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review 2016-12-23 17:00
Santa Baby by Heidi Cullinan - My Thoughts
Santa Baby - Heidi Cullinan


Minnesota Christmas - Book 4

The last of my Christmas reads - I saved the best 'til last.  As you might know already, Heidi is one of my favourite authors and I adored the first 3 Minnesota Christmas books, so I was very much looking forward to my read.

Santa Baby is a little more serious than the first three books and it didn't seem to me to be quite as 'Christmas Focused' as the others.  Part of that might have been that it starts one Christmas season and finishes up the next.  I also think that part of it was the lack of intimate holiday traditions/scenes between the main characters.  I get that these things weren't really part of the story Heidi had to tell, but I missed them.

As advertised, this is a the story of a budding threesome, Arthur and Gabriel, the stars of book 2 and newcomer Dale.  I really enjoyed the getting inside of Arthur's thoughts as the love of his life, Gabriel, develops a massive crush on Dale who has come to Logan to help get them on the map, so to speak.  It was fascinating to watch as he realised that his Gabriel might be polyamorous and what he, Arthur, needed to do to help and support him.  Arthur, is not poly, but he is open.  Dale is indeed poly, but desperately needs his 'alone' time.  And while Arthur isn't poly, he does, in his own way, fall for Dale and have a desire and a need to have him as 'his' (in a positive way, not a yucky overly possessive way).  For the most part, I enjoyed how all this played out, but I couldn't help but feel that somehow, Arthur was doing most of the compromising and bending to make it all work for the three of them.  I kinda felt as if he were short-changed somewhere along the line - especially at the end when they have the wedding/ceremony.  It came across, to me, that the important thing for Gabriel was the small and privateish ceremony with his shiny new lover, Dale, as opposed to his marriage to Arthur, the supposed love of his life.  And also, the giving up of their dream to have a place for foster children felt sad to me, even though there were other things that would be filling that 'hole' in their emotions.

Dale, for his part, has a dark past in which he was abused and used by a 'supposed' lover.  I thought this was pretty well done, horrific as it was and decidedly NOT Christmassy.  *LOL*  But the way that Arthur helped him get through that and come out the other side was fascinating.  The only part that bugged me was that it at times felt that Arthur was doing all this to present Gabriel with a lovely and perfect lover with a bow on his head, if you get my drift.

There was one point in the book, in the last quarter, if memory serves, where I felt like I was sitting at a lecture and it was fairly short-lived, so I can't complain.  :)  I just think there must be a more conversational or convivial or personal way to talk about the challenges facing the queer community that might resonate a little more with a reader?

All that is why this book only gets 4 stars instead of 5.  :)  It seems like I've been bitching and complaining a lot, but don't be mislead, I really did enjoy this one.  :)  And Marcus... my lovely Marcus - he and Arthur were, for me, the heroes of the book.

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review 2016-11-28 00:00
Santa Baby (Minnesota Christmas Book 4)
Santa Baby (Minnesota Christmas Book 4) - Heidi Cullinan Review originally posted at Sinfully.

The signs were there. In [b:Sleigh Ride|22055733|Sleigh Ride (Minnesota Christmas, #2)|Heidi Cullinan|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1399597736s/22055733.jpg|41383859] Gabriel tells Arthur that one of the kinks he was most interested in when he looked at porn was orgies. Arthur telling Gabe that when he felt safe with his main partner he would be more likely to want to try it in real life, though Arthur wasn’t sure he could share Gabriel. What appeared to be a throwaway comment in [b:Winter Wonderland|25537817|Winter Wonderland (Minnesota Christmas, #3)|Heidi Cullinan|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1431619912s/25537817.jpg|45328363] about Gabriel’s apparent interest in Dale and whether he and Arthur would invite Dale for some fun, now appears to have been a seed planted for this book. This is definitely going to be a polarizing book for fans of the series. If you are not a fan of bringing someone new into an already established relationship, you are going to want to think twice about this story.

Santa Baby picks up right where Winter Wonderland ends. I would suggest having at least read Sleigh Ride prior to this one so you understand the relationship between Gabriel and Arthur, but Dale is pretty new to the series so you could jump in here. Dale is polyamorous and is taken by Gabriel after working with him for weeks on the Logan development project. He is running from a bad situation with a co-worker and plans to spend a lot of time in Logan. When Arthur invites him for a little fun with him and Gabriel after noticing the sparks between the two of them, Dale wants nothing more. When the time comes though, things don’t go as planned and Arthur realizes that for him it’s a bit of kink, but for Gabriel it’s so much more.

In Sleigh Ride, Gabriel had for the first time accepted who he is and what he wants, Arthur guiding him through it all. Here, with Dale, Gabriel is continuing that journey and once again, it is Arthur guiding him. Arthur wants nothing more than for Gabriel to be happy and if Dale makes Gabriel happy, then Arthur will do everything he can to make that happen.

