I randomly picked Steadfast off my bookshelf and was instantly pulled into the True North series. This series takes place in Vermont and centers around Shipley Farms–an organic apple orchard. Each book features hardworking characters as they build relationships, make sacrifices, and pursue their dreams. One of the things I love about this series is there are no third-act breakups!
I skipped Keepsake True North#3 because I reviewed it five years ago 💀
Bittersweet (True North #1)
27-year-old Griffin Shipley abandoned his pro football dreams to run Shipley Farms after his father’s death. The last person he expects to see on his farm is Audrey Kidder—his bubbly college hookup. Audrey has been sent by a restaurant conglomerate to source Vermont produce but Griffin knows her employer wants to screw over the farmers in contracts. He brings the community together to ice Audrey out despite it all, the intense attraction he has to her.
Bittersweet has a dash of everything; enemies-to-lovers, grumpy/sunshine, and second-chance romance.
I thought this book was a lot of fun. Bittersweet reads like a rom-com with it’s humorous beats, bantery-dialogue, and comic over-the-top situations as Audrey and Griffin figure out how they fit into each other’s future. Griffin wants to get into the cidery business (cider is made from….bitter and sweet apples) and I loved learning about that process. I really want to try cider now!
The audiobook is narrated by Tad Branson and Saskia Maarleveld. I’d never heard Branson before and I thought he was great. Maarleveld is good but…I’m not sure she quite fit Audrey’s bubbly personality. Her voice is just so chill.
Steadfast (True North #2)
I think this is my favorite True North book and it reads well as a standalone. Recovering heroin addict Jude Nickel returns home after three years in prison and a stint in rehab and reunites with his high school girlfriend, Sophie Haines–whose brother he killed in a car accident. Through stolen moments they work through their trauma, rekindle their relationship and… solve a crime.
Steadfast is an angstier romance than Bittersweet. Unlike the other books in this series, our two characters are fairly isolated. Jude and Sophie don’t live in the same town as the other characters in the series. They are both trying to escape toxic households. and find hope for a better future through their relationship.
I thought the way Bowen wove in Sophie looking into Jude’s criminal case perfectly. It almost read like a suspense thriller.
My biggest nitpick with this book is just how cluttered it is with flashbacks and internal playlists that don’t add much. I felt like we got a sense of who Sophie and Jude were without all the extras. There is also a lot of informational scenes that get into the minutiae of opioid recovery. Now this book was released at the height of the opioid epidemic so it may have been in there for readers struggling with addiction?
Seraphine Valentine was absolutely perfect as a narrator, not only was she a great Sophie but she embodied the broody but playful Jude. Jeffrey Kafer is new to me and he has such an otherworldly, intense voice that sounded more suited for SFF than small-town Vermont.
Bountiful (True North #4)
Bountiful starts the shift to the Rossis —the “…rougher, trailer park version of the Shipley family.”
The last thing 28-year-old bartender Zara Rossi expected to get out of her no-strings-attached summer fling with a tourist is pregnant. With no information to contact the long-gone father, she embraces the single mom life.
Two years later, 32-year-old professional hockey player Dave Beringer returns to Vermont with hopes to re-establish his fling with Zara. Instead, he finds out he has a two-year-old daughter and his world is turned completely upside down. Instead of bro-ing down with his hockey team for the summer, Dave learns how to be a father and recovers memories from his own traumatic childhood.
I wasn’t sure I was going to like the quasi-secret baby trope but it totally worked for me. I liked that Dave wasn’t a perfect father right of the bat and struggles to figure out what it means to have a family.
Zara has sort of been floating in the background of the other books and it was fun to see how all her moments over the years weave together. Zara has a little more grit than our previous heroines and I liked how the book doesn’t posit that she has to change her cold ways in order for Dave to love her.
This book is a crossover between the True North series and the Brooklyn Bruisers series–which follows a professional hockey team. My biggest hurdle with this book is that I don’t buy Zara (and her cop brother) couldn’t figure out how to find Dave. She knows Dave’s first name and that he lives in Brooklyn. I feel like if you typed “redhead” “Brooklyn” “Dave” into Google the pro hockey player would have popped up.
The audio is narrated by Seraphine Valentine and Teddy Hamilton, both of whom I’ve enjoyed on previous True North books. They knock it out of the park in this one. They are my favorite pairing so far!
Speakeasy (True North #5)
After a disastrous breakup, law school grad May Shipley recruits bar owner Alec Rossi into some friends-with-benefits fun. May wants to keep it on the down-low because she’s a recovering alcoholic and the last thing she wants is her family’s judgment. May has always seen herself as the Shipley family screw up but as she and Alec grow closer she begins to see herself as something more than her mistakes.
I thought this book had a lot of heart but was the weakest True North book I’ve read. It’s about 100 pages shorter than the other books and I just don’t think there was enough content for a full story. At one point it felt like Bowen was throwing in random external obstacles to keep the plot going.
I also struggled a lot with the hero Alec Rossi. He is supposed to be this 32-year-old life of the party type but it doesn’t come through. He mostly tells corny jokes? He is also constantly giving things “3 snaps in a Z formation” in reference to the In Living Color sketch and it just came off as cringey. Also, what a random problematic reference?
May is bisexual and has only seen herself with women until Alec. While I can’t really comment on the rep I didn’t like how May’s ex was a Psycho Lesbian while all of the exes of heterosexual characters never got the evil ex treatment.
Seraphina Valentine returns for the audiobook with Lance Greenfield, a new to me male narrator. He was good and really had some fun with the role of Alec. I recently heard him on the Audibly Addicted podcast and he is up there with Steve West in the You-Really-Just-Walk-Around-With-That-Voice-Huh-? category of narrators.
I don’t think I’m done with this series. I plan to finish the other three books in the True North series this year and I want to check out The Roommate, the M/M book about a Shipley cousin. I’m also curious about the World of True North, the extended universe Bowen created with other authors. My Hoopla has a bunch of them on audio!