Release Reviews: Steadfast: Sarina Bowen

by - Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Steadfast (True North #2)
Sarina Bowen
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Expected July 12, 2016
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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.

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 to 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.

graphics from author's Facebook page
Jude Nickel is a man trying to rebuild his broken life. After battling addiction, a fatal accident, and prison time, he has lost everything including his love, Sophie. For the past six months he began his life after prison and recovery working at Shipley Farms and Orchards. But now it's time to return to his small hometown of Colebury, Vermont where no one will really welcome him.

The accident also caused Sophie Haines to lose everything. She has struggled not only with loss and changes in her family dynamics, but also losing of Jude, dealing with his betrayal, and subsequent silence.

But now they are thrown together and neither know how to deal. Jude is trying to make better choices and survive clean day by day. She is working towards her own goals and doing what good she can. No one thinks they should be in contact. But they were always the only person who really knew and could talk to the other. There is a pull that neither can deny.

Soon the sexual tension and passion will be too hard to avoid. But the can they scratch an itch and leave feelings out? It seems there is no hope for them to be anything more due to their circumstances.

I really felt for both Jude and Sophie and what they were going through. They both suffered and continued to struggle. They each knew what they wanted and needed, but there was no easy way to get there.

Jude was quiet, humble, lonely, and caring. He was a hard worker, but felt unworthy. Every day was a struggle to avoid temptation and trouble. He would sacrifice anything to protect Sophie even if it was from himself. Sophie was tenacious, loving, inquisitive, but overwhelmed. They really needed each other, but any contact was forbidden by circumstances and could have serious consequences. I could feel their ache not only for what used to be, but also for a chance to go back and make better choices. They had so many regrets and missed opportunities, and now were facing such a different, desperate present with no clear resolution and little hope for a future.

Jude was proud and hated to ask for help. He did not trust himself, so it was hard for him to trust others. He felt hopeless and tended to think negatively about any chance of a happy future. But Sophie liked to think more positively and had some hope. 
But Jude had to be willing to grasp hold of it if there was chance of moving forward. She was not willing to sit idly by and accept defeat. And her analytical mind never stopped questioning the events that ruined both of their lives.

This book had a totally different feel than book one, Bittersweet. It was darker, grittier, emotional, and intense. It did not have the humor and easy banter. I was already interested in Jude's story after reading Bittersweet so I was immediately drawn in by Jude from the beginning of this one. Sometimes I shy away from books with drug addicted heroes, but Jude won me over with his humility, vulnerability, and regret. I connected with his voice and his inner torment. This felt like a real, honest struggle of a person dealing with addiction and it was treated as such. 
Sophie was easy to like too. I admired how she handled the issues surrounding them with grace even during difficult times. I enjoyed getting both of their points of view and really getting an understanding for them in the present as well as their past.

Even though this technically could be read as a stand alone, it fits in with the series because we get to visit with the Shipleys and their friends as side characters. They blend perfectly into Jude's life and story and I realized how attached I was to them. I loved what an impact this one family has on so many lives. There are so many intriguing, likable characters with potential for more stories especially Zach, May, Zara and her brother Alec, and Kyle.

I really cannot find anything to fault with this book. The writing flowed well with multiple layers, twists, and surprises. It felt like a deeply personal story that I lived with these characters. My heart hurt. Sometimes the tension was almost too much. I felt the pain, the need, the want, the passion, and the little rays of hope as they started to show in the darkness. I was curious, angry, and disappointed at times. But I was invested and felt everything  along with these characters.

This was a poignant, raw, second-chance love story layered with tragedy, mystery, and suspense. But it was also a beautiful  display of hope, faith, forgiveness, healing, redemption, and the power of love. It exceeded my expectations and I cannot wait for Zach's story in Keepsake

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Sophia was a good girl. Local cop’s daughter with dreams of Juilliard and a singing career. Jude was the bad boy. A year older with a drunk for a father and an absentee mother, he had no prospects and a drug habit he tried to hide.

They loved each other fiercely, until the night that changed everything. Jude went to prison and her family was shattered. It was all his fault.

Sarina has done it again. Jude and Sophia, small town Vermont, a second change with hope, pain, chemistry, and baggage, these characters and this story kept me riveted from the very beginning. These two seemingly opposite characters had such a great connection, wanted to fight for each other, but didn’t always know how to fight for each other rather than against everyone around them.

Jude’s return home after leaving prison, rehab, and recovery time on the Shipley farm is filled with struggles as he works to put his life back together. I couldn’t help but admire his determination to fight his cravings, and avoid the temptations he found around every corner. He had very little support from home, but he was determined to keep himself clean, for no one but himself.

I loved these characters. From the bits of Jude that we got in Bittersweet, I was intrigued by his story. That he just wanted Sophia to be living her dream showed such selflessness that I couldn’t help but love him more. Sophia made the best of the hand she had been dealt, finding joy where should could and working to keep her family together as much as she could.

I loved their connection. Despite what should have been (and really was) painful history, they were still drawn to each other. He still thinks he is no good for Sophia, that she shouldn’t have to be with someone who will battle addiction continually. She just wants to make sure he’s ok.

