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REVIEW: Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan

Heidi Cullinan Special DeliveryDear Ms. Cullinan:

Ann Somerville, knowing my predilections, recommended your book to me and I’m SO glad she did. I have to commend Dreamspinner Press for finding some of the best m/m romance authors out there. I’m certainly adding you to that list.

Sam is 21, orphaned, living with and working for his awful aunt and uncle, trying to work his way through school part-time to become a nurse. But he also has sexual desires, needs even, that shame him:

IN THE deserted men's restroom at the back of Middleton Community College, Sam Keller knelt on the tile, braced his hands against Keith Jameson's thighs, and broke his mother's heart.

It didn't matter that Sharyle Keller had passed away four years ago. Sam knew his mother would feel that what Sam was doing in the handicapped stall was a complete and total mockery of everything she'd ever taught him. It wasn't that she would have been upset that Sam was gay, or even that he was about to give a blow job at school and risk expulsion for "sexual congress on campus." What would have upset his mother was that Sam wasn't at all attracted to his partner. To be perfectly honest, Sam hated him.

"Sex is beautiful," Sam's mother had told him. ""Sex is a union between two people. Sex is a merging of souls, a holy connection. Sex is sacred, and it should only be given to those you love." [ . . . ] [ . . . ] But even before he'd realized what an incredible dearth of loving male partners there were to be had in Middleton, Iowa, Sam had struggled with his vow. His mother had found him gay support groups and sex tip sites online, but Sam had found the porn. He'd lost days in the images of beautiful, slender men bent in submission and sometimes degradation, and to his quiet horror, he realized that this was his fantasy: he, like those boys on the Internet, wanted to be used. He wanted to be loved and cherished, yes. But he also wanted to be fucked. Sometimes he didn't want it to be about love. He wanted it to be about sex, and about semen, and about not quite exactly being in control. He didn't want to get hurt, no. But he admitted to himself that he wanted to come really, really close.

There are many many things I love about this book. The first is that it’s not a “typical” BDSM book in which the characters meet at a super-speshul BDSM club where one or both of them is Ultima-Dom (or Amazing-Sub), where there are Rulez that everyone KNOWS to be the One True Way to do things. This is just two men with compatible desires meeting, having hot kinky sex, and muddling through their muddy, confused feelings about it and each other.

Sam knows what he likes, but he’s ashamed of it and he thinks he shouldn’t like it. And then he meets Mitch who also knows what he likes and is also ashamed of it and terrified of messing things up with Sam, who he recognizes as special, the way he’s messed things up with previous relationships because of the kink. So they both desperately want the hot, dirty sex, and are both ashamed of it, but can’t stay away from it. Perfect conflict.

And that’s another thing I love. The conflict has nothing to do with the fact that they’re gay. The conflict is the *other* type of “wrong” sex they like. Our society is fucked up about sex and I love how this book shows that and also shows how good and right it is to do whatever you want so long as there’s consent and enjoyment all around.

Mitch is a truck driver delivering supplies to the store next to Sam’s uncle’s pharmacy. They have sex in Mitch’s truck, have some phone conversations, meet up again, and then a few weeks later, Sam has a terrible falling out with his aunt and calls Mitch, asking him to take him away. The rest of the story is a road romance as Mitch and Sam drive all over the West on Mitch’s deliveries. They eventually get to Las Vegas and confront Mitch’s past, in the person of Randy, an…ex-fuck-buddy? (They both explicitly reject “lover” and “boyfriend” as descriptors of their relationship.) Sam knows that he and Mitch need to deal with Randy in order to have any future, even if Sam doesn’t see how they CAN have a future anyway.

I mostly love how the relationship is front and center in this book. It’s very much like a category romance in that respect. (That comparison was heightened for me because the story’s told in deep 3rd-person POV solely from Sam’s perspective.) I love how things aren’t perfect between them because of their own emotional hang-ups and their failure to communicate. But then they do talk and work that problem out — so it’s not a teacup storm — but then another one crops up, in a completely realistic way. For example, they have hot kinky sex one night, Mitch freaks out and thinks he’s gone too far, so tries to be “normal” which just freaks Sam out, because he’s all about the kinky sex. Sam’s freak-out makes Mitch think he’s right about having gone too far and he freaks out more. They talk it out pretty quickly, but it’s all part of the steps of tentative progress to self-understanding and strong relationship. At the end, I’m completely convinced they’re totally in love and that they’ll make it, but I also know that they’ll have to work hard and keep talking and that just feels so RIGHT to me because that’s exactly what real life is like.

