"You make me feel--" Stan said, then cut off the thought before he could voice it.
Oh man, it was an ordeal to finish this book. AN ORDEAL, I'm telling you!
I really liked the premise of a gender-fluid character who suffered from anorexia. Just think of all the possibilities. How does a character like Stan become this confident person at the age of only 21 that he is at the beginning of the book? How does he live his everyday life? How much of a struggle is it for someone who identifies him- or herself as neither male nor female? How is your environment, your friends, your family treating you?
Alas, I didn't get any of that. What I got instead were endless descriptions of THE most superficial stuff, like putting on make-up and clothes, wearing designer bags, showering! (OMIGOD, all those numerous shower scenes!), washing and conditioning your hair, and body care in general.
NOTHING about the everyday struggles of someone who identifies as gender-fluid.
NOTHING even remotely deep about how Stan became the person that he is today.
NOTHING about anything that goes beyond hair styles and wardrobe.
I honestly was bored out of my mind during the first part of the story.
Unfortunately, the second part that dealt with Stan's anorexia wasn't any better. Since the first part was all about his appearances and clothes, his illness has been so neglected at that point that the real severeness of his condition came out of nowhere for me. So much so that I couldn't really relate to it anymore. I really wish the author would have concentrated on THAT part of Stan's personality in the beginning, instead of throwing brands, make-up, clothes, shoes, dresses and handbags at my face.
It also didn't help that there were A LOT of descriptions that didn't matter at all to the overall story and just made for a boring read. Like
"Remembering they were out of soy milk, he wrote it on the shopping list Ben had brought. It was magnetic and stuck to the fridge, so they shouldn't forget stuff like that anymore."
Um, ok. I know that amplifying a story is important and all, but ENDLESS descriptions of stuff like that that just doesn't matter is nothing but annoying AF.
But kudos to the author for writing a book with a diverse character. I seriously appreciate that. But if looks, clothes and hair care is all there is to gender-fluidity, then I'm pretty much done with that whole trope already.
Thanks again to Julie for accompanying me during another frustrating BR!
"Rob never broke down. He never needed help. He was the rock, and Matty was the bird who flew. It was the way it worked. But as it turned out, Matty was the bird that broke the rock's back."
This book exhausted me, and I so wanted to like it.
I loved the first book in this series, Training Season, so very much. In fact, I even rated it 5 stars and added it to my "favorites" shelf.
For me, it was the perfect mixture of funny and light-hearted in the first half and heartbreaking and moving in the second. Throw in some BDSM light elements for an amazing hurt/comfort and I was perfectly happy. Looking back, I should have been satisfied that it ended on such a perfect note and left it at that.
This book though? Well, let's just say that it's never a good sign when the best part of a book for me are the secondary characters because they bring a much needed comic relief.
This book was angst-fest galore! Everything that was going on between Matty and Rob was so dark and painful to read. Basically, it was hurt/hurt/hurt/hurt/a little comfort/hurt/hurt/hurt.
The story takes place 5 years after the first book, and Matty's eating disorder (or disordered eating) has become worse than ever. Gone is the bratty and flamboyant twink from the first book. Now, all that's left of Matty are his insecureness and his self-loathing. He's insecure about his job, his talent, his relationship, even about his looks.
And this went on and on and on ALL THE TIME. It was so stressful to be in his head that at around the 30% mark, I was just SO OVER IT! I was over his constant self-loathing and selfishness and his endless needs and demands from Rob. The worst thing for me was that he took Rob along with him in his downward spiral.
"Matty, when it came to sex, was the very definition of greedy - more, more, more, and me, me, me was pretty much his chant."
Yeah, that's Matty, the annoying bird, in a nutshell.
I was also this close to be over Rob too, who should have kicked Matty's selfish and demanding ass to therapy, no matter the money. But instead, he tried to help Matty and his illness with sex. Lots and lots of sex. Because the cure to an eating disorder lies in BDSM, obviously. Lovesick doormat is lovesick.
