Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
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.
I have always found the writings of Heidi Cullinan to be something special but in her Minnesota Christmas series with its generous helping of warmhearted bears, human bears that is, and their unique, loving counterparts, she has conjured up stories not only distinctive but that contain sparks I like to think of as narrative magic. In Winter Wonderland, that mojo is working overtime with characters like Paul and Kyle. What charms this story has in store for the reader! And snow sculptures shaped like penises too. Let’s get to the particulars.
Paul is one of those characters Cullinan does so well. Paul is a man whose mean-hearted, conservative family’s constant belittling and derision has lead Paul to a poor self image and inability to imagine a happy future for himself. But little of that is shown to others in their small town. Only to Paul’s small circle of friends (see the other stories) is his unhappy family dynamics known as well as his penchant for Hallmark movies, especially Hallmark’s Christmas movies. The author brings in such well known movies like Hallmark’s “The Christmas Card” and uses them to make a point about Paul, the damage done to him by his family, and makes it and the other Christmas movies provide a way to heal Paul’s pain. Its a beautiful touch, one among many, and it feels believably so as a panacea that others have found.
I love the character of Kyle as well. He too contains so many truths of his own. Kyle is the town “man child”, the one people remember so well as a charming adolescent that they can’t see the man he’s become. Kyle is tired of fighting his past image because he never seems to overcome it. Especially with the one person he’s been crushing on for most of his life. Paul. Kyle wants to capture Paul’s attention and desperate times calls for desperate measures. Or in this case, anatomically correct snow sculptures. I have a vivid imagination and Heidi Cullinan’s descriptions cracked me up. Even if you don’t, you won’t need them, because her words and the pictures they paint will be more than enough to leave you with the giggles. But Kyle is not all fun and snow. He has his own depth of character and responsibilities, one of which is his sister.
One of the things I love best about the Minnesota Christmas series is that the town of Logan is populated by characters who are so real, so darn human. Some have reading disabilities, others face other physical challenges, some have their own hot, unexpected sexual kinks, and some with family issues so profoundly wounding that it almost costs them a future. Nothing is really “normal”. Perfection has no role here. But authentic happiness? Small town joys, long term loves and relationships? Yes, they most certainly do. With Logan you get the best as well as the worst of small town mentality, Cullinan is blunt about that. I liked that as well.
We’ve had 3 stories so far. The 3 bears of Logan and each has found their own Mr. Right for Christmas. Paul was the baby bear. Will there be more Christmas stories for us coming out of Minnesota? I can only hope so. What I’ve read so far has had that winter white glitter sparkle that speaks of joy, and hope, and love. And Christmas is coming. What a wonderful present it would be to have Minnesota Christmas story number four!
I highly recommend Heidi Cullinan and her Minnesota Christmas series, including this very special story, Winter Wonderland. Pick this and all of them up as a early holiday present for yourself.
Cover art by Angela Waters. I love this cover. I think the artist has the men and the landscape exactly right.
Expected publication: November 10th 2015 by Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
original titleWinter Wonderland
Series: Minnesota Christmas