Book Review – Hard Time by Cara McKenna

by Maryse on April 19, 2014 · 19 comments

in My Book Reviews

Hard Time
While this does eventually turn into a book review below (LOL!), it’s also pretty much an ode to everything Cara McKenna (and her awesome stories). I couldn’t help myself. ;) ‘Cause I love love L-O-V-E LOVE this author!! Have I told you yet? Of course I have, because with each new book she releases (and each older book I reminisce about) I blow up my blog with BIG LOVE for her. And lemme tell you… she never disappoints. I can’t even begin to choose which one of her books is my favorite because EACH of them has that *oomph* and unique “catch” that rocks my reading world. (P.S. I linked each of my “Cara McKenna” reviews below).

Each one has that forbidden aspect, that touch of *gasp-worthy* taboo (but never too taboo…). Just enough to make you nervous and delightfully, uncomfortably titillated. Just enough to have you hovering over your book hoping nobody is looking over your shoulder at what has so obviously completely enraptured you.

And OMG some of that captivation stems from her extreme steam. *whooooooooo* The kind that makes you forget to swallow. Er… um. eek Lemme rephrase that. *giggle* Okay like… you know when you are so into reading something, and you’re living it, absorbing it, experiencing it so completely that you forget your physical self (and surroundings) entirely? You become what you are reading. You are so fully absorbed that you don’t hear what’s around you? You get into a scene so intently that you start reading it in slow motion (the good kind of intense love-fog-like “slow motion”)? And maybe you even forget to blink? Move. Breathe. And… you know… swallow. rolleyes <— *grins* Well that’s what her stories do to me.

Oh and er… her steam?  *fans self* You know how some book’s “sex scenes” are, for lack of a better word… blatant? And for me, often ineffective. Lots of detail, lots of in-your-face sexual obviousness. But not so much intensity or fervor. No butterflies. In fact, I often find myself skimming ‘em. This author, however, can detail a simple make-out scene… or even just that first kiss in a way that will melt you to the ground. I dunno if it’s the slow-burn build-up, that initial non-stop tease, the fact that we shouldn’t be “doing this” or just the real feel of the connection itself. But OMG!!!!!

There’s just something about the way she delivers… that “love”. lol WHOA.

Then, factor in that I love that touch of bad SO much. SO MUCH. But it’s the fact that she can weave the “naughty unconventionality” in with extreme normal. Extreme reality. Thoughts and concerns that are so my own, that it can be downright scary. I wonder sometimes, if she knows me. Truths, that might be uncomfortable, but are so relatable. Even to those that want to deny or at least, NOT WANT to like “it“.

Whatever “it” is. And there’s always an “IT” with Cara McKenna’s stories. <— And that’s what makes them so fun. Her eloquent, articulate writing is what makes each book AMAZING. Gives each book that “quality”. But it’s her character’s secret realities (our realities) that makes them so exciting, giving them that essence.

And because of that, I do not have a favorite Cara McKenna book. Whether I “star” one 4 stars, 4.5 stars, or 5 stars, in the end? Each one is unforgettable, each one has that “thing” that hooked me good, and each one is HIGHLY recommended. In fact, months later when I go over my “stars” with her books, I wonder why I didn’t rate ‘em all 5 stars? ‘Cause if I can still fervently tell you what each story is about, and recommend them so adamantly, aren’t they all… in “essence”… 5 stars?

Okay so… back on track. THIS BOOK!

Maryse’s Book Blog: YAY meeeee!!! It’s out! Cara McKenna’s latest entitled “Hard Time”. I love her unusual and twisty love stories! He’s a prisoner (and she works in the prison’s library)

Lori: I’m so excited about this!! Already on my kindle!

Sandra: Ohhhh this sounds like our kind of read

Maryse’s Book Blog: Yep Sandra and Lori!!! That’s going to be the one I start tonight (probably later evening)… totally up our alley. She’s unconventional and I love her for it. AND STEAMY!!

Lori: a slow reader for sure! I love how it all feels real…

Kentrina: Yay!!! I just bought mine this morning!!!

Ann: Started it this morning and cannot put it down !!!!

Carol: he said he lived in a gated community… LOL

Maria: Wow, 70% down on this one….sooo good!!

Tracie: Finished last night and It. Was. Fantastic!!! The way Cara Mckenna writes her men and dialogue is so awesome. Love her!!

What’s it about? Oh the premise SOLD me immediately. It was all forbidden and taboo right from the blurb. ‘Cause she (WE) would develop very deep (butterflies in the tummy) feelings for a prisoner (#802267, aka “Collier”). A felon. WHILE he was in prison. <— OMG NO WAY!

Feeling bad girl yet?


