Friday, August 21, 2015

REVIEW: "Lonely Hearts" by Heidi Cullinan

Lonely Hearts (Love Lessons, #3)

Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan
(Love Lessons #3)

For Ages 18+ (Language, Sensuality)
Male/Male Romance -- Contemporary

Samhain Publishing -- Published on August 11, 2015
Ebook, 355 pages
Read in August 2015
Purchased from Amazon


Visually Impaired Hero, Fake Relationship

With the quiet help of his wealthy family, Sebastian “Baz” Acker has successfully kept his painful past at bay. But as the end of college draws near, his friends—his buffer zone—are preparing to move on, while his own life is at a crippling standstill.With loneliness bearing down on him, Baz hooks up—then opens up—with Elijah Prince, the guy Baz took a bullet for last year. The aftershocks of their one-night stand leave giant cracks in Baz’s carefully constructed armor. For the first time, the prospect isn’t terrifying.

Accustomed to escaping his demons by withdrawing into his imagination, Elijah isn’t used to having a happy herd of friends. He’s even less comfortable as the object of a notorious playboy’s affections. Yet all signs seem to indicate this time happiness might be within his grasp. When Baz’s mother runs for a highly sought-after public office, the media hounds drag Baz’s and Elijah’s pasts into the light. In the blinding glare, Baz and Elijah face the ultimate test: discovering if they’re stronger together…or apart.

"As far as Elijah Prince was concerned, gay weddings could choke on their own cheery goddamned glitter and die."

Warning!  Spoilers for the ending of book two, Fever Pitch included in this review.

I had very high expectations for Lonely Hearts after reading, and adoring, the first two books in the Love Lessons series.  I also knew that this was going to be a very emotional read with both heroes having major issues to overcome in order to have a happy ending in sight.  Thankfully, almost all of my hopes were met and I just fell in love with Baz and Elijah!

This story really begins in the previous installment, Fever Pitch, which ends with Baz pushing Elijah out of the way of a bullet.  Now, months later, both guys are trying to gather their wits about them and figure out what they are going to do with their life.  They have a steamy, but ill-advised hook-up during Kelly and Walter's (see: Love Lessons) wedding, but are struggling to figure out what should happen next.  Baz convinces Elijah to attend a high society function as his "fake boyfriend" and this gets them started on what it would really be like to date on another.

Elijah was raised in a super-religious family that has always treated him like crap.  He ran away when he was a teenager, but was forced to return and act like he had learned the error of his ways...basically, stopped being gay.  College was supposed to be his escape, but his family's interference followed him there and, when he couldn't keep up appearances any longer, his father came to campus and tried to kill him.  Baz is permanently disabled as a result of a gay bashing when he was a teen and has a hard time figuring out what he wants to do with his life.  His family is very well-off so he doesn't have to work for money, but he feels like he should be doing something.  He also has to deal with his true feelings about his mother's possible run for a high-profile political position.

The first half of Lonely Hearts deals with Baz and Elijah's masquerade and deciding whether they should date or not.  Both of them have serious reasons why they shouldn't, but they just can't help themselves.  Baz has a problem with committing to a relationship while Elijah is constantly scared that his friends will abandon him after figuring out how "unworthy" he is.  The rest of the book focuses on Baz and Elijah's problems and how they solve them, as a couple and individually.  I liked the way that the author made sure it was clear that their issues were not easy to resolve.  Serious counseling is needed for Baz and Elijah and I admired the journeys they took to get to happiness.

Secondary characters are a big part of this series and it was great to see a lot from Kelly, Walter, Giles, and Aaron.  Heidi Cullinan's fans will also be excited by the cameos of Ed and Laurie from Dance with Me, one of my favorite male/male romances ever!  I also enjoyed meeting Baz's friends, Marius and Damien, whose graduation forced him to look beyond their constant companionship. And, of course, I have to mention Lewis whose story I'm hoping will continue into another installment in the series.

I also want to warn future readers of this series that is infused with pop culture references.  Heidi Cullinan understands the obsessiveness that comes from certain elements of movies, television, and music and uses that in great detail in this series.  Love Lessons was peppered with Disney movies while Fever Pitch relied on popular music and acapella groups.  The focus in Lonely Hearts is anime with special attention paid to the show Black Butler and Studio Ghibli's films, in particular Howl's Moving Castle.  I have experience with both the show and the movie so I was able to full embrace what Elijah and Baz were feeling in particular moments, but I'm not sure how they will translate to readers who may not be familiar with them.

Lonely Hearts had a lot to live up to with its prequels and I'm happy with the execution of Baz and Elijah's story.  It is significantly darker in tone than the others in the series, but I thought it worked for these particular characters.  I definitely recommend this series for fans of emotional, realistic college students trying to decide what to do with their lives next.

Endings are hard, but important.  You have to have an end, so you can have another beginning.

1. Love Lessons
2. Fever Pitch
3. Lonely Hearts

Goodreads -- Author Website

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