The March TBR Challenge theme is “Recommended Read,” and since I’d just had good luck with a contemporary romance, I chose another. Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark was recommended both to me and in general by some of my most trusted genre recommenders. And my trust is not misplaced: I loved this book! I’m tempted to just say “go read Sunita’s review, I totally agree,” but the book deserves more than that.
The titular Good Time Bad Boy is Wade Sheppard, a washed up country music star. Returning to his hometown after being fired from yet another crappy casino gig because he was drunk on stage, Wade meets Daisy McNeil, a college student 15 years his junior (she’s 26, he’s 41) who waitresses at the bar where he got his start.
They don’t meet cute. He’s drunk and makes a pass at her. When she turns him down, he smacks her ass; she calls him out for sexual harassment and gets fired by her boss’s idiot grandson. How can a guy come back from that to be a romance hero? I loved that Wade’s behavior is named for what it is by the heroine, and by Wade himself when he sobers up. We, and he, understand how he became a person who behaves that way, but we aren’t asked to excuse him because he’s a romance hero: “[S]he damn sure wasn’t going to let the guy harass her just because he happened to be good looking,” Daisy thinks. Wade gets Daisy her job back by agreeing to play weekends at the Rocky Top all summer while he tries to figure out what to do with his life.
Wade and Daisy are attracted to each other, but they have good reasons not to get involved. She wants stability, not a Good Time Bad Boy (and she’s had some Bad Time Bad Boys in her past who have made her wary of dating again). His past includes a marriage that failed in part because he ran away from trouble and pain instead of facing it, and he doesn’t know if he can figure out how to get it right the next time, or if he deserves to. Because they (mostly) act like mature adults, attraction doesn’t lead them to ignore their better judgment. The romance builds slowly, and by the time they have smoking hot sex they have gotten to know and care about each other. Which of course makes everything more complicated.
Good Time Bad Boy gets so many things right that romance is prone to doing wrong or stereotypically. The small town feels real, not cutesy. People get in each other’s business, for both good and ill. There’s no cupcake shop. It’s hard to live down your past when everyone knows you. Wade and Daisy’s pasts deal with both miscarriage and adoption, and Clark’s portrayal of how these events continue to affect them is thoughtful and sensitive (and could be hard for some readers, so be warned if these are topics you’d prefer to avoid).
And then there’s the question of how, even when they love each other, the hero and heroine can figure out how to make a life together. As Daisy thinks of it,
Whose dreams were more important? Though she was loath to think of it that way. Both of their dreams were important. The trouble was figuring out how to make them work together.
Daisy wants stability and a safe career. She can see that Wade’s career is coming back to life–he’s writing songs again and enjoying performing. But won’t that mean going back on the road? Wade’s tired of touring, but what can he be, then, besides a has-been? Daisy wonders whether her long-time dream is really more important than being with the man she loves. They do find a way to make their dreams work together–I way I could see coming a while before the end; there isn’t really a lot of tension there. I appreciated that neither had to sacrifice for the other, but that questions of sacrifice and compromise were raised.
In her thank you note at the end of the book, Clark, who usually writes Sci Fi and paranormal, explains that “music gave me a way into the story” when she tried her hand at a contemporary. Writing about a performer can be tricky, and I thought she did it really well. We can see why Wade loves country music because he teaches Daisy about it:
“[I]t’s for everybody because it’s about everybody, it’s about people. Their real lives. The good stuff and the hard stuff and the things you don’t want to talk about with anybody. It’s honest and straightforward and sometimes really fucking brutal.”
(That, by the way, is not a bad description of Good Time Bad Boy). We see Wade perform, the way he deals with stage fright, the way the music takes over and fills him, how he enjoys playing to the crowd, how much his guitar feels like part of him. And trickiest of all, we see him writing songs. At first it bothered me that the lyrics in the book didn’t rhyme or scan, but actually I thought that was a smart move, because song lyrics in fiction can be pretty awful. The images are often powerful and they give a feel for what Wade’s songs would be like even if they wouldn’t actually work as lyrics:
He wore his hat and jeans like armor
A disguise to protect the truth ….
He was just another good time bad boy
Pretending to be more than he was
This is pretty much everything I love about contemporary romance: real people dealing with real problems in grown-up ways. Not just love and sex but work and family as part of their coming together. (My one quibble: there were a distracting number of copyediting errors. But I’m more forgiving of that in a self-published book).