She’s a straight-laced librarian (a survivor from an abusive “good boy” ex-boyfriend) that gets a job at a medium security prison (assisting with reading, writing, librarian type things). Very worthy work! She’s primed with warnings and rules from the start. And she’s scared as HECK! But she soon locks eyes with one inmate and he takes her breath away.

Though why a man’s face should have imprinted so deeply, from so brief an encounter…

He was handsome, to be sure. Not to everyone’s taste – not all-American wholesome-handsome. Much darker. A knowing and dangerous breed of charisma.

*bites lip* Yahhhhh. Just my thing. ;) And many of yours, too… I suspect.

Brooding, but intense (with semi-sweet eyes), he won’t release her from his stare.

His gaze was strong male hands cradling a baby bird – seemingly innocuous, but shot through with the potential for unbearable cruelty. 802267′s expression itself wasn’t cruel, but that mysterious stare… that could be promising anything. That wasn’t to be trusted.

Quit looking.

And while her brain tells her that she should likely fear him (and that weird intensity), the flutters inside are sending her different signals.

But this man, with his dark eyes, dark hair, dark stubble… A man like this one, sitting four rows back, three seats from the end… I knew where he sat, and where he stood. I knew where he slept – behind a thick metal door. And that made him safe, somehow.

And their “time” together commences. Merely minutes, a few times a week, as she assists him (amongst all of the other inmates from her classes), but that connection deepens, and OMG he is SOOOOOO *sigh*.

But the thing that threw me the most about the incident was the way it elevated a long-held suspicion of mine to blinding truth – I was attracted to bad men.

Okay wait. WAIT! I know you’re thinking… OMG Maryse has gone from Stockholm Syndrome books to Hybristophilia (aka “Bonnie and Clyde” syndrome). <— Tee hee!! I think this is the correct term. I googled “women who fall in love with prisoners” and this is what came up.

One abusive boyfriend and a consumptive insta-lust for an inmate who’d done Lord knew what to get put away… That was only two offenses, but it was also plenty. I couldn’t trust my libido any more than I could Collier. Both had to be approached like the dangerous creatures they were.

GAH!! No worries. :P

It’s just the adrenaline-junkie in me looking for (and loving) the “book crazy”. I love going into a book thinking anything could happen (and with taboo-ish subjects as these, that totally could be the case!). I want that *oomph* and I want to gasp. I love the anticipation of if “it” will shock me into shame, and/or delight me into falling in “acceptable” love (or maybe even unacceptable). I’ll analyze ‘em case by case.

But either way, I love a book that makes me think. Doubt it. Doubt myself. Doubt my sanity. And maybe even change my mind, even if it’s just temporary. Like… for instance, this book. This particular circumstance at hand.

“Does he… Should I be worried about him, in particular? Is he known for being manipulative?” Say no. Say no say no say no. Please don’t take this away from me. It feels too good.


No worries… I won’t ruin the excitement or nerve-wracking experience of finding out if he’s a bad guy or not and if he’s worthy of our love. That’ll come later in the book, and I’m not gonna tell you if you’re gonna be “safe” going into it. ;) That would take the fun out of it, and lemme tell you, I was worried. This was another one of those “books” that I wondered if I’d be able to review and keep my “Maryse IS sane” reputation. In the end, I always review ‘em anyway (so don’t get too comfortable just ’cause I managed this review).

LOL!!!! Eh… sane, schmane. It’s just fiction-fun, right? ;)

But I will tell you this. The sneaking around in trying to get to know each other (like, for example, that momentary touch of fingertips…) is just SO *ooomph!!!*. I know. I know… right? How can THAT affect me so much?  What they get to do is so barely there. I mean… it’s so minuscule, it’s all they CAN do, and yet it is SO BIG!!! So crazy scary, so *squeeee-worthy* exciting.

He said it low, each letter dripping molasses, thick with black, sticky-sweet intentions.

This man… maybe he couldn’t write, but he spoke volumes with a few murmured words.

The officer’s voice broke in with a bark. “Collier. Back it up.” 802267 obediently sat up straight.  Collier. His body heat went with him.

Our elbows had been almost near enough to touch, faces close enough to whisper secrets. And wasn’t that what he’d been doing? Had I been whispering back? I couldn’t even say who’d brought us so near. I could only tell you I hadn’t pulled away.

And it builds. And I panicked.

And the letters. Ohhhhhhhhhh EMMMMMM GEEEEEE the LETTERS!!!!

And it builds some more.

Now… it’s “Maryse has to analyze herself ” (and her experience of the book) time again, so turn away if you haven’t read this one yet!! I’m serious. I don’t spoil the outcome of the story per se, but I do go into some things. And if you like to be nervous while reading taboo-ish books, DO NOT look down until I tell you to come back, okay?