This is a fabulous little story. I pretty much can’t recommend it highly enough. If you like K.A. Mitchell, I think you’ll love this book. Same type of character-driven romance. Same hot hot sex. And the ending is, I think, the first full-on proposal scene I’ve seen in a m/m romance. :)

And Randy’s book is out too and I’m very much looking forward to reading it (although it looks more suspenseful, so I’m hoping I still like it).

Grade: A

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

| Book excerpt | Kindle | Amazon | Dreamspinner Press | Fictionwise

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

26 Comments

  1. Sara
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 13:16:00

    Great review. I loved this story because the romance was so unique. BTW, I just finshed Randy’s story and loved it too. It was so not who I pictured Randy to end up with which made it even better.

  2. Suze
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 13:36:01

    You just introduced me to K.A. Mitchell a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve already ripped through her backlist. This is going into my cart forthwith. Thanks!

  3. TKF
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 13:38:15

    I’m just not into reading about people who have major angst or shame about their sexual desires. Doesn’t do it for me.

  4. Sweets
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 14:34:10

    I Loved this book, its one of my top picks of the year. I just finished Randy’s book and liked it even more, because it wasn’t at all what I expected it to be. Cullinan is a major talent and I hope she releases more with Dreamspinner. They have become my go to place for M/M.

  5. Dakota Flint
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 18:45:23

    I really, really enjoyed this story, which is a little strange since I’m generally not into BDSM in my romance, or even much kinky sex (it’s great if that’s what people want to read, just not my cup of tea-and I think I’m getting bored with too many sex scenes in romance in general lately. Probably going through a reading funk *sigh*). I picked this book up a few weeks ago after reading Hero by Cullinan (which I would call a…fantasy romance?) and the kink factor either wasn’t in the blurb or I didn’t read it closely enough.

    But surprisingly, I really liked this story. I loved that the conflict felt real, that it wasn’t just about the kinky sex, but more about what the characters needed. I’ll definitely be reading Double Blind when I get the chance.

  6. whey
    Apr 16, 2010 @ 19:59:24

    This book didn’t do it for me. Well written, definitely hot, but it felt too much like each person could be replaced with anyone that would provide for a specific kink. Or maybe more accurately, it felt like Sam was easily replaceable. I couldn’t classify this as a keeper-romance (an A grading), there was an emotional distance I kept from it, as I had skimmed ahead to when they met up with Randy. Still enjoyed the writing, and will look into the author’s other books when I’m in the mood for books with open relationships, which isn’t what I usually read/enjoy.

  7. cs
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 09:42:49

    Hang on so the only conflict in this story is the fact they’re ashamed of having some kinky sex? Huh? I think I prefer the conflict over being gay, since you know…I can see there being more of a reason as to why. I can see why you may be happy about that fact, because it is a little different.

    I have to agree with @TKF though. Sex hang-ups are really not my cup of tea. I might be mistaken here, but it seems the whole book is centered around the theme of sex, and that is a big no-no for me.

  8. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 09:59:25

    @cs: Well, their internal conflicts and relationship conflicts come from how their sexual identities have negatively impacted their lives in their past and how they have to deal with that and heal in the present AND work it into their relationship. Which is not that much different from any other version of past relationship issues impacting the present relationship in any vanilla romances.

    When you enjoy being sexually humiliated, or when you enjoy watching your partner have sex with someone else, or when your sexual arousal depends on hurting someone (consensually), there’s reason enough for sexual hang-ups there. Societal narratives about “normal” acceptable monogamous sexual relationships vs. “perverted” sex and all the hang-ups that come with it are pretty powerful and difficult to discredit. As much as you might enjoy what you’re doing, you’re convinced it’s wrong and that can fuck with your head. A lot.

    And yes, this is definitely an erotic romance in the best version of the definition, that the conflict and the resolution revolve around sexual exploration. It’s not just boink boink boink, but a deep exploration of the characters and their relationship through their sexual identities. In fact, the explorations often overshadow the sexual description.

