Desert Isle Keeper
It takes extraordinary authors to make extraordinary books out of ordinary people. Fortunately, Cara McKenna has what it takes.
Erin Coffey earned her LPN while nursing her dying grandmother, so Larkhaven Psychiatric Hospital is her first professional position – one she only took to be close to her disastrous sister and beloved nephew. Kelly Robak has been an orderly at Larkhaven for years. When they meet on Erin’s first day, they have immediate chemistry. Kelly tells Erin up front that he likes to be in charge in the bedroom (or living room, or wherever). Will Erin go with Kelly? If so, how will she keep from becoming like her man-dependent sister?
Erin is a great protagonist. She’s hardworking and bright, good with people but unsure of her academic and intellectual abilities (Erin’s the first person in her family to have education past high school, so even RNs are intimidating to her, let alone doctors). I enjoyed watching her find her professional feet and grow in confidence. She’s also managing boundaries with her troubled sister, who is addicted to the drama of bad relationships.
Kelly, meanwhile, is a delight. I’ve said many times that I enjoy working class stories because the authors have to sell you on the characters and their emotional value to each other, not the luxuries they are able to provide. The author gives Kelly the added barrier of a banged-up appearance most frequently described by Erin as “mean”. And yet… Kelly is extremely sexy. He’s bulky, roughed-up, and strong. He’s risen from a poverty-stricken background to be a homeowner and an essential employee at his workplace, where he’s nicknamed “the Wall” for his implacable calm. The scenes where he teaches Erin physical restraint techniques to use against rowdy patients sizzle and foreshadow the explosive sexual chemistry they have later (which is not limited to the Kelly-in-control sex Kelly told Eirn he wanted). Ultimately, he’s supportive of Erin and her potential career ambitions, and has no difficulty with her more senior position and higher salary, which I adored.
Speaking of patients, I appreciated the treatment of mental illness in this book. The author describes the various buildings at Larkhaven, which include dementia facilities and outpatient treatment centers, and makes it clear that very few patients belong in the limited-access facility where Erin works. You get realistic fear and concern from staff who might deal with violent episodes, but also a sympathetic and human rendering of the patients who need their help. And you also get the gallows humor that’s a characteristic of every nurse I know. When a doctor suggests that Erin might try for a doctor’s white coat, Erin, who can’t afford tuition, jokes, “Only if it’s a straightjacket.”
There is political incorrectness in this book, especially from Kelly (although it’s not always clear if he’s kidding or provoking Erin), so if that doesn’t work for you, steer clear. I also felt Kelly overreacted somewhat in his big fight with Erin, but it wasn’t unrealistic that somebody might react that way.
I would recommend this book to anybody who likes normal people playing out male-dominant fantasies without the trappings of billionaire sex dungeons (“This invite was strictly B.Y.O. gimp suit,” Kelly quips), especially one where the heroine is mature and competent. I would take the shaved-headed, scarred-up competence of Kelly over slicked-hair BDSM club owners any day!
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.
|Review Date:||October 7, 2020|
|Book Type:||Erotic Romance|
|Review Tags:||coworkers | Michigan | mild d/s | nurse | unusual occupation | working class contemp | working class romance|
This is one of my favourite romances by Cara McKenna. It’s excellent as an audiobook too!
I was reading your review and thinking . . . this so reminds me of something else I’ve read. Then noticed the pub date and sure enough, it’s the same book. Erotica is not really my cup of tea, and I regularly have trouble remembering character names. But I love “working class” characters, and the fact that the book stands out after all these years is telling. Great review Caroline! And thanks for reviewing something worthy that isn’t necessarily brand new. There are a lot of great backlist titles out there that may or may not have gotten their due in the moment they were published.
I really enjoy doing backlist reviews. I became a reviewer because I love sharing books I can rave about, and new releases don’t always generate those DIKs. With the definition of “in print” changing through ebooks, I also think the line between “new” and “new to me” is much less significant than it used to be.
I just want to say I have been pleased to see a number of “old books” being reviewed on AAR lately. Blast from the past type reviews were actually one of my requests when Dabney put out a survey about likes and dislikes regarding AAR book review choices. No dislikes from me, just a wistfulness about seeing more titles that weren’t brand new. So thanks! :)
Yes, agree with you, Nan, as when I first started coming to AAR, before electricity and motor cars were invented (!!), I found myself reading more “old stuff” than new and I still find new-to-me authors here that have become personal favourites but whose books may be many years old. Reviews of some of the oldies-but-goodies are always a treat. I love it when those posting here make an off the cuff reference to something they enjoyed in the past as it encourages me to start investigating. Thanks, Caroline, for a great review; adding this one to my list of TBO (To Be Ordered)!
“Reviews of some of the oldies-but-goodies are always a treat.” I wholeheartedly agree. Since I don’t buy books or movies, waiting for them at the library means pretty much everything I read or watch is going to be “old” by the time I get it. But I’ve always held the philosophy that if something’s worth reading/watching today, it’ll definitely keep. Thankfully, I’m seeing a lot more blogs- even little ones- devoted to “nostalgia” type posts instead of constantly pursuing the latest. Nothing wrong with chasing after the newest, but it’s not how I consume media.
