THE SEA is a sequel to CARRY THE OCEAN, my favorite book of 2015.

About the book:
Some heroes wear capes. Some prefer sensory sacks.
Emmet Washington has never let the world define him, even though he, his boyfriend, Jeremey, and his friends aren’t considered “real” adults because of their disabilities. When the State of Iowa restructures its mental health system and puts the independent living facility where they live in jeopardy, Emmet refuses to be forced into substandard, privatized corporate care. With the help of Jeremey and their friends, he starts a local grassroots organization and fights every step of the way.

In addition to navigating his boyfriend’s increased depression and anxiety, Emmet has to make his autistic tics acceptable to politicians and donors, and he wonders if they’re raising awareness or putting their disabilities on display. When their campaign attracts the attention of the opposition’s powerful corporate lobbyist, Emmet relies on his skill with calculations and predictions and trusts he can save the day—for himself, his friends, and everyone with disabilities.

He only hopes there isn’t a variable in his formula he’s failed to foresee.

My Review:
Emmett and Jeremey are two young adults who have disabilities, as we would term them. Emmett is a brilliant man “on the spectrum” while Jeremey has crippling depression. They are making a life for themselves, with the help of assisted living, in The Roosevelt an assisted living facility. Emmett works at an outside company, coding and doing analysis, while Jeremey works in The Roosevelt, helping in the care of a paraplegic resident. The Roosevelt is a good place to live, with adequate staff and compassionate care, but it’s in trouble financially and may close if a bill circulating the Iowa legislature grants more funding to corporate-owned care facilities. Despite their personal struggles, these guys embark on a mission to save it.

SHELTER THE SEA is an intimate look into the world of politics, health care, and marginalized persons. The disabled residents of The Roosevelt are humanized in ways that most people don’t see. Some of these folks are non-verbal, but they have devices and strategies to reveal their inner thoughts and fears. Emmett is the appointed leader, and he’s striving so hard to save The Roosevelt because he knows if it folds Jeremey will suffer, and Jeremey is Emmett’s heart; he’ll do anything to spare Jeremey more pain. The campaign to save their home takes on a larger-than-life momentum, and highlights the uphill battle “the people” have against corporate money and interest when it comes to legislation. It’s an indictment of the American political system in many ways, focusing on pay-for-play and healthcare that is more about money than care.

There is a quiet romance here, with Emmett making big steps to solidify his relationship with Jeremey, whose struggles with depression are overwhelming, at times. Still, there is so much light here. The Blues Brothers, yes that old movie, plays a role in that it’s a comfort to Emmett and Jeremey and becomes a part of their platform to raise awareness for kids and adults who need full-time care. And that mission is valiant. It got to me on so many levels. Seriously, lots of ugly tears shed while reading this one. Because it’s written like real life, not like a romance. There is struggle, and disappointment, and dusting one’s self off and starting over when it seems there’s no chance of success. It’s an amazing read, that also has happy moments and tender moments, and transcendent moments. Emmett and Jeremey feel so real as characters that I was tempted to scan YouTube to see their viral videos. Another book is planned in this series, and I’ll be reading that one as soon as it comes out. This book sat on my TBR–payed for and downloaded for nearly a year. I was too afraid I’d be let down by the sequel, and whoa. I was just blown away again. I think readers will love Emmett and Jeremey and all the residents of The Roosevelt, especially if they know any persons with disabilities.

Interested? You can find SHELTER THE SEA on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Kobo.

Heidi CullinanAbout the Author:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in. Be sure to check out my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers.

Finding the Courage to Read On…

Hi there! As followers of my posts know, I adore series reads. I love bonding with a character, or set of characters, and following their struggles through adversity.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. In fact, most avid readers I know stick with similar authors and auto-buy, auto-read whatever is next in a series.

But, sometimes, I’m conflicted. I’m afraid to pick up a latest book, unsure that I’ll love the sequel. Do this ever happen to you?

I’ve read the entire Outlander novel series–years ago, before they made it a TV series. Before I started blogging, in fact. And there were two books in the eight volume series that really upset me. That made me want to stop reading. DRAGONFLY IN AMBER and ECHO IN THE BONE. For the former, there was just so much tension and heartbreak, watching Jamie and Claire’s love strengthen and develop and get stomped on time and again. The only reason I came back was the end. The end held so much possibility! ECHO was different. ECHO ended so precipitously that I wanted to throw the book across the room when I got to the final pages.

That’s a danger for series authors–that readers will be so incensed that they will turn away. Another is ennui.

It takes time to write a sophisticated series, one with sufficient plot and character development that it can carry a story over several volumes. Gabaldon has many times stated it takes her “2-3 years to research and write” one of her tomes. For authors, there are so many unexpected challenges to writing such a work. When you only plan a single book, you write shorter arcs and you resolve them in a reasonable time frame. Unresolved plots leave readers unsettled, and frustrated. That was my experience with ECHO. I wanted a clear happy ending, and all the characters (except Ian) seemed to be in disarray. For me, this was unacceptable.

