Review: All He Ever Needed by Shannon Stacey

Format read: eARC from NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, Mass Market Paperback
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Series: Kowalski Family #4
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Carina Press
Purchasing Info:Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Born to Roam

Mitch Kowalski lives out of a suitcase—and he likes it that way. Traveling for work has the added bonus of scaring off women who would otherwise try to tie him down. But when he’s called home to help with running the family lodge, he’s intrigued by the new girl in town and her insistence that she doesn’t need a man—for anything. If there’s one thing Mitch can’t resist, it’s a challenge, especially a beautiful one.

Looking for Home

After a nomadic childhood, Paige Sullivan is finally putting down roots. Determined to stand on her own two feet, she lives by the motto men are a luxury, not a necessity. But when Mr. Tall, Dark and Hot pulls up a stool in her diner and offers her six weeks of naughty fun with a built-in expiration date, she’s tempted to indulge.

Mitch won’t stay put for a woman, and Paige won’t chase after a man—they’re the perfect match for a no-strings fling. Until they realize the amazing sex has become anything but casual…

If you like contemporary romance and you haven’t met Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family series, what are you waiting for? The Kowalski family are just plain fun. You’ll either want to be adopted by them, or marry one of them, after reading Exclusively Yours, the first book in the series.  (I wasn’t all that fond of book number two, Undeniably Yours, but I loved Yours to Keep, book three)

Ms. Stacey really needs to do a family tree of the Kowalskis, just so we can keep everyone straight. Sean, the hero of Yours to Keep, is the brother of Mitch, the “He” in the title of All He Ever Needed. Joe and Kevin, the heroes of the first two books, are their cousins. It’s all one big mostly happy family.

In All He Ever Needed, Ms. Stacey tells the kind of story she does best, a contemporary romance about two adults who have loved and lost and need to find their way through a little bit of pain to a place where they can find their happily ever after in a small town that’s willing to become their home.

In this case, it’s Mitch Kowalski, home to take care of his brother Josh and help fix up the family B&B in Whitford, Maine. A town where everyone remembers every girl Mitch ever kissed (or more) and every prank he ever pulled. Mitch owns his own company now but no one in Whitford ever seems to remember that. He’s back until they get the family’s Northern Star Lodge and Josh back on their respective feet.

Paige Sullivan owns the Trailside Diner. Her car broke down in Whitford, and she just stayed. She’s finally found a place where she belongs, just for herself. Owning the diner has made her put down roots, and she believes it’s kept her from becoming the kind of woman her mother is, chasing one man after another, suppressing her own personality to fit whoever she thinks she loves.

Mitch figures that while he’s in town he’ll have a fling with someone, on his usual terms, no strings, no ties, no tears when he leaves.

Paige doesn’t date. Not anyone. Not in the entire two years she’s been in Whitford.

Mitch tempts her off the wagon. After all, they both know the rules. Until they both break them.

Escape Rating A:  If you love small-town romances, or even think you might, get Shannon Stacey. If you liked any of the first series, you’ll love this one. Whitford is a terrific place, and she’s started a whole bunch of interesting stories that I can’t wait to find out how they resolve. But this one, this one was just so good. Paige has made a good life for herself, and you can see how she wants to make it work. Mitch has been running so fast, he doesn’t know what he really wants. Their chemistry absolutely sizzles and steams, but they take it slow, and for good reasons. Everyone knows the name of every girl Mitch ever slept with in town, and they’re all still smiling. Readers will be smiling at the end of the book, too.

I want to find out how the other stories in town turn out. All He Ever Desired and All He Ever Dreamed are coming out in October and November so I thankfully won’t have long to wait.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s On My (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand? 9-9-12

In theory, it’s Fall. I say theory, because in Atlanta, it’s still way up into the 80s. On that chilly other hand, my friends in Alaska tell me that the first overnight frosts of the season have been reported, right on time.

Loved the summers, hated the winters. Atlanta and Florida are the other way around. Clearly I need to find a happy medium.

Speaking of happy mediums, let’s recap last week’s reviews:

A- Review: Garment of Shadows (Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes #12) by Laurie R. King
A- Review: Wicked As They Come (Blud #1) by Delilah S. Dawson
B+ Review: Senator, Mine (All Mine #1) by Kerry Adrienne
B- Review: Druid, Mine (All Mine #2) by Kerry Adrienne
B Review: Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay
C+ Review: Blind Traveler Down a Dark River by Robert P. Bennett

But that was last week and this is, well, this week. The Labor Day holiday is over. No more long weekends until Thanksgiving, at least for those of us in the States.

