…we're keeping our name but expanding our offerings!
Back in November 2013, we hosted BDSM Week at our blog. It was a way to inform, challenge, entertain, and enlighten readers about the category. Heidi Cullinan graciously kicked off the event with a fantastic guest post. She also came back and challenged our team to read her book Special Delivery. “Only if you promise to review it honestly”, she says. So here we are…our honest reviews. But first…
Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win ALL THREE books in the Special Delivery series! Winner will be chosen and then announced on January 31st!
When your deepest, darkest fantasy shows up, get on board.
Sam Keller knows he’ll never find the excitement he craves in Middleton, Iowa—not while he’s busting his ass in nursing school and paying rent by slaving away in a pharmacy stockroom. Then Sam meets Mitch Tedsoe, an independent, long-haul trucker who makes a delivery to a shop across the alley. Innocent flirting quickly leads to a fling, and when Mitch offers to take him on a road trip west, Sam jumps at the chance for adventure. Mitch is sexy, funny and friendly, but once they embark on their journey, something changes. One minute he’s the star of Sam’s every x-rated fantasy, the next he’s almost too much a perfect gentleman. And when they hit the Las Vegas city limit, Sam has a name to pin on Mitch’s malady: Randy.
For better or for worse, Sam grapples with the meaning of friendship, letting go, growing up—even the meaning of love—because no matter how far he travels, eventually all roads lead home.
I think it should be shared, before our reviews of the book, that we are a very diverse team when it comes to our reading tastes. So, in giving you a better perspective of where we’re starting from with this book, here’s where we each land on the Kink Scale:
As you can see, we’re all over the spectrum when it comes to how much we enjoy kink. Did that translate to how much we did or did not enjoy Special Delivery? Well, true to form, we were, at the very least, all over the spectrum with our reviews/ratings…and it made for some interesting conversation.
Shelley: Heidi can write some damn HOT SEX! Phew…whhheeeeeee those truckers have got it going ON!
Katinka: I’m at that point where the semi is fogged up nicely. :)
Shelley: I’m so excited (in a wringing hands, evil glee type way) to see how you all interpret this one :D
What I will say is this was a GREAT choice for a blog read.
Katinka: What’s interesting is that it’s both kinky and sickly sweet. So I think Heidi might be catering to all of us here.:)
Ami: Gah, why don’t you list all the endearments here please and I WILL DELETE THEM ALL!!!
Shelley: You know, I really do prefer Heidi’s kinky stuff to her N/A type fluff stuff. I actually have trouble believing that the same person writes this. It’s like she has this really dirty side that needs to be let loose! And oh boy! Does she ever! The woman is a WILD one! *LOL*
Susan: shock the hell-outta-me…I’m really enjoying this book. No kidding. Then again, I have zero problems with pet names and in this book they mean something. And the D/s elements don’t bother me, REMARKABLY.
Ami: I found Sam to be, I dunno, I wouldn’t call him wimpy, but rather whiny. And seriously, I don’t understand the sudden needs to get all dirty sex. What triggers it? Is it the death of his Mom? Is it some kind of proving everyone wrong? What is it? I hope I get an answer to it later on.
Shelley: I think that some people are just wired to be kinky and Sam (to me) is one of them. Perhaps his past has something to with it but I prefer to accept him as just naturally kinky
Susan: I didn’t read any of the sex as hot, namely because I’m not into the kink. But I read it very…clinically or studiously maybe?…and was more drawn in by the actual relationship.
Ilhem: I’m taking it as smut fun, so I’m having fun with the smut so far, even though I could do with less endearments in the dirty talk. The strokes are thick. Sam’s just a little bit too insecure and pathetic and baby boy, aunt Delia’s just a little bit too bitchy, Emma’s just a little bit too pushy, Mitch’s just drawling a little bit too much…
Sheri: I feel exhausted, whipped, drained. it pushed me to places I didn’t really wanna go…I cringed…I shuddered…I was embarrassed…I was scared…and then BOOM I had to know. I found lots of extremely well played lines sprinkled throughout. I enjoyed the writing. I enjoyed the HEA. Hell, I flat out enjoyed it. *shrugs* Who woulda thunk it?
