Series Review: Dancing by Heidi Cullinan

I received this book for free from Purchased in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Series Review: Dancing by Heidi CullinanDance with Me by Heidi Cullinan
Series: Dancing #1
Published by Author on September 8, 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 418
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible
Goodreads
four-stars

Sometimes life requires a partner.

Ed Maurer has bounced back, more or less, from the neck injury that permanently benched his semipro football career. He hates his soul-killing office job, but he loves volunteering at a local community center. The only fly in his ointment is the dance instructor, Laurie Parker, who can’t seem to stay out of his way.

Laurie was once one of the most celebrated ballet dancers in the world, but now he volunteers at Halcyon Center to avoid his society mother’s machinations. It would be a perfect escape, except for the oaf of a football player cutting him glares from across the room.

When Laurie has a ballroom dancing emergency and Ed stands in as his partner, their perceptions of each other turn upside down. Dancing leads to friendship, being friends leads to becoming lovers, but most important of all, their partnership shows them how to heal the pain of their pasts. Because with every turn across the floor, Ed and Laurie realize the only escape from their personal demons is to keep dancing—together.

Rarely do I take a chance on self-published books. It’s not that I don’t think self-pubbed books can be good, because that would be stupid, but it’s really hard to tell which ones are the good ones. Cullinan’s books all sounded so good that I had to give one a shot. Really glad I did, because this series is excellent (I’ve already read both). Dance with Me is the m/m ballroom dance version of The Cutting Edge that I never knew I needed.

Ed and Laurie volunteer at the same community center, and they hate each other. Ed’s a former semi-pro football player who teaches a weightlifting course, and Laurie’s a professional dancer who teaches an aerobics class. They both push each other’s buttons. The sound system isn’t working right in the community center, so the aerobics music plays way too loud in the weightlifting room, and Ed is constantly going to yell at Laurie, who obviously hates being yelled at.

One day, they make a deal: Laurie will try a different sound system if Ed does him a favor and works as his assistant in a ballroom dance class. Ed quickly realizes how much he loves ballroom dance and the sight of Laurie in tights, and the two strike up a partnership in dance and then in life. I looove books about ballroom dance a lot. The Cutting Edge parallel works here too, because Ed wants to actually perform and Laurie’s got a mental hang-up about that because of a traumatic performance in his past.

What really stands out, though, is that this romance novel tackles a bunch of real life stuff. The injury that took Ed out of football affects him still, and he’s on the verge of needing to go on disability. He has money worries, job worries, and goes through bouts of depression. The mental health and disability rep seemed really good to me, though admittedly I’m not an expert on this. Laurie’s working through his confidence issues and trying to develop a healthier relationship with some of the other people in his life. I do ship Ed and Laurie a bit (though I’d have been way more into it without the endless generic pet names—honey, baby, sweetie, ad infinitum), but I REALLY liked the plot, even though it does get dark sometimes.

If you’ve been looking for m/m romance or romances with dancing, I’d absolutely recommend Dance with Me.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

Series Review: Dancing by Heidi CullinanEnjoy the Dance by Heidi Cullinan
Series: Dancing #2
Published by Author on October 11, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 334
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
AmazonThe Book DepositoryAudible
Goodreads
four-stars

Dance with your heart, and love will follow.

Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.

Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.

But Spenser and Tomás’s world is poised to crash around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.

After how much I enjoyed Dance with Me, I was ready for more adorable m/m dance romance, and I wasn’t disappointed, though there is less dancing in this one. Enjoy the Dance has a sweet romance set against the backdrop of the fight for marriage equality.

When I first started Enjoy the Dance, kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris finds Duon, a teen from the community center in book one, bleeding on his doorstep; I was afraid this was going to be a creeptastic ship, but no worries it’s absolutely not. Duon, having been caught with another boy, got beat up by his cousins and kicked out of the house by his grandma. He came looking for one of his dance teachers, Tomás, who lives across the hall from Spenser.

Enjoy the Dance tackles a lot of heavy subjects, like the fight for marriage equality, immigration, and the foster system. Cullinan keeps the tone fairly light given how much the book deals with and how dark it can be. There’s a big focus on how, though things do work out for these guys, it’s only because of the connections they have. It’s a reminder of how fucked up the system is for homeless kids, for foster kids, and for undocumented immigrants.

Tomás and Spenser are very sweet together, though they also use that same barrage of endearments and it just does not work for me. They do seem like a really good fit, constantly building one another up and pushing each other to try for good things. My favorite part of the ship is how much literally everyone ships them. Duon really encourages them, and Tomás’s mom is the literal cutest in her support of them.

I very much did enjoy this dance. I added a whole bunch more Cullinan to my tbr when I finished, which is the best endorsement I can offer.

Tl;dr – Review in a GIFfy:

 

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