September 10, 2013

When Good Authors Happen to Bad Tropes: Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun

Shirtless man wearing a bullet-proof vest and carrying a gun. Purple background.
This cover is so misleading I can't even.
Who reads this book and says: "Hey,
let's give it a Military Romantic
Suspense cover"?
And why is he shirtless?
And why is this caption so long?
Source: a review copy was provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

This is going to be long, so I’m skipping the introduction and going straight to the book.

Uncommon Passion tells the story of Rachel, a woman who recently left the constrictions of a closed religious community to experience life on her own terms. She works at a farm and dreams of becoming a veterinary technician. Sex and dating are some of the experiences she wants to build in order to re-shape her life and gain power and control over it. But she’s not interested in anything serious; all she wants is to lose her virginity. That’s how she ends at a bachelor auction paying a stranger to go out on a date with her. The only reason she bids for him is because she senses something in him (and by “senses something” I mean that he gives her the Sex Eye, which is like the Evil Eye but hornier). Needless to say, they go out on a date, have sex, have sex, have sex, have sex (this is a 320-page Erotic Romance, after all) some emotional stuff happens and then live happily ever after.

Except that it’s nowhere near as easy.

Yes, this is a book about a sheltered virgin who finds a random promiscuous hunk to have sex with her. Yes, said promiscuous hunk is afraid of commitment but agrees to be her no-strings-attached sex teacher for as long as she wants. And yes, they end up falling in love because of course. Sounds awful, I know. Let’s face it, the “virgin who falls for the sex god she used to get rid of her v-card” is one of the Four Horsemen of the Tropecalypse (the other three are: Love Triangle of Anguish, Secret Baby of Doom and Amnesia of Despair).  But Ms. Calhoun’s previous full-length book was so good that I was willing to read anything by her even if it had a dodgy premise (or a potential cured-by-threesome scene*). I’m glad I read the book, because it kept surprising me.

The first surprise came (pun totally intended, and you’re about to see why) when during their first time having sex she failed to have an orgasm. Now, this is common for most virgins, but when was the last time a Romance heroine didn't have an orgasm with the hero? That's how I knew all bets were off.

Even if the book forces us to rearrange our expectations, what makes it worth reading is its wonderful heroine. Just going by the description, one would expect a naïve and innocent woman who needs a strong man to guide her through life, but it’s the opposite. She’s smart, self-aware, mature and knows exactly what she wants. Her inexperience is just that, inexperience, and she never crosses the line into naïve and innocent. More importantly, when confronted with a damaged man, her kindness allows her compassion and patience, but doesn't make her want to cure or change him. And when it’s time to choose between an unhealthy relationship with a man she loves and her own emotional well-being, she chooses herself.

The hero (also known as Ben) was harder to like and understand. It’s clear from the beginning that this guy has a lot of issues. Most of them are somewhat justified, but there is a lot of immaturity and inability to communicate as well. He is the one who needs guidance, and as emotionally closed-off as he was, Ben was the emotional center of the story.

Ben and Rachel were complete opposites in terms of sexual experience and emotional maturity, and that contrast was interesting and created great conflict and tension, because everything they had in common was used to highlight their differences.

The most prominent secondary character is Ben’s twin brother. There’s a certain connection between the two that flirts with extrasensory/paranormal elements enough to make it grating, but not enough to completely pull me out of the story. And it was perhaps a too convenient way to show just how close these two guys were, which played into the story and Ben’s main conflict, but wasn't necessary. Also worth mentioning is how much I enjoyed a secondary character that was gay but instead of being a stereotypical sidekick had an actual subplot and a life that didn't revolve around the main character.

As I hinted at before, there’s a lot of sex in the book. Almost every scene advances the plot and serves the character development. Rachel and Ben’s relationship is sexual and slowly develops into something more, which mirrors their individual transformations. And Ben mostly communicates through sex. So yes, there is a lot of it. And although the sex scenes are hot and inventive, by the end of the book I was skimming through all of them.

That’s it. This is one of my favorite books of the year. It’s not perfect, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Ms. Calhoun managed to take one of the worse tropes and, if not reinvent it, at least refresh and infuse it with new life.

* Uncommon Passion is loosely related to the two novellas in Uncommon Pleasure, but this one doesn’t have a ménage scene, because I guess Ben had enough that one time (that’s actually how the three stories are connected so there’s no need to read them in order or at all).

Review by Brie
Grade: 4.5
Sensuality: McSteamy
Purchase: Amazon

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?
Uncommon Passion by Anne Calhoun
Berkley. September 3, 2013.


  1. Four Horsemen of the Tropecalypse is a terrific turn of phrase. I really liked Breath on Embers despite generally not liking erotic romance. I think you've convinced me to give this a try!

  2. Thanks, Emma!

    Breath on Embers is another favorite, so if you liked that one, chances are you will enjoy this one as well. If you read it, let me know.

  3. Thanks for the review. I'm going to add this to my shelf.

  4. I hope you like it, Jonetta!

  5. Love this review. Its not my kind of book but I can see the appeal.

  6. And then we got to the Kindle price. So going to add to my paperbackswap wish list. Looks interesting.

  7. I was wondering how to rec this book to my sister without putting her off of it because I really liked it. I sent her the link to this review, that should do it!

  8. I read it this week and now I'm allowed to read your (great) review. I agree about the sex. I read it all (of course!) but it was the last part which was virtually sex free which made the book for me.


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