I received this book for free from Nina Bocci PR in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Book Review: Steadfast by Sarina BowenSteadfast by Sarina Bowen
Series: True North #2
Published by indie author on July 12, 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romance
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four-stars
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.

Sarina Bowen sold me on hot farmers last month, and I remembered thinking after reading Bittersweet that she’d have a tough time topping that in the series. Well, maybe not. In book 2, Steadfast, we get the story of recovering drug addict Jude, who was an endearing character in book 1, so full of pain and regret you could almost trace it on him with your hands. But he was also funny and sporadically wise and old for his age. I knew this would be a feelsy read going in, so I braced myself emotionally, but let me just say, I was not prepared. 

This story picks up right where Bittersweet left off, which was great, given that there was only a month between the release dates. Jude goes home, and rather than receiving a warm welcome, he finds himself facing an indifferent drunk of a father and the knowledge that the ex-girlfriend he’d thought had to be off pursuing dreams of stardom in NYC had stayed in town, shackled by the aftermath of the poor choices that had landed him in prison—and her brother a victim of vehicular manslaughter.

Sophie, on the other hand, struggles with a family that has imploded and a persistent attraction (and more) for the boy she should hate, the one who’s come back a man bedeviled by his own mind and body. Jude is so different from the boy she remembers in so many ways but two: his love for her and the goodness inside him that neither drugs nor life managed to kill.

I hate to say it, but if I’m being honest, for me, this book was all about Jude. Even days after reading the book and starting a new one, what stays with me is Jude’s struggle with his addiction and with the idea that all he can offer a girl like Sophie is pain and misery. This novel is told from two first-person perspectives—Jude’s and Sophie’s—but I found that my reading of Sophie’s parts were still so washed in the colors of Jude’s love for her and his dream of her.

I’m going to be cheesy and say Sophie is so obviously Jude’s sunshine, the bright spot in his life when he charts his days by rating how badly he’s craving a fix. He doesn’t think he deserves her, so I ended up spending most of the book feeling protectively cautious about her character, making sure she deserved him. Although I’m not sure she did, exactly.

Apart from the very feelsy romance and Jude’s personal story of triumph over his addiction, there’s also an element of intrigue in the plot, although I had some mixed feelings over it. On one hand, I started to respect Sophie’s brains and her basic personality once she started making the effort of putting together the pieces of that fateful night that shattered so many lives (and illusions with them). But on the other hand, a plot development that had them pursuing the possibility of Jude’s innocence and wrongful imprisonment kind of cheapened the quality of her love for him. Like, I get that the death of a brother is a traumatic thing, but it somehow felt as though her love and acceptance came with the condition of his innocence.

I don’t know. Maybe that’s just me. Once this plot line is added to the mix of this novel, though, it runs a pretty consistent parallel to the development of the love story, which I quite liked. I hate when mysteries are resolved out of pace with the romances they run alongside when they’re featured in romantic fiction.

Another huge plus for me is the continued presence of the Shipley family in Jude’s life. Along with Sophie, they offer a counterpoint of lightness and goodness to the darkness and mugginess that threaten’s to turn this redemption tale into something else altogether, likely because they serve that purpose in Jude’s life. Although there were a few inconsistencies that struck me, which I readily forgave, such as the question of why Griff seemed unfamiliar with Jude’s history in book 1. I also felt that there were a few cherry-on-top developments, in particular regarding Jude’s dad and the family car repair business, that I felt were unnecessary, but I didn’t mind them too much.

While some of these points were minor annoyances to me, though, on the whole I really enjoyed Steadfast, because Sarina Bowen really packed it tight with feels and kept up a good pace for both the mysterious and romantic parts of the story. And I have to say, plus points for the reference to Hamilton!

 

Feel Factor Rating

swoon-factor4

steam-factor3

intrigue-factor2

tear-factor1

 

Series Reading Order

1. Bittersweet
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2. Steadfast
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3. Keepsake (Out October 2016)
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About Sarina Bowen

Sarina Bowen writes steamy, angsty contemporary romance from Vermont’s Green Mountains. (Her ancestors began logging and farming Vermont during the 18th century. These were rugged, outdoor types without benefit of a laptop or a good latte. It boggles the mind.) Sarina enjoys skiing, skating and good food. She lives in Windsor County, Vermont, with her family, eight chickens and too much ski gear and hockey equipment.