Series: True North

Speakeasy by Sarina Bowen

Speakeasy by Sarina BowenSpeakeasy Series: True North #5
Published by Sarina Bowen on May 29th 2018
Pages: 235
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Sometimes you fall for Mr. Right. And sometimes for Mr. Right Now…

Did you hear the one about the girl who walks into a bar and catches her live-in lover kissing someone else? No? You’re the only one in town who missed it.
Luckily Alec is there to wrap me up in strong arms and carry me out the door before things get too ugly. And that’s not all Alec is good at. Our unexpected chemistry makes him the perfect rebound guy.

I should know better than to hook up with my rival’s little sister, but the fiery look in May’s eyes really turns my crank. She needs cheering up, and I’m just the guy for the job.

It’s not like I’ll fall in love. Not even after a string of scorching hot trysts, and the realization that we’re good at the same things: wild nights and familial disappointment. I don’t do love, never have, never will. So this is the perfect arrangement, for both of us.

Nobody would approve, but nobody has to know…

A straight-out confession here: ‘Speakeasy’ isn’t my favourite in Sarina Bowen’s ‘True North’ series, unlike Jude’s and Sophie’s story that wore me to the ground.

I’m lukewarm about May and Alec—that is to say, I wasn’t invested very much in them for some reason—with the former’s issues getting me to shake my head while I winced at the latter’s lack of substance. May Shipley, however, was a more fleshed-out character than Alec Rossi and in turn, I felt that I could understand and appreciate her more than I could the easy-going party playboy who owned a bar and pretty much flailed at everything else. Alec’s lack of balls as he juggled May and his other hookup didn’t win him any points on my end however and I was still left by the end of things wondering why he’d picked May to signal the end of his commitment-free life.

But I’ll say this in defence of Sarina Bowen, who isn’t an author who shies away from the difficult topics while using the ‘softly softly’ approach. She handles all forms of sexuality/addiction with a confidence (and a lot of heart) that I admire and here, taking on the fluidity of this concept with May Shipley is yet another shining example of how she does it. Her characters are flesh-and-bone real and they far from have things together, yet ‘Speakeasy’ still manages to rank low on the angst scale, with the characters pretty much working themselves out without the high emotional spikes.

No book in this series has however, come close to how much I loved Bowen’s ‘Steadfast’, and I guess I’m still waiting for one to outdo that.


Keepsake by Sarina Bowen

Keepsake by Sarina BowenKeepsake Series: True North #3
on October 25th 2016
Pages: 317
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Lark Wainwright used to be fearless. Her life was a series of adventures, each one more exhilarating than the last. But her recent overseas adventure was one too many. Now she’s home and in one piece. Mostly. But her nights are filled with terror.

When her best friend offers her a stay at the orchard in exchange for help at the farmers’ markets, Lark jumps at the chance to spend fall in Vermont. But her nightmares don’t stop. Desperate to keep her fragile state a secret, she relies on the most soft-spoken resident of the Shipley Farm to soothe her when her dreams prove too much.

Zachariah is a survivor, too. It’s been four years since he was tossed aside by the polygamist cult where he grew up. He’s found a peaceful existence on the Shipley’s farm, picking apples and fixing machinery. But getting thrown away by your own people at nineteen leaves a mark on a guy. He doesn’t always know what to make of a world where movie quotes are the primary means of communication. Before hitchhiking to Vermont, he’d never watched TV or spoken on the phone.

Actually, there are a lot of things he’s never done.

Zach and Lark slowly grow to trust one another. One night they become even closer than they’d planned. But Lark may still be too broken to trust anyone. When she pushes Zach away, he will have to prove to himself that he's good for much more than farm labor.

If Griff’s story was lukewarm at best and Jude’s one absolutely brilliant, Zach’s and Lark’s story was predictable and frustrating.

Zach has been a constant at the Shipley’s since book 1 and there are many things he hadn’t tried, having come from a cultish background and a rather tragic past when he tried to breakaway from it. That Sarina Bowen chose to pair him with Lark Wainwright, a wild child who has that streak temporarily halted because of her PTSD made me wonder if this was even a pairing I was able to get behind.

The answer is, after reading their story, is not entirely. If I was charmed by Zach, I was less than impressed with Lark’s drama, even if Zach and Lark did gravitate towards each other. There were times I felt that Zach was way too good for Lark who rubbed me the wrong way completely—he deserved better than her really—and perhaps that is in itself, a sign that I didn’t think too much of a pairing where the woman wasn’t a standout heroine despite her PTSD. Her cowardly (and cruel) treatment of him when she pushed him away made her less worthy of Zach’s utter devotion and steadfast presence, even as Bowen insists that the time away from each other is necessary so that Lark could get well and stop using Zach as a crutch instead. I didn’t like in addition, how Zach seemed to be the only one who pulled out all the stops as though Lark needed to be persuaded to love him in the midst of her self-pity while using him to chase her demons away.

