Kinky Love on NOWHERE RANCH–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing my review for Heidi Cullinan’s NOWHERE RANCH. This is a super kinky, total emotional range M/M romance. I bought it for $.99 and I could not put it down. You know I’ve loved Heidi’s other works: CARRY THE OCEAN is still one of my top reads this year, and SLEIGH RIDE was a fave Christmas book. And I was not disappointed following Roe and Mr. Loving’s story.

Nowhere RanchAbout the book:
Love will grow through the cracks you leave open.

Ranch hand Roe Davis absolutely never mixes business with pleasure—until he runs into his boss, Travis Loving, at the only gay bar within two hundred miles.

Getting involved with the ranch owner is a bad idea, but Roe’s and Travis’s bedroom kinks line up against one another like a pair of custom-cut rails. As long as they’re both clear this is sex on the side, no relationship, no interfering with the job, they could make it work.

Shut out by his family years ago, Roe survived by steadfastly refusing to settle into so much as a post office box. As his affair with Travis grows into more than just sex, Roe’s past catches up with him, threatening the thin ray of happiness he’s found, reminding him it’s well past time he went on his way.

But even a loner gets lonely, and at this point, there’s nowhere left to run. The shame and sorrow of what he’s lost will stay with Roe wherever he goes—until he’s ready to let love lead him home.

My Review:
Roe is a 25 y/o gay farmer whose family kicked him out of the house/family farm when they discovered he was gay. They wanted him to repent and “change” but he couldn’t/wouldn’t and he floundered, even getting incarcerated for a brief time. When he was released he took to ranching, working as a hand anywhere that would accept him, always on the move. Roe had dropped out of school early due to a learning disability and insensitive teaching methods. He has an incredibly low self-esteem, and doesn’t make friends. He ends up in rural Nebraska, the Nowhere Ranch, and is mortified to find the ranch owner out one night at the only gay bar within a 3 hour drive.

Travis is an older (40ish) out gay man who tried to make it as a straight man. He married, confessed, endured counseling, and divorced years ago. He’s a retired math professor running a sheep and cattle ranch because he likes the isolation. He had come out with a lover, but those days are long past. Seeing his newest ranch hand at the gay bar is a blessing in disguise, especially as Roe is compatible with Travis’ kink. Trav is a Dom and Roe loves to feel degraded sexually. The kink in this book is not the standard BDSM fare, but it is intense. I almost died when Trav asked Roe if he had a “safe word” and Roe replies “I’m partial to ‘no.’ ” (The deadpan language was just right for me.)

Roe narrates the whole book, which is written in retrospective voice, detailing how Roe found his “home;” and this home on Nowhere Ranch is truly spectacular. He is a down-to-earth guy who has few needs and fewer desires. He wants a simple life and no relationships, yet, once he and Travis dance around a bit, it becomes clear that their compatibility extends far outside the bedroom. Roe is hounded by his bad memories of home, and some contacts from his family are clearly destructive to his well-being. Trav is a compassionate man, though not outwardly. All Trav’s emotions are locked up tight, but the way he handles Roe, they way he looks after his welfare, is very sweet.

The sex is…whoa. Might be someplace on the solar flare scale. Just, yeah. Extreme at times and sweet only because it is exactly what Roe wants. The emotional landscape of this book is multi-layered, with two men who are so afraid of being hurt that they can barely acknowledge their needs. It is a relationship built almost out of convenience, if we didn’t know how incendiary their attraction really is. How their lives become intertwined was really awesome. I appreciated how Roe made solid, stable friends, how he was a significant force behind the ranch’s business, how he learned to love himself and care for himself and his future. I loved how fiercely Trav took care of Roe, and I adored Haley–Roe’s closest friend who was an amazing ally.

If this book were a food, it would have been a double chocolate lava cake; I devoured it as though it were. Yum.

Interested? You can find NOWHERE RANCH on Goodreads, Amazon, regular price on AllRomance, and Barnes & Noble.

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 www.heidicullinan.com.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Challenged to CARRY THE OCEAN–Review & Giveaway

Hi there! I’m so glad to join the blog tour for Heidi Cullinan’s newest release CARRY THE OCEAN. This is a contemporary M/M romance that absolutely smashes the common perceptions of depression and autism. I absolutely Fell. In. Love. with this book.

About the book:
Normal is just a setting on the dryer.

High school graduate Jeremey Samson is looking forward to burying his head under the covers and sleeping until it’s time to leave for college. Then a tornado named Emmet Washington enters his life. The double major in math and computer science is handsome, forward, wicked smart, interested in dating Jeremey—and he’s autistic.

