By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
I live in rural Vermont, where this is set, and I give "Bittersweet" major bonus points for authenticity. It's really rare to find books set in my home state, and too often what few there are portray Vermont as some kind of fairytale simulacra of what Hollywood envisions Small Town New England to be like. Bowen's Vermont is real and gloriously imperfect -- beautiful but sometimes desolate, a place where people nurture a deep sense of neighborliness and community while simultaneously experiencing profound personal loneliness, a place where outsiders are greeted with distrust (sometimes deserved) even as locals sometimes fail to look after their own.
I loved "Bittersweet" because it felt so authentic and familiar, and the characters felt real and relatable. I loved the message of the story about the connection of food to community, and the vital role of local agriculture to maintain that balance. However, upon reflection, I agree with the criticisms of other reviewers that there is a subtle sexism in the story -- mostly the men on the farm do manual labor, while the women work in the kitchen, and the hero of the story makes the decisions while "explaining" them to his mom, who probably as at least as much legal standing as part-owner of the farm. I wasn't bothered by this at the time, particularly since there are some exceptions -- the heroine of the story in an early scene does a kickass job of butchering a pig, for example, and the hero's sister is a law student. I also didn't love some of the too-convenient plot twists that came at the very end of the story to tie up lose ends quickly -- resolutions that the characters had designed and work toward would have been more satisfying than sudden intervention by outside forces.
Even though the story wasn't perfect, it got my home state so spot on that I give it a full five stars. I will definitely read on in the series to see how Bowen tackles Vermont's ongoing opiate epidemic.