Release Reviews and Giveaway: Enjoy The Dance: Heidi Cullinan

Enjoy the Dance (Dancing #2)
Heidi Cullinan
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Expected October 11, 2016

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.

Foster care, undocumented immigrants, and civil rights for LGBTQ citizens…yep, there is definitely a lot of politics in Heidi Cullinan’sEnjoy the Dance. While these social and political issues form the backbone of the story, it’s also about two men who fall in love amid the turmoil, anguish, and triumph, and it’s a beautiful example of the strength found in the family we forge in our adult lives, no matter what it looks like.

The night a homeless teenage boy named Duon appeared on his doorstep, Spenser Harris’s mostly quiet life suddenly makes some big changes. Duon’s story reminds Spenser so much of his own past that it’s an easy decision to take him in, a decision which puts him in contact with several other people who have been involved in Duon’s life, including the attractive man across the hall, Tomás Jiminez. Tomás would have taken in Duon, but between juggling three jobs and the constant fear of deportation hanging over his parents’ heads, he just can’t do it. But he can still do whatever it takes to verify Spenser is a good enough man to be Duon’s foster parent. In the process, they both discover they want to know the other better, but with so many outside influences threatening to tear them and their fledgling family apart, all they can cling to is their love and the hope that everything will work out.

The plot of Enjoy the Dance takes place in Minneapolis during 2012 and 2013, a period when several important LGBTQ rights milestones took place both within Minnesota—the defeat of a referendum defining marriage as only between one man and one woman followed by the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state—and nationally—the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. As a gay man, even though I no longer lived in Minnesota by that time, I still paid close attention to these issues coming from the state I was born and raised in. As such, much of this story felt like a reminder of a time both scary and exciting. 

Yet, this is only one category of the political and social issues raised in the book. While the author skillfully weaves these into a poignant and riveting tale, one that quite easily could be from real people’s lives, these issues definitely make up the bulk of the storyline, leaving the romantic aspect as playing second fiddle. Even so, Tomás and Spenser make a wonderful pairing. They both have ample reasons that make them tentative to try for something more than just neighbors who care about a homeless young man. So this, together with the primary storyline, turns the relationship into a delicious slow build that is still satisfying even if it comes short of the heat level found in most romances.

Probably the biggest reason this book is so satisfying is its focus on the importance of family, not just the people we’re related to but the extended group that provide the nurturing and loving support we need to survive the stress and turmoil of life. Tomás’s has always included his biological family, but through Duon and the dance studio that serves as Tomás’s favorite job, several of the characters that first appeared in this book’s predecessor,Dance With Me, form the remainder of Tomás’s extended family. Spenser grew up in the foster system, so for much of his life, he had no one he could depend on. So when Duon enters his life, and brings with him the entirety of Tomás’s family, he quickly finds himself with the hope that he might finally have a family to call his own.

I’ve now read a total of five books by Heidi Cullinan, and though the romantic storyline in Enjoy the Dance is the least pronounced of the five, the captivating plot surrounding the romance certainly kept me interested. While this book can be read as a standalone, I recommend reading Dance with Me first, simply because its two main characters appear so much in this book—plus, it’s a good book as well. The strength of the storytelling and the emotional power of the issues the author brings attention to within this book make it a great read that I highly recommend, and it is another example of why this author is one of my favorites.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Enjoy the Dance in exchange for this fair and honest review.

An unexpected visitor in need brings Spenser Harris in contact with his neighbor Tomás. 

Duon Graves, the troubled teen we met in Dance With Me is waiting on Spenser’s doorstep one night in need of help and a place to stay. He was waiting for his dance instructor, Tomás, but his neighbor, Spenser, finds him first. 

Tomás Jimenez holds down three to four jobs at a time to help his family. He is overwhelmed, overworked, and his plate is already full dealing with his own family’s needs and issues. He would gladly take Duon in if he could, but really does not have room and it could have other repercussions on his family. 

Thankfully, Spenser has empathy and agrees to take in the teen. It is a big change for Spenser, but not an unwelcome one. Spenser has his own past issues and feels good about giving back. He’s smart, controlled, quiet, and a good guy. But he has issues with attachment, trust, and being social. He is shy, has up walls, and feels self conscious. And his job as a kindergarten teacher in a private religious school brings its own set of stressors. Taking in Duon also means expanding his social circle to include those important in Duon’s life.

