Monday, May 1, 2017

Shelter the Sea by Heidi Cullinan Blog Tour

Some heroes wear capes. Some prefer sensory sacks.

Emmet Washington has never let the world define him, even though he, his boyfriend, Jeremey, and his friends aren’t considered “real” adults because of their disabilities. When the State of Iowa restructures its mental health system and puts the independent living facility where they live in jeopardy, Emmet refuses to be forced into substandard, privatized corporate care. With the help of Jeremey and their friends, he starts a local grassroots organization and fights every step of the way.

In addition to navigating his boyfriend’s increased depression and anxiety, Emmet has to make his autistic tics acceptable to politicians and donors, and he wonders if they’re raising awareness or putting their disabilities on display. When their campaign attracts the attention of the opposition’s powerful corporate lobbyist, Emmet relies on his skill with calculations and predictions and trusts he can save the day—for himself, his friends, and everyone with disabilities.

He only hopes there isn't a variable in his formula he’s failed to foresee.

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Book 2
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

I gave Darren a tour of our apartment with Emmet, showing him where everything was, making sure he knew he was welcome to anything he needed. “I put fresh sheets on the bed, folded the way you like them. I remember how, I think, from when we were roommates. If they aren’t right, I know you’ll fix them, but I tried to get them close.”

Darren smiled, his nostrils flaring. He signed thank you—it was his kind of signing, which I don’t know a lot of, but I knew the Darren thank-you sign.

“You’re welcome.” I gestured to the room. “I put towels on the bed too, for when you want to take a shower. Emmet will give you a tour of the bathroom, because he has more rules about how it should be used. But there aren’t any rules about my room. I put all my things away so it wouldn’t be cluttered. Emmet helped me autism-proof it, but if something bothers you, don’t hesitate to tuck it into the closet or whatever you need to do. You know me. I’m not going to mind.”

Darren stood still for a long second, no reaction, no movement. Then he signed, his gestures quick and jerky, his body rocking as he punctuated each hand flick with a soft moan.

He must have been speaking to Emmet, because Emmet answered in the same sign. He seemed a little flustered to me, but I didn’t know why. Eventually he turned to me, his gaze fixed on my shoulder. “Darren would like to hug you. I told him it was okay so long as it wasn’t a boyfriend hug.”

I blinked, first at Emmet, then at Darren. But Darren doesn’t hug anyone, I wanted to say, though of course I didn’t. I only nodded. “Sure.” Then I stood still while I waited to experience a Darren hug.

I tried to think if Darren had even touched me before, outside of accidental brushes of hands as we’d exchanged objects or passed each other in hallways. I couldn’t think of any instance where that had happened. He was so touch averse, worse than Emmet. I wondered what I had said that had made him want to hug me, and why.

He approached me slowly, someone working up to a challenge. Darren was almost as tall as me, if he stood straight, which he normally didn’t. Normally he didn’t stand at all, preferring to sit on a couch or in a chair. Now he was before me, as if he were about to take me in his arms and lead me in a waltz, and I felt flustered. Darren was handsome, with dark hair and a pretty face, with sweet eyes. It was easy for people to not notice, to only see the external expressions of his disability, the way his body folded in on itself, the way it flattened him out and made him seem different than people on the mean. Right now, though, all I saw was a handsome young man, and I understood why Emmet had been unwilling to say yes.

Darren opened his arms and wrapped them around me like a vise. I couldn’t hug him back, because my arms were trapped, pressed against my chest and rendered useless. His grip was rigid, controlling every element of the hug. If it were Emmet hugging me, or someone on the staff, or David, I’d have put my head on their chest and relaxed into the embrace. Something told me not to do this with Darren. It occurred to me his pinning my arms hadn’t been an accident. For Darren hugging me meant just that, him hugging me and not the reverse. He could pin me, but not me him.

So this was a Darren hug. I’d never seen this before, let alone experienced it. I had a feeling few people had. I went soft inside, letting the privilege of my initiation sink in.

When he released me, he didn’t look at me, but I smiled at him, biting at the side of my lip. “Thanks, Darren.”

He made a thanks sign at me, and then he went into my room and closed the door.

Emmet hadn’t shown him the bathroom, which I worried would be a problem. But Emmet took my hand and led me into our bedroom. Immediately he drew me into his arms, embracing me in his own kind of awkward, though the tension in his touch made me touch his face, kiss his cheek.

