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REVIEW: Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun

Dear Ms. Calhoun:

Uncommon Passion is easily the best book you’ve written. The novel takes the strengths of your earlier works–strong characters, sensual sex scenes, believable redemption–and expands on them. Everything works: the lovers, their back-stories, the setting, the passage of time, the secondary characters, the plot, and the deft insights you offer into human behavior. I’ve read Uncommon Passion three times now and, each time, I am more taken with its worth.

Uncommon Passion by Anne CalhounRachel Hill is, at twenty-five, new to the world as we know it. Seven months before Uncommon Passion begins, she ran away from the Elysian Fields Community of God, an isolated religious community in rural Texas where she’d lived her entire life. Since then, she’s begun to build a new life for herself. She’s gotten a job and a place to stay at an organic farm, bought a car and a cellphone, and filled out an application for veterinary technician school.

Rachel left Elysian Fields because, as she says,

They needed me to be someone I am not. They expected me to surrender all choice and control in my life to God, and if God’s direction wasn’t clear, my pastor or my father would explain it to me.

One of the choices Rachel’s never been able to make is to touch or be touched by a man. In Elysian Fields, all sexual contact is saved for marriage and Rachel, who stayed stubbornly unwed, is a virgin in every sense of the word. One night, while working at a charity bachelor auction, Rachel decides she’s ready to get rid of her virginity with Ben Harris, a sexy SWAT officer up for auction. She wins him with a two thousand dollar bid.

Ben looks to Rachel like the perfect man for the job.

Perfect, because she’d just bet two thousand dollars that he had no interest in a relationship, no sense that sex was something special reserved for the marriage bed, no inclination to call again.

She doubts he’ll even notice. And she’s right.

They agree to go out one night the next week. It’s Rachel’s first ever date. Ben picks her up and takes her out to dinner. After they’re done eating, though he’s already sure of her answer, he asks what she’d like to do next.

She bit her full lower lip, but met his gaze head-on. “I’d like to go back to your place.”

Her tone, low and clear, set his radar pinging because the words sounded almost rehearsed, but really, he didn’t give a fuck. This was who he was, what he did, because he could do this.

Ben doesn’t give a fuck. Not about anything but his job and his brother. He sure as shit doesn’t give a damn about the women he has sex with. But when he wakes up the morning after fucking Rachel, he’s first shocked and then furious to see blood on his cock. He tracks Rachel down and asks her what the hell she thought she was doing. She tells him her virginity was hers to lose and, anyway, she didn’t think he would know or care. Ben, angry and intrigued, tells her he wants another shot, that he’s got what she needs. 

“You don’t know what I need,” she said as she glanced toward the barn….

“I remember,” he said without lowering his voice, “how you were shaking under me at the end. Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t need more.”

She went still again, stiller than he thought possible….

“I want an explanation. You want to do it again. Longer. Slower. Hotter. This time we’ll both get what we want.”

Rachel and Ben begin meeting each Sunday for sex. And though they both believe sex is all they’re there for, as the weeks go by, sex turns into passion which turns into something more, something with a gravitas that surprises them both.

Ben’s and Rachel’s affair is the opposite of a closed door romance. The majority of their interactions are sexual and intrinsic to understanding the relationship they build.

Ben, who has slept with so many women he can’t remember their faces let alone their names, finds making love with Rachel to be outside the realm of his prodigious experience. Ben uses sex to escape from feeling. It’s a tool, like the risks he takes in his job, designed to keep emotion at bay.

Rachel uses sex to feel. She makes each encounter an implement for self-discovery. As Ben watches Rachel push herself to experience all she was denied at Elysian Fields, Ben begins, almost against his will, to see himself differently. Rachel’s inherent strength and the sheer rightness of what she wants make Ben question the confines of his life in ways that challenge and unsettle him.

Ben and Rachel are as engrossing apart as they are together.

It’s satisfying to watch Rachel create a life for herself. The book is written in third person but there’s no distance between the narration and the feelings and thoughts of the characters. Every experience Rachel has, whether it’s watching the way the Texas A&M boys working at the farm for the summer play poker or taking in the expressions of amateur poets at open-mike night at her favorite bookstore in Galveston, Rachel processes it profoundly, using it to build on what she’s previously seen and felt. She’s in control of her life and every step she takes towards her future is authentic and heartfelt.

