Total Creative Control
Grade : A-

Two of my favourite authors teaming up to write a grumpy/sunshine “angsty rom-com” ?  YES, PLEASE – sign me up!  Total Creative Control is a captivating read and I blew through it two sittings. Featuring two complex, superbly characterised protagonists, and a small but equally well-written supporting cast, it’s full of humour, witty banter, delicious sexual tension and a multitude of feels – and I loved it.

The ”grumpy” part of the pairing is Lewis Hunter, creator and writer of the hit TV show, Leeches (an urban fantasy-type show with vampires!) which, when the book opens, has been on air for three years.  He’s dynamic, hugely talented and very charismatic… but he’s also brusque, demanding, doesn’t seem to have a verbal filter, and is hell to work for.  Which is why he goes through assistants like a knife through butter – until the morning his most recent one quits, and he’s assigned a temp named Aaron Page for the rest of the week.  Aaron is a big fan of Leeches – which Lewis is both surprised and pleased at – and very quickly shows his aptitude for the job.  He’s just finished teacher training and has a job lined up for September; Lewis has never had a PA who actually loved Leeches before, and is already thinking of ways to keep him on for longer. He suggests that if things go well that week, he’d like Aaron to stay until September.  Aaron agrees.

The story then skips ahead three years – and finds Aaron still working for Lewis.  In the intervening time, he’s made himself pretty much indispensable – not just because he knows Lewis likes brown sauce in his bacon rolls or how many sugars he takes in his tea, but because his knowledge of and love for the show is second only to Lewis’ and he’s provided a lot of valuable feedback and insight into the scripting process during that time.  He’s far more than a PA now, and Lewis is a decent enough boss that he’s made sure Aaron is properly compensated for his expanded role.  But, as one of Aaron’s colleagues points out, although Aaron well paid for what he does, shouldn’t he be looking to move into a job that would stretch him creatively and make greater use of his talents?  But Aaron is happy where he is – and refuses to let himself dwell on the real reason for it.  That moving on to a different job would mean leaving Lewis – because that way madness lies.  Lewis made it clear on Aaron’s very first day that he doesn’t get involved with colleagues, EVER, and despite the stirrings of attraction they felt for each other when they met, they’ve kept things perfectly professional between them ever since.  They’ve both worked hard to maintain that fine line between colleagues and friends, not allowing themselves to be too curious about each other’s personal lives, never attending work functions together, carefully steering their way around anything too intimate –  and it’s worked, for the most part, enabling them to carry on with their working relationship as though that’s all that lies between them.

But when Lewis is persuaded to ask Aaron to accompany him on a working weekend at the country home of the television exec who is keen to develop Leeches for the US market  – a complete and utter wanker Lewis can’t stand – those lines between the personal and the professional start to blur.  Under pressure to make changes to the very fabric of Leeches to satisfy the demands of the US production company, then forced into a number of difficult and uncomfortable situations courtesy of his host, Lewis – already on edge – starts to unravel.  A group therapy session unexpectedly unlocks un-dealt-with trauma Lewis has done his best to ignore – but through it all, Aaron is there,  unequivocally on his side and keeping him grounded.  And this time together, just the two of them against the world, or so it seems, forces them both to confront some long-buried truths they’ve managed to keep locked away so far.  And for Aaron, it’s the wake-up call he needs to start putting himself and his career first for a change.

Aaron is adorable – the perfect sunshine to Lewis’ grump – and their chemistry is combustible.  He’s sweet and clever and insightful, and I really enjoyed the way his love of Leeches and his love of fanfiction are woven together, and into the story.  Fanfic is denigrated in some circles (and Lewis hates it!), but although some of it is undoubtedly crap, Aaron embodies the best endeavours; he’s someone who really gets to know the characters he writes about, and gets into their heads to produce stories that are true to character and as good as – sometimes better! – than the storylines on the actual show.  This part of his life does create friction between him and Lewis – who is dismissive and says some pretty hurtful things – until he comes to understand why Aaron – and many others – love it:

It’s about the joy of writing for your own pleasure. And about sharing your work with a community of like-minded people.  It’s about… creativity for creativity’s sake.

The only real criticism I can level at the book as a whole is to say that Lewis’ no-relationships-because-I’m-too-selfish/closed-off-and-everybody-leaves-me-thing is just a bit stereotypical;  but that said, it is at least well done here, with moments that will make your heart break for Lewis even as you’re screaming at him to get out of his own way.

Both authors are adept at writing stories that tug at the heartstrings, and there are some lovely, angsty moments in this one that will do just that as both men grapple with their feelings for each other, Lewis trying desperately to lock them away, Aaron owning them to himself honestly, but knowing he needs to move on.  There’s a real emotional depth to the connection between the pair, a sense of ‘rightness’ when they’re together that just lights up the page, which is incredibly satisfying  – and incredibly frustrating when Lewis is seemingly  bent on self-sabotage.

There’s also a terrific secondary cast – from Toni, Lewis’ supportive (and long-suffering) boss, to the absolutely ghastly TV exec Charlie Alexander, who I would happily have pushed under a bus (although I suspect Lewis would have beaten me to it!).

Total Creative Control is a delightful feel-good romance full of warmth and good humour that will make you smile and hit you in the feels in the best way.  On to the keeper shelf it goes – and to the hint in the notes at the end that there may be more to come in this world, all I can say is I’m Here For It.

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Reviewed by Caz Owens

Grade: A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : October 29, 2021

Publication Date: 10/2021

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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