I did love the eighth novel in the series, WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, and felt the end was sufficient to satisfy me–an avid and grateful fangirl. There’s a collection of novellas coming out in two weeks, SEVEN STONES TO STAND OR FALL, and a ninth novel is planned–GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE. I’m trepidatious, especially about the novel. What an ominous title!!

My fears don’t end at Gabaldon’s Outlander. I have had several sequels languishing on my iPad, waiting for me to turn the first page. SHELTER THE SEA by Heidi Cullinan, sequel to CARRY THE OCEAN, my fave book of 2015, has been burning me for two months now, every time I open my Kindle app. And, THICK & THIN by Charlie Cochet! It’s been calling to me since February… And…some sexy rock romances from Olivia Cunning, too! Not to mention the TWO menage romances by JA Huss that I can’t seem to open for fear I’ll love/hate them. My goodness.

I made a pact with myself to clear some of my backlogged books, which means I’m going to reader-up and crack these books! Hopefully, I’ll have some new faves to gush over soon.

Stay tuned..and feel free to tell me what series have you exhilarated/terrified to read on!

So Many Great Books!!! 2016 Bests

Hi there! Well, it’s been a YEAR! Ugh! I’m not going to bemoan it too much, because this blog is a way for me to escape the everyday drama. So, let’s do that, shall we!

First, it’s been a book-filled year! 279 books, and 58,968 pages logged through Goodreads, though I’ve forgotten some and ran out of time to add others. So, you’ll see those reviews in the coming year.

I usually make a whole long list, and this year is no exception. It isn’t a Top Ten countdown, or anything. I’d recommend any of these books equally. Hit the links for a full review.

FLIP-THE-BIRD-2Awesome YA books:
Flip the Bird by Kym Brunner. A high school freshman and training falconer falls for a girl whose parents are animal rights fanatics. Big trouble, great messages.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. Slice of life book about questioning young gay persons. Really got my heart engaged. Also fell into the Most Challenged (Banned) category that I was interested in exploring.

Girl Against The Universe by Paula Stokes. A girl struggles to get past her guilt, and rebuild her life after tragedies take away half her family.

Simon V. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli: Coming out shouldn’t be this way. Simon’s awesome, and lovely.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz. I felt transported to 1987 Texas. It’s not a place I’d want to be–but I’d go there just to be with Ari and Dante. Thick book devoured in a day.

Great anybody reads:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany, James Thorne, and JK Rowling.  Harry’s all grown up, and saving the world, yet again. This time his son is the biggest problem.

illusory-prophetCrossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro. Brave and bawdy ladies of the air try to be the first to cross the Atlantic.

Illusory Prophet by Susan Kaye Quinn.  A futuristic saga with an enhanced human trying to save the rest of humanity. This is the third book in a series. Get them all.

Goldfish by Nat Luurtsema. Lou is a champion swimmer whose been cast out of the pool. It’s pants-wettingly funny.

Great Gay romance:
My goodness. I read SOOO many of these. (more than 100! in 2016) Here’s a few hightlights:
Fave Hurt/Comfort: WHAT REMAINS by Garrett Leigh. Man. This one broke my heart into a million pieces by the end. A man struggles to support his lover after a traumatic brain injury destroys his partner’s memories of their love affair.

A Bear Walks Into A BarFave Dirty Pleasure read: A BEAR WALKS INTO A BAR is a straight up gay erotica from Eden Winters. There’s no man the big bad bear won’t have. Once, or twice. Multi-partner, orgy and various shifters dead ahead.

Fave Paranormal: WOLFSONG by TJ Klune. Pick this one up to curl up with over a cold weekend. It’s really long, yet the unconventional prose had me riveted. It’s a fated mates, shifter story that blew me away.

Fave Virgin Lover: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT by Jay Northcote. This is so fun, with a nerdy college student trading love lessons for stats tutoring with his sporty neighbor. I enjoyed every moment of them crossing sexytimes off the list.

Fave Steampunk/Alt History:
CLOCKWORK HEART by Heidi Cullinan. A French tinker saves a dying Hungarian with the long-sought clockwork heart technology his master has been hiding for years. Let the pursuit begin.

walk-like-a-manFave Shifter romance: HOW TO WALK LIKE A MAN by Eli Easton. This is the second book in a series, and I think readers will enjoy all of them, but this one is my favorite, so far. The story revolves around a man who used to be a dog, and how he copes with being human, and finding love with a fellow police officer.

Fave Ugly Cry: SELFIE by Amy Lane. Features a Hollywood star living through the death of his closeted partner—and his complete and utter heartbreak. Suicide ideation, depression, coping, and new love. It was a rollercoaster of feels—all of them intense.

Fave Series: CAPTIVE PRINCE by C.S. Pacat. I read all three of these books in a week back in March, because I lost my mind with the first book and dove headlong into the series. Sleepless for at least one night so I could get to the end. Amazing if you like fantasy/political intrigue. PRINCE’S GAMBIT KINGS RISING, are the other two books. Must read.

