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REVIEW: Undeniably Yours by Shannon Stacey

Dear Ms. Stacey:

Earlier this year, on Smart Bitch Sarah's recommendation, I read and enjoyed your first Kowalski book, Exclusively Yours. Your new release, Undeniably Yours, continues the adventures of the dynamic Kowalski family with Kevin's story, an entertaining chronicle of the handsome young Kowalski's unexpected leap into family responsibility.

shannon stacey undeniably yoursThe youngest of a close, raucous family, Kevin was a cop in Boston before a disastrous discovery involving his wife and his captain ended his career and brought him home to New Hampshire as a successful sports bar owner. All of the Kowalski siblings seem to have inherited the trademark dimples, although none seems to use them more advantageously than Kevin, whose post-divorce life has included a series of uncommitted liaisons and an unending stream of lipstick-bussed cocktail napkins. But when he spots Beth Hansen at the bar trying to fend of her drunk and groping date, he's intrigued enough to intervene on her behalf. Unfortunately, it does not end well, and Beth walks out of the bar and, seemingly, out of his life forever.

Until they meet unexpectedly at Joe's wedding, where Beth is bartending. And this time, Kevin is determined not to let Beth slip away. Which goes very well for most of the night. But this, too, does not end well, and Beth, once again, walks out of the room and seemingly out of Kevin's life forever.

Except for the fact that despite having safe, responsible sex, she and Kevin conceived a baby that night. Which, Beth is afraid, will not end well, either.

A habitual wanderer, Beth would have already left New Hampshire for Albuquerque were it not for the positive pregnancy test and only one possible paternal option. And in a refreshingly honest and straightforward move, she goes to Kevin and tells him that she is pregnant. No games, no coyness, no hand-wringing indecisiveness. And in another refreshing move, Kevin is surprised but accepting of the news, not accusatory, irresponsible, or weasely. Make no mistake: this is a novel about two adults struggling to adapt their lives to unexpected pregnancy with a near stranger and the muddled possibility of a romantic happy ending.

If I were evaluating this book solely on the concept, it would be an unequivocal winner for me. I loved the idea of two decent people working to come to terms with such difficult and unanticipated life changes, which were not the product of anyone's irresponsibility or neglect. So often in Romance, we have heroines hiding babies from the hero (without any investigation of how selfish that is, both to the hero and the child) or heroes insisting they couldn't possibly be the father of the heroine's baby, that it's easy to forget that there is plenty of emotional drama between two people who genuinely like each other and are not in denial about an unplanned pregnancy. For Kevin and Beth, that tension settles around the question of whether they are romantically compatible or just conveniently available.

For an independent vagabond like Beth, whose parents are a bit too clingy for her comfort, a baby is grounding enough, but a romantic relationship with Kevin is downright intimidating:

"I was going to Albuquerque. That's where I was going to go next, but then I met Kevin and I was stupid enough to sleep with him and now everything's different. My entire life is different and upside down and I'm tied to him forever because he's going to be a great dad.

He overwhelms me and I'm already so overwhelmed I don't know what to do. I can't think straight when I'm around him, but what we do will have such a huge effect on the baby's life. And I just don't want to spend my life wondering if Kevin really wanted me, or if I was just the first woman to give him a child."

Kevin, though, wants to be fully involved with Beth, whether or not they end up happily ever after:

He loved the idea of having a baby with Beth. He loved the idea of being a father. He loved the idea of seeing Beth every day.

But did he love Beth?

How the hell was he supposed to know for sure? It's not like there was a quiz he could take. Or a checklist or a Ouija board or a pie chart or any other damn definitive way to tell.

