I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
You can also find me on my main blog.
I love Heidi Cullinan's writing.
When I was approved for an ARC of this book (thank you, Samhain), I did the happy dance and started reading.
Yeah, there are some pop culture references within that required context, like Howl's Moving Castle, but even though I may not have been familiar with that book and movie, it didn't distract nor deter from the story in this 3rd installment of the Love Lessons series.
Aptly named, too, this series. Much like Walter had to learn that lesson in the first book, and Giles and Aaron in the 2nd one, book 3 gives Baz (he with the constant sun glasses) and Elijah (he with the religious nuts for parents) a chance to learn what love is all about for themselves.
Because, trust me, they needed to learn. Both of them are a hot mess in their own way.
The book starts with Kelly and Walter's wedding, which all their friends attend, including Elijah and Baz, with Disney and glitter galore, and a performance by the Ambassadors, after which Baz and Elijah sneak off to Baz's Tesla for a bit of drugs, alcohol and sex.
As a matter of fact, while this series is generally sweeter than Heidi's other books, the sex in Lonely Hearts is pretty raunchy. But both Baz and Elijah have seen more crap in their young lives than anyone should, so I wasn't expecting bubblegum pop and unicorns.
Both of them are damaged. We saw some of that damage in Fever Pitch, but the extent of Elijah's fucked-up parents is only fully coming out in this book. The same goes for Baz - of two of them, he's actually the more fragile, not only physically, but certainly emotionally. When he shares his story with Elijah, I cried. The fact that he survived THAT is a double-edged sword for him. Not only is there survivor guilt eating at him, but also the aftermath of it, of having to carry that burden of expectations, because he's the one who lived. While he pushes everyone away, with an easy smile and the ever-present shades, afraid to love, unwilling to let anyone see the real him, he doesn't question though is that he himself is loved.
Elijah on the other hand doesn't believe anyone will ever love him, nor will anyone stay if he doesn't meet their expectations. Prescription pills his drug of choice, numbing his pain with those and alcohol, he has closed himself off from everyone, even Aaron and Giles. After the incident at the end of Fever Pitch, Elijah has been living with the school pastor and his wife, both of whom are wonderful, amazing, kind people, and going to classes paid for by the growing "Elijah Prince" fund, donations from all kinds of people, and someone I suspected early on was adding larger chunks. He trusts no one completely, not even the pastor's wife, who becomes more of a mother to Elijah than his own ever was, and he certainly doesn't trust Baz. No, the walls are up, they're high, and nobody's gonna get into that particular castle.
But love wins, and neither Baz nor Elijah are immune in the end.
Dirty, hot sex turns into a real romance, a relationship, both of them scared to let it happen, but neither strong enough to make it stop.
I loved almost all the supporting characters, especially the pastor's wife, loved that we got to visit with Aaron and Giles, Mina, Walter and Kelly, everyone at the "White House", and I loved that Heidi introduced Lewis/Lejla, a trans character who will hopefully get her own book.
I strongly disliked Baz's mother. The crap she unleashed on him, with her machinations, was not doing her any favors in the "me-likey" department, and she seriously pissed me off. Until she redeems herself somewhat, though I wasn't mollified, only less irritated.
Both of these young men go through a lot, but also really grow into themselves throughout this book. That's the kind of thing I like to see, and Heidi, as usual, didn't disappoint. Yeah, there's pain, there's hurt, there were tears, but I knew they were in love before they would even admit it to themselves.
A brilliant 3rd installment, one I had been looking forward to, and I devoured it.
** I received a free copy from the publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **