Blog Tour: Clockwork Heart, by Heidi Cullinan

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Tinkers. Soldiers. Spies. Pirates. Alternate history, airships, a sweeping tour of continental Europe via the clouds. A little absinthe, a little theft, a little exhibitionism, some naughty use of clockwork prosthetics. Men who love men, women who love women, men who aren’t particular. Love, adventure, and a steaming good time.

Heidi Cullinan is here today to talk about her latest novel, Clockwork Heart, the first in a new M/M steampunk series! She’s also brought some exclusive information… a first glimpse into future books in the Clockwork Heart universe!

So keep reading to find out more about this alt-history world of clockwork soldiers, and don’t forget to check out the awesome giveaway that Heidi has!

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Clockwork Heart, by Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Genre: Historical, Alternate History/Steampunk, Gay (M/M), Romance

Buy Links: Publisher / Amazon (US) / ARe

My Review: This novel has everything you’d expect from a Heidi Cullinan novel–  complex characters, a delicious romance, and some heart-stopping kinky sex– and the unique alt-history adds an exciting twist to the story! (Full review is here4-5-of-5)

About Clockwork Heart:

cullinan-clockwork-heartAs 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.

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Advanced Book Review: Clockwork Heart, by Heidi Cullinan

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Clockwork Heart, by Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Genre: Gay (M/M), Romance, Steampunk, Historical

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
4-5-of-5

Buy Links: Publisher / Amazon / ARe

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Blurb:

cullinan-clockwork-heartAs 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.

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El’s Top 10 Books of 2015

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I read a lot of books in 2015 (more than 300 in total), so trying to pick my favorites for the year was not easy. After a lot of thought (and factoring in the number of times I re-read a book), I was able to narrow it down to my Top Ten Books of 2015.

And because it’s the end of the year, here’s one last contest. See the bottom of the post for full contest details.

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And now the list, in no particular order:

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Blog Tour: Winter Wonderland, by Heidi Cullinan!

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WINTER WONDERLAND, BY HEIDI CULLINAN

RELEASE DATE: November 10, 2015

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Welcome to the blog tour stop for Winter Wonderland, the newest release from the incredibly talented Heidi Cullinan, and the third book in her “Minnesota Christmas” series!

In my review, I called Winter Wonderland, “Funny, quirky, and delightfully dirty,” with “truly fantastic and fully-believable characters”. The novel stands alone in the series, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a holiday read that focuses on emotions and family.

Keep reading for an excerpt from the novel, as well as your chance to win a “Minnesota Christmas” prize pack that includes paperbacks of all three books and more!

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.

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“Funny, quirky, and delightfully dirty!” — Book Review: Winter Wonderland, by Heidi Cullinan

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Winter Wonderland, by Heidi Cullinan
Minnesota Christmas, Book 3

Rating: ★★★★

* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

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

From the opening sentence, I knew this was going to be a funny, quirky, and delightfully dirty holiday romance! Winter Wonderland is the third book in the “Minnesota Christmas” series. Three bears, each searching for their Goldilocks. In the first two books, Marcus and Arthur found love in their small Minnesota town, but Paul, the youngest, is still searching. And the only other gay man for miles around seems to be Kyle Parks… tiny, swishy, and young.

Paul can’t find a gay man within a fifty-mile radius who wants more than casual sex. No one, that is, except too-young, too-twinky Kyle, who sends him suggestive texts and leaves X-rated snow sculptures on his front porch.

Kyle’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. When his family’s anti-LGBT crusade spills beyond managing Paul’s love life, Kyle and Paul must fight for everyone’s happily ever after, including their own.

Kyle is really the complete opposite of Paul in many ways, but they fit together like puzzle pieces. Paul is serious, dreaming of the things he doesn’t think he’ll ever get: a family who supports him, a man who loves him, a relationship that satisfies his needs. But Kyle is pretty sure– no, he’s positive— that he can be everything Paul is looking for in a boyfriend… if only Paul will see past his youthful appearance and accept that Kyle is ‘man enough’.

And just like in ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, Kyle might be ‘just right’ for Paul.

After Tuesday night, part of him had dangerous fantasies about how maybe Kyle was his Goldilocks after all. (Kindle Loc. 1004)

I love Kyle. LOVE LOVE LOVE him. His cheerful attitude, his selflessness and devotion to his sister and the patients under his care, his determination to win Paul over… he’s a brilliant character, and a heck of a lot of fun to read. He’s also very good at reading people. He’s able to win over Edna Michaelson, the cranky older woman who lives next door to Paul, and he figures out what Paul wants and needs.

