Review: Speakeasy by Sarina Bowen

Speakeasy by Sarina Bowen (True North Book 5)
Contemporary romance released by Sarina Bowen on May 29, 2018

Speakeasy by Sarina Bowen Book CoverSometimes you fall for Mr. Right. And sometimes for Mr. Right Now…

Did you hear the one about the girl who walks into a bar and catches her live-in lover kissing someone else? No? You’re the only one in town who missed it.
Luckily Alec is there to wrap me up in strong arms and carry me out the door before things get too ugly. And that’s not all Alec is good at. Our unexpected chemistry makes him the perfect rebound guy.
I should know better than to hook up with my rival’s little sister, but the fiery look in May’s eyes really turns my crank. She needs cheering up, and I’m just the guy for the job.
It’s not like I’ll fall in love. Not even after a string of scorching hot trysts, and the realization that we’re good at the same things: wild nights and familial disappointment. I don’t do love, never have, never will. So this is the perfect arrangement, for both of us.
Nobody would approve, but nobody has to know…

Speakeasy felt light, but is actually quite complex. It’s got bad bar jokes, family dynamics, addiction, and a bisexual main character. It wraps up the True North series, so if you’re the kind of reader that doesn’t like to start a series until it’s completed, then you can have at it now — if you’ve been following this series, then this is a bittersweet read. May is the heroine and Alec is the hero; we’ve met these characters before in earlier books, but if you don’t remember who they are, it’s easy to acquaint/re-acquaint yourself with them. To a certain extent, both May and Alec are concerned about their images, although they express it in different ways; May thinks people see her as the sibling that’s messed up the most in her family, and Alec is trying to prove that he is a good businessperson, regardless of his happy-go-lucky ways; and these efforts occasionally get in the way of them being honest about their feelings for each other.

May is a recent law school graduate who is also a recovering alcoholic. The book opens with May learning that her girlfriend is cheating on her with her ex. To top it all off, May finds this out at a bar—which sounds worse than it actually is. And, you guessed it, Alec is the owner of said bar. May loves her family, and her family cares for her, but whenever they try to show their support or caring for her, she interprets it as them not trusting her or feeling bad for her because she messed up—again. May is a small town lawyer, so nothing involving her competency as a lawyer really happens until the end of the book. We do see her going to AA meetings and dealing with her addiction, and her love of knitting. The knitting actually plays a fairly interesting role in the book, but it would be spoiler-y if I told you what it is—suffice it to say it involves a handmade sweater and a destructive cat. May has had bad luck in the romance department up until now. Her boyfriends and her girlfriend were somewhat abusive —emotionally at any rate. And she’s had an unrequited love for her best friend for years. So when she realizes that she loves Alec, she’s worried that he’ll realize that she’s a mess — she’s dealing with her addiction to alcohol, and while it’s not as bad as it could have been, it also doesn’t make for “good” girlfriend material—to May’s way of thinking. All of this simmers under the surface, because for much of the book, May and Alec are in an intensely sexual, casual relationship — except it’s not casual. Eventually, everything works out, but not without both May and Alec making a few more mistakes.

Alec is the fun guy — the guy who brings the beer, who cracks the jokes, and who loves having a good time. He knows that this is who he is, and for the most part, he embraces the idea. But he also wants his bar to be a success. He helps out his older neighbor when he ends up in the hospital; he helps May move out after her very public breakup; and he takes in a cranky cat. Those instances are not in chronological order, but I’m highlighting them to show that Alec isn’t just the fun guy. Just as there is tension between May and her family, there is tension between Alec and his family. Some of it is general sibling dynamics, and some of it is this weird generational gap between Alec and his cranky uncle.

I’m taking this moment to point out that there are two cranky men in this book. May’s grandpa, whom we’ve met in prior books and is fond of shouting things like “sneaking in like a thief” and demanding pie. And then there’s Alec’s uncle, who is never satisfied with Alec’s efforts, but never expresses what would make him approve of Alec. May’s grandpa serves as a tension-reliever of sorts, but Alec’s uncle is there to up the tension, which I think is an interesting use of grumpy older men.

The reason I didn’t give this book an A — even though it has a lot of wonderful elements and is easy to read — is because I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the jokes around May’s sexuality. May is amused by these jokes, and I know they’re there to talk about a topic that can stir up opinions, but I kept feeling uncomfortable long after I figuratively put down the book. This may not bother anyone else, but it bothered me, and I thought it worth mentioning here.

I loved seeing these characters mess up but still fall in love with each other and learn from their mistakes. Ms. Bowen’s writing makes the journey an easy one — it moves easily from Alec’s to May’s perspective, and incorporates humor with deeper thinking about things like addiction, complicated family dynamics and business decisions.

As of the writing of this posting, Bittersweet is free to download from Amazon for your Kindle reading needs.

Grade: B+

You can buy a copy here.

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