Sweet Southern Bad Boy
In Michelle Summers’ Sweet Southern Bad Boy, Vance Kerner is suffering from a bad case of writer’s block. The block is not helped by the fact that he’s currently babysitting his two nephews and young niece – who put the ‘ram’ in ‘rambunctious’ – while his brother is deployed and his sister-in-law is recovering from an accident. Katie McKnight is suffering from a serious case of helicopter parent when she knocks on Vance’s door, hoping to use his house as a location shoot for an upcoming miniseries being made by her father’s movie studio. She’ll do anything to get Vance to agree, including riding herd on the kiddos so he can write. Seems straightforward, but combined with their instant chemistry and the inhabitants of Harmony, North Carolina, their lives become anything but. The book is a witty and warm look at the meaning of family, adulthood, and believing in yourself that is sure to entertain fans of small-town contemporary romance.
When we meet Katie, she’s on her fourth job within her father’s movie studio system. The current one is location scout for an upcoming adolescent zombie miniseries and she is determined to show her father that she can get this one done, because, in her PoV, she tells us that maybe then he’ll be proud of her. My antenna went up immediately, wondering what kind of dude he was and how Katie was going to interact with him throughout the book. More on that later.
She knocks bravely on Vance’s door and is greeted by a howling cabal of kid energy. Vance, desperate to get to a meeting, mistakes Katie for a nanny and welcomes her inside with instructions on childcare. Luckily for him, Katie holds a degree in elementary education and is far more suited to childcare than location scouting. Striking a deal with him that she’ll watch the kids if he’ll listen to her proposal, Vance leaves for his meeting and Katie sets to work Mary Poppins-ing their lives.
Eventually, Vance and Katie negotiate a deal – that she’ll be a live-in nanny for the next month. If she gives him the space to finish his book, then he’ll sign her contract and she can have her zombie location. His PoV tells us he has no real intention of doing so, but is more interested in keeping Katie around to explore his growing attraction to her. Plus, he’s all thumbs when it comes to childcare, so the help is legitimately appreciated.
Vance’s closest friends quickly become key to the story, and they inform us that Vance is more of a one-and-done kind of dude and so they’re all a little excited that he seems so taken with Katie. They get involved in that meddling way that some readers find endearing and others find horrifying, but that in my experience, tends to really happen in tight knit groups of friends. My guess is that these particular couples were stars of the previous books in the series, so faithful readers will probably enjoy this time spent with familiar faces.
Speaking of endearing versus horrifying, though, I want to talk about the inhabitants of Harmony. Y’all, they are a lot. Not just in number, but in levels of both twee and Southern stereotypes. We have the folks who could be in Duck Dynasty, we have the powerful gossip mill powered by grandmas, and we have the varied assortment of eccentrics that tend to populate small towns, both in popular culture and in real life. The treatment of the town borders on something just a little too bright and fanciful, but is tempered by the fact that Vance clearly hates the baggage that small town life brings. The culture of nosiness is a character in itself, and I know some readers will find that cloying. If you’re one of them, count yourself warned.
The chemistry between Vance and Katie is sexy as hell, and I enjoyed their nicknames for one another and the way they quickly complemented each other’s lives. When the big conflict happened, I really loved how Katie handles it. She doesn’t demonize anyone, doesn’t wallow in her pain. Instead, she empathetically assesses the situation and then makes changes in her own life to ensure she will never feel that sort of pain again. This makes the eventual happily ever after even more satisfying
In regard to Katie, I want to return to talking about her dad. Holy cats, y’all, her parents take ‘helicopter parenting’ to a whole new level. They even went so far as to select a career for her and enroll her in classes without her consent! The whole of Katie’s character arc has more to do with her relationship with them than her one with Vance and that’s a nice journey to witness. Katie is easily my favorite character in the book and I was so thrilled her happily ever after was as holistic as it was.
I really enjoyed my time in this world, despite some of its more frustrating residents; Katie’s ex-boyfriend and his mustache-twirling level of villainy was a particular low for me. I think anyone who loves vibrant small town romances will find a lot to love in Sweet Southern Bad Boy as well.