Review: It’s Complicated (Tucker Springs #7) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

ItsComplicated_500x750Brad Sweeney and Jeff Hayden, after much soul searching and separations, have finally decided to give their relationship another try. Now living apart, they have just had their first date on the path to a newer, more healthy future and things look promising. Then Jeff gets a call from his ex wife and business partner that will change everything. She says she’s pregnant and that Jeff is the father.  One late booze fueled hookup while Brad and Jeff were separated results in a pregnancy that threatens Brad and Jeff’s relationship on every level.

Brad has always feared that Jeff would leave him for a wife and kids and now his worst nightmare seems to be coming true.  Brad has never felt like a priority to Jeff because of the time Jeff spends on his business.  Now with a child on the way, what time will Jeff have left for him and their relationship?

For Jeff, his carefully created plans for getting back together with Brad are falling to pieces.  Even worse is the announcement from his ex wife that she will be leaving Tucker Springs and returning to Denver with their child.  If he wants to be a part of the baby’s life, and he does, he will have to somehow juggle her part of their business while traveling to Denver to see their child.  Or move everything to Denver, including himself.  Neither plan seems reasonable or  even possible if his and Brad’s reconciliation is to work.

Everything has gotten so complicated.  What happens when sometimes not even love is enough to hold a couple together?

It’s Complicated explores the decision that separated couple Brad Sweeney and Jeff Hayden, friends of Nathan, made at the end of After the Fall (Tucker Springs #6).  In After the Fall, Nathan listens to the problems Brad is having with his relationship with Jeff and it impacts Nathan’s rationale about the events occuring in his own romance.  It’s a secondary element but we gather that the constant fighting between Jeff and Brad has caused them to separate after years together.  By the end of the story, Jeff and Brad have decided that their love is deep enough that it merits one last effort to stay together and that’s where It’s Complicated starts.  And its also where it almost immediately starts to fall apart again.

This conflicted and deeply in love couple have just gone on their first date towards a new healthier relationship,  It went well even with both of them on their best behavior and ended up in bed at the end of the night. Jeff and Brad’s sex life has always been fantastic, its everywhere else in their relationship that the couple has problems.  Most readers, no matter  their current romantic status, can relate to this couple because they have been there or know people who have.  The stress, the communication problems, the prioritizing of time between business and family and above all the insecurities…these are issues that plague many a modern couple.  And from the caustic comments and arguing to the tentative steps back towards each other, L.A. Witt’s couple travels a realistic and well worn path.

Tucker Springs and its inhabitants have a way of growing on you as you travel through each of the Tucker Springs couples stories.  People pass in and out of each others lives much as you would do in any small town.  And whether or not they are germane to the story at hand, the reader absentmindedly takes note of who and what is trying to get together or who needs a new romance in their lives because we know they are sure to surface later on in the series. So I was prepared to meet up with Brad and Jeff to see what had happened since After the Fall and the answer is nothing less than a couple melting down under the pressure and stress of their lives and not knowing how climb out of their relationship rut.

Every bit of dialog, every painful argument and painful silence feels authentic.  L.A. Witt knows how to write relationships and real people in trouble.  It feels every inch as stressful and sad as a couple who you happen to be acquainted with would look if they weren’t going to make it.  You feel extraordinarily bad for them, wish you could help them in some way and you would hope for the best.  I just am not sure you would want to be there for the daily struggle, the disheartening conversations and the hair pulling when nothing else is working.  Only your affection for this couple will keep you reading through the mess they have made of their relationship and their own personal well being.

I do like that Jeff’s ex wife is not made out to be a cardboard villain here.  She has her excellent reasons for moving away from Tucker Springs and yes, she wants her family back together.  All reasonsible, all very realistic.  Jeff too is believably human.  He is being pulled in every direction by his obligations, his wants and desires as well as the people he loves.  Did I want to give him a shake every now and again? Sure, but you could relate to Jeff as he tries to balance things in his life too weighty to be neatly boxed up and compartmentalized.  It doesn’t work and he ends up paying for it.

