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Cara McKenna

REVIEW:  Lay It Down: A Desert Dogs Novel by Cara McKenna

REVIEW: Lay It Down: A Desert Dogs Novel by Cara...

Lay It Down: A Desert Dogs Novel by Cara McKenna

Dear Cara McKenna:

One might think with the cover, blurb (outlaw king anyone?) and title that this would be a motorcycle club novel. One would be wrong. I was thirty percent in before I gave in to my impulse to do a word search for things like “club” and “president” or “patch”. The first two don’t appear until the very end of the book and by very end, I mean like the last two pages.

The sad truth is that this is a rather boring story about Vince Grossier, a local, who is intrigued by a newcomer by the name of Kim Paget. The most suspenseful part of this book is the blurb.  Vince is not the “outlaw” king of Fortuity as the blurb states. He’s just a local who likes his bike and wants Fortuity to stay small and manageable. He doesn’t even have the excuse of others like his friend Miah who is a rancher. The new construction is causing problems for land managers.

Kim Paget is a thirty something, uber polished breath of fresh air for Vince. Unfortunately she’s also a photographer for the hated developers. But once Vince’s mom who was the “sight” tells him that he can’t let Kim leave because she’s vital to his fight with the developers, Vince gives himself the go ahead to pursue her.

The more interesting romance isn’t between Kim and Vince who I found to be pale characters, barely able to struggle to their knees to garner attention. Instead it is between Riana and Miah, two friends of Vince’s who have an on and off again relationship. Perhaps because there was hidden conflict there, it was more intriguing than the mystically driven romance of Kim and Vince.

Even the sexual interaction seemed off putting and cold. I didn’t get this entire scene:

“What do you want from me, Vince?”

She watched the matchstick roll from one corner of his mouth to the other as he considered his reply.

God, those lips. Full and hungry. She doubted she’d ever noticed a man’s lips before Vince’s, but now they were all she could think about. That mouth on hers again. That mouth everywhere.

“Didn’t hear you,” he answered quietly. “Ask me again.”

Heart pounding hard, she hugged her middle. “What do you want from me? What did you want that first night? Or this morning?”

“No, ask it like you did the first time. Say my name.” A smirk shone through, warming Kim from her head to her heels and every stop in between.

She came closer by a pace. Another, until they were nearly toe to toe. She plucked the match from his lips and cast it aside. “What did you want from me that first night, Vince? Standing outside this same room?”

“What d’you think I wanted?”

“To get laid.”

He smiled, cheeks growing round, eyes crinkling. Made him look like a boy up to no good. Which was precisely what he was.

“That’s one guess,” he murmured.

“Is it right?”

“Maybe. Sounds kind of impersonal when you say it like that, though.”

“And how would you say it?”

“Same as you called it, that night. That I wanted to fuck you.”

Her face blazed, a flush of equal annoyance and arousal. “Classy.”

“Not that I wanted to fuck, in general.” A thick arm rose up to lean against the jamb. “I wanted to fuck you. Specifically.”

“That’s so romantic.” Not. And yet here it was, totally working.

It may have been working for Kim, but it made Vince (who internally is angsting about how much he wants this woman and not just because his mom’s vision gave him permission) seem like a juvenile dick or a cold one.  But even a cold dick I could get behind if that was the story arc. It’s not, of course. The two proceed to have sex after this charming exchange.

The shady developer scheme could have worked but I wasn’t invested and the suspense angle–the townspeople in danger–didn’t have enough build up. No one seemed to be in real jeopardy which made caring about the overriding plot difficult. Who cares if the casino got built? What did it really matter to Vince? What was his emotional investment in the outcome other than he’d have to ride out farther to get to a stretch of unoccupied road?

Why did Vince’s mother have visions? That was probably one of the weakest plot machinations in the story. The visions allowed Vince to self justify his pursuit of Kim and it allowed Kim to convince herself to stay and help Vince. There’s no real questioning by Kim, an outsider, of this paranormal phenomenon. And no one else is affected either. Just Vince’s mom. It was convenient but melodrama rendered a falseness to the story.

“Now she must stay,” his mother declared. “She must stay to be the ears and the eyes. The ears and the eyes, to point you toward the bones. She must stay, or all is lost…all is lost…for all of us.”

But all these things could be forgiven if the book was exciting or at least the romance itself was compelling but the suspense was drab and Vince and Kim were pale shadows of other McKenna characters. All of the previous McKenna stories were shorter – either novella length or category length. The full length novel, almost a third longer than previous books, showed the strain. Despite the use of other points of view such as from Vince’s hot bartender friend, Raina , the story only limped along with the suspense being predictable and rather unbelievable. In fact, for anyone who has read suspense books, they’ll likely figure out who the bad guy is in the first introduction or two.