Fave Sequel: FIGHT THE TIDE by Keira Andrews. This is the sequel to KICK AT THE DARKNESS and it kicked ass. Surviving in a post-apocalyptic world is rough, but it’s easier when your boyfriend is a werewolf. So many zombies…

TOO HOT TO HANDLE - coverFave Het Romances:
TOO HOT TO HANDLE by Tessa Bailey. A chef burns sown her mother’s former restaurant, and cobbles her busted family to go on a vision quest trip from San Diego to NYC. Sweet and raunchy by turns.

JACKSON’S TRUST by Violet Duke. Love for two sports reporters/analysts with an unhealthy dose of crappy family drama.

COCKY BASTARD by Penelope Ward and Vi Keeland. Very fun story about a lawyer running from her disastrous past, and the sexy soccer player who scoops her up in the middle of nowhere.

bright-blazeFave ending to a series:
BRIGHT BLAZE OF MAGIC by Jennifer Estep. This is the third book in an urban fantasy YA series that rocks. I recommend all the books highly, but this finale did NOT disappoint. Magic, magical creatures, fighting for your family until the death, a wee bit of love and romance? Bam! It’s all there.

MANNERS AND MUTINY by Gail Carriger. I’ve completely fallen for this steampunk world of intrigue and assassins.

Fave transgender YA read:
THE ART OF BEING NORMAL by Lisa Williamson. Heartbreakingly freaking awesome. Some part of me will always remember this one. For kids/parents who are questioning gender dysphoria, I highly recommend.

Okay, so lots of different stuff to pick from because I have eclectic tastes. Hopefully something piques your interest, too. Share your fave reads in the comments so I can find something new, or just commiserate.

Going forward into 2017, I have a plan to pick up TBR reads on Thursdays, because, wow, to I have a lot of books in my queue. And, I probably won’t be posting quite as many reviews…because I’m back to teaching in February, that shaping young minds takes up a LOT of reading time, yo.

As always, thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Building A Love: The CLOCKWORK HEART–A Review & Giveaway!

HI there! Sharing a review for THE CLOCKWORK HEART by Heidi Cullinan. This book is a large departure from the contemporary fiction Ms. Cullinan writes–NOWHERE RANCH, CARRY THE OCEAN or even SLEIGH RIDE, and yet I haven’t picked up a book of hers I didn’t want to recommend. And that’s still true.

CLOCKWORK HEART is an alternate reality, steampunk, M/M romance that creates a world where Napoleon didn’t meet his Waterloo, where the Empire of France consumed most of continental Europe and the leaders there are further bent on conquest. Also, clockworks–steam and aether-powered machines that do all and sundry, even replace bits of humans damaged or wished to be “upgraded.” It was a fascinating piece, not only for the romance! Adventure, betrayal and ingenuity are the call words of the day, here.

Clockwork Heart (Clockwork Love, #1)About the book:
Love, adventure and a steaming good time.

As the French army leader’s bastard son, Cornelius Stevens enjoys a great deal of latitude. But when he saves an enemy soldier using clockwork parts, he’s well aware he risks hanging for treason. That doesn’t worry him half as much, however, as the realization he’s falling for his patient.

Johann Berger never expected to survive his regiment’s suicide attack on Calais, much less wake up with mechanical parts. To avoid discovery, he’s forced to hide in plain sight as Cornelius’s lover—a role Johann finds himself taking to surprisingly well.

When a threat is made on Cornelius’s life, Johann learns the secret of the device implanted in his chest—a mythical weapon both warring countries would kill to obtain. Caught up in a political frenzy, in league with pirates, dodging rogue spies, mobsters and princesses with deadly parasols, Cornelius and Johann have no time to contemplate how they ended up in this mess. All they know is, the only way out is together—or not at all.

Warning: Contains tinkers, excessive clockwork appendages, and a cloud-sweeping tour of Europe. A little absinthe, a little theft, a little exhibitionism. Men who love men, women who love women, and some who aren’t particular.

My Review:
Holy steaming smokes, folks!

Delirious with stars for this fast-paced, espionage-packed, odd-couple, steampunk, alt-history, scorching hot, M/M romance.

I do love me some steampunk, and this book brings alt-historical steampunk on strong–along with the romance, the yearning, the lovin’ and the sexin’, too. The world is a glorious alt-historical 1910’s era Europe with France having conquered vast swatches of the continent, and in continual battle with Austria. The main fuel source is aether, a gaseous mix that’s mined in Austria and coveted by the French. It powers mighty dirigibles that are used to make war and trade.

Cornelius is the notorious gay exhibitionist bastard son of the Archduke of France. Conny’s father who aims to “unite” all of Europe by force. Peace through subjugation, it seems. As a master tinker’s apprentice, Cornelius is well versed in designing and implanting clockwork parts into people. He happens upon a barge stack high with dead Austrian soldiers, he’s overcome with grief over his father’s eternal war and the huge loss of life that is its toll. Then one of the men moves, and Cornelius’ soft heart compels him to rescue this man, even though he is an enemy. Any that he can save is a knock against his father, to Conny.