But Jeremey doesn’t judge him for that. He’s too busy judging himself, as are his parents, who don’t believe in things like clinical depression. When his untreated illness reaches a critical breaking point, Emmet is the white knight who rescues him and brings him along as a roommate to The Roosevelt, a quirky new assisted living facility nearby.

As Jeremey finds his feet at The Roosevelt, Emmet slowly begins to believe he can be loved for the man he is behind the autism. But before he can trust enough to fall head over heels, he must trust his own conviction that friendship is a healing force, and love can overcome any obstacle.

Warning: Contains characters obsessed with trains and counting, positive representations of autism and mental illness, a very dark moment, and Elwood Blues.

My Review:
There are books that change people for the better. CARRY THE OCEAN is one of them. I know not everyone cares for gay fiction, but this book is phenomenal, and should be read by anyone who knows a person with depression, or autism. Or anyone who has heard of a person having depression or autism. Or anyone who has no idea what in the Sam Hill depression or autism are. You there, the guy with the hat! Yes, you! YOU should read this book!

Seriously.

Because this book is about humanity, and being a whole human even if your humanity is complicated by depression or autism.

Here’s why: for people who are on the outside of these diagnoses, you maybe can’t appreciate the person who struggles with them. That is not to say you can’t see and notice them, but getting the whole scope of their existence is difficult. Most people only SEE the diagnosis; the tics or flaps of autism, the withdrawn flat affect of a chronic depressive. Emmet and Jeremey are not caricatures of their diagnosis. They are flesh-and-bone young men who have dreams and aspirations of a life, a REAL adult life. And, love.

Emmet is a 19 y/o certified genius. He has a highly-functional level of autism that is both amazing (he can count cards and write computer programs) and daunting. He is easily overwhelmed by too many stimuli and has a whole menu of adaptations to keep him from acting out.

Add to all of these challenges, Emmet is also gay. He has never had a boyfriend, and was homeschooled most of his life. He moved to Jeremey’s neighborhood ten months before, so that he could attend Iowa State Univ. Emmet and Jeremey’s properties align in the back, split from each other by a railway line. Because Emmet is fascinated by trains, he spends a lot of time watching his backyard, and that’s how he spots Jeremey.

It took me ten months to meet Jeremey Sampson.

Emmet recognizes his limitations, and starting college and a friendship is too much. He does a little bit of online stalking to discover Jeremey’s identity all to one purpose:

I wanted to meet him and find out why he was sad. Maybe make him happy. But I couldn’t. The truth was, I had a crush on Jeremey Sampson. I didn’t want to just be his friend. I wanted to be his BOYfriend.

And this is a big problem because, despite being a genius, Emmet’s hampered by his diagnosis.

I also have autism spectrum disorder. It’s not even close to the most important thing about me, but as soon as people see me, watch me move, hear me speak, it’s the only thing that seems to matter. People treat me differently. They act as if I’m stupid or dangerous. They call me the R word or tell me I should be put in a home, and they mean an institution, not the house where I live.
When people find out I have autism, they don’t think I should be allowed to be in love, not with Jeremey, not with anyone.

Did anybody feel a truth bomb explode in that passage? *raises hand*

Emmet knows the “people on the mean,” the “normals” don’t consider him, an adult autistic person, as more than a half-person, not someone who might have great aspirations to live without being watched, to love a partner without backlash. It is increasingly complicated for Emmet to find a partner, because of his sexuality, but I can imagine this is difficult for any heterosexual autistic person, too. Still, his character is so incredibly brave. He makes all sorts of plans, rehearses his first words, trying to vary his inflections so that he sounds “normal” all for the moment that he gets the chance to speak to Jeremey.

It took me ten months to introduce myself to Jeremey Sampson. To learn and memorize the etiquette, to find the right words that would show ME to Jeremey, not my autism. It took a long time and a lot of work, but I did it.

But this is why I fell for Emmet: he doesn’t hate himself.

I shouldn’t have worried so much about it. Frankly, I’m awesome, and anybody who doesn’t agree should get out of my way.

I had to agree.

Until EmmetJeremey, is a another animal entirely.

When you have an invisible disease, your sickness isn’t your biggest problem. What you end up battling more than anything else, every single day, is other people.

Jeremey unequivocally suffers severe depression. He is withdrawn and struggles even to get out of bed. He’s also prone to panic attacks and clinical anxiety–which mostly happens in public places. He is 18, newly graduated from high school, and his parents (misguidedly) shove him at colleges–a place Jeremey knows he’ll never survive.

