I cannot begin to describe how much I loved Parker’s first two books in the London Celebrities series. Act Like It edges out Pretty Face by a hair’s breath as my favourite. My love for the first two was followed by my anticipation for the third, Making Up. I built up a lot of excitement and eagerness to get to Making Up and I dug in with the reading hunger of a Crusoe presented with his first home-cooked meal. I’d encountered Parker’s leads in previous books and loved them: Pretty Face Lily’s pixie roommate, Beatrix Lane, and a giant of a make-up artist, Leo Magasiva. They were familiar, beloved, and would make my Kindle emit sparks with their charm – my reading immersion would be complete. (For now, let’s say there was mild glow emanating from the Kindle; sparkly territory, we did not reach.) Making Up opened with Parker’s snarky humour, which I’d come to love in the two previous books: sharp, witty, quick banter, self-deprecating barbs, and a backstage irreverence that only people who perform for a living can understand, face forward, wild, sweaty groping awkwardness to get there.
Making Up starts with a principal acrobat in Trix’s show having a great fall and Trix asked to stand in. Trix is emotionally fragile, as we know from Pretty Face, and her hesitation in the face of this opportunity is further evidence of this. It’s as if Trix doesn’t want this, happy with her secondary role. Ah, but the Parker wit, it made me smile: “She was supposed to be the Prince Harry of the situation.” Into this sudden spotlight walks former school chum and ever-lingering could-have-been, make-up arist Leo Magasiva. Trix greets him: “Irritant Number One. The original wanker. The pop-up dickhead who made a surprise appearance every ten pages or so in the picture book of her life.” The sight of Trix inspires acerbic thoughts in Leo as well: “The extremely short bane of Leo’s existence.” I do love me my enemies-to-lovers scenarios. They are rife with seething attraction, pointed barbs, and tension. Yes, I fist-pumped, this will be good!
As any romance-reader worth her weight in TBR heft knows, an enemies-to-lovers romance is only as good as the author’s ability to hint at dormant, neglected, and deliberately suppressed feels. This is certainly the case for Leo: “The very sight of her raised an uncomfortable jumble of emotions, jabbing an insistent finger at sleeping bitterness and regret.” Trix’s memories of Leo are equally painful: “Her first real crush. Her first heartbreak.” And thus, we have Parker’s set-up: Trix getting a career break as she emerges from under-study-dom to star power-light and Leo the Irritant as the new make-up artist hired for her show, “The Festival of Masks”. Trix’s reticence comes from an emotionally abusive relationship that still, a year later, has made her timid instead of her standard in-your-face bold.
Leo too is coming to the show after a career debacle: when a star-actor in his previous show had an allergic reaction to Leo’s make-up; though no fault of Leo’s, his reputation could use redemption. Trix and Leo reunite when their careers aren’t budding and they have to work hard to water them and ensure they blossom. That’s stressor one; stressor two is, of course, their nascent attraction and apparent antagonism: “Their budding … whatever had crashed and burned a long time ago,” thinks Leo. Parker’s wit is front and centre when Leo refers to Trix’s physical charms as “the equivalent of cuddling a roll of barbed wire” and Trix herself as “the pink peril”. Trix and Leo, however, are sympathetic characters, good friends to others, loving family members, and ’tisn’t long before they work up empathy for the hurts in each other. Their attraction is off the scale and they’re soon lovers, or friend-with-benefits, with their eyes on a casual love-making prize and focus on career.
As we know, in romance, the best laid plans of the h&h often go astray, leading to the HEA … sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Parker’s best laid plans veered if not astray, then definitely in a meandering and too leisurely pace. There were two elements that I found in Parker’s first two efforts that were missing: one was a diminished sense of that rich theatrical world and setting that she brought to life. Second was a relative lack of tension and conflict. For Richard and Lainy, for Luc and Lily, it felt like there were emotional stakes in their romance. While for Leo and Trix, everything was so work-out-able. The job conflicts worked out; their internal obstacles were resolved in a reasonable, sensible manner and, in the interim, the reader saw the HEA by chapter three. Yet, I couldn’t help but love Leo’s appeal to Trix: ” ‘It doesn’t have to be perfect, sweetheart.’ “, but I also couldn’t help but miss my romance dark moment, betrayal, even a tiny little amend-making if not grovel – on either part. Two nice people working things out: I liked it, but I didn’t love it. On the other hand, “it doesn’t have to be perfect” to be Parker. She is still one of the best contemporary romance writers we have. Honestly, I can’t WAIT to read the next one. As for Making Up, Miss Austen and I say it offers “real comfort,” Emma.
Lucy Parker’s Making Up is published by Carina Press. It was released on May 28 and may be found at your preferred vendors. I received an e-ARC from Carina Press, via Netgalley.