“There are so many things I want to do to you. Sweet things. Wicked things.” He licked at the pulse of Paul’s neck. “But I can’t do them if you run from me after.” (Kindle Loc. 1466)

The supporting characters were excellent also, including Mrs. Michaelson and Corrina Anderson! But Paul… I’m not sure. He was interesting, but I feel like I didn’t get much more from his character than we’d seen in previous books. Maybe if there had been more tension between him and his family, something to create more character development? But even that point of tension didn’t amount to much.

And the sex was wicked hot! But this is a Heidi Cullinan novel… that name is definitely synonymous with brilliant, realistic characters and burning hot bedroom scenes!!!

Heidi writes truly fantastic and fully-believable characters. Overall this was a really fun, light-hearted holiday novel! Definitely a good book to read while the snow comes down outside.

Release Date: November 10
Pre-order: Samhain Publishing / Amazon / ARe

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Top Ten Tuesday: My Dream Author Teams!

top-ten-tuesday-textAs always, this weekly meme is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Batman has his Robin, and the Avengers work better together than apart. Since authors are basically superheroes in my mind, it makes sense for them to team up for a book (or two), right? I mean, you have Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett combining literary forces to write Good Omens, and John Green and David Levithan co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson. In fact, a quick glance at my bookshelf shows a handful of co-written novels, including Illuminae (which I just reviewed yesterday).

Since co-writing novels seems to be “the thing” to do these days, here are five teams of authors that I’d love to see team up!

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1. Maggie Stiefvater and John Green

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Obviously they have a healthy rivalry on the race track, but Stiefvater and Green also have the young adult world wrapped around their little fingers. Apart, the authors of The Raven Cycle quartet and The Fault in Our Stars (respectively) are wildly popular. Together? Well, I’m pretty sure there would be a shortage of tissues world-wide, to say the very least!

I want a book with Stiefvater’s magical realism and Green’s crushing realism. I want a book with emotions that will feel like a punch in the chest, characters that are witty and sarcastic, and a thread of fantasy twisting down the center. If their powers combined, the YA genre wouldn’t know what hit it!

2. Anne Rice and Stephen King

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Yes, it’s obvious. But they’re two of the biggest names in horror. And I’m not talking the new horror, that’s sole purpose is to freak you out with sudden revelations and gruesome images. Rice and King are masters at the slow-build horror, the creeping chill that runs its icy fingers up your spine late at night.

King has plenty of experience dabbling in the paranormal horror genre, so I’d love to see a book from the two of them with mythical creatures. Like, Supernatural if it were actually scary!

3. Garrett Leigh and Heidi Cullinan

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In the M/M romance genre, there are no authors that I trust more than Leigh and Cullinan when it comes to writing beautiful, realistic characters. Leigh’s Misfits is at the top of my recommendations list, and Cullinan’s Love Lessons series is RITA nominated and achingly perfect.

If these authors paired up to write a novel, I hope it would be as poignant and heart-breaking as everything else they’ve written, with characters who leap off the pages and romances that are as close to perfect as any I’ve ever read.

4. Anna Zabo and A.J. Rose

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Two of the most amazing BDSM authors in the M/M genre, Zabo and Rose are both on my to-re-read list. Zabo wrote Takeover and Just Business (one of my favorite books of the year so far!), about the power dynamics in the boardroom and the bedroom. Rose wrote the Power Exchange trilogy, about a cop investigating a series of BDSM-related murders who finds himself attracted to the lifestyle.

If these two authors paired up, I would be camping out to buy their books. They both write excellent, realistic BDSM romances. The power exchanges are gorgeous, the characters are interesting, and the books themselves are a blast to read over and over!

5. Neil Gaiman and Anyone

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Is this cheating? Meh, I don’t care! Neil Gaiman is a phenomenal and incredibly versatile author. He writes short stories that make you laugh, children’s books that inspire, and novels that have you gasping for breath. While most of his previous collaborations are with artists (particularly Dave McKean, who is brilliant!), he’s teamed up with a few authors in the past.

Gaiman has a really unique voice, and I think that could be combined with several authors with amazing results. Imagine him writing a historical magic novel with Susanna Clarke or Zen Cho, or an urban fantasy with Maggie Stiefvater? I’d even love to see a collaboration between him and his wife, Amanda Palmer. YES PLEASE!


Who are your dream team authors?

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Review: Dance With Me, by Heidi Cullinan (Rating: 4/5)

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Dance With Me, by Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Self-Published (Re-released August 28, 2015)
Page Count: 282 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Romance

Rating: 4 out of 5

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(Note: I unashamedly spent an hour googling men’s ballet and ballroom dancing instead of writing this review.)

Ever since reading Lonely Hearts and seeing Ed and Laurie’s cameo appearances in that novel, I’ve been chomping at the bit for Dance With Me to come out! It was originally released several years ago, but was out of print when Lonely Hearts came out, so I had to wait until it was re-released to finally get Ed and Laurie’s story. And yes, it was definitely worth the wait!

