Review: Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

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Rating: 4 stars

Family Man coverVince Fierro is forty.  He comes from a large Italian family who love him and can’t understand why he hasn’t found the right girl yet.  After all, Vince has three failed marriages behind him to prove that he is trying. But inside Vince knows the real reason none of his marriages have worked is because he is gay, a fact he has a hard time acknowledging even to himself.  When his sister suggests that Vince find out by visiting a gay club in Chicago’s Boystown , he agrees and runs immediately into someone he knows, an encounter that will change both of their lives forever.

Trey Giles is leading a life that would cause anyone else to have a nervous breakdown.  Trey is working two jobs in order to finish school, take care of his grandmother, who he lives with and dealing with a mother who refuses to deal with her serious substance abuse problems.  Dating is the last thing on his mind until he runs into Vince at the bar.  Vince is clearly uncomfortable, from the crowd to the music and when Trey suggests a more quiet jazz bar so they can talk,  the night turns into something neither man expected.  They talk for hours, Trey agreeing to help  Vince become adjusted to the idea of his homosexuality but in truth Vince and Trey find a connection with each other so deep and instantaneous that it leaves them unsure of what step to take next.  Vince’s biggest fear is that he will lose his family if he comes out of his closet, but if he doesn’t acknowledge his homosexuality to himself and his family, Vince just might lose the best thing that has ever happened to him, Trey Giles.  What will this self proclaimed family man do?

Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton are two of my “must read” authors.  They never fail to produce a story that will warm your heart and leave you thinking about love in all its combinations.   In Family Man, the authors give us an older Italian American who has been so afraid of his own sexuality that he has married three times in the past, each with the same predictable result, divorce.  His huge Italian family is pressuring him to date and enter into yet another relationship with a woman and Vince finally realizes that something has to change.  At first Vince comes across as almost a stereotype and I had a problem connecting with the character.  Vince stubbornly refuses to see that being gay does not lessen him as a man and until he can rid himself of that notion he won’t be able to accept his “gayness”.  It takes some time to really see Vince as the complex character he really is and most of that is due to his inner dialogs with himself that almost makes the reader lose patience with him.

The story really takes off when Vince and Trey connect with each other.  The story switches pov back and forth between Trey and Vince and it works as we become involved emotionally in their burgeoning relationship.  Trey’s situation is especially disheartening and stressful.  Overworked, he is trying to provide for his grandmother and deal with his mother who is an alcoholic and drug addict.  Cullinan and Sexton realistically portray what it means to live with someone who refuses to deal with their addictions.  It is heartrending in its futility and the damage it inflicts on those closest to the addict and the addict themselves is authentic at every level.

Vince’s issues are also examined and given an equally respectful treatment.  His fears of losing his large, Italian Catholic family if he comes out as gay are pretty realistic, especially at his age.  Vince has spent close to forty years denying his true self and that is a tragedy.  It takes time for Vince to visit all the ramifications of his decision and then move forward with his relationship with Trey.  I actually found the second half of the book just flies by as events speed up in both Vince and Trey’s lives.  It was my favorite part of the book.

Family Man is a wonderfully sweet story of romance and love found when least expecting it.  Cullinan and Sexton make a marvelous team and I can’t wait to see what they will come up with next.  Pick this up and prepare to meet an Italian family that is hard to forget and two MCs you will grow to love.

Cover art is wonderful, I wish I knew who the artist was to give them credit for this delicious and spot on design.

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

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Rating:    4.75 stars

Paul Hammond’s girl friend has just left him after he moved to Tucker Springs to further her art career while he put his on hold.  Now he is left living in a rental house she picked out and a front yard full of her awful oversized metal sculptures.  Paul looks around him at a house he hates but has a 3 year lease he can barely afford, a job as a receptionist for a local vet, and a engagement ring he never gave to Stacy because she moved out before he could propose.  When a flyer for a neighborhood yard contest and a $500 prize is shoved in his mailbox, Paul decides to enter and use the money to pay his bills.  But how to get the money to buy the plants for the yard? And that’s when Paul remembers meeting El Rozal at his Pawn shop when Paul was buying a necklace for Stacy.  Armed with kitchen appliances he never wanted to buy in the first place, Paul heads off to El’s shop and changes his life forever.

