Thursday, June 1, 2017

[Review]: "Way Down Deep"

romance novel covers, contemporary romance, Royal Pick, Way Down Deep by Cara McKenna and Charlotte Stein
Way Down Deep by Cara McKenna + Charlotte Stein
Publication Date: June 6th, 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance

An erotic romance…told entirely through text messages.

The words he typed were never meant to be read, yet they found their way to her. Two wounded strangers, prisoners of their own lives, brought together by a wayward text.

Without ever hearing each other’s voices, a friendship blooms between them. Without ever seeing each other’s faces, an attraction grows. Without ever touching, the two become lovers.

But when words suddenly aren’t enough, will this bond be able to tear down the walls that keep them apart…or was it only ever fantasy? 

Where to Buy*:
Kindle [Other links to come]
More Info:

Reviews of McKenna's Previous Novels:

Hard Time (Pat)

Her Best Laid Plans (TBQ)

My Review:

Way Down Deep is a different kind of romance – or rather, it’s in a different writing format. It’s told entirely through letters –  text message exchanges, technically. There’s nothing else, no other paragraphs or inner dialogue, nothing like that, just the messages. Now, I know you’re probably imaging the text exchanges that most of us probably send and receive – short, quick, possibly full of abbreviations, probably not grammatically correct sentences, the liberal use of emojis, etc. But that is NOT how these texts are. They truly read more like, well, emails I suppose, as far as length and grammar/sentence structure.

Usually I hesitate. I bargain with my own words. I let out two as long as ten stay behind. Yet I don't seem to be doing that with you.

Their text exchange starts when Malcolm sends a text one night, drunk and depressed, to the old number of a person in his life (we don’t find out who that person is until much later in the book and I won’t ruin it for you here). This person is now dead and he knows he’s not going to get an answer back, it’s more about just needing to send the message. Imagine his surprise when someone does answer back – though no, it’s not the person back from the dead, but rather Maya, who apparently now has the same number. She originally answers back to let him know that he’s not alone and not to give up, etc., but they keep texting and the relationship builds from there.

Tell me more if you’re ready, stranger. Don’t delete a thing. Don’t censor yourself. 

Show me all your soft, bruised, homely parts, because that’s all I’m made of anymore. That’s all I’ve got, and frankly that’s all I want to see. I spent thirty-four years only caring about facades, and shock of shocks, it left me hollow. 

So fill me up.

Malcolm is an American but is currently living in the UK, raising his recently-discovered child, whose mother was a brief hookup he had when visiting the UK; the mother recently passed and now it is up to him to raise his toddler. He has no idea what he’s doing, is having trouble with some depression and borderline alcoholism, as well as dealing with the effects of some trauma the young boy went through before he found out he even had a son (again, I’m being vague because it’s not revealed until late in the book what all went on in the past).

Maya has her own traumatic past – also not known until later, so again, no spoilers – and because of that experience, she is now an agoraphobia. She doesn’t leave her house for anything, hasn’t in a long time, and fears opening a window or door, even for a moment.

The two quickly grab on to one another, to the messages about their day, and their interactions, though purely through text (no phone calls or anything else) are the most solid and consistent things in their lives right now. They slowly start to find out things about each other, playing a game of Truth (no Dare), where they each ask a question and answer it, though either one of them can choose not to answer the question, no pressure. Their questions start out quite mundane, things like lists of favorite movies or books, places they most want to go, and so on. But over time, it moves into more personal questions, and, eventually, they tip from just friends chatting to something more, something tempting and erotic.

And yes, I want to hear you. More than you could ever know. Whatever your voice, whatever your accent, whatever words might fall from that mouth when I was finally done kissing it. 

I want cautious and curious requests—like that, a little more, keep going. 

I want demands and orders. Deeper, faster, slower, harder, rougher. Fuck me, eat me, hold me down, say my name, use your fingers, give me that cock, Malcolm. 

I want gasping pleas. Don’t stop don’t you fucking stop, I’m so close, make me come. 

Have you come? I think you have. What do you think about, when you do? How do you touch yourself? Would you teach me every secret or just set me loose, make me learn to play you from scratch? 

What do you want to hear from me?

I’m noisy, in bed. I earn furtive shushings from shy lovers and angry thumps from neighbors who’ve shared walls with me. 

You can have every whisper and mounting moan and grunt and panting breath, every curse, every uncensored thought, be it needy or bossy or pleading or plain old lust-drunk. 

I’d tell you kiss me, stroke me, taste me, use me, ride me, suck me, spread your legs, make me come.

And oh, man, when they start their deal of “mundane SFW texts during the day and sexting after 10pm”? Things. Get. So. Damn. Hot. Ridiculously hot, and I loved every teasing, dirty minute of it. The anticipation, the buildup as they both set the scene, using all sorts of details, as well as the actual dirty-talk bits as they both got off. It’s probably one of the hottest things I’ve read in a while, and definitely one of the hottest sext/pseudo-phone sex I’ve ever read.