Ben is equally compelling. His insouciant bravado is the top layer of a complex, angry man. He’s estranged from his family–with the exception of his gay twin Sam–and has spent years punishing himself and his father for actions Ben believes are unforgivable. The man he is in the beginning of the novel is sexy to Rachel–and to the reader–because of his confident diffidence. But the Ben that’s leisurely exposed, the man Ben holds himself back from being, that man, a Ben who can love and be loved, is breathtaking.

Whatever flaws there are in this book–and there are flaws in every work–are subsumed by the overall calibre of Ms. Calhoun’s writing. Every scene feels necessary to the storytelling; her descriptions broaden the novel’s emotional scope. The sex scenes are lush, erotic, and singular. The pacing layers the narrative; the ending holds a sense of sweet inevitability. The love story is, well, lovely.

Uncommon Passion gets an A from me. It’s uncommonly good. (Sorry. I couldn’t resist.)

Dabney

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

25 Comments

  1. Isobel Carr
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 12:26:13

    Ok, what I have to know before jumping in and buying this is how does a girl with no life experience and probably an unverified education get into vet tech school and have $2K to blow on a bachelor auction (after buying a car)? Spoil me, please! If that aspect is well-handled, I’m sold.

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  2. Dabney
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 12:35:05

    @Isobel Carr: I wouldn’t worry about either of those. She has money from the years she spent working for the EF’ers–and the how of that is clearly and viably explained. Also, read my line about vet tech school again….

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  3. Joy B
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 12:36:27

    Isbobel – I’m only half-way thru the book but this is explained well. I don’t know how to do spoiler tags :-(

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  4. Darlynne
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 12:39:42

    @Isobel Carr: Agreed. Working at an organic farm doesn’t pay well at all. Also, I’d like to know beforehand whether we have to worry about the wrath of Elysian Fields descending on her and turning this into a woman-in-jeopardy story.

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  5. Dabney
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 12:41:49

    @Darlynne: They’re a peaceful group. This book is hardly about them at all. Ms. Calhoun portrays them very even-handedly.

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  6. Isobel Carr
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 12:45:12

    Someone kindly spoiled it for me on Twitter. Still not sure I buy blowing $2K when the farm is full of college boys, but I’ll try the sample.

    ReplyReply

  7. Liz Mc2
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 13:30:58

    I’m interested in reading this because I’ve heard lots of good things. And it sounds, from the quotes you provided, like the book might handle the trope I’m about to complain about in a way that makes sense. But.

    I really hate the way romance treats charity bachelor auctions like sex work. Really? I imagine some people who do this in real life do end up sleeping together, because human, but the way the woman often expects it in these fictional scenarios bugs me. Would we be OK with this if the genders were reversed? (I don’t really like the whole phenomenon IRL, I admit. Auctioning off people, even when they consent for a good cause, just seems . . . icky. The associations are so negative).

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  8. Carolyne
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 13:31:25

    An “A” review, an intriguing heroine who has an unusual journey ahead of her, an open door that has a reason to be wide open… now I want to go spend money. But I find myself wary of prices fluctuating unpredictably on newly released eBooks. Thank you for this rec, though. I’ll download the sampler then cool my heels for a couple of weeks and see if the price stays stable.

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  9. Readsalot81
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 13:38:49

    *grimace* I’m the aforementioned spoiler person Isobel mentioned. I’m really bad with spoiler tags, otherwise I would have done it that way. :\

    I hated, HATED Ben. So it’s a testament to the author’s writing that she can write such an awful character and still have it work. (Sorta ) I thought he was pretty much an asshole all the way through out the novel, and the end, well it didn’t work for me. I didn’t buy his turn around, at least, not the way it was written. He acts like a dick, acknowledges that he IS one, and then at the last 10% of the way through – the light bulb suddenly goes off. I did appreciate that the owner of Silent Circle Farm, Rob, wasn’t written as the sad sap who moons over Rachel. He lets her know that he wants her, but doesn’t act like a butt hurt moron when she tells him his feelings aren’t reciprocated.

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  10. veron
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 14:02:06

    I thought this book started off strong but it kinda fizzled for me toward the end. I think it got too repetitive and I was waiting for something to happen. But I agree with the calibre of the writing. It was emotionally compelling and the sex scenes were scorching.

