Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs #3) by Heidi Cullinan

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Rating: 5 stars

Dirty LaundryEntomology grad student Adam Ellery is trying to get his clothes washed at the laundromat when drunken frat boys start to harass him.  Just as things start to escalate out of control, Adam is saved by a muscled mountain of a man who dispatches the frats after making them apologize to Adam.  His rescuer’s name is Denver Rogers, a bouncer at the local gay bar.  Every thing about Denver pushes Adam’s buttons and, unbelievably to Adam at least, his thanks turns into a sexual encounter the likes of which Adam has never experienced before.

Denver Rogers knows his physique ensures his bed is never empty and the bar is the perfect place to find players for his  games but something about Adam is  so different from his usual bedmates.  Denver can’t get Adam out of his mind, and starts to pursue the Entomology student with a passion for bugs and rough sex. But Denver comes with a background of abuse, self esteem issues, and no formal education.  Denver wonders what the brilliant Adam will think about a man who doesn’t even have a GED?

Adam is OCD, with a side of clinical anxiety  and just getting through the day takes all his strength and determination.  His only long term romance ended because of his mental illness as well as the fact that they did not mesh sexually.  But his encounter with Denver has fulfilled him and left him satiated and his mind quite for once. Denver is everything Adam could want but how will Denver feel when Adam tells him he has obsessive compulsive disorder? Will Denver be able to deal with Adam’s illness? Adam and Denver each have their share of dirty laundry in their closet. Will they be able to come clean so they can see a bright future together?

Cullinan had me at Sphingidae.  An author who gives me a main character who is an entomologist specializing in hawk moths, be still my heart, watch as this Park Naturalist swoons.  But that one thing shouldn’t surprise me as Cullinan continues to bring us characters so human, so realistically flawed and interesting in their emotional makeup that it is a wonder that I haven’t seen someone like Adam in her stories before now.

Tucker Springs is a town full of amazing people and Cullinan has just contributed two more town citizens so remarkable that I still stay up at night thinking about them.  Both are, as I said, beautifully realized human beings, with their flaws and emotional issues.  But Adam and Denver also have the ability to disarm the reader with their vulnerability and surprising decency.  First let’s talk about Adam whose OCD and clinical anxiety is something thousands face in their lives today.  Cullinan has made this mental illness accessible and understandable through the character of Adam.  As he fights his way through his demons at every step in his day, from the lab to just getting out of the house, we really start to comprehend just how overwhelming it must be to just try and stay a functioning human being, let alone one successfully getting through college.  Adam has heart, and bravery, and a need for kinky sex  in which he can give up control. Adam kept surprising me all through the story, love him.

Then Cullinan delivers Denver Rogers to Adam via the laundromat.  Denver Rogers has his own demons in his head (none I will list for you here) and a need for rough sex and to be the one in control.  Everything about Denver will surprise you as it does Adam.  He could have easily degenerated into a stock character, but that never comes close to happening here in Cullinan’s capable hands. Denver is a decent, multilayered human trying to work through his past and starts to think that he might just have a future with his “bug boy”.  I adored this man.

We must also talk about the characters sexuality because it is such a huge component of the story and their relationship.  This is not your vanilla sex but rough, consensual hot sex.  It is bdsm and D/s and both are absolutely necessary for the story and this couple.  While neither is something I normally read, here it makes total sense for the characters and that helps the reader who either is not familiar with bdsm or reads bdsm to not only accept it but enjoy it.  Adam and Denver need this part of their relationship.  It is an integral part of who they are and it satisfies a deep seated need for Adam to be submissive and for Denver to be the dom.  Not only that but it calms Adam’s OCD as nothing else has.  I won’t get into the explanations but needless to say, the author does the same exemplary job of bringing the reader into Adam’s head to help us understand his thoughts and feelings on this element as well as the others.  So, even if this type of sexuality is not something you normally enjoy, Cullinan helps you understand, if not outright accept and enjoy this as a mutually healthy expression of their love and outgrowth of their relationship.

Cullinan then to proceed to slowly build an engrossing, heartwarming love story between Adam and Denver, one complete with a step backward for every two they manage to go forward with.  Adam and Denver must over come one obstacle after another, ones both small and large, including each other.  By the time, their story is finished, as a reader you are so throughly invested in this couple’s lives that you don’t want it to be over.  Not by a long shot.  My hope is that we will see them in other Tucker Springs novels just as El and Paul did here.  I would also love to see more of Louisa, a trans character equally memorable and endearing.  I highly recommend this story and all of the Tucker Springs novels.  This is a town full of people you will never tire of visiting with and listening to their stories.  And while you are off to get the book, make sure and add Heidi Cullinan to your list of must have authors.  Really, she deserves to be there.   Sphingidae, indeed!

