BLOG TOUR STOP: Tough Love by Heidi Cullinan and Spanish Garnache/Cabernet Blend

ToughLove72lgHeidi Cullinan knows her kink, that’s an established fact. She also knows how to take her readers to places we never thought we’d go. And not only do we do so with interest, but we move through her stories with a intense sense of familiarity. Her characters are people we know, people we care for. They are vulnerable, broken, resilient, unapologetic, but mostly…MOSTLY they want and DESERVE what we all do, good love. So yeah this one, Steve and Chenco’s story it took me far beyond places I thought I’d be comfortable in, there was a lot of intensity in this one. Theirs was a complex story and with its fair share of ANGST, in ALL CAPS. This third novel in the Special Delivery series, brought me back to that gang of guys we’ve known and loved…Sam, Mitch, Randy and Ethan. These boys are notorious in the M/M universe, and in this story we get to know them all a little more. They join forces to push two more of their little family to arrive at their unlikely happy ending.

So for this book, I just could not think of a single thing to cook…My appetite might have been suppressed at some points do the intensity of some of the scenes. However drinking was DEFINITELY part of the program. This time I selected an unusual wine for me, its a Tempranillo/Cabernet Sauvignon blend from a Spanish winery. I don’t normally go for blends and when  I do, it usually is not one with two grapes that I don’t associate in their flavors. Two things that should not go together so to speak…The 2011 Pata Negra was definitely a nice surprise. It’s a beautiful ruby red color, with lovely aroma and a lightness that is usually not in a glass of Tempranillo, but also with a boldness and a lingering taste that I don’t associate with a Cabernet. It’s a lovely mix of flavor, like Steve and Chenco, not two I would have put together on sight, but that once blended make for a  lovely pairing. For about $9.00 a bottle, also a very affordable and delicious choice.

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So like I was saying…We reconnect with the SD guys a few years after Sam and Mitch, and Randy and Ethan found true love. This time we are in Southern Texas and Chenco, Mitch’s younger and long lost little brother is at the center of the story. Chenco and Mitch had the same father, but never knew much about each other. The old man was an evil bastard and who tried to destroy his sons. Chenco has not had many people in his life to support him, once his mom found about his secret she turned him away from her life, and he’s been fighting the world tooth and nail to be true to himself. Caramella his alter ego, and drag queen extraordinaire is the side of Chenco were he can purge all the fierceness within him, all that fire he had to keep beneath near the surface to not attract the wrong kind of attention.

We meet Chenco at the lowest time of his life, his father has died and when his lawyer informs him that the old bastard had left his trailer home, the only place Chenco had, to the KKK. The FUCKING Ku Klux Klan. Chenco could almost not believe it. Chenco was furious and desperate. What would he do now? While despairing outside the lawyer’s officethis leather daddy with a face that could make any tough guy shake in his boots came to Chenco’s aid. The guy’s outer roughness translated into incredible gentleness. He made Chenco feel immediately protected and cherished. He’s never had that, never felt like he was the most precious thing in the world to someone else. But Steve in just a few minutes made Chenco feel like he could finally put some of his load on someone else to carry. That good feeling didn’t last very long. Chenco soon found out that Steve was his brother’s friend. The brother his father warned him hated him more than anyone for being gay. The brother who was apparently back in town, and that could only make things suck worse. It figured that the one time he had ever felt like he was completely safe with someone, it had all been a lie. Or was it?

It turned out it wasn’t.  Steve Vance was a friend of Mitch, and he was a good man too. A man with a sad past that he could not walk away from. Steve laid eyes on Chenco, and so many things fell into place all at once. Things that had been up in the air, and foreign to him for so long just made sense. He wanted Chenco with a yearning that he could barely control. But he could not have him, he couldn’t taint all that beauty and youth with his own life…There was too much that was a mess in Steve’s world. Too much that he would never allow to come close to that fragile beauty that was Chenco. But Chenco was not taking no for answer, once he saw the man Steve really was, he wanted him too. Caramella and Chenco both wanted the sense of safety and protection Steve provided. Steve couldn’t see past his failures to realize that Chenco was strong enough to stand by his side, that age, or darker desires would not scare him off. He wanted EVERY part of Steve, he NEEDED them too. But Steve would not give in, by trying to keep Chenco away he would end cheating them both out of happiness.

This book had kink in it that really pushed my comfort levels, but I am going to say this, if you focus too much on that part of the story you will cheat yourself out of a very good book. I admit that I had to re-read it and purposely see the heavier kink for what it was, something that Steve and Chenco needed to give each other that made THEIR relationship deeper and better. My ability to feel comfortable with what they did in their intimacy, really had no bearing on the fact that they  were good men, who fought hard for their happy ending. A happy ending  that when it did finally arrive, it not only felt honest, but it felt VICTORIOUS.

