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: Dirty Deeds (Dirty Deeds #1) by S.E. Jakes

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Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 (should be 4.99 as it is so close to perfection)

DirtyDeeds_400x600British black op Cillian is deep undercover, his assignment so complicated, so twisted that not even Cillian is sure what the real purpose of his mission is.  Working for Special Branch 20 has meant doing whatever it takes to move his investigation forward.  It has also meant being totally out on his own without any support from his employers, alone for years.  Cillian has made a tenuous connection with the agent in the floor above him, Prophet Drews of EE, Ltd, for investigative purposes and a little pleasure too.  But now there is someone else on Cillian’s radar.  Someone who likes his sex rough and silent.  Cillian knows he should leave it at that.  But this new man is driving him wild and Cillian can’t seem to keep from pursuing him even though it might compromise his mission.

Former Navy Seal Mal is an operative for EE, Ltd.  Wanted in several states and countries, Mal is also considered crazy and dangerous by most of the people he works with. He is also a friend of Prophet’s.  His current assignment?  Tracking Cillian to try and find out exactly what and who the British agent is after.   But the mission has already turned personal for both Mal and Cillian through intimate encounters that should have stayed anonymous.  Soon the dangers are mounting as well as the body count.  But neither man is prepared for the  pain and betrayal yet to come when a devastating secret is exposed.

How can just 94 pages be so explosive?  The emotions and events of this story just seem to erupt like a geyser that has been building up pressure until it cannot be contained.  That’s what the men are like that SE Jakes has created for her Dirty Deeds story and series.  Mal and Cillian are titanium tough loners, made that way through their tortured pasts that include abuse and death, seasoned through brutal training as well as a variety of missions both successful and failed until it has all solidified into the dangerous, intelligent men they are today.

SE Jakes brings her characters vividly to life through descriptions and events guaranteed to have you hanging on by your fingernails.  Both Cillian and Mal have made appearances before in the Hell or High Water series, especially Cillian as he occupied the condo below Prophet Drews, an EE operative.  Now these men are the focus of their own action-packed, suspense-filled storyline,the characters who teased us unmercifully in the previous books are fleshed out with convoluted histories and traumatic events that are still only hinted at.  Mal and Cillian are playing with each other psychologically as well as electronically, each jockeying for the upper position in their investigations and surveillance of each other.  That each man’s methods include a playbook made up of mental games and sexual ones just serves to deepen a portrait of complicated men so sure of themselves and their methodology that they can risk their bodies without question.  It also includes some of the most combustible sex written. I’m talking incendiary hot, so hot and explosive that it starts to melt away the formidable walls each man has erected around their hearts and souls.

Mal and Cillian are men who have killed, perhaps tortured, schemed to reach their many goals.  And its to the author’s credit, that we care immensely for these men as we watch them teeter on the brink of a relationship with each other, against all odds and their own proclivities.  Because as hardened as these men are, deep underneath they still retain the ability to be hurt by the right person and events from their pasts.

Jakes keeps us and her characters guessing at every step in the storyline.  We are never sure who are the bad guys or when they will pop up to deliver a death blow and derail an investigation.  The phrase “pins and needles” was surely meant to be used in reference to the Dirty Deeds men and their stories.  There are so many twists here I stopped counting halfway through the story.  There are twists in their missions, surprises in their backgrounds, mind blowing revelations and one huge whopper of an ending that I never saw coming.  God, I love books like this.

Jakes keeps her narrative flowing rapidly along, like a river about to rise out of its banks at flood time.  It pulls in everything around it, sweeping it along a merciless path.  You are transfixed by the scene in front of you,unable to look away.  It’s dramatic, its mind boggling and its hold on you is magnetic.  Most of you will want to howl at the ending.  So howl away.  What a revelation! What a great way to end this story!  Only a small lack of context kept this from a perfect five but oh how close it came.  Pick it up and run to the nearest place and start reading.  Make sure you are comfortable because you will be there a while.  Consider this story,Dirty Deeds, and its connected series, Hell or High Water, highly recommended.

Cover art by LC Chase.  Once again the artist has created a cover that is perfect for the story and its characters.  Just terrific.

Book Details:

ebook, 94 pages
Published January 13th 2014 by Riptide Publishing (first published January 11th 2014)
ISBN13 9781626490932
edition language English