A MelanieM Review: Sleigh Ride (Minnesota Christmas #2) by Heidi Cullinan

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5

Sleigh Ride coverArthur Anderson is just plain unhappy.  His roommate, best friend with benefits, Paul, has decided to move out, leaving  Arthur’s house cold and lonely.  Paul wanted more from Arthur after years of living together and casual sex (at least that’s how Arthur looked at it).  The town’s mill has closed, albeit temporarily, leaving Arthur without a job and his mother wants Arthur to act as Santa and ride a sleigh for a benefit for the town’s library.  And to top it all off,  his mother wants to fix him up with the librarian who so clearly despises Arthur.  No, Arthur is not a happy man at all.

Shy, lonely, and cut off from the community he serves as the town librarian, Gabriel Higgins isn’t happy either, unless he is seated among children at storytime or busy with all things books.  When  Arthur is mentioned by Arthur’s mother (and member of the library board) as the benefit Santa, Gabe 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.

One things leads to another and soon the men find themselves happy and  sort of involved.  But a small town is full of pitfalls as well as positives.  Can Arthur and Gabe surmount all obstacles, including the ones they raise themselves, to find a  sleigh ride to HEA?

This story absolutely threw me.  I started off unsure about the characters, the town, and the unlikeliest of romances but before I knew it, Heidi Cullinan had pulled me into her world of quixotic characters, small town life and a burgeoning love affair between two such dissimilar men and kept me happily there for hours.  I ended up loving this story completely and for so many different reasons.

Talk about your odd pairing! That would be short, bearish, red-headed Arthur Anderson, a gruff, handyman with certain needs, and the tall, slightly built, curly haired librarian, Gabriel Higgins. Gabe is eloquent, shy, and literary in his conversation.  He too has hidden needs that will surprise all.  Even their backgrounds couldn’t be any more different from each other. Arthur’s family is a delight.  Gabe’s? Not so much. Arthur is actually hard to like at the beginning, He comes across as rude, boorish, and intractable.  Not someone who endears himself to the reader immediately.  No, Arthur has to slowly reveal the elements to his personality and the facets that he shows only to those he trusts before the reader starts to first like, and then finally fall deeply in love with him. Gabriel’s true self is hidden under a shell of protection Gabe has erected, so its hard to see at first that he has an inner fire and strength that comes out at the library where he feels safe and secure.

The scenes with the children and the stories at the library as well as the  feeling of the library as a small town hub are conveyed  realistically here.  The authenticity of the setting and the references to childhood stories and graphic novels made this story so believable that I felt I had been there before.  Cullinan is able to show the many facets of a librarian’s profession that few see past the person reshelving the books or stamping them out as you leave.  It’s a lovely reveal and it makes Gabe’s character so much more interesting, giving him a depth that plays off nicely against the alienation Arthur feels from his past experience with books and reading.

And that pull of opposites is one of the major charms of this story, it’s the joy of watching the men slowly move towards each other and a future together.  Loved that, truly I did.  Mingled with scenes and relationships of those around them, they are  pushed and pulled, tugged and marched towards each other until something gives.

Another highlight here is the relationship between Arthur and his nephew, Thomas, a sensitive child who loves a babydoll named Soupy.  Aspects of their relationship, including Gabe’s part in making Thomas feel understood and accepted had me in tears.  A book titled William’s Doll, a mesmerized group of children and some childhood companions combine to deliver a powerful message and turn what a mother perceived as an embarrassment into riches.  Heartwarming, totally heartwarming.  It also shows the ability and power of the written word (or pictures as the case might be) to change a situation as well as perspective.  It was an enchanting scene that has continued to stay with me.

Cullinan has packed this story full of such dramatic and moving moments.  In addition we have the exploration of two compatible if kinky sexual needs, desires that both men have trouble revealing. That difficult part of Arthur and Gabriel’s relationship  is handled with the same sensitivity and thoroughness of other elements in this story while  not discounting how sexy and hot it is.

So much joy and discovery, so much love and acceptance.  I adored this story and all its well defined and all too human characters.  It had been a while since I read Let It Snow, the first Minnesota Christmas story.  It was only until I was halfway through Sleigh Ride that I realized I knew Marcus and Frankie already. I don’t think its necessary to read that story before this one.  Just consider it a perk and pick it up later.  You will enjoy watching Marcus and Frankie get together, while bringing back memories of this story all over again.  You really can’t go wrong with either story.  So get them both!

I love Heidi Cullinan, her stories  always so full of heart and understanding.  Sleigh Ride contains all the wonderful Heidi Cullinan trademarks with a great plot and a small town you just might want to put on your next itinerary.  Consider this one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words highly recommended reads.

Cover artist: L.C. Chase.  Love that cover, just as heartwarming and wonderful as the characters and story within.