And then there is Brad, everyone’s last priority, even for himself.  Brad has finally realized that he deserves more but what he wants is Brad, a conundrum to be sure given the current circumstances and overwhelming issues. Here is a character who cries out for your compassion and gets it. His is the character most people will relate to as he questions just how much he is going to endure to keep Jeff in his life.  He asks the toughest questions here. And Jeff’s answers to those are sometimes problematic, making Jeff a less than sympathetic character. The angst swirls mightily here as does the love.  But do you really want to be in the middle of it?  That’s a question each reader will have to ask for themselves because there is some truly heartbreaking aspects to this story.

What pulled it all together for me and made this a read to recommend?  In addition to the wonderful writing and characters? That would be the Epilogue.  L.A. Witt’s epilogue does what  every great epilogue should,  Pull together the final story elements and let the reader in on how it all turned out.  It is here that many of the satisfying and happy parts of Brad and Jeff’s relationship that I wanted to see earlier in the story are displayed.  Where all we had before was strain and unhappiness, now we get to see why they were so great together and what made them a couple worth saving.  And it was after reading the Epilogue that I could then go back and reread parts of the story with a new perspective that gave me a great appreciation for this couple and their story.  It made everything work and let me enjoy the re-coupling of two more of Tucker Springs uncoupled inhabitants.  Tucker Springs is a wonderful series and this story is just one more example why.

Cover art by LC Chase is gorgeous and pertinent for this story and series.

Book Details:

ebook, 196 pages
Expected publication: April 28th 2014 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN139781626491342
edition languageEnglish
url http://www.riptidepublishing.com/titles/its-complicated
seriesTucker Springs #7

Buy  ARe  Amazon Riptide Publishing

Here are the stories in the Tucker Springs series in the order they were written, and is recommended that they be read:

Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1) by L.A. Witt
Second Hand (Tucker Springs, #2) by Heidi Cullinan
Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3) by Heidi Cullinan
Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) by L.A. Witt
Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) by Marie Sexton
After The Fall (Tucker Springs #6) by L.A. Witt
It’s Complicated (Tucker Springs #7) by L.A. Witt

ScatteredThoughts Summary of Reviews for November 2013

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November banner

November really was such an extraordinary month for books.  It almost makes me giddy with joy. I can’t remember when I last had more 5 and 4 star  rated books as I have had this month.  And their genres and plots ran the spectrum, from contemporary fiction to what I might best describe as fantasy horror, making this truly a rainbow month of great books by outstanding authors.

There are quite a few books that are a part of a series and should best be read in order, while others are stand alone pieces of fiction, with one or two in between in that they are a part of a series but could be read by themselves. It’s all in the reviews which I have linked to each title.

The holidays are upon us and ebook gift cards are a wonderful way of sharing books with those we love.  Make a list, check it twice to make sure you have the titles listed below on yours:dried flowers for november
November 2013 Review Summary

*part of a series

5 Star Rating:

Corruption by Eden Winters*, contemporary
Encore by Shira Anthony*, contemporary
Lessons for Suspicious Minds by Charlie Cochrane*,historical
Shock & Awe by Abigail Roux*, contemporary
Sweet and Sour by Astrid Amara, contemporary
The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin*, horror, fantasy
Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft, fantasy

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:

After The Fall by L.A. Witt* (4 stars), contemporary
Bar None Anthology (4.5 stars) mix of contemporary, scifi
Close Quarter by Anna Zabo*(4.75 stars), supernatural
Family Texas by R.J. Scott*, (4.5 stars), contemporary
Good Boy by Anne Tenino*, (4.5 stars),contemporary
How I Met Your Father by LB Gregg (4.25 stars), contemporary
Illumination by Rowan Speedwell (4.5 stars), contemporary
Long the Mile by Ally Blue (4.25 stars), contemporary
The Retreat by BA Tortuga*, (4 stars), contemporary
The Stars that Tremble by Kate McMurray, (4 stars), contemporary

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:

Captive Magic by Angela Benedetti* (3.75 stars), paranormal
Hat Trick by Chelle Dugan (3 stars), contemporary
The Blight by Missouri Dalton (3.75 stars), fantasy

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:
N/A

Review: After the Fall (Tucker Springs #6) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

After The Fall coverNathan has pursued a dream of owning his own dressage horse and now after years of saving, Nathan has finally bought one.  His  Trakehner mare, Tsarina, is young but Nathan hopes to show her after they spend some time training together.  But all Nathan’s hopes and work of 15 years is shattered in one moment.  On Nathan and Tsarina’s first trail ride, a motorcyclist on the wrong trail causes a horrendous fall that breaks several of Nathan’s bones and sees him on his way to the hospital and Tsarina loose in the woods, his summer and hopes in ruins.

