Good As Gold
Grade : B-

In Good As Gold, Sarina Bowen gives us another couple in her True North‘s small town Vermont.

Matteo Rossi and Lelia Giltmaker have loved each other since they were teens but because they have the communication skills of emotionally stunted fourteen-year-olds, they’ve never told each other how they feel. They are now thirty-five and thirty-six. So naturally they decide the best way to interact is to try and make a baby together while still never confessing their unrequited love. Um… nope.

The novel cuts back and forth between their teenage years and the present. In the past, Lelia, Matteo, and Rory all hung out, snowboarded, and were, we are supposed to believe, inseparable. From the get go, it’s clear Matteo and Lelia have feelings for each other and that Rory is an ass. Despite that, in the present, Matteo has been AWOL for the past fifteen years–I’m still not clear why he never came home to see his family–and Lelia and Rory just recently got divorced because of the whole Rory is an ass thing.

Matteo, however, has finally returned to town for the wedding of one of his many siblings. But, though he’s built a very successful heli-ski business in Aspen, Matteo feels he’s a mess because he didn’t manage to prevent his best friend and business partner, Sean, from dying in a snowboarding accident the previous year. So, even though he’s STILL in love with Lelia and perhaps hasn’t had a girlfriend ever due to his pining (his romantic past is never discussed), he still can’t tell her how he feels because… I wasn’t really sure. When he was younger, his excuse was he needed to make the big bucks so he could “become the kind of guy who can afford gold jewelry for the golden girl. That’s when he’ll be able to tell her how he feels. But not until then.” Now, I guess it’s because he isn’t a god and thus able to prevent those he loves from dying. (Sean, however, still shows up in Matteo’s dreams and gives him helpful pithy advice like go home and make dinner reservations for my daughter’s birthday because Aspen gets really booked up in tourist season.)

For her part, Lelia has always had the hots for Matteo, but he left town and so she married Rory, whom she knew was an ass. Her excuse? “I think I’d fed off his need. He made me feel powerful—like my opinion mattered. Maybe that’s why I put up with him for twelve wasted years.” Among other things, staying married to Rotten Rory deprived her of her best baby-making years so now she’s looking at the eye-poppingly expensive path of medical artificial insemination.

It only takes a week or so and some serious booze for Lelia to suggest to Matteo that he be her baby daddy. So, after making sure no one expects anything more from him than a clean bill of health and a willingness to do the deed–he’s not good enough to be a real dad–he agrees. This means they only bone one night a month–every sperm is sacred. Sex between them is–shocker!–the best they’ve ever had and they just love hanging out together. But though Matteo ends up staying the summer working at his brother’s wildly successful bar and at Lelia’s dad’s wildly successful beer truck and, in their heads, they fall hard for one another, they remain mum on how they truly feel.

Because the two are unable to grasp the most basic concept of honest communication, their actions and decisions end up feeling contrived and implausible. The emotional stakes never truly resonate, and the story feels superficial. Which is a shame because Bowen can be a terrific writer.

I’ve enjoyed books in this series–my favorite is Steadfast–and in the Ivy Years, and in her Brooklyn series. Here, there are flashes of her brilliance. In particular, she writes families remarkably well. Matteo and his siblings, Lelia and her brother and dad, and especially the parenting of Zara, the heroine of Bountiful, all are written with humor and wisdom. When Zara casually says to Lelia, who’s come in to get coffee from Zara’s wildly successful coffee shop, “You want a sassy four-year-old, too?” she says, tapping on the register screen. “Cute but argues with everything I say. Fifty percent off today.”, it made me laugh and nod my head. The sparkle Bowen’s wit lends the book, however, is not enough to save the frustrating plot.

Furthermore, at a key point in the novel, Lelia makes an unforgivable choice that Bowen glosses right over. Had I been Matteo, I’d have been angry and hurt but he’s super chill because he’s crazy about her–a fact he STILL hasn’t told her.

Lelia does, after several months, get pregnant. At this point, Matteo has returned to Aspen and SHE DOESN’T TELL HIM. Her excuse? She googled the stats on miscarriage rates for pregnancies at thirty-five.

Bowen does, however, give readers a sumptuous epilogue. I loved the conclusion of this book so hard–it’s everything a romance reader could want in a finale. I give it a ten out of ten.

So, is Good As Gold worth reading? Sure, as long as you don’t mind thirty-five-year-olds acting like idiots for far too long. The sex is hot, the humor is smart, and it ends well. There are worse ways to spend a few hours of your life than laughing at the Rossi family texts, fanning yourself as Matteo and Lelia have a grand time trying to make a zygote, and finishing a book where the final chapter sings. I couldn’t decide between a C+ and a B- but I went with the latter. Those who like Bowen’s writing will love this book and so will those who aren’t as irked by adults acting like adolescents as I am.

Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan

Grade: B-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : June 11, 2023

Publication Date: 06/2023

Review Tags: True North series

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Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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