Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Review: Antisocial by Heidi Cullinan

Antisocial_Digital_HighResTitle ~ Antisocial

Author ~ Heidi Cullinan

Published ~ 8th August 2017

Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance, New Adult

Rating

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Synopsis

A single stroke can change your world.

Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.

Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.

Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.

 

Debra’s Review

Xander Fairchild is the “antisocial” artist, whose work was destroyed by a bunch of fratboys. Skylar “Silver” Stone is the risk officer of the frat who is trying to make amends. Xander is both attracted and repelled by the douchey fratboy and Skylar is enamored by one of Xander’s pieces of art. But when Skylar seems to really get it, what Xander put into the piece, that freaks Xander even more. Walking away from the less than successful meeting, Skylar is entranced by the painting he now owns. The cranky Xander thinks it’s trash but the painting calls to Skylar who sees himself in the angry strokes of color. When they are put together to work on Xander’s senior project they soon find that there is more to both of them than the either ever could have imagined. Shared interests are unearthed and plans chanbe as Skylar begins to pry Xander out of his shell to market him and Xander opens cracks in the phony “Silver Stone” veneer that was already so fragile.

Both Skylar and Xander have pretty horrible families, but Skylar’s are a bigger part of the story. Skylar is still working hard for any shred of appreciation from his father, while his mother just isn’t even there to bother with. Xander has distanced himself from his family. Xander’s mother makes some effort and clearly loves him, but caters to her husband and other kids, allowing Xander’s step-father to treat him as less of a member of the family than his blood children. Xander is hurt but brushes it aside, while Skylar is slowly cracking under the pressure. These are just some of the outside troubles that threaten the deeper emotional bond that is forming.

This was a tough review for me. On the one hand, the relationship between Xander and Skylar deserves all the stars I can give. On the other, the uneven pacing and aspects of the surrounding plot and setting, especially towards the middle and end, slowed things down and occasionally had me skimming.

I absolutely adored Xander and Skylar. The way Heidi Cullinan developed their relationship from antagonistic, to grudgingly friendly to lovers was well paced. When the two begin to explore the romantic and physical sides of their attraction, it was handled delicately and sensitively with both boys being honest about their fears, needs, wants and experience. Xander has had no experience, but considers himself gay while Skylar is in a gray area of the asexual spectrum, unsure of how he would define his sexuality and uncomfortable with labels. Skylar is also having trouble with the way he has been presenting himself publicly and his continued efforts to gain some attention from the father that just wants him to fit into the mold and walk the path that he drew for Skylar to follow. While there are no sex scenes, there are some very sensual and erotic love scenes that were very creative and really fit well with the characters and the unique way they find to express their feelings. There is one scene of body painting in particular that was emotionally cathartic for them and brought a tear to my eye. I’m no expert, but I have enjoyed reading more characters on the ace spectrum in stories recently and I really enjoyed the exploration of the ace spectrum and the diversity of sexualities portrayed here.

There was actually quite a lot going on in this story – hidden shrines, writing manga, working on senior projects, fraternity problems, school problems, family conflict on both men’s parts – all on top of the relationship story. I sometimes felt I was being pulled in a lot of directions with storylines that weren’t all fully rounded out. Nods to Japanese culture are pervasive in the story. I have very little experience with manga and anime, but I found those parts of the book easy to follow (and that cover is absolutely stunning). I especially loved the scenes where Xander used Skylar as a model for his manga-style artwork. There were a lot of Japanese cultural references and stories to take in and keep track of and that sometimes slowed the pace and had me skimming.

There are also many secondary characters with Skylar’s best friend Unc and Xander’s friend Zelda two of the more prominent ones. Unc is another fratboy who is so much more than he appears to be and I absolutely adored him. Zelda, on the other hand is the type of friend that personally, I usually don’t enjoy reading – the overly aggressive, you can’t take care of yourself so I’ll be up in your business regardless of what you want, friend. They spent most of the book glaring from the corner but they did come through big time in helping Skylar deal with what he was feeling and in that moment they made a good impression.

Heidi Cullinan writes New Adult stories very well and I think fans of her Love Lessons series in particular will enjoy this story. The relationship aspects were amazing. Any time Xander and Skylar were on page together I was enthralled. Unfortunately there were too many other parts of the story that pulled my focus away from the main plot. Although it was a bit uneven for me, I would recommend it to New Adult fans who are looking to explore a different type of love story with a patented Heidi Cullinan HEA.

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Meet Heidi Cullinan

Heidi-Cullinan-head-shot-150-x-150-1Heidi 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 playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

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