Why I read it: I have enjoyed other Calhoun books and read the first book in this loosely related series a couple of weeks ago. So I decided to bend my usual rules about how much I’m prepared to spend on books and get this one.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads) After leaving a restrictive religious community, Rachel Hill is on a mission to divest herself of her virginity. Newly independent and struggling to establish herself, she’s not looking for anything complicated. She bids on sexy SWAT officer Ben Harris at a bachelor auction, confident he’ll give her the night of her life and nothing more.
But Ben is jaded and detached, living his life in an endless cycle of danger-fueled adrenaline jags, drinking, and sex. When he misses the fact that his bachelor auction hookup is a virgin, he’s shocked by his obliviousness, and by the risk she took. To make amends, Ben offers Rachel all he can: a no-strings-attached sexual education.
Ben’s lessons introduce Rachel to down and dirty passion, but she’s searching for something more profound than sex, and she’s willing to walk away to find it. Ben can’t get Rachel out of his head, but will he come to terms with his troubled past and learn to love?
What worked for me (and what didn’t): I enjoyed this one but why I enjoyed it kind of surprised me. I know a lot of my romance reading friends have read and enjoyed this book but I haven’t read any of the reviews yet. When I know I’m going to be reading a book very soon after release, I like to keep my thoughts “pure” I suppose and then go and see if other people picked up the same things I did.
The first 2/3 of the book has a lot of sex. Good sex. Hot sex. But, a lot of sex. In fact in all but about 2 of their encounters for that first section of the book, they have sex. They were all different and exposed something different about the character, but I found myself getting tired of and somewhat impatient with Ben’s detachment. Afterwards there is no cuddling. He disposes of the condom and gives Rachel the unspoken message that it’s time for her to go. Sometimes it’s not actually unspoken. That jarred for me a little because I felt that Ben wasn’t detached when he was having sex with Rachel and Rachel was anything but. She isn’t like the average virgin heroine. She is determined to sample what she’s been missing and is endlessly curious. I enjoyed her forthrightness. I loved how she didn’t play games or play coy. She was open and honest and incredibly strong.
It took me a while to get a handle on Ben. He didn’t seem exactly like the character I had met briefly in the earlier book – although, to be fair, he wasn’t exactly unlike him either. Perhaps it would be better to say that the Ben revealed in this book wasn’t the character I had built up in my head after his scenes with Abby in Uncommon Pleasure. So I kind of had to do some mental backtracking before I could start seeing what was there. Maybe it wasn’t the best thing that I had read the earlier book so recently. In the earlier story, I felt like Ben was kind and protective and but not looking for anything serious. In this book, the latter 2 hold true but he wasn’t exactly kind. He wasn’t unkind either so much as uninvolved. Perhaps I’m dense or perhaps it was supposed to be this way, but it took me a while to understand exactly why Ben was the way he was. I was given the surface reasons fairly early on but the real reasons, the ones down deep weren’t revealed until late in the book.
By about the 2/3 mark, I was thinking that the book was enjoyable enough but that I didn’t really understand why so many of my friends were saying it was amazing. And then something happened. Then I found out what was going on with Ben and he decides to make a change. And he doesn’t do it because Rachel asked it of him. He does it for himself and he works. He works hard. He makes connections to people in his life and resolves long-suppressed pain involving his twin brother, Sam. And in that section I found the readerly emotional connection to Ben I had been missing.
“Jesus God, Ben,” Sam said, then swallowed hard. “Is that why you do this? Make it easy for people to leave?”
“Sam, don’t ask me why,” he said. “Do I strike you as even remotely self-aware?”
Up until then I had felt quite connected to Rachel. She was a very consistent character. She didn’t need to grow so much as to have experiences. But essentially, she is the same person at the end of the book that she was at the start. She just has more experienced and more comfortable in the world outside of Elysian Fields, the religious compound she’d grown up in. She wasn’t ignorant and she wasn’t gullible. I liked and admired her very much. Leaving Elysian Fields was extremely difficult for her – not because they were so terrible (even though there were a lot of things which were pretty bad – there was no abuse or anything) but because she had a father who loved her dearly and whom she loved and when she left, he cut her off completely. To leave everything you’ve ever known, to have that kind of courage, well, I think that’s something special.
But I couldn’t quite get why I should care about her being with Ben. She obviously saw into him in a way I didn’t at least at the beginning of the book. But by the end, I was cheering for their HEA. There were some special secondary characters too, some of whom barely made an appearance but they were crucial to the story. The scene on the farm near the end of the book made me tear up.
I also liked that while things were heading towards successful resolution, not everything was tied up in a neat bow at the end of the story. It was positive and hopeful enough for me to be satisfied but it was also realistic. I had no doubt however that Ben and Rachel would be solid – there were neat bows tied up around that one and I felt comfortable with it because in the end, it was a relationship both chose and not something they fell into by chance.
The last section of the book, which was largely sex free, is what made the book for me. (Some of you might now be wondering who I am and what I have done with Kaetrin.) But I needed Ben to open up to fully embrace the story.
What else? Once again, Calhoun writes with sensitivity, strength and grace and I adored the character of Rachel in particular. I’d recommend the book for the last 1/3 or so alone. I’m struggling somewhat with the grade though because there was that sense of disconnect for me in the earlier sections of the book. So, I’m going to go with a B, edging toward a B+.
AMAZON BOOK DEPOSITORY