All He Ever Dreamed by Shannon Stacey, narrated by Lauren Fortgang

AllHeEverDreamedaudioWhy I read it:  I bought this one because I need to catch up on the Kowalskis and my audiobook TBL is smaller.  And, I was in the mood for a Shannon Stacey small town contemporary.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Josh Kowalski is tired of holding down the fort – better known as the Northern Star Lodge – while his siblings are off living their dreams. Now that his oldest brother has returned to Whitford, Maine, for good, Josh is free to chase some dreams of his own.

As the daughter of the lodge’s longtime housekeeper, Katie Davis grew up alongside the Kowalski kids. Though she’s always been “one of the guys”, her feelings for Josh are anything but sisterly. And after a hot late-night encounter in the kitchen, it’s clear Josh finally sees her as the woman she is.

Katie’s been waiting years for Josh to notice her, but now that he has, she’s afraid it’s too late. Giving her heart to a man who can’t wait to leave town is one sure way to have it broken. But Josh keeps coming up with excuses not to leave – could it be that everything he’s ever wanted is closer than he could have imagined?

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Josh Kowalski has been stuck running the Northern Star Lodge since his father died. It wasn’t what he wanted or what he chose – it was more that he was the one left standing when the music stopped.  When this branch of the Kowalskis series began, Josh broke his leg and the various other family members came home to help him out.  It then became clear just how unhappy and trapped Josh felt.

Katie Davis is the daughter of Rose, the… housekeeper/den mother (?) at the Northern Star Lodge/  Katie is 3 years Josh’s senior (something which wasn’t made a big deal of – yay!) and they’ve been best friends since Josh was nine.  For reasons which aren’t clear to me, Josh didn’t notice Katie as a woman.  She was always just “one of the guys” and his best friend.  When Rose comes down with pneumonia for the second time in three weeks, Katie moves in to the Lodge to keep an eye on her and make sure she rests properly.  While Katie is in residence, Josh sees her in her skimpy night attire and BAM! Katie has suddenly morphed into a red-blooded woman and Josh has a constant boner.  Everyone (and I mean everyone) in Whitford knows that Josh and Katie are perfect for one another and that Katie is in love with him. How Josh managed to be so clueless for so long is completely beyond me.  I didn’t buy his “awakening” but I was prepared to go with it because: romance.

Once they do get together, the central conflict is that Josh wants to leave and see the world and Katie wants to stay.  While I was happy to see Josh and Katie get their HEA, I admit I was a little disappointed about the how.  Josh had been so unhappy in Whitford –  without giving away spoilers, I’ll say the timeline just didn’t work for me here.

The other thing that troubled me a little is that Josh isn’t good at talking about his feelings and I didn’t really see much growth there.  While he and Katie are in many ways two peas in a pod, I’d have felt better about their HEA if he’d made more progress in this direction.

That said, the story was entertaining and Katie and Josh had good chemistry.  I also enjoyed the secondary romance between Rose and Andy.

What else? I think the story was as successful as it was for me because of the narration.  In part this is a function of the medium itself – when I listen to an audiobook I’m always doing something else; cooking, exercising, driving or housework –  so a book doesn’t have to occupy 100% of my mind to be enjoyable.  (That’s not to say I can’t be bowled over by an audiobook – I totally can.  It’s just that I can enjoy a less engrossing audiobook well enough and I think it’s because of that.  If I had sat down and given the print version my full attention I’m sure I would have skimmed.)   Lauren Fortgang conveyed the genuine affection that always existed between Josh and Katie with aplomb and I liked the way she differentiated the older characters, the brothers and the other women in the story.

It wasn’t my favourite of the Kowalskis but it was still an enjoyable listen and worth my Audible credit.

Grade: C+

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