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Shannon Stacey – All He Ever Dreamed

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Meet the last male Kowalski.

Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
Pages: 180
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-14268-9462-6
First Published: 21st January 2013
Date Reviewed: 25th January 2013
Rating: 3.5/5

Josh Kowalski is fed up of running his family’s guest house, feeling that life is passing him by whilst his siblings are free to do whatever they want. There are plans to put the house on the market but before that can happen the housekeeper has a relapse and her pneumonia returns. Her daughter Katie, Josh’s long-time best friend, moves in to help out. Katie has been in love with Josh for as long as she can remember, and knows Josh sees her only as a friend. But will living together change that, and what happens if Josh’s wanderlust never goes away?

All He Ever Dreamed is the sixth book in Stacey’s Kowalski series, and the third to focus on the families who live in Maine. Like the rest of the books there is a strong element of familial bonds however in this case much of it comes not from the Kowalskis themselves but rather from Katie’s mother, Rose, who is almost part of the family herself. This does mean, therefore, that the usual family element is somewhat lacking – it’s a case of being a fine story in a fine context if viewed by itself, but if viewed as part of a series it inevitably pales in comparison to, say, Yours To Keep, which featured the New Hampshire branch of the Kowalskis and included all the children. Stacey does make up for this somewhat by populating Josh and Katie’s story with friends, however because they are secondary characters they are not as developed and it may be difficult for the reader to bond with them.

The relationship between Josh and Katie is strong enough, even if it does match Sean and Emma’s to an extent (both books include cohabitation – the first for pretence, this one for the upkeep of a lodge). Stacey has done a good job creating characters who are a good fit, as well as making Katie an extended family member. It does seem odd, at times, that Rose and Katie are so integrated, because the New Hampshire stories are so confined to blood ties, but it’s not completely out of place; it allows Josh to have his own romance without the difficulty of having to change the entire atmosphere of these books by making him go on a journey to look for a girlfriend. At the same time, however, the convenience of it all does make it obvious that this will be the last Kowalski book unless Stacey bucks the trend and writes books about the sisters in the family.

The story may be predictable, and that predictability quite acceptable given that a big part of the success of these books lies in the reader being able to settle down with something they know well, but the story does seem too easy. Josh’s wanderlust is confined to a short space of time and he doesn’t go particularly far; in the end you can’t help but feel it was just a waste of time – indeed he went on about leaving so much that the short time he’s away seems a bit of a joke. Of course it allows for him to be with Katie, which is what the book is all about, but “easy” is the word. His mental conflict, what was supposed to be so important and the catalyst in his development as a person is relegated to a short trip and constant contact phone calls with his family. From the moment they get together, Katie rightfully worries that if Josh stays he will later blame her for making him feel pressured, but in the end Josh doesn’t really have a choice of where to be, even if he says he does. Unfortunately the author can tell you anything, and the character can tell you anything, but in reality Josh would not be completely happy with the choice he makes.

The chemistry between Josh and Katie is good. Perhaps because Stacey spends an ample amount of time documenting their history as friends and the lead up to their relationship – as well as the issues that arise from wanting to keep the friendship – the characters feel all the more right for each other and there is no need for over the top demonstrations of feelings. Stacey sets the background so well that she is able to write the story as though you’ve been reading about the characters for years – romance and dating is unnecessary, for example – and whilst this might make the narrative less exciting it can’t be said that it doesn’t work and doesn’t portray reality1. The reader may also find some interest in the age difference – Katie is three years older than Josh.

Rose, like Kat in Yours To Keep (more similarities arise the more you think about it) has her own romantic storyline to keep her busy. It works better than Kat’s did (even if Kat’s wasn’t bad, per se) though it does pull the focus away from the main couple and, due to Stacey’s way of writing it does have an element of “so what” – in other words Stacey doesn’t give you enough reason to care. However it’s not a negative point because of the emphasis placed on Rose’s role at the lodge and in Josh’s life.

Yet for all the convenience and “lack of Kowalski” in Josh and Katie’s story, the book is a success. It is indeed due to the fact that it is one of a series that this book feels unsuccessful – when viewed as an individual “product” it is as strong as the next strongest novel. Josh’s monotonous life may seem boring but how many people get to be constantly on the move? As such, his life is a reflection of millions of others. If the other Kowalski men are fantasies, then Josh is perhaps the real guy next door, the man who would truly exist in reality. In fact it is the very times he mirrors other romantic heroes successfully that, due to his character, actually seem unrealistic, for example his sudden noticing of Katie being a woman when surely there was ample opportunity prior to their cohabitation. Indeed it could be said that it is the melding of the “traditional” Kowalski alpha male with this realistic unsettled-being-settled man that is the cause for a lot of the book’s issues. A very interesting point to consider.

All He Ever Dreamed may not be the best book in the series, but it is far from a bad book. Timings may be out but the relationship is as strong as any and the difference in story allows Stacey to explore new lives within the same context. And whilst it may be obvious that this may be the last book, it can’t be said that this show of winding down isn’t appropriate.

You’ve read about every other son and his amazing life; now read about what happens to the one who holds the fort to allow it all to happen.

1 Primary source for this statement: my own relationship which was the same best-friends-to-lovers-and-everyone-knew-it-would-happen, if just on a much shorter time scale to Stacey’s characters.

I received this book for review from Carina Press.

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