If you follow my reviews at all you know I love ménage books, but this was a uniquely written relationship from anything I’ve read before. This wasn’t a story of a couple bringing in a third for fun and games then accidentally falling for him. Gabriel and Dale are polyamorous, but Arthur is not. While Arthur doesn’t mind playing with others, he only wants one romantic partner. But Arthur’s outlook on sex and relationships is open and he isn’t going to deny Gabriel what he needs, even if Gabriel doesn’t understand that he needs it quite yet. They both craft their own relationship with Dale. For Gabriel it’s another romantic partner to love and share his life with. For Arthur it’s a sub and a friend. For both, Dale’s a part of their life that fills a void they knew was there, but weren’t sure how to fill. Dale is a wonderful addition to the family these men in Logan have created and to Gabriel and Arthur’s relationship.

I liked the way the men were open and communicative with each other; obviously the only way any of this would work. The sex was there, of course, but it wasn’t the focus of the story. I do have to say though, that the scenes with the men ranged from tender to dirty and were different depending on who was involved. Arthur and Dale have a D/s relationship that has a set schedule of scenes, while for Gabriel and Dale it’s a full-blown romance. There are also times set aside for the three to be together and connect. I loved to see that Arthur was firm in his mindset, that he is not poly, he does not consider Dale to be his romantic partner such as Gabriel is, but he has a D/s relationship with Dale that is separate from everything else. He is not magically converted, rather the three work out something unique to them.

There was a bit of insta-love between Gabriel and Dale and I would have liked a little more time spent on the start of that relationship. There are some time jumps that took away from the initial bonding for me, but as the story went on it was clear that there was something very real. What Gabriel and Dale had was very different from what developed between Dale and Arthur, but at the heart of it is still Arthur and Gabriel’s relationship. It really is the anchor for everything else that happens and Arthur has cemented himself as my favorite in this series. I did want to be in Gabriel’s head a little more instead of feeling like he was just riding the waves. It’s in his nature to allow Arthur to lead and fix things, but I wanted to really know what was going on outside of those times where he voiced his feelings or he was having a moment of crisis.

There is a sub-plot regarding the abusive co-worker Dale had been with before leaving for Logan and the continuing development project. Dale was put through a horrifying ordeal that haunts him throughout the story. As Heidi Cullinan tends to do, there are serious issues brought up and on occasion the narrative tends to get a bit preachy in spots, but not enough that it impacted the overall story for me.

All the couples from the first three books are back and their engagements finally come to fruition, but only one ceremony had me with a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. So while there were things I loved, and things I felt weren’t given as much time as I’d have liked, overall I really enjoyed this exploration of sexuality and love. These three men did what was right for them, regardless of what society and the small town gossip mill would say. They kept true to themselves and nurtured what was important to them and in the end found something that works and enriches their lives. In keeping in true Heidi Cullinan fashion, there is a HEA for everyone involved in the series.


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review 2016-11-21 21:41
It's a matter of personal taste...
Santa Baby (Minnesota Christmas Book 4) - Heidi Cullinan

If you're a fan of Heidi Cullinan than I'm sure you're probably already aware of much of the controversy surrounding this book. So let's start with the elephant in the room. A large portion of this story is focused on the change that happens in Arthur and Gabriel's relationship when Arthur realizing that Dale Davidson, Marcus's friend and the developer from the twin cities who's going to help Logan's economy by making it into a vacation destination is interested in his fiance Gabriel. 


What was suppose to be one time night of kinky sex and fun for the threesome ends abruptly leaving Arthur and Gabe to deal with a surprising realization and Dale making a hasty retreat to the city feeling alone and rejected. It's Arthur who finally takes matters in hand and plots to draw Dale back to Logan to try and put all their lives back onto a happier path only to discover that Dale needs more than love he needs help. Years of being in an abusive relationship have done a real number on him and his abuser is trying  to insinuate himself back into Dale's life. 


This was one hella' complex story in a lot of ways. So I'm going to try and share my thoughts on this without being spoilerish or confusing...good luck to me. I finished this book yesterday and to be honest I'm still trying to work through a lot of it but the one thing I did realize is I honestly have to give props to the author because what she's tackled here is a pretty complex issue in what's probably a not so popular way.


A lot of readers don't want to see the dynamics changed in established couples (and I'll include myself in this group) but Ms. Cullinan's vision of Arthur and Gabe's future did just that and while a part of me maybe frowned a little over this, all things considered it was not my biggest dilemma with this story. Maybe if Arthur and Gabe had been more than a one book couple I would have struggled with it even more. If it had been a couple from a long standing series like Ty and Zane from the Cut & Run series I probably would have just thrown my hands up and said "Oh hell NO!" and taken a total pass on the book. But it wasn't so I was willing to read and see where this would go.


What I found when all was said and done was that this was a huge emotional roller coaster ride that left me feeling a bit conflicted and confused. One of the issues that this story deals with is Polyamory and I know some of the reviews that I peeked at said the story at times felt like a 'Poly 101' course and maybe it did but for me this was good. I knew the word and what it meant, but beyond that I needed more information to be able to process how it would impact the MCs in this book so I was honestly relieved that it was information that was filtered into the story for me.


