HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77686-3
Contemporary Romance, 2012 (Reissue)
Like the other books in the Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski family series, Yours to Keep was first published in digital form by Carina Press back in 2010. This one can be read just fine as a stand alone story, although there are ample appearances of characters from previous and future books to compel you to love these people and buy all their books.
I suspect that “Kowalski” is some foreign word for “cliché”, because for the third time in a row, Ms Stacey attempts to dominate the world by miring her stories in overused and very predictable tropes. Yours To Keep is the fake fiancé story. The author knows that her plot is crazy, especially when set in a contemporary setting. The heroine Emma Shaw is told many times by various secondary characters that her plot is crazy. But the author still proceeds with a very predictable and tired tale, so no amount of deliberate displays of self-awareness that improve things much. It’s like seeing an alcoholic crack constant punchlines that she is a crazy and stupid drunk. At the end of the day, she’s still a drunkard, and this book is still a cliché.
Sean Kowalski is the hero of this story. As you can see, the Kowalski patriarch and matriarch had the foresight to realize that female characters have little sequel value, so they exerted some kind of awesome-amazing literary sex-selection mojo so that every kid is a guy. Okay, there is a female somewhere in there – Liz or Betty or something – but she’s like that sole woman in the Parliament: a necessary concession. Everyone knows that she’s just there to look pretty and get shagged by a male who could have passed for a clone of her brothers or male cousins somewhere down the road, probably in that filler book that comes before that OMG AWESOME BOOK FEATURING THE MOST ANGST-RIDDEN TORTURED HERO THAT EVERYONE WHO READ THE LAST 48 BOOKS HAS BEEN CLAMORING FOR.
So, back to Sean. He’s the soldier dude. He had served in Afghanistan, gunning down evil terrorists while backed by the greatest hits of Lee Greenwood, and now he’s back in town. What do you know, he realizes that Emma, his cousin-in-law’s friend, has used his name in her elaborate plan to deceive her grandmother into thinking that Emma has a man in her life. Now that Grandma Cat is coming to visit, she needs Sean to move in with her and pose as her fiancé. What do you know, the deception turns out to be pretty real in the end!
Now, in the 1980s and 1990s, when we all know that homosexuals have yet to come into existence, such a plot may make sense in the la-la universe of romance novels. In this current time and age, however, I can’t help thinking that all of Emma’s problems will be solved if she pretended to be a lesbian or a nun, and if Grandma insists on seeing her and another woman have sex in order to be convinced, she can tell Grandma to look up the sex tape on Xtube. Not to mention, Grandma Cat is probably more interested in voting her fingers off for some white bloke playing a guitar and singing off-key on some TV karaoke contest because he’s so hot and he makes her feel tingly all over. Who has time to check up on what is happening with her granddaughter’s private region? But because Yours to Keep insists on following old and tired romance conventions that even grandmothers today find implausible, I guess I have to play along and pretend to care.
It’s a pity that this story has a bad 1970s sitcom plot, because the characters by themselves deserve a better story. Emma is competent, reasonable, and likable if I strip away the forced contrivances in her personality that are necessary to set the idiot plot in motion. Sean is a bit of a typical hero, nothing remarkable about him considering that I have come across countless guys like him in contemporary romance novels, but he has crazy chemistry with Emma. Their funnier moments have some crackling “Oh, snap!” kind of banter that exhibits just the right kind of good sass. These are fun characters, but they have to go through the same tired song and dance while enabling secondary characters who want to behave like loons for the sake of the plot.
Oh, well. Yours to Keep is a pleasantly fun read, but there is something heartbreaking about having to follow characters who are forced to conform to tired and outdated formulaic norms in order to… I don’t know, sell more books in the most calculated manner possible? Whatever the reason is, it’s enough to make me feel even more cynical than I already am. And that’s actually depressing.