So in the meantime, why shouldn't they take advantage of the fact that she couldn't get pregnant again and be a real couple? Kevin doesn't need the kind of emotional guarantee that Beth does, and the fact that Beth knows that Mike and Lisa Kowalski faced a recent crisis in their marriage over Lisa's fear that Mike only married her because she was pregnant and would leave her when the kids got older makes her even more doubtful of Kevin's feelings. And her own. Because Kevin is part of a large, rowdy Kowalski family package, and his parents are even more inclined than Kevin to take over. Between Kevin and his family Beth feels like she has no autonomy – they convince her to move into Kevin's office/apartment building; they physically move her stuff from one place to another in the space of a morning; they make sure she's watched over by every member of the Kowalski family; they concoct a scheme to get Beth to work in the bar for Kevin; they plan a ginormous baby shower and insist on buying everything the baby might need and more; and they immediately treat her like a member of the family.

For a while, these issues provide both tension and amusement. Like when Kevin insists on bringing Beth to Thanksgiving and she isn't sure she wants to go:

She didn't look exactly thrilled with the invitation. "I told you we're not seeing each other anymore. There's no relationship, which means no taking me home for the holidays."

He wasn't about to give up that easily. "The baby wants to come home with me for Thanksgiving."

"She does, does she?"

"Yes, he does." She rolled her eyes, but a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, so he kept going. "Ma makes this stuff with yams and marshmallows. It's delicious and I'm pretty sure the baby wants to try some."

Through the course of an entire novel, however (despite the fact that Undeniably Yours is not as long as most traditional single title books), the conflict is just not enough to sustain that kind of tension between two characters who are presented as responsible and even-keeled. For example, Beth's extreme resistance to Kevin's overtures makes perfect sense at first, but after months upon months of his dogged loyalty, nurturing, caring, and sexual attraction, it seems forced. At some point I felt Beth was either being unreasonably stubborn or that there was something seriously wrong in her past or her other relationships that would keep her from emotionally committing. Her loving but somewhat overprotective parents just did not explain her wariness, and yet there is nothing else to suggest that she has deep trust issues. Similarly, Kevin's impulse to push the relationship seems somewhat reckless, which makes his saintly patience with Beth all the more of a logical stretch. At one point Beth neatly sums up the cycle of the relationship:

[Beth is "prickly" to Kevin]. She'd have to apologize to him later and he'd be all understanding and they'd start the cycle again. Friends. Then he'd start pushing a little. Then a little more, until she had to back him off. Then she'd feel bad and try to make him understand. He'd claim to and then off they'd go again.

And again. And again. But given Kevin's past – his reckless, uncontrolled reaction to his ex-wife and his captain, I knew there was a more temperamental guy under that exterior, and at some point I expected him to emerge. In fact, I kind of wanted him to emerge, because at least it would provide some reasonable basis for Beth's continued resistance, as well as something Kevin could struggle with within himself. The drama that does eventually befall Kevin and Beth is somewhat predictable by Romance novel standards, although fortunately it is not handled with excessive melodrama. Still, I needed more drama overall to buy the delayed emotional gratification.

I don't want to say that Undeniably Yours is too realistic, because fiction does not abide by the same rules as real life – it requires more consistency and clarity of motivation, for one thing. And besides, I appreciated so many of the moments of realism in the novel, that I did not yearn for over the top melodrama. Still, there was a point where the realism became a bit mundane, flattening out the emotional potency of the romantic relationship and making the relationship tension feel forced and thin. As much as I loved the concept of the novel and liked the characters, I did not find it as emotionally compelling as Joe and Keri's book or as poignant as I would have hoped given the baby and family issues. And as in the previous book, there is a secondary romance that is fraught with much more emotional drama and resolved with much more dispatch than the central relationship, highlighting, once again, some of what was missing for me from the central drama. Had the emotional intensity of those two relationships been flipped, this book would have been a strong winner for me. As it is, I enjoyed it, but more for the time I could once again spend with the Kowalski family, and not so much for the romance, per se. C+

~Janet aka Robin

Book Link | Kindle | nook |
| Sony| BooksonBoard | Carina Press

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!

7 Comments

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  2. Carin
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 17:20:29

    I think I enjoyed the story more than you did, based on the C+ grade, but you are right about Beth being unreasonably stubborn. I kept waiting for a reveal of some huge trauma from childhood, or evil parents… but it wasn’t there. I didn’t even think her parents came across as overly involved, so I didn’t understand where her need to keep moving on came from.

