Romance Series Review: True North by Sarina Bowen: Apple farmers, bartenders, and outdoor showers: oh my!

Sarina Bowen has, in the last 3 years, become one of my absolute favorite authors. She's one whose books I eagerly anticipate each time, and I spend a not-insignificant amount of time searching her website, Goodreads, and her Facebook group for news of upcoming titles. And because I discovered her many years after she started publishing, I discovered a veritable treasure trove of backlist titles, ESPECIALLY a number of binge-worthy series: Him/Us, WAGs, The Ivy Years, Brooklyn Bruisers, Gravity, and True North. Plus, she publishes a number of delightful romances each year, some new installments of a few of these series, but also new series (like Man Hands), rereleases (Hello Goodbye), and even a new YA (The Accidentals is up for best YA Fiction in the GR choice awards!)!

I don't share my love of Sarina's books nearly enough on the blog so today I'm going to post a series review of all 5 of the currently published True North books. Keep reading for info and a mini review for each book! FYI, book 1 Bittersweet is FREE on most major e-tailers so if you're looking to get hooked on a new romance series, now is your chance!

Trigger warning: One character in this series is addicted to opiods and another is an alcoholic. This is mentioned in most of the books once the characters are introduced so I'm putting this warning here, but I'll also include a trigger warning for each of these two character's books so you'll know which books focus on it.

Book 1: Bittersweet
Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: June 14, 2016
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre: adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: Kindle book, purchased
Status: book 1 of the True North series

Summary: Farmers make the earth move.

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 cider-making 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.


Review:
Bittersweet is one of my favorites in this series! Grumpy Griff is an apple farmer with a love of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings who is trying to keep his family's orchard business alive, and Audrey is the bubbly girl from Griff's past with major ambitions to become a chef in Boston's cutthroat restaurant industry. They're complete opposites personality-wise, but Griff and Audrey bond over their mutual interest in food. Oh, and their ridiculously explosive chemistry!

I think this story sets the entire True North series off on its best foot: we get an introduction to many of the major players—the large and lovely Shipley family (mom Ruth and Griff's younger siblings May, Daphne, and Dylan), shy farmhand Zach, quiet recovering addict Jude, feisty bartender Zara—we get hints of future stories and conflicts that will get some attention in later books, AND this one is lower in angst/serious conflict. Griff and Audrey definitely have to figure out how to overcome their opposing professional ambitions and long distance if they're going to figure out how to be a couple.

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Bittersweet is a FREE ebook on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks, AND Google Books. You should totally "buy" it today!

Book 2: Steadfast

Rating: 3.5 stars
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre: adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: Kindle book, purchased
Status: book 2 of the True North series

Summary: 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.

For Sophie Haines, coming face to face with the man who broke her heart is gut-wrenching. Suddenly, he’s 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 turn up volunteer in the church kitchen.

She knows it’s foolish to yearn for the man who returned all the heartsick letters she wrote him in prison. But the looks he sends her now speak volumes.

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.


Review:
First of all, I LOVE Jude and Sophie together. Like Griffin and Audrey, this second chance couple has incredible chemistry that lights up the pages, and they both have the opportunity to grow from their past selves (who we do get to see in a handful of flashbacks). I think it's amazing Sarina wrote an honest and unflinching book about the opioid crisis in New England while still keeping her signature charming and sweet romance centered. The moments of Steadfast that focus on Jude and Sophie are its best. I like it slightly less than the rest of the series because it's very high on angst and is more melodramatic toward the end, especially regarding the villain, and I found that frustrating. I also think a few things are tied up a little too neatly. I understand why, but I think there could have been a more realistic HEA in here.

Major trigger warning for addiction, withdrawal, and domestic assault.

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Book 3: Keepsake
Rating: 4.5 stars
Release Date: October 25, 2016
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre: adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: Kindle book, purchased
Status: book 3 of the True North series

Summary: Lark Wainright used to be fearless. She led her life as a series of adventures, each one more exhilarating than the last. But her last overseas adventure was one too many. She’s safe now, but her family is still consumed with worry and 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 into her little car and heads to Vermont. But her night terrors 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. He’s good with animals, and he’s good with his hands. 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 more than farm labor.


