Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view


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


AmazonBNSonyKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

Reading List by Jennie for September and October

Reading List by Jennie for September and October

Also read and reviewed Life after Life  and read Never Desire a Duke and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (reviews to come).

Because We Belong (Because You Are Mine Series #3) by Beth KeryBecause We Belong by Beth Kery

I can’t remember how or why I picked this up but it did not work for me. It read like another 50 Shades of Grey ripoff, with a dominant, super-virile, super-rich, improbably young hero and a bland, innocent, sweet and beautiful heroine.   It actually turned out to be the third book in a series but I don’t think that mattered – the backstory was pretty well explained. The book opens with h/h having hot D/s sex; immediately afterwards he finds out a devastating truth about his parentage and disappears, leaving the heroine in charge of his multi-million-dollar business empire (of course he would; she’s an artist barely out of college!). Stuff happens. They end up back together and have more hot sex when he’s not rambling around some creepy chateau in France, dealing with the truth about his ultra-creepy origins. There’s a villain who tries to destroy them; it’s all obvious and lame. My grade was a D.



Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona CarnarvonLady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona Carnarvon

I picked this up as a fan of the PBS series; it’s about Almina, the Countess of Carnarvon, who in the first decades of the 20th century was mistress of the actual house where parts of Downton Abbey are filmed (as wife of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon). Some of the details of Almina’s life were mirrorred in the series; for instance, she turned her home into a convalescent home for injured soldiers during World War I. Almina was the illegitimate daughter of Alfred de Rothschild; though her husband married her for her money (and she him for his title), it was a happy union. The book also deals with the Earl’s financing of excavations in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, culminating in the biggest find of the 20th century: the discovery of the intact tomb of King Tut. This was a pretty absorbing book. It’s a little slow and a bit too respectful of its subjects (the author is married to the current earl, Almina’s great-grandson), but ultimately an interesting look at a bygone era. I gave it a B.



Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg CabotSize 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot

I think I picked this up as one of the Daily Deals; the blurb caught my attention. I’d heard of the title but didn’t know anything about the book (I’d assumed from the title it was chick-lit). It’s actually a mystery with chick-litish elements (it’s the first in a series) with a heroine who was a minor pop star as a teenager (think Tiffany or Debbie Gibson, for those of us from a different era). Heather Wells’ life took several unfortunate turns when her label dropped her, her mother ran away with her money, her pop-star boyfriend dumped her, and she was forced to get a “real” job. She ends up working at a residence hall at a fictional university in New York City, one where girls start dying at an alarming rate (supposedly “elevator surfing” ). I haven’t read Cabot before (I don’t *think*; I know she has several different pen names), and I’m not sure her voice really works for me. I would’ve liked the heroine to be more confident; one would think an ex-pop star would have some glamour or charisma, but Heather is more of the bumbling and insecure type. This book definitely falls under the “humorous mystery” subgenre, but the humor didn’t do much for me. I’m undecided on continuing the series; I’m mildly interested in the resolution of the heroine’s romantic interest (she’s infatuated with her ex-boyfriend’s brother, a private eye whom she shares living space with). But I’m not sure I want to wade through several more books just to find out how that turns out. I graded this a C+.


Mere Christianity by C.S. LewisMere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I’m agnostic, but I’ve long had a mild interest in C.S. Lewis; I think it dates back to seeing Shadowlands on A&E 20 years ago. I liked the Anthony Hopkins version of C.S. Lewis a whole lot. I’m not sure I like the C.S. Lewis version of C.S. Lewis, at least not based on this book. It’s a series of essays based on radio speeches he gave during World War II, espousing his view of Christianity and faith.  Unfortunately, I find Lewis’ prose style irritating  (in a kind of priggish British way; other readers probably have more patience for Britishisms than I do). Furthermore, his arguments, coming from ostensibly a noted thinker, are flimsy and lacking in rigorous logic. I was willing to be convinced (to a point); I just don’t think Lewis was that good at convincing. Also, the book is kind of sexist and at one point homophobic (he refers to “the perverted desire of a man for a man”). Now, I know this was written more than 70 years ago, but still; there existed people – writers and Christians included – who weren’t homophobic and sexist, and so it’s hard for me to give Lewis much of a pass. Also, for someone who is preoccupied (to a fault, in my mind) with humility and self-abnegation, Lewis is awfully sure of what God thinks on just about everything. I gave this a D.



The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie BarrowsThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I remember that I saw this book everywhere when it first came out, but I dismissed it due to the title, which I thought excessively twee. Still, somewhere along the line, I managed to acquire a copy, and now, several years later, I’ve finally picked it up. It’s actually quite good (I’m only about half-way through) – it’s an epistolary novel set in England after World War II. The majority of the correspondence is between a London writer, Juliet Ashton, and the residents of Guernsey who made up the titular group. The society formed during the war almost by accident – as a way to avoid punishment by the Germans for being caught out after curfew. (Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during the war, a fact I was unaware of. But then, pretty much all I know about Guernsey is that it has cows.) Novels told through letters can be a hard sell – the device is often distancing, and the way information is conveyed can feel awkward or improbable. This book mostly avoids those flaws, at least so far, and I’m finding the characters really interesting.