It 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?