Chenco was  a wonderful character and his alter ego Caramella was nothing short of  fabulous. I really commend Heidi for going very deeply into Chenco’s perception of himself when he was in drag, and giving Caramella a voice too. For those of us who know men who do drag, we understand it is not a transformation that only happens on the surface, it is something that comes very much from within. I loved seeing Caramella in action. Something else I loved was how much Chenco expressed where his boundaries in terms of where he would go in a scene with Steve. How he voiced the fact that for some things he was ready, and for others he just wasn’t. These things don’t just happen, when someones has an “extreme” kink, even when their partner is interested and willing to go there with them, it takes time. To get comfortable, to understand why they need it. I liked that they took their time. For the most part,  as always Heidi handled herself respectfully and cautiously in areas that for a lesser author could have gone terribly wrong. There WERE certain parts of the book that frustrated me a bit. Mostly Steve’s relationship with his childhood best friend, it tried my patience, but Chenco felt the same way and was VERY vocal about it, which helped!

For the most part this book had all the elements that I associate with this series. Good men with complicated lives and desires trying to make a life that makes them happy. Strong and loyal friendships, dirty dirrrrrty sex and all sorts of shenanigans at the hands of the one and only Randy. Good book, recommend it to any fan of the series.

Tough Love will be out on Samhain Publishing on April 8th, you can pre-order here.

I hope you enjoy the read and the wine!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Gay Athletes: My Favorite Sports Themed Romances

The sports world in this country has been shaken up quite a bit recently. Michael Sam one of the NCAA top football players came out as a gay man, just months before the NFL draft (where he is expected to be a top pick). Also recently Jason Collins a veteran NBA player, who came out a few months ago, signed a contract with the Brooklyn Nets making him the first openly gay athlete to play in an American professional sport. These news are heartening, because despite some nasty responses (from all the usual haters) I think both men have received  great support. It is an interesting time we are living in.

Last week a bill that would essentially have given Arizona businesses a license to discriminate against LGBT people was vetoed by the governor. I think that veto was in a large part due to the incredible amount of public outrage that followed it passing the house. It is sad to think that something so hateful would make it as far as it did, but at the same time, it is encouraging to see that people would not take it sitting down. It will be interesting to see if the testosterone fueled world that is American professional sports can evolve with the times.

Professional sports are an insular world, we see these men that look like gods, that have such power, these amazing specimens of maleness and masculinity playing these sports. We root for them, live and die with their wins and losses…Their victories feel like our victories and yet we don’t know WHO they are. Who they love, who nurses their wounds when they take a beating, who helps them celebrate their moments of glory.

As a sports fan I’ve always been fascinated with what these men’s lives are in private could be like. Are they gentle, passionate, intense, aloof? Who knows right? But we can still get a glimpse of it in the fiction world. When I was thinking of what I should come up with for this week I thought, ATHLETES! I have quite a few favorite novels that feature sportsmen,  as one or both heroes in the story. I thought that would be a fun list for today.

locker room

Clearly my #1 was going to be The Locker Room by Amy Lane, I don’t even think it’s possible for me to make a favorites list that doesn’t include a book from hers at this point. Isn’t it a law somewhere? All Favorites List MUST include an Amy Lane title…Or is that just the voices in my head? So, yeah Xander and Chris the most lovely of all my lovelies. The princes of my Boy Love Kingdom. If you have not read this book you absolutely must, not only is it Amy Lane at her best, but the basketball court scenes are outstanding. Wonderfulness all around. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

out in the field

Out in the Field by Kate McMurray is probably the one book I’ve read in this genre that could have been tailor made for me. I’ve said this before, but from the moment I started reading M/M, I REALLY wanted a book with MLB players, particularly if one of the heroes was a Dominican. I am a huge baseball fan and being Dominican, this book was just literally my DREAM premise. What’s even better is that I LOVED it. Every page, it was above and beyond all my expectations. Iggy and Matt are two of my favorite couples, and read after read that feeling just gets more solid. If you want to read an incredibly realistic and encouraging story about coming out and living in and retiring from a life in sports, this one IS IT. For my original Goodreads review click here.

heart in hand

Heart in Hand is essentially fan fiction, the main characters are Sidney Crosby and Alec Ovechkin who are both professional hockey players. The author ships them in this story which is worthy of ANY publishing house. These two guys were epic. Ovie, man that dude made me cry like a beeyotch. This book had it all in terms of what I look for in stories with athletes, an incredibly respectful and reverent tone about the seriousness and what it takes to become a successful professional athlete, wonderful action moments and some epic highs and lows. There were mighty moments in this book, how people responded to these guys and their story…EPIC. If you have not given this one a try DO IT. You will not regret it. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

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WINE BREAK!!!!!!!