On that subject, it’s so nice that e-books and DVD releases allow people to experience stories older than a few weeks old. Back in the day, you had to see a movie when it first came out or read a book shortly after it was released. Otherwise, you would miss it and that would be it. Incidentally, I read that’s why there used to be so many movie novelizations back in the 70s before widespread access to home video equipment, unpredictable TV re-runs, and second run theaters. There’s definitely been progress in the world of entertainment, that’s for sure!
Great review! I very much agree with your points on what what makes Erin and Kelly such wonderful characters and this book such a compelling read.
Like DiscoDollyDeb, Frankie C and Chrisreader, I too wish McKenna was still writing books. She’s written some of my favorites under the name Meg Maguire and I’ve really enjoyed several of Cara McKenna books. Not all of her stuff works for me, but that has nothing to do with her writing – just what I’m into and what not.
I love this book and think it’s one of the best written contemporary romances I have read. I always say if you told me that a pretty gritty romance novel set in a Psychiatric Hospital would become in my list of top romances there’s no way I would have believed you.
McKenna does an amazing job of telling the story of people (the heroine’s side at least) who are on the lower end of the economic and social spectrum realistically- without ever being insulting or condescending. Erin is a fantastic heroine, hard working, caring and smart. She has spent most of her relatively young life caring for family in some way but she’s not a cliched martyr. She’s unsure of herself in a new, intimidating environment but she handles her patients and her family with the right mix of caring, tough love and respect..
The hero is gruff and unconventional but also caring under his tough exterior. His respect for the patients he helps as well as Erin makes him an absolute standout amongst a lot of generic he-men characters that populate romance novels. He manages to be a rough Alpha type male outside, protecting a sensitive, thoughtful nature. He’s flirty and dominant with Erin in their interactions and play but he’s never disrespectful. It’s a great balance and not one that’s easy to pull off in a novel.
The novel ends well with a very believable happy/happy for now ending leaving the reader with the expectation that things will just keep getting better and better for the couple as their lives progress both personally and professionally.
I also mourn the loss of Maguire/McKenna’s writing (although I didn’t love the last books she published before stopping) but she left a small collection of really top quality work for readers to enjoy. Here’s hoping she finds that spark of enjoyment and inspiration for romance writing again because I think she has a truly unique voice and talent.
Wow! That was SO beautifully articulated! A perfect crystallization of why this book is so special. I agree 100 %. Thank you for writing and sharing this!
Thank you so much annik, you always say the loveliest things. I am still in awe that English isn’t your first language. You write beautifully for someone whose first language is English. The fact that it is your second language is just staggering. It makes me really embarrassed of my sad, sad French skills.
That is one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever said to me. I’m just delighted right now. If I had a time machine, I wouldn’t mind going back to the 90s and showing your comment to my English teachers.
You totally made my day – thank you so much! :)
Wow…. that’s so perfectly said! Any thought of reviewing for us???
Aww, you guys are so sweet. Thank you so much. I’ve done a few reviews randomly over the years for a couple of other sites like Dear Author and SBTB. I almost submitted an application here years ago when ‘Kiss Of Steel” came out.
I second the motion! :)
I also forgot to say before how much I enjoyed your review of After Hours. This is a hard book to summarize and yet still convey the appeal and you did a wonderful job at both.
I think this kind of a book is a hard sell for people who aren’t voracious romance readers as the casual reader who maybe wants a light Regency to break up the work week probably won’t be automatically tempted by a romance novel with such serious themes.
I am so happy that AAR is giving it a spotlight and some well deserved attention so thank you very much for the thoughtful review.
Thanks so much! This one took a long time to write and I’m glad it worked.
This is one of my all-time favorite romances—and it’s a reliable comfort reread for me. It’s told in first-person, entirely from Erin’s point-of-view and, as you note, we see her growing into herself at work and in her relationships with Kelly and with her sister. I especially liked that at the end of the book, when Erin & Kelly are discussing their future, Kelly admits that a dominance & submission sexual dynamic is “not a sustainable way for two people to relate to each other.” There’s an acknowledgment that occasionally being bossed around in the bedroom can’t translate into an entire lifestyle (something I wish some other writers of bdsm & D/s romances would grasp). It’s a fantastic book—I rank only McKenna’s duet WILLING VICTIM/BRUTAL GAME ahead of it in a listing of her books (but those have some very intense rape role-play scenes, which I realize isn’t everyone’s cup of tea). McKenna also published some very good romances for Harlequin’s Blaze line under the name Meg Maguire. Under either name, McKenna/Maguire is no longer publishing—I think I read that she said writing wasn’t fun anymore and she went into a different field. Sigh—how I miss her! She’s in my pantheon of romance writers.
I agree and I would add Anne Calhoun to the pantheon of missed authors.
Agree with everything you wrote. It’s a phenomenal and unique book that I not only enjoyed 100% but learned a great deal from. That’s a really rare combination.