tiesSchool Ties by Tamsen Parker

Published by: InterMix

Format: eARC

Genre: Contemporary romance

Order at: Amazon

Reviewed by: Erin

What to expect: Prepare to have your mind changed about student/teacher romance in this unforgettable story.

Erin Brewster is nervous enough on her first day of teaching at Hawthorn Hill. But the way Zach Shepherd looks at her with his dark and dreamy blue eyes really throws her off her game. He simply has to walk past her to send her heart racing. Although he’s eighteen and a senior, he’s still just a student—and very off limits. To let her eyes linger over his body, to fulfill her fantasies would be more than inappropriate. It would be career suicide.
Three years after his graduation from Hawthorn, Shep has returned as a member of the faculty—and he hasn’t forgotten his favorite teacher, the prettiest woman he’s ever seen. When they finally have a chance to get to know each other, they realize they share a common interest: kink. In fact, Shep has learned a lot about the subject during his time away and is ready to teach Erin a thing or two. He’ll soon have her begging to be held after class.
As their relationship comes under scrutiny, the ties that bind Shep and Erin may begin to fray. But some bonds grow stronger under pressure…

I am going to be completely honest: When Judith emailed me to ask me if I wanted to review this book, I balked. “I really can’t do student/teacher,” I told her. “It’s not really student/teacher, I swear,” she said. I hesitated, she pushed, which she rarely does, and I do love Tamsen Parker, so I figured I’d give it a try. And, as always, I’m really glad I listened to Judith.

This is a fascinating, twisting journey of a book. Parker has a very distinctive writing style, using a very close first person. It’s not going to work for everyone, but it really worked for me. When done correctly, first person draws you deeper and deeper into the story, which is what happened here. I felt their attraction to each other intimately, felt their confusion and fear and longing.  

Shep and Erin are student and teacher when they meet. He’s instantly, fiercely attracted to her, as she is to him. They do not act on it in any way, though they are both aware of the attraction. Their connection feels fated in a way that you usually only see in paranormal stories. He sets his sights on her and is unwavering, even knowing that they can’t get together at that moment. She acknowledges the connection to herself but puts it aside, very aware of the student/teacher relationship.

Where this book started drawing me in was in the way Parker puts Erin and Shep through so much before they get together. Shep goes off to college, busting his way through a degree in education. Erin gets married to someone else, slogging through an unhappy relationship until her eventual divorce. Parker spends time here, not rushing her characters through to their eventual reunion. As a result, we get to see both Shep and Erin grow separately in a way that mitigates some of the student/teacher dynamic and makes the anticipation of them getting together that much sweeter.

One of the fascinating elements of this book (where “fascinating” = super dang hot) is that Shep trains as a Dom while he’s in college, working at a BDSM club. However…he’s a virgin. That’s right, virgin hero alert!! My favorite thing! And thank you, he is not miraculously a virgin hero with superman stamina. A virgin dude finally in bed with the woman he’s wanted since he was a teenager isn’t exactly going to last for hours.

Erin has been fantasizing about being dominated for a long time. She and her husband were sexually incompatible in this way, and he was put off by her desires. I love that she learned about BDSM and explored that kink through reading romance novels. It’s such a common experience for so many women, and yet it’s rare to see it depicted, even in a romance novel. So kudos there.

This isn’t just an erotic book full of hot sex; we get to explore Erin and Shep as characters, with painful pasts that they’re both trying to reconcile, separately and together. They find commonality in their mutual love of the boarding school where they work, though they come to it from different places. The difficulties they bring to their relationship from their upbringing is explored carefully and deliberately. You can really understand what brought these two individuals together in this moment.

However, I think some readers are going to find Erin too passive, particularly as the book goes on. She’s portrayed as small, physically weak, and often needs rescuing from Shep, who worries about her physical safety in a way that seems disproportionate at times. He is her caregiver to an extent that seems a little much at times, particularly later in the book. We have chapters of careful building of her character, and yet she’s portrayed and perceived as fragile through the end. There is a moment where she stands up and is very strong when Shep can’t be, but that just serves to make the rest of it feel even more obvious. Not every woman is a strong woman, and there is the BDSM aspect of their relationship, where he dominates her, but it goes beyond that to a point where some readers may be turned off.

Even with that issue, I do recommend this book. Parker’s writing has this spellbinding quality, where you feel completely immersed in her characters in a way that’s hard to shake. I thought about this book for weeks after I read it, even the parts that weren’t my favorite, and that’s not something I can say about every author.

What you might not like: You may not be able to get over the student/teacher thing, and I respect that. Also, Parker has a very distinctive writing style that’s going to work for some people and not for others.

What you will love: If her style works for you, it works really, really well. This is a beautiful character study with incredible erotic tension, characters who are going to stick with you for a long time, and a masterful setup of a trope that I previously thought was a hard line for me.

ErinErin is a full time contributor to Binge on Books. She is a voracious reader and reviewer who has been been reading romances since she stole them from under her neighbor’s mom’s bed while she was at work. You can read all her reviews here.

Connect with Erin on Twitter: @booksandjoe

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