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REVIEW: Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan

Dear Ms. Cullinan.

I adored this book. It’s utterly and completely over the top. It’s exuberant. It’s angry — no, it’s furious. It’s totally steeped in dirty nasty sex. It’s leaking angst all over the place. It’s political and powerful and brilliant. And I think most people will either love it or despise it with the fiery burning hate of 10,000 suns. I — obviously — adored it. But then I’m a Big-R Romantic as well as little-r romantic. Passion and angst and anger are what it’s all about.

Monroe Davis is 25 and a drifter. He ends up drifting to a 3000 acre ranch in Nebraska. He lives on property in a shitty little apartment, but he’s happy with his lot (except his kitchen sucks). One day he goes to Rapid City for a fuck and finds himself hitting on his boss, Travis. After they both get over their terror at seeing the other, they do indeed fuck, because they’re perfect for each other. They have hot dirty kinky sex and then Roe insists on going back to a strictly working relationship. Until four months later, when he gets a letter from his cousin trying to get him to see the light about his homosexuality, trying to bring him back to his family by telling him how wrong he is because of who he is. He’s pretty emotionally fucked up about it and Travis takes him to the rodeo to make him feel better. Of course, they end up fucking again, but Roe runs again at the hint of emotional connection and the possibility of a relationship. Lather, rinse, repeat with more intensity.

This book is about Roe’s inability to access his emotions. It’s told in Roe’s first person point of view, so the reader suffers right along with him as he tries to figure out how to label or understand any of what he’s feeling. And he does, eventually. He gets his head on right, with the help of Travis and Haley, the ranch manager’s daughter. But it takes a while. And his maturation and emotional discovery are like a slow blooming flower. So much potential and so beautiful in the unfolding, as well as in the final product. It’s a love story in that we watch Roe fall in love, recognizing it even when he is blind to it.

And despite it being a first person book, we can see Travis fall in love, too:

I felt fluttery and strange when he stroked my face. I shut my eyes, swimming in the feeling. It went on a long time, though, and when I opened my eyes again, he had the damnedest look on his face. You would have thought I had used the crop on him well past "no."

"If you need, now or ever, to go back home, I don't want to be in your way." His fingers fell on my lips. "But outside of that, I'd really rather you didn't leave." His thumb stroked my chin and he added, "Ever."

He looked like he was going to be sick now. I frowned at him, but that only made him  worse. "You okay, Travis?" I asked.

"I don't know," he whispered. "Are you going to run?"

I tried to prop up on my elbow to get a better look at him, because he made no fucking  sense at all, but he reached up and grabbed my arm so tight it hurt, and I figured it out. And yeah,  for a second, I panicked. But I was getting used to these two parts of me, the fluttery top part that  felt guilty and wanted to get away from Travis, and the part underneath that seemed to have a  better handle on everything. And it was getting stronger, because it held me in place until I  calmed down enough to speak.

"So you're telling me you're getting serious on me?" I said at last. "That this is more than  fucking after all?"

He really, really looked scared, but now he was angry too. "Roe, you sleep in your own  bed at best once a week. Your toothbrush is here. You get dressed in your apartment, and  occasionally you shower or go over there to "get some space.' This has been more than fucking  for months now." He held on to my arm like he was afraid that now as he'd pointed it out, the  bubble would burst.

Well, he had a valid fear.

Roe is a complete emotional mess and Travis isn’t much better, but watching them limp toward a relationship is addictive.

And let’s talk about the sex. There’s sex. There’s a lot of it. And it’s dirty. I don’t mean dirty in a negative way — I mean it in the hot way. But it’s nasty and dirty and wonderful:

"I like rough," I said, my voice shaky at first, but it got stronger as I went on. "And I like it when I'm told what to do. If you want me ass-up on the bed, you say so. Trash talking is good. You want to tell me I'm your pony or your dog you're fucking, I can do that. I think hotel carpets are gross, so I'd rather not do puppy play on the floor. But in bed's okay. You can tie me up or gag me, but I don't care for both at once. I don't do shower blowjobs because it makes me feel like I'm drowning. I have done watersports, but I don't mind skipping that. But slapping is fine. So is biting so long as you don't draw blood. Pinching is good. Especially my nipples and my ass. Hickeys are okay, but I like to keep them where I can hide them."

