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: Happy Medium by Meg Benjamin

happy medium by meg benjaminFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available:
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Ramos Family/Medium #3
Length: 299 pages
Publisher: Penguin InterMix
Date Released: January 21, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, All Romance

Ray Ramos has a problem— the King William District mansion he and his business partner purchased for a fast renovation needs more work than expected. Ray could use a quick infusion of cash. Enter Emma Shea, assistant to Gabrielle DeVere, the star of American Medium. Gabrielle is looking for San Antonio houses to use for her televised séances, and Ray’s fixer-upper seems to fit. When Gabrielle does a sample séance for Ray, he witnesses something inexplicable and has an unsettling dream later that night. He then learns from his sister Rose about the Riordan family’s affinity for ghosts. But Emma also had a similar experience during the séance. The two decide to investigate the haunted house, even if it means taking on the vengeful succubus bound to it. It doesn’t hurt that Emma is immediately attracted to the laconic Ray or that Ray is intrigued by the buttoned-down beauty who seems determined to hide her considerable assets behind sober business suits.

My Review:

Medium Well by Meg BenjaminI loved the first two books in the Ramos Family Trilogy (Medium Well, Medium Rare) so I’ve been looking forward to the third book for several months. I’ll confess that even though I knew there were going to be three, I couldn’t figure out what the title of the third one was going to be. After the first two I kept thinking “steak” and couldn’t figure out what version of “doneness” came next!

Ray Ramos does not start the story as a happy medium, or at a happy medium. Let’s just say that Ray isn’t happy. He also doesn’t know he’s a medium, so make that two for two. In fact, Ray doesn’t know that both his brother Danny (Medium Well) and his sister Rosie (Medium Rare) are mediums, and that the women on his mother’s side of the family have been practicing mediums in the King William District of San Antonio for over a century.

Ray is not just in the dark, but it’s about to get darker. Ray flips houses for a living, and the house he’s just started working on is a money pit. It needs way more work than he estimated, and he and his business partner have way too much of their capital tied up in it. So when the buttoned up production assistant for the cable TV show American Medium (there we go again) appears at his door asking if he’d be interested in having the white elephant of a house featured on the show, he’s in it for the cash.

He’s also in it for the chance at seeing the assistant again. Something about Emma Shea pulls him in, in spite of, or maybe because of, the way she dresses to diminish her appearance. Emma just thinks that Ray is way out of her league, but she hopes that her eccentric diva of a boss will use the house, so that she will have a chance to see Ray again.

The good news is that Gabrielle DeVere, the very fake medium of American Medium, wants to feature the house. The bad news is that while Gabrielle doesn’t really feel the spirits, the test seance she conducts wakes up something in the house that would have been much better left sleeping.

This money pit of a house is not merely haunted, but whatever malevolent spirit is hanging around is an all-purpose sexual predator who tries to sink her talons into Ray. And that’s when he finds out that talking to the dead is the proverbial skeleton in his family closet. And that the family ghosts are surprisingly talkative…and helpful.

The first thing they tell him is to listen to Emma. Great idea! The more time they spend together, trying to figure out what is going on in the house, the more they realize that the ghost did them a favor…it brought them together. Now they just have to figure out how to get rid of it before it kills them.

Escape Rating B+: Happy Medium was a terrific conclusion to the Medium trilogy, although I’m very sorry that it’s the conclusion. I’ve really enjoyed all three books, and I wish there were more somehow. I do think that it helps to have read the entire series; there is information about the family that makes more sense if you’ve read the previous books. And they’re fun!

Although this series is about the Ramos family, it seemed like it was much more Emma’s story than Ray’s. Ray did have to accept that his family history was a little weird, and his dream conversations with the spirit members of the family were hard for him to swallow at first, but Ray is pretty grounded.

Emma is a hot mess. So there’s a story in her taking charge of her life, and taking it back from the bloodsucker that she works for. Emma does spend a little too much of the story lamenting the five pounds her boss says she needs to lose, and whinging about the life her boss doesn’t let her have. It’s great that she finally gets Gabrielle out of her life, but Emma starts out almost too mousy to become the heroine of her own life.

One of the things I love about this series is that in each book a lot of research needs to be done into the history of a house, its potential ghosts, and the King William District. It doesn’t matter to me whether all the history is true or not, what I appreciate is that not all the important heroics involved fighting and pyrotechnics; the historical research is equally necessary to solve the case.

My favorite line in this book: “Not all succubi are ghosts.” It’s even better that it’s said by a ghost.


*This review was originally published at The Book Pushers.
***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: Medium Rare by Meg Benjamin + Giveaway

Medium Rare by Meg BenjaminFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: paranormal romance
Series: Ramos Family, #2
Length: 305 pages
Publisher: InterMix
Date Released: August 20, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Rose Ramos was a reference librarian, until she inherited her grandmother’s house—and the family talent for connecting with the other side…

Moving into the lovely Victorian in San Antonio’s King William District is a dream come true for Rose—and also a nightmare. That’s the only explanation she has for the man hovering above her bed. But Skag is a ghost who’s been part of Rose’s family for generations. And now he’s all hers.