Ami: I read Heidi Cullinan before, and it was for romance, and I knew this would be smut, which was why I NEVER read this before. So in that sense, my state of mind is still, you know, Cullinan = romance, not Cullinan = porn.
Ilhem: I don’t know… The smut is fun, but the more I’m reading, the more I’m feeling detached.
Ami: What do you all think of Randy? Anyone liking him more than Sam and Mitch? :-)
Sheri: Nope, not a fan.
Katinka: I would like to ask her about those HEA’s of hers. I know she loves to wrap up every thread in a Walt Disney manner, but I feel like it really takes away from the book. I rolled my eyes in disbelief here
Susan: I love her HEA’s…ha. But I’m a sap-monster. Love it.
Sheri: I loved watching their relationship grow and the trust and the need develop between them.
Susan: I just really liked how it all became about trust between Sam and Mitch. Getting past all the “I’m stupid”s and the non-communication and the OTT aunt…it started to be a story about partnership. And the trust was exemplified in the kink
Sue: There’s a lot to consider here: desire, shame, kinks, sexuality and more. There’s two men in different stages of their lives (one who is afraid to start living his life and one who has stopped living his life) who remarkably want/need/desire the same thing… but are told they are wrong/dirty/weird; that you can’t have an emotional attachment alongside kink. I really felt depth there.
Jenni: Regarding Randy. ;D Listen, threesomes aren’t generally my thing. They never have been. But Randy just fit here. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t in love with him at first. In fact, I didn’t like him much at all. But I think his character was essential to moving Mitch and Sam–and the story–forward. Randy was Mitch’s past and the key to Sam’s acceptance of who and what he is.
Tracy: This was my first Cullinan novel, and overall, I liked it. I thought the pacing slowed down a bit during the last quarter, and the ending was a little OTT HEA for me, but for me, I thought it was good story about Sam’s awakening and acceptance of himself.
Tracy: And I totally cried when Sam gave the glass box to Mitch at the end.
Katinka: You cried. Wow. 0_o I rolled my eyes three times. I’m such a bitch.
Jenni: Tracy, I loved the part you mentioned, too.
Shelley: Heh. I don’t even remember that part …:/
Tracy: How would you guys rate SD on the kink scale? I was wondering if when it had come out originally, if it was considered “Very Kinky” but now with the rise of so much kinky stories, if it’s kink rating would go down in comparison.
Susan: I couldn’t say since I don’t read much kink. I think it’s probably the kinkiest thing I’ve read, tbh. Except Flesh Cartel…but that’s actually just torture.
Ami: 2.5 STARS / MNY
Ilhem: 2.5 STARS
Jenni: 4.5 STARS
Katinka: 3 STARS
Shelley: 3.5 STARS
Sheri: 4.5 STARS
Sue: 4 STARS
Susan: 4 STARS
Tracy: 4 STARS
Our COMPLETE/FULL reviews:
Here’s the thing … I usually separate my smut reading and my romance reading. If I read smut (a.k.a. slash porn), I won’t bother about characterizations or plot or life issues; throw me the kink, I’ll enjoy it. But if I read romance, I don’t like sex substance to take over. More sex scenes than story never really works for me. I will end up feeling bored, and any book will become, SEX SEX SEX BLAH BLAH SEX SEX BLAH SEX. Yes, romance can have smut, of course it can, but for me it has to be significant to the story, like the sex becomes the reward, rather than the accessory.
So here were my issues on this book:
Wait, what about the kink you said? Because this buddy read started with, challenging a couple of our blog members (i.e. Susan) with the kink. The kink was okay, it didn’t bother me at all (I’ve read them all, threesome, gang bang, beastiality, DP, BDSM, humiliation, degradation) again, for me the enjoyment depends on the context rather than the kink level). Maybe I would like this better if Sam was all about finding the joy of kink – without having the insecurities – or if Mitch is less wishy-washy.
And that ending … Oh, gosh, that ending … I am just going to let “rolling my eyes” expression explain my feeling. Thank you very much.
Do I not have anything good about to say? Well, I do … I liked the road trip. I always loved road trip stories. So the part where Sam was awed with the scene on the road trips was my favorites.