The wine for this post is a DEELISH and super affordable New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  The 2013 Monkey Bay Sav Blanc is a slam dunk! Not only is it super affordable, $8.99 a bottle it is crisp, citrusy and delicious without any bite at the end. I’ve gone back for this wine a few times since I first tried it, and it will surely be a regular this summer.

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dance with me

Dance with Me by Heidi Cullinan also made it to this list, because it’s awesome.  And because it showcases two men doing ballroom dancing, which if not a traditional sport it is incredibly athletic. Ed and Laurie are incredibly endearing. They are also very strong willed characters. Ed is dealing with life after an injury that ended his ability to play football, which he loved, and Laurie has quietly been licking his wounds after being utterly rejected for trying to challenge tradition in Ballroom dancing. They come together to dance, and it heals them both. Lovely story. For my original Goodreads review, click here.

steamroller

Steamroller by Mary Calmes…Ahhhh that sweet Mary crack that only she can provide. This story has college age heroes, one a cynical little shit who EVERYONE loves and the College Football Star that comes after him with unfettering focus. I love this story, in many ways sports are not at the forefront, but the CULTURE of collegiate sports is highlighted in an interesting perspective. The star who wants to be free of  the burden all the adoration and pressure to be the best represents, and on the other side of the coin the cynical boy that has formed an unfair opinion of who a jock is or can be. So yeah, I liked this one, and it served up all the good stuff we love in Ms. Calmes’ stories. I’ve gona back for MANY a re-read

BONUS PICK: Love of Sports Series by TA Chase

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This series is an oldie, but a goodie. I read it a really long time ago, like thousands of books ago, but I still really like it. The first story has professional basketball star as one of the heroes and the second a NASCAR driver. The writing is a bit on the sweet side, but I liked the characters and enjoyed the romance as well. These are good for a light, fluffy read!

Hope the list is useful in finding some new books to read! I love all these stories, and hope some of them become part of your favorites shelves!

Cheers and Happy Reading!

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Let It Snow Blog Tour Stop: Heidi and I Prepared a Lovely Holiday Recipe…Vegan Pot Pies!

let it snowHello All! Today I have a super special post for you guys! As part of the blog tour for her new Christmas story Heidi offered to make a holiday recipe with me.  Yep, the lovely Ms. Heidi Cullinan, Gay Romance Author Extraordinaire, and fellow Vegan Life enthusiast and I made some delicious pies for her snowed in bears and her Goldilocks. If you guys read my review yesterday, you already know that I LOVED this story, AND that most of it happens while the main characters are stuck in a cabin during a snowstorm…What better food comfort food for a snow filled day than hearty, yummy pot pies?

Heidi was kind enough to look for the recipe herself, and found a delicious Vegan and Gluten Free recipe for Veggie Pot Pies at the Fork & Beans food blog. She and I agreed on a time and day to do some baking and made our pies. Below is the recipe that we used, I also included a few suggestions from both Heidi and I on the recipe as well as photos of the cooking process and a few of some of us eating our pies.

Vegetable Pot Pie “Cupcakes” Recipe

Makes 12 mini or 4 full-sized ramekin pot pies

INGREDIENTS

For the pie crust:

  • 1 c. superfine brown rice flour
  • 1 c. sorghum flour
  • 1/2 c. arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 c. potato starch
  • OR use 3 c. regular flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2/3 c. shortening
  • 2/3 c. ice water

DIRECTIONS

  1. Combine flours, salt and baking powder in a large bowl until mixed thoroughly.
  2. Add shortening and stir until it is mixed into flour. You might need to get those fingers dirty and mix with your hands.
  3. Add the ice water in 1/3 c. at a time. You want it to just combine into the dough in order to make it stick together.
  4. Form into a ball. Divide into 4 balls. Flatten, cover and chill while you prepare the filling.

Heidi and I made these for our families on Monday night, we had a remote baking date from Iowa to Upstate New York.  We had a great time , we did photos updates and  there was a lot of commentary from the parties involved. In the end our fams LOVED the pot pies, even our kids gobbled them up!

Now this recipe is a bit tricky, because it is a gluten free dough. It needs a lot of attention to the proportions and preparation details, because it can get really dry easily, and then it gets SUPER crumbly. Heidi has some really great tips, and pics to show how she got hers to cooperate.  Here is what she did for the dough:

Dough ready to knead. Pic from Heidi.