When Evan Delwin, a reporter out to debunk the city’s newest celebrity, posts an ad looking for a research assistant to investigate a famous medium making his home in San Antonio, Skag suggests that Rose apply for the job. Delving into the dark side has its own dangers for Rose—including trying to resist Delwin’s manly charms. But as the investigation draws them closer together, the deadly currents surrounding the medium threaten to destroy them all…

My Review:

Inheriting a Victorian pile in the snooty King William district of San Antonio from her grandmother comes as an unexpected shock to librarian Rose Ramos for any number of reasons.

First of all, she could only remember meeting her Grandmother Caroline Riordan three times at most. Secondly, her mother, meaning Grandmother Caroline’s daughter, was very much still alive, so Rose couldn’t figure out why the house hadn’t gone to her. Third and foremost in her mind, as much as she was enjoying the pleasure of owning the beautiful old monstrosity, grand old houses need a lot more money to maintain than she could imagine squeezing out of a librarian’s paycheck. (A thought to which I can only say “Amen sister!”)

Then the family ghost appears above her bed in the guise of Hannibal Lecter (he switches his appearance when she shrieks in terror, and who wouldn’t), and Rose discovers how Grandmother Caroline, as well as Grandmother Siobhan before her, really kept house and home together. The ghostly Skag coolly informs Rose that she, just like all the women in the Riordan family, is a powerful medium. The family business is talking with the dead.

This should descend into camp, but it doesn’t. Rose does not become the kind of medium who conducts séances, for one thing. Instead, she finds stuff for people. And there’s a money back guarantee. People will pay quite a bit to find out where their dead relatives hid the equivalent of the family silver.

Medium Well by Meg BenjaminMedium Rare fast forwards two years. The recap of those two years sounded like so much fun I bought a copy of the first book in the series, Medium Well, and reviewed it over at Book Lovers Inc.

Even though Rose makes her living by finding stuff for people, with the family ghost asking the dead for assistance in the finding, there are still plenty of mediums around San Antonio who hold seances. It’s easy for Rose to make her talent look like good old-fashioned library research.

A séance looks like woo-woo. It can look silly, or it can be fraud. There’s a new guy in town who might have tipped over the line from magic tricks to outright fraud, and there’s a psychic debunker in San Antonio who’s out to catch him.

That’s where the fun begins.

Evan Delwin is an investigative journalist who is just positive that all psychic practitioners and mediums must be frauds. Evan knows how all the tricks works. His dad was a famous magician, The Great Dell–until a trick went horribly wrong.

Now Evan works with the police to expose fraudulent so-called psychics, and he has his eye on one William Bradford, who has recently set up a very expensive operation in San Antonio. But everyone knows who he is. He needs an assistant.

Skag wants Rose to work with Evan, because Skag senses that there is more going on than just a worldly fraud.

Skag may be right, but the minute that Evan and Rose meet, they want to do one hell of a lot more than just work together. The problem is that Evan distrusts all psychics, and Rose isn’t telling him that she is one.

Then the hellhounds come to call…

Escape Rating B: A paranormal romance without either vampires or werewolves. And a hearty thank you to the author for not having the ghost be the love interest! I like my romances with a reasonable chance of happy ending. (Stacey Kennedy managed it once and terrifically with Supernaturally Kissed, but let’s not all go there)

Anytime a librarian is the hero or heroine, it’s cool with me.

But speaking of Rosa and Evan, these are two people who shouldn’t get together, but not for any of the usual reasons, which was a very interesting twist. He debunks what she is. Very cool. It’s not just that he doesn’t believe, it’s that he’s sure she’s a fraud. She starts out lying to him, and as the story goes on, we discover that he’s kind of lying to himself.

Two of the most fun characters in the story are Helen and Lenore. Especially Helen. She is an absolutely marvelous piece of invention; an over-protective hellhound who is invisible to everyone but Rosa and Evan, but who is still eating the very real furniture. I adore her, but I’m glad my couch is safe from her.

The third book in this series will be Happy Medium. My mind was going to the steak metaphor; medium well, medium rare, and I had a mental block about what the third state of “doneness” might be. So happy to have that resolved, and I’m looking forward to the book, too!

Meg BenjaminAbout Meg Benjamin

Meg Benjamin is writes contemporary romance for Samhain Publishing and paranormal romance for Berkley InterMix. Her books have won an EPIC Award for Contemporary Romance, the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the New England Romance Writers Beanpot Award, and the Holt Medallion among other honors. Meg lives in Colorado.To learn more about Meg, visit her website and blog. You can also follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Meg loves to hear from readers–contact her at


Meg will be awarding a $15 Amazon gift certificate to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and E-copies of Medium Well (the preceding book in the series) to two randomly drawn commenters during the tour.

For other changes to win, please visit the other stops on the blog tour.

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***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.