If you haven’t read any of Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family series, stop right now and go pick up the first book, Exclusively Yours, pronto. Any format will suffice, but just grab it and start it soon! I recommend the Kowalski Family series to first-time and veteran romance readers more than any other series, and for good reasons - it is a wonderfully written, joyful, small-town romance series that gives all the feels. So with that said, if you haven’t read the series, I really don’t recommend starting with What it Takes for a couple of reasons. First, this is a “reunion” book, bringing back all of the couples and characters from the previous nine titles. Their stories will be lost on someone who’s not read the series. Second, I feel this story is the weakest of the ten books, and therefore, not a great example of how wonderful this series truly is.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, on to my review… What it Takes is a combination between the love story of Laney Caswell and Ben Rivers and reunion tour of the Kowalski family and friends from the first nine books in the series. Unfortunately, the book tries too hard to cover both storylines, leaving me not quite satisfied with either. I did enjoy my time back in Whitford, ME; however, I felt I had to work too hard to follow along all the going-ons, and frankly, I would have preferred a stronger romantic storyline instead of the reunion.
The book opens and closes strong, following the budding romance between Ben and Laney. Ben grew up in Whitford, and is friends with the gang. Now that Northern Star Lodge has become so popular with the 4-wheelers, Josh got the town to offer his friend a job as a paramedic helping on the trails when riders get injured. Laney recently finalized a drawn-out divorce. Now she's starting over in a camper at the Northern Star Lodge where she’s spending the summer helping out the growing business. Once the pair meets, there are sparks flying right from the start. I adore the couple’s awkwardness, especially their initial meeting when Laney takes care of Ben's cuts. The humor is spot on and exactly what I have come to expect from Ms. Stacey.
Just as the couple show signs of a romance, the Northern Star Lodge is overrun by the annual Kowalski Family Camping Trip (of doom), and the reader is treated to a rundown on every thing and everyone Kowalski. Additionally, there is a side story involving Emma and Sean (from Yours to Keep, one of my all-time favorite books!). While I loved seeing my favorite fictional family, I felt there was too much history from other books shared. The author spent a lot of time retelling the connections between the various characters and telling readers what everyone has been up to. As a fan of the series, having read each book (some more than once), it was redundant, and took away time that could have been spent on Ben and Laney’s romance.
Back to the romance, Ben and Laney make a great pair, once we get to see them spend some quality time alone. Laney is a strong woman, but she lacks the self-confidence needed to get on with her life after her divorce. She is so worried that she'll make life decisions based on pleasing others that she forgets to look into her own heart and discover what makes her happy. Her fears are understandable so it doesn't bother me when she pushes Ben away time and time again. However because there is so much scene time spent reacquainting readers with the Kowalskis, I felt it took away from any positive progress the couple made. And it’s just too bad because these two lonely people deserved a solid story.
With all that, I truly enjoyed my return to Whitford, ME, and catching up with the Kowalskis. The series is one of my favorites, mixing small town romance and humor; dishing out life lessons and love. While What It Takes has all the hallmark notes that makes the series so fabulous, I felt at times it was weighed down by the reunion aspect of the novel. Ben and Laney's romance often to a side or back seat to catching up with the families. It wasn't until the last 15% of the book that I finally felt a connection to the couple.
My Rating: B- Liked It, but I had a few small issues
Review copy provided by NetGalley
Originally posted at That's What I'm Talking About