The BDSM scenes that worked so well in the first book became much more extreme and disturbing here. In the first book, they were a means to an end to establish and strengthen the relationship between Matty and Rob, and to give them both what they needed from each other.
Here, the BDSM went from light to very extreme and it was a cry for help on Matty's part and an expression of helplessness on Rob's. Which made for some VERY uncomfortable scenes that I had to skip over most of the parts.
The end made up for most of the frustration, but I was past the point where I cared anymore.
It's not that this is a bad book. Far from it. It's just that I hardly recognized the characters from the first book anymore which I so fell in love with.
And it's also one of those cases where I wished I would have stopped at a certain point in a series and let the MCs just have their HEA. Because I couldn't care less what happens after that. I know that real life is about physical and emotional struggles and financial problems and juggling work with free time. But I just don't want to read about it.
"Sadism wasn't about taking people too far. It was about taking them ALMOST too far. It was about not asking for but assuming control. It was about being strong and sure, a huge wall of absolute his sub crumbled against. It was about getting another human being to voluntarily submit to his will, knowing they could trust him with it. It was about, for an hour or two, playing God."
Well, it looks like I found my hard limits with this book, reading-wise.
While I do enjoy me some BDSM in my stories every now and then, clearly I am not cut out for the heavy BDSM. Meaning sadism and pain play.
The warning in the blurb should be taken seriously! There's a lot to stomach in here, and not just the mentioned watersports.
Maybe I would have liked this book better if I would have been more connected to Chenco and Steve. But somehow I never really cared about them as much as I did about Sam & Mitch or Randy & Ethan.
I also wasn't really able to relate to Chenco's transition from being a complete BDSM virgin to being a sub for a sadist like Steve. How he went from
"If anyone was this cruel to me, this humiliating, I’d kick them in the face."
"Please pierce me, Papi."
Yes, you read that right. There's some serious needle play at the end of the book and it made me want to throw up a little bit in my mouth.
"They went back and forth for hours, one needle, two, three into Steve, then as many or more into Chenco, until their bodies were pincushions."
And of course this very scene had to end with
a fucking proposal!
“I need to take care of you,” Chenco slurred, gesturing to the needles between them, all around them in Steve’s skin.
“In a minute. I want to wear you a little longer.” Steve kissed his brow. “I love you. I love you more than anything in the world, anything or anyone I ever thought I could love. Stay with me, please. Marry me, live with me—here, Texas, on the moon, wherever you want.”
As much as I love Heidi Cullinan, I don't know why she has to end all her books with a proposal and under the most awkward circumstances at that.
So as much as it pains me (see what I did there?) to give a Heidi Cullinan book such a low rating, this really wasn't for me. At all.
Not even Sam, Mitch, Randy or Ethan could save this book for me.
"I'm not the same man I was when I first came to this city. Nothing is the same. I'm not cold anymore. I'm not lost. And when I'm worried I might lose my way, I've got someone in my corner who knows the way home."
This book turned out to be just "ok" for me in the end. The romance between Rand and Will was believable, honest and sweet. I liked how they grew together as a couple and how each on his own matured as a person at the same time. Oh, and
But everything else?
The cross-dressing theme was... Well, it wasn't really one. Will likes to glam up Ziggy Stardust-like with glitter, eyeliner and make-up when he's on stage, but the one time he fully dressed as a woman was when he got paid to do so. It's not at all like Will has a feminine side he wants to embrace.
The side characters? I still know next to nothing about Rand and Will's other band members other than their names and who they dated. Everyone else besides the MCs was pretty two-dimensional.
The villains? OTT. First, there are way too many bad guys in here (Terry, Leah, Martin, Will's parents) and yet somehow there wasn't any retribution for any of them in the end. They all just vanished and that was that.
Half an extra star for an excellent audiobook narration. I loved Seth Clayton's voices for the MCs and how he brought the story to life by giggling, snorting, munching etc.