Review:
My favorite book of the series (so far)! Keepsake is one of those cool rarities in romance: a story about a virgin hero! Readers will fall in love with Zach in Bittersweet so if you start off with book 1, you're going to automatically root for this sweet soft boy to win the girl.

Keepsake is really interesting to me because it's one of those books that shows a very different character to the reader than the one the other characters know. Griffin calls Lark "Wild Child" and several stories are shared about Lark's past adventures (there is a zebra involved), but the Lark shown on page is emotionally delicate. It's like her whole personality has a dimmer switch that has been turned down as an effect of the trauma she sustained during a kidnapping a few months earlier.

The romance between Lark and Zach is lovely and sweet, but it's definitely not the focus of the story at first. Initially, the attention is on Lark's attempts to recover from a harrowing ordeal and Zach, big helpful marshmallow that he is, trying to lend comfort where he can. Like, Zach is that guy who gives no thought to his own comfort, even his own needs if someone else is in need. Like he'd give you his coat in hypothermia-inducing weather if you needed one. And while Lark is definitely in a bad situation, she helps Zach too. It's really cool to see these two work out balancing wants and needs, helping each other recover from bad experiences.

Trigger warning for PTSD, abuse, kidnapping, discussions of a religious cult, and for a character being outed without consent by a family member.


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Book 4: Bountiful
Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: October 20, 2017
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Genre: adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: Kindle book, purchased
Status: book 4 of the True North series, book 3.5 of the Brooklyn Bruisers series—can be read without reading BB!

Summary: No last names. No life stories. Those were the rules.

Once upon a time a cocky, copper-haired tourist sauntered into Zara’s bar. And even though she knew better, Zara indulged in a cure for the small-town blues. It was supposed to be an uncomplicated fling—a few sizzling weeks before he went back to his life, and she moved on.

Until an accidental pregnancy changed her life.

Two years later, she’s made peace with the notion that Dave No-Last-Name will never be found. Until one summer day when he walks into her coffee shop, leveling her with the same hot smile that always renders her defenseless.

Dave Beringer has never forgotten the intense month he spent with prickly Zara. Their nights together were the first true intimacy he’d ever experienced. But the discovery of his child is the shock of a lifetime, and his ugly past puts relationships and family out of reach.

Or does it? Vermont’s countryside has a way of nurturing even tortured souls. The fields and the orchards—and hard won love—are Bountiful.


Review:
I love Zara and Dave! A+ second chance romance AND surprise baby. Sarina is truly a master of classic tropes, and I love how she flawlessly combines them into unique stories (she keeps an updated list of all her books by trope here). It was great seeing all the guys from Sarina's Brooklyn Bruisers series, and it was awesome to get to know Dave better than we did in the Bruisers books (I promise you can read Bountiful without reading the Bruisers, but I do recommend you read them).

Bountiful is the first of the Rossi books of the True North series, and I promise you'll love them just as hard as you love the Shipleys, even though they're very different families (and the poor Rossis constantly compare themselves unfavorably to the Shipleys). Zara is one tough cookie, which makes her a fantastic mom and a savvy businesswoman. Just like with Griffin, Audrey is a perfect foil to Zara, but instead of explosive romantic and sexual chemistry, these two make a fire-cracking duo as friends and co-owners of the world's coolest coffee shop. Alec comes in as the grumpy Griff of the Rossis, but honestly, how do you expect me to dislike him when he enjoys babysitting his sweet baby niece shirtless at 6 am??

Two other brand-new scene stealing characters you'll love: baby Nicole and Dave's boss sister Bess. Look. Sarina writes some of the best sexy heroes in existence, but if there's something Sarina can write better than sexy heroes, it's powerful, complex women. I mean, Nicole is a baby so she's fairly straightforward, but man, she does a beautiful job bridging the awkward gap between Zara and Dave. Zara is great. Bess is awesome. Aubrey, May, Lark, Sophie, Mrs. Shipley, Skye... I promise, you're going to love these women!


