Shannon Stacey has gotten a bit of buzz online amongst the romance reviewing community since she debuted with Exclusively Yours, which was published as an ebook by Carina Press, Harlequin's e-only imprint. Now, her books are going to be in print too (from HQN). I stumbled on Exclusively Yours on netgalley a few months ago and requested it based on the good reviews. I'm always on the lookout for good contemporary romances and this seemed to have a great premise.
The Premise: Keri Daniels is a journalist, who unfortunately, has a boss obsessed with the reclusive author Joe Kowalski. Joe Kowalski happens to be Keri's high school boyfriend - the guy she dumped when high school ended. Keri would like nothing more than to never see Joe again, but when her boss finds out Keri's long held secret, it's either get an interview or lose her job. Now Keri is back in her hometown and living her worst nightmare. Joe says he will answer her questions, but for a price. All she has to do is join him on the Kowalski family camping trip, and for every day she survives with his siblings, their spouses, his parents and a rowdy bunch of Kowaski offspring, she can ask one question. Keri was never a camping sort of girl, but now she has to spend time with a family that has every cause to dislike her, especially Joe's twin sister, Terry, her one time best friend who now holds a monumental grudge.
Read an excerpt of Exclusively Yours here
My Thoughts: With the premise of Keri's ex-boyfriend being in the position to make Keri really suffer on the camping trip, I was expecting a lot of back-and-forth friction between the ex-lovers, but this story surprised me. Other than his idea of the camping trip, Joe seems rather forgiving of his ex-girlfriend that broke his heart and sent him into such a dark depression that he took to drinking. In fact, he looks at Keri with much the same appreciation as he used to in high school and is pretty much a nice guy about the whole breakup. The rest of the Kowalski's are pretty zen as well. Except for Terry, who has her own reasons to be angry at Keri, no one seems to hold a grudge. This was a little weird, as I was expecting SOME resistance to Keri, and maybe some hurt feelings on Joe's part, but it was also refreshing to have a not-so-predictable plot.
Instead of the expected drama of Keri's inclusion to the Kowalski camping trip, much of the story focuses on the personal dramas of Joe's siblings amongst the woods and ATVing. His sister Terry is dealing with hurt feelings because her husband moved out. She can't help herself from reliving her husband's departure and wondering what went wrong. She's in no mood to deal with Keri, her once best friend that phased her out, then broke her brother's heart. You can't help but feel like Terry is taking out all her pain on Keri, just because she is a convenient scapegoat, and this would be right. Terry's complicated situation and the way she acts out was well done. I didn't particularly like Terry, but I understood why she acted the way she did, and I liked the secondary story of her marriage woes (I had quibbles with how this was resolved, but nothing major). While Terry has her problems, Joe's brothers also have theirs. Kevin is a bachelor and bar owner who just got out of a bad divorce. Mike is a family man with four boys and who doesn't want any more kids, but his wife Lisa, wants one more. This leads to some spectacular spats.
Compared to the drama going on among the people around them, the drama between Keri and Joe feels relatively tame. The biggest issue starts off as the conflict between Joe keeping his secrets (a mysterious engagement, his subsequent shunning of the limelight), and Keri needing a juicy story. But as the story continues Keri realizes that she has the same choice to make as before: whether she should choose Joe and her hometown, her career and L.A. Along the way of course, there is also the sexual tension they have to contend with, and much of the camping trip involves the dance between two obviously attracted people. Joe sees Keri and feels just like he felt about her in high school, and Keri feels like getting involved with Joe again would just be a big mistake. I liked the relaxed banter and the adult way that the hero and heroine acted throughout the book, and their obstacle to a happy ending felt more realistic than some of the others I've read in contemporary romance.
Overall: An enjoyable contemporary romance with humor and likable protagonists. I would say that it was a nice romance but the sense of family (their shenanigans and tribulations) and the well developed secondary characters brought Exclusively Yours up a notch from the average 'fun romance read'. I'm interested in reading the next in the Kowalski series - this time about bar owner brother Kevin.
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Buy ebook: Amazon (kindle) | B&N (eBook)
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