Mom wanted a bright, smiling, charming son….I wasn’t the son my mom wanted.

His parents, in some sort of denial, will not allow Jeremey to take medication. Meeting Emmet is a shock to his system, in the best way.

If Emmet thought I was a tool, he didn’t show it. He waited patiently, rocking gently on his heels, staring at the place beside my head. His posture was so odd. His shoulders were too high, and his hands were all twisted in front of him. Sometimes he moved them, but only for a moment, and then he’d go rigid again.
He was cute. His hair was light brown and a little long, fanning around his face like he was in a boy band.

Emmet’s not sure if Jeremey’s gay, but he’s willing to at least be a friend to Jeremey. They strike up a tenuous communication via text and email which leads to visits. Jeremey’s mother is especially critical of Jeremey’s association with Emmet, but she recognizes that no other kids want to hang around her son and begrudgingly allows it. Well, until their friendship progresses to something…more.
I think Jeremey said it perfectly:

People saw us walking down the street to the grocery store or wantdering the aisles of Wheatsfield and acted as if we were escapees from the Island of Adorable, puppies dressed up in people clothes. Like we weren’t boyfriends, like we were fake.
No wonder I feel alienated. They’re the ones telling me I’m not like everyone else. It doesn’t matter how normal I am, somebody’s ready to tell me I’m different.

Nonetheless, Jeremey’s mom wasn’t happy to learn that her son was gay, and especially not happy to have him “dating” an “R” word…

Cue the meltdown that leads to the next meltdown, that leads to Jeremey in dire straights. Here’s the thing: Emmet is a superhero, to me and Jeremey. He makes a plan to get independent, so that he and Jeremey can live together. Emmet recognizes the toxic environment in which Jeremey exists and wants to help him escape it. Not one step of this road is easy, and yet there is no angst; there is only struggle and the drive to overcome.

Couple things…whole people have whole lives, and this includes a sex life. Emmet, due to his autism, is an extremely forthright person. He cannot operate in subtlety, yet struggles to make his needs plain in speech. Emmet wants a sexual relationship with Jeremey, and Jeremey reciprocates this desire. I’m not going to belabor this, but it is freaking beautifully, tenderly rendered. Sex happens, and it’s on the page, and it’s not lewd. It is as honest as every other experience in this book. It probably comprises 0.05% of the text. The rest is a fantastic story about two young men being THEIR normal, and finding love, and plotting their way in a confusing, overwhelming world.

I’m glad to have read this book. It changed me in ways that will undoubtedly resonate for decades. I hope it changed me so much that my kids learn to act better to special needs people because they will see me act better to them. (Not that I’m a demeaning person or ever treated an autistic or depressed person in a mean fashion.) I think WE, people on the mean, have unfair ideas in our “normal” brains that isolate autistic or depressed people because we see only how different that they are from us without even beginning to question how they are the same.

CARRY THE OCEAN is not a challenging read, it simply challenges the reader to see persons with these diagnoses as equal, not other. As human, not diseases. That doesn’t mean the book is a downer. On the contrary, the deft writing keeps the story from getting mired in misery. There are definite high points, and a constant sense that the book will have an HEA. The humor is light, and quiet, but present. (Think /facepalm v. LOL!) So many times I found myself smiling and cheering from this side of the screen. If I ever meet Emmet and Jeremey IRL I’m not gonna look at them like puppies in people clothes, I’m going to respect them and their struggle. They would have certainly earned it.

Interested? You can find CARRY THE OCEAN on Goodreads, Samhain (ebook & paperback), All Romance Ebooks, Amazon US (ebookpaperback), Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble (Nook & paperback), Google Play, iTunes, Kobo. I received an advance copy of this book via NetGalley.

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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 www.heidicullinan.com.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Going for a SLEIGH RIDE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a fun and frisky gay Christmas romance from Heidi Cullinan. SLEIGH RIDE is the second book in the Minnesota Christmas series and it will heat your heart just and your naughty bits…

Sleigh Ride (Minnesota Christmas, #2)About the book:
The way to a man’s heart is on a sleigh.

Arthur Anderson doesn’t want anything to do with love and romance, and he certainly doesn’t want to play Santa in his mother’s library fundraising scheme. He knows full well what she really wants is to hook him up with the town’s lanky, prissy librarian.

It’s clear Gabriel Higgins doesn’t want him, either—as a Santa, as a boyfriend, as anyone at all. But when Arthur’s efforts to wiggle out of the fundraiser lead to getting to know the man behind the storytime idol, he can’t help but be charmed. The least he can do is be neighborly and help Gabriel find a few local friends.