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Book 5: Speakeasy
Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Publisher: Tuxbury Publishing, LLC
Genre: adult contemporary romance
Format/Source: Kindle book, purchased
Status: book 5 of the True North series

Summary: Sometimes you fall for Mr. Right. And sometimes for Mr. Right Now…

May
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.

Alec
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…


Review:
Ohhhhhh my goooooosssssshhhhhh this book is so super swoony and charming. I really expected Alec to be grumpy like Griff because he's always so brusque to the Shipleys and Dave (but really, what else would we expect from a big brother looking out for his little sis Zara?), but I should have known better since he's a teddy bear with little Nicole. Alec is a lot of fun, which he and May constantly talk about, but he's also really sweet and a good friend. Their playful texts made me fall in love with their friendship as well as their romantic ship, and I am 100% here for stupid jokes.

May & Alec also have the most explosive sexy chemistry of the series (THAT FIRST HOOKUP THO), but lots of tender moments and serious conversations as well. This couple runs the emotional gamut, and I felt like Sarina dug deep to create two very complex, three-dimensional characters AND a well-rounded relationship between them. Absolutely can't wait for book 6 and as many True North books as Sarina will give us!

Trigger warning for alcoholism.


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Book 6: Fireworks
Coming 11/13/18
Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: November 13, 2018
Publisher: Tuxbury Publishing, LLC
Genre: adult contemporary romance
Format/Source:
Status: book 6 of the True North series

Summary: Skye Copeland is on paid leave from her broadcasting job after accidentally drawing a wiener on the traffic map.

Let that sink in. Like it’s her fault the traffic pattern created a perfect schlong?

Skye isn’t laughing. She needs this job. And that’s the only reason she’s willing to chase down a story in her least favorite place—that hell on earth known as Vermont.

A quick trip. In and out. Much like - never mind. She can sneak into the town that once tried to break her, get the story and slide back into the good graces of her producer. Easy peasy.

But things go sideways the moment she steps over the county line. Her stepsister is running from a violent drug dealer. And the cop on the case is none other than Benito Rossi, the man who broke Skye’s teenage heart.

His dark brown eyes still tear her apart. And even as she steels herself to finally tell him off after twelve years, the old fireworks are still there.

Things are about to go boom.


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About the Author:
Sarina Bowen is the RITA® Award winning author of over two dozen contemporary and LGTB romance novels. She most recently hit the USA Today bestseller's list in February, with Brooklynaire. Formerly a derivatives trader on Wall Street, Sarina holds a BA in economics from Yale University.

Sarina Bowen is a New Englander whose Vermont ancestors cut timber and farmed the north country since the 1760s. Sarina is grateful for the invention of indoor plumbing and wi-fi during the intervening 250 years. On a few wooded acres, she lives with her husband, two boys, and an ungodly amount of ski and hockey gear.

Sarina's books are published in a dozen languages on four continents. In 2016, The Romance Writers of America honored HIM by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy with a RITA award for Best Contemporary Romance, Mid-Length.

Author Links:
    

Giveaway:
I'm giving away one kindle copy of any of the True North series (Bittersweet is free, but any of the others are eligible, including Fireworks).

Open INT to anyone who can win a kindle ebook. Entrants must be 13+. Giveaway is open until 12 AM CST 11/20. Please enter via Rafflecopter below; winner will be chosen at random, and odds are determined by number of entries. I reserve the right to disqualify any entries that are not in accordance with my giveaway policies as stated in the Review & Site Policies tab at the top of the page.Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

12 comments:

  1. I can't wait to read the rest of this series!

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    Replies
    1. IT'S SOOOOO GOOD! Have you just read Bittersweet so far?

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  2. I love sports romances. Hate to love. Best friend to more. Bad boy/girl with nerd.

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    Replies
    1. I am SUCH a sucker for sports romances, and YES, I love all three of your others too!

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  3. Single parents. Sports romance. Enemies-to-lovers.

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    Replies
    1. I've gotten more into single parents lately! What are some of your faves?

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  4. Thank you!! My favorite romance trope is enemies to lovers.

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    Replies
    1. Such a classic! It's one of my favorite tropes too!

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  5. I like many different ones but my favorite is the friends to lovers stories, thank you for the chance to win!

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