What I quickly realized is that from my perspective 'it's not cheating'. When a third party enters into a relationship with the knowledge and consent of both partners and everyone has been honest with each other in regards to expectations and feelings and there's no dishonesty involved then there is no cheating. Had Gabe and Dale or Arthur and Dale initiated a relationship without the others knowledge then yes, cheating has entered the equation. But this did not happen and another one of the things I liked about this story, the communication between Gabe and Arthur was good it was open and I think this was due in a big way to Arthur's determination to make things work and to make sure Gabe, whom he so obviously loved was happy.


Arthur ended up becoming one of my favorite characters. He truly embodied what it means to love someone. You put their happiness before your own. His objective from start to finish of this book was to see Gabriel happy. To give him what Arthur quickly recognized as being what Gabriel needed to feel happy and complete, but it didn't stop there because it also felt like doing this made Arthur feel happy and complete.


What was missing from this for me was that I didn't feel like Gabriel had that same imperative feeling about Arthur. I needed to feel like that Arthur's happiness and well being was of equal importance to Gabriel.  I know there were a couple of times that he spoke the words but the words just didn't seem to contain the emotion. I never got the sense that Arthur's happiness came before all else for Gabriel. In fact there was more than one instance where I was left feeling like Arthur's love for Gabriel was stronger and because of how their relationship changed I needed for this not to be the case. That Gabriel opened up his heart and made room for someone else along with Arthur wasn't my issue that I felt like he gave some of what had been Arthur's place in his heart to that person was.


I think what it comes down to is that at the end of it all I really needed to feel a sense of balance had been achieved between the three. Not that they loved each other the same because they were three different men filling different needs within each others lives but I needed to feel that the core relationship between Arthur and Gabe had not been diminished, changed yes, all relationships grow and change it's part of what keeps them healthy and good, but growth and change shouldn't diminish what they had and yet to me it felt like that was exactly what had happened. In particular the event that happened immediately prior to the actual wedding of the 3 couples (Marcus & Frankie, Paul & Kyle and Arthur & Gabriel) was not something I was happy with and only reinforced my feelings that what was between Arthur and Gabriel had diminished and not remained as strong or stronger than it was originally.


My last big stumbling block with this story was in regards to the resolution of Dale's abuser. I loved that this man was brought to justice. That Dale who he obviously had a long history of abusing was totally removed from the case and not a part of it left me with two really big issues...

1. it just didn't seem realistic and even more importantly

2. there were other victims involved and it made me feel like they got tossed under the bus to spare Dale. Why was their suffering any less painful than Dale's. Did they all get the option to be removed from the case to spare themselves further hurt and torment? Sorry this part really bothered me.


For the most part these are my main thoughts in regards to 'Santa Baby' and here I sit at the end of it all still wondering how to rate this book. I like Heidi Cullinan's writing style and in this case it worked well for me and helped to give me some insight to a subject that I really knew little about. There were parts of the story that I really liked, parts that bothered me and things that yes, I just plain didn't like. But at the end of it was a story that has left me with a lot to think about and that's something that I really respect when it happens. So for that reason I'm going with 3.5 stars and a strong recommendation that anyone who is interested in this story check out all the reviews there's a wide range of diverse opinions out there about it and it's worth at least checking them out and making your own informed decision before you decide yea or nay as to whether or not you're actually going to read it.



A copy of 'Santa Baby' was graciously provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

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review 2014-12-26 17:52
Fun Moments
Sleigh Ride (Minnesota Christmas Book 2) - Heidi Cullinan

               Sleigh Ride is the number two in Heidi Cullinan’s Minnesota Christmas series. It takes place in the same town that the previous installment happened. This time around we learn Arthur's story. It takes place one year from the last time we saw our friends. Paul wants more and Arthur can't give it to him so they split up as friends and as a part-time lovers. We still see Marcus and Frankie even though I think we should have seen them more. We meet Arthur's foil, Gabriel. The super tall, super gay, super smart town’s librarian who when it comes to relationships is as dumb as a doorknob. Oddly I found him weak in a - damn dude somebody's banging on your door there's a point where you get tough, grow some balls and fight for your life. Come on, we know there's a point where our sweet Frankie, the ultimate twink in this series would have tried his hardest to kick ass if he needed to survive. I love the mother and the nephew was fantastic and by the way the book that he read to the children Williams Doll is one of my favorites.

            The ending was jarring it happened so suddenly and that took a star away. It felt incomplete and I felt I was not finished with these two. I hope we're not finished in the little town of Logan because I really need to know how Paul fares. So until maybe next Christmas I'll see you there.

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review 2014-12-23 00:00
Let It Snow (Minnesota Christmas, #1)
Let It Snow (Minnesota Christmas, #1) - Heidi Cullinan Stuck in a cabin in the woods in the middle of a blizzard shortly before Christmas. Doesn’t get any more romantic than that.

Grumpy ‘Papa Bear’ Marcus and effeminate big-city stylist Frankie seem to be total opposites. But there is an immediate attraction which Marcus – still suffering from the bad memories of his last boyfriend – tries to fight every bit of the way. Which is, of course, futile; what is meant to be is meant to be. And what that is is no surprise in this sweet Christmas romance which ends exactly the way we expect it to.

Sweet and utterly without surprises – just the way I like it during the Holiday season.
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