Ryan has always traveled where his wanderlust takes him with nary a thought of settling down in one place.  His current travels have brought him to Tucker Springs, Colorado on his way to Texas and a job for the winter.  But one wrong trail ride on his motorcycle changes his path after he causes a rider to fall after his horse shies when Ryan veers into their path.  The rider, Nathan, has  a broken leg, and a broken hand that resulted from a mean right hook after Nathan punched Ryan in his fury and pain.

Feeling guilty, Ryan offers to look after Tsarina while Nathan is incapacitated.  Before each man realizes it they have fallen into an easy friendship that soon turns into something more.  But each man has his own insecurities and issues to deal with that starts to throw up obstacles to love.  Can Ryan and Nathan put aside the past in order to make a future together?

After The Fall, Tucker Springs story#6, brings back a character, Nathan, that we first met in the very first Tucker Spring novel, Where Nerves End.  In that story, we come across Nathan as Michael’s young assistant in his shop Tucker Springs Acupuncture. He is introduced as a young, college age, nattily dressed gay man but we lacked a larger picture as to who Nathan was.  Now L.A. Witt fills in the portrait she started a while ago and we get to see his depth of character and his dreams for himself.  I found it startling that Nathan aspired to own a warmblood and show in dressage, a lovely quirk for a western  town where the style of riding is so different.  That is an unexpected and marvelous side of Nathan.  And by its inclusion, the author gives Nathan a layer that lets us know that he is a serious, disciplined and caring young man all at once.  Owning his own horse is a goal Nathan has spent “ten years of dreaming, three years of saving, and almost a full year of searching for the perfect horse”, so his happiness and anticipation on the first day he is going to get to ride his horse is palpable. And it makes what happens next scary and heartbreaking in vivid and authentic detail.

But the author has also given Nathan more than his share of past problems with men and those issues as well as watching his friends in the act of demolishing their own relationship has caused Nathan to pull away from any romantic relationships of his own at the moment.  As Nathan reasons it out for himself, he has a full life and schedule and a  romance would only add its unwanted complications at the moment.  I think we have all been there at one time or another and this makes Nathan a character we can certainly relate to.

The character of Ryan (no last name) is more of  an enigma.  We learn little of his past, some about his family and a smidgen about what prompted his tumbleweed lifestyle.   But frankly his personality is overshadowed by that of Nathan, who is telling the story.  That lack of fullness to his character leaves the resulting romance between the men lacking as well.  True, there is a sweetness to the manner in which they fall in love, a startling contrast to the way in which they first met.  I certainly enjoyed watching them become first friends and then lovers but it could have felt so much more real had Ryan been more fleshed out as a person and Nathan’s equal.

There were a few other quibbles for me in this story. One, for Ryan to learn how to push a dressage horse into a collected trot or canter using his seat with no training is a tad unrealistic, considering the amount of skill and training that goes into a dressage horse and it’s equestrian partner as well.  Yes, there are natural riders out there who just seem to “get it”.  They have a great leg and a natural seat that just sticks to the saddle, flowing along with the rhythm of their partner.  But Ryan doesn’t even know how to hold the reins in an English style, having learned the western method of riding which is completely different.   Beginners usually saw on the reins or pull too hard,   The subtle tickling of a braided rein, the slight tension required takes time, more time than Ryan had.  My other quibble is the lack of last names.  I don’t know why but this drives me crazy.  If you want us to believe in characters fully give them a complete name.  Unless they are Cher of course.  Stepping off my quibble box now.

For most readers the last two issues won’t be a problem with them.  It’s just nitpicking on my part.  But Ryan’s character and the swift resolution of their commitment issues might be more problematic.  I think another chapter or two would have seen the ending more drawn out and given the author more time to paint a more realized picture of a man who finally finds a place and person to call home.

