This review is for the audiobook version of Bittersweet by Sarina Bowen.
Bittersweet has been on my TBR pile for ages and I was nudged into finally reading it for one of my Goodreads challenges. (You can hear me talk about Goodreads challenges here! I think they’re a great way to decide what to read next). Bittersweet is also part of the Romance Audible Package and features dual narrators, which I prefer. Since one of my reading goals this year is to listen to at least five audiobooks, I felt the stars were aligning and the universe was telling me to read Bittersweet already.
Who am I to deny the universe?
Audrey Kidder has dreams of opening her own restaurant. After failing out of college, she’s finally found her passion in food. Unfortunately, working for a Boston area restaurant group hasn’t given her the experience she wants and she’s been stuck doing a lot of grunt work (playing hostess, ordering restaurant supplies, etc.). When she’s tasked with traveling to Vermont in the hopes of striking a deal with local farmers for produce, she meets up with her former college hookup.
Griffin Shipley never expected to see Audrey again and certainly not stuck in a ditch outside his farm. He’s not too pleased to see her. She ghosted him back in college and now he knows she’s here to underpay for his produce. What begins is a battle of wills as Audrey tries to win Griff and the other farmers over. She knows the restaurant group she works for isn’t giving the farmers a fair shake in terms of pricing, but she also needs to prove herself to earn more lucrative assignments.
There are a lot of other elements at play besides the romance between Griff and Audrey. Griffin is running his family’s farm after his dad’s death, and he’s dreading telling his mother and siblings that the farm might have to pivot away from cattle and into something else. Meanwhile, Audrey is wrestling with her own insecurities, knowing most people view her as some kind of air-headed failure. She also has a strained relationship with her mom; she’s an only child and has always felt nothing she does is ever good enough.
I’m going to warn you: do not read while hungry. The food descriptions were so yummy, especially listening to the narrators describe them: barbecue sauce made with tart cherries, crisp and effervescent apple cider, cheesy omelettes with ham! I found both the foodie elements and farming details to be incredibly soothing. There were moments when I’d just lie in my bed in the dark, listening to the audio, fighting the urge for a midnight snack.
The narrators—Saskia Maarleveld for Audrey and Tad Branson for Griff—did an amazing job. However, one narrator always does a better impressions of the opposite character. For example, I like Saskia’s “Griff impression” as opposed to Tad’s “Audrey.” Tad’s female voices always sounded similar to my ears. But I loved the huskiness of Audrey’s voice and the slight country-adjacent accent given to Griff.
One aspect to the romance that I just loved was how much Griff crushed on Audrey. In college, he was absolutely in love with her and listening to him wax poetic about how much he liked her, REALLY liked her, made me get the goofy smiles.
Audrey is used to people doubting her and though Griff really had no clue what happened to Audrey after she disappeared from college, watching Audrey run circles around Griff in the kitchen felt like a victory in badassery.
One of my favorite scenes is when Audrey gets excited over the chance to butcher her first pig:
“Um,” I [Griff] pointed at the low-cut top she was wearing, feeling like a creeper. “You got some blood on that shirt, I’m afraid. Afterward I’ll show you how to get it out.” Naturally, my brain served up a mental image of her removing that shirt.
She raised an eyebrow at me, as if reading my mind. “Thanks for the help,” she said dryly. “But every girl becomes an expert in getting blood out of fabric right around her thirteenth birthday. Cold water and soap. It’s not rocket science.”
As someone who has been to Vermont and was also raised on a farm, there’s such an incredible sense of place. The mixture of the New England seasons, lazy cows grazing, and rows of apple orchards were a lovely reminder of how much I love the Northeast and its luxury of having both cities and countryside.
The majority of my problems are with the conflict resolutions, namely the “big misunderstanding” and Audrey’s relationship her mom. Both of the solutions seemed rushed and hasty when they could have used more time for everyone to calm down, have a conversation, and work through some clear, deep-seated issues. Audrey and her mom needed a few therapy sessions before I accepted any believable reconciliations.
After the restaurant group fucks Audrey and Griff over on a make-or-break-Griff’s-livelihood kind a deal, Griff runs back home, obviously pissed. Audrey quits, knowing that she can’t work for a company that would do that to people. Audrey had made it a point earlier that opening up a restaurant was her dream and that she wouldn’t sacrifice it for Griff. While I do agree that Audrey would have never been happy with her current employment arrangement, packing up and going to Vermont with Griff seemed like a decision made in panic.
She would have wound up in Vermont eventually; I just would have preferred more of a grace period for both Audrey and Griff to really communicate what they want and how they were going to achieve it. No flying by the seat of their pants. Making relationship decisions when you’re riding on emotional adrenaline is never a good idea.
This is the first book in the True North series and most of the series is available on the Audible Romance Package. The next book doesn’t seem to have the same foodie feel (judging by the description), but the community Bowen created in the series is one I’ll happily revisit again. I’m also looking forward to seeing previous characters pop back up.
My only personal issue is that I need to devote more time to audiobooks. I want to keep listening to the True North series, but my commute time for work is literally the time it takes to get from my bed to my desk. I know I can finish a book faster than I can finish an audiobook and that feeling of inefficiency bugs me. But that’s a me problem and not one with the book.
If you’re looking for a fun, flirty romance that’ll leave you drooling, do give this one a try, especially if you prefer audio. There’s adorable family dynamics, a quaint farmer’s market, and some hot sex beneath the stars in a custom outdoor shower. *Waggles eyebrows*