Book Review

All He Ever Dreamed by Shannon Stacey

C+

Title: All He Ever Dreamed
Author: Shannon Stacey
Publication Info: Carina Press 2013
ISBN: 9781426894626
Genre: Contemporary Romance

All He Ever Dreamed - Shannon StaceyWhile the Kowalski novels are rapidly becoming comfort re-reads for me, especially the first and third ones, and while I'm always happy to go visit all the characters and see that they retain as much personality as they had in their own novels, this book ended up being more of a visit for the sake of everyone else. I didn't keep reading because I was transfixed and drawn to the lead characters. There wasn't anything wrong with them, and I liked them both just fine, but they didn't have the bursting personality and humor of the other characters in the series. Despite the build-up of Josh's story, the focus on his and Katie's relationship didn't live up to my expectations.

If you ask me how this book was, I'd probably make a baby fishmouth face for a few minutes and then say, “It was pretty good, but it was sad.” And I mean that exactly: the atmosphere, the spirit of the story, was so sad to me. My impression of it after I finished is maudlin, regretful, and sad.

Josh Kowalski has lived and run the Northern Star lodge, which has been in his family for generations, since he was done being a kid. He's the youngest, and he watched his older brothers go off and find lives while he was left behind, everyone assuming that he'd be happy running the lodge and living there. He's not always unhappy, per se, but he never had an opportunity to do anything else, or had anyone ask him what he'd like to do. That's the foundation of Josh's conflict: he is stuck in Whitford, at the lodge, and while he loves his home and he knows every step of the calendar and the responsibilities that result from the changes in season, he sees himself as forgotten about and left behind. He's stuck. And he does not like it.

A few books back, Josh broke his leg, and that caused his family to wake up and pay attention to Josh's anger and resentment. The course of the three most recent novels has followed the repair of the lodge and the returning home of the Kowalski brothers  — minus Sean, who left the army and went to Maine in my favorite Kowalski novel, Yours to Keep ( A | BN | KARe | iB), and their sister Liz, who is probably a future heroine because she's out in New Mexico and there's a general sense of 'what's she doing out there, she belongs here.' Josh has been in the background of each novel as his brothers took turns coming home.

Katie, who is the daughter of the lodge's longtime housekeeper, Rosie, has been Josh's best friend for years and years. She's been secretly in love with him for just about as long, and everyone knows this but Josh. Like, everyone. Everyone in town. I think if the Verizon guy from two counties over showed up to repair a line, first he'd be told where to get lunch, and then that Katie's in love with Josh.

Josh is completely blind to Katie's feelings, and is very myopic in general (like a typical dude) about most things except his own misery at being held to the lodge because of everyone's thoughtless forgetfulness. When Rosie comes down with pneumonia a second time in a row and has to go into the hospital right before the holidays and the start of their winter lodging season, Katie decides to move into the lodge to help Josh with holiday and seasonal preparations, and to help her mother stay quiet and sofa-ensconced once she leaves the hospital. Dun dun dunnnnn! 

Katie and Josh exist in a state of waiting. Katie's waiting for Josh to either notice her, or notice her feelings for him, but she's unable to either make a move or move on. Meanwhile, Josh is waiting for the lodge to be repaired and more financially profitable once the family plans of connecting the lodge to the local ATV trail system are put into effect. Once that happens, either a full time manager can be hired, or his brothers will take over more of the responsibility, and he can leave. He's basically waiting for his chance to fly away from Whitford and do all the things his brothers got to do that he didn't. He's waiting for his real life to get started, after years of waiting in Whitford.

The problem for me is, once Josh does notice Katie (after she moves in and comes downstairs in her pajamas for a late night snack) and once they do start moving toward one another in a more-than-friends kind of way, Josh doesn't talk to Katie about things that really matter — despite her being his best friend, and despite the fact that clearly he's told her before about how he feels and what he's thinking. Both Josh and Katie remain in the same holding pattern they've been in, only this time with more sex and more emotions at risk. Katie is still waiting for Josh to wake up and see the possibilities of a permanent relationship. She's STILL unable to really tell him straight that she's in love with him and wants to be with him permanently, because she doesn't want him to be in the position of having to choose between a relationship with her or the chance to leave Whitford. Josh is still in the holding pattern of waiting to fly away – only now he's having really good sex and enjoying himself at home a bit more than he ever has.