Photo from The Guardian

Photo from The Guardian

Ed used to play semi-pro football, until he was almost killed during a game and received a terrible injury to his neck. He volunteers in the evenings at the Halcyon Center, which is where he meets Laurie. At first, he thinks Laurie is stuck-up and vindictive, and Laurie clearly doesn’t think very highly of Ed in return. But when Laurie finds himself in need of a dance partner once a week at the studio where he teaches, he ropes Ed in to help, and the two men quickly realize that there’s more to the other than meets the eye.

“You told me I was beautiful when I danced. You told me when you watched me move, it made you ache inside. You told me you wanted to move with me.” (ePub page 95)

I really love the way Heidi writes characters that are opposites at first glance, but that fit together perfectly. Laurie comes from a wealthy family, and was once a famous ballet star. Ed, on the other hand, is a not-so-refined, openly gay jock who has a deep love of Brittany Spears and Juicy Lucy burgers (which looks SO DELICIOUS!!).

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“Ed would never be interested in me. He’s a football player. He’s big and handsome and flirty.”

Oliver smiled. “He sounds perfect.”

“Yes. And perfect men aren’t interested in skinny, uptight, neurotic messes.” (ePub page 64)

The best part is how the two men balance each other. Laurie is amazing with Ed when Ed’s football injury starts acting up. He’s there to take care of him through the hardest of times, and he’s stubborn enough not to back down when Ed gets depressed. Likewise, I loved Ed’s way of encouraging Laurie to be true to himself, and the way he is 100% supportive of Laurie’s dancing (even when Laurie himself isn’t). But the highlight is definitely the way they dance together, and how their dancing mimics their relationship.

Heidi Cullinan is without a doubt one of my favorite authors in the M/M romance genre, and Dance With Me was another fantastic read. (Also, if you like her books you should check out her Patreon page!)

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Review: Carry the Ocean, by Heidi Cullinan (Rating: 5/5)

Cullinan-CarryTheOceanCarry the Ocean, by Heidi Cullinan (The Roosevelt, Book 1)
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (April 7, 2015)
Page Count: 268 pages
Genre: Gay (M/M) Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5

Warnings: attempted suicide (highlight to see)

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Summary: 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.

My Thoughts: A stunningly profound and engaging novel about finding your way and struggling to accept that what makes you different doesn’t make you less. With frank and unflinching looks into the darkness of mental illness, and a gorgeous atypical relationship that redefines what romance means, Cullinan’s Carry the Ocean is an exceptional piece of story-telling.

Jeremey is suffering under the weight of two debilitating mental illnesses; he has Major Depressive Disorder, which has made him hypersensitive to the world around him, and clinical anxiety, which results in panic attacks that leave him wrecked. He’s exhausted, and his family’s refusal to accept his diagnoses pushes him further into the darkness. But when he meets Emmett, a genius on the autism spectrum, Emmett’s straightforward way of speaking and easy acceptance of Jeremey’s behavior is a relief.

my emotions feel loud and big. its hard for me to keep hold of them. they weigh me down. make me heavy and tired and overwhelmed. sometimes I feel like everyone else is carrying a bucket of water but I’m trying to carry an ocean. its very hard. sometimes I would rather not carry my ocean, even if it meant I couldn’t be alive…

…I want you to fight too, Jeremey. I want us to carry our oceans together. (ePub pg. 86-87)

As the friendship between Emmett and Jeremey grows, so too do the romantic feelings. But a relationship isn’t easy when the outside world sees you as an “embarrassment” and a “retard”. When Jeremey’s mental illness takes a turn for the worse, Emmett wants only to help him, first by assisting Jeremey in finding “modifications”– ways he can adapt to his surroundings so that his depression and anxiety don’t overwhelm him– and then by finding them a place to belong: the Roosevelt House, a communal living space for people who need a bit of extra help once in a while.

The alternating perspectives are phenomenally written. Jeremey’s chapters give insight into what it’s like to live every day inside a glass dome, where too much stimuli can trigger an episode. Emmett’s chapters are told in his unambiguous and often brunt voice, breaking down every interaction and sentence in a way that helps him understand those around him.

It’s like Elwood Blues says: everybody needs somebody to love. I’m an everybody. I get a somebody.

In the end, this wasn’t a story about two boys who are different from the rest of the world. It was a story about two boys finding their balance, and finding a place where they can belong. It wasn’t about finding a cure for mental illness, but instead about accepting the illness for what it is and finding “modifications” and ways to work around it.

After reading Lonely Hearts by the same author, I really wanted to see more m/m romance that deals with depression and with unconventional relationships, and I’m glad that I found this novel. I think Cullinan’s writing is among the best in the genre, and I think Carry the Ocean really sets the bar for future m/m romance works!

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Blog Tour: Lonely Hearts, by Heidi Cullinan (Excerpt, Giveaway, and more!)