His Austrian soldier is a big man with many, many terrible injuries. He requires an entire leg graft, a partial leg graft, a new arm and all of this is not a trouble to Cornelius. What is, however, a problem is the shrapnel in the man’s chest. The only way to fix this stranger is to give him a clockwork heart. And, Conny’s tinker-master, Felix, had created just this fearsome thing many years before. It is both priceless and dangerous, and Conny steals it to heal his soldier.

As Johann heals, he finds himself a monster–what he had feared becoming if he fell into French hands. Initially, all the clockworks freak him out, and he’s sure that he’s now one of the automaton soldiers the French are rumored to be building. Despite the language barrier, Conny is able to convince Johann of his kind intentions. Conny’s flamboyant friends, notably Valentin, are not happy that Conny is not out socializing in their local bawdy cafe, and this brings Conny to disguise Johann as an air pirate, and masquerade him as his lover. Johann has no experience in loving…anyone. He’s just 18, a soldier since a young age, and a deserter, truth be told. Conny has no idea how prescient his “pirate” disguise was.

This is a rather tense adventure with several escapes, lots of daring rescues, and a whole lot of falling in love. Conny and Johann strike up a tentative, tender romance, and the sexytimes could melt a glacier. I will confess that their bond involves role play, clockwork “toys,” fantasy, and even a bit of menage. These are very different, very liberal times, with the use of cocaine-laced absinthe to spark a whole lot of amorous exchanges. Expect orgy scenes–which was fine by me.

I was captivated by the lush descriptions and deep plotline. I never felt the plot bog, not once, and could not stop turning the pages. The book is the first in a series, and I expect the next Clockwork Love book will center on a different lovestory, though I’m anxious to have more of Johann and Conny.

Inerested? You can find THE CLOCKWORK HEART on Goodreads, Samhain Books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a signed copy and a cute clockwork keychain!
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

Heidi CullinanAbout the Author:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

What happened to 2015?!

book meme 6So…wow! The year’s end already? I’m a bit stunned, but also grateful. Some years whoosh by like a snowplow burying me under, but this year I’ve had the opportunity to read some really fun books, travel and interact with fantastic authors and review-types, like myself, and enjoy many moments along the way.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I also write, and I’m at the point of sending out a manuscript to agents coming next week. Fingers crossed that I’ll have the chance to promote some of my own fiction one day soon!

Book meme 3For the blog, I’ve gotten some great stats. Nearly 13,000 pages views this year. Not bad for a relatively unknown chick who drones on and on about books. If you’ve signed up to get my posts emailed, you’re in good company–140 of you special folks right now. Thanks for joining me on this madcap escapade! Lots of people are finding my reviews, and reading them/sharing them. I appreciate that so much, because it’s not easy reading and writing content to support the blog. It takes hours and hours each day, in fact. My hubs will attest he’d much rather I gave (most of) it up, so I could just sit and veg out watching TV with him…crossing his fingers that that might ever happen. TV is not really my thing.

book meme 5

Goodreads tells me I read 375 books this year, but it’s been more. I didn’t log all my reads, though there are few that didn’t get reviews there. I have had a great time working with Joyfully Jay Reviews, picking up some excellent reads through their platform and generally interacting with those lovely folks. Authors have reached out to me and I’ve reached back, supporting their fiction in the best way I can. That’s a wonderfully rewarding experience, emotionally, and helps my pocketbook from getting TOO frayed. Yes, there are books that I do buy, and I cherish all my books–whether they were purchased or gifted for my review.

As this is a year’s end recap, it’s apt to highlight some books/series that got into my brain in the past 12 months.

Best read of the year:
No question it was CARRY THE OCEAN by Heidi Cullinan. This book touched my soul and left it altered for the better. Having suffered depression in my life, and having close friends/family with kids on the Autism Spectrum, this plain-spoken M/M romance between a brilliant autistic man and his depressive neighbor was spectacular.

Best YA read:
NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST by Eric Lindstrom. Touching tale of an orphaned blind girl who learns to “see” everyone she knows in the best light–even herself.

Best YA series:
I’ve really enjoyed reading the Backstage Pass series of contemporary YA romances between the members of the boy band Seconds To Juliet and the smart, worthwhile girls the boys all fall for. There are five books in the series, and I think I reviewed 4 of them…
Abby and the Cute One, Mia and the Bad Boy, Anya and the Shy Guy, Daisy and the Front Man.

Book Meme-1Best Adrenaline Rush:
KICK AT THE DARKNESS by Keira Andrews, a zombie apocalypse M/M romance kept me glued to my iPad long into the night, and the next day.

Best SciFi series:
I’ve really enjoyed the AI world carved out by Susan Kaye Quinn’s Legacy Human series. It’s a bit dystopian, a bit tech and a bit romance. And I love all those bits! Looking forward to reading more of this in 2016. THE LEGACY HUMAN, THE DUALITY BRIDGE, STORIES OF SINGULARITY.

