There are a couple of authors I always turn to when I need a good laugh, namely Jennifer Crusie and Shelly Laurenston, and I’ve just added another to the list: Shannon Stacey! I received a copy of her contemporary romance, Yours to Keep, from Carina Press for reviewing, and it was a hoot. Actually, it was becoming detrimental to my husband’s sleep, so I had to hide in another room to finish it so the laughter wouldn’t wake him up. The dog thought I was in some sort of distress and wandered in to see what all the noise was about, which is amusing since we’ve had pizza delivery guys receive less attention from her. I should post a sign for intruders: “Burglars must read funny books while breaking and entering.” As soon as I reassured the pooch and finished the book, I went online and learned that Yours to Keep is the third book in the Kowalski Family series. I can’t wait to go out and buy the first two books in this series, because this book was so much fun.
In Yours to Keep, Emma Shaw finds herself in a bind, because she’s told so many white lies to her grandmother about an imaginary boyfriend, she now has an imaginary fiancé and must produce said fiancé for Grandma’s visit from Florida. To make matters worse, she gave the imaginary boyfriend the name of a real person from her town – Sean Kowalski. That hasn’t been a problem in the past, because Sean’s been in the army fighting in Afghanistan, but Sean’s just returned home to New Hampshire to see his family only days before Grandma’s coming to see Emma. Sean no sooner gets settled in an apartment above his cousin’s bar than Emma knocks on his door and asks him to pose as her fake fiancé. Not surprisingly, he thinks she’s nuts. Fortunately for us, he decides to help her out, since he hasn’t decided what to do with his life now that he’s out of the army. Working part-time for Emma’s landscaping company will give him some time to ease back into civilian life.
There are so many things to like about this novel! The relationships between the protagonists and the secondary characters really sold me on it, especially the interaction between the guys. Sean’s cousin Kevin starts the book with, “Still as ugly as ever, I see,” when Sean comes into his bar. The dialogue between the male characters just rings true, not to mention that it’s hilarious how they rib each other. At one point Sean begs Emma not to mention a certain phrase concerning his (ahem) privates, because he knows the guys will never, ever let him live that one down. Sean’s family enters whole-heartedly into the charade, even going so far as to bribe the kids to play along, which creates too many awkward situations for Emma’s peace of mind but lots of fun for us readers!
I also really love the way Sean and Emma’s relationship develops during the month-long visit. I’ve always preferred romances where the couple comes to care for each other over time, rather than falling in lust at first sight. These two begin as complete strangers, but Emma’s determined to make the charade work. She’s a compulsive organizer and presents him with a spiral-bound notebook chock-full of important information he needs to know about her. Sean thinks he can wing it – what type of man actually reads directions? - but soon realizes his error when he’s forced to eat broccoli at dinner with Emma’s Grandma. He’d forgotten to tell Emma that he detests broccoli and has to find a way to choke it down. His solution is to leave her post-it notes with comments on the bathroom mirror. His comments are pretty darn funny but also really sweet, and we fall a little bit in love with him just as Emma does. And the sexual tension between the two heats up so quickly that Sean’s male relatives start a betting pool to see how long they can go before having sex, since the two are trying to convince Grandma they’ve been living together for a year and a half.
Emma’s relationship with her Grandmother, Cat, is also touching. Cat and her husband raised Emma when her parents died in a car accident when she was a baby. Now that Emma’s grandfather has passed away, Cat has moved to Florida to be close to friends, a move Emma encouraged because of how much more active Cat has become. I find the little white lies that Emma’s been feeding Cat to be completely convincing. Cat is worried about Emma living alone in a big house, and Emma’s “having a boyfriend” around to help has reassured her that Emma’s okay on her own. Emma realizes that Cat is happy in Florida and doesn’t want her to give up her life with her friends just so Emma won’t be alone. I did find the fake engagement part to be a stretch, because surely Emma had to realize that once she told Cat she was engaged Cat would want to meet him, but I can see how the little lies just kept building until the situation took on a life of its own.
The only complaint I have about the book is that Emma is completely stressed out nearly the entire novel. She’s worried about Cat learning the truth and frets about wanting to buy the house from her. Several times she starts compulsively cleaning, at one point going so far as to push the fridge out from the wall and clean the coils. Who does that?!?! It was definitely a sign of how much Sean had come to care for her when he catches her vacuuming the fridge coils and convinces her to go to lunch with him instead. Between her anxiety about the charade and the sexual tension she and Sean give off, she’s a bundle of nerves most of the book. However, I think this just made the ending all the more effective, as it was a release of tension for the reader as well.
This was a fun contemporary romance, and I was sad it ended so quickly. I’m definitely looking forward to catching up on the other Kowalski males and how they fell for their wives in books 1 and 2. I highly recommend this book - just make sure you don’t read it while drinking any sort of beverage, as it’s sure to cause problems!