Desert Isle Keeper


Shannon Stacey

The last time readers of Ms. Stacey’s Boys of Fall series saw this hero and heroine, they were getting to know each other on the hood of a car. Sam Levitt left town shortly after, expecting to never see Jen Cooper again. But when a request from a trusted mentor beckons him back to Stewart Mills, New Hampshire, the reunion is inevitable. Sam and Jen’s chemistry is never in question, but compatibility is. Can they work through the baggage of their pasts in order to build a future together? Homecoming tells their story, and does it while engaging new readers and satisfying returning ones.

Stewart Mills, NH is one of those towns to which time has not been kind. Manufacturing, once the backbone of the economy, has moved out of town and a lot of folks are scrambling to make ends meet. In previous books, the citizens band together to help raise funds for programs otherwise cut, but the economic realities of under-employed people permeate this book.

One part of coping with the harsh realities of town life is that football provides more than just a place to be for a few hours on a Friday night. The high school football team is a heartbeat of the culture and a key part of how the town raises its young men. So when Coach McConnell suffers a heart attack, the team cannot be left in the hands of just anyone.

Sam Levitt’s life is better because he was coached by Coach McConnell, no doubt. But his life is also better because he left Stewart Mills intending never to return. He had already been coaxed back earlier in the summer for a fundraising fest, but returned to Texas as soon as he could. When he gets the phone call asking him to come back and fill in as coach, he’s torn. His childhood was atrocious and he wants no part of living in Stewart Mills again, but Coach saved him and is not someone Sam can abandon. So, with a determination to make this temporary, Sam packs and heads back to New Hampshire.

Jen Cooper is an institution in the town. A guidance counselor at the high school, she is a surrogate parent to hundreds of students as they navigate their journey towards adulthood. You can tell she pours all of herself out into the lives of those students and seeks very little from them in return. This, in her mind, means she has little time or energy for a relationship, despite Sam’s reappearance in town. She tells herself to avoid him and the sexual energy she feels around him – he’s only there temporarily, after all.

The problem is that her two best friends are in relationships with his two best friends, so it becomes impossible for them to avoid each other. Sam and Jen decide to give in to the tension, have a temporary fling, and not tell anyone.

When I read that decision, I said out loud “Right. Totally going to work, kids. Have fun and I look forward to your engagement.”

Of course they fall deeper than either anticipated and of course things get complicated and of course there are tears and of course it all ends happily ever after. I sighed happily at the conclusion of this book and I think other readers will too.

I opened this review by talking about Stewart Mills and I’d like to return to that. The town in this book is its own character, and it informs Jen and Sam deeply as people, their views of themselves and their relationship with each other. Characters that first appear ancillary turn out not to be and decisions that seem casual turn out to be significant. I keep hearing that the small town romance genre is dying, but when I read these kind of books I really hope that isn’t the case. There’s a wisdom in these pages in the connections and realities that these people represent without which the whole romance genre would be bereft.

Homecoming also ties the series up well, as we get codas to the two previous stories without taking time away from Jen and Sam. I was left feeling like Ms. Stacey was deep into a Friday Night Lights rewatch when she plotted this book and glad she created a Dillon, Texas in New Hampshire. I loved the small commentary about the economic differences between different parts of the state that were casually dropped in and I loved feeling like this town exists and I could show up on a Friday night to watch the game with everyone else.

Autumn is coming and I always like reading books that help me transition between seasons. If you’re ready for pumpkin spiced things, crunching leaves, and autumnal rhythms, I’d highly recommend this novel.

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Book Details

Reviewer :      Kristen Donnelly

Grade :     A

Sensuality :      Warm

Book Type :     

Review Tags :      | |


  1. Emily August 30, 2016 at 9:57 pm - Reply

    I loved the first two books in this series! Can’t wait for this one!

    • Kristen Donnelly
      Kristen Donnelly August 31, 2016 at 9:12 am - Reply

      I do not think you’ll be disappointed – set aside a few hours and dive in.

  2. Emily September 2, 2016 at 1:41 am - Reply

    It took me awhile to remember, but Stewart Falls didn’t look right to me. That’s because the actual name of the town where this series takes place is Stewart Mills, because it used to be a factory town.

  3. RichMissTallant September 5, 2016 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    I just read this series over the long weekend and I liked this book, but I didn’t love it.

    What really worked for me: the setting. The author drew such a vivid portrait of a small town whose residents are trying to make ends meet through a big economic downturn. All the details and secondary characters were great and it reminded me quite a bit of my hometown in the late ’90s/early ’00s when our textile mill closed down. I also liked the premise, reminiscent of FNL. The protagonists are roughly 30-32 in each book and they were just average people.

    What didn’t work for me as much is the romance itself (this goes for all 3 books, although I will say Sam & Jen were my favorite couple of the three). I can’t put my finger on it but there was just… a lack of tension and chemistry, something this author usually excels at. I found myself reading because I cared about the town and the people in it more than the romance between the protagonists.

    • Kristen Donnelly
      Kristen Donnelly September 6, 2016 at 8:35 am - Reply

      That’s a really interesting perspective. I really loved Sam and Jen, possibly because I admittedly identify with Jen in a lot of ways. This series is definitely quieter in the chemistry department than her previous works, but I’ll admit that fed into the realism for me, which it may not for others. Anyone who is used to how Ms. Stacey usually writes may feel just like yourself – would not surprise me.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who got the FNL vibe!

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