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Saturday, June 29, 2013

ARC Review: Unforgiven by Anne Calhoun


UNFORGIVEN is erotic romance author Anne Calhoun’s first foray into mainstream contemporary romance, but don’t be fooled—it’s still scorching hot, with a heavy dose of angst and the wrenching emotions Ms. Calhoun is known for. It is very much a character-driven story, centered on two fragile, broken characters wrestling with past mistakes and broken dreams and trying to overcome the trappings of the past to forge a future together. The characterizations are spot on and realistic, but the book is slow: the focus is completely on the hero and heroine and their emotional development, with no additional subplots. It is aptly titled as well, since it is ultimately about seeking forgiveness from oneself and those one has hurt in order to live a life that’s truly one’s own.

Adam Collins is the former high-school bad boy and speed demon of rural Walkers Ford, North Dakota, whose ultimate dream was to escape Walkers Ford and race motorcycles. Graduation brings with it two alcohol-fueled decisions that alter his life forever: the destruction of girlfriend Marissa Brooks’s foreclosed historic home and a motorcycle race with a fellow student that ends in his death and Adam’s enlistment in the Marines as penance. Twelve years later, Adam returns to his hometown as a civilian to serve as best man in his best friend’s wedding to his ex-fiancĂ©e, with whom he was involved for 10 years whilst deployed and broke up with seemingly inexplicably. If that’s not a setup rife with drama, I don’t know what is! Immediately upon returning home, Adam comes face-to-face with Marissa, the woman whose heart he broke all those years ago when he left, and decides he wants everything he denied himself as a teenager. Only in order to have a chance at something beyond meaningless (but very hot!) sex, he needs to throw off the yoke of the past. His stubbornness in clinging to the past and believing he doesn't deserve dreams or a future can be exasperating at times, but watching him learn to let go, forgive and ask for forgiveness in turn, and find who he is outside of his identity as a former troublemaker and responsible Marine is also incredibly rewarding. And for someone who doesn't believe he deserves a HEA, he does some incredibly sweet things for Marissa!

Marissa Brooks is the last of a once-prominent family in Walkers Ford, known for being dreamers rather than doers. Having lost the historic family home, Brookhaven, in her teens, she was raised on stories of its grandeur and her father’s dreams of restoring it to its former glory, and has lived her entire life shackled to that duty. She is determined to renovate Brookhaven to prove to everyone in town that the Brookses can do more than just dream. A family legacy is a heavy burden to bear, and having spent her entire life living to fulfill her father’s dream for Brookhaven, Marissa is desperately afraid to chase her own dream—sailing around the world in a sailboat—now that the end of her father’s dream is near. Finding the courage (with Adam’s help) to take that final step to complete the house and earn her personal freedom is a huge part of the story and Marissa’s development as a character, and something that makes her incredibly relatable and realistic.

The two of them together have combustible chemistry and a relationship dynamic typical of reunion stories: Adam is determined to set things right and have everything he’d wanted when they’d been in high school; Marissa is equally determined to not fall for him again because she doesn’t believe he’s back for good. They complement each other perfectly as a couple and help each other work through 12 years of issues and broken dreams—even if the ending does feel a bit too tidy and pat, considering the amount of emotional baggage each carries.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed UNFORGIVEN. I tend to favour lighthearted contemporary romances to counteract some of the darker stuff I read, but this had the right combination of steam and emotional intensity without delving into tortured-hero/heroine territory, and it’s incredibly well written. Definitely recommended if you’ve enjoyed Ms. Calhoun’s other books (though this is definitely lighter in all respects), or if you like some angst in a romance centered almost exclusively on its protagonists. I’m looking forward to JADED, the follow-up starring two of the secondary characters in UNFORGIVEN.

**ARC provided by Publisher**

Purchase: | Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository |



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