I had started talking really fast by the end, and when all of it was out, I let out a breath and waited. After a few seconds, Loving's hand cupped my cock.

"Public exposure?"

His fingers were already on my zipper. I shuddered and pushed my hips forward into his grip. "So long as I don't get arrested."

"Fair enough." He pinched my ass hard enough to make me jump. "Unbutton your fly and put your hands on the table."

There’s puppy play and pony play. There’s bondage and very large dildo(e)s. There’s fisting — hot and extremely well done. At one point Roe says of Travis, “He went around to the back of me and had a little party in my ass.” And the scene that follows is precisely as hot and dirty and nasty as that sounds, in the good way. But readers need to be prepared and appreciative of that kind of sex to enjoy this book, because there’s no enjoying it without the sex.

The rage in this book is partly Roe’s and, to a much smaller extent, Travis’, but mostly, it’s…yours, Ms. Cullinan. You do not make any secret of your political affiliations, but one character has this rant:

She hugged me tight, then sat up wearily. "I don't know that I want to. I mean, there are a lot of nice people who want to adopt, and babies are hard to find. Just look at your brother. Well — I mean, no offense, but I'm not giving my baby to somebody who thinks your orientation needs to be healed. I might not give it to anybody. I don't know. What I do know is that I want to think about it." Her eyes teared up again. "I just — no matter what I do, everything is ruined. Even if I do get an abortion, it's not like I can just go on and forget about it. Which is what pisses me off. What do they think, that I'm some dipshit bitch who can go get an abortion like it's a manicure? And even if there is somebody that nasty, why do I have to suffer because of them? I bet you my student loan check the same "good Christians' who would call me a baby killer would rather turn and shout at you for being gay before they'd take ten minutes to help me through this. That's the way they are. They don't give a shit about anybody but themselves. If I keep my baby and ask for their help, the next thing they'll do is find something wrong with me. And everybody I love. Fuck them and their "pro-life.'" She had stopped crying in the middle of her rant, and now she glared across the room at the wall. "If I keep this baby, I'm going to make damn sure it grows up to kick their bigoted, hateful asses."

You are furious and that righteous fury drives this book, drives the narrative, drives the ending of the story maybe further than it needs to go, for the characters. Roe goes back home with Travis and Haley (no, this book is NOT a menage) and the family get their comeuppance. Roe and Travis get their happy ending — and then some — but it’s written as a big Fuck You! to all the hateful, destructive homophobia out there. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate that. So much. It’s like a dirty X-rated love letter that I will read again and again. But it’s something readers need to be aware of.

So, dirty nasty sex, strong political slant, and brilliantly written emotional journeys. As I said, I adored this book. I will be quoting this book if/when I get into political discussions about whether people with alternate sexualities are going to hell or not (“You can’t pick and choose!”). But it’s not an easy book. It’s easy to fall into and and devour it. But it’s not an easy read.

Grade: B+

Best regards,
-Joan/Sarah F.

Book Link | Loose Id

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.

35 Comments

  1. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Ebook Giveaway: Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 14:35:17

    [...] Review [...]

  2. jayhjay
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 14:36:56

    I am so excited for this book! I have been waiting anxiously to read it for months, ever since I read the except online (the same one you quoted above where they discuss what kind of sex they like). I am so glad to hear that it was good!

  3. orannia
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 14:59:19

    That is one brilliant review! Thank you!

    This book is about Roe's inability to access his emotions.

    I love books that…delve into such topics. They hit close to home, but they teach me so much about the journey I’m on.

    I read Special Delivery late last year. It wasn’t an easy book to read (not in terms of the writing, which I thought flowed beautifully, but in terms of the content matter), but I loved it, believed in the characters and wanted their HEA fervently. (I still have Double-Blind to read :) This book sounds like another not-easy-to-read-but-completely-worth-the-journey book…and I so want to read it and expand my horizons (which I must say got rather expanded after Special Delivery :)

  4. Tweets that mention REVIEW: Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan | Dear Author -- Topsy.com
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 15:03:58

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Frantz, dearauthor. dearauthor said: NewPost: REVIEW: Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan http://bit.ly/efxIEq [...]

  5. April
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 15:14:43

    Great, honest review! I hadn’t heard of this book, but I’ll have to check it out now.

  6. Zola
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 15:23:37

    Cullinan’s one of those authors whose book excerpts I linger over and come back to time and again, but haven’t quite been in the space to purchase just yet. But the sex scene you quoted may push me over the line,lol. Thanks for the compelling review.

  7. adobedragon
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 16:50:32

    Heh. I’m tempted to get it just for that righteous rant alone. :)

  8. Sunita
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 16:51:09

    I’m so glad to see this review, Sarah! Heidi Cullinan is an autobuy for me at this point, and I am really looking forward to reading the book.

  9. Jane Davitt
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 17:34:02

    You’re really bad for my attempts to spend less on books this year :-)

    This sounds scorchingly hot and I can’t wait to read it.

  10. Merrian
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 17:40:39

    I read the excerpt for this book only last week because I was looking for more of Heidi’s work after reading ‘Special Delivery’ and ‘Double Blind’ and am very much looking forward to reading ‘Nowhere Ranch’. I love the emotional connection that Heidi’s characters make and how their rage is visceral and felt, not an intellectual thing. These stories are also about what makes a family and I appreciate that journey for the characters as well.

  11. orannia
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 18:22:34

    @Merrian: I adore stories about who and what makes a family. Keeping Promise Rock (Amy Lane) is still my go-to book for that.

  12. Natalie
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 18:48:12

    Great review! I adored Special Delivery and Double Blind, and I cannot wait to read this.

  13. sula
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 20:28:58

    sounds awesome! thanks for reviewing it. this author is new to me.

  14. Kaetrin
    Feb 14, 2011 @ 23:53:32

    I can’t wait to read this one. Ms. Cullinan has quickly become an autobuy for me also. Having read the excerpts above has just whetted my appetite even more.

    I do think that just by reading m/m romance I have become a more tolerant and openminded person – I don’t really know anyone who’s gay, except maybe online – what was unknown before is now known (at least a little) and it’s not “scary” anymore (although scary isn’t the right word, it will have to do because I can’t think of the right one ATM). So,even without an overt political stance, just by writing GBLT romance, the authors are promoting acceptance.

  15. Arwen
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 00:27:07

    I love Heidi Cullinan. I read somebody and the Magic Flute and utterly adored it.

  16. Merrian
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 02:03:10

    @orannia

    Thanks for the tip. I have looked up Promise Rock and read a couple of sample chapters so will be buying that too!

  17. jayhjay
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 07:38:41

    @orannia: OH, I am glad to hear that Keeping Promise Rock is good. It is in my TBR pile, I just haven’t gotten to it but I’ll have to pull it out.

  18. Cynthia N.
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 08:00:12

    What a great review! This is definitely going on The List.

  19. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 09:32:22

    @orannia: This one will certainly expand your mind a bit more. But more than that, it’s a book about an emotional journey of self-acceptance and about a character building his on home, his own family@

    Jane Davitt: I think you especially would like it. Utterly different from your books, and yet the look at D/s or SM relationships very similar.

    @Kaetrin: That’s wonderful feedback for m/m writers, I’m sure. I’ve certainly had my horizons broadened by reading…all sorts of books! :)

  20. Jane Davitt
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 12:45:52

    Sarah, it wasn’t out last night, so I treated myself to Special Delivery to tide me over. I see this one’s now available so there might be another treat on the horizon :-) Really looking forward to reading them. I love seeing a D/s relationship explored overtly or as a more subtle undertone to the story; both work for me.