I’ve read and enjoyed my share of McKenna books. I thought Hard Time was a wonderfully, sexy and moving story but this was a miss. C-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna

REVIEW: Her Best Laid Plans by Cara McKenna

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Dear Ms. McKenna:

During a vacation around ten years ago, I observed a couple of teenagers beginning a flirtation in the hotel pool. It made me wistful for those unexpected, thrilling crushes of adolescence, those miniature relationships that sometimes happened when two strangers around the same age wound up in the same place for awhile. Although the main characters are adults — thank goodness! — Her Best Laid Plans captures the pleasure of that experience, and let me enjoy it vicariously again.

Jamie is disappointed in her first night in Ireland. After putting her life plans on hold for years for her boyfriend — and then getting dumped — she’s now yearning for adventure and cute Irish guys, but the only pub she can find is full of men her dad’s age. Then as if on cue, a gorgeous young bartender named Connor takes over the bar, ready to listen to her tale of woe:

‘I hope you’ll find the young men of Ireland sympathetic to your plight.’
She laughed. ‘I hope I’ll be able to find any young men on this trip, period.’
Connor looked demonstrably to either side and then down at his own chest, and held his arms out in mock surprise to say, Behold, a young man, at your service!

As Jamie psychs herself up to take advantage of this “made-to-order vacation fling,” the language of the story continued to evoke the thrill of the unexpected youthful romance:

“The excitement and the possibility, the newness… it charged her, thrumming as surely as the bike between her legs.”

“It all felt so tenuous, like a middle school crush. She had to remind herself, I could probably have him if I wanted to.

“…why did she feel fifteen again, dizzy from a guy’s touch?” And Connor, we learn, has similar feelings: “I’m some skinny kid again, trying not to make an arse of myself with a girl.”

Jamie and Connor aren’t extremely young — she’s 23, he’s 28 — but they’re both still embarking on adult life, not yet settled down. Jaime can see they’re well matched by observing Connor’s living space:

His apartment looked just right. Not sophisticated, but not immature. Suspended between the two, just as she was herself.

Mind you, this is most definitely an adult story. Things heat up fairly quickly and then stay heated (within mainstream romance limits.) But I was less captivated by the most passionate sex Jamie and Connor engaged in than by their first provocative teasing of each other, over a game of snooker:

‘Would you fancy making this a bit more interesting?’
‘How so?’
‘Friendly wager?’ Flirtatious wager, to judge by his tone.
‘How much?’
‘Name your prize.’
She thought a moment. ‘If I win, a glass of your finest whiskey. On the rocks.’
‘Fair play.’
And if you win?’ She leaned in, cocking the cue along her thumb and knuckle.
‘If I win… if I win…’
His fingers drummed the table’s ledge until Jamie raised her eyes.
‘Your finest kiss,’ he said with a devil’s smile. ‘On the mouth.’

[Jamie has won]

‘You deserve a taste of this yourself, for saying so.’
He eyed the bar, finding his customers placated. ‘You’re a bad influence.’
She shrugged and took another sip. The whiskey was making her feel bold in the most natural, essential way.
Connor nodded his surrender. ‘Fine. That’s top-shelf — I won’t say no.’
With a smile, she took one more generous taste, than rose on her tiptoes. He caught on just in time, leaning in to bridge the gap. Their noses brushed first, then their lips. She held the glass between them, one of his shirt buttons teasing her knuckles — a strange and perfect little intimacy. A different sort arrived as their lips met, the contact rocking through her with a sharp, hot bolt.
All at once woozy, she kept it brief — just enough of a kiss to let him taste her winnings, then she dropped back on her heels.

The downside is that nothing that followed was as delicious as that initial kiss. Their physical relationship continues to be almost dully perfect: Jamie rhapsodizes that it’s like they already know each other. From her point of view that’s great, but we’re not learning much about them as people, or as a couple, though the sex — and since it’s a short, steamy novella, there isn’t much place else to put characterization or depth of emotion. The only conflict is the limited amount of time they have before Jamie’s return to Boston — although you could argue that Jamie’s reluctance to once again get sidetracked by a man is also a conflict. In any event, I never felt very invested in their sexual relationship; I liked both characters and appreciated how their story eventually worked out, but there was no compelling reason to care all that much that they were getting it on.

At its heart this is a story about new beginnings — even the ending is a beginning. It didn’t have a whole lot of punch to it otherwise, but that aspect was just right.  C+

Sincerely,

Willaful

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