Cover art by LC Chase is perfection and works in every way for this story and overall appeal.

Here are the Tucker Springs novels in order they were written:

Where Nerves End by LA Witt (Tucker Springs #1)

Second Hand by Marie Sexton and Heidi Cullinan (Tucker Springs #2)

Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Plus there is a website for Tucker Springs novels.  TuckerSprings.com

Review: Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

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Rating: 4.5 stars

Promises Made Under FireIt’s France, 1915, and Europe has been fighting WWI for a year.  Lieutenant Tom Donald and his fellow officer Frank Foden help alleviate both the tedium and the terror by sharing confidences about their family and friends back home.  Frank Foden, a confident popular officer with a positive outlook on life, happily shares his letters from home with Tom, including those from his physician wife, a rarity at that time.  Letter after letter, arriving sometimes twice a week, enliven their day. Frank and Tom laugh about her “doctor’s scribble” of handwriting and her accounts from home, and soon Tom begins to feel that he knows her as well as Frank.  The one thing he doesn’t share with Frank is the knowledge that Tom prefers men to women,  a fact that would see him booted from the army and most likely imprisoned.

Then Frank is killed on the front and Tom injured.  Tom is sent home to recover and act on a last request from Frank.  Frank left several letters for Tom to deliver in person.  One to Frank’s mother, and one to a man named Palmer who Tom has never heard Frank mention.  Tom’s journey to fulfill his mission will uncover some starting facts about Frank, and his life back home, starting with the fact that everything he knew about the man was a lie.

Promises Made Under Fire is just another fine example of historic fiction from author Charlie Cochrane.  Cochrane returns us to the front.  It is WWI and England has been fighting for a year. We are given Englishmen under incredible stress and facing imminent death every moment they are in the trenches and yet touches of civilized society still order the soldier’s day, including their officer’s servant who serves them tea and acts as “nursemaid and housekeeper” to both Tom and Frank, a decidedly English detail.  And because this is Charlie Cochrane, you can count on the historic details she presents during the story as being accurate as well as interesting.  I have always admired the manner in which Cochrane folds her  historical facets into her story while bringing it all effortlessly to life in front of us.  I could hear the sounds of guns nearby and smell the powder on the air but the main focus is always on her characters.

What amazing characters are laid out before us.  Cochrane has a remarkable ear for dialog and her character’s “language” is true for each person and their social status.  Here is Bentham, their officers servant, talking about the Jerry’s(Germans):

“He’s probably plotting even when he’s kicking up Bob’s a dying.” (Bentham)

“Bob’s a dying?” (Tom)

“Dancing and frolicking, sir.”

In just those few sentences, you understand immediately that Bentham is lower class, given his colloquialisms, and that Tom is decidedly upper class, given his  lack of understanding about the same.  Loads of backstory in a few simple phrases, just perfection.

In fact, without realizing it, the reader is absorbing tons of information about the men in the story without having it spelled out for us just through the dialog alone.  The front and it’s horrors are quite real as is its impact upon our main characters.  In fact there is not one element here that isn’t brought fully to life.  This story and its characters, live, react, and painfully try to recover from the devastation the war has wrought  upon them and their world.

I love how this story slowly unfolds, giving us time to know and care about Tom and Frank, and Tom’s journey home is a revelation in more than one way.  The use of letters is a  form of narrative that always charms me and it is used to perfection here to move the story forward. But you never forget that this is a love story, and that love between men is something to be carefully hidden and protected.  Discretion is the rule these men live by and the lengths they must go to in order to protect the ones they loved.

This is an absolutely marvelous love story but the end is in keeping with the times and perfectly realistic for the men involved.  The more I thought about it the more I appreciated the manner in which Cochrane remained true to her characters, and her period.  And leaves us with the possibility of more should she ever wish to return to Tom and see how he is getting on.  Put a pot of tea on, place some biscuits on a plate and settle down with Promises Made Under Fire to return to war torn England and a love that dares not speak its name.

17,000 words

cover artist is unknown which is a shame considering how perfect this cover is for the story.  Lovely in its detail and design.