Best contemporary New Adult series:
Karen Stivali’s Moments in Time series is really a must read for me. This is a contemporary M/M romance which is emotional and sexy, at the same time. I’ve loved all four Moments books so far, and eagerly anticipate the next release. MOMENT OF IMPACT, MOMENT OF TRUTH, MOMENT OF CLARITY, and MOMENT OF SILENCE.
book meme 7
Best Paranormal Romance:
THE SECRET CASEBOOK OF SIMON FEXIMAL by KJ Charles rocked my world and set it right again. Historical M/M paranormal romance that kept me turning the page long after I went to bed.

Most Resilient Heroines: (Teen)
Ivy in THE REVOLUTION OF IVY by Amy Engel–She takes on her entire desolate town and finds the true love of her life. YA dystopian.

Lulu in MY BEST EVERYTHING by Sarah Tomp. West Virginian high school senior Lulu’s college fund has dried up, but she can’t bear to stay in her small town any longer. So, she enlists the help of Mason to make a fortune selling illegal moonshine. YA contemporary.

Morgan La Fey in SWORD by Realm Lovejoy. Morgan kidnaps a prince, drags him through the swamps of Camelot and helps him find Excalibur–all to thwart a murder plot. And her execution? Wow. YA fantasy.
Book Meme 4
Best Action/Adventure:
I AM THE TRAITOR is the final installment in the Unknown Assassin series by Allen Zadoff. You really need to strap in and read I AM THE WEAPON and I AM THE MISSION, first. You’ll thank me. YA contemporary.

Best Enemies to Lovers:
Historical
TO LOVE A TRAITOR by JL Merrow really flipped all my historical British M/M romance switches…
Christmas Romance
IF ONLY IN MY DREAMS by Keira Andrews took two battered hearts and shoved them into a car on a cross-country trek to make it home in time for Christmas. Swoon.

Best erotica:
The CAUGHT ON CAMERA series by Lily Harlem is spectacular M/M romance. Just loved all the sexy sexy bits, and the romance that developed between two new-to-porn stars on a filming trip was tender and lovely.

Best Menage:
M/F/M
THREE TWO ONE by JA Huss. Hot and chilling, by turns. This is a dark romance and not everyone makes it out alive.
M/M/M
SHARING A POND by Alex Whitehall. Frog Shifters. Pretty much knocked me out. Not the sexytimes, as those were satisfactory, but the emotional issues were excellent, and I’ve got a thing for frogs, I think.
Historical M/F/M:
THE MISTRESS AND HER MEN by Julia Talbot. A sassy widow and a daring nobleman–plus some BDSM? Yes, mistress!
Historical M/M/M:
RITE OF SUMMER by Tess Bowery was so loving and tender, and troubled.

Best Near Historical:
IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume, historical fiction featuring her true-life experience of living in a town where three airplanes crashed within 59 days of each other. Harrowing!

Best Recovery Story:
CLEAN by Mia Kerick. This one gave me chills. M/M YA romance between two guys who’ve been down and out and almost didn’t make it.

book-meme-8Best Subculture:
Who knew the Amish would captivate me? I adored Keira Andrew’s M/M Amish Romances A FORBIDDEN RUMSPRINGA, A CLEAN BREAK, and A WAY HOME. They really touched my heart.

Honestly, I could go on for blogs, and blogs. But I won’t; books to read, books to write after all! That said, I’m looking forward to sharing reviews for great books in the coming year and I hope you’ll enjoy reading along with me.

Feel free to send me your recommendations. Goodness knows, I’ll probably pick it up. (Fiction, and preferably romance-ish, though. I don’t review non-fiction, memoir or cookbooks.)

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!
Book Meme 2

 

Love in a WINTER WONDERLAND–Review & Giveaway!

WW blog tour_bannerHi there! Sharing some love for another M/M romance from Heidi Cullinan. It’s not hard, really, because I’ve adored so many of her books. She’s featured autistic and depressed men, CARRY THE OCEAN, illiterate and sexy librarian men, SLEIGH RIDE, rich and poor men, LONELY HEARTS, and cast-off men, NOWHERE RANCH, so I never read the same character twice.

WINTER WONDERLAND, featuring a young femmy top and a burly insecure older man, is fun and sentimental. And it was magical!

Go on and read the excerpt, my review, and don’t forget to enter the giveaway for the Minnesota Christmas books and swag. You know you want to!

Winter Wonderland (Minnesota Christmas, #3)About the book:
Finding Mr. Right can be a snow lot of fun.
Paul Jansen was the only one of his friends who wanted a relationship. Naturally, he’s the last single man standing. No gay man within a fifty-mile radius wants more than casual sex.

No one, that is, except too-young, too-twinky Kyle Parks, who sends him suggestive texts and leaves X-rated snow sculptures on his front porch.

Kyle is tired of being the town’s resident Peter Pan. He’s twenty-five, not ten, and despite his effeminate appearance, he’s nothing but the boss in bed. He’s loved Paul since forever, and this Christmas, since they’re both working on the Winter Wonderland festival, he might finally get his chance for a holiday romance.

But Paul comes with baggage. His ultra-conservative family wants him paired up with a woman, not a man with Logan’s rainbow connection. When their anti-LGBT crusade spills beyond managing Paul’s love life and threatens the holiday festival, Kyle and Paul must fight for everyone’s happily ever after, including their own.