Dough ready to knead. Pic from Heidi.

Okay, so, first off, I had the dough. I sifted it all together, and added my shortening, and my water… and THIS is with an extra 1/3 cup. I added another 1/3 after that.
Dough divided into balls. Pic from HC.

Dough divided into balls. Pic from HC.

Eventually I wrangled it into the balls, and here they are, ready to chill out in the fridge.

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Troublesome dough.

I rolled out the dough. Or, tried to.
 
DUDE. This was crumb city. Even if I could get it into a kind of circle to transfer over, this is what it did when I tried to put it into the pan. Eventually I just hacked off what seemed to be the right amount, folded it in, and pushed it into place.
Cute little cupcakes ready for the oven. Pic from Heidi.

Cute little cupcakes ready for the oven. Pic from Heidi.

Eventually I just hacked off what seemed to be the right amount, folded it in, and pushed it into place.
 
I did have better luck with the tops. I had probably three tops-worth leftover, so I worry them will be a bit thin. Here they are, ready to go in the oven. I dusted them with grape seed oil, though, because I am almost out of olive.

Eventually the dough did cooperate and Heidi got them to behave in their pans, thoughts of getting Frankie to kibosh the gluten idea apparently were considered, but in the end the lady prevailed!

 

For the filling:

  • 2 c. vegetable broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 2 Tbs Earth Balance margarine
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 c. gf flour (you can just use brown rice flour)
  • 1/4 c. non-dairy milk
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 c. frozen peas
  • 1/2 c. frozen corn
  • 1 can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained

DIRECTIONS

  1. First, allow the bay leaf to infuse into the vegetable broth by simmering the 2 together in a small saucepan.
  2. Saute your onions in the butter. Allow to sit for a good 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add paprika, thyme and flour into the onions. Stir until well mixed. Cook for 5 minutes. Add milk.
  4. Take the vegetable broth (bay leaf discarded) and add into the onions mix; along with the remainder of the ingredients (carrots, peas and beans).  Bring to a boil and then simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  6. Roll out the dough in individual pieces by using wax paper on each side. It might help to use a 3″ cookie cutter to cut out dough and *gently* place into a greased muffin tin. If the dough rips (it probably will), do not freak out. Using your fingers, gently push it back together.
  7. Place the filling into muffin tins up to the top. Place a piece of the dough on top and gently seal the edges together by pinching it with your fingers.
  8. Take a knife and place a few slits through the top. Brush with olive oil and bake for 25 minutes or until top has browned.

Curried Pie Filling.

I got pretty lucky with the dough, and it was pretty easy to handle. For the filling I made a few adjustments, which I thought  worked out really well.  First, I doubled the amount of paprika, and added two tablespoons of sweet curry powder (I used Penzeys Spices Curry) to the onions, while I was sauteing them. The curry taste gave the filling a real nice flavor.

Happy Little Pies.

Happy Little Pies.

 I had some filling, left over that I think would go great with some white rice, maybe with a some steamed tofu chunks perhaps. Second, I added a tablespoon of cornstarch at the end, because I felt it was too thin.

Chow Time!

Chow Time!

The Pot Pie making was a huge success…I wrote Heidi to tell her my family loved them and by the time it was all said and done, my husband wolfed down four of them and my munchkin was a happy camper…On Heidi’s Homestead the results were…“They turned out great here too! Worried how they’d come out of the pan, but with a mini and regular rubber spatula, they were a breeze. (Probably also helped that I liberally used shortening in the pan.) Held together well enough we could actually eat them like cupcakes. They didn’t want to brown, which was odd, but they sure tasted great. Even Anna liked them, which was kind of amazing”.

Well that’s all for me today folks! Thanks to Heidi for the recipe, the photos, the baking tips and the fun times. I hope we can cook together soon! I leave you with some of the photos of us enjoying the fruits of our labors.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Laura

Heidi's Baby Girl with her pie! She looks happy!  :)

Heidi’s Baby Girl with her pie! 🙂 

Dan loved the pies...Word on the street, is that he got stuck with dirty dish duty...

Dan loved the pies…Word on the street, is that he got stuck with dirty dish duty…

That crazy look in my eye just means...I LOVE PIE!

That crazy look in my eye just means…I LOVE PIE!

