Baby, Drive South
by Stephanie Bond, contemporary (2011)
MIRA, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7783-2944-2
Baby, Drive South marks Stephanie Bond's return to old school romance after a foray into romantic suspense. This story is the first in the Southern Roads trilogy. The synopsis of this story is also the synopsis of the overarching story arc that sets up the next two books, so I may as well not waste any more time. On with the story, then.
Okay, this is a contemporary romance, but it's obviously written for readers who still live - at least in their most vivid and fondest imagination - in the days before World War I when there is a little house on the prairie and life is so beautiful then. So here we have three Armstrong brothers who, after leaving the armed forces, decide to rebuild their tornado-flattened town of Sweetness, Georgia, using green technology and aid from the US government. Apparently this is because they want to make their mother happy - that woman has apparently never gotten over the loss of the wedding ring after the tornado struck. You have to love a woman with a sense of perspective, I tell you. She'd make a great mother-in-law.
The problem here is that Sweetness is apparently located in the most backward region of Georgia, so all they have at the moment are men. Sweaty, smelly men who suffer testosterone poisoning due to the lack of women around them, so they are beginning to pick fights with each other. Oh, don't worry, people - the Armstrong brothers hire locals instead of illegal Mexican immigrants to do the brawny work. They are nothing if not patriotic, after all. The Armstrong brothers decide to do the obvious: they advertise for women to come settle down in Sweetness. Never mind that they have built little to no facility to accommodate these women - all that matters is that there are enough honey pots to keep the men happy.
Instead of strippers and prostitutes, they actually manage to get in a bunch of attractive, mostly vegetarian women who, despite being modern day folks, love nothing more than to copulate with and marry these illiterate construction workers. I'm no snob, mind you, as I'm more than happy to concede that hot constructive workers can be really good to look at, but I have a hard time imagining today, in this era of online dating and what not, that there will be a hundred or so women who would happily uproot their lives and head off to answer some creepy ad about a "Southern town" looking for "lots of single women", just because these women want husbands. How do they know that this Southern town is not the den of some creepy cult? Any woman who does this is bound to either have some serious issues or an unpleasant secret to hide. I personally think it will be hilarious if these women all turn out to be female prisoners who hijacked the prison bus for a getaway, but alas, that is not meant to be.
So, we finally get to our hero, Porter. He's the youngest Armstrong brother. In this story, he gets paired with Dr Nikki Salinger, who drives all the way down South (so much for you thinking that the title of this book refers to something dirty, hah!) to escape the memories of a cheating fiancé. Not that it is love at first sight. Porter makes it clear from the beginning that he finds her not pretty in the least and, after some dodgy scene of creepiness that you just have to read to believe, is made by his brothers to go out of his way to be nice to her. After all, they need a doctor here, even if the men here mostly do not trust a female doctor and would prefer the treatments provided by the local hack. Yes, this story is set in the present day. Maybe somewhere down South, so down, down, down South that the twenty-first century has managed to completely pass them by. Hey, it can happen. I saw that once in an episode of The Twilight Zone.
I'm sure it goes without saying that your enjoyment of this book as well as the next two will hinge on your ability to accept the premise. I have to also warn you: Porter starts out as a complete creep. He is a chauvinist pig who behaves as if all women should be grateful that he's deigned to slobber all over their tonsils. Once he realizes that it won't be a hardship for him to get it up for the little miss doctor (that's what the men call her in this story), he becomes a little bit better, but that's not saying much considering how much of a jerk he comes off as in the beginning. I don't mind this, mind you, as this story is clearly set up to be Porter's fall from grace (and if you have read this book, you will know that I am talking about a literal fall, heh). But I will understand if some readers put down this book after trying to follow Porter in the early parts of this book. But they will miss the best bits of this book, though - those bits where Porter gets wonderfully battered and bruised up in accidents caused by his own antics every time he tries to deny his feelings for Nikki.
The author has miscalculated things considerably, I feel, because Porter and Nikki just keep reading each other wrongly and assuming the worst of the other person all the way to the last page. This problem is worsened by Porter's inability to apologize or express his feelings - preferring instead of stand back and let Nikki walk away - and Nikki's self-esteem issues. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that these two are the worst possible mate for each other. He says things that hurt her but cannot bring himself to say he is sorry or to even tell her that he loves her until dire circumstances force those words from him. She has self-esteem issues, reads the worst in everything said and done by the other person, and walks away every time she has a problem with that person. How are these two ever going to work things out later down the road? I don't buy any happy ending between these two, because their personalities don't gel well to me.
Still, I have to give Ms Bond credit for making this implausible romance a humorous one brimming with sexual tension and chemistry that somehow works. Perhaps this story will fare better if the relationship between those two had been portrayed as a fling instead of one leading to something more permanent. This book has a nice cover, some nice moments of humor, but all things considered, I'd keep driving.
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