REVIEW: Shannon Stacey’s TAKEN WITH YOU, Or Dates and Doubts

Taken_With_YouIt was enjoyable to read a romance novel comprised of meet-cutes, dates, love-making, and the occasional fight, both big and small. It felt real and its lack of drama didn’t have Miss Bates yawning, or growing restless. Miss Bates bided her time, waiting for high drama and angst to set in. She read somewhere that Taken With You was a May-to-December romance, wherein December was the heroine. The angst never set in; the age difference was handled beautifully. Here’s how hero, Matt Barnett, and heroine, Hailey Genest, banter through it: ” ‘You’re only thirty-five?’ ‘Why? Do I look older than that?’ ‘No, I just … you’re younger than me.’ He gave her a thorough looking over, enjoying the way pink spread across her cheeks. ‘Not by much.’ ‘Five freaking years,’ she muttered. ‘I don’t believe it. You should show me your license.’ She snorted. ‘Have you ever met a woman our age, or my age anyway, who lied about being forty?’ ‘It’s just a number.’ ” Hailey’s right and Matt’s righter. If the five-year age difference had seen the hero playing December, it wouldn’t have been an issue, or even worth mentioning. To give credit to Stacey’s Taken With You, it isn’t in her novel either. Well, hallelujah. This is not a novel strong on external conflict: it’s made of things any burgeoning relationship is made of: dates and doubts. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” to quote the Bard, but Hailey and Matt’s “impediments” to love and forever stem from who they are and what has shaped them. The result is an honest and funny and convivial romance. It doesn’t break any ground: it takes ordinary working folk (okay, they might be a little cuter than most) and tells of a  courtship, the “date” part, adds “impediments,” the “doubts” and “misunderstandings,” shows two good people learning to compromise and does it most enjoyably.

” ‘I suck at being outside.’ ” Says Hailey Genest, librarian-heroine; it’s true, she does. Part of Stacey’s ongoing, beloved, and lauded Kowalski series, Taken With You opens in the woods of Whitford, Maine. Hailey and her buddy, Tori, are lost while on a singles wilderness adventure. While the previous novel in the series, which Miss Bates read and reviewed, suffered from an excess of Kowalski marriages and babies, they stay in the background in this one. Enter hero-game-warden, Matt Barnett, to the rescue. The “opposites-attract” trope is immediately evident. Matt is in his element, sporting a fishing-hat that looks like the bad end of a mop and a beard that puts mutton-chops to shame. Hailey, on the other hand, is out of her element: wearing new, blisteringly painful hiking boots and make-up that has her vying with the raccoons. The scene is funny and fun. It’s a great set-up for the predictable and ironic fact that Matt is the new game-warden working on keeping the ATV trails safe, working with various Kowalskis, and soon-to-be Hailey’s next-door neighbour. The antagonistic banter is amusing and continues over various ensuing scenes of meet-cute. The attraction is present in every single one as well. Tension is nicely developed. Hailey’s “impediments” are evident as she struggles with her attraction to Matt, at cross-purposes with her amorous goals, ” … she was still waiting for her prince to come …  ‘He makes me crazy and I don’t know why’ … ‘I’m not looking for a good time. I’m looking for forever’ … She needed to find a GQ guy in the land of L. L. Bean.” Suffice to say that, as Hailey discovers, Matt has an L.L. Bean catalogue in his bathroom. Which means Hailey’s been in his bathroom. Attraction, powerful and seductive and fun, trumps any list of required attributes in a mate. 😉

” … it went against his nature to see a woman miserable and not try to make it better.” Is what Matt Barnett, game-warden, nature-lover, and outdoors-man extraordinaire thinks when he finds Hailey and Tori lost in the woods. He’s a good guy, a little set in his bachelor ways, loving to his family, and irresistibly  adorable when combined with one of the most loveable dog characters Miss Bates has read, the boisterous, lapping Lab, Bear. Matt’s commitment-shy and a little low on his confidence (but NOT his sexual prowess) when an ex-girlfriend loved him in the bedroom, but was embarrassed by his rough ways at social events. He’s attracted to Hailey and enjoys her company, but he knows that a lady who’s looking for a suited-up sophisticate is not a long-term bet, “Someday he’d find a woman who didn’t wrinkle her nose at him or nag him because he’d rather wear a T-shirt that came free with a case of beef jerky than a fancy button-up shirt.” Matt and Hailey try to keep their emotional distance, but to the reader, their friends, and families, it’s so obvious how much they belong together. Hailey is the more mature of the two and soon realizes and admits that she loves Matt. It takes Matt a lot longer; his fear of being hurt, his shame at the way he prefers grub over foie gras, has him behave like a jerk and run like the wind from Hailey. But, as Miss Bates said before, Matt is a good guy and he owns up to what’s bothering him, ” ‘ … It hurts that I can’t be the kind of guy you want.’ “

