Vanessa North has gone and done it again. With Summer Stock, she's back with a lovely romance between a rumored bad boy Hollywood actor and a North Carolina low country handyman who meet each other during a summer of building stage sets and acting for a local Shakespeare company owned by the former's cousin and the latter's friend.
Ryan Hertzog, Hollywood star, has returned to North Caroline for the summer, told to lay low by his publicist and avoid any further scandals. His rumored relationship with his friend Ali and her boyfriend West has sent him fleeing for the opposite coast to hide from the glare of the Hollywood lights.
Trey Donovan, handyman and owner of a renovation business, has had his own reasons for laying low - an abusive ex has made him distrustful and scared to get into another relationship.
They meet, they get it on, and then Ryan runs into Trey's dog Ferdinand (Ferdy), a 200 lbs mastiff with a heart of gold and an affinity for chewing on underwear, and ends up butt naked outside of Trey's house, with the paparazzi all too ready to take his picture.
Clearly, the relationship isn't off to a good start, even if it's only meant to be a summer fling.
But Ryan and Trey meet time and again and just cannot keep their hands off each other - the flames burn brightly. But it's only for the summer, right?
The book is really all about the relationship between the two men, and how a summer fling develops into more. Of course, it's not smooth sailing, what with Ryan being bisexual and Trey being a bit bi-phobic and suffering from foot-in-mouth disease on occasion, but they talk, apologies are made and accepted, and sheets are burned up. Holy hot boysecks, Batman!
This author continues to impress me with her writing. She's not afraid to defy the tropes, she unflinchingly speaks her mind through her characters, she points out how assumptions tend to be wrong, and she doesn't use stereotypes. Her characters are fully fleshed out, complex and imperfect, which makes them more likable and relatable. Vanessa North makes you question your own prejudice, especially when it comes to expectations of the Hollywood actors in this book.
Trey has some demons to slay, and he still suffers on occasion from a need to sabotage the good things in his life, because he was made to feel worthless by his ex and doesn't believe that he deserves a good thing like Ryan.
Ryan is not perfect either, but he's not a stereotypical Hollywood star. He loves acting, and he is committed to the small theater where he's performing for the summer, happily giving acting advice to his fellow players and wanting to do what's best for his cousin Caro and her friend Mason (the owners). He is sometimes exasperated by Trey's stupid comments about bisexuality, and at times hides his hurt.
There was a moment around 80% or so when I thought this book was taking a direction not to my liking, but of course I should have trusted the author who didn't let me down. In the end, both men grow throughout this book, and they journey they took was, while not smooth, definitely worth taking.
Kudos to this author for writing bisexual characters, stereotype-defying characters, and complex, flawed characters, not only for the main pairing but also for the supporting cast. And extra kudos for Ferdy, the most lovable, slobbering, and loving beast there ever was.
There's a HEA, of course, and a lovely epilogue, and all's well that ends well, as The Bard himself would tell you.
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **