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REVIEW:  Let It Snow by Heidi Cullinan

REVIEW: Let It Snow by Heidi Cullinan

letitsnow

Dear Ms. Cullinan,

I’m a fan of your writing so I was excited to read Let It Snow.  It starts off with a “Goldielocks and the Three Bears” vibe but I was pleased it did not much more than give it a nod.  Also, while I don’t mind stories with threesomes and moresomes but it’s nice to read a book where the opportunity exists but the characters choose differently. I kind of makes a nice change.  (That may say something about my reading list.)

Frankie Blackburn does have golden hair and he does stumble upon a cabin during a blizzard and fall asleep.  (But he falls asleep in “papa bear’s” bed (the sofa) instead of baby bear’s bed.)  The cabin is occupied by three “bears” – lumberjacks no less. Arthur and Paul have a somewhat unusual relationship dynamic where they are good friends and have (very) regular sex but it doesn’t appear to be true love for either of them.  Rather, they are having sex because there’s nobody else on the horizon.  Marcus thinks on a number of occasions that he’d wish they’d find other partners and go back to being just friends because they do better at it.  It gave Arthur and Paul a story all of their own and while it didn’t particularly go anywhere, it showed they were there not just to be the other two bears in the plot.  They had lives independent of Marcus and Frankie and it lent the story a texture I appreciated.

Marcus is the biggest, burliest and hairiest of the cabin’s occupants; hence “papa bear”.  He’s a lawyer by profession and educated in philosphy and English as well, but after a bad breakup, he returned to his hometown of Logan, Minnesota, and has turned his back on both the city and practising law.  He’s enjoying logging and isn’t really thinking much beyond the day to day.   He’s still licking his wounds over his cheating ex-boyfriend Steve. Marcus’ mother has Alzheimer’s disease and is in a local care facility.  He feels guilty that he “wasted” time in the city he could have spent with his mother before her illness became as pronounced as it is and he sees her every day, weather permitting.  Some days are good days and she remembers him.  Other days, becoming more frequent, she does not.  This Christmas is probably the last one where they’ll have a chance to celebrate in any mutually meaningful way.

Frankie is out – he regards himself as embodying all the gay stereotypes – he’s “swishy” and “femmy” (he questions his own masculinity quite a bit and is used to, but still hurt by, the slurs of others).  He’s always frightened.  He leads a “safe” life.  He doesn’t go to new places; he likes the gay community in Minneapolis-St. Paul because he feels safer there – he thinks it’s less likely he’ll be gay-bashed.  High school, where he came out by default really because no-one would believe he wasn’t gay – was a nightmare for Frankie.  He was always waiting to have his head shoved down the toilet and he lives his life like he’s still waiting for it to happen.

Also, this was a vanilla excuse, but he was tired and overwhelmed and not really thinking of sex just now. Which felt like he was breaking the gay honor code or something, caught in a snowstorm with three burly bears who were actually bears and not wanting to take them up on some amateur porn practice, but that was the story of Frankie’s life, not even doing gay right.

To add to that, Frankie feels a bit of a failure to his family – while he loves being a hair stylist, is very good at it and it makes him happy, his family are all very well educated and,  he feels he’s a disapointment to them.  The parts of his parents we see on page are accepting so it’s hard to know how much of that feeling is Frankie projecting or whether it was something which bothered his family but which they now are fine with.

When Frankie gets lost and ends up in Marcus’s, Arthur’s and Paul’s cabin, he is very drawn to Marcus.  But Marcus, because Frankie reminds him in many ways of his asshole-ex, Steve, is very much the grumpy old bear and Frankie is afraid of him.

I liked that things changed when Frankie confronted Marcus about this and that’s when their mutual attraction was revealed.  Frankie stepped up and out of his comfort zone without anyone prompting him to do so and it marked the beginning of his transformation I think, even if it wasn’t entirely a linear process.

I would have been uncomfortable with the description of Frankie being “femmy” – indeed, I was initially, but this was dealt with throughout the story.  Marcus speaks specifically to Frankie on a number of occasions about what it means to be a man and encourages Frankie to own his personal masculinity.  I liked the way this was dealt with in the story.  Frankie is not a “girl”.  He is a gay man.  And the story makes that clear in a number of ways I appreciated.

How the hell Frankie thought he wasn’t masculine, Marcus would never know— he’d fucked girls, and there was absolutely nothing feminine about the way Frankie pushed at him, wiry muscle taut in his arms, hips firm and forceful as they ground against Marcus’s. This was saying nothing about the hot, needy cock throbbing in Marcus’s hand and driving his own dick crazy.

and here:

“Quit calling yourself unmanly. You’re your own kind of man, princess fantasy included.”

The other thing I liked about the story is that both men make changes in their lives of their own volition.  They do it for themselves.  Sure, they’re hoping it will lead to a happy ever after (less so Marcus in this respect) but the motivations are about themselves.  They aren’t making changes in order to be the person (they think) the other needs.  Frankie’s fears are highlighted and challenged. He realises that nowhere is going to be completely safe and he decides that life is worth living and he’s going to start fighting for what he wants.  Marcus embraces parts of himself he forgot he enjoyed when he left the Cities; things he had associated with his asshole-ex.

I also liked the sensitive way Marcus’ mother’s Alzheimer’s was handled in the story.  There were no miracles here.

I did think it was a bit unusual that tiny Logan had such a high gay population – that and the “Goldielocks” parts of the story lent it a somewhat fairytale aspect.   Marcus and Frankie fell in love very fast, but I was willing to suspend my disbelief and the snowed-in/pressure cooker environment of their first week or so together helped me in this.

Even though the page count indicated the story was 175 pages long, the story finished at 154 – as is often the case with this publisher there is a lot of filler (excerpts and the like) at the back.  So: be warned.

I thought Let It Snow was a cute and sexy Christmas story but hidden within the fairytale there were some important messages about being gay, masculinity and also,  being afraid and being stuck and how to move 0n/out of both of those things.  I liked it a lot. Grade: B.

Regards,
Kaetrin

 

 

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Dear Author

Bring on the holiday romances

I’m not a huge fan of a lot of aspects of the Halloween-to-New-Year’s marketing and consumption extravaganza. I think Halloween costumes should be left to the under-12 crowd, I prefer to leave the country for Thanksgiving, I haven’t put up a Christmas tree in nearly two decades, and I’m usually asleep before midnight on New Year’s Eve. But I’m not a total Grinch: I love Christmas (and Hanukkah) stories, despite not being either Christian or Jewish. I can’t remember when I developed this affection for them; it might have been the Christmas stories in the Little House series. But Christmas was always a special time of the year for me, even as a child in India. Needless to say, live trees were not easily come by (actually they weren’t possible to come by at all), but my formerly-Catholic mother acquired not one but two over the years. First we had a fake green one, and then the one I remember best: it was silver, and the branches screwed in at almost perfect 90-degree angles. In retrospect it was ridiculous-looking, but I loved it.

Because we lived with my father’s extended family, all of whom were Hindu, and we didn’t celebrate with other families (aside from the endless series of parties my parents went to during the holiday season), Christmas always felt like our private, intimate celebration. My mother took me to Christmas services at the local Catholic church, just to offset the all-Hindu-all-the-time environment I lived in, I think. And so Christmas Mass and caroling were part of the celebration as well. For me they were just part of Christmas culture, not a requirement to be religious. That probably sounds a bit blasphemous, but I didn’t know any differently.

After we came to the US I was exposed to the full glory of the Christmas commercial-I-mean-holiday season. I still remember during our first Christmas season in the US, my father and I went to a local discount store to get tree ornaments. We were stunned at how much variety there was. Even more shocking was the fact that we could buy as much as we wanted, because in India in those days you just bought what they had or what they let you buy; choice wasn’t part of the transaction.

Eventually I got used to Christmas and as it became even more commercial, and as I got older, I retreated from most of the rituals. But there are a lot of non-commercial things about Christmas I still love. Christmas dinner. Christmas cookies. Snow. Little kids opening presents. Good Christmas music. And Christmas romances.

When the holiday-themed books start appearing in October, I groan, because it’s just too early! But by late November I’m totally ready for them. This year on the plane home after Thanksgiving I read three category-romance Christmas stories back to back to back. They were all different and all enjoyable, and one, by Marion Lennox, was a totally OTT yet wonderful fairy tale (there’s a review coming). Sarah Morgan writes lovely holiday stories, full of snow and reunions and holiday emotions. This year’s winner for me was Sleigh Bells in the Snow, but I have keepers from previous years too, especially the Medical duet set in wintry, snowy Cumbria. Harlequin’s Kimani line usually releases a Christmas anthology (I reviewed this one in 2012), and Farrah Rochon released a self-published novella last year called A Perfect Holiday Fling that hit my trifecta: a well-matched couple, a scene-stealing dog, and a Louisiana setting,

The stories I have been reading the longest are the Regency Christmas anthologies that Signet used to publish. Every year I looked forward to seeing which authors were contributing. Carla Kelly was a welcome mainstay, but Mary Balogh, Barbara Metzger, Elisabeth Fairchild, Mary Jo Putney, and Edith Layton wrote some classics as well. Janga has a post over at Heroes & Heartbreakers that talks about her favorites, some of which are my favorites too.

It’s not just Christmas stories, either. Astrid Amara has written some wonderful m/m Hanukkah novellas that I read and reread, starting with Carol of the Bellskis; Jayne reviewed her new one, Sweet and Sour, earlier this month. And Smart Bitch Sarah has a great list of Hanukkah themed romances here.

I think I gravitate toward holiday stories because they tend to emphasize the aspects of the holidays I enjoy. They are pretty secular but not always entirely so, and I’m a sucker for the Christmas miracle story. And I like the Hannukah stories because they make me feel less singular being a non-Christian at the Christian-est time of the year.

I know that not everyone likes holiday stories, though, and some people actively avoid them. I’ve noticed that at least some in this group are readers that are Christian, or care quite a bit about Christmas but for whatever reason the stories don’t work for them.

What about you, DA commentariat? Do you like holiday stories? If so, which ones, and if not, why not?

And happy holidays to everyone; may your holiday travel be smooth and your destinations welcoming!