Nicely written, funny, two good people learning to be together, and one heck of a feel-good HEA: no ground, or taboos broken, but do they have to be? In every romance? It’s a tad predictable and, frankly, the two leads read somewhat male/female/Venus/Mars stereotypical at the start. But Matt does own and use a Crock Pot, even brings it full of Swedish meatballs to a guybondingsportswatching thing. And Hailey is the more grown-up of the two, not just in age, but in being honest with herself and Matt. She also never gives him an inch, or makes excuses for him: she calls him on all his fecal matter. The other thing that Miss Bates likes about Stacey’s romances is her portrayal of the relationship between her main characters and older ones: a dad, a mom, an aunt, an older friend, or neighbour, hero and heroine seek their wisdom and really listen to them. It’s most appealing. Miss Bates enjoyed this one and found in it “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.

Shannon Stacey’s Taken With You is published by Carina Press and has been available since April 1st in e-format at the usual vendors.

Miss Bates is grateful to Carina Press for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.

What’s the last pleasant, feel-good, and funny romance you read, dear reader?

 

 

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Shannon Stacey’s TAKEN WITH YOU, Or Dates and Doubts

  1. My last feel-good was Julie James ‘ It Happened One Wedding. He is more than happy dating around and she is on a mission not to be side-tracked by anymore smooth-talking players.

    I gave Taken With You 4/5 stars. I liked so much of it but I though the Epilogue was over-the-top and knocked it down to a 4. I did love how Hailey despite being the one with the most apparent misconceptions is the first to realize what they have and not going to settle for his fear. I agree with you that the recurring character balance was just right in this one.

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    • Miss B. thanks you for the James rec.: she really really loved Something About You and then, every time she’d read one of the follow-ups, it never quite gave her the same romance buzz. But the writing was always good and she’s willing to give another one a try. Her favourite wedding-set romance is Gibson’s Any Man Of Mine.

      Ah, you thought the epilogue was over-the-top, with Matt’s new suit and all: Miss B. can see that it gave the wrong note, yes, but it did prove, all over again, that Matt was trying to meet Hailey half way, but maybe it was compensating too much? Truth be told, if the book had excised the epilogue, maybe it would have been better? As far as Miss B. notes, if there’s no baby in the epilogue, well, she tends to think it forgettable. 😉

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  2. Thanks for that review, I definitely want to read it now! I haven’t read anything by this author yet. The last feel good romance I read was Jill Shalvis’s Animal Magnetism (well, actually I listened to it as an audiobook, but same thing – and it was excellently narrated by Karen White).

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    • You’re most welcome! Miss B. has the first three Kowalski books in the TBR, but her previous Stacey read was not the best. Now, she’s more likely to give those a try. Miss B. loved the first two books of that Shalvis series: yes, Animal Magnetism and Animal Attraction. She thinks the second one might even be superior to the first. Also, cute kitty on the cover would prejudice her anyway. 😉

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      • I just read “Then Came You” from Shalvis, without having read the previous story in that series, and it was wonderful. Better than the last 3 or 4 of her Lucky Harbor books. I will be reviewing it next week.

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        • Oh, that’s the latest in the Animal Magnetism series! Miss Bates just loved the first two books in that series: she’d say that you would love them too, especially if you liked this one. The Lucky Harbor books, though the first few were quite quite good became tedious and Miss Bates dropped the series. Maybe it’s just been going on too long?

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  3. I love this review, and I’m adding it to a threatening Mt. TBR! I have a fondness for May-December romances myself, and it’s always interesting to see how different writers handle this as part of the conflict/tension. I know most of the Neels’ heroes are quite a bit older than their true loves, but that element is usually dismissed as unimportant. I can only think of one in which RDD hesitates about declaring himself because of the age difference (MAKING SURE OF SARAH). There may be others, but I haven’t read them all. Yet. And yes, I felt compelled to mention Neels. 🙂

    Two books come to mind as “feel good” for me.

