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REVIEW:  Hard Time by Cara McKenna

REVIEW: Hard Time by Cara McKenna

Hard Time Cara McKenna

Dear Ms. McKenna:

I’ve not been able to connect to every one of your books as I would have liked but I couldn’t help but be drawn to the idea of a felon and a librarian. For all of its forbidden nature, this is a lovely, heartfelt romance.

Annie Goodhouse is the new outreach librarian for Cousins Correctional Facility in Cousins, Michigan.  She teaches various classes each day and one of her students is Eric Collier, a man she can’t keep her eyes or mind off of.

The setup is a bit of a strain. Eric comes on to her by writing a letter full of down home charm and come ons. There’s no question that this sort of thing happens in real life but Annie doesn’t seem the sort to be romanced by a felon who has a prison sentence of ten years.

Annie wants to know what he’s in for and she never really looks it up which, for a librarian, seems odd. Don’t they like knowing a bit about everything and are really good at finding out information?

Nonetheless, she remains somewhat in the dark about Eric’s true circumstances which are as palatable as a felon’s can be, I guess. (In some ways I felt like I was reading a slightly different version of Ruin Me). Because the two can’t flirt openly, they begin to do so through letters. After each encounter with Eric, Annie goes home to read the letter he has written to her. In the letters, he writes beautifully, honestly, and graphically about how he feels about Annie.  And at the end of the letters, he waits for a signal from her to discern whether he should keep writing.

While Eric chides Annie for handing him a letter, there is no real privacy for inmates. His letters to her or her incoming letters to him could be read at any time. The story seems to indicate that there’s some privacy and safety after the exchange but there really isn’t.  There’s an early tension that permeates the story that the exchange might be discovered or that their every increasing closeness will be discerned by a sharp eyed guard.

The entirety of the story does not take place while Eric is incarcerated. Instead the story shifts to post incarceration. And the emotional conflict post incarceration was real and believable. Eric wasn’t driven by revenge or vengeance but the desire to protect his family which he only knew how to express in violence. This desire had to be balanced against her desire to see him not be incarcerated again. She wanted him to value himself higher than he did, to be more selfish.

What was well conveyed was that the change Annie sought from Eric was one that he believed would intrinsically change him in a way with which he would not be comfortable.  The two exchange “I love yous” often but the last one is the one I thought was most meaningful. It expressed a sacrifice which to both of them was really large but might seem small amongst the cosmos.

Annie’s struggle, not only with loving a felon, but grappling with Eric both in prison and without was authentic. She’s a bit naive and she comes off as a little too wide eyed to be engaged in her present activities. She had moved to Michigan to be away from an abusive boyfriend. That she didn’t express more fear around being with a guy who got ten years for assaulting someone was a chink in the realism of the entire story but the two of them are sweet and touching together.

The one downfall of this book is the ending.

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

It’s very romantic but it felt incomplete. Annie’s father is a law enforcement officer and her family was important to her, much as Eric’s family was to him. The failure of including a scene of Annie and her family dealing with her new beau felt off to me, as if I only received one half of a fulfilling ending.  

Overall, though, the letters, the sweetness, the tender eroticism made this book a recommended read for me. B

Best regards


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REVIEW:  Confidence Tricks by Tamara Morgan

REVIEW: Confidence Tricks by Tamara Morgan

Dear Ms. Morgan:

This book is a lot of fun with a great hero, more quotable lines than a compendium from John Bartlett, and a somewhat disappointing conclusion. My favorite lines in the book have to be this:

“Spork! I cry spork!” She released some of the tension on his arm but didn’t back away.

“You cry spork?”

“It’s my safe word,” he managed. “You know— functional yet innovative? I hate to brag, but I’ve been told I’m a little of both.”

Confidence Tricks Tamara Morgan
Poppy Donovan and her best friend ran a number of confidence games, targeting people they perceived had little to lose. One con goes awry and Poppy takes the fall and serves two years in prison. When she is released, she is determined to run one last con on a man who tricked her grandmother out of $80,000. The con Poppy runs is getting Todd, her mark, to fall for her and lavish her with $80,000 worth of goods and jewelry.

Poppy gets her hands on a down payment in the form of a necklace when she and Todd are held up and the necklace is stolen by Asprey Charles and his brother Griff. Poppy then proceeds to hunt down Asprey. Asprey falls for Poppy from nearly the minute she has her stiletto stuck on vulnerable spot on his neck. He wants to help her get back her money from Todd and he wants to soothe away the worries she seems to carry with her. And, he’s helplessly intrigued by her.

Poppy, on the other hand, views Asprey as not much more than a dilettante. He’s a trust fund kid in over his head. Plus, even if she would open up her guarded heart to Asprey, she isn’t sure that she is not simply another lark of his.

The romance between Asprey and Poppy was a bit too superficial for me.  I wanted to know more, particularly from Poppy, why she was falling for Asprey and why she wanted to spend her happy ever after with him.  Was it just because he loved her or because he represented something she thought she would never have?  Like Asprey, I felt that Poppy was too emotionally closed off at times, preventing me from fully understanding her.

Part of the problem with the storyline is that it requires certain individuals to be wholly blind as to one of the most important components of the con. And the major character problems such as Poppy’s need for constant danger and adrenaline and Asprey’s desire not to be responsible in any way were never addressed. Nor were the moral issues that were raised. At one point, Poppy feels uncomfortable toward her marks but instead of this leading to a change, the story conveniently sidesteps Poppy’s discomfort with a convenient resolution.  Given that the moral issue is raised a couple of times, I would have liked to have seen a little more introspection on the issue.

The caper spirit, Asprey’s irrepressible nature, and the smart exchanges carry the story through lulls in the plot and action.  B-

Best regards,


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