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books, blabberings, and a life semi-common
After reading Shannon Stacey’s YOURS TO KEEP, I knew I had to go back in time and read the first two novels in the series.
In EXCLUSIVELY YOURS, Keri Daniels – a not-yet-hotshot magazine journalist – is given a choice (of sorts): get a juicy, scandalous interview with “reclusive” writer Joe Kowalski or start looking for a new job. Keri knows there’s only one choice to make; after all, she didn’t drop everything and move to California for nothing.
Joe Kowalski, however, isn’t going to just let Keri have an interview. After she broke his heart after high school and left, Joe’s never really been the same and he still loves the girl who broke his heart. Instead of giving her a definitive yes or no answer, he offers a deal – go on the Kowalski Family Annual Trip and for every day she survives, he’ll answer one question from her. There is a list of rules and regulations that go along with that but Keri agrees. She needs that interview.
What follows is a conglomeration of heartache and amusement, uncertainty and fun. Besides the sizzling heat between Joe and Keri that never really went away, there are rowdy children who give Keri the culture shock of her life, Joe’s twin sister who still holds a grudge from losing her best friend during high school, and a plethora of family secrets that are not as secret as one would hope.
Although I think I would have enjoyed the book (even) more had I read it before YOURS TO KEEP, there was so much I liked in this book that it’s almost a shame I already knew the characters in a way. Joe Kowalski’s back story is incredible and though Stacey only mentions it from the perspectives of various characters as memories, it is still a slap of reality that is a stark contrast to what main character Keri remembers of the attractive and sexy boy from her high school years. Joe’s role in the family is one that is admirable, the older brother who looks out for his siblings, is the “cool uncle” for his nephews and a sounding board of sorts for his slightly-angst-driven niece.
The family dynamics are incredible and I believe a part of me enjoyed reading about it so much because it was almost like reading about my family – except without the camping and outdoors; camping for the majority of my family consists of renting a large house on a lake. There is relentless teasing among the rambunctious nephews and a real sense of give-and-take with the three brothers and sister (the exact opposite of my siblings and myself, mind you). The side stories that are prevalent in the book – Terry Kowalski’s rocky separation, Mike Kowalski’s wife seeming tense and frustrated without reason – were, at times, more interesting than the unfolding of Joe’s relationship with Keri.
The reason behind that particular problem was Keri, herself. There were times when I sometimes had no idea who Keri was as a character, which came as a surprise to me since I love Stacey’s ability to create realistic characters. For me, Keri just seemed a little too disjointed for my taste and though the years have passed, it was as though she refused to remember anything about her upbringing and her lifestyle before shiny California came into her everyday life. Though the main idea of the book is her need to find her own identity – being known as Keri Daniels rather than someone’s wife or a child, I wanted to know who she believed she was by the end of the book and I’m not entirely sure readers are ever told.
That being said, I didn’t hate the character and I found her to be of secondary importance to Joe and his own need to understand why Keri left and how he can get her to stay. While the ending left me straddling the line between like and dislike, EXCLUSIVELY YOURS is a book I’d recommend to contemporary romance readers. Less believable to me than Stacey’s first book I read due to the almost-too-easy way the characters reconnected, but it’s a lovely introduction to the Kowalski series.