Wednesday, March 31, 2021

L.H. Cosway - Painted Faces

Dublin native Freda Wilson considers herself to be an acquired taste. She has a habit of making offensive jokes and speaking her mind too often. She doesn't have the best track record with first impressions, which is why she gets a surprise when her new neighbour Nicholas takes a shine to her.
Nicholas is darkly handsome, funny and magnetic, and Freda feels like her black and white existence is plunged into a rainbow of colour when she's around him. When he walks into a room he lights it up, with his quick wit and charisma. He is a travelling cabaret performer, but Freda doesn't know exactly what that entails until the curtains pull back on his opening night.
She is gob-smacked and entirely intrigued to see him take to the stage in drag. Later on, Nicholas asks her if she would like to become his show assistant. Excited by the idea, she jumps at the chance. Soon she finds herself immersed in a world of wigs, make-up and high heels, surrounded by pretty men and the temptation of falling for her incredibly beautiful employer.
In this story of passion and sexual discovery, Nicholas and Freda will contend with jealousy, emotional highs and lows, and the kind of love that only comes around once in a lifetime.

Comment: I have had mixed feelings about the books by this author I've tried. However, the blurbs/plots captivate me and I keep hoping the next one will dazzle me.

In this novel, we meet protagonists Nicholas and Freda while Nicholas is moving in to the apartment next to Freda's but their first encounter isn't seen as very positively by Freda. However, Nicholas is a fascinating man, very alluring, and his job is exotic enough to fascinate Freda even more. The problem is that she has some insecurities which she hides with sarcasm and joking but the more time she spends with Nicholas - especially after she accepts being his assistant - the more she wants him to like her. 
Nicholas has some dark memories from his past and the heartbreak of having lost his mother at a very young age. He has lived life in his own terms but he feels he won't be god enough to commit, except Freda makes him want to try. Will they be able to be truthful to one another and take a chance on each other?

While I was reading this book, I saw there's a second one and reading the blurb I realized it's another version of this same story (probably with some other scenes), from the POV of Nicholas. In fact, this book is entirely narrated by Freda and in part, that is probably one of the reasons why I didn't like it better. I have said many times romances in the first person aren't always very well done and most times show a very limited vision of things and what a pity that was. I had this same impression with this one.

Freda is a young woman who works two jobs, she cares for her family (there's one or two scenes where this evident and I can only assume we are aware of this precisely because of such scenes) and she lives with a roommate in Dublin. I liked her well enough, there were traits in her I enjoyed seeing, I particularly liked how she felt vulnerable at times and how self conscious she was of her figure but having curves wasn't a detriment to her self esteem. She was an appealing character.

What I tend to dislike about first person narrators the most is how they inevitably seem too focused on themselves if they have to describe things for us. Unless a character is involved in something big or special or something, then the focus in romance or sex or their own feelings always makes them act like they matter more than anyone else and how can it not feel like they are conceited? At some point that was exactly what I was thinking about Freda, how self centered her thoughts were being when the story was, supposedly, not even about her.

Nicholas is the main character of this book, it's his aura of mystery and allure that make people around him interested in knowing him. We don't learn all about him until a certain point on but some things are rather obvious to guess or to infer. He is a fascinating character for certain, especially because he performs as a drag queen but he is not gay nor does he perform for the usual reasons more often associated with drag queens. His reasons make sense when he tells his story but I do think he should have followed his own advice and looked for psychological help, to deal with his traumas.

So, these two people who have nothing in common at first sight, end up being in each other's sphere and their physical attraction quickly evolves into something more. I won't go into it although I should say I wasn't convinced they had to be a romantic couple, they worked better as friends in my opinion. What bothered me the most, though, was how they talked to each other, how they acted around one another and how they thought about each other.  

Basically, I was not a fan of how their relationship developed and I couldn't understand why these people wanted to be together as an everlasting couple since their interactions felt so superficial and without the necessary depth to sustain them. When they talk about important issues it seems things are progressing but then some conflicts happen and everything just seems all over the place, I was not convinced of their feelings for one another.

I confess I also expected a bit more from Nicholas' job. I was curious to know more about his path into his drag queen persona but also the technical side of things, the wigs, the make up, more talk about the dresses, the training to pose, how the industry works, how it is seen by others, how drag queens themselves choose how to dress, how to behave, etc.,...these things were only barely mentioned and not enough, I think, for this to be a story about a man who likes being a drag queen. I don't think there was enough development on this for the story to be as good as it could on this regard.

I think there are good elements here, as they tend to exist in most stories, but the choice of putting them together the way they were... perhaps this just doesn't sound good to me, other readers have liked the pair and their story but their conversations, their "seduction mode" felt rather childish and silly, I just couldn't be sold on their HEA being a definite one. Along with the first person narrator... well, let's just say this wont be a favorite by the author to me.

Grade: 5/10

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