Keepsake by Sarina Bowen, narrated by Erin Spencer & Teddy Hamilton

face and upper chest of a shirtles guy. A dark-haired woman is embracing him from behind and he's holding her arms to his chest, her face buried in his neck, his face turned toward her. There are trees in the lower foreground to signify the Vermont setting.Why I read it:  This one is available via the #AudibleRomance package.I have it in digital format too but hadn’t found time to read it.

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  There’s a first time for everything.

Lark Wainwright used to be fearless. Her life was a series of adventures, each one more exhilarating than the last. But her recent overseas adventure was one too many. Now she’s home and in one piece. Mostly. But her nights are filled with terror.

When her best friend offers her a stay at the orchard in exchange for help at the farmers’ markets, Lark jumps at the chance to spend fall in Vermont. But her nightmares don’t stop. Desperate to keep her fragile state a secret, she relies on the most soft-spoken resident of the Shipley Farm to soothe her when her dreams prove too much.

Zachariah is a survivor, too. It’s been four years since he was tossed aside by the polygamist cult where he grew up. He’s found a peaceful existence on the Shipley’s farm, picking apples and fixing machinery. But getting thrown away by your own people at nineteen leaves a mark on a guy. He doesn’t always know what to make of a world where movie quotes are the primary means of communication. Before hitchhiking to Vermont, he’d never watched TV or spoken on the phone.

Actually, there are a lot of things he’s never done.

Zach and Lark slowly grow to trust one another. One night they become even closer than they’d planned. But Lark may still be too broken to trust anyone. When she pushes Zach away, he will have to prove to himself that he’s good for much more than farm labor.

What worked for me (and what didn’t):  I have all of the True North books on my TBR but I haven’t read any of them yet. Keepsake works as a stand alone novel however and I didn’t have any trouble following the story. The blurb attracted me and I was in the mood for an angsty listen so I loaded it up on my iPod. It wasn’t as angsty as it could have been actually but I enjoyed, particularly, Zach’s vulnerability in the story. He’s a bit of a cinnamon roll hero (h/t Olivia Dade) and I have soft spot. Also, I’ve recently listened to Goodbye Paradise and Zach had also been at Paradise Ranch so there was a link.

Lark’s backstory didn’t contain the sexual violence I was half expecting from the blurb so listeners who want to avoid that kind of storyline don’t need to worry here. (She was kidnapped while working for a non profit in Guatemala and that was terrifying for her but she was not raped.)

Lark and Zach connect at first mainly because Zach is such a gentle loving soul. He was instantly attracted to Lark but wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to think anything could happen between them. He was just there for her to be a comfort after nightmares. But from that is built a very sweet love story between them which felt fairly equal by the end of the book. Zach is an unusual character because he’s led a very sheltered life and has a deep respect for the bodily autonomy of others and almost (at least at the beginning of the story) no confidence he belongs anywhere or with anyone. He’s not a sad sack. He’s not piteous. He resonated with me in some ways because I felt for his lack of confidence and his struggle to feel that sense of belonging. At the same time, he is very much a romance hero because even though he’s a virgin he’s astoundingly good at sex from the get. LOL  That’s not really a complaint by the way. And certainly in the midst of those scenes I wasn’t rolling my eyes – I was too caught up in the intimacy and connection of the pair. Perhaps it’s no so surprising that Zach is good at sex – he listens and he pays attention after all.

I did worry a little bit that Zach’s relative lack of sophistication would be a barrier to a long-term HEA for he and Lark. Lark is a year older but vastly more experienced in just about everything. She’s better educated, well-traveled and, but for the PTSD after being kidnapped, more comfortable with herself and her place in the world. It seemed to me that Zach and Lark connected in the way they did because Lark was in such a vulnerable place. She was isolated from her sense of belonging and acceptance and, like two kindred spirits, they gravitated to one another. But I wondered what might happen after Lark recovered. To be honest, I still have a few vague niggles about the HEA. Will she outgrow Zach? Does she want more from her life than Zach does? He’s content farming and tinkering with engines. By the end of the novel he is pursuing further education but my sense was that he wasn’t particularly ambitious. And, it’s not that a relationship like that can’t work – in some ways, having two highly driven people in a relationship is more fraught – but I would have liked this addressed specifically just a little more. He is wonderful and I adored him but there’s this small part of me that worries Lark might wake up in 5 or 10 years and think she needs to spread her wings and leave him behind. In my head I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and singing “la la la” about that possibility.

I also wondered whether Lark might be concerned that Zach’s feelings for her were too influenced by the fact that she’s his first girlfriend and first sex partner but it was never raised in the story so I guess she didn’t. Zach seemed very confident in his feelings and prior experience is not always essential after all.

Keepsake, for all its potential angst, is at heart a sweetly charming story. It didn’t feel slow or boring even though it wasn’t an action-packed book. I breezed through the listen over the course of one weekend, happy to have plenty of opportunities to pop my earbuds in.

What else? The narration by Teddy Hamilton was particularly impressive. I have heard him recently narrated parts of Dear Aaron by Mariana Zapata and also in Goodbye Paradise so he was certainly a draw for me when I was choosing what audiobook to queue up. He has a wonderful timbre to his voice which worked so well for Zach’s character. He captured the innocence and vulnerability, the sweetness of Zach while also showing that Zach is not in anyway a doormat.

Erin Spencer is new to me and I enjoyed her sections but not quite as much as Teddy Hamilton’s. Ms. Spencer didn’t really do a hero voice – there were times when I struggled to differentiate Lark and Zach by ear and had to do it from contextual clues. That said, she delivered the tone and the emotion and I was happy with her pacing and other technical abilities. Teddy Hamilton himself doesn’t have the world’s best female character voice but there was enough of a difference that I could usually tell when Lark was speaking.

I’m definitely planning on listening to more Teddy Hamilton-narrated books. While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to listen to more of Erin Spencer’s work, I’d also happily listen to more of it.

Keepsake was a treat on audio – both because of the story and the narration so I patted myself on the back for deciding on this format to download into my brain.

Grade: B



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