And Randy … surprisingly, I found him more interesting than Sam and Mitch. He was unapologetic, he knew what he wanted and he was willing to flirt, to manipulate, and even to scare the wits out of Sam to get it. I thought he added ‘color’ to this book.
Last but not least, I finished this book by deleting the endearments. I HATE excessive, over-the-top, endearments. HATE them. So 95 “Sunshine”, 46 “Peaches”, “honey”, “baby”, “sweetheart”, “babe” … yeah, not going to work.
I am usually okay with overlooking characterisation and plot development when I am in the mood for smut fun, but this story didn’t press my buttons (or the wrong ones), and I steadily lost interest in the characters, the story and the smut.
I believe that the author aimed at telling the emotions in the porn. Sam’s kink, usually perceived and pointed out as shameful, degrading and dangerous objectively provides an interesting story arc, as long as it is about him getting rid of shame, coming to terms with his nature, and blossoming in his sexuality with a partner that can keep it safe, sane and consensual. It is understood that it is respectable as such, even without the power of love that makes it all beautiful.
Subjectively, it’s another story… My issue is that characters’ traits are exaggerated until becoming caricatures, and plot lines are far-stretched until caricaturing the story.
For instance, it’s already a hardship growing up in general and getting your kicks of being used in particular, I am not convinced that more drama in the background was a necessity. As a matter of fact, it put me off instead of involving me emotionally. Oh, the first sex scenes between Sam and Max got me all hot and bothered, but even the endorphins couldn’t make me stomach the poor orphan string being pulled on excessively.
In the same vein, the growing D/s relationship and its conflicts became for me no more than successive variants of how stupid and insecure Sam can feel, and how afraid to fuck it up Max is. No matter how understandable it is, it became very repetitive, simplistic and sappy for lack of exploring something edgier.
The sex is kinky. Yes. It also stopped being hot when the story stopped titillating me.
The road trip is a great idea and could have provided entertaining twists and turns, as well as relief in every sense of the word. It did, only in a too small extent for my liking.
Of course, I am dissecting all this afterwards and rationalising the fact that I didn’t have any chemistry with the characters, even more so with their sex life, and that in my eyes, the emo killed the story and the porn.
Special Delivery hit *all* my buttons. It was sexy (to infinity). It was meaningful. It had depth and character growth. I adored the MCs. I loved the plot and originality of the story. I was captured by the writing and dialogue. It all fell into place and just clicked for me.
Though she’s a fairly well-known writer in the genre, this was my first book by Heidi Cullinan, and I’m hooked. Her writing style is tailor-made for me: it’s descriptive and poetic, but there’s no purple prose. In Special Delivery, I felt like Sam and Mitch were headed somewhere, and I don’t mean via one of Mitch’s trucking routes, either!
Sam is this insecure young guy who has lost a lot in his life. He’s down, but not out. He knows what he needs to do to get where he needs to go, but he’s doing a lot of that on autopilot, because he thinks getting a degree and finding a job is what society requires. Sam’s insecure and doesn’t have a solid support system outside of his best gal, Emma. In fact, his family situation is downright awful.
Enter Mitch, a sexy long haul trucker who’s seen–and done–it all.
Fate steps in to take these two on a trip across the western U.S., but what their trip really turns into is an education in life, and self, for Sam and Mitch.
Along the way there’s heart-stopping sexy time (yes, yes, yes!), and the duo briefly becomes a trio when Mitch’s crazy past, in the form of Randy, catches up with them in Sin City.
Regarding Randy. Listen, threesomes aren’t generally my thing. They never have been. But Randy fit in Special Delivery. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t in love with him at first. In fact, I didn’t like him much at all. But I think his character was essential to moving Mitch and Sam–and the story–forward. Randy was Mitch’s past, and the key to Sam’s acceptance of who and what he is.
To address the issue of the pet names (because there’s a lot of them in this book!) this was another surprise for me, because I actually enjoyed them! Ordinarily they grate, but I thought they actually added something in this case. Mitch calling Sam sweetheart? Well, it melted my heart.