Bonus! We get a little hint of some femdom in a few scenes, as some of Maya’s fantasies involve being the one in charge, of making him wait to orgasm until she gives him permission, until she’s done with him. God, I loved that. (Seriously, we need more full-on femdoms in romancelandia.)

I want to make fists in your hair—hold you there while I take what I need. Then just as you get desperate, just as you’re ready to beg, I would stop. Maybe pull those handfuls, until you’re not sure if it hurts or thrills you. 

I think it would thrill you. 

Tell me that it would thrill you. Tell me that you would beg me to continue, and when I did that you would just want me to stop. I can almost hear the words it’s way too much, hissed between your gritted teeth. See you panting and shivering with long held back pleasure. Hear you gasping, as you fight for some control. 

But I don’t want you to control yourself, my Malcolm. 

I want you to break down. Be a mess for me.

Again, to avoid spoilers, they do have their “Oh shit, no” moment around the 85% mark or so, when something happens that keeps them from being able to contact each other (remember, all they ever had was the phone number and a first name), and my heart was breaking during those unread texts, worried right along with them that that was the end and they’d never “see” each other again. Don’t worry, it’s not the end! But I must warn, while still being vague, that the ending is more HFN with an implied off-page HEA. You won’t reach the end and throw the book or anything, but if you’re hoping for a neatly wrapped up on-page HEA, I’ll just let you know right now that you won’t get that. You’re left with the implication and solid hope that they’re going to try to be together offline. And you know what, for me, that was enough.

That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have loved to see a bit more after that moment, to see their HEA actually taking place – preferably not in text form at that point, though I suppose that jump in writing style might mess with the book’s flow. Anway, I would have loved to see that. But I didn’t actually *need* it in order to love this book. Hence my high rating – I was more than happy with what was here, and while I will never turn down more when it’s being added to an already amazing book, I didn’t require it here.

That also applies throughout the book. Because of the format of this story, there are definitely things that we don’t get from the story, from the characters, like we would in almost any other romance: we don’t get the character’s inner dialogue, we don’t get to see any other characters or the world outside their messages, we don’t get to see these two together (offline), we don’t get a ton of in depth backstory and character building – at least not to the degree we’re used to in other books. But again, what we DO get here was more than enough for me, and while I can look back and say “Okay, well, this was missing” or “This could have been expanded”, etc., my critiques do not take away from my overwhelming love for this book.

As an example, though it’s a minor detail: we never learn what either Maya or Malcolm do for a living, which is something that’s usually a good base for building any character. While I wish we had received this bit of information, I don’t feel like it’s absence ruined anything.

And I know what some readers might say, upon starting this book: “But their “texts” aren’t realistic. No one sends well-crafted essays for every text exchange like that!” And that’s certainly true (though I’m sure there are one or two exceptions of people who do text like that, somewhere, but I digress). However, I didn’t stop and think of their exchanges that way, I just enjoyed them for what they were – beautiful, nearly lyrical, letters from one lost soul to another, intimate and carefully crafted conversations between two people who needed comfort and friendship and love. A bit of a romantic, nostalgic feel for old time letter writing mixed with the modern-day drive for instant gratification. It worked so well for me, even as I realize it may not work as well for others. And that’s okay! For me, McKenna and Stein’s writing voices, vision, and talents made this unique and beautiful story flow. I wanted nothing more than to roll around in Maya and Malcolm’s messages, in the lovely writing being shared from their very souls (or so it feels). I never wanted it to end, didn’t want to leave their intimate little world.

You found me, stranger, in the deep dark place
A man with no name, no voice, no face
I was counting on silence but you sent me words
A girl with eyes like stones, hands like birds
Eyes I'll never see and hands I'll never feel
How do you do it, honey? Seem this real?

(A quick song he wrote her for her)

I’m not sure if this approach to a romance novel will work well if others try to replicate it. It’s limiting, I can’t deny that. But I do know that McKenna and Stein pulled it off, and they pulled it off fantastically so, weaving a sexy, breathtaking and emotional romance into such a unique storytelling experience. And I truly loved every single moment of it.


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I received an e-ARC of this book from the authors, via NetGalley.

*Note: The quotes used belong to Cara McKenna + Charlotte Stein; TBQ's Book Palace does not claim them. Any mistakes or typos in the quotes are my own fault.

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If you want to read more quotes that I highlighted, check out my Twitter!

Remember, since this is a Royal Pick, come back on June 29th for a chance to WIN an ecopy of your own!


Until Next Time,


  *TBQ's Book Palace is a member of both the Amazon and Barnes and Nobles affiliates program. By using the links provided to buy products from either website, I receive a very small percentage of the order. To read my full disclosure on the matter, please see this post!

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