There are two flat side plots revolving around Rosie's new relationship, and around a mysterious friend of Josh and Katie's who hosts everyone for weekend football watching, and who, like everyone, has been waiting for Josh to wake up and see Katie. Josh and Katie's story is more interesting than either of those, but theirs is very pale compared to previous Kowalski novels, especially since this story has been building for several books.

I mentioned earlier that I thought this book was sad. The sadness pervades the book, but becomes sharp at the end of the novel. After Katie and Josh hook up, after they try to figure out their relationship status post hooking-up, after they keep hooking up because the hooking up is good… Josh is still stuck and resentful about it. He just has regular orgasms. I never saw Josh's change in mood. I never honestly thought he was happy.

This part is kinda spoilery so I'm going to white it out but the crux of what bothered me is here:

 

 

 

NO REALLY. It's kinda SPOILERY. BE YE WARNED. 

 

 

 

Don't say I didn't want you. You can start highlighting.

In the end, a solution arrives that's sort of easy and obvious, and Josh can leave. And so he does. Just like that. Katie is devastated but neither has she spoken up about her actual feelings or anything. But Josh doesn't tell her he's got the chance to fly away from Whitford, either. He lets her find out instead of telling her, and I never really forgave him for being such a cruel asshat. That's not how you treat your friends, or the people you're sleeping with who are you friends. Come on, dude.

Then, once he left and started exploring the world, I was never convinced he was happy, that he got over his mopey resentment. He left, turned around and came home because … he had no idea what to do with himself.

I was never sure by the end that he chose Whitford because he wanted to be there, or if he chose Whitford and by extension, Katie, because it was the known default, and the known was better than the unknown for him. He had no idea where to go or what to do with himself while he was gone, and he was clearly lonely. He wanted to be offered a choice to stay or go. He was left in Whitford by default because he was the youngest. He wanted self-determination. The end of the story seemed to echo that default to me: he went home to Katie because he missed her and he didn't know what else to do, not because he was suddenly happier than ever in Whitford.

I was never sure if he was choosing between an unknown and Whitford, or between ANYTHING ELSE and Whitford. His decision just showed up. His decision to come home was underdeveloped in a way that made me wonder if he turned around because hey, Katie was there and that's better than nothing. I was never sure of his dedication or his feelings, in part because his resentment and mope colored everything. I'm not convinced he understood the alternatives or the opportunities, or even had time to appreciate or learn what else there was for him to experience.

The time of his travel is skipped over, and not enough of his realization about his home and his opportunity with Kate is portrayed, so it seems like his final choice to go home also seems like a pushed-upon-him default.

 

So the ending made me sad, not hopeful.

I felt that Katie was used as a device in the story to underscore the value of Josh's home and his belonging there, and as the novel progressed she became less of a character in her own right – especially because she didn't change much. She was the loyal friend who was in love with her best friend but didn't want to stand in the way of his dreams. She remained that until the end, when being the virtuous loyal friend got her what she wanted. Josh stomped on her heart, and I think he knew he was doing it, and did it anyway. I wanted more for Katie because I liked her in the previous books, and I liked her a lot in the start of this one before she became bland and more of a function of the story than a person.

Kate's inertia as a character echoed Josh's inertia, and her lack of development was frustrating because I think I was meant to feel Josh's frustration, but accept that Kate's life was also pretty good, apart from whether Josh was in it or not. Staying and living in Whitford worked for her, which conflicted with all of Josh's frustrations with the town, and left them at an impasse which wasn't resolved. Their conflict wasn't really addressed, which left, in my perspective, a very unsatisfying ending.

When I was in middle school, I had a sort of friend who thought of me as her “nobody better.” If there was nobody better around, she'd eat lunch with me. I hated being treated like that, but, hey, I was 12, and hadn't grown into my big girl pants. The end of this story and the way it resolved made me think that Josh treated Katie as his “nobody better,” only instead of a person, his “nobody better” was the alternative life he wanted to explore. I don't think Josh ever really appreciated his life or the value of Katie's presence as his friend and more-than-friend. Even when he was lonely and sad, I don't think he honestly assessed what he wanted. At one point, he says he doesn't necessarily want to leave and never come back; he “wanted the choice,” the opportunity to decide what he wanted, instead of having his decision pushed onto him. He never seemed to explore what having a choice would mean for him, or what he would do if he had it.