  21. orannia
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 14:50:01

    @Merrian: I hope you enjoy it and look forward to hearing what you think :)

    @jayhjay: I loved it. It completely put me through the wringer (Amy Lane writes great angst), but it was so worth it :)

    @Sarah: I love reading about emotional journeys. They are never easy, but…so worth it. And I really like the idea of building a family, one that loves you unconditionally. So noted WRT expanding my mind :) Special Delivery definitely did that…and for the better.

    One of these days I will work out how to do the @ thing properly :)

  22. Merrian
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:17:04

    OK I couldn’t get ‘Nowhere Ranch’ last night so I bought ‘Keeping Promise Rock’ instead and stayed up reading it. I loved it for the angst which was really about Deacon’s journey and brokeness, even though Crick had the overt issues; the family stuff (although as a social worker I get tired of the villianous/incompetant social worker trope in romance novels. It’s a cheap shot), the relationship and the guys. I finished it and worried about the impact on the GFC on their business as people abandon horses as too expensive!

    The author Amy Lane uses twitter exchanges really well to show (not tell) the relationship and interestingly the relationship grows and changes because of the positive influence of friends on Crick and Deacon. I can’t comment on other stuff without spoilering it. At it’s heart, this is a story about longing for the other and that longing is beautifully done, whether it is in the years they grow up or through the events that define them.

  23. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 18:25:36

    @Merrian: If you don’t like the villainous social worker, make sure you read KA Mitchell’s COLLISION COURSE, and of course, the first in Nora Roberts’ amazing Chesapeake Bay series. :)

    I’ve got Promise Rock somewhere. I’ll have to find it and add it to my TBR pile.

  24. Kirsten
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 19:24:09

    @Sarah Frantz:

    Sarah! Lane’s Promise Rock is soooo angsty that I could’ve sworn that I read it because you recommended it!

  25. Merrian
    Feb 15, 2011 @ 23:45:32

    OK I now have ‘Collision Course’ and ‘No Souvenirs’ in my enormous and ever growing TBR pile.

    The only two ‘good social worker’ romances I have ever read were a Jayne Ann Krentz from the 1990′s – ‘The Golden Chance’ and the ‘good’ means doing something that would freak out an ethics committee – maybe I should ask Jessica @ RRR to read it! and the first Atlantis book, ‘Atlantis Rising’ by Alyssa Day has a social worker heroine.

    As I was thinking aobut the extremely negative view of social work taken without fail in romance novels (the exceptions above just prove the rule because one breaks the law and the other stops practising) I wonder if there is something to say about the genre’s discomfort with messiness (despite our love of angst).

    Social Work as a profession crosses boundaries that most others don’t dealing with people and families at their worst, with the shitty stuff in peoples lives and the consequences of that. Even though the social worker in the KPR story represents the good people of the town i.e. traditional morality, she is actually doing her job which is to make sure the kids are safe. The notification might have been false and meant to harrass but she has no choice but to investigate until the true circumstances become clear. That is the job and it is a necessary one.

    Romance novels are about tying things up with a bow. There is a resolution to the relationship and to events; who is good is clear and who is bad is made known. Social work operates in a place were almost none of that is true and victories are often measured in very small things. Funnily enough the aspect of the profession that is most like that of romance as a genere is a shared focus on hope – that whatever it is we do today will make enough difference so someone’s life and circumstances and sometimes that the chance for something to be turned around is there. Social work is about not giving up on people and it is aabout redemption. People are supported in getting second chances and community is reformed. Pamela Regis’ 8 characteristics of a romance novel certainly come to mind.

    This isn’t a rant but a weary sigh about shortcuts and stereotypes that are actually abusive of a predominantly female workforce which again is ironic when we as female romance readers and authors complain about how the romance genre is stereotyped and written about.

  26. Tae
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 00:03:09

    after thinking about this for a day or so, I couldn’t get the review out of my mind and I just went over to Loose-ID to buy it…which is the first time that’s happened to me, where I went out and immediately bought a book recommended to me on here.