  9. cs
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 15:31:26

    @Joan/SarahF: Thanks for the explanation, I suppose I need to have a certain mind-set to understand why anyone would have a problem with some kinky sex. Then again I might just be really well “adjusted” to not understanding about sex hang-ups in this day and age.

    I can understand to a certain extent of people’s dilemma against liking pain with their sex. I suppose embarking on a new relationship and trying to put that in there can be daunting can be a good plot. I suppose, from the overall review it just came off a story about sex. I suppose at its core that is what the author is aiming at; that people even now have issues about what kind of sex is “right”.

    Do these guys seems fine with being gay? I can’t seem to see any mention of that in the review. I suppose of they had issues about their own sexuality and it carried onto their sex style preference, I could probably see the allure. Then again it’s just personal aspect of my reading nature. Stories that have too much sex or are basically about sex make me very tentative to pick them up.

    I see Mrs. Giggles gave this a good review, and you mentioned Ann Somerville recommended this story. People who I’ve come to see don’t recommend a lot of things. Maybe there is something here then :)

  10. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 17, 2010 @ 18:02:02

    @cs: I think it’s the kinky *identity* rather than the kinky sex. The fact that they really NEED the kinky aspect of sex, that it comes naturally, that vanilla sex is not only “just” vanilla, but it doesn’t cut it, it’s not enough. Trust me, realizing that about yourself can be pretty devastating. When the cultural narrative is that the only good and right sexual relationship is monogamous with some kinky activity to spice things up, but that Twu Wuv should “cure” any NEED for kinky sex every time, then realizing you need kinky sex every time is…painful and shaming and difficult to process.

    So yes, although these guys are fine with being gay (although Mitch did not have an easy coming out), they are not fine with kink being a requirement, being something they can’t do without, and that just…worked for me. I made absolute sense in the story and for the characters.

    As I said in the review, this was a purely character-driven story. It was about them negotiating their sexual preferences with each other and being perfect for each other because of them. As much as I might hate to say it, I agreed with everything Mrs. Giggles said. :)

  11. CourtneyLee
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 08:17:32

    I haven’t heard of this book or author, but I’ve never once been disappointed by Dreamspinner Press (Zero at the Bone, anyone?) so I’ll certainly check it out. I adore contemporary MM romance that doesn’t include the characters having issues with being gay and/or closeted; they are few and far between because in contemps it is such a realistic conflict to have. For that reason, it’s nice to have a break from it every once in a while.

    I also always applaud when an author gives a gay character supportive parents. Not just accepting or “still dealing with it” or indifferent, but actively supportive. It makes my heart warm and fuzzy. :)

  12. cs
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 09:34:51

    @Joan/SarahF: Is it safe to say that these characters cannot just have “normal” sex? That without the kink aspect they can’t well — be satisfied?

    Hm. A relationship based around sexual requirements. Probably why I don’t tend to dig BDSM (heavy) books that much. Anyway, I think it’s one of those situations were I’d need to read the book myself and see if it works for me. Thanks for the review anyway. I am so leery of Dreamspinner Press, because I tend to pick up more duds than not. Though one thing I do like about them, is that they produce actual novel-length books as opposed to other publishers.

  13. Joan/SarahF
    Apr 18, 2010 @ 10:08:48

    @cs: You know, everyone has requirements in sex, needs without which sex is not satisfying. For most it’s as simple as an attractive-to-them partner of the appropriate gender. But for everyone it’s also a “touch me there, not there” type thing too. I loved one of Linda Howard’s books b/c it did nothing for the heroine to have her breasts touched, but kiss her neck and she was putty and the hero figured it out but still touched her breasts for his own edification.

    So for BDSM-identified people, it’s just a bit more…specific than that. But no different from the fact that everyone has sexual requirements.

    And while Mitch and Sam have “normal” sex occasionally, it’s satisfying to them b/c it’s sex with a partner who understands the other side of their sexual requirements. All relationships are based around sexual requirements and compatibility.

