The premise may stretch the imagination, but the conflicts and emotions in this book felt so real they made my heart ache.
When Keri Daniels’s boss finds out that Keri had been childhood sweethearts with ‘the most reclusive bestselling author since J. D. Salinger’, she’s given an ultimatum: dish the dirt or get the sack. Keri hasn’t seen Joe Kowalski in eighteen years, ever since she left him to pursue a career in the big city. So when he agrees to an interview if she goes camping with him and his family, she figures she can endure it to guarantee her promotion.
Joe was devastated when Keri left, and his heartbreak led to some serious alcohol abuse. But he feels some old sparks and thinks Keri might be open to one last fling. His twin sister, Terry, doesn’t think it’s a good idea and is determined to make Keri pay for what she did to his brother … and for some other grudges Terry has carried over from high school.
Exclusively Yours starts off with a very category romance feel, with Keri being coerced by both her boss and Joe into stepping outside her comfort zone and into a situation where she and Joe are forced to be in close proximity. But Stacey develops the story into a well crafted exploration of the issues that turn love into something unbearable and what it takes to repair broken relationships.
Romance before marriage and afterwards
The story includes two romantic subplots: Joe’s brother Mike and his wife Lisa are at odds over whether or not to have another child; and Terry is suffering the devastation of her husband of thirteen years walking out on her. Stacey manages to flesh out these secondary relationships so that readers are equally invested in their outcome.
In part, this is because there’s actually very little conflict between Keri and Joe. What conflict there is is mostly superficial, except for the dilemma of whether or not either one is willing to give up family or career to be with the other. The resolution is fairly easy to spot; it’s to Stacey’s credit that it’s also not difficult to understand why the characters take so long to get there.
There’s a lot of drama in this story, interspersed with some very witty dialogue that’s just fun, fun, fun to read. For example, when Joe sends Keri a list of things to bring and not to bring to the trip:
BRING: …one flannel shirt (mandatory); pajamas (optional); underwear (also optional); bathing suit (preferably skimpy)…
DO NOT BRING: cell phone; Blackberry; laptop; camera, either still or video; alarm clock; voice recorder; any other kind of electronic anything.
She had no clue what it meant, other than Joe wanting her half-naked and unable to text for help.
The older heroine
Keri and Joe are also a little older than your typical romance couple, and their discussion about having children reflects their awareness that it’s probably too late for them. The sex scenes incorporate their insecurities about being older without wallowing in them:
‘You nervous?’ he asked…
‘Of course not. As far as this goes, we’ve been there, done that.’
‘Yeah, well…my dick’s two decades older than it was the last time we been here, done that.’
‘So are my breasts.’
He grinned as he sank onto the bed next to her. ‘Good. We can be old and decrepit together.’
‘Hey! I didn’t say anything about decrepit.’ And judging by the strain on his boxer briefs, no decrepitude lurked there, either.
That said, I didn’t realise until this scene that they were almost forty. Keri and Joe are a fairly accessible couple even for readers who prefer their couples at childbearing age.
Kids, siblings and manly pursuits
There are a lot of kids in this story. A lot. They’re mostly boys and very rambunctious. Joe has two brothers and they go off and do manly things away from the women. This could have been a recipe for disaster, but Stacey manages to find the right balance for her characters. There’s one particularly powerful scene in which Mike’s eldest son witnesses the climax of Mike and Lisa’s conflict:
…everybody froze when Mike made a frustrated growling sound and plowed his fist into the side of his camper. Joey was on his feet in an instant, freeze pop dropped in the dirt as he stepped in front of Lisa.
Joe watched the boy—so tall, skinny and scared shitless—facing off against his dad, and felt an odd tightening in his chest…But his oldest nephew had just taken a giant irreversible step toward the man he’d become, and it was an awesome and yet incredibly sad moment to watch.
The what is like WTF?
The biggest fault I can find in this book is the use of some god-awful similes. Some of them just don’t make any sense. For example, Joe thinks about Keri and babies and being alone with her in a cabin and ‘the thought poked at his subconscious like a tongue at a sore tooth.’ Later, Joe checks out Keri in her sarong and thinks: ‘The knot of fabric holding it on accentuated the swinging of her hips, like a pocketwatch that sucked him in and stole his free will.’
Finally, I don’t know what to make of the fact that this is the second keeper I’ve read this year where the hero and heroine both have a career in writing. This is one of my biggest pet peeves, so I’m either mellowing or—and this is my preferred theory—these books have been written exceptionally well.
Yay or nay?
This is a must-read for readers who love contemporary romances with drama, humour and believable characters. The premise may stretch the imagination, but the conflicts and emotions in this book felt so real they made my heart ache.
Where you can buy this book
This book is available only in digital format.
AUSTRALIA: Borders | Fishpond | Click here for more bookshops
WORLDWIDE: All Romance | Book Depository | Books On Board | Carina Press (publisher) | Diesel | eBooks.com | Kindle UK | Kindle US | Or check your local library