I'll still read the Kowalski books because I like all the characters, and the family dynamic, especially the way the characters reveal their feelings for each other in honest, not-at-all-contrived, realistic ways. But after this book and the last one, I'm going to be nervous that the endings will disappoint me, and will be cautious about my expectations in reading them. There are wonderful family moments in this story, like the family Christmas party, and the way they look after one another as their relationships all change, but I will be reading them more to visit everyone instead of eager-grabbing the next book ready to meet the main characters. 


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Persnickety says:

    I read this one today, and I had been really excited when I realised that it came through, because I am having a not great week and needed a happy book to read.  This one really pushed the wrong button- I cried after I finished it.  (and there are other issues that come into that, but it didn’t resolve in a way I could accept)

    I think the small town dynamic is difficult, and the resolution in books 2,3,and 4 felt real.  This one and the last one forced serious choices on the protagonists, and I struggled to believe them, and how easily central characters changed long held attitudes.  I also have issues with the first one, much as I love it, because I don’t think the central reason for Keri leaving is really addressed either (the desire not to be someone’s something, to be herself).

    The decision in the end felt like it all came down on one side, and there was potentially space for more compromise.  I was kind of expecting a different solution to come up. I think I will need to be more cautious with Shannon Stacey books in the future.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    Yes, you put it better than I did: the decision was on one side, and that made me so sad, especially for Katie. And while I’m glad I’m not alone in finding this book sad, I’m sorry you’re having a crappy week. If you’d like silly or fun reading recommendations or anything, email me?

  3. 3

    I like the Kowalski books but I think I’ll give this one a pass. I hate wishy washy “pity me” heroes.

  4. 4
    Carrie Gwaltney says:

    I have the same relationship with Shannon Stacey’s book as I do Kristen Higgin’s. They are well written and have interesting characters, but I’m not always happy at the end of them. I’m not convinced the relationship is going to make it. In Stacey’s fist book, I felt Keri was insecure and shallow, and that’s had kept her and Joe apart for 20 years. I didn’t buy her change of heart and I never figured out why Joe fell for her, not once but twice.

    This book sounds like another one where a character’s change of heart doesn’t ring true. Like many people I know, my life has some heavy things in it, so I want my entertainment to be light or escapist. I can read romantic suspense but I want good to overcome evil and for the couple to come together with eyes wide open, ready for the future. My husband and I just celebrated 29 very good years. I believe in happy ever afters.

  5. 5
    Prachi Jain says:

    I wish Josh’s realization had been more drawn out – more detailed, But, this is my problem with a lot of books. I just want the two protags to just really sit down and talk you know. Or even pondering about it is okay. With this one my major complaint was that I didn’t hear Josh going from friends to in lust to in love. I saw it – with the way he was, but I didn’t hear him thinking it. Yeah well, I do love internal realization monologues. But otherwise – I thought this to be a fun read. I somehow didn’t feel that Josh was only with Katie because there wasn’t anybody else – in the beginning before he ‘saw’ her he did monologue about how he wants to be with a woman blah blah – but in the middle I saw that changing. I just feel that if he thought he was compromising with Katie he wouldn’t returned back so soon, without trying out other prospects.
    I just felt that his sense of dissatisfaction came with the fact that he’d never really been given the choice to sit and chose his life’s path – and that sort of coloured the way he saw everything – even Katie.

    I am sorry it didn’t work out for you though!

  6. 6
    samalamadingdong says:

    i haven’t read this one yet, and now i’m on the fence. but i did want to say that i appreciated the baby fishmouth reference.

  7. 7
    Sylvie Fox says:

    I can’t decide if an ambiguous HEA is good or bad for romance. I don’t like books with a wedding/baby epilogue – as if that signifies that all went well.  But I’m not sure I like HFN either. I’m reading a lot of books lately where I’m not convinced that the characters will stay together.  But I guess that makes them more like real life.  And that’s probably a good thing.