    Anyway, this is not a dud from DS. I try not to give duds “A” reviews. :) But then, it’s not a dud *for me*. YMMV, obviously. :)

  14. Mikou
    Apr 19, 2010 @ 20:11:40

    After reading the review, I was eager to read the book. Lucky I double checked my digital library because I had already purchased it during a recent book-buying spree. Your review bumped it to the top of my list. I have to say that I loved it and will definitely be on the lookout for more from this author.

  15. Past
    May 06, 2010 @ 10:47:15

    Oh this is the I-phone ads one.

    No personal offense intended to the author or the reviewer, but to have this one compared to K.A. Mitchell’s irks since I love Mitchell’s titles.

    What falls flat in this book is its main characters and the conflicts (especially felt in the second half of the book). They are, for lack of better words, uninteresting.

  16. Kaetrin
    May 09, 2010 @ 20:33:35

    @ Sarah F. I just wanted to thank you so much for recommending this book. I just finished it this morning and you’re right – it was great.

    I thought the writing style was smart and funny and the story sucked me right in from the beginning. And, the sex was hawt.

    I liked how the BDSM things were explained and how the characters worked it out. I liked that it wasn’t violent (that was the thing which I didn’t enjoy or understand in Anah Crowe’s Uneven, which didn’t work so well for me as a consequence).

    I liked how the relationship between Mitch and Sam was primary and how Sam was careful in his adventures to always let Mitch know that he (Mitch) was No. 1.

    For much of the story I was wondering if Sam was really 21. He felt a lot younger to me. I couldn’t quite work out why he was still living in his aunt’s basement and having no money etc when I thought he could make other choices if he wanted to. It felt, to me, like the (in)actions of a younger-than-21 person. (Of course, this might be because I thought back to what I was doing when I was 21 because I’d moved out of home by then and had a job etc, so maybe that’s my bad.). But, that concern made the ending so much more satisfying for me because he manned up and worked it out. I liked how he worked out his issues and took control of his life; while understanding that it wasn’t necessary or wise to do EVERYTHING on one’s own, he still realised there were things he had to do himself. I think I believed in the HEA because of that.

    I’m champing at the bit to read Randy’s story now. Thx, Sarah, your recommendations are usually winners for me.

  17. Kaetrin
    May 09, 2010 @ 20:45:04

    @ Sarah F. I am a subscriber to the All Romance Ebooks newsletter and last week’s newsletter (http://campaign.constantcontact.com/render?v=001xIsb6zOAIu7CJBskveZR94jTuDXJ4kuRSUuePOKl2AOoZshsN-L2alIe5i2uXp42KK479D2SMrJ05PZMSOCFMpJFxCTYMJOTZ7HRB_sbPqHKcjyppEYtwqTVoOT-_-FSiCB6RqFZqPw%3D) had an article by a gay man about his take on m/m romance.

    I don’t know if this happens for anyone else, but what usually happens for me is that when I learn something new, I tend to believe the first story I’m told (at least until its conclusively proven otherwise). So, my “education” as a “vanilla” heterosexual woman, re BSDM and esp, in m/m romance came from you. You said it and I pretty much believed you. Your “arguments” sounded logical and rational even though they were new to me. I didn’t “get” all of it, but I started reading some m/m romance after and even a bit of BSDM and I have pretty much enjoyed your recommendations. I have read your posts when you talk about what you like and don’t like about BDSM romance and why and they make sense to me.

    Which leads me to the article by Mr. Anson Haight. I found myself reading it and, in some places, thinking “that’s not right” and then I thought “hey, wait, he’s actually a gay man – why wouldn’t he be right? – wouldn’t he actually know better?” But then I thought, well, he might know about the gay but he doesn’t sound like he’s into the BDSM so maybe he doesn’t know about that.

    So then I thought, well, all I know about this stuff comes from Sarah, so why not ask her? So, that’s what I’m doing.

    I’m curious regarding your take. Then, when I read Special Delivery which I really enjoyed and which IS a BSDM m/m romance but which doesn’t seem to fit within all of Mr. Haight’s perameters, I thought (hoped) maybe it was okay to post a question to you about it here.

    So, that is all a very long winded way of saying, hey, Sarah, did you read this article by Mr. Haight? What did you think?

  18. Jane
    May 09, 2010 @ 21:10:33

    @Kaetrin That is an awesome interview. Thank you for linking to it.

