Review: Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

Standard

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 Just What The Truth Is by C. Cardeno

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Ben Foreman has been in the closet for his entire life, settling for making his parents happy rather than living his own life.  In fact, for a while, Ben’s denial of his homosexuality and his efforts to comply/defend his parents values, that is cost him his best friend, Clark, and his younger out and proud gay brother, Noah who happens to be Clark’s partner.  So yes, his life was complications piled on top of lies, repeat, and the stress was getting to him.

Then Micah Trains, litigator extraordinaire, joins Ben’s firm and all Ben’s carefully built walls come crashing down around him.  Micah happens to be both gorgeous and gay and attracted to Ben.  Ben sees in Micah someone he wants to spend the rest of his life with, no matter what his brain is saying.  As one date leads to another, Ben keeps messing up the relationship until Micah breaks up with him.  Faced with Micah’s loss, Ben must finally choose who he is going to be and how he will live his life, by his parents standards or his.  It’s time Ben decides just what the truth is!

I loved this book!  C. Cardeno kept me frustrated with Ben, laughing with him and sometimes sobbing right along with him on his journey to self awareness and a life worth living in every respect.  C. Cardeno’s characterizations and spot on dialog were so wonderfully executed that the story zipped along and I was finishing the end before I knew it.  Ben is so messed up at the beginning that it would be easy to write him off  as a passive character who has not grown up enough to challenge his parents views and it shows how much he has lived in fear of their disapproval.  It is extremely helpful to the reader’s understanding and ability to empathize with Ben that the story is told from his POV. In fact is almost becomes imperative that we understand where Ben is coming from so we don’t give up on his character.  Just when we are getting a little too frustrated with Ben’s lack of progress with the decisions he needs to make, Ben’s is right there telling us in an aside that he is plenty frustrated with himself too.  While this literary ploy might be considered too “cutsey” in other stories, I find that it worked well here and helped to pull the reader into Ben’s mindset and emotional state.

And the other characters C. Cardeno created to assist/love Ben into making the life adjustments necessary to become a whole man happy with who he is?  They are just so real, so alive that they jumped off the pages at you.  Whether it is Noah, Ben’s sarcastic and embittered gay brother or Micah’s hysterical parents, especially his mother, they all come across as someone you have met in your life or heard about.  Each with their quirks, flaws, and many other human qualities front and center to be fully enjoyed and celebrated.  The scenes with Micah’s mother and sister alone had me spewing across the Kindle and searching for papertowels to clean up the mess.  I still giggle thinking about them. Priceless.  And then there is the very real emotional cost of repressing your true self for so much of your life that no one knows who you really are including yourself.

In fact C. Cardeno has laid out a beautifully realistic book of one’s man’s journey to a happy fulfilled life, and the pitfalls he encountered or put up himself that had to be overcome before he could achieve his goals.  As I said I loved this book and I think you will too. Don’t pass it up.

Cover art by Paul Richmond.  Lovely cover, perfect for the story.

Other Books in the Home Series. It is helpful to read them in order but not necessary to enjoy the books:

Home Again (Home Series #1)

He Completes Me (Home Series #2)

Where He Ends And I Begin (Home Series #3)

Love At First Sight (Home Series #4)

Just What The Truth Is (Home Series #5)