I really enjoyed After The Fall and I think you will too, especially if you are already a fan of the Tucker Springs series.

Here are the stories in the  Tucker Springs series in the order they were written, and is recommended that they be read:

Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1) by L.A. Witt
Second Hand (Tucker Springs, #2) by Heidi Cullinan
Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3) by Heidi Cullinan
Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) by L.A. Witt
Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) by Marie Sexton
After The Fall (Tucker Springs #6) by L.A. Witt

Cover Art by L.C. Chase, lcchase.com/design.htm.  Love the cover but ack…that posture, those flying elbows…tuck those babies in.   Shakes head.

Book Details:

ebook, 202 pages
Published October 7th 2013 by Riptide Publishing

Scattered Thoughts May 2013 Book Reviews

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mayIt was a great month in book reviews.  While most of the book fell into the contemporary fiction category, there was a book in just about every genre.  One of my favorites this month was Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler, a science fiction gem of a story from Riptide Publishing. I have also found new authors like Sue Brown and her outstanding The Sky Is Dead.  Don’t pass either of these by. And if you loved Country Mouse by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov, then you won’t want to miss the followup novel, City Mouse (Country Mouse #2).  I thought it was even better than its predecessor.

There are stand alone stories and new books in continuing series. This includes one series (The Night Wars) that I will be reevaluating on the basis of the third book in the series, a real stunner called The Hellfire Legacy by Missouri Dalton.  This is a terrific book and I had not rated the second book very highly.  Now I am going back in June, reading all three together and write a  review of the series in June (and probably a mea culpa or two on my part as well).

The titles are linked to my reviews.  Really, there is something for everyone here.  Here are May 2013’s book reviews in order of rating:

5 Star Rating:

City Mouse (Country Mouse #2) by Amy Lane and Aleksandr Voinov (contemporary)
Fragile Bond by Rhi Etzweiler (Science Fiction)
The Sky Is Dead by Sue Brown (contemporary)

4 to 4.75 Star Rating:
Adapting Instincts (Instincts #4) by S.J. Frost
Bad Attitude (Bad in Baltimore #3) by K.A. Mitchell (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Bullheaded by Catt Ford (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Closet Capers Anthology (4.25 stars) mixture
Damned If You Do: The Complete Collection by J.L. Merrow
Leaving Home (Home #4) by TA Chase (4 stars)
Moments by R.J. Scott (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Never A Hero (a Tucker Springs novel) by Marie Sexton (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
Night of Ceremony (Notice #4) by M. Raiya (4.5 stars) (fantasy, romance)
Noah by Ben Ryder (4 stars) (contemporary)
Shy by John Inman (4.25 stars) (contemporary)
Still by Mary Calmes (4.75 stars) (contemporary)
The Hellfire Legacy (The Night Wars #3) by Missouri Dalton (4.5 stars) (supernatural)
The Isle of…Where? by Sue Brown (4.5 stars) (contemporary)
The Unforgiving Minute by Sarah Grainger (4.75 stars) (contemporary)

3 to 3.75 Star Rating:
Chateau D’Eternite by Ariel Tachna (3.75 stars) Fantasy
Fire Horse by Mickie B. Ashling (3.75 stars) (contemporary)
His Heart To Reap by Erin Lane (3 stars) (supernatural)
It Takes Practice by Willa Okati (3 stars) contemporary

2 to 2.75 Star Rating:

 

Never A Hero (Tucker Springs #5) by Marie Sexton

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Release Date is May 13, 2013 from Riptide Publishing.  Review reposted on May 14, 2013.

Rating: 4.5 star

Never A Hero coverOwen Meade watches from his window as the duplex next to him exchanges one renter for another looking at the men he sees carrying boxes and moving furniture.  Two are clearly a couple and the others are astonishing in their diverse physiology and tattoos.  And Owen wonders who they are and what they do, knowing the chances of finding out are slim as he never leaves his house.  Owen stutters, and years of  verbal abuse from his mother over his sexuality as well as his congenitally amputated arm have left him so traumatized socially that he confines himself to his rooms in his side of the duplex, rarely venturing out unless absolutely necessary.  Owen works at home and has his groceries delivered, making his hermit like lifestyle possible until his new neighbor changes everything.