  27. Ell
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 04:54:14

    @Merrian: I agree with Sarah, read Nora Roberts’ Sea Swept and sequels. Kickass social worker heroine, 10-year-old boy with horrible mother, three older-brother figures adopted originally at age 11 or so from really crappy childhoods trying with mixed success to do the right thing. One of my favorites of her series.

  28. Ell
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 04:56:46

    @orannia: I just tried it out on the above comment–hover the mouse over the comment and “reply” shows up; click on it.

    Just tried doing another–go to another comment with your reply open, click on reply, and another link appears.

    Cool–never tried any of that before. Thanks for wondering!

  29. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 07:07:38

    @Merrian: Thank you for such an eloquent discussion of social work. I just watched an amazing TED talk about vulnerability that said the same thing about social work being messy, which is some amazing synchronicity.

    I’ll say, in warning, that Joey in Collision Course does something unethical, depending on how you see it, but expects to and does get fired for it. But his social worker career is very much a part of the plot, which is nice. SUCH a great book.

    And Anna in Nora Roberts’ Seaswept and the following books are amazing.

    @Tae: I hope you enjoy it!

  30. orannia
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 19:39:23

    @Merrian: I third the recommendation for Sea Swept. The heroine, Anna, is amazing. And thank you so much for the insight into social work. I can’t begin to imagine how tough a job it is.

    And I’m so glad you enjoyed KPR! I was in knots reading it; Deacon’s struggle was heartbreaking. Did you know there was an indirect sequel (Making Promises) and that Amy Lane is currently writing a third book? And I agree with you that the social worker in KPR was just doing her job, which was to ensure that the child was in a safe environment.

    @Ell: Thank you! Ohhh – look at me replying to two people in one commnet box!

    @Sarah Frantz: I’ve been procrastinating about reading Collision Course – no more!

  31. Merrian
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 22:26:28

    @orannia:
    @Sarah Frantz:
    @Ell:

    My turn to practise the reply thingy Thanks Ell!

    OK everyone; ‘Sea Swept’ if I can get an ebook here in Australia is defnitely joining the TBR. I’ve looked on the Kobo site and can’t see it though.

    Thanks for the heads up Orannia, I will look for the other Amy Lane books now – more TBR shock!

    What a great talk, Sarah. Thanks for linking to it for me.

  32. Evelyn
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 02:27:24

    I’m sorry to break your talk about social workers (“Collision Course” is a great read), but I just wanted to say that I really enjoy “Nowhere Ranch”. I wanted to read further yesterday but as Sarah mentioned, it’s not an easy read and so I had to put it down after a couple of pages. Also, I think this is the first time the sex scenes (for me) really show the change in the relationship – the trust and that this is more than just fucking. I also read Heidi Cullinan’s previous books, which were pretty good.

    Greetings from Germany

    Evelyn

  33. Sarah Frantz
    Feb 17, 2011 @ 09:58:37

    @Evelyn: I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Yay for book pimpage. :)

  34. Merrian
    Feb 22, 2011 @ 02:45:43

    @Sarah Frantz:
    I read ‘No Souvenirs’ and ‘Collision Course’ over the weekend and loved them both, especially Jae Sun’s doctorly view of the world. Again I loved the families of origin and families of choice stuff and the sense that we are shaped by our circumstances and experiences but still at some point must chose both our response to these and to own who we are and those responses in a conscious way.

    I think it is valid to say that meaning well is not enough and that workers fuck up sometmes on purpose and sometimes through human failings with powerful impacts on clients lives. Yet the message I am taking away from CC like other books with social work in them, is that Social Work (especially with families and children) is utterly compromised and compromising. Nothing inbetween this seems to be allowed, e.g. Joey would still be with the dept if this was so.

    Hope to read ‘Nowhere Ranch’ next weekend so will be back!

  35. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Ebook Giveaway: The Seventh Veil by Heidi Cullinan
    Apr 13, 2011 @ 06:58:34

    [...] Nowhere Ranch; excerpt, review [...]

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