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Taken with You by Shannon Stacey

“Taken with You” is the 8th book in The Kowalskis series set Maine and New Hampshire. Hailey has been a recurring character in the series, the town librarian and best friend to Paige Kowalski. Nearly all her friends have married and started families or Hailey good-naturedly puts it:

“Those damn Kowalski men stole all my women”.

However instead of sincerely whining, complaining or making desperate compromises she and fellow singleton Tori have decided to make the best of it and celebrate their singleness. Their first celebratory woodland trek goes awry, as they fall behind and are left behind by their tour guides. Matt Barnett, a game warden, steps out of the woods on the tail-end of a two-week vacation in the woods looking less like a rescuer and more like furry woodland hermit. Faced with no better offers, Hailey and Tori trust him to lead them back to their car.

Hailey and Matt on the trail they both irritate each other, disapproving of each others grooming, and clothing choices, but at the trail head they part ways, comforting themselves that it is unlikely they will ever see each other again. But life in romanceland isn’t that way, because Matt is the new game warden in town, brought in to help police the expanded ATV and Snowmobiling trails developed by the Kowalski family in the previous books.  Matt isn’t just a new single fixture in town, he is also Hailey’s new next-door neighbor and they can’t keep their eyes off each other and they see-saw on whether they should indulge the attraction or ignore it.

“You are the master of mixed signals,” she said deciding if she couldn’t hide her reaction she might as well face it head on.”

I am always a bit nervous when I hear a heroine is a librarian. I end up holding my breath, because it is my profession. I thought Stacey did a great job, depicting the ups and downs of small town librarianship. Hailey sees her library as cultural community center rather than a repository for books, young and old are welcome, she is over-worked and under-supported but she still loves what she does even if she does have to deal with cat-pissed books in the bookdrop.

This is a novel of new beginnings, old relationship baggage, re-evaluating prejudices and expectations. I really liked the arc of their relationship I liked how Hailey and Matt move from needling and judging each other, to genuinely liking each other, but liking each other and fully understanding what they truly want are different things.

It is not a full-blown opposites-attract story, or enemies to lovers story, because both Hailey and Matt share more things in common than they superficially think they do. I liked Matt’s flirtatiousness and teasing, and I loved Hailey’s honesty.

“That wasn’t meant to be a dig. I swear there’s something about you that makes me say stupid things.”

She is the one to apologize for getting off on the wrong foot, and warns Matt about the fish bowl element to dating in a small town. She is also mature enough to realize when it is time the right time to have a fight, and when it isn’t.

“Hailey wasn’t sure what to do with a man who was bone-tired, emotionally tapped and not in the mood to talk about it, so she made cocoa.”

I really respected that. My husband has a emotionally taxing job, and there have been times in my life when I had to just set something aside, for a while, till we were both ready to deal with a issue. She just had a good head on her shoulders and I enjoyed reading her. Matt is a good-looking hardworking guy who has a chip on his shoulder about his profession. He has gone through several relationships that have failed because in the end the women didn’t want to put up with his law-enforcement hours, the dirt and stink that comes from working outdoors and who have wanted to turn him into something spiffier. He is done with being thought of as diamond in the rough.

“And so it began. Dinner. Dancing. Before he knew it, she’d be dragging him to fancy functions and making apologies for him embarrassed whispers.”

Despite his father and mother calling him on it, and intellectually knowing it wasn’t fair, he is still insecure and frankly immature about it and really hurts Hailey because of it. And when Hailey is there for him despite of it he almost screws up some more out of fear of rejection.

 “Two days. Two days, Matt Barnett had been gone and Hailey wanted to strangle him. Or hug him. Maybe she’d just hug him, really, really tightly and fulfill both urges at the same time.”

 Their reconciliation really worked well for me, which genuine remorse, understanding and resolution and I could have closed the book there, because their “Three Months” later was a bit too perfect/sweet/much for me.

Kowalski series note:

Most of the Maine Kowalskis and other recurring town residents resurface for this book but do so without pulling attention from main story and characters. Nobody was shoehorned in, and I particularly liked how Paige's friendship with Hailey was depicted.  The Kowalski series as whole has just worked for me. While other small town series sometimes start feeling repetitive, Stacey has managed to create a familiar setting without reducing the recurring characters to cliches. 


4 out 5 stars for Taken with You.

A review copy of Taken with You was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley for review purposes.

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