Exclusively Yours, by Shannon Stacey

>> Monday, November 19, 2012

TITLE: Exclusively Yours
AUTHOR: Shannon Stacey

PAGES: 282
PUBLISHER: Carina Press

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance
SERIES: Starts the Kowalski series

When Keri Daniels's boss finds out she has previous carnal knowledge of reclusive bestselling author Joe Kowalski, she gives Keri a choice: get an interview or get a new job.
Joe's never forgotten the first girl to break his heart, so he's intrigued to hear Keri's back in town—and looking for him. He proposes an outrageous plan—for every day she survives with his family on their annual camping trip, Keri can ask one question.

The chemistry between Joe and Keri is as potent as the bug spray, but Joe's sister is out to avenge his broken heart, and Keri hasn't ridden an ATV since she was ten. Who knew a little blackmail, a whole lot of family and some sizzling romantic interludes could make Keri reconsider the old dream of Keri & Joe 2gether 4ever?
Shannon Stacey is an author I've been meaning to try for ages, and I've heard nothing but good things about her Kowalski series, even from people whose taste I usually share. Unfortunately, it looks like I'm the odd one out here, because I really disliked this. With other authors, I probably would have given up after being stuck for about 2 weeks at about the 20% mark, but I really did hope it would get better, so I kept pushing on. It did start to flow a bit better at one point, but it still didn't appeal to me.

The basic plot is an old lovers reunited one. Keri Daniels and Joe Kowalski were together through most of high school, and were mad about each other. After graduation, however, Keri broke up with Joe and left for California to make her name there. Joe didn't take this well at all. Now, some 20  years later, he's mostly over it. He's become a famous writer, one known for being reclusive and not talking to the media.

Keri now works for a celebrity magazine, one ran by a total barracuda of an editor. And the trouble starts when that editor finds out that Keri shares a past with Joe. She gives her an ultimatum: get an exclusive interview with him, and she'll get a promotion. Fail to do so, and she's out of a job.

With no other choices, Keri contacts Joe, expecting to be told to go to hell. Instead, Joe offers her a deal. If Keri joins the family in the annual Kowalski two-week camping trip, and participates in all the activities with them, he'll answer one question for every day she stays.

I was ok with the setup of the book, but the execution just got my back up. There were plenty of concrete issues (several of which I'll detail in the next paragraphs), but it was also the general sensibility of the book, the feeling that the author couldn't conceive of someone being happy without a husband or wife and a bunch of kids. There was a very telling line at one point, where Keri thinks of the past 20 years as spent choking down gourmet dinners just out of the microwave, which made me think of this book as the equivalent of that most annoying kind of smug married person who looks at you with pity if you're single.

Joe and Keri's relationship created really confused, even contradictory feelings in me. Unfortunately, most of them were unpleasant feelings. The romance actually had an interesting conflict. The reason why Keri had left Joe back when they were 18 was that she'd seen her mother completely disappear as a person, just become "Keri's mom", her husband's wife, and so on, and she wanted to be Keri Daniels, not just "Joe's girl". That made absolute and complete sense to me, and I wondered how Stacey would reconcile these feelings of Keri's with how Joe needed to be close to his family.

But, unfortunately,  that is not resolved at all. It's all "maybe being Joe's girl wouldn't be too bad", HEA, yay! What? The author completely glosses over the issue, and it annoyed me. But at the same time, I was having very strong, contradictory feelings. Even though, in abstract, I totally supported Keri's determination to not just give up the career she'd put so much work into, in practice, I found her actual career despicable and couldn't respect someone who'd want so badly to do it. Working for one of those scandal-mongering celebrity rags? Really? That was the career she valued so much? It's not much of a career, really, to be working for a trashy tabloid after 20 years.  And she had no compunctions at all about working for a magazine where even she freely admitted the stories were exploitative and written with a scandalous slant? Yeah, I totally judged her on that, and it made me not want to root for her.

It didn't help that Keri didn't feel like a cohesive character. We were being told things about her normal life that just didn't jibe with the character we were seeing on the page. She didn't think at all like a woman who valued her career so much. She was supposed to be this big city sophisticate, but then the whole "my skin regime alone takes 20 minutes every day, and that's even before I start on the hair and clothes" felt completely fake, too. The woman took to the camping like a duck to water, with no difficulty adjusting. She never made sense as a character.