Special Delivery left me feeling glow-y and breathless, and I’m happy I had the chance to read it. It’ll probably be a reread for me at some point, I liked it that much.
The longer I postpone writing this review, the more the Cinderfella glow starts to wear off.. so here we go. Despite being into that sizzling hot opening scene from head to toe, most of Special Delivery left me feeling meh-ish.
Although I had little trouble finishing Special Delivery, I never felt like I got to know the MCs and their chattering about deceased mothers and mean, homophobic families felt like (contrived?) attempts to force me into the role of a wonderfully nurturing and loving female and go all mushy over the ‘poor’ guys. I had expected kink, good kink, but got Walt Disney instead. Compared to Nowhere Ranch by the same author, Special Delivery was a tad disappointing. In the first book, the characters seemed actual people and the kink was kinkier (never mind that the terrifying ending of that one made the Drion pill seem like an attractive escape option).
Kink. The sex in this book. The first scene was great! Then follows a bit of spanking, blah, sex shops, blah, touchy feely with strangers and… WHAM! Here’s Rimming Randy. Rimming; an entirely personal and probably ridiculous pet peeve of mine. Let me put it this way, If you want to have your holes and lick them too, you will DIG Special Delivery. On to that notorious DP scene. Until a month ago, I guessed DP stood for Dirty Porn, and it’s dirty alright, but I was wrong. Now that I do know what it stands for, I’m a little undecided. Do I like it? Mwah, I can do without. Do I mind it? Nah, can’t say that I do. It’s like taking a game of Twister to the next level. It takes determination and navigation skills. Though I have to say, I had no idea DP could make one reach a deep level of spiritual self understanding or even Nirvana. NO IDEA!
I guess that if DP is what it takes, Nirvana will be one of those places that I think I might like to visit one day, but likely won’t. Like the Amazon forest, which I would love to see for myself, but I’m too afraid I will get bitten by those bugs who insert eggs underneath my skin and end up in a real life X Files episode.
Wait. Is this still a review?
Most of my friends gobbled this book up, were able to overlook or even like the 95 ‘sunshines’, 17 ‘honeys’, 46 ‘peaches’ and 18 ‘babys’, 3 ‘babes’ and 5 ‘sweeethearts’. They thought the too-insecure-to-function MC was terribly cute and deserved a chance at happiness, be it in the form of 2 do dirty’s or one bad ass trucker with a big, bad blue truck. I’m with them about the trucker part.
But, oh god, Mitch! You kind of lost me halfway with your heavy foreshadowing about a past that turned out to be Kindergarten compared to the stuff I had anticipated by then, your curious behavior around your ex partner in kink and on the whole, though it’s really not fair to expect you to add a dash of something more, something intelligent and manipulative to your humiliation games with your Kylie loving Twink — you’re a trucker after all! — but I don’t think you have what I need.
I’m slowly getting aware of the fact that I’m talking to Mitch like he’s a living person. I think I would’ve liked to frame that picture and put it on my nightstand too, if that wouldn’t have plunged me in a crisis at home, that is.
Which brings me to threesomes and love triangles. Raunchy Randy. I like assholes (figuratively speaking, only with the M/M genre do feel the need to clarify). I like fucked up, depraved characters. I didn’t like this particular dude. And I’m not sure what gives me more goosebumps; that this creepy bugger was given his own book or that he’ll probably be turned into a cuddly teddy bear to fit this author’s Cinderfella mold?
I wasn’t sure what kind of Special Delivery this book would be, but I was absolutely positive on the delivery of two things.
1) Smut! Filthy dirty, kinky sweaty flesh slapping smut so sinful the devil’s own succubae would pant for it.
2) A Happy ever after produced by Disney because Nickelodeon said it was too cheesy for them.
And I was right! Ms Cullinan delivers both …spectacularly! The sex is downright decadent! And the ending is a super colossal eye-roll of fluff-tastic. How Heidi manages to infuse so much filth with her emotional fluff amazes me. The dirty talk, the toys, the constant twitching and winking of Sam’s hole (ha!), Sam’s submission, dripping cocks, Mitch’s wicked fingers, the exhibitionism, voyeurism, the rimming …oh good lord there’s so much rimming, all seems to blend so sweetly with the emo stuff!