El Rozel’s life is stuck in one gear, that of family and work.  El deals with family matters including a mother who hoards, he does laundry with his best friend at the Laundromat on Friday’s and the rest of the time is spent at his pawn shop.  El realizes he is stuck in a pattern but doesn’t know how to change it.  Then Paul Hammond, adorable, confused, freckle-faced Paul Hammond enters his shop and his world tilts on its axis.  He knows Paul is straight because he has listened to Paul when he was buying the necklace.  But that doesn’t seem to matter, everything about Paul draws El closer.  Paul is kind, naive, generous and easily hurt.  He is also incredibly sexy even if he doesn’t know it.  El wants him in his life in any way possible.

Paul wants to come first in someone’s life, to stop being everyone’s second choice.  El knows first hand that someone else’s seconds can be the treasure another has always  wanted and Paul is that one person El has been waiting for.  Now all he has to do is persuade the man to give him the chance to change both of their lives forever.

I loved this story.  Under the definition of warmhearted in the dictionary you will find the cover of this book and deservedly so.  Take two well-known authors whose books are beloved by many, throw in Sexton and Cullinan’s talent for giving us characters who are both quirky and  unusual and we have Second Hand, a novel of two men trying to deal with life’s disappointments and finding love in unexpected  places.  I read this book twice for the good feelings and happy thoughts it left me with after putting it down.  What’s even more remarkable is that  Second Hand is an effortless read considering all the themes involved in the plot.  Tucker Springs, Colorado acts as the location for the series and it’s the perfect choice as its richness of history, Light District, and other characteristics match up brilliantly with the characters living there.

And what charming, affecting characters they are.  Paul Hammond is that one who is oblivious to the way he affects others.  He has grown up feeling less successful than his siblings, his one girlfriend has just left him for someone who has achieved more materially, and he left college without  meeting his goal of being a veterinarian. But he doesn’t see what other people do when they look at him.  Someone who is kind, cute, tenderhearted, great with animals and people alike.  Some who happens to be absolutely adorable.  Paul is so likable, so genuine that you root for him to succeed from the very first page.  El Rozel is a wonderful complementary character for Paul Hammond.  El comes from a large family who   impacts his life on a daily basis, from his sisters and their kids, to his abuela and mother with their house so stuffed full of objects that just moving down the hallway is a challenge.

El Rozel jumped from the pages of Second Hand with a clarity few characters achieve with their first impressions.  As the smoke from his cigarette rises about him, so does his view of life and its disappointments hang around him like a cloud. El watches his sister ignore his advice as she jumps from one bad relationship to the next. And he’s awful when he tries to intervene with his mother Patty’s hoarding to little effect.  El wants things to change in the lives of those he loves but feels helpless when it comes to solutions. I love how the authors give us two men stymied by life and disappointments and makes them the catalyst for change in each other’s lives.  El starts helping Paul empty his life of meaningless objects that came along with his relationship with Stacy.  Paul starts giving El the power to see changes happening in someone’s life.  Paul gives El hope that change can happen and then gives him hope that love can happen for them both.    And all of this relationship movement, all of this building of self worth is carried out realistically, with nary a wrong touch to the process or misstep in characterization.