Early Review: Let Is Snow by Heidi Cullinan a Lovely Green Salad with Strawberry, Avocado and Poppy Seed Vinaigrette and a bold red.

let it snowI’m just going to put it out there, the burly bearish older man with an effeminate flamboyant younger man trope works on me LIKE A CHARM. I love the dynamics that can come from this type of love story. The older, more jaded man, finally finding someone that deserves his devotion, someone who brings out in him all the tenderness he’s forgotten he has to give. And then that younger man finding someone who cherishes him JUST THE WAY HE IS…That makes all those things that everyone branded as wrong in him, exactly the things that make him even more precious to his lover. THAT place, the place of acceptance, of seeing in the person you love that vulnerability and treasuring it, making that very “weakness” the place of strength where to grow your love, THAT place is where Heidi Cullinan brings it like no other author for me in this genre. This story charmed me. How could it not, with that cozy little cabin in the woods, and the three cranky bears who end up with a very reluctant Goldilocks?!

For the food this book is getting two posts. This first one with my review, has the  wine pairing and a recipe for a lovely salad which will serve as a yummy side to an AWESOME recipe for Vegan and Gluten Free Pot Pies, which will be up tomorrow as part of Heidi’s Blog Tour. For the wine, I chose a  the 2011 Flaco Tempranillo   from Spain.  You will NEVER pay more than $8.00 for a bottle of this wine, it’s tasty and rich every time. It’s got a little vanilla, a little spice, and a little pepper, which means it’s always good for the table. When in doubt, go with a Tempranillo. So, Tempranillo and a Greens, Avocado and Strawberry Salad with a Poppy Seed Vinaigrette (this I made special for Frankie) is the food and wine today. Now back to the story.

flacoLike I mentioned this book has three bears, and this story  is all about the Papa Bear and his Golden boy. Marcus was a high powered lawyer in Minneapolis, but a failed relationship and disillusionment with his fast paced, ambition driven career made him give it all up. Now’s he’s back living  in Logan, Minnesota where he grew up, staying in a cabin with his two best friends, Paul and Arthur. Frankie is a young man working as a hairdresser in the Twin Cities, things are not terrible, but they are not great either, and on his way back home from Thanksgiving at his parent’s place, he drives his car into a snow bank in the middle of an ice storm, and ends up stuck in the middle of nowhere town of Logan, Minnesota.

Poor Frankie leaves his car behind, and starts walking until he ends up in a cabin, where he has no choice but to hunker down until the storm passes. He’s a little trepidatious, his earlier stop in a local cafe kind of scared  him. The men in this town seemed a bit menacing. But he goes into the cabin anyway he doesn’t really have a choice….Just so happens the cabin is inhabited by three very bearish bears *whimpers*, actually the same guys from the cafe. And at least one of them is looking at Frankie like he’d love to eat him up as a midnight snack…Things could get interesting…

What I loved about this story was that both Marcus and Frankie had so much baggage, but they still were able to give into that gut feeling that hey had found something special. They both were scared of getting hurt, Marcus of getting his heart broken again, and Frankie of all the ways people could hurt him for being who he was. Marcus scared Frankie, he seemed like the kind of man who carried chip on his shoulder for having to be put in the same category as guys like Frankie. Frankie scared Marcus, because he reminded him of all the things he wanted, but knew he could not have. They started a stand off. Marcus was growly, but sort of protective and cared for Frankie’s needs as much as possible. That just made Frankie confused, Marcus seemed to hate him, yet he went out of his way to make sure he was faring in the crowded cabin.

Frankie simply was HOT for Marcus, and sharing that small pull out couch was not helping matters, specially with the free BDSM porn audio show they got every night from Arthur and Paul up in the loft. Marcus on his side of the bed not faring any better…They just could not communicate, Marcus refused to talk, and it was driving Frankie CRAZY!!! Until he finally lost it and made Marcus come out with how he really felt…Things got sexy pretty quickly after that, their connection grew strong and intense. They had something special, something REAL. However there was actual REALITY, Frankie couldn’t live in a small town where he would have to live with slurs and hatefulness, and Marcus could not face life in a big city. There was nothing to do but take advantage of the time they had together during the storm…After that they had to say goodbye.

salad and let it snow

Total Holiday Comfort

One of the things I liked the most about this story was how it embraced that reckless optimism we feel around the holidays, the sense that we can really get our very best wish to come true…That we can make a difference in small ways, and big  ways and that those things that we never would dare to hope can actually be within our grasp.

I loved Frankie and his fabulosity sweeping through the elderly of Logan one awesome hairdo at a time. Loved how the town banded together to help those who were hit worst during the storm, and loved how just by being who they were Marcus and Frankie made each other strong enough to reach for their happy ending.

Heartwarming and delightful…And of course very very sexy.