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 Lonely Hearts, by Heidi Cullinan (Love Lessons, Book 3)
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (August 11, 2015)
Word Count: approx. 115,000 words
Genre: Gay (M/M) Contemporary Romance

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Today is the release date for Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan, which is the third novel in her Love Lessons series. I’m already certain that this is going to be one of my favorite books of 2015; it’s absolutely stunning from start to finish, with amazing characters that are complex and damaged– but never weak.

I have an excerpt from the novel below, as well as two different giveaways! You can check out the Rafflecopter Grand Prize at the end of the post… but I’m also giving away one copy of Lonely Hearts or your choice from Heidi’s backlist in eBook (PDF, epub, or mobi)!

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Of course, don’t forget to check out my review of the novel here, where I give it 5 out of 5 stars (and ramble about how in love I am with Elijah, Baz, and the rest of their friends.)

Note: This novel picks up shortly after Fever Pitch (Book Two in the Love Lessons series) ends, and includes characters from that and Love Lessons (Book One). You don’t necessarily need to read either of those in order to understand this novel, but it will definitely make the experience more enjoyable… and Fever Pitch was nominated by the RWA for the 2015 RITA Awards, in case you needed further encouragement!

Summary:

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.

Click through the cut to read an excerpt from the novel, and to check out the giveaways!

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Review: Lonely Hearts, by Heidi Cullinan (Rating: 5/5)

Looking for the Blog Tour & Giveaway? Scroll down to the bottom, or click here!

LonelyHearts300Lonely Hearts, by Heidi Cullinan (Love Lessons, Book 3)
Publisher: Samhain Publishing (August 11, 2015)
Word Count: approx. 115,000 words
Genre: Gay (M/M) Contemporary Romance

Rating: 5 out of 5

* I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review. *

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Summary: 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.

My Thoughts: I honestly didn’t think that I could love a novel as much as I loved Cullinan’s Fever Pitch, but then I started reading Lonely Hearts and was absolutely blown away. The exceptional story-telling, combined with the fierce and unflinching characters of Sebastian “Baz” Acker and Elijah Prince, and Cullinan’s brilliant and memorable writing all combined to make this my favorite novel of the year so far. (To put this in perspective, I’ve read this book in its entirely three times now since I received the ARC… IT’S THAT GOOD!)

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“The name is Prince, bitch, not princess. I can take care of myself.” (Kindle loc. 361)

This book is all about the characters. Both appeared in Fever Pitch, but only in the background. In this novel, they get their chance to shine, and Cullinan does a phenomenal job of bringing these complex and damaged men to life. Baz and Elijah are both incredibly unlikeable; they’re rude, crass, and damaged on the inside and out. They use drugs and alcohol as a way to soften their edges, both with each other and with their friends (who are thankfully able to see past the prickly exteriors). It’s actually refreshingly atypical for the m/m romance genre, where the men are usually personable, strong, and easy to relate to.

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He was pale, skinny, too tall and defeated. He didn’t look like the man who kept scrambling Elijah’s circuits. (Kindle loc. 2186)

Having a novel with not one but two unpleasant characters is difficult. Elijah is still trying to overcome the events at the end of Fever Pitch, battling the demons his religious fanatic parents left him with and trying to overcome the guilt of Baz being shot in his defense. Baz deals every minute of every day with his injuries from a gay bashing almost a decade prior, which left him covered in scars and severely photophobic. Separate, they’re cantankerous and frustrating; together, they’re able to find someone who understands their pain, and can begin the process of healing and finding love.

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“I can’t quite quit pushing people away when they get too close. The nicer they are, the more right they seem, the more I want them gone. Doesn’t make any fucking sense, but there it is.”

Elijah huffed a bitter laugh through his nose. “Yes it does.”

Baz raised his eyebrows. “Okay, tell me.”

“Because if you let them in, you have to feel. If they fuck you over, it hurts ten times worse than if you’d kept them out. And it’s not as if you don’t have other shit to manage. There are only so many wounds you can  take, and at some point you have to cut your losses and circle the wagons.”

Baz stared out the windshield. “Fucking lonely way to be.”

“Yes.” (Kindle loc. 1547)

The only flaw I could see in this novel was minimal… and that was the superfluous pop culture references. Cullinan references Baz and Elijah’s relationship against the Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle and an anime called Black Butler, and I think that a reader who hasn’t seen those might feel alienated from the plot.

Simply put, this novel was amazing. Cullinan knows how to write, that much can’t be denied (and congrats to her on her 2015 RITA nomination!!!), and she has a clear talent for taking two separate, damaged characters and making them whole together. I really loved this novel, and can’t wait to read more in this series if Cullinan decides to write it!

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Check out the BLOG TOUR STOP with an excerpt and amazing giveaways!

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