Sexton and Cullinan also deal delicately and with sensitivity when it comes to Paul’s feelings about his sexuality.  Paul had one disastrous gay encounter in his youth that causes him to put aside his attraction towards men and concentrate on women.  That is if you can call a one woman experience a change in sexuality.  It comes across, even to Paul, as more a convenient sexuality, one more acceptable to society, than Paul having a true bisexual nature.  If Paul had truly been bisexual, Stacy ‘s attraction for him would have gone beyond representing a “normal lifestyle” as she does for him to one of being physically drawn to Stacy which he is not.  Because the one person he is truly attracted to?  That would be El in every way.  El is the person he wants to spend time with, whose Cover conversations he enjoys and is the person Paul wants to take to bed.  But it takes time for Paul to realize all this and the authors give it to him and to us.  This is not a “gay for you” story but a slow acceptance of one’s true sexuality.  Paul has to have time to look at his past history and reexamine his actions before he can accept that he wants El as much as El wants him.  The authors handle Paul emotional growth in such a beautiful, realistic manner that I wanted to start handing out gold stars right then and there.

An equally serious issue addressed here is that of hoarding.  Hoarding is a disease that affects families everywhere.  Both authors show how hoarding is a disease that hurts those affected by it on so many levels, from the day to day reality of living with gargantuan clutter to the embarrassment of not wanting to have outsiders see the living conditions at home.  Sexton and Cullinan give us the  screaming arguments of the family stressed out by their efforts to deal with the hoarder and the pain of the person in the throes of the disease.  I cannot begin to give them enough credit for the sensitive manner in which they handled this problem within the story.  Again, it was just so beautifully done.

The Tucker Springs series is interesting in itself as it is being written by different authors.  The first in the series is Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs #1) by LA Witt, which I have not read.   There is an actual website for this series TuckerSprings.com.  Find it here.  There will be more books in the series and I for one can’t wait.  Pick up Second Hand and become acquainted with a town and characters you will not soon forget.  I know I will be going back to visit there often.

What a wonderful cover.  Perfection in every way.

Available from Riptide Publishsing, Amazon, and All Romance eBooks.

Great Saturday, Marvelous Sunday, Fall is Here! The Week Ahead in Reviews

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I had a great day yesterday.  Friends came over, a fellow blogger, and an author, both wonderful.  We had a time of it, discussing books, movies, Spartacus, you name it while drinking wine, gobbling up bread, cheese and crackers while the sun shown down!  Does it get any better than that?  I don’t think so.  Kirby loves visitors and was so excited to see them both, going from one to the other before roaming around looking for squirrels and bugs and things.  Winston and Willow are just happy to sit in the chair with me and chill.  And today?  Just beautiful, cool, sunny, the perfect football weather as they say.  Daughter and SIL off to the Redskins game and RGIII’s first home game.  I know, I know.  I swore off the Redskins but habits are hard to break!  So consider this a work in progress.

Three more bushes to go into the garden, Firelight Spirea.  The foliage changes color three times during the year.  In the spring, the leaves are a orange green changing to greenish yellow in the summer and then turning a lovely deep red in the fall, all that and beautiful pink blossoms that beacon to bees and butterflies for weeks while they are in bloom.  Sigh!  I love gardening and the discovery of new plants.  The windows are open, letting in the cool breezes to refresh the house air.  A ruby throated hummer just buzzed the window letting me know the feeders still need filling as there are still migrants making their way south and they shouldn’t be forgotten.

I am just finishing up the first in the Wolf’s Own series by Carole Cummings and loving it.  Look for the review at the end of the week.  I am starting the week off with a bang and a great book by Amy Lane.  Don’t miss out on this one.  As always so many books, so little time, but I am working on it.  Just a reminder, the first week in October is JL Langley week and I will be giving away a copy of My Regelence Rake to a lucky person who comments on the week which will include a interview with JL and recaps of all the SciFi Regency books to date.  So let’s get to it:

Monday:                               Sidecar by Amy Lane

Tuesday:                               Magic’s Muse by Anne Barwell

Wednesday:                        Gilbert by Bailey Bradford

Thursday:                            Wolf’s Own: Ghost by Carole Cummings

Friday:                                 Inferno by Scarlett Blackwell

Saturday:                             Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and  Marie Sexton

 

Have a wonderful week.  Get out and enjoy this weather!  Happy Fall All!