Cuffing Season by Monica McCallan

Cuffing Season
Published: 12/5/21
A back in your arms story

Maeve Murphy finds herself back in Kingsford after her mother’s death. Her father needs help keeping his bar in business.  She’s staying just long enough to do her part and then she is heading back to New York City to resume her photography career. Bianca Rossi is a receptionist at the vet clinic and works at Murph’s Bar.  She loves everything about Kingsford and everyone in the town loves her. Bianca always has a positive attitude and a smile. Everyone wants to be her friend, everyone but Maeve. Bianca doesn’t understand the attractive, aloof woman.  After extending the friendship branch on more than one occasion, Maeve finally accepts. Friendship leads to someone more. Will Bianca have her heart broken when Maeve returns to the city? Will Bianca cuff her to the bed so she can’t leave?

This book is not at all what I thought it would be about when I saw the title. I thought Monica McCallan had decided to have a go at writing erotica. But, no such luck, cuffing season occurs when the weather gets chilly and short term relationships are formed to help pass the time during the cold. I am a serious Monica McCallan devotee. Her books always make me smile and bring characters into my life that I wish were real so I could befriend them or cuff them, whichever they are agreeable to. 😉

When a character returns to their hometown they usually find that what kept them away isn’t as important as what brings them back. Maeve didn’t want to return to Kingsford but her mother’s sudden death changes Maeve’s plans. She left to live a bigger life and to escape her father’s disapproval of her career. Maeve is a complex character. She doesn’t really have friends and is fine being on her own, at least she’s trying to convince herself she is. You can’t be hurt if you build a wall around your heart. Bianca is all sunshine and sappy Christmas movies. She loves her town and the people in it. She “sees” Maeve more than anyone else. She looks beneath the surface to the vulnerable woman Maeve tries so hard to hide. Where others look at Maeve and see someone who is standoffish, Bianca can see the sadness that consumes Maeve. Sadness at the loss of her mother and sadness at the loss of the life she left behind and the life she feels stuck in.

Bianca is Maeve’s equal. She may seem more emotionally available because on the surface she is but when you look closer, she brings out in Maeve the feelings she has but tries so hard to repress. Maeve can’t help but to open up and let Bianca in because she needs someone regardless of how hard she tries to pretend she doesn’t and Bianca knows Maeve is the one meant for her and who will kill all the spiders.

When I think I can’t possibly love Monica McCallan mores as a writer, she says, “hold my tiny dog whilst I make some word magic” Not only has she created two more beautiful, nuanced characters in Bianca and Maeve but she brings back Quinn and Sawyer from Back in Your Arms and I couldn’t be more thrilled to catch up with them.  This is the perfect book to sit in front of the fireplace and enjoy with a piping cup of hot cocoa and those annoyingly cheerful Christmas songs playing in the background.

Back in Your Arms by Monica McCallan

Back in Your Arms
Published: 10/16/21

Reading a Monica McCallan book is like coming home. It can be stressful but brings you a comfort that you didn’t realize you were missing. Back in Your Arms, her latest, is another stellar read and reaffirms Monica’s place as one of the best writers in our community.

Quinn McKinley left Kingsford, NY seventeen years ago and is now a successful New York City real estate agent. When a new client comes along with wants to buy a house located in her hometown, Quinn returns to her hometown with her only objective to finalize the deal and get the hell out of town. She left Kingsford after her father left town and her mother shut down. Quinn took over caring for her sister, Kelly, but it was too much. She had to get away and left Kingsford and everyone there behind.

Quinn’s former best friend, Sawyer Kent, still lives in Kingsford where she runs the family antique store with her brother Shane. After the death of her grandmother the store was left to Shane, while Sawyer was left with the house. The house Quinn is sent to Kingsford on behalf of her client who is determined to own it, even though it isn’t for sale.

Kelly is shocked to hear from Quinn and begs Sawyer to go with her to meet her at the bowling alley Kelly and her husband own. Kelly is clueless that Sawyer was in love with Quinn back in high school as Sawyer kept that a secret, especially from Quinn. Sawyer was heartbroken when Quinn not only took a step back from their relationship but also started dating Shane. I have a lot of feelings about Shane and all of them are bad. Shane completely disregards Sawyer as a person and worse than that, doesn’t correct Quinn’s assumption that he’s the owner of the house she’s trying to purchase for her client.

Quinn was also in love with Sawyer back in high school and ended their friendship so her family drama didn’t bring Sawyer down. Quinn soon finds herself wanting to be back in Kingsford not only to reconnect with her family but also with Sawyer. For Quinn, Sawyer, was always her safe place. Time and distance hasn’t done anything to change that feeling.

I started this book feeling a lot of love for Sawyer. She always puts others first, she’s a great friend to Kelly and adores Kelly’s young daughters. She works with her brother despite how irritating and infuriating he is because she feels like her family would want her to do so. She works long hours at the antique store, while her brother saunters in in the middle of the day and could care less about making it a success. Seeing Quinn again, Sawyer realizes that the feelings she had as a teenager never really went away. While Sawyer was always Quinn’s safe place, Quinn gives Sawyer strength to make some much needed changes in her life.

Quinn threw herself into her career after leaving Kingsford. She shut down connecting with people. She thought she had to leave her hometown to continue living but she essentially stopped living the moment she left. It isn’t until after she makes her way home does she open herself up to feeling again. I fell for Quinn and just wanted her to find some joy in her life that wasn’t connected to career success. She deserves happiness and more importantly I wanted her to realize what a good person she was and how worthy she was of love.