But to me, it’s all delicious smut devised to introduce Sam to his inner kinkster – and that’s just fine by me. He’s a horny boy and Mitch is a …well, I’m not sure what Mitch is: a sexy older guy that’s been around the block too many times? Another kinkster too afraid to make to get his feelings hurt or hurt someone else? I don’t know, Mitch wasn’t very memorable I’m afraid. I know he was a nice guy. A hot guy. Did I mention he had wicked fingers? Because I sure remember those pushing, pulling, dripping with …sorry I’m getting away from myself, so lets chat about Sam. Sam was a contrary bugger . A bit of a whinger at the beginning but he did grow on me. The more confident he became with himself and his sexuality, the more tolerable he became. He was a good vessel for me to live my fantasies through though – the guy just doesn’t say no! *grins*
There are two things over and above the sex that elevates my rating for this book. The road tripping! I LOVED travelling with Sam and Mitch in the big Blue lorry. That was awesome! The other thing I loved was Rampant Randy!! Ha! Yes! I loved what the greasy smarmy bastard brought to this book. The head games, the sexual angst, the whole OMG you–are-such-a-wanker-but–I’m-so-glad-you’re-here-to-liven-shit-up feeling, and for his contribution to the grand finale of course! No not the ending finale the OTHER one – lol.
Now I couldn’t help but compare this to Nowhere Ranch (the kinky Cowboy’s – yum! ) not that it has anything in common with plot lines but I wanted the same kind of sexual buzz – and I don’t mean the battery operated kind thankyouverymuch! I wanted to revel in the emotional aspect of the relationship as well as the driving lust like I did with Nowhere Ranch. I didn’t here. A few of us agree that these characters where a bit too overly characterised and I also feel that they are forgettable. The physical logistics of a few sex scenes mad me scratch my head over the probability but I’ll be sure to test it out the next time I’m up from in a lorry cab! Ha! And the last of the sex (namely the last three days) was too rushed, they should have met you-know-who MUCH earlier, built something more there. The I-love-you’s came a bit prematurely but then, it’s a Heidi Culllinan book and just like the eyerolly endings, it goes with the territory. Overall, I really liked this one, namely for the smut factor, but not as much as Nowhere Ranch.
What d’ya get with three mouths, six hands, three cocks and a whole lot of kink? Shock the hell outta me, but apparently, a damn good time!
Three is still not my favorite number when it comes to the bedroom. But I must give props where props are due….this time it worked.
Actually, it more than worked, it rocked.
Young and not so innocent, he’s trying to find his place in life. Unfortunately, life hasn’t been generous and he’s stumbling along. When a hot trucker appears like an oasis in the back alley of his miserable job, he quenches a thirst he’d only ever dreamed of. Before he knows it, he finds himself hopping on his rig for a road trip he won’t soon forget. He quickly finds more than the open road awaits him.
After countless years of perfecting his navigating skills, he’s lost. He can’t go forward until he fixes his past. Yet before he can do so, he needs to revisit his former life and face skeletons he’s not so proud of.
How does a natural drifter plant roots? With sunshine and love of course.
Not my favorite character by a longshot, but I’ll concede his importance was substantial. He became a critical link, a bridge, and a catalyst for Mitch and Sam. Did I love him in the end? Nope, but I didn’t loathe him nearly as much. He grew on me, but I’m not sold on the Kool-Aid he was serving.
It was kinky, but it was gentle powerful kink. It was the kink that lead to a desperate need, and this is what I loved. The intensity, the passion, and the dirty sex all came together with grace and tenderness. Yes, believe it or not, I saw elegance in-between the filthiness.
Mitch was careful and protective with his lover and Sam returned the favor. Sex toy shopping and naughty fun in the Sin City kept my face a slight shade of crimson while reading…it was ummm, educational?
For me this was a smutty love story of acceptance and discovery, and I fell in love along with them. I would not have willingly sought out a kinky ménage story, but I sure as hell am glad I didn’t miss it.
Thanks for letting me hitch a ride!