But there’s still a lot to look forward to. So many books, so little time. Isn’t that on a t-shirt somewhere?

After Monday’s Ebook Review Central (this week the feature is Dreamspinner’s July titles) I have a couple of tours on tap.

Wednesday’s guest will be Lia Davis, because she’s on tour to promote her latest book, Ravished Before Sunrise. I will confess that the 1Night Stand series is kind of a secret vice, (not so secret now) so it’s great whenever one of their authors does a tour. They’re always fun reads, and Ravished Before Sunrise was no exception.

Thursday is a real treat. I love science fiction romance, and Heather Long has written a fantastic start to a new science fiction romance series. Yesterday’s Heroes mixes science fiction with superheroes and even time-travel for something really, really cool. So I’m very excited that she’s my guest for an interview and I had a chance to review Yesterday’s Heroes. I hope this first book in her Boomers series is the start of something big.

And looking ahead to next week, I’ll have one of the most interesting combinations I’ve seen in a while. Vampires and cowboys. Together. Specifically, Blood and Whiskey by Clark Hays and Kathleen McFall, the second book in their Cowboy and Vampire series. Clark and Kathleen are on tour, and they answered a bunch of my interview questions. I’ve got both books to look forward to for next week.

But first, this week, Shannon Stacey’s All He Ever Needed. Yes, that’s right. The fourth book in her Kowalski Family series is out on Monday and I’ve got a review copy (I have to review it for Library Journal). Expect a review on Reading Reality on Tuesday!

What are you up to this week? How’s your fall shaping up?


Ebook Review Central, Carina Press, June 2012

Before I get into this month’s features, let’s talk about the 2012 RITA Awards. I swear it’s on topic.

The 2012 RITA Award Winner for Contemporary Single Title Romance, announced July 28, 2012 by the Romance Writers of America, was Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe, published by Carina Press in August 2011. Congratulation to Fiona Lowe, to her editor Charlotte Herscher and to her publisher Carina Press.

An ebook-only title won. The other nominated books, worthy contenders all, were traditionally published print books. I can only say, “Wow” or maybe shout, “WOW!”

But this is the Ebook Review Central issue for Carina Press’ June 2012 titles. Not that basking in the glory of that RITA win isn’t terrific. So, let’s fast forward to June and take a look at the newer titles. Maybe there’s a RITA winner in there, too.

The big winner, and the number one featured title, is Shannon Stacey’s Slow Summer Kisses. Even though this title isn’t in her Kowalski series (more Kowalskis starting in September!) that didn’t seem to matter to her fans. This novella, available separately and as part of the Carina Press Editors Choice Volume 1, contains all the hallmarks of a signature Stacey contemporary romance. Anna Frazier and Cameron Mayfield have been involved with each other before, and they have a second chance, not just at love, but also a do-over at life. The question is whether or not they’ll take it. If you like contemporary romance at all, give Shannon Stacey a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Book number two this week is The Ravenous Dead by Natasha Hoar. There are two things to understand about this book. It is straight-up urban fantasy, and not paranormal romance. Carina Press does branch out into genres other than romance, and The Ravenous Dead, and its predecessor in The Lost Ones series, The Stubborn Dead, reflect that branching. Speaking of the series, read the first book first; backstory for this tale of the Order of Rescue Mediums is required. And it was excellent in its own right. Rachel Miller, the main character and member of that Order of Rescue Mediums, doesn’t just see dead people, she gets the stubborn ones to ease on down the road to wherever it is they go next. The ones that really, really don’t want to go can get pretty nasty. Like trying-to-consume-the-medium nasty. Very dark magic requires very big rescue. Sounds like fun.

Coming in third this week, and appropriately so, is His Heart’s Obsession by Alex Beecroft. Third is ironically appropriate for this title because the story itself is about a love triangle. Three for three. What’s different about this particular triangle is that it takes place during the Age of Sail, the late 1700s, and that all three sides to this triangle are men serving in the British Royal Navy. Two Lieutenants, one Captain. Both of the junior officers are gay in an era when being found out would get them, not just cashiered out of the service they love, but killed in disgrace. The Captain is straight, and has no idea that one of his Lieutenants harbors an unrequited and totally unfulfillable passion for him. And the other LT? He’s in love with his fellow junior officer, a man who thinks he’s a privileged ass. A lot happens in this novella to turn this situation around to the real possibilities. Beecroft is know for his historical accuracy in addition to his ability to tug heartstrings and craft believable characters.

