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  • Writer's pictureGrace A. Johnson

Review: All That It Takes by Nicole Deese

Stars: 4.5

Synopsis: Val Locklier has finally made the move...literally. From Alaska to Spokane, Washington along with her ten-year-old son Tucker to help her friend Molly start a new business. Uprooting herself and Tucker from their quiet lives was hard enough...until Molly’s brother Miles McKenzie returns home from his last outreach mission in Mexico to find Val and Tucker renting out the room above his house—without his knowledge. Sparks fly, but not all of them are of the romantic kind when a fire destroys Molly’s dreams and frees Val to follow hers, to a career in film-making and maybe, just maybe, a relationship with Miles.

As you can tell by my extra-long summary there, I was quite intrigued by the plot of All That It Takes, the long-awaited sequel to All That Really Matters (let’s face it, all sequels are long-awaited *winks*). There was so much going on, so many new avenues to explore, so many different paths the characters could take...and so this story should have been convoluted, intense, and fast-paced.

But it wasn’t. It was smooth, developed, balanced, subtle—and as much as I love action-packed thrillers (pirate thrillers, mind you), there’s honestly nothing better than a story that can incorporate so many plot points while also taking time to fully develop the characters! Y’all, by the first page, I was invested in Val and Miles. Their stories captivated me, their personalities drew me in, their struggles engaged me—and it didn’t take half the book for that to happen or for some sudden tragedy to strike.

All that it takes is good, steady character development. (And, yes, I just dropped the title. I had to.) By giving me characters that were both unique and relatable, real and different, authentic and dramatic, I was immediately immersed into their lives and was so excited to see how their stories unfolded!

Y’all do realize what this means, right?

I. Liked. Val. Actually, I kinda loved her, and she definitely ranks higher than Miles in my book—no offense to Miles, who was precious (maybe a little too precious, if you know what I mean). Val was real and normal and relatable (social anxiety, anyone?), but also had her own unique flair and backstory that was genuine instead of thrown in for points or to keep readers interested when their attention waned (not that my attention ever waned). I love how there was a viable character arc that was developed and paced instead of sudden and unexpected, even though, yes, I did wish I could’ve seen more about her budding relationship with God!

Speaking of, Miles was something else. He was so flawed and yet so perfect—which makes no sense, so let me explain. He had good intentions and was striving to do good things, but his heart wasn’t where it needed to be, and he stumbled and fell just like the rest of us. As bad as I wanted to pound sense into his noggin, I loved watching him come to a deeper understanding of what it means to love God and serve others!

Notice here that I haven’t mentioned anything about their romantic relationship or if they were swoon-worthy or hero/heroine material. Why? Because Val and Miles were more than just cardboard foils for a cutesy romance plot. They were fleshed-out characters who went beyond the threadbare criteria for fitting into a romance plot, and I appreciated that so much! I appreciated the time and effort Deese put into making them both come to life beyond their romance!

I’m sure y’all are thinking to yourself, “Grace, if you like character development that much, why don’t you just read women’s fiction or something non-romantic for once?”

But that’s just the thing! Quality characters and deep development shouldn’t be reserved for the books without romance; they should be embraced for all genres and relationships...especially romance, because centering an entire book around a relationship requires a lot of care and thought being put into the people who make up the relationship. Am right?

I’m right. You know it. *smirks*

So when authors not only balance the character development with the development of the romance, but develop them together and let the romance flow naturally from the characters themselves, I simply must commend them!

And Deese didn’t skimp on the romance either! Even though it’s a little more subtle than I like, it was still there in full-force, in the sweetest and most tender of ways! Ya gotta love a beautiful, well-done romance! (Plus Val and Miles had way more interactions with each other than Molly and Silas did, which was awesome. ‘Cause these two were so cute together!)

As for the secondary characters? GOLD! Tucker was the sweetest little thing (he would probably hit me with a lightsaber if he heard me say that), Lady Gwen was awesome (she reminded me so much of Jamie Lee Curtis and Famke Janssen), and I loved the addition of Carlee! Carlee and Val’s relationship was so precious, and the way Carlee’s struggles opened up a new side of Val’s character and backstory was just perfect.

That said, I really wish something could have been said about premarital sex. As much as I love stories about choosing life...the root of abortions and unwanted babies is—you guessed it—premarital sex. But this story never touched on that or condoned it in any way. Instead, the only reason hooking up (for lack of a better term) with a guy is wrong if if he leaves you with a baby. Newsflash: that’s not the only reason it’s wrong. He could never get you pregnant and stay with you forever...and it’d still be wrong and a sin.

Otherwise, the themes of true servitude, letting God work through you wherever He guides you, and discipleship others over accumulating more numbers were on point! I would’ve liked to see more of Val’s growing relationship with the Lord and Miles’ deepening relationship, of course, but I think the themes were strong enough and some of that can be assumed happened off-page!

And, of course, the prose was SUPERB! I love Deese’s writing style! It’s modern and has personality...but it’s also perfectly balanced and descriptive!

All in all, All That It Takes was such a refreshing and engaging contemporary romance! This is one of those cases where the sequel was better than the first book—in my opinion—and every element of the story was perfect!

Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.


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about the author

Nicole Deese's sixteen humorous, heartfelt, and hope-filled novels include the 2017 Carol Award-winning A Season to Love. Her 2018 release, A New Shade of Summer, was a finalist in the RITA Awards, Carol Awards, and INSPY Awards. When she's not working on her next contemporary romance, she can usually be found reading one by a window overlooking the inspiring beauty of the Inland Northwest. She lives in small-town Idaho with her happily-ever-after hubby, two rambunctious sons, and princess daughter with the heart of a warrior.

To learn more, visit

yours in spirit and script,


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