Rating: ★★★★ | 10 hours 8 minutes | Self Published (Blackstone Audio) | Contemporary | True North #3 | 01/03/2017
Keepsake is a slow burn romance between 23-year-old Zachariah Holtz, a former cult member turned farmhand and 24-year-old Lark Wainwright, who has come to the Shipley family farm for respite after escaping a kidnapping in Guatemala. Lark suffers from PTSD and Zach seems to be the only one on the farm who can soothe her night terrors. Between picking apples, traveling to farmer’s markets and pressing cider they bond over their shared past trauma and fall in love.
Sarina Bowen was one of the first romance authors I ever read but she’s fallen off my radar lately. This book caught my attention because I wanted to read a virgin hero and this book was rec’d on of SBTB virgin heroes Rec League and it did not disappoint.
You guys, I didn’t know we were allowed to have heroes this beta in romance. Not only is Zach a virgin but because he was raised in such a strict fundamentalist cult he doesn’t fit a lot of the traditionally masculine coded spaces of romance heroes. All he knows is physical labor and following orders and doesn’t have money, education, security or connections to support the heroine and it’s such an interesting change in dynamic. A big part of his character arc involves him learning he doesn’t have to always be doing something for someone else to have value. And something about that for a hero feels subversive.
I kinda hate this beautiful cinnamon roll meme but Zach is a beautiful cinnamon roll too good for what happens in this book. Like, in his introductory scene he’s voluntarily washing dishes after the Shipley family dinner and then gets excited about getting the 6th Harry Potter book off hold from the library.
My big issue with the book is Lark. I try not to be one of those readers who is harder on female characters but Lark just didn’t sit right with me….she is just such a Becky. And the weird part is the book acknowledges her extreme privilege but it didn’t make it any better. Lark comes from a well off Bostonian family and just decides to come to the farm because she thinks it will help her feel better and it felt like that thing when rich people doing a thing poor people do because it’s relaxing. Also, she has PTSD from her kidnapping that makes her scream in the middle of the night but doesn’t warn anyone that this happens and just expects them to deal with her screaming bloody murder in the middle of the night even though other people in the house have to get up early to milk cows and stuff!
And speaking of PTSD we find out pretty early she was kidnapped because she’s such a “wild child” and was walking around Guatemala by herself at night even though she was told not to do that by the nonprofit she was working for. Also, also, she gets a guy killed during her kidnapping. Like I hate to look too much into this book but basically her white privilege gets someone murdered and I just really wanted Zach to end up with another character. Any character.I think Bowen does an admirable trying to make Lark full circle but I was just too out on her to care
These two audiobook narrators were great and worked well off of each other, Teddy Hamilton’s Zach is so earnest and has this slight country drawl and Erin Spencer’s voice is bright and youthful. I’m definitely adding them to my go to narrators list, although they must read pretty slow because this book is only 217 pages on Kindle but the audio is 10 hours long. Also, I find it interesting that none of the books in this series have the same narrator.
The Shipley family and all the residents of this Vermont farm town sound awesome. Also, yes, yes a keepsake is a breed of apple that looks bruised and imperfect on the outside when it’s actually perfectly good on the inside.
So, apparently the cult Zack leaves is the setting of Bowen’s first romance ever that she re-titled and republished as Goodbye, Paradise and I’m so curious to read this to see how she turns a fundamentalist cult into a setting for a m/m romance.
Also these covers aren’t my faves but I love that Bowen left the bulging man chest off this cover. The rest of the series has the Muscle McMuscle dudes (especially the first one, WTF is going on there ?) and this one could have easily been that too but I think making it something softer is more true to the books.