All He Ever Needed
by Shannon Stacey, contemporary (2012, reissue)
HQN, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-373-77755-6


All He Ever Needed is a small town romance, so yes, it's time to bring out the ball and chain. This time around, though, it's the hero Mitch Kowalski that gets the ball chained around his ankles, and he doesn't have to quit his job in the process. You know what they say - in the romance genre, have penis, will travel.

And yes, there are many stamps on Mitch's nether passport, as the ladies he left behind in Whitford, Maine, can testify. When the prodigal son roars back into town to help his brother Joe manage the family lodge after Joe broke a leg, Paige Sullivan finds herself the target of a full blown grade-A Mitch Kowalski seduction suite. She's sworn off men, and besides, her mother had terrible tastes in men, but you know, if she really sticks to her principles, there won't be a story here.

It's nice to see a hero who isn't too keen on committing because he's just like that. No cartoon ex-girlfriends, no evil mothers - sometimes a guy who is too good-looking and charming for his own good doesn't see the need to settle down, and Mitch's like that. Paige carries more stereotypical baggage around, but she manages to act like a normal person instead of some cartoon shrew.

Hence, while this story breaks no new grounds at all, I still enjoy it because the main characters are quite normal and down-to-earth, with believable strengths and flaws. There are an ensemble cast of secondary characters here - the series must go on, after all - but they are all well-integrated into the story. Paige and Mitch spend as much time interacting with these secondary characters as they do with each other, and the end result is a humorous romantic story where the secondary cast works to bring out the best from the main characters.

Thing is, I'm not convinced at the end of the day that All He Ever Needed is a good romance story. It's a very readable story about an interlude in a small town, but the scenes of the main characters with various secondary characters are far more interesting than the scenes they share together. Perhaps this is because Mitch has the upper hand throughout the relationship - he knows that Paige is not cut out for a no-strings-attached fling, but he pursues her nonetheless because he wants to peek inside her bloomers. And he has the nerve to get miffed when people believe that he's still that kid who cared only about his own pleasures. I wish just once Paige would turn the tables on Mitch or do something - anything - that would throw him off guard, but instead, I get a romance where he loves her just because, hey, he loves her. There is nothing she can do to stop him from leaving her behind without a backward glance, so I guess I should feel happy that she's special enough to get him to come back?

So, while I have a good time reading this book, I just wish I'm more invested in the romance. As it is, I've had fun, but like Mitch on a good day, I'm out of here soon after without a backward glance. So many books, so little time.

Rating: 78


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