Bookpushers Group Review – Hard Time by Cara McKenna

19091520Publisher: Intermix
Publish Date: Out now
How we got this book: ARC from the publisher via Netgalley

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.
Where blurb came from author’s website


1. Thoughts on the Hero

E: I remember seeing some of McKenna’s tweets as she was working on her story with her convict hero. She was talking about coming up with a crime bad enough for the hero to do time but also a crime that wouldn’t make his romance seem implausible. I thought what she came up with for Eric certainly worked for me. I loved how he initiated the romance and carefully cautiously kept it going ensuring he had Annie’s consent and participation every step of the way. However, his same sense of loyalty and keeping his word also had me frustrated with him in the second half of the book. I completely understood where he was coming from and what he needed to do for his family but I also thought or maybe hoped he could see some alternatives.

Marlene:  The only other Cara McKenna romance that I’ve read is After Hours (which I loved). What drew me into both After Hours and Hard Time is McKenna’s ability to portray a very gritty world and characters where the happiness is going to be found in small moments, rather than being swept away into winning-the-lottery (or billionaire) type riches.

Eric reminded me of her hero in After Hours, someone who has done bad things for good reasons, and is willing and able to live with the hard consequences. I thought the way that Eric kept their romance going by making sure that Annie always had control was surprisingly sweet, but terribly real. If he’d started by chasing her, she would have run. He had to keep her invested in order for her to be sure that she wanted the relationship to continue. The letters were both romantic and incredibly hot, and turned Annie’s mind on so she could get past her baggage from her ex.

But for all Eric’s protests about having changed from the young man he had been when he went in, the way he reacted when his sister asked him to violate his parole and stick around to threaten her abusive ex made him seem like he hadn’t gotten past the issues that put him in prison in the first place. His loyalty was admirable, but the unthinking nature of it would have driven me as crazy as it did Annie.

Has: I really love Cara McKenna’s voice, she has a fantastic way in creating gritty intense romance. It is a hard balance to shape a hero who was a convict but at the same time make that realistic and romantic. But I have to say she has really succeeded with Eric’s character. I loved how Eric was sweet and protective towards Annie who was taken by surprise by this hidden layer. It also really helped to forge his character, and I agree that it helped to establish how loyal and caring he was. It almost came to a fault for me with the way his characteristic was linked with the subplot and the reason why he was in prison. The slow burn romance between him and Annie was brimming full of tension and I loved that intense undertone beneath it. When they started to write and sneak in letters with each other, the romance just ignited with pure steam.

2. Thoughts on the Heroine

E: Annie was a lot of fun, skittish, determined, sweet, and very sheltered. I loved how she started facing her fears and didn’t quit her job regardless of how nerve wracking her first experiences were at Cousins Correctional Facility. I also thought her drive and passion for sharing knowledge, books, and connecting with people regardless of their situation reminded me of the librarians I grew up around. Annie’s inner thoughts as she debated what to do in response to Eric’s letters and the decisions he asked her to make in them were touching. I felt for Annie when Eric informed her of his early parole and she realized that all of a sudden, her safe mostly cerebral relationship shifted without warning into something that could become reality. Once she got over her shock I appreciated how she started taking the initiative but I wished she had been able to look beyond her sheltered upbringing to see where Eric was coming from as he was dealing with his past. I did really like her strength as she refused to just end things because they had a difference of opinion, it gave me hope for their future together.

Marlene: Being a librarian myself, I found Annie to be quite believable as the heroine. Being a prison librarian is very hard work; those jobs are usually available no matter how bad the economy gets because very few people want to do it. But Annie’s professional dilemmas are very real.

They say that our brains are our most important sex organ. Annie was still tied up in what happened with her ex, so starting her epistolary romance with Eric felt like a safe middle ground. She got a lift from seeing him and reading the letters, but didn’t have to worry about what would happen out in the real world, because there was no possibility. And then suddenly there was, and she was both frightened and angry that her make-believe universe was shattered, even if it might turn out to be better. It was certainly going to be more complicated and much less safe. But safe is lonely, and Annie figured that out.

Has: I really liked Annie’s character, and thought she was perfect for Eric because she was steadfast and learned from her mistakes. But I liked that Eric managed to bring out her inner self which she has kept hidden because of her past abusive relationship and repressed her wilder side. That produced an intricate and layered romance and I definitely agree with you both about the cerebral nature of their relationship which I think she really needed to heal from her experiences from her ex. It helped her to break free from her past, and it was fantastic to see how she slowly learned to be confident and embrace her sexuality and trust with men. I also liked that Annie helped to balance and centre Eric’s character in the second half of the book, by helping him face his own issues.

3. Favorite Scene

E: I think my favorite scene was when Eric asked Annie to write a letter for him as he dictated it. That entire scene, what he said, and Annie’s reaction as she realized what was going on really made their romance for me. Their slow discovery of each other via letter was extremely sweet and made me smile with each successive letter.

Marlene: I adored the letters. (It made me want to get my husband to write me one!) Even though with the first letter, it was obvious that Eric was “fooling” Annie into writing his letter to herself, it was still terribly romantic. The way that Annie “dressed up” for her “dates” to read Eric’s letters was also surprisingly sweet. Slightly sappy, but in a good way.

Has: I also have to say any scenes that involved the letters. Each letter just heightened the sexual tension but also the romance, and I actually found them to be more erotic than the love scenes although those were hot too! I loved how those first  few tentative letters opened Annie up to loving again but also helping to regain her trust. I also liked the fact that it helped to give Eric hope in a hopeless and start place and  I really loved how McKenna explored those themes because was just beautiful to see play out on the page.

4. Dislike about book

E: I found myself disliking Eric’s sister. She really wasn’t written as a sympathetic character despite what happened in her past even though I tried. I think what happened was wrong but found what appeared to be her total disregard to the possibility of ruining her brother’s future even more through her actions repellent. I did like how she came around towards the end and partially redeemed herself in my eyes.

Marlene: I also wanted to take Eric’s sister behind the woodshed and beat some sense into her. She both loved and needed Eric, but behaved in a way that absolutely had the potential to take him away from her completely. Besides the jealousy factor, that if she couldn’t keep him to herself than no one could have him, she was willing to run the risk of his being caught violating his parole than move one inch to keep herself safe.

But the scene where Annie and Kat bonded was good fun. At least there’s hope they might manage a civil relationship

Has: Yep! I feel the same way about the sister and her hold over Eric. Although I could understand her reasons, I felt she was holding him back and in a lot of ways imprisoning him and I got frustrated with her character as well as the plot. I also felt the important scene involving Eric’s sister and the person involved with their past, did not work because it felt a bit anti-climactic especially with the build-up to it. But I agree with E that she did redeemed herself a bit but I would have liked more development with her character.

5. Any other misc. thoughts along with grade

E: I have been really excited to read Hard Time since I first heard about it via Twitter and I am glad to say I found the read enjoyable. I enjoyed the first part with the love letters more than the second because I found them so cute. However, I was glad to see McKenna didn’t skimp on the conflict post parole because Eric and Annie were from completely different worlds. I enjoyed watching them feel their way into the physical aspects and also the baggage left from their respective pasts. I think McKenna did a great job in convincing me Annie and Eric had a shot a a future together.

I give Hard Time a B

Marlene: It felt like Eric and Annie were made for each, not by birth but by life. Their letter exchange gave them a way to let each other in, without either of them feeling threatened. Eric revealed more than expected, and Annie let go of more than she thought possible. Once Eric got out, their physical relationship was hotter than hot, but the author showed how much emotional baggage they both had to pick up and work through before they had a long term chance. McKenna made them go through a lot compromise and pauses before they reached the point where they had that chance, while leaving the sense that they still have a way to go.

I also give Hard Time a B.

Has: This was an excellent romance, with a gritty and authentic tone  that really adds to the atmosphere of the book. I also loved the development of Eric and Annie’s relationship and how it evolved throughout the book, it was just wonderful to see how it played out by working on their issues and fears. However, the real gem of the romance was build-up to their relationship with the love letters, it was amazing to see how Cara McKenna managed to combine sweetness as well as raw sexual intensity with the tension. It was a pure, utter romance with the way the words carried that to the reader and the characters and was the real highlight of the book. Hard Times is intense and sexy with a scorching love story  that remains with you for a long while!

I give Hard Times a B+

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  1. Pingback: Review: Unbound by Cara McKenna | Escape Reality, Read Fiction!

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