Belinda, Quinn’s assistant and her sister, Kelly were great supporting characters. Kelly, who lost her big sister all of those years ago and has to work hard to forge a relationship with her. But Sawyer’s brother, Shane, is the clear villain in this story and every part of me detests him. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t write this book because I’m pretty sure Shane would have gotten taken care of Dexter-style.

There are some authors I gravitate to. They simply speak to my soul.  They paint a picture that allows me to perfectly see the scenery and characters that they write about. Monica McCallan is one of those writers and Back in Your Arms is a beautiful book with characters that will warm your heart.

ARC received from the author for an honest review.

Favorite Quotes:

Her life was curated the same way that a room was expertly staged. Meant to convey exactly what she wanted the viewer to see. Highlighting the right features. Presenting the most favorable schemes blended together effortlessly.

Quinn had missed her terribly. She’d wondered what Sawyer would think of her new life, if she hated Quinn for what she’d done. Quinn hated herself, so it seemed only fair Sawyer would too.

Maybe it was some type of karmic punishment for the decision she’d made. She’d thought that seventeen years had put enough distance between the torture she’d felt in her youth and the woman she’d become.

Last night, when they’d been bowling, Quinn had hit a strike that had surprised them all, and her face lit up with pure excitement. Sawyer had felt like they were kids again; that same look used to take over Quinn’s entire face when she excelled at something..

It was so easy to fall back into Quinn’s orbit. She exuded an energy that made Sawyer want to lean in and let herself go along for the ride. Against the odds, they’d worked well as best friends. Quinn, the popular, outgoing one. Sawyer, the practical, introverted one.

When I’m With You by Monica McCallan

When I'm With You
Published: 6/6/21

Brooke Nicholas has gotten under Kennedy Ryan’s skin since the moment they met two and a half years ago. Kennedy became friends with Brooke’s roommates Julia and Hannah their junior year of college and has no idea what the two see in Brooke. When Brooke and Kennedy get stranded in a cabin during a snowstorm without their friends to run interference Kennedy begins to see how wrong she’s been.

Kennedy is responsible, she always has a plan, she’s reserved. Brooke is undependable, unpredictable and never has a plan. Or at least, that’s how Kennedy has always seen her. During the time they have alone at the cabin Kennedy talks about her big family of six brothers and sisters. When Brooke reveals that she’s on her own Kennedy begins to see Brooke in a new light and regrets having judged her so harshly.

After returning home Brooke goes with Kennedy to her parents for Christmas Eve dinner. Kennedy’s family welcomes Brooke and makes her long for what she only had briefly when she lived with her grandparents, a family to love and support her. Brooke and Kennedy’s friendship continues to flourish. Brooke finds an abandoned puppy and they become co-parents. They spend evenings together watching tv cuddling up with Frankie, text each other at work and think about each other when they aren’t together. Brooke realizes first that her feelings have moved beyond friendship but Kennedy isn’t far behind. However, both are scared to lose the friendship that has come to mean so much to both of them and neither wants to be the first to confess their feelings.

I am a big fan of Monica McCallan’s books and this one is now my favorite. I love Brooke and just want to snuggle her and tell her how wonderful she is despite losing big in the mother department. Brooke is one of those people who brightens a room just by entering it, she talks to strangers on the sidewalk, rescues puppies and always puts others before herself. Add that she knows her wine and even knows when Julia’s fish Simon’s food is on sale and she is really the perfect woman. Her childhood looms large in her interactions despite her cheery disposition. She doesn’t let too many people get to know who she is beneath the outgoing, fun persona she projects. She expects people to let her down so when she lets Kennedy in, it means even more.

Kennedy’s outright dismissal of Brooke’s value as a person stems from her own issues and nothing that Brooke is responsible for. Kennedy is the oldest child in her family and has always been overwhelmed with the chaos that is her family. Brooke represented more chaos and she automatically dismissed her as someone she wanted to spend time with. It wasn’t until she realized that Brooke didn’t have a family that she began to see how important Brooke’s relationships with Hannah and Julia are and how they are her chosen family and she wants to be a safe space for Brooke as well.

Kennedy had always thought that her and Brooke were polar opposites but as Hannah states they really aren’t. “You two seem different, but you’re really the same. You keep everyone at arms length, but you’re really a big softie on the inside. And Brooke’s the same, just inverted. She’s open and approachable and always has a kind word for a stranger.”  When Kennedy opens her mind and heart to Brooke she sees how badly she misjudged her and how she was always meant to be her person.

This book has sweetness, angst (because Monica’s books always bring the angst), laughter, love and wonderful supporting characters. I highly recommend it and dare you not to fall in love with Brooke and Kennedy.

Favorite Quotes: “She wanted whatever that thing was that made you search a person’s face for meaning or to find reasons to touch them. A hand of the back through a narrow exit. A quick tap on their wrist to get their attention in a loud space. The gentle brush against each other’s shoulders while you moved to the music.”

“Hey Elsa! You want to help me with these bags, or are you going to spend all day dreamily floating through winter wonderland.”

“The icing on the cake was being stuck with freaking Brooke Nicholas, fairy nymph and sprite of exuberance and extroversion.”

“I’d tell him to get bent, but his head’s already so far up his own ass he’s a perfect circle.”