I’m very much looking forward to more Minnesota Snow Stories.

Let is Snow will be released November 26th, from Samhain Publishing, and is available for pre-order here.

Now here is the recipe…Fast, easy, and yummy!

Sweet, tart, creamy and delicious.

Sweet, tart, creamy and delicious.

Greens, Strawberry and Avocado Salad with a Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

1 cup of romaine lettuce chopped

2 cups of mixed greens

1 cup of sliced fresh strawberries

1 avocado sliced

For Vanaigrette:

1/2 tablespoon of poppy seed

1/2 tablespoon of agave nectar

1 teaspoon of dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon no-salt salad seasoning (I used Penzey’s Spices Greek Seasoning, but Mrs. Dash or something similar works too)

3 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Mix greens, avocado and strawberries in a large bowl (if you are not vegan 1/3 of a cup of feta cheese goes nicely in this salad). Separately in a small plastic container with a good sealable lid put all the vinaigrette ingredients, with oil going last. Close the lid, shake vigorously until well blended. Taste and then pour onto the salad and toss until everything is well coated with the dressing.

Hope you enjoy the book, and yummy salad!

Come back tomorrow to read about Heidi and my pot pie baking date, for the recipe and some lovely pics of us eating pie!

Cheers and happy reading!

Laura

Love Lessons Blog Tour: Author Interview with the Lovely Heidi Cullinan

LoveLessons72lgFirst of all I’d like to thank you for stopping by for a visit. I have immensely enjoyed every one of your books from the first one I read, Special Delivery, all the way to this new story.

TB: Writing young men is not new for you, but the college boys theme is, you’ve mentioned before a particularly special connection to this book. Can you tell us about your inspiration in shaping Kelly and Walter’s character?

HC: Thank you for having me, and for saying such kind things about my work.

Mostly this novel got started because I was reading a number of college-set sweeter romances and I wanted to play along. I had this idea Love Lessons would be 50-60k, sugar-sweet and simple and take me a few months to write. It took me six, I routed about thirty demons from my college years, and at one point I had a three foot-stack of philosophy books on my reading stand and twice as many on my kindle. So the sweet and simple thing didn’t work out quite so well. The other irony is I intended it to be a series initially, but it became a stand alone…and now it’s a series again.

Kelly and Walter started out as a rake/ingenue dichotomy, a pretty standard trope. It didn’t take long for them to do the character equivalent of, “No, listen to me,” and they ended up tangling themselves, switching roles, and in general making a mess. As soon as I took my expectations and rigid schedule out of the way, though, everything lined right up.

TB: There is a wonderful dichotomy with these boys, one is enamored with the idea of the perfect happy ending, and one is completely jaded on love. This is a classic theme in romance, but you always manage to make those “issues” the thing that makes your men unique and special.Broken characters are your niche. Can you talk about where you go to make your characters so triumphant in their “weaknesses”?

HC: Lord. You make it sound so good, but I have to admit, mostly I go to myself. Walter is so me it’s not funny…but so is Kelly. Walter’s front of snark and “I don’t need anyone” with an aching neediness underneath, Kelly’s naiveté and burning optimism. Sometimes I put myself or my issues directly into my books: Ed’s chronic pain came from a football injury, but it was part and parcel my struggle. Laurie’s disillusionment and frustration I know well, as well as his reticence. Walter’s struggles are all mine, from the parents to the professor. The actual facts are very different in a few instances, but the emotions and loss and sense of being alone were entirely what I experienced. The ones that didn’t make it into Love Lessons have ended up in its sequel.

Probably worth noting is each one of my books has been written through physical or emotional pain or both. Sometimes I challenge myself to process something through fiction, sometimes I simply mine a thick vein, and sometimes it’s the only way I could stay sane at that particular moment. Sometimes writing is therapy, sometimes it’s a meditation.

TB: In terms of erotica, this story is a bit of a departure for you, a strong and often times intense physical connection are large themes in your romances, but with Kelly and Walter that took a backseat. Is this a format that you are exploring in your future stories, or was it just a conjecture of the setting/age of the characters?

HC: A lot of it was the way the story worked out. Book two will be a bit steamier but more on the lines of Dance With Me than Nowhere Ranch. For Love Lessons any time I let the sex amp up it seemed to take away from the emotional vulnerability. I’m fairly sure Kelly and Walter get up to some pretty sexy shenanigans, but this story wasn’t about that. It was about sensuality and connection and vulnerability.