So for me, Special Delivery is about self discovery, acceptance, patience, loss, gratitude, lust and two people meeting each other’s (and their own) needs. There’s a lot to consider here: desire, kinks, shame, sexuality and more.
The story revolves around twenty-one year old Sam and the literal and metaphorical journey he takes with thirty-three year old Mitch.
They’re two men are in different stages of their lives (one who is afraid to start living his life and one who has stopped living his life) who both remarkably want, need and desire the same thing… but are told they’re wrong, dirty or weird; that you can’t have an emotional attachment alongside kink. How sad.
And yeah, there’s A LOT of explicit, raw sex; but this is the story of their sexuality and subsequent self acceptance. You can’t be real without honesty, right? So this isn’t about a couple who schedule in sex every Friday at 8:45pm (consisting of mandatory Missionary Position following on from lengthy showers and scented body balm). It’s about the kinkier “road less traveled” type of sex.
“He’d lost days in the images of beautiful, slender men bent in submission and sometimes degradation, and to his quiet horror, he realized this was his fantasy: he wanted to be used. He wanted to be love and cherished, yes. But he also wanted to be fucked.”
In my mind, Cullinan has created her own version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” with an eye on sexuality; imagine a world where there’s no judgement, no shame, no discrimination. A world where you’re not told you’re wrong or dirty; where natural kinks aren’t frowned upon.
And then there’s Randy. He was representative of why Mitch was stuck; why he was afraid to move forward. He was also their (dirty) third eye.
I loved the scene with Randy and Sam in the kitchen. Randy trying to figure things out, I could see his mind ticking; see him trying to piece together the puzzle of why this time Mitch changes his game plan and completely falls for someone. I loved his analytical
I would have been happier with a different ending because it was too neatly cutsey tied together for me… but I guess this type of ending suits some readers. *shrugs*
All in all, I really loved Special Delivery from the very beginning, but what’s interesting to me is by the end I kinda felt proud of it. Or rather, felt that Cullinan should be immensely proud of it.
Well damn. This…this I did not expect.
I do not read kink. I don’t like BDSM. But frankly, I don’t like any form of D/s in my books. The only book that has ever worked for me has been Rough Canvas – and that’s because the power play was a HUGE part of the love and trust relationship between the MC’s. Most other books I’ve read, it’s been a game…or a throwaway…or a trend.
Special Delivery just kinda kicked my ass. To be honest, it’s not that I suddenly loved kink and thought ménage and double-penetration and public humiliation sexy. I just don’t think that will EVER happen. BUT, what this book did was bring it BACK to what I can get behind…again, the love & trust relationship between the MC’s. It wasn’t senseless. It was a deeply engrained part of who Sam & Mitch each were. And it made…sense. And the courage it took to reveal those sides to each other, the strength it took to act openly on their desires…served to make their relationship stronger.
I really, really liked what Heidi Cullinan did in this book. It should, despite how raunchy it does get, essentially be any reader’s first foray into kink in romance books in my opinion. Why? Because she walks you through, with great patience, Sam’s own questions, doubts, concerns about the why’s and how’s of kink. And I felt like I was being taught, myself, and introduced into it. And maybe that’s it…I think we could all serve to have an introduction before being thrown in.
And throw you in, she definitely does eventually. This book goes places I actually thought I’d only read in some seriously twisted books like Flesh Cartel. But, then again, I’m a self-admitted prude and naïve in ways. In all honesty, I tolerated the raunchier stuff…and approached it more as a study than as anything that remotely entertained me or got me hot-and-bothered.
You know what did get me fired up? Sam & Mitch…their growing and strengthening relationship. Again, the trust. The kisses. The oddly-explored, but true-nonetheless romance. It wasn’t hidden amongst the rest. It was as prominent as the spanking and the spreading. And it was the basics of the romance itself that worked for me.
I could have done without the over-the-top aunt and the increasingly-annoying “I’m stupid”s and the frustrating lack of communication between Sam & Mitch, and most of all, Randy (I know, I know…but he just disgusts me). But all of that was so minor.
By the end, my emotions ran deep: I was so so thrilled with everything between Mitch & Sam…the bare bones story made me happy and I am shocked to say…that, yes, I…*ahem*…really, really liked this book.
