Review – Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan

Love Lessons book cover
Publisher: Samhain
Publish Date: 1 Oct
How I got this book: ARC from the publisher

Love doesn’t come with a syllabus.

Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.

Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.

Warning: This story contains lingering glances, milder than usual sexual content for this author, and a steamy dance-floor kiss. Story has no dairy or egg content, but may contain almonds.
This blurb came from the author’s website.

I have read a few things by Cullinan before and each time I tell myself I need to read more. So when I found out about Love Lessons, I decided this was my opportunity. Those of you who caught my tweets or saw my first attempt at writing a coherent thought, know that I absolutely loved this book, and yet I almost didn’t finish it. When I was first introduced to Walter, I couldn’t stand him. I thought he was a sad self-centered ass and I felt sorry for any of his “Talents.” Then I met Kelly and I really thought this could turn out to be the roommate match that you use to scare incoming freshmen that are forced to live on campus. I was also adrift when it came to their college life. I shared two common experiences – dorm living and dealing with food allergies in a non-supportive atmosphere. However, as I kept reading Walter and Kelly sucked me into their lives.

Kelly was a romantic. He grew up in a loving, supportive, and protective family seemingly too protective at times, but with good reason because Kelly suffered from severe food and environmental allergies. Usually, discovering a serious allergy occurs after a serious reaction. The process of determining the cause or causes can be long and, depending on how bad the reaction is, scary. Once you know what the trigger is, learning avoidance can be even worse. That is when you discover just how many things are hidden in food and how many people do not understand the consequences of contamination. Given that situational background, it was a lot easier to understand his air of innocence. He also grew up on a steady diet of Disney movies and other entertainment that all pointed towards romance. As a result, that is what he wanted and felt he deserved to the extent that he refused to participate in carefree intimacy. Part of what he expected to find in college was acceptance for his orientation, allergies, and a boyfriend. College life didn’t turn out the way he expected but he ended up with a great deal more than he hoped.

Walter on the other hand was a bitter cynical appearing man whose only interests were “Talents,” his best friend’s wedding, and the only professor he felt comfortable talking to. “Talent” was the term he used to describe young men who were out, attractive, and perfectly willing to indulge in a fun encounter or two. The fact that he was forced to live on campus, in a horrible dorm, with a roommate who would have been on the top of his list of “Talents” but instead was an idealized innocent who refused to play around didn’t make him happy. Yet, on the inside Walter proved to be a decent person who didn’t want to hurt Kelly. In fact, he went out of his way to almost protect that innocence. Watching the dichotomy of Walter’s reputation/outside behavior and what he really did when he was around Kelly caused me to decide Walter wasn’t one of those people I detest who only care for themselves.

As Walter and Kelly fell into a mostly comfortable lifestyle and became friends, I loved watching some of Walter’s confidence spread to Kelly and at the same time see Kelly bring joy and innocent pleasure back into Walter’s life. Their slow growing friendship that later developed into a relationship was a treat. Each had to separately come to the realization that the other meant much more than a roommate. Walter slowly seduced Kelly, but whenever Kelly made a move, he had been drinking, so Walker kept refusing to take what Kelly was offering. For all of his teasing ways, Walter remained protective and caring about Kelly, while denying that he looked at him as anything except a roommate.

Rose sipped at her tea, eyes twinkling. “You and Walter are such a couple, and it’s adorable. I know. You’re not dating. Except that you are. It’s almost like you skipped dating and went straight to married.”

“Walter doesn’t date.” Kelly had said this to her before, but it felt like a lifeline right now. Remember that, before you hurt yourself.

Rose had a wicked look about her. “Walter takes better care of you than anyone I’ve ever dated, slept with or simply called a friend.”

But it wasn’t all one-sided. Kelly gave Walter the feeling that he mattered as more than just a sexual partner.

I have picked out two moments that I thought provided great examples of their relationship. One was when Kelly called Walter to get a ride back to school after Thanksgiving and as reluctant as Walter was to let Kelly see the dysfunction that was his family; he agreed. Then promptly set off on a massive cleaning and sanitizing spree that even involved his mother in cooking/experimenting with recipes Kelly could eat. That was a perfect example of how much he cared for Kelly despite his refusal to admit it. The second one happened over Christmas vacation. Walter and Kelly agreed they would each spend half of the vacation with their respective families and for the second half, Walter would visit Kelly and his family. Having learned that Kelly’s mom was losing her job so the family was tightening their purse strings, Walter did a little Christmas shopping. When Kelly realized what Walter did, he warned his family but their honest reaction made me reach for more tissues.

All but Dick [Kelly’s father], who stood at the end of the table with a quiet, reverent look on his face.

Walter watched him, Kelly noticed, and as soon as he did he kept the pair of them in his sights, holding his breath.

Eventually Dick turned to Walter, as if he’d known he’d been watched all along.

Countenance soft but serious, Dick held out his hand to Walter, gave him a small jerk of a Minnesota nod and said, “Well done, son.”

He shook Walter’s hand when he put it there, then pulled him in close for a steady, man-pat hug. Walter stayed stiff for a second then when Dick let the embrace linger, giving Walter space, Walter let himself sag for a moment and closed his eyes in relief.

At that point Kelly had to look away, or he’d start crying.

“I think we fixed his Christmas,” Lisa [Kelly’s sister] whispered in his ear.

In Love Lessons, Cullinan reached inside and pulled out ALL the feelings: fear, guilt, sadness, anticipation, happiness, love, lust, bitterness, loneliness, togetherness, and coming of age (yes that is a feeling, probably combines all of the ones I mentioned previously). As I was sucked into Walter and Kelly’s journey I had to reach for tissues on a few different occasions when things were really touching me. Cullinan left me utterly shattered from the emotional roller coaster which ended on a great book high. I was so emotionally spent and touched that I had to start reading a completely different genre for fear of losing that book high or finding a comfort read suddenly lacking in comparison. Yes, this is a slow growing rather sweet romance but it packs an extreme punch. While sweet and less steamy than some of Cullinan’s other writing, the sexy-times are both touching and detailed.

I give Love Lessons an A+

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3 thoughts on “Review – Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan”

  1. I thought I’d tell you that I finished this over lunch (out in public, at a place where they are really solicitous of me because of my blindness) and had to struggle not to start sobbing openly from happy tears. I know it’s a good book when the end makes me want to cry like that.

    Also I want more like this. I bought Frat Boy and Toppy by Ann Tanenio. I hope it’s as good as everyone says.

  2. @Shannon: I am so glad you loved it and had the same problem that I did *grin*. I seriously had a hard time reading anything else in the romance genre when I finished because this just pushed ALL of my buttons. I hope you enjoy Frat Boy and Toppy!

  3. Pingback: Review: Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan | Smexy Books

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