Best Supporting Actor
Grade : A

Best Supporting Actor is the third book in the Creative Types series from the very talented author duo of Joanna Chambers and Sally Malcolm. The two leads are characters we’ve met before in secondary roles in the earlier books, popular actor Jay Warren – star of the hit vampire show, Leeches – and Tag O’Rourke, an aspiring actor looking for his big break. It’s a captivating read – a sexy, heartfelt and insightful opposites-attract romance set in the world of live theatre featuring two extremely likeable and well-drawn characters who are both struggling under the weight of expectations in different ways.

Tag O’Rourke has always dreamed of being an actor, but casting directors haven’t exactly been banging on his door since he left drama school. He lives at home and does what he can to help his parents, who are struggling financially, but although they’ve always been supportive, he’s started to notice more and more hints being dropped that he should think about getting a ‘proper’ job. He’s not ready to give up just yet – but he does wonder how much longer he can keep the dream alive.

Jay Warren is theatre royalty. He’s the son of a famous actress (think Judi Dench and Maggie Smith rolled into one!), his brother is a successful director, one of his sisters is a poet and the other is a sculptor, like their father. Coming from such a hugely talented family, expectations are and have always been very high – and although he’s currently the star of a hit TV show and a household name, Jay is well aware of his mother’s opinion that working in television is beneath him and that the only real home for any actor worth his salt is The Stage. Dahling.

When Jay and Tag first meet, they don’t exactly hit it off. Tag is maybe just a little bit starstruck (Jay is drop-dead gorgeous as well as a Big Deal) but there’s an aloofness and standoffishness about him that rubs Tag the wrong way, and he allows his preconceptions to take the lead in their interactions. It’s not unfair to say that Tag has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about the fact that Jay, while undoubtedly a talented actor, has never had to work very hard to make a career in this very close-knit industry, while Tag will never have the kind of clout that will automatically open doors. It’s all about who you know rather than what you know – and while Tag has a lot of the ‘what’, he has none of the ‘who’.

Jay isn’t quite sure what he’s done to deserve Tag’s obvious animosity. He has never been one to flaunt his status or set himself apart, but it’s clear Tag has taken a dislike to him and thinks he’s a snob. It’s a shame – Jay can’t help being reluctantly drawn to Tag’s smart-mouthed prickliness (plus, he’s insanely hot) and Jay wishes they could find a way to just have a normal conversation. But normal conversation isn’t on the agenda when their combustible chemistry finally boils over and they end up in bed together. The sex is great – and unexpectedly intimate for what was supposed to be two guys just blowing off some steam – and both men are unsettled by it. In the awkward aftermath, they’re trying to work out what to do next when they both say completely the wrong thing and take it completely the wrong way – and they’re back to thinking the worst of each other.

Tag has been cast as Wilfred Owen in a new play being mounted at a festival in York. Let Us Go Back is a two-hander about war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, and a big name actor is to play the role of Sassoon. Giving up his job and moving to York for a few months is a big risk for Tag financially, but acting alongside a famous face will bring him to the attention of the movers and shakers in the industry.

Jay’s mother has been on at him for years to return to the stage and, unbeknownst to Jay, has committed him to a starring role in a new play. Jay quickly conceives a plan to gracefully recuse himself – until he arrives at lunch to meet the author and is ‘introduced’ to his co-star. Jay is horrified – although maybe this is the way out he’s been looking for. But then he realises just how much Tag must be counting on him for what could very well be his big break, and he can’t bear the thought of letting Tag down. He agrees to do the play.

The intimacy of a small-scale production provides Jay and Tag ample opportunity to learn more about each other and start to let go of their misconceptions as they explore their characters and the relationship between them and reflect on the ways in which that relationship mirrors their own. The authors have clearly done their research when it comes to the lives of Owen and Sassoon, and I loved the way they use the mis en abyme (play-within-the-play) to draw parallels between the two ‘couples’, the way the poets’ personalities are so clearly reflected in the personalities of the actors playing them, and the way that Jay’s and Tag’s explorations of the characters helps them to think more clearly about the man they’re working with – and falling for. Their real-life chemistry brings something special to their interactions on stage, and Jay is surprised to discover just how much he loves working with Tag, who is not only talented, but energetic, focused and receptive. And Tag realises how badly he’s misjudged Jay – far from being entitled and egotistical, he’s a generous and sensitive actor who can command the stage with the force of his personality, and a charming man with a surprisingly vulnerable side Tag longs to know better.

Gradually, Jay finds himself letting Tag know him in a way he hasn’t done with anyone in a long time, but as opening night approaches, the fears and insecurities he has been trying to keep at bay begin to take root so deeply that he just can’t shake them. A disastrous experience earlier in his career has left him with paralysing stage fright – which is why he sticks to the safety of working in front of a camera – and when the crisis moment comes, it’s heartbreaking; Jay spiralling out of control and Tag reacting badly, because he doesn’t really understand what Jay is going through. The two of them are so obviously head over heels for each other, but they’re hurting and their first instinct is to put up a wall and lash out. All Tag’s prejudices about Jay come rushing back, and he says some really hurtful things, while Jay is running scared (literally), blinded by fear and guilt and a desperate need to protect himself.

One of the things that sets this story – this series – a head and shoulders above other contemporary romances with similar plotlines is the quality of the writing. I’m a huge fan of both authors for their ability to craft thoughtful and intelligent stories and characters, to convey intense emotions in a realistic way, and to create situations that allow the characters to come together organically. Also, their research shines in this book – not only into the lives of Owen and Sassoon, but into the acting world and the world of celebrity, the behind-the-scenes shenanigans, the difficulty of striking a balance between maintaining a media presence and it becoming intrusive, and what a tough profession it is.

Best Supporting Actor is a fantastic read and is probably my favourite book of the Creative Types series. The romance is steamy, fun and deeply emotional, the leads are complex and flawed and the secondary cast is well-drawn. Joanna Chambers and Sally Malcolm are two of my favourite authors, and much I’ve loved books by them individually, I really hope they can find the time to collaborate again in future. Bravi, ladies!

Reviewed by Caz Owens

Grade: A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : September 29, 2023

Publication Date: 09/2023

Recent Comments …

  1. I read Ulrich’s book several years ago,it was excellent. American Experience on PBS did an adaptation of the book, it…

Caz Owens

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two gorgeous young women who are without doubt, my finest achievement :)I’ve gravitated away from my first love – historical romance – over the last few years and now read mostly m/m romances in a variety of sub-genres. I’ve found many fantastic new authors to enjoy courtesy of audiobooks - I probably listen to as many books as I read these days – mostly through glomming favourite narrators and following them into different genres.And when I find books I LOVE, I want to shout about them from the (metaphorical) rooftops to help other readers and listeners to discover them, too.
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