Veterinarian Nick Reynolds moves into the downstairs duplex with his three dogs and immediately goes to meet his new neighbor. Friendly, outgoing and unflappable, Nick lets Owen know immediately that his arm doesn’t bother him as his sister has a congenitally amputated arm too. Introductions soon turn into friendship with Nick and his sister who pulls Owen into piano lessons for the both of them.  And always Owen senses that Nick is attracted to him, an attraction that Owen returns.  In fact, Owen thinks he just might be falling in love with Nick, but every time they get close physically, it is Nick who pulls away leaving Owen confused and hurt.

Nick is hiding a secret of his own and Owen must become his own hero, thwart his mother and Nick’s own fears, to save the day and his future with the man he has come to love.

What a lovely book!  Marie Sexton has provided us with many wonderful characters before but Nick Reynolds and Owen Meade are at the top of the crowd.  Owen has had a life time of parental abuse from his mother that has resulted in a stutter, lack of self confidence and a painful shyness about his truncated arm.  I have never met a character quite like Owen before . Marie Sexton has done a great job in bringing this man totally to life so that we get a glimpse of what it must feel like to be a person with disabilities, their apprehensions and difficulties in doing small things for themselves that others accomplish with ease.  The title comes from the fact that his mother refused to let him wear super hero costumes on Halloween because of his disability. And the author brings home to the reader the pain and unrelenting stress his mother’s abuse that Owen suffered from as a child and into adulthood. Owen’s endearing, easy to empathize with, and you feel angry on his behalf when his mother reenters the picture.

Nick Reynolds was also a surprise.  I never guessed at his secret and found myself as confounded as Owen was.  Here again, the author moves forward with knowledge and sensibility to defuse a delicate situation and handle this serious topic with needed sensitivity.  Plus Nick is a veterinarian, a favorite vocation of mine.  Gorgeous, caring, you just know he is the perfect match for Owen. He has his own flaws and is easy to relate to.  I loved him as well.

Another thing I have come to count on in a Marie Sexton story is the beautiful flow of her narrative.  Never dense, never jerky, the story moves forward so smoothly, so effortlessly that the chapters transition one into another without bringing the reader up short once.  She makes it look so easy that you forget how difficult it is to achieve.

As this is a Tucker Springs, Colorado book, other characters from previous stories make appearances to my total delight.  Really, I can’t get enough of this series, I hope you feel the same when you get started.   Never A Hero contains everything you need for a fabulous story, so don’t be surprised when you find yourself still awake at 2 am because you just can’t put this book down.  I wanted to don my Superman duds and head out to the Light district to find Nick and Owen, Seth, El and all the rest.  By now they feel like close friends.  So grab a few tissues, this book and curl up in anticipation as you start in on Never A Hero.  You don’t have to have read the other books in the group but it helps to identify the various characters who pop up in this story.

Tucker Springs Website

Here are the books in the order they were written:

Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1) by L.A. Witt

Second Hand (Tucker Springs, #2) by Marie Sexton

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3) by Heidi Cullinan

Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) by L.A. Witt

Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) by Marie Sexton

Review: Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs #1) by L.A. Witt

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Rating: 4.25 stars

Where Nerves End coverJason Davis lives in Tucker Springs, Colorado and has most of his life.  But right now Jason would love to be anywhere but in the situation he is in.  Jason’s romantic partner just up and left town with a rich sugar daddy, leaving Jason with a heavily mortgaged house and not much else.  Then Jason’s business partner dies, leaving his with a business in financial disarray, losing money faster than if he had just thrown it away.  With little left to pawn to keep himself, his house, and his business afloat,  Jason also suffers chronic pain from an accident he had.  How could things get any worse? When his best friend tells him about an acupuncturist who could help with his shoulder pains, Jason takes a chance and goes to see him with unexpected benefits far past getting rid of the pain in his shoulder.

Michael Whitman is a divorced dad and acupuncturist.  His new client turns out to be the best thing that has happened in quite a while.  Michael is in debt for school and overhead on his business so when Jason suggests that Michael and his son move into his guest rooms at a rent below what he is paying now, he accepts loving the fact that his son will have a yard to play in when he visits and he won’t be as stretched financially as he is now.

