I read a lot of older books. Not old books. Not Dickens or Melville (not often anyway). Just stuff that’s not currently on the new releases page at Amazon. My TBR pile’s enormous and I’m not much of a spender, so I’m constantly trying to catch up on stuff I already own. I’ve never gotten close to clearing the queue. I blame my writing habit for taking up my free time. Also my full time job that limits my available reading hours.
So I’ve decided to introduce #tbt reviews, and maybe you’ll find a few oldie but goodie titles to add to your gigantic TBR pile.
So Hard Time. Published in 2014. I actually read this one not long after it came out, but I re-read it recently and I’m inspired to gush.
The first time, I read Hard Time in a day. It was the kind of reading where you open up the first page, and suddenly it’s three hours and 100 pages later and dinner’s cold and it’s bedtime, but you stay up for another hour anyway, even though you’ll be wrecked in the morning. And then you read it over breakfast, squeezing every last possible second out of your coffee because you have to leave for work, but the foreplay…
OMG the FOREPLAY!!! He writes her letters!!!
All I can do is watch your mouth. I watch your lips and I think about kissing you, when I’m alone at night…Sometimes I watch your hands…I watch your hands and I imagine them…on me.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a second.
The premise: Annie’s a librarian recently moved to Michigan. She’s in a romantic and sexual dry spell after her last boyfriend turned out to be a nasty drunk who never learned you don’t hit girls. Part of her new job involves outreach at the local correctional facility. That’s where she meets Eric, an inmate with a learning disability and a penchant for writing the most smoulderingly hot where’s-my-chardonnay letters to poor lonely Annie.
Let’s be honest. This book should not work. Lonely librarian. Felon with a sensitive side. Sexy pen pals. This book should die a lonely death on Cliche Hill.
But holy moly it works. I’ve actually even referred to it in other reviews on Goodreads. “For a better book on how to write sexy pen pals, try Hard Time by Cara McKenna.” Yeah, you heard me.
So why does it work? A couple things stood out to me on this second read.
1. Eric’s a believable as both a bad boy and a romantic
Bad boys are a thing in romance, I get that. But badly written bad boys are a massive pet peeve of mine. Either they’re alpha douchebags who are apparently attractive for being uncaring of their woman’s feelings but dynamite in bed, or else they’re not really bad boys at all, just guys with labels and improbably huge vocabularies*.
Eric’s a blue collar (at best) guy, and while his letters to Annie are Amazing with a Capital A, they’re remarkably sweet and simple. He knows he’s not much of a catch. He gives her an out at the end of every letter. But he has wants, he expresses them. Simply. He’s not crude, but he also wouldn’t know purple prose if it bit him in his well defined abs. And after he’s released, he expresses everything, from his relationship with his family to his desire for Annie, in the same blunt way. He doesn’t want to be anything more than just a man who loves Annie and tries to do right by his family, and that makes him a well realized character in my opinion. Sometimes less is more.
And the other reason this book works is…
2. Annie’s a real person with a sex drive
So the premise is that Annie hasn’t had any interest in sex or being with a man since she left her previous relationship. That condition clears itself up right quick after Eric starts writing to her. You could argue that this is another example of a damaged woman being healed by the power of her man’s magic love wand, but we’ve already covered that this book isn’t going to die on Cliche Hill. And once Annie’s sex drive wakes up, it feels fully awake in a human way. She’s got some fantasies about dark brooding Eric doing dark brooding things to her, but he’s really much happier when things are all sweet and mushy between them, and they have to work to find a balance. She buys her underwear at the Gap. She talks about masturbation. She’s just like a real person!!
So lonely librarian. Romantic ex-con. Actual human beings with actual human feelings and preferences. That stuff’s like catnip for me. If you missed it the first time around, take this #tbt recommendation and go back and read it now.
Here’s some links to help you out:
*seriously. I tried to read another bad boy romance recently, but he kept saying things like “her mouth was hot and velvet as I caressed her with my tongue. We explored each other lazily” even though he had admitted chapter 1 he could barely read. So he’s a drop out with a Regency lexicon? I chucked that offering out the window.