Hard Time by Cara McKenna Contemporary Romance released by Penguin InterMix on April 15, 2014
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.
I got an ARC of this book, and had heard a lot of positive buzz about it, so I decided to read it. I’d read one of Cara McKenna’s [much] earlier books, so I was interested in reading this one. I also thought it was really interesting to read a book that featured a romance hero who had been (or is) a convicted felon. That’s … intense. And not your typical hero material. However, I wanted to give it a go because I’d say I know more than the average person about our criminal justice system, and how things work, or don’t work. Because of that, it’s possible I may have been more forgiving and open. (Or just that I think about these things way more than most people do.)
Like last month, this isn’t going to be a formal review for many reasons … but I do want to talk about some things.
One [totally insignificant] detail that irked me was the strip search scene Ms. McKenna wrote in when Annie first went to the Correctional Facility. With the caveat that my jurisdiction of license/practice isn’t Michigan, I believe a Correctional Facility in Michigan is a prison. I’ve only been to jails not prisons, but even so I don’t think a strip search is usual procedure. If you’re going through intake, than yes, of course. Or, if you’re a suspicious character, and the officers there suspect you of smuggling contraband. A visiting librarian/instructor I don’t think would fall under that umbrella. Unless it was a maximum security facility? (But then she wouldn’t be going there in the first place…) I could go on, but I won’t. So anyway, you see that having that right there in the beginning stuck with me. Thankfully, I gave it some time, then powered on. I’m so glad I did.
I liked Annie, and the fact that she was generally reasonable. I don’t think I’d ever be in the position she put herself in, but it was interesting to read. (And never say never, amirite? ;)) I liked that she put herself first – after a hard lesson learned well before she met Eric. Then also, that she was willing to give the relationship a try and not shut herself off just because of her past. What’s also nice is that Annie sticks up for Eric. I liked that in a way, she was his champion.
Eric, for all that he’s a felon, is probably one of the most romantic heroes I’ve read in a long time. His letters and the way he acts … I think it’s necessary to counter the automatic assumption and stigma that comes with his criminal record. However, the violence of a moment doesn’t define him – it isn’t really who he is – even though to the world he’s stamped with the label and to many people that’s all he is, or will ever be. The strength of will and resolve that Eric has to build a life on the outside really impressed me. He did the wrong thing, and I can’t say his reason or motive was right, but he felt compelled to do it. I also appreciated the fact that Eric owned up to his actions, and made no excuses for them. I almost wished that he had at first, but the story was written exactly as it should have been. I don’t agree with “Street Justice” but I think I understand it. My hat is off to Ms. McKenna for writing that in a convincing and universal way.
Of course there’s family drama, and it was an interesting (and subtle) compare/contrast of Eric and Annie’s families. I in fact like the fact that Annie took a step back and the two didn’t immediately have a romantic relationship upon Eric’s release from prison.
I can see myself reading this book again. There’s so much more that I didn’t even begin to discuss – and it all fits so well. I don’t think Hard Time is an easy read, but it’s an enjoyable one. The journey to happily ever after for Eric and Annie isn’t your typical romance, and I appreciate the hangups and extreme amount of caution Eric employs throughout the book.
I can see myself re-reading Hard Time in the future, and definitely more of Ms. McKenna’s upcoming books.
You can read an excerpt here (warning: it may open as a PDF), or buy a copy here.