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Anne Calhoun

REVIEW:  Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

REVIEW: Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun

Dear Ms. Calhoun,

I’ve read and enjoyed a few of your novellas in the past, so when an ARC of your new 164 page offering, Afternoon Delight, was made available to DA’s reviewers, I requested it. Afternoon Delight is set in New York City and features a hero whom readers of your novella Breath on Embers have met before.

AfternoonDelight-final-250x374Tim is a paramedic with the FDNY. Racing from one rescue attempt to another, he finds it easier to live life at a fast pace because it keeps him from feeling too much. Since he sees so much aging and death at his job, he is afraid to slow down and really feel. Casual hook ups fit his life and serious relationships do not.

So it’s a good thing that Sarah, a food truck chef Tim meets in the park one day, isn’t looking for a serious relationship. Sarah used to be just like Tim, footloose and fancy-free, until she cared for her dying aunt. That experience taught her to slow down and savor the moment. Before she died, Sarah’s aunt made her promise to go back and find the carefree girl she used to be.

Tim is a New York native while Sarah has only recently relocated from San Francisco. The first time they meet, Sarah and her business partner are trying new sauces, and Tim is willing to be her tasting guinea pig. The second time they meet, Tim asks her over and at his tiny apartment, they have hot, competitive and enthusiastic sex.

Tim loses a bet that he can keep from grabbing Sarah, and Sarah issues him a new challenge—if he can keep from getting off for a whole week, he can do whatever he likes to her when they meet again. The dinner Sarah cooks for Tim on that occasion is sublime, and as for the challenge, well, I won’t spoil it.

Sarah and Tim see each other while never officially dating. Tim shows Sarah New York’s sights, sounds and tastes and helps her learn to appreciate the city despite its frenetic page. Sarah begins to realize she is developing feelings for Tim, and Tim gets a glimmer of a clue that sex with Sarah is so hot because it’s more than sex.

But can Tim keep from slowing down and feeling if he and Sarah progress to a relationship? Can he overcome his fears enough to do so? And how will Sarah handle it if he tries to prevent the connection between them from growing beyond a simple afternoon delight?

Afternoon Delight is fun and well-written. There were many things I enjoyed about it, from the New York City milieu to the sex-positive approach to the story. Sarah was never slut-shamed or judged for liking sex—not by Tim, not by her friend and business partner Trish, and I never, ever felt the author was judging her. Thank you for that.

I also really, really liked that like Tim, Sarah could be playfully bossy in the bedroom. It is so nice to come across a heroine who isn’t a “natural submissive” but rather one who can enjoy both top and bottom. I wish there were more heroines like that.

Sarah was as a good sport, someone who knew how to have fun, but she could also be gentle and compassionate when a compassionate and gentle touch was needed. She was there for Tim when that moment came.

Another aspect of Sarah I enjoyed was her love of cooking and the way it was incorporated into the novella. Sarah’s awareness of good flavors and desire to savor each bite facilitated and enhanced Tim’s journey from speeding through life to slowing down enough to smell the coffee – or the split pea soup.

I thought the chemistry between Tim and Sarah was very nice but Tim was a harder character for me to connect with. I liked his attitude toward the guys he worked with and toward Casey, a new guy whom Tim was helping train on the job. Tim was a good guy down to his bones, so I couldn’t help liking him even with his approach to getting through life, from shoving food down fast to keeping his relationships simple. But his determination to speed through everything so as to feel nothing took me a long time to empathize with.

Tim saw a lot of death and suffering at his work but I think what tripped me up was that he hadn’t raced through life the same way in earlier years at the same job. For that reason, I expected there to be a revelation about an event that had caused him to choose to change his pace. There wasn’t any one thing that had caused that, it turned out. And when I think about his job and his past, his choice makes perfect sense, but I wanted that to be something I felt in my heart and not just understood in my head.

Even so, there was so much to like in this novella, from the fun challenges Tim and Sarah set for each other, to Tim’s relationships with his fellow paramedics and an elderly couple he got to know on the job, to Sarah’s relationship with food, and of course, Tim and Sarah’s journey to coupledom. I especially liked the last few scenes and the romantic gesture near the end. B-/B.

Sincerely,

Janine

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REVIEW:  Jaded by Anne Calhoun

REVIEW: Jaded by Anne Calhoun

jaded

“Nice job with the presentation,” he said. “You made a library sound both necessary and really exciting.”

“Libraries are both necessary and really exciting,” she said. “To me, anyway.”