Sales Links:    Samhain Publishing        All Romance eBook (ARe)     amazon    Sleigh Ride

Book Details:

ebook
Expected publication: November 11th 2014 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://www.heidicullinan.com/sleigh-ride
seriesMinnesota Christmas #2

Minnesota Christmas series:

Let It Snow (Minnesota Christmas #1)
Sleigh Ride (Minnesota Christmas #2)

A MelanieM Review: The Circus of the Damned (Deal with a Devil) by Cornelia Grey

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

TheCircusoftheDamned_500x750Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life hiding the fact that his power is real.  Instead, Gilbert journeys from town to town, along with his patient companion, Emilia the mouse, trolling for easy marks in the worst of places and pubs along the way.  Gilbert’s love of drink and quick temper has often gotten him into trouble but  never like the hornets nest he stirred up in the town of  Shadowsea.  A dark, disreputile place, home of  the infamous slumlord Count Reuben,   who gets wind of his abilities after a fight in one of his pubs.  Gilbert’s flees with Emelia until his only option to survive is hiding within the Circus of the Damned .

Only the Circus of the Damned isn’t merely an unusual name but a unique circus with dark secrets of its own.   It’s handsome ringmaster Jesse’s responsiblity to make sure their numbers stay the same.  And when a performer dies, a new replacement must be found within 24 hours or all is lost, including their souls.   A recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need.  A soul in exchange for safety inside the Circus as a performer.  Only Gilbert doesn’t exactly believe in the pact or the Circus for that matter.  For Gilbert expediency is everything until its not and reality sets in.

But something far darker looms on the horizon, for Gilbert and the Circus of the Damned.  For Count Reuben hasn’t forgotten about Gilbert and is pursuing him still.  As the danger grows all around them, and other mages start disappearing, Gilbert, Jesse and the Circus of the Damned  place everything on the line for survival and for love.

Just the blurb for The Circus of the Damned was alluring enough for me to pick up this story and start reading.  Never quite the fan of clowns and circuses, the premise was one I found easy to believe in, a company of damned souls and supernatural talents who journeyed around the world holding special shows whose audience was often as unusual as the performers themselves.  Yes, I was hooked well and good.

But Cornelia Grey’s marvelous execution of this premise and the complex,haunting universe she has created for The Circus of the Damned exceeded all my expectations and then stomped them into the dust.  Part steampunk , part hellmouth, always fascinating, from the miserable town of Shadowsea to the encircled caravans of the Circus of the Damned, no little detail goes unnoticed or fails to enchance Grey’s tale of magic, devilry, and romance.

Circuses as I have said, are the perfect devil’s playground, From the garish makeup, tents, trailers and oddities of the side show, this venue lends itself to otherworldly elements like a duck does to water.  And the foundation is always in its performers, as it is with the characters Grey has created here.  But first, let’s start with Gilbert Blake, an often drunken mage with anger issues who often takes the  easy road in life.  He drinks, cheats, and scurries along, accompanied by only the most tolerant mouse alive, Emilia.  Gilbert is everyone’s problem at the beginning, including the readers.  He’s just not that likable to start off with.  Luckily that will change once he is forced to enter the Circus, but even then he can be a problematic leading man.  Only as he starts to accept his fate and really takes notice of his fellow performers and situation does this character grow and our liking of him along with it.

But even as we are having problems engaging with Gilbert, there’s Jesse, Dora, Ramona, and Constance.  There’s the remarkable Olivia, and Mildred, and of course, Farfarello, to delight, horrify, and pull us forever into their stories and lives.  It’s that damned Circus of the Damned that’s so mesmerizing and fanciful that you just can’t get enough of the place or people (or beings for that matter). Here is Cornelia Grey’s Pinterest Inspiration board, as scary and haunting as you will find.  That circus and the history behind it is the hook that will pull you in and keep you enthralled while you are waiting for Gilbert to develop into a character you and Jesse can love.  Yes, that happens, along with so many other startling plot threads that I remained happily ensconced in this world 347 pages to the end.  And then wanted more.

And I do want more.  I want to see what happens next, I want more backstory, and definitely more of their future.  Another story perhaps?  That would be delightful and satisfying.  Of course, Farfarello appears in other tales, Devil at the Crossroads, the first in Cornelia Grey’s Deal with a Devil series.  And by the title here, it would appear that more Deal with the Devil tales are coming.  Now only if they can include a certain circus….

Make your introduction to these devilishly entertaining group of performers and the fantastical world Cornelia Grey has created for them here with The Circus of the Damned.  It delivers a new perspective from which to view the big top, magic, and captured souls looking for love.  It’s a recommended read here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.  Grab it up today.  Happy Reading.

Cover art by Kanaxa.  Oh! How I love that cover. Spooky, haunting, and totally captivating.  If the title didn’t already pull you in, that cover would.  One of the best of the year.

Sales Links:    Riptide Publishing      All Romance eBooks    amazon    The Circus of the Damned

Book Details:

ebook, 347 pages
Expected publication: November 3rd 2014 by Riptide Publishing
original titleCircus of the Damned (A Deal with a Devil Story)
ISBN139781626491656
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://riptidepublishing.com/titles/circus-of-the-damned
seriesDeal with a Devil

It’s Hellish Great Times on Tour with Cornelia Grey and The Circus of the Damned !(contest)

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 SteampunkWeek_150x300Introducing into Center Ring, Cornelia Grey and The Circus of the Damned!

Cornelia Grey is here to tell us about the chracter inspiration for the supporting folks in her captivatingly scary new story, The Circus of the Damned.  And don’t forget to follow along on the tour for more chances to win a $250 gift certificated to Harlots and Angels Steampunk Corsetry!   Take a look at these items that could be yours if you won!

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The Circus of the Damned – Character Inspiration Pics Pt. II

Hello, everyone! Thank you so much for having me – happy to join you to talk a bit about my newest release, the paranormal novel The Circus of the Damned!

I love supporting characters, love making them interesting and colorful and, with the circus setting, I was really looking forward to working with an ensemble cast. My characters tend to be underdogs, living at the margins of society, relying on their wit and abilities to scrape by in a hostile world, and the perforrmers of the Circus of the Damned are just that – a ragtag crew of odd creatures, people with supernatural abilities that they cannot reveal to the world, hiding in plain sight under a circus tent…

As I was toying with a few ideas about their ideas and their performances, I decided to look for inspiration browsing vintage photos and cabinet cards of acrobats and assorted artists, that would be a perfect match with the Victorian-esque, slightly creepy atmosphere I had in mind… while I didn’t have much luck finding photos matching my guy performers, let me introduce you to the ladies of the Circus of the Damned!

First, I knew I wanted a strong woman, who would be beautiful and confident and unstoppable, with a taste for elegant earrings and dainty plumed hats… and I came across this gorgeous lady, who instantly became my Constance!

Then, I wanted an aerialist – slash – contortionist, who would swing from the trapeze and stroll around on stilts. This young lady was a good inspiration for Miriam…

When I came across this elegant woman, instead, the opposite thing happened – I was captured by her expression, her posture, her dress, and instantly knew Dora inspiration for the Circus of the Damnedshe had to belong to the Circus of the Damned, and set about discovering just who she might be. By the time we meet her at the Circus, Dora is elderly, but she is still just as intriguing and magnetic as she does in this picture…

The same happened when I stumbled across the picture of this young acrobat: I was instantly struck. I had been struggling, trying to zero in on the character of Olivia and on what her performance would be like and, when I saw this girl – with her curls, and her piercing, knowing eyes – I knew I had found her.Olivia image pinterest

And, last but not least, a character that has already made a brief appearance in another of my stories (you win a cookie if you recognise which one!). I am fond of scattering ‘Easter eggs’ here and there in my books – subtle references to another story, for example, or maybe a song… and Ramona’s appearance is one! There was no chance to talk about her backstory in this book, but she Ramona Circus of the Damned inspiration photosis from Genoa, Italy. Give her some basil and percorino cheese, and she will prepare a mean pesto sauce!

If you’d like to see some more inspiration pics – for the setting of the Circus itself, and the general atmosphere I had in mind for the story, you can check the Circus of the Damned board on Pinterest!

And speaking of atmosphere, I will be chatting about the music that inspired me in my next stop on the Gaslamp Fortnight tour!

If you’d like to see some more inspiration pics – for the setting of the Circus itself, and the general atmosphere I had in mind for the story, you can check the Circus of the Damned board on Pinterest!

And speaking of atmosphere, I will be chatting about the music that inspired me in my next stop on the Gaslamp Fortnight tour!

Now onto the story details from Cornelia Grey and The Circus of the Damned available for preorder now!

The Circus of the Damned Blurb:

TheCircusoftheDamned_500x750

Magician Gilbert Blake has spent his entire life conning drunkards in the seediest pubs in the darkest towns, careful to hide the true depths of his power. But when he spends a little too much time in Shadowsea and the infamous slumlord Count Reuben gets wind of his abilities, hiding within the Circus of the Damned may be Gilbert’s only chance at survival.

But there’s more to the Circus than meets the eye. Every time a performer dies, a new one must take his place, or the entire circus suffers the consequences. And while the handsome ringmaster Jesse isn’t one to coerce unwilling performers into giving up their souls to the devil, a recent death in their ranks makes Gilbert exactly what they need.

Yet the longer Gilbert stays with the Circus, the more danger he seems to bring them. Being with Jesse is more than Gilbert could have hoped for, but as Count Reuben’s men continue to search for Gilbert and the Circus loses another performer, they all face running out of time long before the Devil claims his due.

– See more at Riptide Publishing!

Author: Cornelia Grey
eBook ISBN: 978-1-62649-165-6
eBook and print release: Nov 3, 2014
eBook Formats: pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 978-1-62649-166-3
Word count: 91,500, Page count: 322
Type: Standalone
Cover by: Kanaxa

This title is part of the A Deal with a Devil universe.  Read an excerpt here.

more goodies from Harlots and Angels Steampunk Corsetry!

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