May 2013, Contemporary Romance (Maine)
HQN, $7.99, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373777582 Part of a series
Iíve heard some good things about Shannon Stacey, which makes me think that perhaps All He Ever Dreamed was not the best book to start with. While I enjoyed some of the dialog and interactions of the characters, I often found their behavior illogical - which is, admittedly, a hot button for me.
Josh Kowalski has been running his familyís Northern Star snowmobile lodge in Maine since his adulthood. As the youngest of seven children, he shouldered the work of running the property when his father passed away. Now thirty, he (and his siblings) realize that he wants something more.
His desires are somewhat in conflict with those of our heroine, Katie Davis. Katie is his best buddy who runs the local barbershop. Katieís mom Rosie is the housekeeper for the Northern Star. Though Katie has been in love with Josh forever, he basically has never noticed that she is very attractive. When Rosie gets pneumonia and needs to take it easy - right before the Christmas holidays, no less - Katie moves into the lodge to help out. Josh sees her in her cute boxer-style jammies and suddenly starts thinking of his friend in a whole new light. A sexy black dress on Christmas Eve seals the deal; though they arenít ready to make things official, they start sleeping together.
Itís a little awkward at first. They are friends with benefits, sneaking around to get naked even though Rosie is not only well aware that they are sleeping together, but actively encouraging it. In their small, gossipy Maine town, they hesitate to even call themselves boyfriend and girlfriend, even though the sex is awesome.
They continue their relationship after Rosieís health improves and Katie moves back to her apartment above the barber shop. But tensions inevitably surface. Josh still wants to leave, and Katie canít - or wonít - leave. There are a couple of different offers that come up to either buy the lodge or run it. Josh needs to come to terms with what he wants out of life, and whether he can have a life that includes Katie.
First the good stuff: I liked the interaction between the Kowalski siblings. They talk like they are related, and are at times candid, affectionate, and even a little ribald. If thereís a reason to read this book, they are it. Indeed, if youíve read the earlier books in the series and enjoyed those, that may be reason enough. I also liked most of the love scenes, and the sexual tension between Josh and Katie, which feels modern.
Where this book failed me was in the logic. Right off the bat I couldnít see why Josh had never noticed Katie. Itís a small town and his best friend is beautiful. Heís thirty and he never managed to register this? And heís male, and has a pulse and everything? Really?
I also felt that Joshís ambitions were seriously underdeveloped. He wants to leave Maine, but what does he want to do, exactly? At first I thought this might have been explained in an earlier book, where he perhaps went to college and studied art or astrophysics, or, well, anything. But his dream to leave was curiously lacking in specifics. He seemed to have given no thought at all to an alternative profession or even a location. When Katie asks him what he wants to do, his only quantifiable ďdreamĒ is to have a steak in Kansas City. Hereís an idea: Why not have one of his brothers watch the lodge for a weekend so he can take a little trip? Problem solved!
Now on some levels I could understand wanting to leave - because this town is actually pretty boring. Their activities - watching football, girlsí movie night, the inevitable meals at the town diner (owned by a heroine of a previous book, natch) - were not anything to write home about. Indeed, Iíd want to leave too. But I would make plans about how to do it and where Iíd go afterward. Especially if I was thirty already and had been basically spinning my wheels for the last decade.
In the end, All He Ever Dreamed just didnít make sense to me. Though Katie and Josh were nice enough people, I just didnít find them - or their small town world - believable. If youíve enjoyed the other Kowalski books, you like their romance better than I did. If, like me, youíve not read the other books then I definitely wouldnít start here.
-- Blythe Barnhill
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