Joe was a bit more coherent. Nice guy, regular guy, loves his family, still carries a torch for his high school girlfriend. Fine. Just... not very interesting, and this is from someone who absolutely loves a good beta hero.

Somethng else I disliked was that I found the sense of humour extremely juvenile. There is a lot of (attempted) humour here, and it just didn't work for me at all. Take the concept of "dirty Scrabble", with extra points for words none of the women can bring themselves to say, tee-hee!. Asinine. What are they, 13? Honestly, I may be a horrible potty-mouth, but there isn't a sexual word in the world I would refuse to say. I can think of a few words I'd feel uncomfortable saying even if not directed at a particular person, but these are basically on the racist, homophobic, generally hateful side, not merely "sexy", so I hardly think that's what Stacey had in mind. The only word they actually mention is "pubic". Seriously? In what fucking world is the word "pubic" dirty?? For fuck's sake!

Ok, I'm ranting and swearing now, so probably time to bring this to a close. Yeah, not a success, this one.

MY GRADE: A D. I was going to go for a C-, because I did kind of zip through the second half, at least, but then I remembered how long it took me to get into it, and how I stopped every 2 or 3 pages to roll my eyes. I really didn't enjoy this.


Liz Mc2 19 November 2012 at 07:05  

I enjoyed this more than you did when I read it, but the one thing that has stuck in my mind about it is that Keri, though she grew up in rural NH, supposedly did not know how to shuck corn. Had she forgotten the whole first 18 years of her life? I didn't find her entirely consistent either.

lakaribane 19 November 2012 at 14:32  

I'm pretty sure I read this and enjoyed it (well, more than you did) but I can't remember much of the heroine. The hero I loved, that is for sure! My problem with the Kowalskis as a whole is, I imagine, what makes them so popular with the US readership: they are so normal to a reality that is not mine.

Take the ATV thing. Completely escapes me. Or rather, repulses me. Between being somewhat of a tree-hugger, I do not understand the appeal of mud and, the biggest hurdle, around here, only the very rich (starting with the Presidential family and their entourage of sycophants) can afford these machines. Seriously, 25,000 US for a Polaris for fun!?!?!? (Incidentally, the hero from the latest Jill Shalvis got into a Polaris in the 1st chapter but his excuse is that he is a professional Search and Rescue guy, a hero, basically so I disregarded my issues)
Ok, went on a tangent. But I do get the juvenile thing. I, too, do not find the word pubic to be particularly shocking. I would say sexual slang is more problematic for me. On an aside, members of my sewing forum, mainly US, have a hard time saying nipple and breast. Je ne comprends vraiment pas!!!

Rosario 19 November 2012 at 18:14  

Liz Mc2: Yes, that was another reason she didn't make sense to me. Surely if Terry knew how to do it, and they'd been joined at the hip as kids, so would Keri?

lakaribane: I think I know what you mean. The whole ATV was very unappealing to me as well. The whole "we're guys, therefore we drive fast and get all hot and bothered about it" felt really alien. Very laddish in a Top Gear kind of way, so not necessarily just American. It's a very old-fashioned type of masculinity, and not one I either recognise or find attractive.

sabrina h,  19 November 2012 at 22:27  

I haven't read this in a while but one scene has always stuck with me. It's the scene where she is at graduation and everyone is telling her how lucky she is that she is joe's girl and he'll take care of her. And I also remembered how angry the whole town was at her for leaving Joe. I remember thinking, its been twenty years, they were in high school. Don't you people ever move on ?! I totally understood why she had to leave, but no one else in the book did.

nath 21 November 2012 at 01:09  

Finally, someone who didn't loooove this book! LOL. Although I did enjoy it more than you did. Your take though is very interesting. At least, you have reasons why you didn't enjoy this book... me, it was more like, meh... Nothing wow about it.

Rosario 22 November 2012 at 07:17  

sabrina h: Yes, that's quite a powerful scene, and if only Stacey had addressed that better, I would have liked this much more. I do agree about feeling that some people here hadn't moved on from high school, even after 20 years. Terry, especially. She really needed to grow up!

Nath: I think I can kind of see why people love it, even though it had the exact opposite effect on me. There was someone who I recently saw posting on twitter that she wished the Kowalskis were her neighbours. Me, I'd run fast in the opposite direction!

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