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)

Review: The Queen’s Librarian by Carole Cummings

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Rating: 2.75 stars out of 5

The Queen's Librarian coverLucas Tripp is the Queen’s Librarian.  He is also her cousin, her much poorer cousin.  He has a mother who loves to spend money and six sisters, four of whom need husbands and expect Lucas to find them suitably wealthy ones as their status  (and their mother) dictates.  Lucas also runs their family estate, takes care of their offerings to the gods and tries to find time to spend with his patient and oh so gorgeous boyfriend Alex Booker.  But nothing is running according to plan, any plans.  One of Lucas’ sister is being courted by a renown womanizer who  just so happens to be his boyfriend’s brother. Then when another sister finally settles on a suitable  suitor,  the man disappears amidst a flurry of speculation and  a tinge of magic.

Before Lucas realizes it, he is in the middle of a multitude of mysteries.  Where did his sister’s suitor disappear to?  What happened to the rains?  Who is the man who keeps popping in and out of his life and rooms, only to mutter a mysterious foreign phrase or two and then disappear?  Everything seems to come back to The Stone Circle and the Daimin but what does it all mean?  Lucas must find the truth, get his sisters married ,save the towns harvest, and make his cousin, the Queen happy.  Oh, and find time to spend with his boyfriend.  What is a Queen’s Librarian to do?

Carole Cummings’ Wolf’s-own series was fantastic and one of my favorites last year.  So when I saw she released a new book I couldn’t wait to read it.  I was expecting marvelously intricate world building, multilayered characterizations and a tight, deep story worthy of the first two elements.  Unfortunately, I found none of that here.  In fact, The Queen’s Librarian is almost the antithesis of those amazing stories and it seems she planned it that way.  In her dedication, she mentions that Fen of the Wolf’s-own series was the reason for this story. In her own words:

“Fen, because if it hadn’t been for the bleak despair that was his headspace, I would never have needed Lucas and Alex to brighten up the path away from his angsty abyss.” – Carole Cummings

Unfortunately, everything that was right with Fen is wrong with Lucas.  Once again, it all comes back to characterization as the key to a story and at the heart of this story is one character so diffuse that he lacks a core personality to relate to.  Lucas Tripp is one of those flighty, scatterbrained characters who dither and mumble and stumble their way through their life and the story.  You can always count on them to be forgetful, naive to the point of stupidity, and have the focus of a Magpie.  Have I left out any characteristics of this type of personality?  Oh, right, they are also unaware of their good looks, kind, and prone to a punctuation free, never ending style of inner monologue.

I have seen quite a few of these characters lately.  Some I loved because they were so well done or their dialog was fun if not downright delightful.  Others not so much.  Unfortunatelyl, Lucas falls into the latter category.  I will give you a sample of Lucas and the narrative you will encounter:

THERE was a bit of a scuffle, with Bramble assuming he and his muddy paws would be welcome in the house and Lucas begging to differ. Lucas won. Just barely. And Cat seemed a little too pleased with it all, so much so that she deigned to greet Lucas with a stretch and a serpentine saunter over to her milk bowl—on the shelf over the stove to deter Bramble from slurping it—rather than her usual slow blink and yawn. Or, in Bramble’s case, her usual glare of death and warning extension of claws. Lucas obligingly fetched her the last of the milk and let the reverberating contented purr that rumbled through the quiet of the little house soothe him as he stripped and changed. His clothes smelled of pub. He hadn’t noticed it when he’d dragged them back on this morning, or when he and Alex had been walking home, but now… drat it all, had he spilled ale all over his shirt? Or maybe taken a swim in it?

He tossed the shirt into the growing pile in the corner. There was a basket under there somewhere, he was sure of it, that he was going to have to gather up one of these days and present to Miss Emma. The anticipated oh-whatever-are-we-going-to-do-with-you look that always came along with the occasion was what held him back. He should learn to wash his own clothes… someday. He should also learn to cook. Toast and cheese and the occasional egg did not a satisfying diet make. And if he learned to cook, he wouldn’t have to spend so much time up at the main house, suffering through yet another not-quite-lecture about Why Certain Young Men Should Have Already Given Their Mothers Grandchildren. As if there weren’t enough of the little creatures about the place for supper every Sun’s Day. Sometimes Lucas wondered if Pippa and Nan weren’t actually in some kind of competition for who could produce the most children in the shortest amount of time.

Thank God they weren’t Lucas’s problem anymore. He was going to have to dump his wages from the Library into the estate’s coffers again, he could see it coming now. He’d been hoping to at least buy Clara’s handfasting dress for her, but he wasn’t as optimistic now as he’d been only a week or so ago. Slade had taken the news of his prospective wife’s poverty extraordinarily well, almost weirdly enthusiastically, actually, nearly doing backflips to assure Lucas that he was in love with Clara and not her supposed dowry. And he hadn’t even been drunk yet. It endeared him almost instantly to Lucas, and even Alex had been soppily charmed. Of course, there was still the meeting with Slade’s parents to get through before everything was official, and the Queen had to approve, if Lucas ever got the chance to put the request to her, but Clara wanted this, and it was a love match, not a contract of convenience, so Lucas would make it happen.

And this is pretty typical of all 224 pages of The Queen’s Librarian.  It just goes on and on and on as Lucas goes on and on and on.  He rambles, he dithers, he’s myopic and the narrative reflects that in descriptions, dialog and plot.  It made my eyes glaze over.  For me to find this type of personality charming, I need to feel that the character has a solid foundation beneath all that fluttering and I never got that from Lucas.  His is a personality so wispy it’s almost airborne.

The plot of The Queen’s Librarian suffers from some of the same elements that mark this book’s characterizations.  It rambles yet the reader can clearly identify the villains almost immediately and determine where the plot meander off course.  It’s a dense morass of words that makes it hard to find your way through the storyline.  And there is a neat plot here but it is buried so deep under layers of extraneous words that it gets lost. The best part of this story is actually the last quarter (or less) of the book.  The story gets a dynamic turn as the “aha” moment arrives, magic splatters off the walls and finally we see some action, instead of the constant rambling discourse that is the trademark of the majority of this story.

If I were to pinpoint the things I liked about The Queen’s Librarian, I suppose it would be the dog, the actual plot underneath it all, the Queen and her Consort.  He seems like a fellow I would share a bit of candy with.  The rest of the characters are a likable enough lot but would I spend another 224 pages with them? I don’t think so.  I certainly couldn’t read this book again.  As much as I wanted to, I just couldn’t give this a 3 rating.  Sigh.  For some of you, perhaps, just the fantasy aspect alone will make the story acceptable or better.  For everyone else, I will recommend Cummings Wolf’s – own series to start with.  Those books contain remarkable stories, with memorable characters and a substantial, intricate plot that flows through the series.  Read those and leave this one alone.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  The cover is delightful, light in tone and design.

Book Details:

ebook, 224 pages
Published July 26th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN 1623808693 (ISBN13: 9781623808693)
edition language English