But it quickly appears there is a problem neither man anticipated.  Jason can’t stop thinking about Michael, gorgeous, half naked roommate Michael, who is apparently straight.  And Michael is acting strangely when Jason comes in from his dates.  Can it be that Michael isn’t as straight as everyone is telling him or even as straight as Michael himself says he is?

Where Nerves End is the first in the Tucker Springs series being written by several different authors and it is a  terrific introduction to the quirky town and its equally quirky denizens.  I liked the character of Jason especially.  LA Witt gives us a well rounded portrait of a man who might collapse at any second due to the immense stress and pressure he is operating under.  Every aspect of his life is in chaos, his romantic partner gone, leaving him in debt with a house and unpaid bills, his business, a gay nightclub, is equally in financial jeopardy, and his health is failing due to a prior accident that injured his shoulder.  Then his friend suggests acupuncture and Jason’s skepticism is one that was familiar to me as well before I had my first session.

L.A. Witt has done her homework with regard to acupuncture and how the treatment is handled along with giving the reader some of the knowledge that comes with it.  I enjoyed that aspect of this story along with the acupuncturist himself. Michael Whitman is a complicated man, one who has been deeply closeted for most of his life.  This is definitely not a gay for you story but one with a main character coming to grips with his sexuality later in life.  The author does a wonderful job letting us understand where Michael’s fears are coming from but still I felt more of Michael’s past history would have filled in the gaps that made his closet so deep for so long.

I think the only thing that kept me from giving this story a high rating was Michael’s reaction to the thought of a relationship with Jason and his seeming obviousness to the pain he is causing him.  Michael is at first overly sensitive to the flareups of pain in Jason’s shoulder but clueless as to what his actions are doing to the man romantically?  That was a bit of a harder sell. Plus most of the book deals with Jason, Jason’s situation and his chronic pain.  I would like to have seen an equal amount devoted to Michael, his past, and his son. But again, that is the only quibble I have here.  It does help that I loved Jason and Michael (and his son) so I glossed that over a bit.  There was one character, however, that pulled in my interest immediately and that was Seth, the tattoo artist who is best friends with both Michael and Jason.  It was his reaction to the pair that intrigued me and was never fully explained to my satisfaction.  I definitely wanted more Seth, and I hope a future Tucker Springs book will tell his story.  I have reviewed the other Tucker Springs books and there is another due out soon.  I can’t wait for Tucker Springs has become an addiction for me and with all the wonderful authors contributing to this series like Marie Sexton, and Heidi Cullinan,to go along with L.A. Witt, you won’t want to miss a page either.

Here is the Tucker Springs series as it is being written.  There is a website devoted to this series, so check out Tucker Springs. I have linked my reviews for books 2 and 3 below.
Where Nerves End (Tucker Springs, #1)
by L.A. Witt (Goodreads Author)

Second Hand (Tucker Springs, #2)
by Marie Sexton (Goodreads Author)

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs, #3)
by Heidi Cullinan (Goodreads Author)

Covet Thy Neighbor (Tucker Springs, #4) coming in March 25th, to be released by Riptide Publishing
by L.A. Witt (Goodreads Author)

Never a Hero (Tucker Springs, #5) coming May 13, 2013, to be released by Riptide Publishing
by Marie Sexton (Goodreads Author)

Dirty Laundry (Tucker Springs #3) by Heidi Cullinan

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Rating: 5 stars

Dirty LaundryEntomology grad student Adam Ellery is trying to get his clothes washed at the laundromat when drunken frat boys start to harass him.  Just as things start to escalate out of control, Adam is saved by a muscled mountain of a man who dispatches the frats after making them apologize to Adam.  His rescuer’s name is Denver Rogers, a bouncer at the local gay bar.  Every thing about Denver pushes Adam’s buttons and, unbelievably to Adam at least, his thanks turns into a sexual encounter the likes of which Adam has never experienced before.

Denver Rogers knows his physique ensures his bed is never empty and the bar is the perfect place to find players for his  games but something about Adam is  so different from his usual bedmates.  Denver can’t get Adam out of his mind, and starts to pursue the Entomology student with a passion for bugs and rough sex. But Denver comes with a background of abuse, self esteem issues, and no formal education.  Denver wonders what the brilliant Adam will think about a man who doesn’t even have a GED?