This was the first novel I’ve read by Cullinan, and overall, I thought it was a very good contemporary romance about one young man’s awakening and acceptance about himself, what he needs, what he wants, and how he wishes to move forward.
Sam is 21, gay, living in his controlling aunt’s basement, trying to work his way through school, and flitting between a few different sex partners, all of whom pretty much treat him like dirt (and for reasons he doesn’t understand, he kind of likes that treatment, but is less a fan of who is giving it to him.) A hot trucker in the alleyway behind his work catches his eye, and after a bit of flirting, Sam finds himself having fantastic sex in the back of the trucker’s rig.
What could have been a one-off “sexperience” turns into more as Sam and his trucker Mitch connect a few more times. When Sam’s life spirals out-of-control, Mitch comes to his rescue and they hit the road together. Sam’s future lies ahead of him without a roadmap, but the safety he feels with Mitch is enough for him to take a chance on the great unknown.
Probably what I liked the most about this story was watching sweet Sam challenge himself and explore his desires while still being within the safe confines of Mitch’s arms, his watchful gaze, and his respect for Sam’s hard limits. You really get the idea that Mitch was trying to protect Sam from falling into the bad experiences that Mitch had in his youth (and had caused to others.) Mitch at 33 carries a lot more understanding (and fear) than when he was younger and “Randier”, and it’s clear that if Sam had met him when Mitch was 30, 25, 21, or even a 17-year old bully, Sam’s experience would have been much worse, and part of a long line of forgotten truck stop twinks. But instead, with Mitch’s weathered experience and Sam’s sunny youthfulness, they push each other forward with a stormy mix of caution, arousal, and sometimes anger, and draw out each other’s fears and desires (and love.)
Even though I’m not a fan of most “straight-up” contemporaries, that mix really worked for me, and I thought Cullinan did a good job of mirroring Sam and Mitch’s journey across the country with Sam’s own personal journey of letting go of the fears that were holding him back, either from realizing what he wants sexually, or where he wants to go in his life. The parallel of him slowly scattering his mother’s ashes along the way was a nice touch. (And I’ll be honest and say I cried at the part where Sam passes along the last box of ashes, and the meaning that the gesture held.)
Mitch is more of a puzzle than Sam, but I saw this primarily as Sam’s story. Their growing relationship is a big part of it, but Sam’s journey for acceptance and growth is the glass chest within the center of the novel.
I’ve heard brief references about “Old Blue”, Mitch’s truck, before I read this, so I liked finding out that, in fact, the truck is very iconic, and a big part of the setting for the whole story. It’s Mitch’s home, and In a way, it’s his traveling heart, one that slowly opens up to Sam, letting him ride along and burrow within, and then it reaches a point where his heart/truck can’t move away, and the radius that he used to travel narrows down to the space around Sam. His home has no specific place except that place where Sam is, and I thought that was very well conveyed.
My main down point is that I thought the first three quarters were stronger, pacing wise. I didn’t mind the last quarter and the focus on Vegas (and Randy), but it did feel like a big pacing shift for me. At one point, there’s like a “sex weekend” which was kind of conveyed in a telling-way, and at points, felt like the literary equivalent to a video montage where the characters shift from naked riding with cowboy hats to sex toy testing. Many earlier parts of the novel had a very immediate, in-the-moment feeling, so these passages that were more broadly telling was a little jarring. (I think it was there to show the passage of time as well as the growing intimacy, but it was a jarring style change for me.)
The ending is also nice, and I think will be very satisfying for many, but for me it was a little over-the-top HEA, and that also felt a little jarring compared to the slower exploratory pace that most of the novel had. (I would have been fine if they had a “let’s try to make it work” HFN here, but that may be just me.)
Overall, I really enjoyed it. I get bored or frustrated easily with most straight-up contemporaries, so to be carried along so well on Old Blue felt like a real treat. Sam is such a sweet character, so it was nice to ride with him on his journey to self-acceptance, and I’m glad that he met an older, wiser Mitch who could watch out for him, and that Sam was able to shine some much needed sunshine into Mitch’s life.