Dear Ms. Calhoun:

The sequel to Unforgiven (reviewed here by Dabney,) Jaded is a story about discovering and rediscovering passion. The title refers to Lucas Ridgeway, the burned out and emotionally distant Chief of Police of Walkers Ford, South Dakota. But Alana Wentworth is also in need of discovering her passions, and of giving herself permission to have them.

Researcher Alana took the job of interim library director in Walkers Ford after an embarrassing public proposal. Always feeling a bit of the ugly duckling in her famous political family, she’s spent much of her life going with the flow — until the flow suddenly included marriage to a man she was mostly dating from inertia. Now her time in Walkers Ford is almost up, and she wants to make the most of it by having a fling with her landlord, Lucas. Somehow she believes this will teach her how to deal with men and let her “go home different”: …she wasn’t going home the same person she was when she’d left. That would make this nothing more than wound-licking hibernation, not a tactical reinvention.

But the interim job keeps getting extended, as Alana becomes more and more involved with renovating the library as a true community center. And her attachment — to Lucas, to others in town, to her work — only grows, leaving her torn. Wentworths are trained to think globally, not locally, and her responsibilities lie elsewhere… don’t they?

At first I thought I’d made a mistake requesting this, because stories about city slickers realizing life is so much better in a small town… I’d say I was so over them, but I was never under them. But slowly, this won me over. What first grabbed me was the emphasis on the importance of libraries, most sweetly expressed through the character of Cody, a poor, desperate teenaged boy who’s sentenced to community service at the library and flourishes there:

the whimsical, wistful version of Walkers Ford was visible in the picture to anyone who knew the town… But all motion swirled subtly to the center of the drawing: the library. Alana’s heart seized when she saw the picture, realized the story Cody was using art and passion and feeling to tell. This is the center of our town. Not the restaurants or the shops of the administrative buildings. This place we need to commit to, or we’ll lose our center.

On a cheekier note, there’s a deliciously evocative sex scene in the library, in which Alana slyly plays into librarian fantasies:

Without turning around, she turned the books spine out and examined the labels. Behind her Lucas stood quietly. She thought about her skirt and cashmere cardigan over a silk blouse. She even wore a strand of pearls and her brown suede heels. Moving very slowly, she selected the first two books from the stack and turned to shelve them.

Lucas was right behind her. She hadn’t heard him move, not a rustle of denim over the beating of her heart. He leaned his body weight against hers and swept aside her chin-length hair. It slithered back, obscuring the kiss he pressed into the skin between her collar and hairline….

His mouth worked over the sensitive patch on her nape, first hot and gentle, then with a scrape of his teeth.

Her hands trembled as she slid one book, then the second, into their proper places, and if she took a minute to double-, then triple-check to be sure they were correctly shelved, well she was a conscientious librarian.

I was also moved by Lucas’s difficult emotional thaw, as he begins to recognize feelings for the woman he has no actual claim on:

His. Except she wasn’t, or so his mind said. His body, as he stripped and got into the shower, said something entirely different. His body said he’d spent all day watching the woman in his bed laugh and talk with everyone but him.

He leaned his head against the tiled wall and let water course over his back. The strength of the emotion, jealousy and anger and a blood-hot lust, washed through him with an intensity that left him breathless. This wasn’t like him. Feeling this much. Caring so intensely about anyone, anything.

You used to care like this.

And now I remember why I stopped. It fucking hurts.

While Alana is finding her place in Walkers Ford, Lucas’s feelings for her help him to recover from the compassion fatigue that’s dogged him for years, and regain a sense of trust and optimism.

By the end of the story, I was convinced that this wasn’t yet another glorification of small towns but about people finding what happens to be right for them. The very positive portrayal of Alana’s sister Freddie, who happily fits right into their glamorous, jet-setting family, helped a lot, and the downsides of rural life are also honestly portrayed.

This stood alone pretty well, although the main characters from the previous book play a part so I slightly regretted not reading it first. More irksome for me was a lot of repetition in the text: Alana refers to herself and Lucas as “a cliche” numerous times, a lampshade I could have done without. There are other repetitions too: Lucas watched Tanya bite at her her nails and roam in and out of the lights like a moth attracted to the light. She was agitated, shaking, biting her nails. Later in this same scene, Lucas is confounded when Tanya, his cousin, mentions an incident from his past which no one is supposed to know about; she had already mentioned it to him earlier in the book. And this may be just a personal cultural disconnect, but I had an “oh please” moment when Lucas got all bent out of shape because someone had some pot.

But I loved the powerful feelings conveyed in the story, and the celebration of positive values. Love. Art. Community. And above all, libraries. B

Sincerely,
Willaful

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