Book Review – Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey

exclusively-yours-webOne of the kinds of romances I’ve come to enjoy more in recent years has been the reconciliation story: that is, two people who used to date/be married getting back together after a breakup. It’s a much different kind of story than the regular romances, which start with the meet-cute and proceed through the initial courtship.

Rather, this is a story about two people who already know each other, and knew each other extremely well at one point in time. And I love watching them come to know each other again as they learn what’s changed about their relationship and what remains the same, and seeing if they can learn to avoid the pitfalls that brought about the breakup in the first place.

In Exclusively Yours, Keri Daniels is a writer for a celebrity magazine, and her boss could give The Devil Wears Prada‘s Miranda Priestly a run for her money. And when said boss learns Keri once dated reclusive bestselling writer Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri an ultimatum: get an interview, or find a new job.

They may have broken up 20 years ago, but Joe Kowalski certainly hasn’t forgotten Keri. And when she comes to town looking for an interview, he decides to have a little fun with her. Joe’s about to go on the annual two-week family camping trip, where there’s no electricity and no cell service, and lots of mosquitos. He invites Keri along, and for every day she sticks around, Keri gets to ask Joe one question.

However, it’s not just the mosquitos and lack of amenities Keri has to contend with: there’s Joe’s entire family, who wants them to get back together, except for Joe’s sister (and Keri’s former best friend), who definitely doesn’t. And then there’s the fact that their former chemistry comes roaring back with a vengeance. Can Keri and Joe survive the family vacation?

I don’t read nearly as many contemporary romances as I do historicals, but if this is any indication, I need to read more. Exclusively Yours is HILARIOUS.

I loved Joe’s unique idea for giving Keri the interview, and Keri’s tenacity in the face of activities she hadn’t done in twenty years or more. I loved the sections from Terry’s point of view, seeing why she was so angry with Keri and seeing her own romance as a subplot. I really loved watching both broken relationship slowly rebuild and rekindle.

Keri and Joe have some great banter, and I loved watching them reminisce about the good old days as they’re getting to know each other again. They’ve both changed a lot over the past twenty years, and Joe has become so reclusive to outsiders that Keri really has no idea what he’s gone through.

Plus, the entire Kowalski clan is fantastic. With parents and siblings and children all running around, the opportunity for shenanigans is endless, and all of them enjoy giving Keri and Joe all kinds of trouble regarding their relationship.

You can see why Keri falls in love with the family almost as much as she falls in love with Joe, which is a wonderful thing to see in a romance novel.

My sole problem with this book came at the end. I (for the most part) bought the happily ever after, but it just felt a little too pat. I didn’t fully understand why Keri made the decision she did, except perhaps because she was supposed to. It felt like certain things that had been important to her throughout most of the novel weren’t resolved satisfactorily.

Which is a shame, because up until then, I loved the book. It’s probably one of my favorites I’ve read so far this year, and the hiccup at the end is a minor thing in the larger scheme of the novel. It just made things feel a little off for me.

If you like funny, contemporary romances, you really should read Exclusively Yours as soon as you get a chance.

A to Z Challenge – Y is for Yours to Keep

yours-to-keepI 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.