  19. Joan/SarahF
    May 09, 2010 @ 21:23:19

    @Kaetrin: Thanks for the feedback. I love hearing from people about my reviews. I’m pretty awful at recommending books to people I know IRL, so knowing that there are people out there who appreciate my reviews is VERY cool.

    As for Haight’s essay. Hmm. I’d have to say, from the BDSM perspective, #3 is just…wrong. I think the BDSM dynamic probably overrides the idea that sex is “never about power.” BDSM-specifics aside, I also question the core of his statement, no matter what. Sex is ALWAYS about power. There ARE gay men who always top or bottom, and the dynamics of their relationships probably always include some sort of power dynamic.

    #4 wants me to spit: “A guy who is so ashamed of his manhood that he is only comfortable being dominated won’t be respected.” Wow. That’s just a slap in the face to every submissive out there, but especially to all male submissives, all of whom I know are incredibly strong, intelligent, wonderful men who happen to be sexually submissive. I see what he’s saying, I think. He’s saying that while you can prefer to top/bottom, it shouldn’t be that way all the time. But the way he said it completely ignores any BDSM dynamics.

    “Friends who become lovers don’t take power dynamics into the bedroom.” ORLY?! ::rolling my eyes::

    I’m about to review James Buchanan’s TAKING THE ODDS series, and while I don’t think anyone could argue that James doesn’t write men who SOUND like men, I love what she does with the power dynamics in the relationship. Nick starts out as the bottom in the relationship, but they switch at the end of the first book. And they’re *friends* just as strongly as anything Haight talks about. But they’re also *lovers* and I think that dynamic — the romantic, sexual dynamic — takes a friendship and makes it irrevocably different and ALWAYS adds power to the mix, whether you’re gay, straight, BDSM, whatever.

    Look, I’m not a gay man. I’m not close friends with any gay men. So Haight certainly has a different perspective there, but it sounds like he either doesn’t know that BDSM exists or is actively opposed to BDSM. He’s clearly (to my mind) not kinky. I don’t think anyone who’s kinky would or could make blanket statements like that, no matter their hetero/homo orientation.

    And the Cinderella thing makes me…twitchy, too. I think Anah Crow did a brilliant job in UNEVEN overturning the Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty dynamic. And Jez Morrow’s FORCE OF LAW did amazing things to the Cinderella dynamic without overturning it, and did it in a very realistic way by using power dynamics.

    I certainly agree with his list and I’ll check out the books on the list that I haven’t read, because I adore the ones he HAS read. But…yeah, it reads off to me, too, for some of it, and not because he’s a gay man and I’m a bisexual woman, but because he seems not to consider BDSM dynamics at all.

    Thanks for the reading, though. Really interesting!

  20. Kaetrin
    May 09, 2010 @ 21:42:58

    Well, that’s pretty much what I was thinking too, but as I’m neither gay nor kinky I wasn’t sure if I should.

    I see different power/equality relationships in romance all over the place. Often that’s part of what drives the conflict. I didn’t see why it should be different for m/m than f/m – I kind of thought, well, if men just want equality in a relationship, why do we see the old guy with the bimbo or the rich guy with the “working-class” woman. Why did Edward fall in love with Vivienne in Pretty Woman if he was looking for equality? And then, I thought, oh, does he just mean it for gay men (and really, what would I know about that) and then I thought – well what’s that got to do with being gay? (and then I thought, well, how should I know?!).

    I also get that there can be different kinds of equality and in the end, in a successful relationship, what I want to see (as a reader and for myself personally IRL) is that the strengths and weaknesses of each person balance each other out and whatever label is put on a person, each regards the other, in the end as “equal”, but this is not necessarily an equality that can be seen by an bystander – it is the equality that is developed by the depth of the relationship.

    I thought Haight was trying to say something like that (which I agreed with) but he also seemed to say (well I thought he did at least) that a gay man wouldn’t even be interested/attracted to someone who wasn’t his equal and I thought – hur? It’s true that almost all of the m/m stuff I’ve read (and it’s not extensive) has been written by women, but there’s plenty of poor/rich, old/young, alpha/beta in what I’ve read – have the women authors been getting it wrong? And if they have, as a reader who’s enjoying that, do I care? And if I don’t should I?

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