Over the past several years I’ve been slowly but surely making my way through the Kowalski Family books by Shannon Stacey. They cover the romantic lives of the Kowalski cousins in New England and the people in their lives. I started reading these because Ms. Stacey writes the kind of straightforward, serviceable romance novels that let the reader slow down, read about some characters who aren’t too far from yourself and people you know, but just far enough to be fiction, and have a little happily ever after and steamy times as well. Basically, she’s become my new Nora Roberts since Roberts has been slipping of late.
In All He Ever Dreamed Ms. Stacey aims to deliver a contemporary read with average 30-something characters. There’s also the bonus that neither of the leads are physically or mentally abusive and don’t cheat. But, it was just so-so for me. While All He Ever Dreamed was a cute, fun, light read, it was predictable. Ridiculously so. I have great affection for the friends to more storyline, but something didn’t work so much for me here, and that something was the characters’ emotions. When our protagonists get together it as perhaps the most emotion lacking, lifeless encounter I’ve read, possibly ever. It was definitely a disappointment from Ms. Stacey.
Besides the problems with emotion and a lack of steam, the depth–or lack thereof–of both Josh’s and Katie’s characters was frustrating. I wished we could’ve seen more of Josh besides his desire to leave (he got left holding the bag for his siblings in running their family’s lodge), his propensity to mope around, and then continuing to do nothing but thinking of leaving even after he made his initial choice to stay. In retrospect I also wish Katie had done more than sit around and wait for Josh to come back. I’ve read a lot of romances lately with female leads who display much more agency, and that left a bitter taste in my mouth with these two characters. I should have loved them, but they just didn’t DO anything to win my affection in this outing, which is a waste of the buildup in All He Ever Needed and All He Ever Desired.
Which brings me to perhaps my biggest complaint: there was really no story in the A plot. The B plot had a nice arc, but we’ll get there in a minute. The A plot is supposed to be Josh wanting to leave, getting to leave, and returning. Those things happen, but there’s nothing extra to it. Josh is 30, and it’s entirely typical for people in their twenties/early thirties to dream about going to a city, trying on a new career, learning new things, meeting new people, find out what they’re good at etc. In this book, when Josh gets a chance to get away, he does nothing like that. He goes on a six week road trip and wakes up to the reality that he did have what he wanted at home. But, how did he know? And Katie remained the same, which is part of her characterization as steadfast, but with his storyline being so one note, we really needed something more from Katie.
The B plot was better. Focused on Katie’s mom Rosie is the live-in housekeeper at the lodge. In previous books we’ve explored her role as mom to the Kowalski kids, her relationship with her deceased husband, and her coming around to forgive his best friend for actions 20 years ago and build a relationship with him. These characters had growth, development, and used their emotions. If only they were the A plot.