I think it’s safe to say I’ll dance in and out of heat levels depending on the story and the characters. I maintain Dance With Me is pretty low steam compared to most, but not everyone shares that opinion. I love writing sexy, but even in my most erotic stories it’s not about the sex for me. I know Nowhere Ranch gets a lot of attention because of the graphic nature of their play, but it was never about titillation for me, not in that book especially. Sex was the only way those characters could speak to each other for a long, long time.

If graphic sex serves characters, I’ll write it, but if it takes away, it goes. Every time.

TB: Now my blog is a bit different, since I usually do a wine pairing and a meal that would go well with the book or inspired on something from the story. This book is especially exciting to me, since Kelly has so many dietary restrictions; I had to be extra creative. For your boys I decided to make tasty enchiladas with a tofu/calabacitas filling, topped with Salsa Verde. Do you think I could get Kelly and Walter to enjoy my delicious recipe without a visit to the emergency room?

HC: It should be okay, and sounds delicious! Only his almond issue is anaphylactic. The rest would make him break out in hives and have a horrible stomach ache. Walter would probably inspect your kitchen, though, and Kelly would blush in mortification and apologize for his boyfriend.

TB: Going forward do you think you will revisit the young love theme? If you do would we get to revisit Hope University?

HC: I think I’m probably done with Hope, but there’s already a second book in the series and it’s set in Minnesota. I know there’s a book three as well, and…well, you have to wait for the rest.

TB: To wrap things up, there is ONE thing I’ve been DYING to ask you from the first book I read from you. Given your love for wedding proposals, in the future will get to see a wedding?

HC: LOL. Well, I keep threatening to write the Sam and Mitch wedding, but that hasn’t happened yet. I think, possibly, we get to see Kelly and Walter’s in book two. But it might be book three. Fever Pitch is kind of wringing things out, so we’ll see. But it’s my goal for it to be at the end. Honestly I think it will be in both, the end of book two and the opening of book three.

There’s another one coming too. Soon. And that’s all I can say without spoiling.

Well that is all folks! A huge thank you again to the kind Ms. Cullinan for taking the time to answer my questions. I am so looking forward to her upcoming books and hanging out with her this week in Atlanta.

Cheers and Happy Reading to all!!!!

Laura

Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan and Vegan Enchiladas with “Made from Scratch” Red and Green Chili Sauce

LoveLessons72lgA crazy little thing called love happened to Walter Lucas…Actually, his name was Kelly Davidson, he had like a million food allergies and an intense (and kind of weird) passion  for Disneymovies happily ever afters. Yes, Kelly was a little different from what Walter usually went for (skanks!), but he was just what Walter needed to finally give his heart a chance at love.

This is maybe the sweetest book I’ve read by Heidi Cullinan, and that’s saying a lot since she’s given me much awesomeness to read in the last couple of years.

As for the food pairing, it was a challenge, even for a vegan like me! Kelly has A LOT of dietary restrictions, thankfully I don’t give up easily. So for this pair of hungry college boys I decided to go with Vegan Echiladas with homemade Salsa Verde and Salsa Roja. They are delicious, and I’m almost certain the wouldn’t kill Kelly if he ate them.  For the wine (yes there’s wine even though Kelly’s not legal!) I chose  the Grilos Vihno Branco from Portugal. We’re having full on Insdian Summer here in Upstate New York, so I’m hitting up the white as long as I can. The Grilos is a very light and aromatic table wine, with a strong hint of peach and mint, without any sweetnes. Very crisp and ideal for a spicy dish. It goes for around $9 a bottle which makes it a winner on all counts. But enough with the food, let’s get back to Kelly and Walter!

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I am the wild one break me in, saddle me up and let’s begin,…Walter Lucas is kind of notorious in the Hope University campus. He’s  a  bit of a slut,  beautiful and charismatic. He likes to bend the rules a bit. Here’s the thing…Walter’s family is messed up. His parents had a nasty divorce, and when his mom fell off the deep end, he had to take one for the team and leave college to make sure his little sister had at least SOMEONE  to come home to. The whole thing made him a little bitter, and now that he is back in school the only thing that keeps him from blowing that whole thing off is his advisor. Professor Williams is like his lifeline to sanity, and the one thing that has kept him even slightly interested in any sort of a future. Walter is JADED. He’s over the whole collegiate utopia bullshit Hope University has been shoving down his throat, and he pretty much wants to live off-campus, stay under the radar, finish school and get the fuck away…Little problem with that plan though. Students are  not allowed to live off-campus, and so there he is, a junior, stuck in a single dorm, with A FRESHMAN. Things couldn’t be worse. Seriously! The actually couldn’t because this  kid  Kelly, has like1,200 allergies and practically needs to sleep on Saran Wrap …Ok it’s not THAT bad, Kelly IS pretty nice, definitely pretty cute and gay as a rainbow…So yeah there is an upside.

