Lucy Parker is pretty much the only author of contemporary romance whose books are a must-read for me, and I suspect that there are many, many readers out there in Romancelandia who, like me, have been eagerly awaiting Making Up, the third book in her London Celebrities series. Set in the world of London’s West End, the stories take place amid the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd, the backstage backstabbing, the gossip, rivalry and intense camaraderie of theatre companies mounting high-status, high profile productions. Ms. Parker completely nails the London setting and the sheer amount of graft from all involved required to mount a commercially successful West End production; her characters work hard, play hard and show readers that not all is glitz and glamour behind the footlights.
So… what you want to know is – was Making Up worth waiting for? Absolutely. Is it as good as Act Like It and Pretty Face? Weeeeeell… not quite. Don’t get me wrong – it has all the ingredients that made the other books in this series such great reads. The two principals are appealing, the dialogue sparkles, the banter zings back and forth and the romance is well-done… but it lacks the emotional depth of its predecessor which, for my money, is the strongest of the series.
Towards the end of that book, Trix Lane, best friend of the heroine, Lily, was just emerging from an emotionally abusive relationship with a guy who had gradually been separating her from her friends, belittling her profession and eroding her self-esteem. Fortunately, Trix managed to extricate herself before things got worse, but it’s left some big emotional scars and serious dents in her self-confidence.
At the beginning of Making Up, the lead aerial performer in Festival of Masks – an odd mix of carnival, rock concert and dark fairy tale with a bit of smut thrown in for good measure – is hospitalised after an accident on-stage. A combination of circumstances conspires to catapult Trix into the limelight to take over the role at the next performance and for the foreseeable future. But Trix – who would in the past have jumped at the chance to get out there and show what she’s made of – is terrified. It doesn’t help that the stage manager is a prick who never has a kind word or word of praise for anyone, but Trix knows the problem goes deeper than that. She is fully aware that this newly found lack of assurance is a hangover from her relationship with Dan St. James; somehow his backhanded compliments and subtle and not-so-subtle digs and jibes insidiously wormed their way into her psyche and they’re hard to shake off.
Leo Magasiva has known Trix on and off for years, ever since they were at school. They had been good friends once, but a nasty, unguarded comment from Leo, followed by Trix’s departure for a posh boarding-school put paid to their friendship, and they’ve been at daggers drawn ever since. Somehow, though, they have never been able to completely avoid each other, running into one another at various events and gatherings over the years, and taking advantage of the opportunity to indulge in a game of verbal one-upmanship.
A talented and widely respected make-up artist, Leo’s career has taken a nose-dive courtesy of an actor who failed to disclose his skin allergies. Which is how come Leo is prepared to take a short-term gig in the West End; he can lie low for a bit and also get ready for a major make-up and special effects competition being held in London which he’s hoping might open doors for him in the movie industry.
As soon as Trix and Leo set eyes on each other, old wounds are reopened and old hurts resurrected. Leo isn’t thrilled about working in close proximity with Trix, and she’s openly hostile to him while she’s friendly with her cast-mates, and one guy in particular. Leo immediately labels her as a fake and a flirt, although it’s very clear that his antagonism is rooted in jealousy and something else that relates to their past. Fortunately, however, the author doesn’t string out the issues that lie between them for too long and the misunderstandings that led to the end of their youthful friendship are cleared up well before the half-way point. The sexual tension that has been simmering between them since their first scene (and for the past decade!) finally boils over, but it’s clear that keeping things casual is going to be difficult for both of them and Trix, especially, is terrified. Insecurites continue to plague her about her professional ability, and the thought of trusting a man again, no matter that she knows Leo is nothing like her ex… it’s all too much and she’s finding it hard to cope.
Fortunately for Trix, Leo is an amazing guy. He’s generous of spirit, insightful and incredibly supportive, knowing when to push and when to hold back, watching out for Trix even as he’s worrying over his younger sister who, for most of the book is a total bitch and is clearly unhappy about something but won’t open up to him. He refuses to allow Trix to lose sight of who she really is – “You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met” – or to give up on herself or on them.
There are many things to enjoy about the story, not least of which is the fact that Leo and Trix come across as adults who have real conversations dealing with complex issues and emotions. Their banter is witty and perceptive; Ms. Parker has a way of using verbal sparring between characters to illuminate their weaknesses as well as their strengths and while the level of snark varies from the gentle to the punishing, it’s never downright nasty. The secondary characters are well-drawn and the backstage camaraderie is the perfect mixture of heartfelt and cynical; Trix and Leo are talented people, both ambitious, dedicated to – and supportive of – their careers, and the overlying message of the book is one we can all identify with, the need to find happiness where we may, amid “life in all its occasional shittiness.”
While Making Up doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the previous books in the London Celebrities series, it’s nonetheless an extremely entertaining and enjoyable novel and one I’m more than happy to recommend. Funny, sexy, poignant, warm, intelligent – and I haven’t even mentioned the cute baby hedgehog yet – it’s the perfect summer read.