For What It's Worth

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Hard Time by Cara McKenna

19091520In this all-new novel from the author of Unbound, a woman with a rocky past finds romance in the last place she’d ever expect…

Annie Goodhouse doesn’t need to be warned about bad boys; good sense and an abusive ex have given her plenty of reasons to play it safe. But when she steps into her new role as outreach librarian for Cousins Correctional Facility, no amount of good sense can keep her mind—or eyes—off inmate Eric Collier.
Eric doesn’t claim to be innocent of the crime that landed him in prison. In fact, he’d do it again if that’s what it took to keep his family safe. Loyalty and force are what he knows. But meeting Annie makes him want to know more.

When Eric begins courting Annie through letters, they embark on a reckless, secret romance—a forbidden fantasy that neither imagines could ever be real…until early parole for Eric changes everything, and forces them both to face a past they can’t forget, and a desire they can’t deny.

Goodreads | Author | Amazon

Source: E-ARC provided by InterMix publishing via Netgalley for an honest review

Release date: April 15th, 2014

Preamble: Ok – so I apologize in advance for this hot mess of a rambling review. For some reason my brain couldn’t wrap itself around anything coherent for this book. It made me feel things. Anger, wtf-ery, swoonage, and compassion.

I once pondered new ways to rate books and came up with the OMG – MEH – WTF rating system but never ended up using it. It seemed like a good way to compose and breakdown my thoughts for this book though so I dusted it off and here we go…


Cara McKenna + prison love story = OMG

I sound like a broken record in my reviews when I talk about McKenna but I will follow her anywhere. Whether it's to the apartment of a agoraphobic Parisian male prostitute (Curio), to the cabin of a hermit in the Scottish Highlands with hardcore fetishes (Unbound) or to love found in the dark halls of a Psychiatric Hospital (After Hours) and now to Cousins Correctional Facility where an outreach librarian named Annie finds love through letters exchanged with convicted felon, Eric.

She writes about characters we typically don't read about. The people who are on the fringe of society, or at least feel that way. What's beautiful about McKenna's writing is that they are never exploited but portrayed in an honest, complex way. They are you and me, your friends, your family with real jobs and real day to day struggles.

The romance and HEA's don't come easy. The characters are flawed. The sex is hot but with a purpose.
While Annie and Eric's relationship starts by exchanging letters it is no less intimate as they bare their souls and fantasies. When the possibility of a real relationship presents itself after Eric's early parole, Annie isn't so sure of her feelings anymore. She's shared her darkest desires knowing she was safe from it ever actually becoming reality.

The sex in Hard Time fascinated me. Annie came from an abusive relationship but finds herself drawn to Eric because of the potential for violence. She fears intimacy with any man, yet she's attracted to this man with a violent past. He makes her want to confront and overcome those fears and learn to open her heart again. This isn’t about a weird violence kink or anything so don’t worry about that. Annie is trying to say this scares me but I want to face those fears and trust that Eric won’t hurt me.

Eric is someone convicted of a violent crime. He doesn't sugarcoat it or make excuses but he's not just a felon. In fact he's a really good guy who happened to do one bad thing. He wasn't at all what I expected. I was thinking hardcore alpha a**hole type but he's was gentle and romantic, a man loyal to his family. Vanilla, sexually in McKenna's world of kink. In fact he’s adamant about not hurting Annie even when she pushes for more.

I usually avoid erotica because dominance/submission are not things I like to read about but every book I've ever read by Cara McKenna is about CONSENT and an exchange of power - not domination. I don't care how far she pushes the envelope - it's ALWAYS consensual and handled with respect. Always. And that's an important distinction to me.

I loved the descriptions of life in prison and what Annie (or any worker/volunteer) encounters when visiting that environment. I haven't read about that before it was surprisingly descriptive and raw. It wasn't quite as interesting when Eric got out and switched to family drama. I was also a little disappointed not learning more about how Eric integrated back into society. Again, personally I found the prison/ex-con aspect almost more interesting than the romance so I was sad to see that pushed aside.


