Review: Love Lessons by Heidi Cullinan

love lessonsReviewed by Janell

Welcome to my first m/m review! I heard great things about the sequel to this book, so I read it first, and then had to go back to read Walter and Kelly’s romance.

Kelly has researched everything about Hope University, except the dorms. Because of his allergies, he needs a room that allows an air conditioner, and the only room he’s eligible for is in Porterhouse, where the gay-unfriendly jocks live.

Walter was able to bend the rules for his sophomore year and live off campus, but now the rules have bent back and he’s sent to the dorms. Naturally, the only space available is with youthful, innocent Kelly. When Walter tries to discuss sex party arrangements, Kelly blushes so much that Walter nicknames him Red.

So Kelly is all sweetness and optimism. He had an idyllic, small-town childhood and he loves Disney movies. He’s hoping for romance at last: lingering glances, first kisses, dates full of anticipation. He’s not necessarily saving himself for marriage, but at least saving himself for someone who cares.

Then Walter comes along and laughs at the idea of a boyfriend. Who needs a relationship when you can just have sex? Walter gets Kelly a fake id and takes him to a local bar, where Kelly blushes and freaks out at the idea of just hooking up with someone. When Kelly finally manages to get a guy’s number, they text-flirt for a while, but Kelly holds off because the guy keeps inviting him up to his room, without even going on a date first!

Walter has a caregiver instinct. It’s useful because Kelly has food and dust allergies, so Walter can berate the cafeteria workers for running out of tofu scramble, or find Kelly’s epipen when Kelly eats something laced with almond oil. Do you like guys who take care of others? Then Walter will make you swoon.

Kelly does indeed swoon over Walter, and he awkwardly confesses this whenever he’s drunk. Walter is a good guy, though. He knows that Kelly is holding out for an ideal, and he firmly believes that he is not good enough. He wants to spend all of his time with Kelly, and protect him from the cynical world until Kelly finds true love. Walter doesn’t believe in happily-ever-after, but he believes that Kelly will find one because he’s so lovable, and he wants to take care of Kelly until someone else does.

This fit some of the standard romance tropes — opposites forced to live together, unlikely friends, and the caregiver aspect. Those were all written to maximum romantic effect. Walter definitely had more of the standard hero characteristics, and Kelly met more of a heroine stereotype, with his physical limitations and his dreams of love. But the gender roles are blurred, especially later in the story.

So, is m/m romance the best way to break free of romance stereotypes? When you’re not worrying about whether the guy is manly enough or whether the girl is nice enough, it does open the door for all facets of the characters to shine, and then you can just appreciate two people falling for each other, which is really sweet.

There’s also sex, although just a few explicit scenes. Now, I’m a heterosexual married woman, and I don’t know if society allows me to say that the sex was hot. I mean, is it voyeuristic? Are female romance readers co-opting gay men’s experiences for our own personal pleasure? Do gay men care if we read it? Am I stupid to ask these questions, because Romancelandia is so vast that it’s all-inclusive? Let me know. But as for the sex…I have a healthy appreciation of the male body, and this just doubled the ogling factor for me.

Overall, this was an excellent story with sweet characters, some lusting over David Tennant as Dr. Who (I know!!!), a high school class ring, and some sketches of Disney princes that Mickey Mouse would not approve of.

Rating: B+

Click to purchase: Amazon

Love Lessons
by Heidi Cullinan
Release Date: October 1, 2013
Publisher: Samhain

Comments

  1. Wow. Great review. This is not a book or author I’ve heard of before but this story sounds adorable. I am definitely adding this to my list.
    I don’t know about all those questions you asked though, Janell. I have honestly never thought about it when I’ve read m/m before. However, what I DO think about it… how does a straight woman who’s married with 3 kids, 2 dogs, and lives in North Dakota write about m/m romance. Or when an author is vanilla but writes about a BDSM M/s relationship. Do people from that lifestyle read it and laugh at it all because of it’s ridiculous inaccuracy? That’s what I always think about. HaHa I know I’m weird but I’ve always wondered…

    • I think that’s a good way to consider it, Kristin! How many authors have first-hand experience with their subject matter? That eliminates historical and paranormal right off the bat, and most YA, right? If I can get my brain to understand that the writer is telling a fictional story and not saying “this is a true and accurate reflection of reality,” then it makes more sense. To look at it a different way, I like stories about nerds and wallflowers, and I don’t feel like I’m invading their territory by reading their stories. They’re just characters! Falling in love!
      Thanks for letting me write this out, even though it doesn’t make much sense. Anyhow, stay tuned for my review of the sequel (I have to write it, first). It made me die of happy.

  2. Jen at Red Hot Books says:

    Welcome to wonderful world of m/m romance!

    Does society think it’s ok for you to say the sex is hot??
    I can’t speak for society, but I say, hell yeah!

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