Review: Unbound by Cara McKenna

Unbound by Cara McKennaFormat read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: contemporary romance
Length: 268 pages
Publisher: Penguin Intermix
Date Released: October 15, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboAll Romance

She set out to find herself, and discovered the darker side of desire.

Merry’s lost a lot recently—first her mother, then close to a hundred pounds. Feeling adrift, she strikes out in search of perspective. A three-week hike through the Scottish Highlands was supposed to challenge her new body and refocus her priorities, but when disaster strikes, she’s forced to seek refuge in the remote home of a brooding, handsome stranger…

Rob exiled himself to the Highlands years ago, desperate to escape his own self-destruction. Haunted by regrets, he avoids human contact at all costs…but when Merry turns up injured, he can’t very well run her off. And as he nurses her back to health, Rob can’t resist his guest’s sweet demeanor—or her flirtatious advances. The igniting passion between them rouses a secret appetite Rob has long struggled to keep hidden. But Merry craves nothing more than to help Rob surrender to his desires, and the journey draws the lovers into an entirely different kind of wilderness.

My Review:

Last week I read the latest Cara McKenna book, Lay It Down, for a joint review at The Book Pushers. One of the things we did in our review was compare her latest to After Hours, Hard Time and Unbound, because it was a bit different from her other books. The romance was much slower to build, and it took quite a lot of book to get there. There’s also a strong omantic suspense element that isn’t in evidence in some of her earlier work.

I realized that I had read both After Hours and Hard Time (reviews here and here) but had missed Unbound. I wanted to see where it “fit” with the rest. And I had a very long airplane trip in front of me. I knew I’d be in for a good read, so I let my fingers do the walking to Amazon.

It turns out that Unbound is kind of in the middle between After Hours and Hard Time on the one side, and Lay It Down on the other. Here’s my take on it:

Unbound is a romance between two people who have gone through way too much to get to the isolated location where they meet. They also each have a metric ton of secrets that make a remote getaway romance seem fascinating, but have devastating consequences in the real world.

Merry takes herself on a three-week hike in the wilds of Scotland. Because she can. Because it’s a trip that her mother always wanted to take (the Scotland part and not the three-week hike part). Those points have relevance because her mother died less than a year ago, and Merry is still having difficulty coping with the loss. And speaking of losses, her mother’s death kicked her into losing almost 100 pounds. Not out of a health scare, but because she needed something to obsess over to deal with her grief. Exercise and healthy nutrition turned out to be an all-consuming quest that kept her going.

Her exercise journey made it possible for her to take that hike alone in the Highlands. It also seems to be straining her relationships with her friends, and certainly caused her ex-boyfriend to break up with her, now that she had enough self-confidence to stop settling for letting him make booty calls whenever he wanted without being willing to introduce her to his friends.

But her recovery is something that she is still working through. Changing her body has resulted in life changes that she wasn’t expecting. Some good, like the strength and stamina to take the trip, and some bad, like changes in all her relationships.

Alone time is great, until she catches a nasty bug from swimming in a few too many unfiltered Highland lochs. And that’s where Rob comes in.

Rob is the hermit who takes her in and helps her get over her illness. He seems to be the perfect mountain man, at one with his surroundings and living off the land in his small, isolated cabin.

But Rob is not at peace with much of anything. He’s running away from all the people and relationships he broke when he was at his depths. And from sexual impulses that his upbringing told him must be wrong.

He’s so shy and withdrawn that Merry, in the midst of her own isolation, can’t help but reach towards. Especially since all that survivalist living has made him way hot. Being on his own has made him way scared.

They start out exploring each other, not just physically but also emotionally. But for as many secrets as Rob reveals, there’s one he can’t bring himself to admit–right up until it bites them both in the ass.

Escape Rating B+: I remember not being interested in this story when it was first released because of the weight loss meme. It seemed like it might fall into the trope of “fat girl gets skinny and guys are suddenly interested” like Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich. In spite of the blurb, this isn’t that.

Merry is more focused on her strength and stamina, that her exercise program has made her more capable. She doesn’t seem to be a size 2, but healthy and strong. She’s fascinated with the things her body is now able to accomplish. She acknowledges that she will always have a love/hate relationship with food, and that some women are very able to rock their curves, she’s just not one of them. Her journey is about finding her inner strength by developing her physical strength.

There’s also an element of Merry saying “goodbye” to her mother, and to her own past. She’s getting her head together and moving forward. Until she gets sick and drops into Rob’s isolated life.

Rob is out there in the hills because he feels that the only way he can stop damaging himself and others is to be completely removed from all temptation. He starts out thinking that he can’t hurt Merry because she can’t stay. And the short-term nature of their relationship allows him to reveal the sexual kink that shames him; he needs to be tied up.