Any month where Shannon Stacey has a book, it’s really easy to figure out which title is number one. Which means that September, October and November probably already have  one slot taken, since that’s when the three new Kowalski books are coming out. I’m really looking forward to them!

Picking numbers two and three is often a horse-race. There are always a few books with close numbers of reviews and ratings. Take a look at the list and see if you can spot the runner-up. Leave your guesses in the comments, just for fun.

That’s this week’s feature. Congratulations again to Fiona Lowe and Carina Press on the RITA win!

Be sure to come back next week for Dreamspinner Press’ June 2012 titles. It will be a big list!

Holiday Kisses

Holiday Kissses from Carina Press is another book in their terrific Christmas anthologies. I say terrific because the formula they use is terrific. They publish the four stories together under one theme, and people have the choice to purchase all four together, or, they’re available separately. This is a terrific solution to the “your mileage may vary” problem usually found in anthologies.

There’s the obvious theme in this collection. Okay, there are two obvious themes. It’s a romance anthology. And it’s a collection of romances centered around the Christmas holidays. But I noticed that all the stories had the additional theme of second chances. In every story, either one of the couple is getting a second chance at life or love, or they are taking a second chance on their relationship. Or in one case, it may be a fifth, sixth or tenth chance. You’ll see.

This Time Next Year by Alison Kent is the story of a woman with a plan for her life, and a man who has given up on all of his. Brenna Keating plans to follow in her family’s footsteps. After one last Christmas with her grandmother in the North Carolina mountains, she’s off to take her nursing skills to far-flung outposts, just as her grandmother did and just as her parents currently are. Instead, a blizzard wrecks her car, and she is snowbound for three days with Dillon Craig, an ex-Army doctor with PTSD who has practically become a hermit. Sharing the cabin forces Dillon to confront his self-imposed distance from the world, and his familiarity with Brenda from his conversations with her grandmother help him begin to break down the walls he has built between himself and others. The sexual chemistry between them is impossible to ignore, being as they are snowbound in a small cabin. But when the roads are clear, has Brenda build enough of a bridge for Dillon to take a second chance at living a full and real life?
Escape Rating A: There was a lot packed into this story. All the characters are multi-layered, including Brenda’s grandmother. Brenda’s family history and her need to establish herself also play a big part in this surprisingly meaty tale.

Jaci Burton’s A Rare Gift is about a crazy idea that works. Calliope Andrews needs to build an addition onto her day care center. Of course, she wants to hire the best construction firm in town for the job. There’s this one problem. The man who owns that firm is her ex-brother-in-law, Wyatt Kent. Not only was his divorce from her sister really nasty, but Calliope has had a crush on Wyatt since the first time he walked into her parents’ house. But Calliope’s not sixteen anymore, and she wants Wyatt for herself this time. All she has to do is get him to see that she’s the right sister for him. And figure out a way to deal with family reunions with his hopefully once and future in-laws.
Escape Rating B+: This was just a fun story. Going after your ex-brother-in-law is a little odd, but it works. Calliope’s maneuvering so that everyone gets closure and can move past the very icky past was a tad manipulative, but necessary in context. This one is just good fun.

It’s Not Christmas Without You by HelenKay Dimon is about a young couple with very different dreams. Carrie Anders and Austin Thomas have gotten together and broken up over and over (and over) again. But this time Carrie thinks it’s for good. She took a job at a big museum in Washington, D.C. because that’s her dream. And Austin, well, he just never really listened when she talked about her dreams. He’s always been sure that her dreams of arranging major museum exhibitions are something she’ll outgrow. Where his dream of working at, and eventually taking over his family tree farm are what’s really important. And Austin is certain they are meant to be together. So he rents the corner lot next to her apartment building in DC to sell Christmas Trees and brings a little bit of their West Virginia country to DC to convince her that she’s meant to come home with him. But it takes a major event at her museum, one that she arranged, for him to finally start to listen.
Escape Rating C: This was the weakest story in the collection.  Austin was too smug for too long for any woman with a spine, which Carrie has, to have forgiven him that easily. It just doesn’t quite work.