I want you to go in as blindly as you can, so I only gave you enough as was acceptable by the blurb the author gave. And even THAT was more than I knew going in.

And then… he is paroled.

And then… OMG. Everything changes.

Did I love the changes? Yes!! And … well. It took a little of that “bad girl” excitement and trepidation away. Or at least, eased it into a more “normal-life” mode. But I loved that anyway, ’cause that meant I could “acceptably” fall in love with him.

But at the same time, I relished (and soon missed) that nerve-wracking feel of all of their time in prison together. While he was in prison, I gleefully agonized over whether they would they get caught? The consequences. Her safety. The other prisoners. Was he a bad guy? Did he have an ulterior motive? What was going to happen? And then… paroled? YAY!! Would they finally get to experience all that they “fantasized about” during their prison time together? Or… would he stalk her? Would her “real life” accept him? What about her state-trooper father? LOL! YES!!! Can you imagine? Her father is law enforcement, and she was crushing on a convicted felon WHILE IN PRISON!!?? *eeeeeeep!!!* So exciting to think of what good (or bad <— yah that!) was coming for these two!

But alas, their personal troubles once he was released from prison were a whole lot different than what I had been imaging. Oh… they were GOOD (and valid issues), for sure. There was romantic tension and plenty of “new relationship” angst to contend with, especially considering his tentative situation. There was that “OMG do I actually date this guy now that we’re no longer in the he-can’t-touch-me safety net” excitement. But the issues at hand, and how their lives played out from his release time, were much different than what I had anticipated.

And even though it didn’t play out how I imagined, I still loved it. Sure sure… the end could have been longer or more drawn out. I know many thought it went from “big turmoil” to “the end” but I actually enjoyed her ending. I knew where it was going, I could see it as it was described, and I felt fulfilled with it. Mind you, I wouldn’t mind the author giving us “more” eventually, but I dunno. I liked the ending just fine.

OKAY YOU CAN COME BACK NOW!!! Don’t look up!! :D

So all that to say, I was THRILLED with this book, loved it overall, and pretty much every step of the way. It was EXCITING! And while it didn’t play out exactly as I imagined, I loved where the author lead them.

Or did they lead her? ;)

Either way, it was yet another unputtdownable “Cara McKenna” read, and I can’t wait for more!!!

More please! *holds out Kindle for an extra helping*

“Gritty and compelling.”

- Maya Banks

Yep. ↑↑↑ What she said. ↑↑↑ EXACTLY! And I would like to include “edgy“.

4.5 stars!

P.S. My other Cara McKenna book reviews:

P.P.S. Here we are… loving “Hard Time”. Don’t read below (too hard) if you like going in blind. We don’t spoil, but we do discuss a little. ;)

Maryse’s Book Blog: Well… I loved “Hard Time”. Another fantastic heartfelt, gut wrenching beautifully written Cara McKenna book. Her unique, unconventional, and somewhat “forbidden feel” love stories (and heroes), are SO fun (and nerve-wracking) to read. Anyone who hasn’t checked her out yet, you must!!! I’d recommend starting with “After Hours” but anything you pick up (in my opinion) is pretty much unputdownable (and I love ‘em all almost equally in their own way).

Renate: I totally love her books…her heros are very untypical, intresting and hot…you feel invested in them….I do wish she would add epilogues to her stories.

Kentrina: I agree. I love her books but I wish they wold have a more happily ever after endings instead of happy for now endings.

Yvette: Oh I loved after hours!! Thank you will add this to my TBR!

Veronica: I bought this last night. I love Cara McKenna.

Danna: I loved this! In fact, I am now a walking zombie because I stayed up too late. I could not put it down!

Maria: I also read Hard time, and loved too. I loved how realistic the plot is. I mean, of course, it is an unusual situation (find your lover in a prison), but at the same time nothing super OMG happened like fire, death, kidnapping, threats of murdered, etc etc

Maryse’s Book Blog: And I love how even though her stories are a touch forbidden or Taboo, she makes it so that the guys are so easy to love and so deserve to be loved.

Maryse’s Book Blog: The way the author describes him… The stare, the sweeeeeet sweet tension.. Off the charts already. Nice forbidden feel. “His voice was deep. Low. Rich and dark as spring soil.” Whoa. Awesome. :D  She’s awesome. This is exactly what I was looking for.

Lee: Stayed up until nearly 3am to finish it and totally loved it!!

Sandra: Oh this is starting out good

Andrea: Is her Intermix series good?

Maryse’s Book Blog: Andrea… I love sooooo many by this author, and yes, I’d say you can’t go wrong with any of ‘em.