I'm not sure I ever came around to support how they met. Exchanging love letters with a prisoner which is expressly against all the rules is just dangerous all around. She’s aware that she might be getting conned or that Eric hasn’t been with a woman in 5 years so she might not be special but she does it anyway. I pretty much knew in the back of my head that this would all work out and he’d be wonderful so I let it go but that kind of made it worse. All I could think of is the poor women where it doesn’t turn out all romantic.

This was one of the rare books by this author that I thought the sex slightly overtook the plot. It's important to the character's growth - especially Annie. It’s so important that she learns to make herself vulnerable to a man that she perceives could hurt her. Most of McKenna's books take place in a very claustrophobic world where non stop sex works. She expanded the outside world more in After Hours, so somehow the constant return to sex distracted more than enhanced the story for me.

So….I may be a repressed violent person but I didn't think Eric's crime was so awful. I mean yeah - it is awful but the reasons behind it made perfect sense to me. Dumb maybe to throw your life away, but understandable. I never felt he was as hardcore as the summary suggested.

Final thoughts: Minor quibbles though. After Hours really had me running a full gamut of feelings. It's an unconventional romance to say the least and things don't get easier when Eric gets out. I was all over the place regarding the character's actions. I was mad, happy, confused…but ultimately satisfied. Questioning after reading a book is good IMO. Annie and Eric had to work for it but they were an amazing couple to read about.

Are you still here?? Just checking. Thank you for reading if you made it this far lol

I highly recommend any book by this author if you want dark, intelligent erotica with heart.


  1. Hmmm . . . I'm undecided. I put it on my watchlist, so maybe, but I'll definitely have to be in a particular kind of mood to read this, I think. I know that a LOT of women start correspondence with men in prison, but it's an idea that I find completely mind-boggling. My mind is boggled . . .

    Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    1. If you like any type of erotica - I say go for it. Despite the topic being different, McKenna makes it work. Or maybe start with one of her other books and work your way up lol

  2. Though fascinated by the women who write to prisoners, and especially those who have committed really violent crimes with no hope of release, alas this isn't a book for me. Great review and a very honest one though, thanks.

    1. She works with him in prison so she also gets to know him in person but I still found that part hard to accept. He's such a great guy that I was able to mostly overlook it.

  3. I know how much you like Cara McKenna and I love your first paragraph, how you described in a few words her books, perfection! Now I'm intrigued even though they sound a bit weird for my taste but if you like it, I'm sure they are good.

  4. You know, I don't think I've ever read a Cara McKenna. I might not start with this one (the meet cute with letters isn't so cute to me) but I think I need to see!

    1. It's definitely not a traditional meet cute. She's the outreach librarian and helps the inmates learn to read, write letters, resumes, apply for jobs etc.

      The just use the letters as a way of communicating more than they can within the prison environment.

      The Curio series is my favorite but After Hours might be a good place to start with her books.

  5. okay I will read her since this book has so many feelings :) adds more books to the reading pile

  6. Hm... I'm not sure I'm sold on this one, but you certainly sold me on the author! I like that everything is consensual and that she still pushes the envelope.

  7. You were right! Our opening paragraphs are almost identical! I say it's a good thing and a testament to that aspect of McKenna's work. Hard Timr worked for me a little more than you, I think. I'm deeply hesitant when it comes to relationships that begin that way, but as always, McKenna wins me every single time.

    I'm curious...which is your favorite book of hers? I want to say Unbound, but I also loved Curio and Willing Victim a lot too. You know, Her Best Laid Plans is right up there too!

    1. My favorite is Curio. I think because it was my first book by her and I was sure I wouldn't' be able to handle that premise but it was so sweet. Also, I read it as it was released so the anticipation of what would happen killed me!

      But really I love all of them.