Narrated by Lauren Fortgang
What It Takes is book 10 in Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski series. It is billed as a “Kowalski family reunion novel” so fair warning: it’s best understood if one is familiar with the series. (That said, I had been expecting a little more of the reunion stuff so I think it could be enjoyed as a stand-alone if a listener didn’t mind not knowing who all the characters are.)
Laney Caswell has taken a job at the Northern Star Lodge as a caretaker to relieve some of the pressure from Josh and Katie (who are expecting their first child) and Rosie (who is getting older and needs a rest). Laney is recently divorced and the summer job at the campsite is a godsend. The position comes with a trailer to live in and that suits her just fine. She has a cousin who lives in Whitfield, Maine (where the Northern Star Lodge is located) so she even has family close by. Her former husband had very particular tastes and seems to have treated Laney as a bit of a bimbo. My sense wasn’t that he was controlling or abusive, but rather that he was selfish and overrode her wishes so often, she started forgetting she had any (maybe that does count as a form of abuse? I’m not sure). Free from that marriage, Laney wishes to take the summer (and perhaps a bit longer) to find herself and work out what she really wants to do going forward.
Laney’s not looking for a relationship. She’s terrified of losing herself again. So when sexy EMT Ben Rivers crosses her path, their strong chemistry is something which scares her. At the same time, she finds him kind of irresistible.
Ben is 38 and, after recently moving back to Whitfield, has realised he’s behind the 8-ball when it comes to settling down and starting a family. He always thought there’d be time and now he realises he’s running out. If he wants the kind of long and happy marriage his parents are celebrating he’d better get a move on. After all, if he ever makes it through 40 years of marriage he’ll be around 80!
Both Ben and Laney are at very different stages in their lives and that is the essential conflict of their romance. Ben is a sensitive to Laney’s feelings and is prepared not to push her for more than she’s willing to give, but over time he falls in love with her and he’s desperately hoping she will stop being scared, and love him back.
Frankly, Ms. Stacey did such a good job of showing why Laney needed to take things slowly, the HEA felt a bit rushed. I’d have liked to have seen more of Laney’s journey to realising she could trust herself not to fall into bad habits and a recognition that Ben wasn’t like her ex and would never ride roughshod over her feelings and desires. Instead, those things felt glossed over.
Still, Ben’s sexy beta-ness was adorable and I liked Laney very much. In fact, her introduction to the Kowalskis may serve new readers as a bit of an entry point into the series – which gets back to what I was saying earlier. It’s not necessarily a stand-alone novel but it could work as one, all things considered.
There are two other POV characters – Emma and Sean. They got their HEA in Yours To Keep (book three of the series, which is still my favourite). Sean even gives us another glimpse of those delightful post-it notes and it was super-cute to know they were a continuing feature of their relationship. Emma’s and Sean’s sections arrive in the book when the Kowalski clan all land at the Northern Star Lodge for their annual camping trip (of doom). Sean grew up at the lodge and Emma is a bit worried he may want to move back there. As a conflict it was fairly thin but I believed Emma would want to decide exactly how she felt about the idea before raising it with Sean. I thought she left it a little late to have the conversation (and even then she had to be pushed) but they didn’t have a lot of real estate in the story so mostly their interactions were a kind of lovely epilogue to their own romance.
All of the other Kowalski characters make at least a cameo and listeners familiar with the series find out who has had children and what their names are, so there’s that too.
I’ve enjoyed Lauren Fortgang’s narrations before and indeed, she was one of the draws for listening to What It Takes over reading it (I have the ebook as well). She has a broad range of character voices, both male and female, though her “hero” voices do tend to sound quite similar so I relied on dialogue tags in some places.
She can also depict a wide variety of ages with her voice, from young children to elderly men and women. If some of the character voices grated on me just a little it was more a personal taste thing than any particular complaint about the narration. I nevertheless appreciated I could tell most of the very large cast apart.
Ms. Fortgang also delivers the warm charm which is a hallmark of the Kowalski series, bringing it from page to ears with wit and emotional depth. Her pacing and tone was very good and the intimate scenes were also well done.
Over the years, Shannon Stacey and the Kowalskis have been reliably good reads for me. With Lauren Fortgang narrating, they’re reliably good listens as well.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Audio
What It Takes was provided to AudioGals by Harlequin Audio for a review.