Warning: Contains erotic snow art, toppy twinks, and super-sweet holiday moments. Best savored with a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of spice.

How about a little taste?

A ten-foot-tall snow penis towered over Paul Jansen’s front steps. Again.

He perched on the edge of his sofa, sipping his coffee as he kept the curtain pulled back with his foot so he could assess today’s phallic offering. It was pretty good. It had a bulging vein down the front, but it wasn’t as defined as usual. Big balls, but they’d clearly been joined to the shaft in a hurry. The glans had a nice contour—the snow artist usually took the most time there.

He’d give it a B+. Putting his mug aside, Paul tightened his robe before stepping into his boots. Opening the front door, he squinted into the sleet and wind. Saluted the penis. Snapped a photo for posterity.

Then he took aim with his right foot, braced himself against the doorframe and kicked the sculpture into pieces before reaching inside for his shovel so he could deal with the balls.

This was the third snow penis he’d dismantled of the season—the very early snow season, as the first squall had come through in late September. After the October tenth storm, they’d had snow cover ever since. The snow penises had started shortly after the blizzard. The first time had him laughing, and he’d left it up for a few hours. But it upset his neighbor on the other side of the duplex. It also made it tricky to get out the front door. So after taking a picture, he’d kicked it down and told his friend Arthur once he got to work, “Very funny, but stop upsetting Mrs. Michealson.”

Arthur had only blinked at him. “What’s funny?” So Paul showed him the picture on his phone, and Arthur laughed. “That’s pretty good! But how’d you do it? The snow is way too fine to pack.”

“I didn’t. You think I’d put a penis on my own front steps?”

Arthur shrugged as if to say, Why not? He squinted at the photo. “Seriously, this is a work of art. It’s almost a sculpture.”

“Well, it’s gone now.” Paul frowned. “I thought for sure you’d put it there.”

“Nope, sorry.” Arthur passed Paul his phone. “Let’s get to work on this bookshelf.”

Paul had put the snow penis out of his head and focused on his job. Logan Design and Repair had only been open for eight months, and while they weren’t about to go bankrupt, they worked like dogs to break even. Paul had gotten his electrician’s license over the summer, and Arthur was working on plumbing. They didn’t do anything big, but they could fuss with a water heater, a fritzing stove, a garbage disposal. Right now they were assembling custom bookshelves for the new pastor’s study at the Lutheran church.

Paul did the books, which often kept him at the shop late. When that happened, dinner usually appeared, delivered by Frankie, Paul’s other best friend’s fiancé. Sometimes it was stew or something homemade, sometimes it was a hot beef sandwich from the café. Sometimes he got hauled off to Arthur’s house to have dinner with the whole gang: Frankie and Marcus, Gabriel and Arthur. Hauled off was the only way they got him there, because Paul hated being the fifth wheel.

Though he was equally tired of being alone.

The day the first snow penis showed up they’d tried to get Paul to come to dinner once they were done ribbing him about his secret admirer, but Paul refused to go, opting to eat his dinner from home at the shop as he caught up on some paperwork.

Shortly after he settled in, his mother called.

“Paul. I’m glad I caught you.” The clipped, irritated tone made it clear glad was a figure of speech and nothing more. “I heard about the incident on your porch. I hope you told Arthur it was in poor taste and I won’t have to hear about this happening again.”

Arthur’s name dripped with disdain as it came out of her mouth. “Actually, I have no idea who did it.”

His mother clucked her tongue. “What a scandal. Have you told the police?”

About a snow penis? Paul entertained himself for a minute with the idea of trying to file that report. “It’s only a prank, I’m sure. Probably won’t happen again.”

“I certainly hope not.” She paused, her tone promising she was about to segue into the real reason she’d called. “I wanted to know if you were coming to church this Sunday.”

Oh, hell. Whenever Mary Jansen told her son she wanted to know if he was going to church, it was code for I have someone I want you to meet. And this someone would not, under any circumstances, be male.

Paul fumbled for a lie. “I’m due to go hunting with the guys this weekend.”

“You’ve hardly been to service lately. What will Pastor think?”

“I went a few weeks ago, but I promise I’ll go again soon.”

“Let me know when, and I’ll have your favorites for dinner after.”

His favorites and an eligible young lady. “I will,” Paul said. This was also a lie.

She’d ended their call shortly after that, but the exchange put Paul off finishing his supper and distracted him enough he mostly stared, frowning at the totals on the computer screen until it was just past midnight. Giving up, he headed home.

A new penis blocked his front door.

The second one had been something else. Not quite as tall, but it curved carefully to the right, and it had all the veins detailed like it was going to be used for an anatomy lesson. This one was uncircumcised, and the balls had hair—dried grass fused into the snow.

He took a picture of this one too, sending it to Marcus, Gabriel and Arthur as a group text. Fess up. Which one of you is the artist?

He had his money on Frankie, since he was the stylist, but either they were all practiced liars, or it wasn’t any of them. They all replied laughing, insisting it wasn’t them, dying to know who it actually was.