Merry finds that her inner vixen is more than up to that particular challenge. For someone who has kept her libido under wraps, the games that Rob needs to play turn out to be endlessly hot and incredibly fulfilling.

But the closer they become physically, the closer they get emotionally. And that’s where the trouble comes. Merry doesn’t have a clue why Rob can’t come to town with her, can’t leave his mountain. And he dodges all the possible opportunities for revelation until it seems like it’s too late, not just for their relationship, but also for his survival.

The thud in the story as that shoe drops reverberates for the rest of the book, making the ending just that much more satisfying.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: After Hours by Cara McKenna

After Hours by Cara McKennaFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: Erotic romance
Publisher: Penguin InterMix
Date Released: April 16, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

A dangerous infatuation with a rough and ready man…

Erin Coffey has been a nurse for years, but nothing’s prepared her for the physical and emotional demands of her new position. Needing to move closer to her dysfunctional family, she takes a dangerous job at Larkhaven Psychiatric Hospital, where she quickly learns that she needs protection—and she meets the strong, over-confident coworker who’s more than willing to provide it.

Kelly Robak is the type of guy that Erin has sworn she’d never get involved with. She’s seen firsthand, via her mess of a sister, what chaos guys like him can bring into a woman’s life. But she finds herself drawn to him anyway, even when he shows up at her door, not eager to take no for an answer.

What Erin finds even more shocking than Kelly’s indecent proposal is how much she enjoys submitting to his every command. But he can’t play the tough guy indefinitely. If they want to have more than just an affair, both will have to open up and reveal what they truly need.

My Review:

After Hours is a romance that makes you work for its happy for now ending…and seriously makes its happy for now ending work. This gritty working-class real-life romance is also one of the hottest romances I’ve read in eons.

We all know we aren’t going to get rescued by billionaires, but we do have a chance at ending the day with a guy who can fix our cars and grill a mean steak. If he can also provide enough orgasms that we walk funny the next morning–now that’s the stuff of real-life fantasy.

The story of After Hours tugs at so many hearts because it is grounded in everyday life. Erin Coffey has a job that most of us wouldn’t want: she’s a Licensed Practical Nurse at a psychiatric hospital. It’s her first real job, because she got her LPN as a caregiver while her grandmother descended through Alzheimer’s. Now she has to earn a paycheck.

Erin has always been a nurturer. Her mother has gone through a series of worthless, domineering men, and left Erin in charge of her baby sister. Now that Amber is more-or-less adult, she’s repeating their mother’s pattern, complete with an out-of-wedlock child. Erin sees herself as the only stable influence in their lives.

So she gets the job at Larkhaven Psychiatric, just so she can be near them, in spite of its location in a rundown Rustbelt town  and the fact that she’s scared to death of the job and the patients.  And that’s where she meets Kelly Robak. Kelly is an orderly at Larkhaven.

At first, Kelly seems just like all the men that her mother and her sister keep train-wrecking their lives into. He’s big and overpowering and he admits that he can’t manage relationships because the women he gets involved with won’t put up with the fact that he demands that things be his way, all the time.

Kelly has some serious control issues. But then, so does Erin. And they also have some major, blistering hot chemistry. And no one has turned Erin’s crank for too damn long.

But Erin’s not sure she’s willing to let any man dominate her, not even for the promise of the best sex she’s ever had in her life.

After a week at Larkhaven, she changes her mind. The idea of turning her mind off for a couple of days, and letting someone else be in charge, sounds pretty damn appealing. And she already knows just how good it’s going to be.

Except it’s better. The only problem is that once she lets Kelly in, she can’t keep him out. And she doesn’t even want to. But this isn’t a no-strings-attached coworkers-with-benefits fling. Whatever it is, it’s real.

Erin and Kelly are starting to not just care, but take care, of each other. And neither of them planned on that.

Escape Rating B+: There needs to be a new category for After Hours, because this erotic romance (and it is very erotic) isn’t happily ever after, and I’m not quite sure it is even happy for now, exactly. But it is happier for now. Kelly and Erin are both in better places in their lives because they are together than they were separately. Their world is brighter than it was, but it is not bright, nor should it be. They are working in a pretty grim psychiatric hospital and living in a depressed rustbelt town that doesn’t sound like it’s ever going to lift out of the recession.

They’re not rescuing each other. But they are helping each other to heal from a whole lot of bad stuff that happened before they ever met. They are stronger together than they are separately. How they reach that point and the way they reach towards each other is what makes this story so damn good.

Erin and Kelly are two people who you really want to see make good. By the end of the story, you are rooting for them to get their brighter day. Awesome story.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.