Mistletoe and Margaritas by Shannon Stacey is a terrific “friends into lovers” story that happens to take place at Christmas. Claire Rutledge has been a widow for two years. She’s held her life together with the help of her best friend, Justin McCormick. What Claire doesn’t know is that Justin has loved her since the very first moment he saw her, but his best friend Brendan got there first, and married her. But for the last few months, Claire’s been having some “extra-friendly” thoughts about Justin, not knowing that Justin would be more than eager to reciprocate. Until, after a holiday party where they both have just enough margaritas to let their drinks do the talking, they cross the boundary from friends to lovers, at least for one night. The question is, can they be be both? And can they build something new and wonderful without Brendan’s ghost getting in the way?
Escape Rating B+:  Anyone who enjoys a good “friends into lovers” story will love this one.

I love this formula of Carina’s, I hope they do this again next Christmas.

Reviewer’s note. A much shorter version of this review was posted on Library Journal’s Xpress Reviews on December 16, 2011.

Yours to Keep

I originally reviewed Shannon Stacey’s Yours to Keep for Library Journal. Although an edited version of the review appeared in LJ’s Xpress Reviews, I also wanted to include my original review here, since it prompted me to read the first two books in Shannon Stacey’s series, and I’m grateful that it did.

Sean Kowalski served in the Army for 12 years. His current plans include moving into the apartment over his cousin’s bar and getting carpentry jobs while he figures out his future.  Emma Shaw plans to build up her landscaping business and buy the big house she grew up in from her grandmother. But to make her plan work, Emma has to convince her grandmother that she’s happy and isn’t living alone, so Emma has been pretending that she has a fiancé who has moved in with her. Since Sean’s cousin Lisa is a good friend of hers, Emma pretends Sean is her fiancé. Emma’s plan works just fine until Sean comes home from the Army, and her grandmother decides to come up from Florida for a month long visit.
Sean thinks Emma is crazy, but also hot. And since he doesn’t have anything better to do, he agrees to move in and be her fake fiancé for a month. But Emma’s grandmother knows they’re faking from the first second, but hopes it might become real if she plays along. Sean and Emma start out by pretending to be a couple, and end up by deceiving themselves that they’re not.

Verdict Third in the Kowalski Family series (Exclusively Yours, Undeniably Yours)  this story starts with one of the ultimate “meet cute” scenarios. The hero is already the fiancé, he’s just uninformed!  The characters are appealing, including all of the members of Sean’s extended family, who can’t resist teasing him about the situation he’s gotten himself into. There’s also a secondary storyline, that includes Emma’s grandmother doing a “walk of shame” and Sean and Emma’s reactions to it that is priceless. This is a fun, sexy story for an afternoon’s reading pleasure.


Undeniably Yours

Shannon Stacey’s Undeniably Yours is the second book in her series about the Kowalski Family. The first book was his big brother Joe’s story, the second book is Kevin’s story.

Kevin Kowalski used to be a cop in Boston. Now he owns a bar in Concord, NH. Owning a bar means that all the bar bunnies hit on him pretty regularly. Owning a bar in New England also means that Kevin scores when the New England Patriots win. But two years after his divorce, the whole bar bunny thing has gotten pretty stale. Kevin is starting to want a real family, just like the one he grew up in.

So instead of the bimbo trying to get his attention, one night Kevin is keeping both eyes on a brunette fending off her date, who just won’t take “no” for an answer. Not just because the woman was more than pretty, but because the guy she was with had slid down the scale from merely obnoxious to drunken scumbag very, very fast. As the owner of the bar, Kevin was legally obligated to cut the man off. That’s when things turned ugly. And, he found out  he was wrong: the scumbag wasn’t the brunette’s date, he was her boss. Ex-boss, since said scumbag fired the pretty brunette as he was being hauled out of the bar for resisting arrest. He turned out to be a seriously drunken, as well as totally stupid, scumbag.

Getting a lady fired is not a great way to introduce yourself. Having the subsequent conversation interrupted by one of the bar bunnies is even worse. Just as Kevin thought he might at least find out more than that the mystery woman’s first name was Beth, she disappeared on him. He was only polite to the bleached blonde bimbo because it was good for business. He was interested in Beth, and she was gone.