  8. 8

    Dang.  Reading the “nobody better” part makes me want to cry. 

  9. 9
    Sarah {CEFS} says:

    I just started reading this last night and I went ahead and read the spoiler, because I had a suspicion that would be the resolution for Josh—and that makes me really sad, because I was intrigued by him in the first two books (I felt badly for him—being stuck in a dead-end hometown sucks) and had hopes that something else would happen for him (and Katy, since it was pretty obvious the two were going to be a couple). Bummer.

  10. 10
    SB Sarah says:

    It’s not an ambiguous HEA – there’s definite definite-ness about the finale scenes, and all is well and good. But I didn’t fully buy it, or find it as satisfying as I wanted.

  11. 11
    Laskiblue says:

    Yeah, the “nobody better” part really resonated with me, too.  I always thought of it as being on the second string team.  :-(

  12. 12
    library addict says:

    Maybe because I didn’t have expectations of Josh and Katie, but I liked this one by far the best of this latest trilogy. I didn’t see Josh’s decision to leave as depressing. It was obvious when he decided against selling the property that Whitford was home. He just needed to leave so he could come to terms with that for himself. Before I read the book I had thought perhaps he and Katie would leave town together. But the fact she wanted to stay was well-integrated into this story. I do think she could have been angrier about him going, but that detract from the HEA for me.

  13. 13
    library addict says:

    Oops, that should be didn’t detract.

  14. 14
    cathykj says:

    I read this book yesterday, and agree with many of the comments here – I was dissatisfied by the ending.  I would have liked it better if Katie had traveled with Josh a bit (surely she could close the barbershop for a week?), and then they agreed to settle in Whitford but made lots of plans for trips and experiences they would have in the coming years. 
    Also, I’m annoyed by the “she’s waiting for him” trope.  Josh was free to go off and have his adventures, while Katie waited for him back home.  She even thinks to herself that he’ll probably meet someone while he’s traveling, and she’ll just be in a holding pattern, waiting for him. 
    I was also frustrated because the book felt short, and another 50 pages could have helped develop it into something much better. 

  15. 15
    kkw says:

    I haven’t read this one yet, but I can’t wait.  It’s in my queue.  I’ve really enjoyed the Kowalski series.  I have frequently not liked the protagonists, their choices, their families, and their location.  Somehow, I carry on being thrilled every time a new one comes out.  I don’t know how to explain this, exactly.  Even when the characters are whiney and their actions are implausible and their supposedly supportive family sucks and they like to go 4-wheeling and think it’s healthy to stay in small town New England…I’m sure I’ll be irritated with a million things.  Katie for waiting around and Josh for being not being able to enjoy freedom, and Maine for existing, and Rosie for not just dying already…and I don’t care.  Doesn’t matter.  I don’t even really like contemporaries in the first place, but this series is a notable exception.  Style, I suppose?  Dialogue, the dialogue is always great.  I don’t think it’s the sex.  I really don’t know how to explain, but I’d be very surprised if she manages to get rid of me as a fan.

  16. 16
    Drmilnermd says:

    Josh was so depressed.  He couldn’t wait to leave, but the only thing in America he wanted to do is eat a steak?  Josh should have had an adventure!  Katie should have gone with him.  I was excited for some snuggly, winter romance reading and this was not it.  Two boring people, together because there is nothing else to do.

  17. 17
    persnickety says:

    Crappy week slowly resolving
    I have immersed myself in the Dark Heavens books by Kylie Chan- I wouldn’t call them light, fun or silly, but I think the suspension from reality was worth it.
    http://kyliechan.com/books/

    I don’t know that they really qualify as romance per se, but Rosemary’s Romance in Brisbane certainly stocks them (she signs them there too, instead of the sci-fi/fantasy genre store across the road) so someone does.

    And she’s from Brisbane (and I have to support an author from there- its where i live)

  18. 18
    Leslye PJ says:

    I had a similar reaction. I cried several times during this book because while I wasn’t really affected that much by the characters, I was very moved by the difficult choices. Resentment and regret can cast a strong shadow on a relationship. The resolution was definitely too fast and Katie as the long-suffering martyr was just not a good look.

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