“Emmet, are you okay?”

His hands on my back gripped my shirt. “I don’t enjoy seeing other guys hold you. Even if it’s Darren, who I know only likes you as a friend. It makes me feel tight and scared inside.”

Emmet was jealous. The thought made me melt into goo as I rushed to soothe him. “Oh, Emmet. I could never love anyone but you, ever. No matter who held me.”

“I know, but it’s not fun seeing other people touch you.”

I nuzzled Emmet’s jaw—carefully, so as not to stimulate his senses in a way that would make him uncomfortable. “You can touch me now. Wherever you want to.”

“Take off your shirt, Jeremey.”

I took it off, handing it to him when I was finished. He carried it to the hamper and tucked it neatly inside. “I’ll wash it with my clothes and return it to you.”

I didn’t give a damn about my shirt, but I nodded. “Thank you.”

Emmet stared at my neck, but I knew he was also looking at my entire torso, admiring it. Thinking of what he wanted to do to it. To me. I bit my lip, the same place I had when I’d smiled at Darren, except now I wasn’t smiling, not at all. Now I was breathing long and slow, waiting for Emmet.

“Touch me,” I whispered, when I couldn’t wait any longer.

He put his hand in the center of my chest, splaying his fingers. I shut my eyes on a gasp and a breath, then opened them and watched as Emmet ran his fingers up and down, painting invisible lines across my skin with the pads of his fingers. My belly quavered, and eventually I had to clutch my fingers against the door to keep myself still for him.

“Is my touch too soft? Too hard?” he asked, fingers slowing to a halt at my belly button.

I shook my head, watching his hand. “It’s all good. I like it. All the feelings.”

“Do you want me to touch you more? Maybe without your pants?” His fingers tightened into a brief ball. “Maybe while I kiss you?”


I tilted my face toward his mouth as he kissed me, moaning and canting my hips into his hand as he fumbled with my jeans. I had to help him with the jeans, and the kiss was clumsy because he was doing two things at once. Nobody’s ever going to mistake our make-out sessions for porn shoots or movie moments. I don’t care, though. He had his hand on my dick, and his mouth was on mine, and during the whole of it, I was in his arms, and he mine. I surrendered to the feel of him, the comfortable, safe space that was Emmet Washington.

Reviews by the Wicked Reads Review Team

Carry the Ocean will always be a very special book for me, so the idea of a sequel had me both wary and excited. I didn’t need to worry. This is a beautiful story. Emmet and Jeremey are back and their voices and experiences are just as captivating in this second story. If Carry the Ocean was a very personal book about Emmet and Jeremey’s relationship and their struggle for independence, this is a more political book as they look outside their own experiences and fight for the rights of other disabled people who are increasingly marginalised and overlooked.

I love the way the author has created such an authentic voice for Emmet. He is intelligent, blunt, kind, and a little less socially awkward than he was before Jeremey. In this second book, Emmet has been living independently and working professionally for some time and he feels much older and more confident than he did in the first book. I loved seeing how he has managed to create routines and boundaries that allow him to live with Jeremey and accommodate his autism at the same time. I loved his awareness of Jeremey’s needs and his genuine desire to meet Jeremy’s needs.

I also find Jeremey’s character fascinating. While outsiders assume he is more functional than Emmett, he is much more emotionally fragile. Jeremey needs Emmet’s strength and I loved the way these two negotiate ways to meet his need for touch. There are some deeply romantic moments in this story and I think the romance might even be more powerful in this second book after Jeremey and Emmet have overcome so many odds to be together and stay together.

I love that the author makes it very clear that a label like autism or depression can mean something different for each individual. Darren, David, Jeremey, and Emmet are aware that they are more able than many of the people whose rights they fight for, but they are also aware that too many people with disabilities are unable to fight for themselves. I love that each of these men is quite seriously disabled but they are still taking control of their campaign. I love the idea of disability superpowers and the way these characters calmly assess their individual strengths and use them accordingly.

This is a political book written in a time when government funding to support minority groups ‘outside the mean’ is disappearing. I liked the feelings of both hope and impotence that Emmet voices so clearly as he struggles against a powerful political lobby. The lobby for disability rights has been a life-long personal one – my brother has autism and is fortunate enough to have lived in a building much like The Roosevelt for more than a decade. This story draws attention to the horrible reality that disabled people’s life chances still depend far too heavily on the ability of an individual’s family members to fund, support, and fight for them.

