I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.
In case you’re in a hurry (I know my reviews can go on a bit), I thought I’d give you a quick summary of my opinion. I had plenty of fun reading this novel. Although it does not break any new ground and there are no huge surprises, the characters are likeable, and if you love theatre (musical theatre in particular), you’re curious about what happens behind the curtains, enjoy romantic comedies not heavy on sex or drama, and fancy a visit to the London theatrical district, you’ll enjoy this novel.
This is the second in Shelby’s Theatreland series, but it can be read independently (although I guess from the teaser at the end of this novel that you might recognise some of the characters in the other novel in the series if you read it as well). I’d never read any of the author’s novels before, although I know her romantic comedies are popular and having read this one, I can see why.
The novel tells the story of Julie, a struggling actress, who’s only been out of acting school for one year, and whose life is split between the day (rather late-evening/night) job (handing leaflets for a London night club), and trying to land an acting job. She tells her story in the first person, and she is young, dynamic, attractive and talented, although she is not aware of how truly good she is. She shares a shabby apartment with her friend and fellow aspiring actress, Alexa, who is always ready for a good time, and although happy to have casual relationships, has her exacting standards when it comes to finding “the” man of her life. Julie is far more romantic, and she meets the man all readers will guess is the male romantic lead, Zac, very early on in the book. There is a certain deal of “will they/won’t they” going on at first, but let me reassure you that it doesn’t take long for things to go in the right direction, at least for a while. There are chapters also told from Zac’s perspective, although far fewer, narrated in the third person, and this allows us to gain some insight into his true thoughts and feelings, while at the same time keeping some information hidden. Zac is, of course, gorgeous, extremely talented, and has some acting credits to his name already, but he has been away for a while and needs to find his way back into the London stage, and there are hints of darkness and secrecy about him and his relationship with Julie.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, there are no major surprises when it comes to the romance side of things. The course of true love, etc., etc., is true here as well, and that is the case for several relationships that appear in the book (not only Julie and Zac’s, but also Alexa and her partners, particularly Tim, and there is also the story of Charlie, a friend of Alexa’s from acting school, and his long-term girlfriend Suzanne), but they don’t drag on to the point where one loses interest, and there is no excess of drama. There is sex, but the scenes are pretty mild and not very explicit. I’m not a fan of erotica and tend to avoid it as much as I can, and I was not bothered at all by the scenes in this book. If I had to rate the degree of heat, on a scale of 4, this would be, at most, a 2. I wouldn’t say this is a PG book, but a lot of the action takes place behind closed doors. And, of course, there is the obligatory HEA. And it is pretty satisfactory all round.
The characters are not complex and don’t deal with any major issues, although they are not cardboard cut-outs either. What brings them to life and makes them distinctive are the relationships they have with each other (particularly their friendships, which feel real), and also their love of acting and theatre. Julie and Alexa’s relationship, in particular, is one of the things I most enjoyed in the novel, and their shared apartment felt like home by the end of the novel. There are some nasty characters (egotistical and self-centred rather than truly evil), but there are no extremes of behaviour or true evil, and most of the characters are quick-witted, caring, and have a sense of fun.
I am a fan of theatre, and of musical theatre in particular (although I also love straight plays), and I enjoyed the talk about agents, acting schools, auditions, rehearsals, dance classes, and the imagination the author displays when she comes up with the plots and names of musicals (some sound like adaptations from well-known books), plays, and also theatres, and she shows a great knowledge of the topic, and love for its history (there are some homages fans of the genre are likely to pick up). As we follow Julie and her friends, through the process of auditions and the dreadful wait for “the call” we share in the excitement, and the joy and/or disappointment. It is a fascinating world, which Shelby manages to immerse readers in, managing to keep it light. (If you’d like a lighter version of A Chorus Line, you might have found it in this book). I am Spanish, and appreciated the fact that Zac Díaz, the hero, is of Spanish heritage and uses Spanish expressions often, and Joe García, the main name in musical theatre according to the novel is also Spanish. And I had great fun imagining what La Pasionaria, The Musical, would be like.
The writing style is fluid, it flows well, it is light and airy, full of amusing references and fun moments, and although we might feel sure we know where things are heading, we can’t help but keep turning the pages. There is a secret, something that makes us wonder about the hero of the novel and his true character, and there is a reveal at the end. I guessed what it was, but I must admit that I had several theories I kept swapping and changing throughout most of the book, and the author is good at hinting and misdirecting us, keeping us guessing.
I recommend this novel to anybody looking for a romantic comedy, especially to lovers of theatre (musical theatre in particular) and of London. Although there are no major surprises, the author manages to combine engaging characters, a fascinating background (there’s no business like show business, indeed), in a wonderful setting (London’s West End). I know where to go for my next theatrical romance!