As their fiery arguments strike hotter sparks, two men who insist they don’t date wind up doing an awful lot of dating. And it looks like the sleigh they both tried not to board could send them jingling all the way to happily ever after.

Warning: Contains a feisty librarian, a boorish bear, small town politics, deer sausage, and a boy who wants a doll.

My Review:
Arthur is a foul-mouthed, free-loving gay lumberjack in rural northern Minnesota. He’s a big, loud ginger who can’t understand why his best pal, and usual bedmate Paul, has decided to move out. Just because their other pal Marcus has found THE ONE doesn’t mean Arthur and Paul need to commit to each other. Does it? Because Arthur isn’t the committing kind.

Gabriel Higgins is an uptight librarian, serving the fine people in a tiny Minnesota town not too far from his own homestead–not that he’s been back there in 15 years. No, being gay isn’t acceptable to his family, and Gabriel’s kinky fantasies aren’t actually acceptable to him. He’s not interested in a relationship–well, because having one and losing it would be too soul crushing. Best to avoid on all fronts.

Of course, Arthur’s mother is set on being a yenta–she is sure the town’s shy, intellectual librarian is perfect for her randy, but virtually illiterate, son. Who coulda guessed Arthur’s overbearing nature and relentless verve would crumble Gabriel’s defenses? (Take note: some fictional mothers do know best!) Also, seeing Paul move on, albeit unsuccessfully, is a great push for Arthur to find someone else–not that he thinks he will.

Okay, this book was interesting to me on a few levels.

One, the sexual chemistry was good. Arthur is the perfect foil for over-analyzing Gabriel. He takes control sexually, and emotionally as well. Both men struggle with open communication; Arthur because he thinks less of himself and Gabriel because he’s afraid of his own desire. As the plot moved it was easy to see how far these men cast themselves from people. How they walled themselves away, never dreaming they could find a lifemate. It was charming to experience their vulnerability. The smexytimes were interesting, and there was real tension at points, due to miscommunication and prejudice. Loved how it resolved.

Two, I enjoyed the literary references. Arthur hates reading–a lifelong problem fostered in his youth due to a librarian constantly decrying his choice of material–comics. It takes Gabriel about 8 seconds to win Arthur over to the power of literature when he begins reading to the kids at story time. I nearly laughed thinking of this big lumberjack wishing he could circle up with the kids on the carpet. And, when Gabriel reveals his own personal graphic novel collection to Arthur, it’s incendiary. I probably got so into this theme because I keep hoping I’ll find the right media to entice my hubs into reading with me. (No dice, thus far…)

Three, I totally got how important a free and open library can be to a community. Especially in rural areas, a library is a boon to people who may have no recreational outlet. It can become the lifeblood of conversation, support and entertainment. Gabriel took his role very seriously–and sought to incorporate multicultural works into his story time lessons–bringing color and culture to a vanilla world. This really touched a nerve for me. I was a library devotee as a kid. It was through my reading that I learned A LOT about myself, and the life I wanted to have as an adult. Growing up suburban poor, I hit the library all the time for free movies, reads, and special events. In fact, I still do. And, I take my kids. I love the different books presented at story time and how engaged my boys get in a well-read book and story session. They look forward to it, and I saw that same charm alive in this story.

Four, I really dug how the kink was handled. Gabriel has a hard time letting go–to the point that he likes to be “forced” (consensually) into sex. He has longed for a dominant lover, one who will safely push him into the roles he wants to assume sexually, but is too timid and ashamed to claim on his own. Arthur is a perfect match in this regard as he’s naturally both dominant and compassionate. He’s got a super tender side–honed by years of serving as a surrogate father figure to his young nephew. One thing I wished I had seen more of in this story: Gabriel taking the lead sexually. While he was adventurous and all, it was always with Arthur at the reins. I would have liked to see Gabriel lavishing Arthur with the same attention Arthur gave him. I get that they had a D/s dynamic going–but it wasn’t formal and Arthur could have used a bit of reinforcement.

In all, I had a great time with this one. It’s perfect for fans of slightly kinky M/M romance.

Interested? You can find SLEIGH RIDE on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

About 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 family. Heidi also volunteers frequently for her state’s LGBT rights group, One Iowa, and is proud to be from the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Heidi enjoys reading, watching movies and TV, and listening all kinds of music.  She has a husband, a daughter, and too many cats. Heidi is an active social networker, updating on Twitter, FacebookBlog, and of course has good old-fashioned email.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!