Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Sometimes I believe the perfect combination is kinky sex and angsty men. Add in a cowboy theme and an intense, yet easy to read story and gay erotic romance fans are likely to devour this. Nowhere Ranch offers all these highlights and more, yet offsets this with a somewhat preachy anti-homophobic message and a very sweet, overly idealistic ending. The first half of the book is near pitch perfect with incredibly hot sex scenes and truly fascinating men. This tapers off towards the end with family drama, an overly manipulative female presence and a wrapped up ending but the attempt at such a complex story is still pretty successful. This is an easy story to recommend even considering the flaws.
The story is told in first person narration from Roe’s perspective as he struggles with finding a place in the world. After getting kicked out of his tight knit farming family for being gay, Roe tries to stay in his hometown but a bar fight leads to jail time. After jail Roe leaves the Midwest and drifts from farm to farm, ranch to ranch until he ends up at Nowhere Ranch in Nebraska. Soon after Roe hooks up with the ranch’s owner Travis as their kinky, rough appetites compliment each other. Although they’re only after sex, the two fall into a relationship that is complicated by each man’s painful past.
Right away the narrative is punctuated with some truly inspired sex scenes. In fact the first half of the book is so erotic and steamy that it nearly sets the pages on fire. The scenes initially focus on the sex itself with almost detached emotion. Both men get something out of these encounters, more than just tension release and they feed darker desires. Within the sex the two men let go, they talk dirty a lot and discuss fantasies. There is fisting, pony play, domination, submission, and a little humiliation/slut talk. This isn’t hard core but it’s easily a defining aspect of their sex life. As the two get more involved their relationship builds up around them.
This helps bring more emotion and layered context into the sex scenes. They’re no longer just about getting off (and wonderfully so as this book is hot, hot, hot) but also about creating an emotional connection. Roe is slowly bound physically, emotionally, and metaphorically which overtakes his instinct to run and flee. Interestingly though, the main couple almost never talks. Their dynamic is built on the things they don’t say, their actions, and the emotions they feel rather than long drawn out conversations. The few in depth talks they do have are laden with repressed emotion and a wealth of issues difficult to express. It’s more the quiet strength, intrinsic trust, and silent support that are the foundation for these two. This makes the characterization of both men complex, interesting, and fresh. The story doesn’t rely on dialogue to tell their relationship but shows it instead.
Unfortunately this takes a turn towards the end of the book when Roe’s family in Iowa catches up to him and he must return home for a short time. The story from there turns into telling the reader what happens and then the time line leaps forward to an overly sweet, idealistic ending. While I don’t mind a firm happy ending, this takes away from the impact of the story and definitely dilutes the strength of Roe and Travis’ connection. When the romance doesn’t rely on dialogue and the intimate interaction, not just kinky sex, stops being shown there is only the written reassurance all is fine to placate readers. This really left me wishing the story hadn’t gone in that direction.
Similarly the character of Haley is very polarizing. In some ways I appreciate this 19 y/o pregnant dynamo that whirls around defending Roe and getting things done. Unfortunately I found her to be overly manipulative and preachy. I like the scene where she tells off Roe’s family yet the entire dialogue is incredibly preachy on both sides of the argument. Not only that but Haley goes around manipulating every character in the novel to her own end, disregarding anyone else’s desires in her immature belief that she knows best. I want to like Haley as she’s an intelligent, capable spitfire but she’s way too heavy handed and comes across as the author’s voice rather than a flawed, complex person in her own right.
Haley’s manipulations play into the idealistic ending unfortunately which leaves the story on a somewhat rushed and simplistic note. This isn’t exactly reflective of the novel itself, which I think is more complicated and infinitely better written than the ending shows. This is an easy novel to recommend and it’s definitely one I would read again. I’d be interested in seeing this couple again in the future but only if the focus is on these two as the supporting cast doesn’t interest me very much. Roe and Travis are such a fascinating, complicated couple they don’t need distractions and can hold the spotlight on their own. Either way you really won’t want to miss this one.
4 thoughts on “Review: Nowhere Ranch”
Whoa, Kassa, I think you may have convinced me to pick this up, even if the ending doesn’t live up to the beginning. Thanks again!
I hope you like it! I’d be really interested in your thoughts on it.
I so agree with your review Kassa! I found the ending a little strange and lacking in exposition but the rest of the book was very very good. Also, I think I was a little more forgiving of the “preachy” bits – although you are quite right about them!
I really like this author, she can make me care very quickly about a character. Also, I found the first person POV was very effective re the BDSM scenes – because we were in Roe’s head, there was no doubt about his enthusiastic consent to what was occurring – I think it would have made me uncomfortable if I hadn’t been so sure of that – it was a little eye opening anyway – I’d never read about “pony play” (is that what it’s called?) before o-0!!
Definitely a recommended read.
I was pretty forgiving for the most part – in terms of my reader enjoyment. In a review you have to point out the things that are likely to be of interest to other readers so the preachy bits may be more of a turn off for another reader. I noticed them and other than Haley being way too dominant a character, I didn’t mind.
Heidi Cullinan is one of my favorite authors. I don’t always LOVE LOVE LOVE her work but I do enjoy reading it always. No matter what star rating I give the book. I enjoy the complicated nature of her stories. I loved that Roe was kind of kinky (not to mention omg those sex scenes were hot). I personally think the pony play was a little silly but hey..those two are so hot I’d read about them doing whatever they want. I hope there is some kind of sequel or even a short story featuring them.