Paul had no idea.

My Review:
This is the third book in a series. It can be read as a standalone, but I think it’s best enjoyed after reading the series.

4.5 stars for this contemporary M/M romance, from this sentimental old fool.

Paul is the one of the Three Bears, a self-styled collection of older gay men that grew up in tiny Logan, Minnesota. He, of all of them, wanted a steady, loving partner. And, his two best friends, Marcus and Arthur, each found their significant others in the two past years. At Christmastime.

Paul is a sentimental old fool, really. Now 38 y/o he has always yearned for love, given unselfishly and completely, to him. He wants a storybook love, a Hallmark love–the kind he never felt growing up in his cold-hearted ungrateful family. He and Arthur were a thing for a long time–but Arthur never wanted to be exclusive with Paul, constantly brought others to their bed, and Paul wasn’t able to satisfy Arthur’s need for Domination. It was mortifying to Paul, after a while, so he moved out. They are still good friends.

Kyle Parks is 25 but thin, small and effeminate. He’s had a crush on Paul for the bulk of his life. To a young, gay, bullied kid, Paul and his buddies were the epitome of strength and virility. Kyle has a tenderness that is staggering. His twin sister, Linda Kay, is an adorable and interesting character. She has Down’s Syndrome but is a fireplug nonetheless, and has Kyle wrapped about her fingers. She’s a big part of the reason he still lives at home–their relationship is so excellent. He’s a doting brother and eager to satisfy Linda Kay’s whims. To me, Kyle is a sentimental young fool.

SNOW-PENIS

I don’t advocate making a snow penis, but they surely add a bit of dimension to the landscape!

To the meet-cute: Kyle’s been trying to catch Paul’s eye with filthy Grindr posts, but what really hooks him is the giant snow penises (peni??) that Kyle erects on Paul’s porch once, or three, times. Yep, that got his attention, right quick–especially as his mother and sister keep calling to deride him for being a spectacle, embarrassing the family and wondering when he’s going to come to his senses and find a woman to marry. Yeah.

Paul’s horrified that this babe (think swaddling babe not uber-hot babe) has a thing for him. He’s not even sure Kyle’s LEGAL at first, but Arthur’s mom, Corrina, works her meddling magic once again. If she could get her Dom son a proper mate, she could surely help Kyle win Paul’s heart. Corrina’s known Paul most of his life, and knows what turns his world: this quest for love.

I died as Kyle sat through one after the next of horrible Christmas romance movies, trying to get what Paul saw in them. And, when they are paired to help put together Logan’s Winter Festival it’s a blessing, and a curse. Paul’s so skittish, and he’s been terrified of public opinion for most of his life. His friends aren’t terribly supportive either. Arthur, in particular, deserved a nut punch. I was so glad that Kyle was such a strong man. I’ve heard readers complain that they can’t buy a femme top, but Kyle was fantastic–even as a toppy bottom. He pushed all the right buttons for Paul, except when he didn’t listen to Corrina. It totally made Paul run–as she knew it would. Kyle was persistent, however, and I think that turned Paul’s crank a bit, because persistence shows interest, and interest is a facet of the love Paul craves.

WW_take_a_riskThey have a bit of communication problems, but the biggest impasse is Paul’s inability to love himself, and accept that people may actually genuinely love him, particularly Kyle. The differences between Paul’s family and Kyle’s family was never so starkly etched as on Thanksgiving. The sympathy factor was high, I’ll admit. I liked the added friction of an older man from the Twin Cities making no secret of his attraction for Paul, and also the appearance of Paul’s ridiculous family at a crucial and tumultuous moment. I so liked being witness to Kyle integration into Paul’s friendships, and Corrina Anderson is a crafty old gal.

Expect hot and dirty sexytimes and cold and awesome snowtime fun. Expect a lot of sentimentality and South Pacific and an ending that blows away Hallmark for sensitivity and sap. #Loved.

Interested? You can find WINTER WONDERLAND on Goodreads, Samhain Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. It comes out tomorrow, but go on an one-click it so you’re ready to read ASAP! I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

PS–the first book in this series, LET IT SNOW, is a super bargain at $.99! I snapped it right up!

****GIVEAWAY****

Click the Rafflecopter Link to enter to win paperback copies of all three Minnesota Christmas books (Let It Snow, Sleigh Ride, and Winter Wonderland) and a Logan-themed mug
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Good luck and keep reading my friends!

Heidi CullinanAbout the Author:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Soothing Two LONELY HEARTS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for the long-awaited third book in the Love Lessons series from Heidi Cullinan. I have previously reviewed the very excellent NOWHERE RANCH, CARRY THE OCEAN, and SLEIGH RIDE from Ms. Cullinan, who I should mention is a veritable Auto-Buy for me at this point. The Love Lessons series is a New Adult M/M contemporary romance series that centers around students who perform with the a cappella chorales at (fictional) Saint Timothy’s college near Minneapolis, Minnesota. In LONELY HEARTS, Baz Acher and Elijah Prince–who have been side characters in previous stories–find the kind of love the fans have surely wanted to see these broken men find.