    It wouldn’t have seemed odd to me if Beth had decided to talk with a counselor about her issues – they seemed so irrational to me. But, nothing.

    Having read the first book, I expected the trauma from Kevin’s past to be an issue. It was a relief not to go through standard romance-land “I don’t trust you because of what my ex did” issues, but at the same time, his history didn’t seem to play into who he was in this book.

    All that said, I really enjoyed it, and even the two of them together. I liked the clever dialog and LOVED the mature handling of the unplanned pregnancy. I adored Kevin for his patience with Beth and his willingness to work around her issues.

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  3. Robin
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 21:37:04

    @Carin:

    Having read the first book, I expected the trauma from Kevin's past to be an issue. It was a relief not to go through standard romance-land “I don't trust you because of what my ex did” issues, but at the same time, his history didn't seem to play into who he was in this book.

    Exactly! And the reason this weighed heavily for me is because it would have created exactly the kind of emotional conflict IMO the book needed. And it was already there, in his character.

    Let me also say that I did not dislike the book at all. I just expected and wanted more, especially with such a smart concept. That Paulie and Sam’s relationship was the real center of conflict and drama hit me especially hard, because I felt Beth and Kevin’s relationship should have communicated that kind of intensity. The scene where Sam really pours his heart out to Paulie was so touching, and I wanted scenes like that for Beth and Kevin (one of the last scenes in the book delivers on that, but it took a loooong time, IMO).

    Like you, I loved that Kevin was so honorable, but I still expected a little more drama from the guy, especially knowing him from the first book.

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  4. JB Hunt
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 15:45:37

    Robin, I had the same response to the book. I LOVED the first book in the series, Exclusively Yours. Just flipped for it. Loved the characters, the family dynamics, the dialogue, the heat.

    So I was disappointed when this one didn’t live up to my expectations. I lost interest about halfway through.

    That said, I’m definitely a Stacey fan, so I’ll be buying her next book.

    ReplyReply

  5. jayhjay
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 16:55:25

    I liked the book but not nearly as much as the first one. I just felt the limbo dragged on WAY too long. I kept thinking, what the hell is she waiting for?

    Part of the problem for me was that the reader’s view of Kevin is basically always positive. He is depicted as patient, kind, understanding, hot, loving, etc. I think we needed to see some of his flaws to better understand Beth’s hesitancy. I just didn’t feel like overprotective parents was enough to explain her attitude.

    I also felt like she was all over the map. First she isn’t interested in Kevin b/c she thinks he is a player. Then she isn’t doesn’t want to be with him she feels smothered. So when she thinks he doesn’t want a commitment that is bad, but when he does, that is bad too. This wasn’t the only example, but i felt like Beth was just so wishy washy and I wanted her to jump into things.

    I think the best part of the first book was the Kowalski family interplay. We got that a bit here, but it was much less and I think I really missed that.

    ReplyReply

  6. Robin
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 21:17:00

    @JB Hunt: This is only the second of her books that I’ve read, but someone suggested her romantic suspense books — do you have any recommendations?

    @jayhjay: At this point, I’m in it mostly for the family scenes. And you’re right about Beth going from feeling that Kevin was too flaky to feeling he was too smothering. Although I think we’re supposed to see her concern about the cocktail napkins as connected to her fear that their relationship would not last. Like you said, though, Kevin is so perfect throughout that her fears start to feel irrational.

    ReplyReply

  7. jayhjay
    Dec 01, 2010 @ 14:59:28

    @Robin:

    The cocktail napkin thing bugged me b/c I felt like it was an inconsistency in the book. We start off with the line about him “getting laid whenever the Patriots win”. So he is described from the start as a player, with all the hot girls throwing themselves at him. But then we don’t see this at all in the book. He is totally committed to Beth from day 1. He doesn’t call the napkin girls. He never strays, never looks at another woman, even after MONTHS of being kept hanging by Beth.

    I guess what bugs me is that it is not just that Beth thinks he is a player, the author is sort of telling us he is, but all evidence throughout the book is to the contrary.

    ReplyReply

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