Friends, I’ll be honest, I didn’t love the first book in the True North series, Bittersweet, and decided the series wasn’t for me. But when I learned the author was creating the World of True North – inviting other contemporary romance authors to borrow the setting for their own standalone novels – I decided to return to Vermont! Vino and Veritas – the proudest little spot in Vermont! On your right you’ll find the LGBTQ bookstore. On your left, the inclusive wine bar – is one of four off-shoot series set in the True North world; all the V and V stories showcase an LGBTQ+ couple, and the series is penned by some of my favorite queer contemporary romance writers. Featherbed, the first book, introduces readers to Vino and Veritas, and is a lovely, low angst introduction to the rest of the series.
Harrison Phillip Fletcher III didn’t expect to settle in Burlington, Vermont, but he couldn’t pass up on the chance to open an inclusive wine bar and bookstore with his mom, Audrey. After all, he’s not sure he’ll get another such opportunity. Both his father and grandfather died before their forty-third birthdays; at forty-two, Harrison is convinced he’s living on borrowed time. He’s careful with his body and mind – eating right, exercising regularly, and reading many of the books he hopes to sell in the new shop, and doctors say he’s perfectly healthy, but Harrison can’t quite shake the worry that each day might be his last. So he gave up his legal career in New York City and relocated with his mom (a former librarian) to open Vino & Veritas. With days to go before the grand opening of the book shop, things are mostly proceeding according to plan. But when Featherbed begins, an altogether different worry consumes his thoughts. Chickens. Lots of chickens. In boxes. On his loading dock. Harrison tells himself not to panic.
A quick inspection of the smeared and mangled mailing label on one of the boxes reveals the chickens were meant for 4569 Church, and his new stocker Oz helpfully adds:
“… but I’d bet it’s supposed to be Old Church Road, down past South Burlington. There are some big farms in that area, including that hot chicken guy’s, I think.”
After clarification from Oz – it’s the farmer who’s hot and not the chickens – and a quick internet search of the address, he calls Puddlebrook Farms and inquires whether they’re missing any chickens. The man that answers the phone has a deep, masculine voice, and Harrison can’t help imagining a hot farmer on the other end of the line… but he refocuses after the amused voice on the other end of the phone asks if his call is a prank. Harrison quickly explains who he is and why he’s calling – to the sounds of squawking chickens in the background – and the stranger on the phone confirms they belong to him. After a brief discussion of what to do with the chickens until the farmer can pick them up, Harrison promises to keep them safe until Mr. Barnes, the hot chicken guy, arrives.
When Finn Barnes shows up at Vino & Veritas and discovers his shipment of chickens running amok in the V&V storeroom, he isn’t happy. It’s already been a frustrating day, and he’s quick to remind the handsome, older man chasing after his chickens that he wasn’t supposed to open the boxes. When the man informs him that setting them loose wasn’t intentional, his snappish tone is no surprise. The Librarian Guy, whom he assumes must be Mr. Fletcher,
… had that rich-guy attitude that instantly reminded me of my ex, Astin. Nice clothes. Expensive shoes. And a similar superior tone that said he was too good for handling chickens.
Finn orders him to stand back, taking no small delight in being able to give Mr. Bigshot Bookseller an order, and quickly gathers up the chickens. Only the fortuitous arrival of Audrey forestalls further angry words. Audrey asks about the chickens and Finn’s farm, and by the time she offers him a tour of their soon to be opened bookstore, Finn is no longer angry. Later, when he’s returning to the farm, he realizes he never said thank you for the phone call or the offer to keep the chickens until he could pick them up. A guilty conscience has him returning to the bookstore, farmstand treats in hand, to thank them for their help.
This visit nearly starts off on the wrong track, too, when both men make incorrect, less than flattering assumptions about each other, but again, Audrey is there to smooth the way. And once she does, it soon becomes apparent that Finn and Harrison are attracted to each other, and that their first impressions were mostly wrong. Before Finn leaves, he invites Harrison and Audrey out to the farm for a tour, and it soon becomes clear that despite their mutual interest, both men are wary of getting involved. Harrison is convinced he might only have a few months left to live, and Finn’s been burned by a former lover who hated everything about farm life.
On paper, Harrison and Finn are total physical opposites – Finn is burly and big, and favors casual, comfortable clothes; Harrison is tall and lean, and prefers tailored clothes, leather shoes and hipster glasses – with different life experiences and expectations. But it soon becomes clear – over a shared love of queer historical romance novels and good food – that their differences compliment each other. A warm friendship quickly gives way to a passionate affair; both men then spend the better portion of the novel trying to ignore the intensity of their feelings, and persist in lying to themselves that theirs is a casual affair. Ahem.
Featherbed is a gentle, too-long love story about two likeable men with great physical and emotional chemistry, who are destined to be together, but whose past history precludes them from admitting they love each other. Finn is wary of another lover rejecting the life he loves; Harrison is afraid he’s a bad bet for anyone hoping for a long-term partner. The author does a lovely job proving them both wrong – revealing how their differences and similarities compliment each other and make them stronger together. Finn is protective and full of life and lives life in the moment; Harrison is logical, thoughtful and less impulsive, but open to new experiences and pleasures – and Finn exults in giving him pleasure whenever and however he can. Their union is joyful folks. These are kind and good men who genuinely like each other nearly from the get-go, who always seek out ways to please each other, and have crazy good sexual chemistry. Honestly, they’re perfect for each other – which is great, but maybe not quite enough to sustain a full length novel? When the requisite ‘trouble in paradise’ moment occurs… well, it’s totally predictable and since these are two mature adults who are already deeply in love, it is quickly resolved. Friends, I love a happy, joyful, low-angst, low-drama love story. I do. But when it takes nearly 200 pages to get to the official HEA, perhaps it’s 100 pages too long?
On the plus side, Albert does an excellent job introducing the World of True North and investing readers in the Vino and Veritas community of characters, and the loving family members that support and love Finn and Harrison. I was happy to be in Burlington, Vermont, again, and happy this pair found each other, too. I also loved the tease for the next story in the series, Heartscape, by Garrett Leigh, featuring the man hired to manage Veritas. Finn knew him in school, but alludes to a backstory both intriguing and annoyingly vague.
Featherbed – like its title – is a soft and fluffy introduction to Vino and Veritas. It’s overlong, but I recommend it anyway.