If I had to be critical about anything in this story, it would be the ending that feels just a little too easy and too perfect in a book that is so painfully real. But maybe we all need a little bit of fairytale happiness. I know the Roosevelt Blues Brothers deserve their joy.

***A gazillion shining stars for this wonderfully moving book***

Having just read Carry the Ocean and been bowled over by its brilliance, I had to immediately read this next installment. Then I had to wait a few hours before reviewing it, so I could try and process it a little.

This is an emotional rollercoaster of a book, I spent a good part of it with tears in my eyes – more often than not of gorgeousness overload. Emmet truly is the superhero his parents have always said he is. I loved all of it, from the first page to the last, and I am reluctant to write anything, because you should read it and enjoy it fresh. Believe me when I say it is an amazing story, which deserves reading by everyone and anyone.

Set a couple of years after the first book, the love story of Emmet and Jeremey remains front and centre. However, there are rumours of funding problems at The Roosevelt, which inevitably unsettle the residents. The "Roosevelt Blues Brothers" step up to prevent draconian legislation being passed which will make adult living facilities receive even less state funding. Watching the guys take on tasks which one would not consider to be ideally suited to their mental wellbeing is humbling in the extreme. There are some beautiful scenes in this book which will remain in my mind for a very long time.

Ms. Cullinan has once again surpassed herself in creating an intensely meaningful story – read it!

I’m not sure why I’m surprised, but Cullinan has again succeeded in stunning me with a story that combines heartbreaking realism and an exceptional understanding and portrayal of autism, depression, and anxiety, with love in so many forms that I had no hopes of reading Shelter the Sea without crying – something I’m doing even as I write this review, hours after finishing the book. Before beginning Shelter the Sea, I reread Carry the Ocean as it’s been two years since I read it. It is an absolute must that you read these books in order, and I’m glad I squeezed the reread in because it put Emmet and Jeremey’s obstacles, struggles, and achievements at the forefront of my mind, thus making Shelter the Sea an even richer reading experience.

When the story begins, Emmet and Jeremey have now been together and living at The Roosevelt for two years and much has happened in that time. Emmet has completed his college degree and obtained employment with a company that not only valued his intelligence, but recognized that the quirks of his autism made him a valuable employee and they made the accommodations necessary for him to be an effective and productive employee. This is one of the aspects of the book that I love. What happened to Emmet is by no means the norm, but it does happen and when it does, it’s the kind of thing that gives caregivers and educators the validation that what they do make a difference, that people and organizations beyond themselves can see what the people they work with are capable of. But with as much progress that Emmet has made, Jeremey hasn’t fared as well. Jeremey’s depression and anxiety continue to be huge barriers to his happiness and his success and Cullinan does not shy away in showing the reader first-hand just how much both disorders wreak havoc on his life. Actually, the author does an excellent job (again) of showing the reader just how hard Emmet and Jeremey and some of their friends have to work just to have some semblance of a “normal” day and how things many of us take for granted can seem unsurmountable – and yet, they persevere day after day after day.

You’ve probably guessed by now, but I’m trying to avoid specific details of the book because I don’t want to spoil it for potential readers. If you read and enjoyed Carry the Ocean, I cannot fathom you not enjoying Shelter the Sea just as much – and maybe even more so. If you haven’t read book one, start with it first because you need to meet Emmet and Jeremey from two years ago and see what obstacles they had to overcome to be together. Not only is it an outstanding read, but it will make the plans Emmet forms and puts into action and the lengths to which he goes for Jeremey, their friends, and even himself that much more meaningful. Although my focus has been on Emmet, parts of the book are written from Jeremey’s point of view as well. I find it harder to talk about Jeremey without revealing spoilers, but keep in mind that this is a romance and at the end of the day, love abounds in its many shapes and forms in Shelter the Sea as Emmet and Jeremey continue to grow as individuals and as a couple. I, for one, hope that there are many, many more stories to come from The Roosevelt.

Also Available in The Roosevelt Series

Book 1
Buy Links

Amazon US  ~  Amazon UK  ~  Amazon Au  ~  Amazon Ca
B&N  ~  iTunes  ~  Kobo

For reviews & more info, check out our Carry the Ocean post.

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 on her website.

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Reviewers on the Wicked Reads Review Team were provided a free copy of Shelter the Sea (The Roosevelt #2) by Heidi Cullinan to read and review for this tour.

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