TBR Challenge: Good Time Bad Boy, by Sonya Clark

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).

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15 Responses to TBR Challenge: Good Time Bad Boy, by Sonya Clark

  1. sonomalass says:

    I loved this book. I was wary, because “bad boys” often don’t work for me, but Sunita was right (again).

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      He wasn’t exactly bad, was he? But I liked how instead of celebrating “badness,” the book showed him dealing with the bad things he did.

      I feel like I gushed too much but it’s been ages since I enjoyed a romance so much. (Two good ones in a row, though–maybe my romance-reading is making a comeback).

  2. Allison says:

    I’m so glad you liked it! I took a flyer on it last year and so enjoyed the story. I was so pleased there wasn’t a baby epilogue or she didn’t get her adopted baby back. I LOVED that she made a choice and followed through with it. Interesting dynamic w/Daisy’s mother who resented that Daisy was so resolute and working on improvement. Interesting class dynamics – would a more ‘middle class’ mother have been relieved by Daisy getting back ‘on track’ to school/career aspirations? I was very intrigued by this.

  3. Dorine says:

    This one does sound really good, Liz. I put it on my wishlist.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I think it’s a good example of how self-published books can be just as good as traditionally-published ones (if we still needed examples of that!).

      • Dorine says:

        I think we still do need examples of that, LIz. I’ve read self-published most of my adult life in other genres, but bad editing drives me crazy. I always appreciate another reader’s point of view before I buy them. If the story keeps me focused, I don’t notice as much.

        • Liz Mc2 says:

          The errors I noticed were almost all missing words, and they were the kind your mind fills in quickly. (but there were a fair number–every 10 pages or so, I’d guess).

          And in one of the quotes I used, I automatically corrected loathe to loath without realizing it at first. (And then just left it). But that is an error I see everywhere now and I’ve almost given up on insisting that there is a difference between them.

  4. elisabethjlane says:

    Small town contemporary romance is such a bugaboo for me. I always find myself annoyed at the town, the charactersnail and the situations they find themselves in. Sounds like this one might be better though. Are there any non-white characters in it? That’s my only other real deal-breaker in thus subgenre.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      The bartender is an African American woman. I wished there were more secondary characters of color (although I do not know what a Tennessee small town would look like demographically) but she was a good character. Oh yes, and at least one of the other restaurant workers was Latino. (This is a stereotype perhaps, but in my experience also real in a lot of places).

  5. SuperWendy says:

    “There’s no cupcake shop.”

    OMG – I’m laughing ’til I cry over here. I’m totally cool with small town romances (I read category after all…) – but the last couple I DNF’ed? Yeah, cupcake shop. Or some other cutesy bakery featured in the story. Maybe that will be my touchstone from now on with small town romances, “If there’s a cupcake shop run away Wendy! Run! Away!”

  6. Sunita says:

    All credit for finding this book goes to Allison, whose tweet led me to the excerpt. I’m so, so glad it worked for you! And I’m glad you talked about the music and the role it played. It really is so well done. You get a sense of Wade as a working musician, as opposed to all the rock star romances that are out there, and you feel how much it means to him. And the small town scene is so well done. The town is a character of its own, and all the supporting people are carefully drawn.

  7. Sold! Sounds like a good one.

  8. Janine Ballard says:

    Oh! So glad you enjoyed this one! And just enjoyed a romance in general, too. Reading your thoughts on it was almost as great as reading the book.

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