I first picked up one of Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski novels because it was on sale for 99 cents and a reputable source had given it a rave review. I enjoyed the book (Exclusively Yours) with only the most minor reservations, so when the third book was on sale, I snapped it up.
Yours to Keep has a lot of the same things that made Exclusively Yours such a fun read: the family dynamic with the Kowalskis, the fun writing and funnier situations, and some very nice sexual tension.
However, it also has a ridiculous premise, a problem which could have been fixed in five minutes if the heroine had been willing to step up and act like a damn adult. She doesn’t, though, and that marred my enjoyment of the first half of the book, and the rest of it couldn’t quite overcome that initial annoyance.
Sean Kowalski is back from Afghanistan, out of the Army, and ready to enjoy living life on his terms for the first time in over a decade. However, no sooner does he get settled in the apartment over his cousin’s bar than a tall brunette knocks on his door, claiming to be his fiancée. Sean is, understandably, shocked by this turn of events.
Emma, the aforementioned brunette, has told a little fib. Her beloved grandmother, who has been in Florida for the past two years, has been so worried about Emma living by herself that Emma made up a fake live-in boyfriend (specifically, Sean) to give Grandma some peace of mind.
Now her grandmother’s returning to New Hampshire to meet the lucky man. And she’s not just coming back for a few days; she’ll be there an entire month.
Emma wants Sean to play house with her for the month so Grandma will return to Florida satisfied that Emma can take care of herself.
Now, I don’t know about you, but “lying to the cherished grandparent who raised you” does not exactly scream “mature adult,” but hey, what do I know?
As you might be able to tell, having the entire setup for the book predicated on a lie did not sit well with me. Sean’s initial reaction (which was “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no”) was well-warranted, and even after reading the book I still have no idea why he ultimately changed his mind and went along with it. Because we wouldn’t have a story if he didn’t, I guess?
Regardless, after thinking about it a bit, Sean decides to go along with this heap of crazy because, hey, she’s hot. The problem is, he’s now got to convince his entire family—which includes brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins’ spouses, and cousins’ kids—not to spill the beans to Grandma.
The problem is, I really liked Grandma. We get a chance to spend quite a bit of time in her head and even see her embark on her own little romance, and it’s genuinely sweet. I hated that Emma felt she had to lie about her life to a woman who obviously cares so deeply for her, and it really, really irritated me.
In fact, if a certain plot point hadn’t happened when it did (about 42% of the way through), I may well have put the book down. (In fact, I had told my roommate said plot point had better happen soon—when I was about 30% through—or else I was going to chuck the Kindle.)
The sections with Sean’s family were easily the funniest in the book. As before, the Kowalski clan is a generally loving group, but they’re certainly not above giving Sean hell for this fib.
Plus, the Newlywed-style game all the couples play at a family party about halfway through the book is just gut-bustingly hilarious, as Sean’s cousins come up with questions specifically to trip Sean and Emma up.
Unfortunately, my biggest issue was with Sean and Emma themselves. While I was definitely convinced as to their sexual compatibility, I wasn’t convinced about the rest of their relationship. They spent so much time in their relationship wearing masks for everybody else that it didn’t seem like they’d gotten a chance to really know each other without them.
Not to mention I really, really didn’t like that Emma’s solution to her problem, rather than come clean to her grandmother, was instead to actually LIVE the lie for a month and drag another semi-unsuspecting person into it. Hell, sweetie, if that’s how you solve your problems, no wonder Grandma’s worried about you living alone.
I can tolerate a lot from characters I don’t like if it feels like they’ve sufficiently redeemed themselves by the end of the book. In this particular case, it didn’t happen for me. In fact, it’s a testament to how much I like Stacey’s writing that I was able to continue reading this book even as the main characters were making me facepalm.
This is a difficult book for me to unequivocally recommend. The writing is great, the family is fantastic, there are some very funny scenes, and it really picks up at about the 40% mark. I love that Stacey includes a subplot with another romance, which really gives Emma’s grandmother a chance to shine. But the hero and heroine themselves? Definitely not my cup of tea.