A couple of days later, Kevin was sweating in his tux, posing for the “best man” photos at his brother Joe’s wedding (Exclusively Yours) when he spotted Beth tending bar for the wedding. Kevin thought he’d been handed a second chance to make a first impression. In less than 24 hours, he blew that one, too. But fate, a one-night stand, and a defective condom gave him nine more months of chances. Kevin Kowalski needed them all.

I found this story frustrating to read. I read the last book (Yours to Keep) first, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Not just the primary story, but the secondary characters also had an interesting romance, and the family was interesting, and funny. I wanted to see where the relationships started. Being kind of a completist, I got the first two books.  Exclusively Yours was great. The idea of the second chance at love was well done, and again, both for the primary and the secondary story. In Exclusively, I understood why their relationship didn’t work when they were teens, and why they could make it work this time. I thought the author did a good job of showing that they didn’t pick up where they left off–they picked up where they were now.

But Undeniably Yours, I did not get the female character’s reasons for any of what she did. She packed up and moved every six months to a year, holding down mostly low-end jobs and living in literally stinky apartments because she felt smothered by her parents, who lived in Florida. She wouldn’t let anyone help her with anything because they might take over her life. What happened to her to cause this? I didn’t get her. I couldn’t understand why she kept pushing Kevin away, but she wouldn’t let him go, either. Nor did her epiphany at the end seem to come from real growth, it was too fast, or her emotions weren’t explored enough.

This story would have worked better for me if the secondary characters had been primary. Trust-fund heiress runs away from smoking-hot business tycoon at the altar when she is literally halfway down the aisle. He finds her hostessing at a sports bar five years later and sweeps her off her feet, without making her change who she really is. Paulie and Sam were fantastic. Kevin was terrific. Beth, not so much.

Exclusively Yours

Sometimes we all want a “do over”. In Exclusively Yours, by Shannon Stacey, Keri Daniels and Joe Kowalski get one.

I kept hearing John Mellencamp’s song Jack & Diane while I read this book. It fits. Joe Kowalski and Keri Daniels were high school sweethearts almost 20 years ago. But that was then, and this is now. Now, Joe is a best-selling horror writer. Think Stephen King, but younger, handsomer, and even more mysterious about his personal life. Keri Daniels is a journalist for a weekly celebrity magazine. Her editor is obsessed with Joe’s elusiveness, but then she discovers that Joe and Keri were once an item in their small, New Hampshire town, way back when.

Now, Keri has one and only one assignment–bring back an exclusive interview with Joe Kowalski, or don’t even bother to come back and clean out her desk.

Keri knows where to find Joe. She’s always known. Her family still lives in that same small town, and so does his. She’s been back. She’s just never tried to find him. She knows she broke his heart when she left to go to college. And she never got over him, either. But Joe’s dreams were all about staying near his family, writing his books, and hitting the big time by sticking to his roots. Keri’s dreams were about stretching her wings, seeing the big city lights, and finding out who she was away from small-town limits. She left…and almost never looked back. But she never found anyone else either. And neither did he.

When Joe agreed to meet with her, each hoped that the sparks were dead. Or that time had treated the other badly. But no on both counts. They sparked each other just as much as they ever had, and the years had been kind. And Keri was honest about what she wanted. She needed the interview, or she’d lose her job. She didn’t play games or pretend. And Joe wanted to keep fanning that spark, to see if he could rekindle that flame they once had.

So he did something either really dumb, or really smart. He “blackmailed” Keri into coming along on the Kowalski extended family 14-day camping vacation with his parents, siblings, in-laws, nephews, niece, animals and ATVs. But no cell phone, no computer and no electronics of any kind. And if she participated in every activity, she could ask one question per day, which he agreed to answer.

As each day goes by, Joe and Keri discover, not just what they had, but what they could have now. Nostalgia is not enough, there is a lot of hurt that has to be healed first. And not just theirs. Keri’s leaving damaged Joe, and his pain hurt everyone he loved. They weren’t ready when they were 18. But it’s just possible that they are ready now.

Escape Rating B+: Exclusively Yours was one of those books that I just plain liked. A lot. I enjoyed the romance, I liked the people, and I had a good time with the characters. I read this because I had previously reviewed the third book in the Kowalski family series (Yours to Keep), and enjoyed it a lot. I decided I wanted to see where everything started and I am very glad I did.