Kandace: Andrea start with her book After Hours. I think it’s her best. Although I’m loving this one too.

Claudia: I’m reading and forgot how good this writer is.

Jean: Maryse, so happy to see you read Hard Time.  Can’t wait to see your review…I just loved it!  It was not what I was expecting….so sweet and sexy!!

Amy: Passage from Hard Time: “Nothing felt as good as this wanting. Logic was impotent. Flaccid. A pitiful, powerless thing.” To anyone who doesn’t “get” how we can love our books and book boyfriends so much, put that in your pipe and smoke it!! :P  And I’m with ya Jean, this is a first for me from this author but loving it so far. ;)

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Cindy April 19, 2014 at 6:23 PM

Thanks Maryse! I think I’ll read this next! I’m finishing up Kathleen Turner #3… I’m liking this series a lot!! Also have Mud Vein ready to read too thanks to your list the other day! Thankfully it’s a long weekend!! :)

Maryse April 19, 2014 at 6:29 PM

YAY us for that! I’m already halfway through another book!! :D

Louise April 19, 2014 at 6:45 PM

Maryse, I’m sold! I’ve not read Cara McKenna before so I’m giving her a try. You’ve never led me astray (gee! what does that say about me??) LOL :) HE sounds absolutely delish! Thank You !

Shrimalya April 20, 2014 at 1:10 AM

Just finished reading Hard Time yesterday and I totally agree with you!!Even though the ending was awesome we could definitely use more you know..And the letters!!*sigh* I actually should thank you Maryse because I came to know about Cara McKenna from your review of After Hours and now I love her!!

Louise April 20, 2014 at 11:08 AM

Started this book last night and before I knew it was after midnight and I could not put it down. THIS story is a scorcher! Hot! Hot! By the end — I too wanted to become a librarian and work at a prison. OMG! Those Love Letters. OMG!!!! Yes, More. Please.

Cara McKenna’s newest fan

Michelle M April 20, 2014 at 11:35 AM

Starting this one today. :-D I really enjoy her books, loved After Hours.

Maryse April 20, 2014 at 11:39 AM

YAY Louise!! Another Cara McKenna convert!!! After this read “After Hours”. :D

Maryse April 20, 2014 at 11:40 AM

Michelle, let me know what you think after this one (or during it). ;)

Maryse April 20, 2014 at 11:40 AM

Thank you so much for letting me know, Shrimalya. She’s definitely one of my #1 favorites. Have you read “Curio” yet?

Jean April 20, 2014 at 11:57 AM

Great review Maryse! I’ll never forget those letters so I see what you mean about her books being unforgettable. This was my 1st book of hers and now I am moving on with the rest. Think I will start with After Hours! Thanks for all you do!! I would be lost without you!

Shrimalya April 20, 2014 at 1:30 PM

Nope Starting it today..Which other books of her would you recommend excluding Unbound and After Hours??

Donna April 20, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Just finished. I loved this book.

Maryse April 20, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Shrimalya —> Definitely Curio (he’s an escort but there’s a twist!) and Willing Victim (but only if you’re okay with the more “hardcore” fantasies). He’s a bad-ass boxer, with a few “girlfriends” that he er… helps after his fights, by entertaining their “needs”. It’s rough, that’s for sure, but HIM? And the gentle moments in between? I really connected to that.

Shrimalya April 20, 2014 at 9:23 PM

Ok thanks!!Will definitely read these two.

Georgia April 21, 2014 at 12:42 PM

This is definitely going on my NOW list. I absolutely loved After Hours and Unbound. Can’t wait to start this one as well. Thanks you ROCK!

Michelle Mankin April 22, 2014 at 2:44 PM

Loving this book. I have 10% left. The secret l****s to each other are so well done. Agree about the description of his voice. Also, the way the author describes his eyes. I’ve highlighted tons of the book and stayed up way too late, but thanks for the recommendation:)

marina April 23, 2014 at 7:53 AM

Wow, I’ve never read anything by this author and I LOVE her writing!!!! Loved this book! I will definitely be checking out others by her. I remember Maryse you recommending After Hours last year and it has been on my TBR list forever but I’m pushing it WAY up. So glad you recommended this!!

marina May 3, 2014 at 5:04 PM

Just finished After Hours. Loved it!! I love Cara’s writing. LOVE it. I could read her character’s internal dialogue/thoughts all day because it’s so unique. Her descriptions, metaphors… just make you feel. She’s def my new fave author!!! Thx for recommending her Maryse!!!

sesh August 15, 2014 at 6:02 PM

Just finished hard time it was awsome … iam officially a cara mckenna fan thank you Maryse i love your blog…

Love cara’s newest fan

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