    THE CHOCOLATE THIEF by Laura Florand was tremendous fun to read. The heroine, Cade Corey, is a very driven, high-powered muckety-muck in her family’s chocolate empire who gets blindsided by a French chocolatier, Sylvain Marquis, when he refuses to “sell” his art for profit. I really enjoyed the battle of wills between these two. The best part begins when Cade dons burglar black and breaks into Sylvain’s laboratoire to perform a little culinary espionage. She is, er, overcome by the scents of spices and exotic extracts as well as the textures. It truly was a feast of the senses for Cade. Of course, he knows immediately who broke in (she left a chocolate thumbprint on a paper on his desk). But he doesn’t call the police. Instead he lets her come back the next night and the next. On the third night, he is waiting for her. Sylvain was fun partly because even though his ego is huge, he still maintained a kind of boyish pleasure at the thought of someone truly appreciating his “art” the way Cade did. I loved when he says:

    “… a thief who stole chocolate but not his laptop? He might have to marry her. He could feel himself falling in love just at the idea.

    He hoped she had worn black leather pants.”

    Also I think what made this fun was Cade’s discovery of a side of her personality other than a business-like professional as well as Sylvain’s appreciation and encouragement of that lighthearted playful part. She was like a little girl in a candy shop (sorry about that!) as she tastes all of his delicious chocolate confections.

    There were some “issues” both worked through, but I found myself smiling and at times laughing out loud with Cade and Sylvain. Besides chocolate is an integral part of this story, and that’s always fun.

    The second book is THE MISCHIEF OF THE MISTLETOE by Lauren Willig. This one’s a historical romance and part of a series. The others in the series are teetering on Mount TBR even as I write this. I believe I must be part magpie – easily distracted by all the shiny things.;-)

    I chose it out of order because I kept hearing murmurings of delight about Turnip Fitzhugh (he’s the hero.) Oh, and he is just wonderful. A little bumbling but well intentioned, genuine, funny, and has a love of outlandish waistcoats. Turnip’s not stupid, however. He hides a sharp intellect, but he’s one of those heroes who might be overlooked if you want a dark, tortured kind of guy. His humor is infectious, and he just has a great time even as he and Arabella become entangled in an espionage plot hidden in the wrapping of a Christmas pudding. He is so without guile and underappreciated by everyone except Arabella. She really gets him from the start. The humor in this book just made me smile for days after. Like when he’s dancing with Arabella, and she blows a strand of hair away from her face. Turnip is captivated by just that small gesture and thinks:

    “Of course at this point, she could be debone a kipper with a fish knife and he would find it seductive, he was that far gone.”

    I loved Turnip. He’s like a beautifully wrapped present that you take your time peeling away the layers of paper to find a wonderful surprise hidden inside. Such a breath of fresh air in the romance hero department.

    Sorry if my response is a little muddled. Our Central A/C has gone out, and we’re waiting in the sweltering southern heat for a technician to rescue us.

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    • No apologies necessary! Miss B. hopes you get your A/C back very soon: though our Northern city looks like it doesn’t get much summer, the temps can rise into the 40s with the “Humidex,” so she knows how wilty and awful that feels. Presently though, we have glowering skies & a weak greyish-yellow light in the horizon. She just hopes she’ll get to respond to your comment before her power goes kaput.

      Oh, she so loved your description of the Florand’s The Chocolate Thief: it sounds utterly delightful and Miss B. loves that kind of caper-ish scenario. Too many viewings of films like Topkapi in her household. 😉

      TURNIP FITZHUGH is one of Miss Bates’s favourite heroes: it was so clever how Willig took this benign but somewhat buffoonish character from her Pink Carnation series and transformed him into this stalwart, loveable, grrr sexy guy!!!!! He is smart and loyal and just so much fun. And he finds a heroine so worthy of everything wonderful about him. Miss B. would encourage you to read whatever you have of the Pink Carnation series: those were some of the first “hybrid” romances she read and she’s loved so many of them. The combination of humour, historical fiction, and romance is just so good. Though it’s easy to read The Mischief of the Mistletoe (oh, and the scene with the Christmas pudding – priceless) out of order, it’s fun to read the rest in order. However, she especially liked The Seduction of the Crimson Rose (Pink Carnation #4) for its dark dark hero and difficult-to-like heroine and The Temptation of the Night Jasmine (Pink Carnation #5) for its bookish heroine and honourable hero. Miss Bate is a little behind in the series, but she has The Garden Intrigue and The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (Pink Carnation #s9 and 10, respectively) on her night-tables for summer reading. Yes, there are piles of books scattered all over Miss Bates’s abode. 😉

      Well, who can resist talking about the Divine La Neels? And, yes, the age difference, which often feels significant in her novels, is dismissed. The beauty of her narratives is that they’re just so wonderfully devoid of any “ick” factor. This is the draw to them, Miss Bates thinks, adults behaving well and … well, adult-like. So refreshing.

      Thank you for the, as always, wonderful comment!

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