Tomás is hardworking, loyal, dependable, and caring. Dancing is his passion and love, but taking care of his family wears him down and leaves him little time for himself. He lives in a constant state of worry and stress. He is bolder than Spenser, but still scared of being hurt or taking on more than he can handle. 

But there is a simmering attraction between the two of them, and both have thoughts of “what could be under different circumstances.” They have so much extraneous noise to deal with and a lot at stake. But they both have big hearts and so much love to give. They are tentative, sweet, tender, and naturally seductive together. It is a slow build towards going after what they both want and need, and it is affected strongly by the chaos surrounding their lives. 

This is about finding bliss in the midst of out-of-control circumstances. It is about acceptance, love, and family. They have to let go of guilt and ghosts in order to look for hope. It is a thin line being hope and terror, but finding people that care can make a huge difference. It’s about opening your heart, living the best you can, and just enjoying the dance of life as it comes.

Although at the center of this book is the love story of Spenser and Tomás, it also very much focused around the political ramifications and changes with gay rights and marriage, immigration, and the social work system. It brings into focus how much has changed in recent years since this occurs mostly in 2012 and 2013 prior to the legalization of same sex marriage. This story has the characters still fighting for their rights and against discrimination for their sexual orientation or skin color. Because of this, sometimes the outside influences overshadow the actual romance so it is not a typical, steamy and passionate romance novel. It is more about the bigger picture. But I think the author handled all of the issues with empathy and sensitivity and illustrated what an impact they have had. 

In addition to Duon, Laurie and Ed from Dance With Me have recurring roles in this story and a few other side characters also return. I really enjoyed getting more with Ed and Laurie and seeing their progression. Tomás’ family are also heavily featured in the storyline. I admired the extended tight knit family they created from care, support, and love, and how each person found some kind of healing or had a void filled because of the others. It makes you come away with an appreciation of love, family, equality, and embracing diversity. And it shows how one person and one act can make an impact and inspire change.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

BEHIND THE SCENES with Heidi Cullinan

Men en pointe

In Enjoy the Dance, several of the characters take up the discipline of dancing ballet en pointe. This is not a novel concept, except that these characters are all male. That is novel in the world of dancing. But like same-sex ballroom, men dancing en pointe is a phenomenon which is becoming more and more common and less eyebrow raising.

(I encourage you to go here to look at the beautiful photo of a male ballet dancer dancing with his female partner, both of theme en pointe.)

Sometimes male ballet dancers dance en pointe for a specific role in ballet, but usually this is for comedic effect, such as playing Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Cinderella’s stepsister’s in drag. More and more men wish to dance en pointe because of the beauty of the dance, because of the discipline.

Male dancers have different strengths than female dancers, but they also possess grace, and with more and more men and women pushing gender boundaries, there’s no reason they can’t push the boundaries in the world of dance as well.

Some male dancers who dance en pointe dance as ballerinas, some in full drag. Some dance as part of a performance or statement. Some simply wish to experience the full range of the dance experience.

There will be more dancing en pointe in the Dancing series. We barely touch on it in Enjoy the Dance, but trust me, they won’t be hanging up those pointe shoes just yet.

Dance With Me (Dancing #1)
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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.

Future Plans for the Series

There will be at least one more novel in the Dancing series, likely released in late 2017 or early 2018. Burn the Floor will be Duon’s story.

Series Tie-Ins

Several other books/series I’ve written tie in directly or tangentially into this story.
  • *Marcus, Ed and Laurie’s lawyer friend who helps Tomás and his family, finds his own HEA in Let It Snow, book one of the Minnesota Christmas series.
  • *Arthur and Paul, Marcus’s friends from Logan who show up at the Duluth car wrapping, find their true loves in Sleigh Ride and Winter Wonderland, books two and three of the Minnesota Christmas series.
  • *Ed and Laurie appear in Lonely Hearts, book three of the Love Lessons series.
Heidi Cullinan Website/Facebook/Twitter

Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.
Enjoy the Dance Prize Pack: Enjoy the Dance paperback, Dance with Me paperback, No House To Call My Home paperback, MIKA The Origin of Love CD, a box of Lady Grey tea, a bottle of Tajìn seasoning
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