Adam is OCD, with a side of clinical anxiety  and just getting through the day takes all his strength and determination.  His only long term romance ended because of his mental illness as well as the fact that they did not mesh sexually.  But his encounter with Denver has fulfilled him and left him satiated and his mind quite for once. Denver is everything Adam could want but how will Denver feel when Adam tells him he has obsessive compulsive disorder? Will Denver be able to deal with Adam’s illness? Adam and Denver each have their share of dirty laundry in their closet. Will they be able to come clean so they can see a bright future together?

Cullinan had me at Sphingidae.  An author who gives me a main character who is an entomologist specializing in hawk moths, be still my heart, watch as this Park Naturalist swoons.  But that one thing shouldn’t surprise me as Cullinan continues to bring us characters so human, so realistically flawed and interesting in their emotional makeup that it is a wonder that I haven’t seen someone like Adam in her stories before now.

Tucker Springs is a town full of amazing people and Cullinan has just contributed two more town citizens so remarkable that I still stay up at night thinking about them.  Both are, as I said, beautifully realized human beings, with their flaws and emotional issues.  But Adam and Denver also have the ability to disarm the reader with their vulnerability and surprising decency.  First let’s talk about Adam whose OCD and clinical anxiety is something thousands face in their lives today.  Cullinan has made this mental illness accessible and understandable through the character of Adam.  As he fights his way through his demons at every step in his day, from the lab to just getting out of the house, we really start to comprehend just how overwhelming it must be to just try and stay a functioning human being, let alone one successfully getting through college.  Adam has heart, and bravery, and a need for kinky sex  in which he can give up control. Adam kept surprising me all through the story, love him.

Then Cullinan delivers Denver Rogers to Adam via the laundromat.  Denver Rogers has his own demons in his head (none I will list for you here) and a need for rough sex and to be the one in control.  Everything about Denver will surprise you as it does Adam.  He could have easily degenerated into a stock character, but that never comes close to happening here in Cullinan’s capable hands. Denver is a decent, multilayered human trying to work through his past and starts to think that he might just have a future with his “bug boy”.  I adored this man.

We must also talk about the characters sexuality because it is such a huge component of the story and their relationship.  This is not your vanilla sex but rough, consensual hot sex.  It is bdsm and D/s and both are absolutely necessary for the story and this couple.  While neither is something I normally read, here it makes total sense for the characters and that helps the reader who either is not familiar with bdsm or reads bdsm to not only accept it but enjoy it.  Adam and Denver need this part of their relationship.  It is an integral part of who they are and it satisfies a deep seated need for Adam to be submissive and for Denver to be the dom.  Not only that but it calms Adam’s OCD as nothing else has.  I won’t get into the explanations but needless to say, the author does the same exemplary job of bringing the reader into Adam’s head to help us understand his thoughts and feelings on this element as well as the others.  So, even if this type of sexuality is not something you normally enjoy, Cullinan helps you understand, if not outright accept and enjoy this as a mutually healthy expression of their love and outgrowth of their relationship.

Cullinan then to proceed to slowly build an engrossing, heartwarming love story between Adam and Denver, one complete with a step backward for every two they manage to go forward with.  Adam and Denver must over come one obstacle after another, ones both small and large, including each other.  By the time, their story is finished, as a reader you are so throughly invested in this couple’s lives that you don’t want it to be over.  Not by a long shot.  My hope is that we will see them in other Tucker Springs novels just as El and Paul did here.  I would also love to see more of Louisa, a trans character equally memorable and endearing.  I highly recommend this story and all of the Tucker Springs novels.  This is a town full of people you will never tire of visiting with and listening to their stories.  And while you are off to get the book, make sure and add Heidi Cullinan to your list of must have authors.  Really, she deserves to be there.   Sphingidae, indeed!

Cover art by LC Chase is perfection and works in every way for this story and overall appeal.

Here are the Tucker Springs novels in order they were written:

Where Nerves End by LA Witt (Tucker Springs #1)

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

Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Plus there is a website for Tucker Springs novels.  TuckerSprings.com

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

Standard

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.