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  11. Dabney
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 15:03:57

    @Liz Mc2: In this case, it’s just this guy. The other men auctioned don’t have that vibe. But that’s a great point. I think the whole auctioning of people thing is out there anyway.

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  12. mari
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 15:27:38

    Anne Calhoun works for me sometimes…Liberating Lacey was amazing. Then I read the one (can’t recall title) about the returning vet and the secret sailor and some of the angst was just too angsty for my current mood. So I dunno. Virgin discovering sex is a trope that works for me and I am glad this is being fully explored as it is usually given short shrift. But am getting a little tired of the whole-sex-cures aplhaholeness schtick. If only it worked that way in real life! ;)

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  13. Ellie
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 16:05:08

    I hated Ben too. And after a while, Rachel began to feel almost MarySue to me. I chalked it up to the mood I was in, but I intend to resell the book because I know I won’t reread it.

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  14. Kaetrin
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 19:50:39

    I’ve just managed to get my grabby hands on this one. I will come back when I’ve read the book and then read your review :)

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  15. Dabney
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 20:54:02

    @Kaetrin: I’d love to hear your perspective. I know I get tunnel vision about books that wallop me over the head.

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  16. Ruthie
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 04:38:14

    I loved this one, too, Dabney. I agree, it plays up all Calhoun’s strengths. It’s multilayered, interesting, and so very well done.

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  17. Dabney
    Sep 06, 2013 @ 09:00:13

    @Ruthie: It also worked for me given that I live in the South where there are communities that are so defined by a very narrow view of what God intends for humanity. The book is set in Galveston but I could completely see it working in Asheville!

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  18. Elizabeth
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 08:17:21

    I read this book in one sitting (and I was supposed to busy on other things…) And I blame that on the author’s voice, which is wonderful. She gave a unique spin on the hardened, shutdown cop and the fleeing-past heroine.
    Rachel was an intriguing character; if there was any flaw in this book, it was how little we experienced of her backstory. Her decision to break away would have been traumatic in a way that we didn’t get enough glimpse into–as well as how horribly painful and confusing that must have been for her father (who, regardless of his arguably bad choice of religion, clearly loved his daughter outside the norm of his environment. I appreciated that he was allowed to have layers).
    Ben was a complex character, but I loved watching his redemption. I served several years in the military–and it is just easier for some people to walk away from the horrors they see every day than others. I might not condone how he fought his demons, but I understood. I’m glad Rachel found Ben, and then changed her goal, and then changed him.
    I think this book goes on my favorite/definitely-recommend shelf.

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  19. Andrea D
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 08:37:50

    That price point is usually a deal breaker for me for an author I’ve never read before, but I was tempted by the glowing recommendation and the appeal of the premise. I’m so glad that I caved! It was a really fantastic read. I fell in love with the two characters and their journey.

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  20. Rachel
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 10:12:40

    So glad I bought this one despite the price. Loved it. Thank you for the rec. I’ll have to look for other books by this author.

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  21. Dabney
    Sep 07, 2013 @ 11:23:28

    @Elizabeth: @Andrea D: @Rachel:

    Happy to hear youall enjoyed it too. If you are looking for other works of Anne Calhoun I recommend Unforgiven and Breath on Embers. The latter is very dark, but moving.

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  22. Kaetrin
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 05:41:14

    I’m back Dabney! I’ve read the book now. I liked it very much but not as much as you did. I found it difficult to understand and connect with Ben until the last third or so if the book but that section really made the book for me. I loved Rachel right the way through though. She was amazingly strong and resilient and not at all the ingenue. My review is up at my blog if you want the long version, but that mostly covers it. :)

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  23. Dabney Grinnan
    Sep 20, 2013 @ 12:16:46

    @Kaetrin: I’m off to your blog. I too loved Rachel. Thanks.

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  24. Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun: my top romance of 2013 | the passionate reader
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 11:29:53

    […] Passion gets my vote for best romance of 2013.  I read the book in July and reviewed it for Dear Author in September. Since then I have probably reread it five times. Every time it blows me away. Ms. […]

  25. Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun | the passionate reader
    Mar 01, 2014 @ 11:32:07

    […] this review was originally published at Dear Author Dear Ms. Calhoun: Uncommon Passion is easily the best book you’ve written. The novel takes the […]

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