This book kept me up until 2 am unable to sleep without knowing the whole story. Because it isn’t just about Jude and Sophia reconnecting. There are secrets that neither are fully aware of, and though I was able to predict some of the twists, the ending was certainly eye opening.

I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Yep, it’s another foray by this gay reviewer into the land of hetero romance. But I’m a sucker for Sarina Bowen’s stories, so I’m always happy to dip my toes in. This time, it’s Steadfast, the follow-up to last month’s Bittersweet, and reading only the blurb had me looking forward to see how she had decided to handle such a potentially gritty story.

After three years in prison and a season working at an apple orchard outside the town where he grew up, Jude Nickel has no choice but to return to Colebury, Vermont. It’s a place he would rather not be, but a recovering addict with a record doesn’t have a lot of options, especially when that record comes from killing his girlfriend’s brother in a car crash while high on painkillers. Sophie Haines’s life hasn’t turned out how she thought either. She didn’t plan to be back in Colebury to care for her mother, who is more zombie than human since her son’s death. She certainly didn’t think she’d ever see Jude again, but he’s back, and it’s hard for her not to notice. And it turns out not much has changed since Jude was sent away: Sophie still wants him, her father would kill her if they got back together, and their forbidden love cannot be denied, even though everything seems to be standing in their way.

Unlike its relatively light and breezy predecessor, Steadfast starts off somber and keeps that emotional turmoil going for much of the novel. Jude’s addiction affects him every minute of every day. Since being released from prison, he’s been through a treatment program and attends weekly meetings, but the struggle is constant. His cravings were easier to control when he was working on the Shipley’s farm because he couldn’t get away to do anything about them. But all that has changed now that he’s back in Colebury. Even if you haven’t read Bittersweet, it doesn’t take long in this novel before you can sympathize with his plight and admire his desire to be better than he was, to atone for what he did. As his past with Sophie is revealed in the story, I quickly found myself hoping for good things to happen for him, as it’s clear their love for each other was strong back then, even if he was making terrible decisions. Unfortunately, the previous years have beaten most of the hope out of Jude’s mind. He can’t picture himself as anything other than being bad for Sophie; they cannot have a future together. All he can do is focus on not sliding back into his old ways. The portrayal of Jude’s struggle with addiction recovery felt spot on here. Chapter after chapter, I could feel Jude’s pain, his near hopelessness, and his “itch” for a fix. The author doesn’t pull any punches to make the story lighter, and the effect is perfectly raw.

Overall, Steadfast is another beautifully executed example of Ms. Bowen’s skill in storytelling. She’s a master at creating a realistic setting and populating it with characters you can’t help but love as you watch them get to their happily-ever-after. Jude is definitely the star of this one, but I also enjoyed witnessing Sophie’s tenacity as the story went on. But in addition to the their story line, we also catch more than a few glimpses of the fantastic cast of secondary characters first introduced in Bittersweet, and more than that, we get to see their stories progress without it feeling like a distraction from Jude and Sophie’s story, yet another example of good storytelling.

In fact, the storytelling is so good that if I were to list the things I thought could be improved, the list would not only be very short but also contain only minor, nitpicky things. I think there will be some readers who feel like the ending to the story is a little rushed, particularly as it pertains to the climactic interaction between Sophie and her father, but I think the author handled it well, making the shock factor just right, realistic and emotional. The only thing I feel like the author left out was the resolution of the secret we learn very close to the end about the secondary character who appeared most in the book. Perhaps we’ll get a whatever-happened-to mention in the sequel, but I’m not sure how that would work into the next story, so I guess we’ll see. Or we won’t, and that’s fine too. Like I said, only minor complaints from me for this otherwise flawlessly executed work.

Steadfast is an emotionally charged second-chance romance behind a poignant redemption story that could honestly be pulled from real people in nearly any town. Having read six novels by Sarina Bowen now, I’m no longer surprised to find her storytelling satisfying, but this one was particularly good. It’s a perfect example that while I enjoy her lighter, fluffier stories, she really shines in telling those that have a deep emotional issue behind them. And this is why I always look forward to whatever the next story is she wants to tell, even if it doesn’t have two hot hockey hunks getting together in it.

The author generously provided me a complimentary copy of Steadfast in exchange for this fair and honest review.

Bittersweet (True North #1)
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Released June 14, 2016
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Our 4.5 star reviews and Interview with Sarina Bowen

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the orchard. 

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.


(True North #3)
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Expected October 2016

Sarina Bowen
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Sarina Bowen is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance and New Adult fiction from the wilds of Vermont.

Her Ivy Years and Brooklyn Bruisers books are hockey romance novels. These two connected series began breaking hearts in 2014 with The Year We Fell Down. See for updates.

HIM and US are the bestselling, hockey LGBT novels co-written with Elle KennedyHIM is also a finalist for the Romance Writers of America's RITA® Award.

For lovers of angsty snowboarders, Sarina also writes the Gravity series, featuring snow sports heroes.

Sarina enjoys skiing, coffee products and a nice glass of wine. She lives with her family, six chickens and more ski gear and hockey equipment than seems necessary.

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