Joint Review – Unbound by Cara McKenna


Publisher: Berkley Intermix
Publish Date: Out Now
How we got this book: eARC from the publisher via Netgalley

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.

This blurb came from the author’s website.

E: I was introduced to McKenna earlier this year when I saw several members of my book circle of trust raving about After Hours. After pondering it for a while, I decided to give her a try. I think I read After Hours about three times since then and have recommended it to others. As a result when I saw that McKenna had a new book coming out I made sure it went onto my wish list. This one features two damaged people, one trying to discover who she really is and the other hiding from what he became. One of the things I enjoyed about this book is how they were accepting of each other because neither of them had expectations about the other. Watching the two of them learn each other, what they enjoyed, and how they were was fascinating.

MiscJoy: Unlike E, I went into Unbound without having previously read anything by McKenna. I couldn’t resist the book description, however. I love a good transformation story and the idea of taking off for hills unknown and roughing it for a few weeks is a personal fantasy of mine. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know going in that this story is classified as Erotica, otherwise I would have taken a pass and missed out on a really great story. Not that I mind reading Erotica, I just don’t usually enjoy it. I need to be anchored to the story and to the characters and most of what I’ve read in the Erotica genre isn’t grounded enough for me. Color me pleasantly surprised with McKenna’s Unbound. What a great character exploration and transformation story! You know I’ll be running for After Hours as soon as my review schedule opens up.

E: Oh MiscJoy, I am so glad to hear that. We totally need to have a McKenna-discussion fest after you read that one. McKenna made a couple of very interesting points to ponder in this book. The first was Merry’s discovery that sometimes when you change yourself, you discover that your connection to your friends was mainly what you changed. As a result those friendships become altered. The alterations can be for the better or for the worse but regardless it makes you re-evaluate who you are friends with and why. Another thing I found fascinating was seeing through Rob’s thoughts how easy it was to deceive or justify your actions to yourself. I really loved how above and beyond the romance both Merry and Rob had to discover things about themselves as individuals and their dynamic as a couple.

MiscJoy: You’re on! We really must discuss:-) The examination of relationship dynamics and inner personal journeys was my favorite part of this story. McKenna took on two important issues: our relationship with and acceptance of our physical body and our sexuality. She deftly wove a blanket of healing around these two characters as they came to know themselves by opening up to another person. Even though the relationship initially developed over a few days, their meaningful conversations and the level at which they connected to each other made it work for me. They connected at both a physical and emotional level. Through their inner revelations and what they shared with each other, we really learned about these characters and their private struggles and insecurities.

In Merry’s case, she came to a decision to lose weight and found that as she got stronger and healthier, she related to the world in a different way. In our society, weight is one of those trigger issues. I liked that the narrative acknowledged how some people have the self-esteem to rock their curves and not think twice about it. For them, weight is not an issue. However, for others, like Merry, those same curves feel like a prison. The complex issue of weight can sometimes dig deep into our psyche and warp the truest manifestation of who we really are. In this way, for some people, weight can be seen as a symptom of a larger inner challenge.

Rob’s self-loathing was painful to witness. His personal demons hounded him so strongly that he felt he had to escape society altogether just to survive living. I can only imagine that level of pain.

E: Oh yes, that was really moving. Rob practically broke my heart between his self-loathing, his shame, and questioning wonder at Merry’s willingness to not just accept but enjoy what he needed sexually. Speaking of which, I absolutely loved watching Merry find her inner woman and discover what she enjoyed at the same time. I thought the tentative sexual advances, rather awkward first time, and slow growth into full blown affair complete with role-playing was very deftly handled. Their intimacy also developed during their time working and playing together outside of the bedroom as they shared confidences. I will admit the entire time it seemed like both Rob and I were waiting for the other shoe to drop because he never quite came out and said exactly what caused his self-destruction. When McKenna let the other shoe fall, it hit with a resounding thud that really emphasized how avoidance is not the same as actually working through a problem. Without this impact I think I would have felt cheated by a HEA because something I know intellectually is very hard to overcome would have been cured by the power of love and diminished the overall struggle towards happiness.

MiscJoy: Oh, that other shoe. Man, what a wallop. McKenna definitely kept it real and I’m glad she did, as heartbreaking as it was. I agree, a simple HEA just wouldn’t have been right for this story. (Just trust us, read the story and you’ll understand…but don’t worry, it is a Romance, after all:-) I find it difficult to review a story like this because I really just want to talk about all the things, but I don’t want to spoil the experience for other readers. These two really had to work for their relationship. Considering how Rob kept himself closed off from the world when they first met, it took great courage on both their parts to be as open as they were.

I appreciated McKenna’s candid voice and her diligence with staying true to her characters. The writing style had an ease and flow that made for an enjoyable read. Although the frequent use of “was” felt like a crutch and the narrative would have been stronger with more varied verb choices and sentence structure. However because McKenna presented such a deep character profile and a level of honesty and raw emotion that I don’t often find, I didn’t really mind. I just thoroughly enjoyed the journey these two characters experienced.

E: I found Unbound both enjoyable and moving. As both MiscJoy and I commented about the other shoe dropping, I absolutely LOVED the extended grovel scene. The combination of Rob reaching out and completely opening himself up while leaving the choice up to Merry to decide what she wanted to do. The method he chose left him open to rejection not just once but repeated times and to me that said so much about his hopes, his dreams, and his knowledge of just how much was at stake. McKenna provided some angst, serious emotional growth, personal acceptance, and a really sweet love story in Unbound. I am certainly going to keep my eye on her future releases.

I give Unbound an A.

MiscJoy: I couldn’t agree more! Having Rob reach out made it so much more meaningful in so many ways. It just wouldn’t have worked as well the other way around. I appreciated the depth in this story and the raw emotion that McKenna brought to her characters. She treated the subject manner with great respect and allowed her characters to fully explore their sexuality in a way that sizzled the pages. I think my eReader needs a cool-down period;-)

I give Unbound an A.

5 thoughts on “Joint Review – Unbound by Cara McKenna”

  1. Yay!!! I’m so glad you loved the book Joy. I’m reviewing this one for my blog and it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. I loved Rob and Merry’s journey.. and I thought there was a very strong message about the theme of self-acceptance. Rob’s problems don’t automatically go away once he acknowledges his desires and what turns him on, but you see a change in how he approaches intimacy and what Merry desires isn’t out of reach, so to speak.

    I pestered Joy about reading Mckenna until she gave in 😉

  2. @Amanda: It certainly was. Her stories (the ones I have read that is) are gritty and bring out some very interesting points to ponder.

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