Walter takes young Kelly under his wing, tries to get him situated and away from the notoriously homophobic jocks living in their hall. He does likes the kid a lot and if it happens that he can get a little sex on the side without having to leave his room…Well that’s just an extra bonus.

Hey, I heard you were a wild one…If I took you home and be your homerun? Show me how you do…. Kelly Davidson was way in over his head.  One on side he’s starting college, which is challenging enough as it is, on the other he’s got the allergies which are not easy to nevigate when you’re on a college meal plan AND he’s in very close quarters with the hottest (and notoriously slutty) guy in the WHOLE school. Walter is HOT, and flirty and their room is SO SMALL. It’s hard to breathe sometimes with so much sexual tension. The thing is, Walter is really nice too. He can be a dick, but he looks out for Kelly, makes sure he can get something to eat that won’t kill him, he’s smart and interested in him…He doesn’t even make fun (not that much anyways) of his obseesion with Disney movies.

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It’s an unlikely thing this pairing. Nevertheless, things get romantic in their little dorm room pretty fast. Walter is not a believer in love, but in the face of Kelly’s goodness and his almost terminal optimism he feels hopeful. He feels protective and taken care of at the same time. He knows there are good people out there, after all he’s been relying on Professor Williams’ kindness for awhile. He starts wanting things with Kelly, but he can’t forget where he comes from, the crushing disappointment of losing something or someone that you had learned to rely on. He’s afraid of going through that again. People leave.  People let you down. He can’t give in to what he’s feeling, except Kelly is working everyone one of his walls and they are crumbling. There’s no helping it, Kelly is too much of a gift to turn away from,

This book was a bit of departure for Heidi. With her books I expect powerful and intense sexual/physical connections in the couples, and here the erotica was definitely not a big part of the love story. I like young love romances there is a always an untarnished quality to them that makes me feel so hopeful. Walter and Kelly came from such different families, one self-centered and cold, the other a warm home full of love and support. They saw the world a bit differently, but they both understood loyalty and friendship. They were good friends to one another, were quick to lend a hand and in the end being able to count on each other was what gave them the openess to fall in love. All was not easy, Kelly’s family had it’s setbacks and Walter’s home was a dysfinctional mess, but their little team of two was enough to face the things that  would have been too hard on their own.

I loved the colligiate setting in this book, it’s particularly relevant at this time of my life since I live in a dorm that is probably pretty similar to the one Kelly and Walter live in. Heidi did a great job of describing academia politics and college life. On the whole, this book felt really personal, and that really affected my connection to the book.  All in all, once again Heidi Cullinan has written a book that I will probably re-read half a dozen times. She is more than an auto-buy author for me, she’s a go to comfort read author, and that list is VERY SHORT.

Totally recommend, lots of laughs, love and cuteness with a strong dose of angsty young love.

Love Lessons is for sale at Amazon.com

Straight ahead DEELICIOUS non allergy inducing enchiladas!!

Vegan Enchiladas

16 corn tortillas

1 package of mozarella flavored Go Veggie! Rice Shreds

1 tablespoon of nutrional yeast

2 cups of enchilda filling (for recipe click here)

3 cups of red sauce (for recipe click here)

3 cups of green sauce (recipe below)

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Directions: In a 9×13 pan ladle the bottom half with a bit of red sauce and other half with a bit of the green sauce. Place about a cup of each sauce on two separate bowls. Drench 8 of the tortillas in the green sauce and the other eight in the red sauce once the tortillas are wet fill with about a tablespoon and a half of the filing roll up and place on the pan. Once the pan is full pour the remaining sauce on the enchiladas. I did half red and half green. Take the rice shreds and mix with the nutritional yeast and top the enchiladas. Cover with tin foil and put in the over for 30 minutes at 375. The last five minutes take the foil off the pan so that the cheese can get a bit golden. Once the cheese has melted take out the pan and let it cool before serving.

Salsa Verde

8 tomatillos

1 onion chopped

1 poblano pepper chopped

1/3 cup of fresh cilantro chopped

2 cloves of garlic minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 teaspoon of cumin

1/2 tablespoon of chili powder

2 cups of water

Directions: Sautee the all the ingredients except the tomatillos in a large saucepan for about five minutes. Once they are translucent add the tomatillos and water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour. Simmer until the sauce has thickened and tomatillos have fallen apart. Set aside to cool. Once the sauce has cooled blend until smooth.

Cheers and Happy Reading!!

Laura