Reviewed by Tori
Favorite Quote: “She needs me and I…I need to be needed.”
Erin Brewster has worked hard to come home to Hawthorne Hill to teach. Having spent her summers at “the Hill” with her grandfather, who was the headmaster, Erin got the security she didn’t with her gypsy like father. On her first day of teaching, she meets student Zachary Sheppard. An 18 year old senior with soul searching blue eyes and an inner strength that affects Erin on every level. But he’s her student and he must stay that way. Anything else would be highly inappropriate and career suicide.
Zachary is at Hawthorne Hall on a scholarship. His only goal is to graduate, go to college, and help get his little brother away from their dysfunctional home life. When he meets his new Calculus teacher, he is blown away by her beauty and the intense need he feels to take care of her. But she is his teacher and no matter how he feels, nothing can come of this. But that doesn’t stop him from looking…and fantasizing.
Three years pass and Zachary is back at Hawthorne Hill, having graduated college early and is now a teacher. He and Erin are free to pursue and act on the feelings that they were denied when he was the student and she was the teacher. But Zach has changed. He discovered a penchant for domination while away and now he wants to introduce Erin to his lifestyle. The student has become the teacher.
As Zach and Erin explore their passions for one another, the scrutiny over their relationship begins to pick apart their fragile bond. But sometimes the more you struggle, the stronger are the ties that bind.
I thoroughly enjoy Tamsen Parker’s erotic romances. Smartly written with well defined story lines, delicious romances, and dynamic characterization. Parker goes beyond the more popular definitions romance, pushing many boundaries as she divulges deep into its heart. I adore how Parker addresses the different needs that people have. Pounding it into readers heads that just because our wants and desires aren’t considered mainstream, there is no shame in them. She touches on subject matter and situations in a way that even in your most uncomfortable moments, you don’t feel as though she is attempting to manipulate or shock you.
School Ties, while built on taboo subject matter, isn’t really taboo at all. It’s a loosely defined relationship that plays on the forbidden feelings between a teacher and student. Nothing is acted upon physically until said student graduates, goes to college, and returns as a fellow employee. Told from dual points of view, Parker sets the scene and introduces us to the main players-Erin Brewster and Zachary Sheppard. She smoothly reveals their respective backgrounds against the present day in order to give us a deeper understanding of situations that are to come
Part one of the book take place during Erins first year of teaching and Zach’s senior year. It showcases Erin and Zach’s developing friendship amongst their growing attraction to one another. Parker does an excellent job of revealing the sexual tension and complicated dynamics involved while showing Erin’s emotional state as she catalogs her internal thoughts of disgust, shame, and fear. Erin in her longing for love and security chooses to pursue a relationship with another teacher to help offset her feelings for Zach, which only further destroys the already fragile state she resides in.
Zach has more trouble separating his emotions from the equation. He grows to care for her beyond the physical attraction and finds himself constantly crossing lines in order to “save her.” Lines Erin has to keep push him back from. I found Zach’s compassion and maturity very strong in someone so young. This is perhaps in direct relation to his dysfunctional home life and the fact that he has been dealing with adult situations from apparently a young age. Erin’s dating hurts Zach and forces him to realize that nothing can or will happen until he is older.
The second half of the book finds Zach back at Hawthorne Hall but as a math teacitiher instead of a student. We learn of Zach’s adventures in college and his introduction to BDSM. Erin’s time hasn’t been pleasant and she suffers a series of loses. Zach’s need to protect and care has increased ten fold, causing him to push Erin away for fear she will be repulsed by his dark desires. Zach and Erin slowly begin to re-establish their friendship, taking the time to get to know each other as equals. Parker stokes their chemistry, introducing the BDSM and allowing it to progress from there.
At this point I began to have issues with the story and the characters. The flow isn’t as smooth and some subplots litter the storyline with few having a legitimate reason to be included. Most are resolved off scene with the antagonist or conflict simply exiting the storyline.
Erin herself seems to regress. In part one she seemed stronger. Here in part two she is more emotionally unstable; sensitive to perceived slights and needier overall. Her fragility is more pronounced and Parker impresses that upon us with small reveals about her juvenile choices in food and dishes. And a habit of sucking her thumb.
Zach comes back to Hawthorne Hall darker and more mysterious. His personality change seems more in tune with someone who has suffered a great loss or had a bad experience. I was uncomfortable with how easily Zach takes to the role of not only her boyfriend and sexual dominant, but also her caretaker. He adapts the role of pseudo father figure and I couldn’t help but feel by the end that one wrong word or move on his part and she’d shatter into a million pieces. It was readily apparent that while Zach is physically younger, emotionally he is the adult in this relationship. I really wish at some point, someone would pushed Erin into therapy.
While I wasn’t bowled over by this story and definitely don’t feel it’s one of Parker’s best work to date, it‘s an easy, fast read with its heated BDSM power plays, lack of true drama, and almost fairy tale like romance.