Slow-going at times, the conversational tone that ‘Keepsake’ is written in keeps the pages turning and while it’s an easy read, I didn’t finish the story feeling overwhelmed, gutted and needing more.


Steadfast by Sarina Bowen

Steadfast by Sarina BowenSteadfast by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #2
Published by Rennie Road Books on July 12th 2016
Pages: 300
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She’s the only one who ever loved him—and the only one he can never have. Jude lost everything one spring day when he crashed his car into an apple tree on the side of the road. A man is dead, and there's no way he can ever right that wrong. He’d steer clear of Colebury, Vermont forever if he could. But an ex-con in recovery for his drug addiction can’t find a job just anywhere. 
Sophie Haines is stunned by his reappearance. After a three year absence, the man who killed her brother and broke her heart is suddenly everywhere she turns. It’s hard not to stare at how much he’s changed. The bad boy who used to love her didn’t have big biceps and sun-kissed hair. And he’d never volunteer in the church kitchen. 
No one wants to see Sophie and Jude back together, least of all Sophie's police chief father. But it's a small town. And forbidden love is a law unto itself. 

Riveting, impossible to put down and possibly one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of going through this year, ‘Steadfast’ rocked my world so much I actually had a book hangover, the effects of which I’m still shrugging off.

Like an addict, I drank it all in, then craved another hit when I hit ‘The End’.

‘Steadfast’ deals with the down and outs of addiction without the sugar-coated platitudes prevalent in self-help books or in the media. But fiction has the power to deal with it as it is and I’m glad this book does: lives are broken and those who live through it deal with the guilt that never really dissipates or with the constant need to make amends for events that may or may not have been their fault. But how is that even possible when you’re stuck in a place where it all began with no hope of moving forward because the past has never been put to bed?

I don’t remember ever rooting that much for a fictional character who is taking baby steps to crawl his way out of the dark, stumbling like a colt or a foal in the worst environment for it. Sarina Bowen’s portrayals of Jude and Sophie are raw and powerful and I felt their struggles and conflicts every step of the way, but in particular, Jude’s heart-wrenching journey to stay clean slayed me. There’s so much history and heartache between them that I wondered about them finding the light at the end of the tunnel but Bowen writes so much forgiveness, hope and trust into a relationship forged in fire that there isn’t much else to do but cheer for their HEA when it finally comes.


Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen

Bittersweet by Sarina BowenBittersweet by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North, #1
Published by Rennie Road Books on June 14th 2016
Pages: 348
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The last person Griffin Shipley expects to find stuck in a ditch on his Vermont country road is his ex-hookup. Five years ago they’d shared a couple of steamy nights together. But that was a lifetime ago.
At twenty-seven, Griff is now the accidental patriarch of his family farm. Even his enormous shoulders feel the strain of supporting his mother, three siblings and a dotty grandfather. He doesn’t have time for the sorority girl who’s shown up expecting to buy his harvest at half price.
Vermont was never in Audrey Kidder’s travel plans. Neither was Griff Shipley. But she needs a second chance with the restaurant conglomerate employing her. Okay—a fifth chance. And no self-righteous lumbersexual farmer will stand in her way.
They’re adversaries. They want entirely different things from life. Too bad their sexual chemistry is as hot as Audrey’s top secret enchilada sauce, and then some.

Two ex-college hookups coming together again? I’m only marginally interested somehow, even if it did get amusing at times. But that’s the brief history Griff Shipley and Audrey Kidder share: two nights at some frat house, before five years of nothing, until work and a flat tire bring Audrey up his path again.

The main draw, strangely, is the entire setting and the context in which this whole story plays out. I’m too much of a city-kid not to notice the beautifully drawn out countryside as well as the fascinating farming community – one that seems to be more geared to organic, specialised, fairtrade produce than the mass market – that Bowen so writes about. Throw in the farmers’ markets, the rich, seductive colours of the seasonal food, the crazy culinary world, that postmodern relationship between growers and restaurants and I’m hooked. Everything about this is contemporary, grounded in a part of a revolutionary culinary/farmer business that’s gaining a lot more attention these days. And if you’re the hipster sort, Griffin Shipley completely fits that type as the big, grumpy bearded farmer – which isn’t quite the thing that get my rocks off.

But it isn’t too far off the mark to say I didn’t feel too much for the main characters. Audrey wasn’t that special to be a standout, memorable heroine – in fact, she reminded me of a drifter, shallow cheerleader-type at first that found her footing late – and the romance between her and Griffin was for me, lukewarm and sort of lacklustre at best. There are steamy times ahead but I couldn’t understand the strange draw they had to each other at all when all that’s being reiterated is the hot sex and their past hot hookups, minus the emotional connection. Call it boredom, perhaps, but I found myself conversely more interested in the secondary characters – the farmhands! – whom I felt I wanted to know more about.