Lonely Hearts (Love Lessons, #3)About the book:
Even hot messes need a happily ever after…

With the quiet help of his wealthy family, Sebastian “Baz” Acker has successfully kept his painful past at bay. But as the end of college draws near, his friends—his buffer zone—are preparing to move on, while his own life is at a crippling standstill.With loneliness bearing down on him, Baz hooks up—then opens up—with Elijah Prince, the guy Baz took a bullet for last year. The aftershocks of their one-night stand leave giant cracks in Baz’s carefully constructed armor. For the first time, the prospect isn’t terrifying.

Accustomed to escaping his demons by withdrawing into his imagination, Elijah isn’t used to having a happy herd of friends. He’s even less comfortable as the object of a notorious playboy’s affections. Yet all signs seem to indicate this time happiness might be within his grasp. When Baz’s mother runs for a highly sought-after public office, the media hounds drag Baz’s and Elijah’s pasts into the light. In the blinding glare, Baz and Elijah face the ultimate test: discovering if they’re stronger together…or apart.

Warning: Contains sex in a Tesla, sex in a cupboard, sex under a piano, kinky role play, and a cappella RuPaul songs. Just a couple of boys groping, battling, then finally loving their way to becoming men.

My Review:
This is the third book in the Love Lessons series and can be fully enjoyed as a standalone.

Welcome to the love story between Sebastian “Baz” Acker and Elijah Prince. Their lives have intersected in brief and dangerous ways: Baz found Elijah living on the Mineapolis streets and sent him back home, with all his cash, years before. Baz might not have if he knew the home Elijah had fled from was abusive, with parents brimming with radical ideas of how to “fix” their gay son. On campus at Saint Timothy’s, just a few months before, Elijah’s parents learned he lied about his conversion, and drove to the university to kill him–failing only because Baz jumped in front of the bullet.

Baz had been gay bashed as a teen and still deals with both the physical and emotional fallout–he has chronic pain, many titanium parts, and photophobia due to damage to his retinas. He must wear dark colored contacts and sunglasses In any kind of light, except when he’s at home and his red lamps don’t hurt. He suffers migraines and loneliness–he’s stinking rich and prime marriage bait, but Baz doesn’t want to be coddled, and he doesn’t want to feel fragile despite his many infirmities. He’s watching all his friends graduate college and feels aimless, and decides to hit on the one guy he should stay miles away from: Elijah.

Elijah’s abusive family is one thing; surviving and having a huge outreach of help is a totally different mind bender. He’s used to taking car of himself, so, even though his friends raised a ton of money for his schooling and living expenses, Elijah works menial jobs to keep his sense of self. He is a throwaway child, in his own mind, and cannot fathom what Baz Acker would want except to use him and throw him away–and Elijah is fully warned this will likely be the case. But the sense of connection from heir one night runs deep, and it’s doubly humiliating when he hears nothing from Baz for WEEKS after–especially knowing that Elijah is supposed to move into a house Baz shares with several other students.

Their meet-cute never happens, because life happens. They have old and new scars that keep them separate, and yet when Baz is on the spot to provide a date for himself to one of his mother’s political functions it to Elijah that Baz turns. Their chemistry is off the chart, but maybe it was just their chemical activity that enhanced an otherwise unspecial encounter. See, Baz and Elijah are skilled in the Pharma dabbling. Expect a lot of highly questionable self-medicating events.

The love story grows slowly, and only under Baz’s gale force front of keeping Elijah in exactly the place he needs: beside him. I absolutely adored the Miyazaki references, and how Baz and Elijah modeled themselves after Howl and Sophie, (Howl’s Moving Castle). The music references were to be expected, because Baz and many of the series characters are acapella singers for Saint Timothy’s choral ensembles. I truly appreciated how Baz dealt with his mother’s machinations, and how fiercely he loved Elijah.

As he snuggled deeper into the delicious cocoon of their bed, Elijah made himself acknowledge how hard Baz had pursued him not only tonight but also every other time Elijah had tried to withdraw. Tonight he’d found Elijah when everyone else kept walking right past him—Baz seemed to zero in, as if he’d known exactly where to look. He with the shit vision. Baz had found him, swept him away in his moving castle and talked him into sanity. Confessed that he loved Elijah, loved taking care of him. Baz wasn’t a little bit of affection. He wasn’t a flame like Aaron or Giles or Mina or Lejla. He was a goddamned lighthouse calling Elijah’s moth-eaten soul home.

A-freaking-men.

This book doesn’t have as much external conflict as I expect other books in this series have had, but it’s a sucker punch of feels and a romance that any reader could applaud. Two men, broken both body and soul, finding real love.

Can I get a Hallelujah?

I really like the Pastor in this series, and his wife! They are some prime examples of God’s unfailing love. I also enjoyed many a secondary character in this story. I know most of them have their own stories, and I’ll likely check those out.

Interested? You can find LONELY HEARTS on Goodreads, Amazon, Samhain Publishing, AllRomance and Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

Heidi CullinanAbout the Author:
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at her websiteTwitter, and Facebook.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!