by Adele Buck
Series: Center Stage #1
Publisher: Quiet Competence Press
Publication Date: January 22, 2021
Source: the author
I received an advance review copy of this book from the author. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
The stage is set for the play of a lifetime: but it’s the romantic drama backstage that has everyone applauding.
Paul and Cath are the perfect creative team. He’s an up-and-coming theater director and she’s his unflappable, rock-steady stage manager.
If Cath’s had to bury her unrequited affection for Paul for ten long years to keep things professional, it’s just the price she pays for a career she loves, working with her best friend by her side.
Until he hires her old nemesis as the leading lady for a new play that’s their chance to make it big.
Handling temperamental actors is one thing, but watching this diva throw herself at Paul makes Cath miserable. It’s another complication when the leading man shows his attraction to her. Suddenly, an unexpected new job offer seems like a good idea.
But then Paul upends her world by declaring his love and sparking a passionate encounter.
It’s both a dream come true and a nightmare as Cath is convinced that personal and professional relationships don’t mix and getting involved could jeopardize the play—and both their careers.
Can Paul flip the script and set the stage to convince Cath otherwise or is their love always destined to wait in the wings?
I’ll say right off the bat that I honestly don’t know anything about what goes on behind the scenes of a theatrical production. But I’ve been a big fan of Lucy Parker’s work, and when I saw that this was a friends-to-lovers workplace romance, I couldn’t request it fast enough.
Paul and Cath, theater director and stage manager respectively have known each other for ten years – 14 if you count college – and have worked together for most of the time. They’re best friends and seamless work partners. So it’s with quite a bit of trepidation that the return of Cath’s nemesis from college – Susan, a talented actress who’s notorious for her diva ways – Cath also feels some of her buried attraction to Paul resurfacing. But the last thing she wants to do is ruin their friendship…
“Stop being so rational.”
“It’s my turn,” she said. “If we keep taking turns being rational, we may finally add up to one whole functioning adult.”
Like I said before, I know next to nothing about the backstage operations of a play, but I found everything accessible. In super simple terms, Paul handles the actors and sets the vision, while Cath is responsible for making sure everything that supports that runs smoothly. And Cath absolutely excels at her job. She’s thorough, calm and even-keeled, a perfect compliment to Paul’s more energetic and mercurial personality. She’s used to being independent and it’s a point of pride for her. She’s the person who solves problems, and she thinks anyone who tries to help views her as incapable. While Cath’s had a thing for Paul since college, for Paul, his feelings are a bit more of a surprise. But it’s not long before he’s willing to put everything on the line and try for a relationship with Cath, even if that means being vulnerable about his feelings.
“We’ve always been great together.”
“As collaborators. As friends.” Cath’s stomach fluttered and her heart began to thud heavily.
“Friendship is a great foundation to a romantic relationship.”
Cath swallowed hard. “Is that what you’re asking me for? A romantic relationship?”
Cath and Paul have been friends for years, so they already have a solid foundation to build their romantic relationship on. The banter is amazing and I especially loved the quote game they played with each other. I found the barriers to their relationship very relatable. Cath knows she’s not built for one night stands or flings – she gets too attached – and she’s worried that when it ends it’ll ruin their working relationship. But once she confesses that to Paul, he reassures her that he’s interested in a longer term romantic relationship. And that’s an example of another thing I loved about them: when they had a problem or misunderstanding, they communicated about it. That’s also evident in how thoughtful they were about announcing their relationship to the rest of the crew.
“Collaboration. That was the essence of theater, one of the major reasons why Paul loved what he did. So many people coming together to create a unified, ephemeral piece of art. So many people working so hard at their craft, whether the audience recognized their contributions or not. Like the proverbial duck, seeming to waft in serene unconcern across a pond, while all the work happened under the surface of the water, unseen feet paddling like mad.”
Which segues nicely into another one of the things I loved about this book: the gorgeous found family. Most of the theater group has worked together for quite a while, and they all care for each other and appreciate that they’re integral pieces of the production. Though tempers may fray due to long hours, they reconcile and move on. The book covers the entire process from auditions to opening night, so we also get to see how well (or not well) everyone interacts. I especially loved Freddie, Cath’s assistant, and Karl and Laurie, an absolutely adorable couple. And then, of course, there’s Susan. I’m not usually a fan of the evil woman plot line, but for whatever reason it really worked for me in this book. One of my favorite parts, actually, was the end-of-chapter emails between her and her frenemy, rehashing the events of the past chapter according to her distorted point of view. They were hilarious and gave a little more insight into Susan’s character, or lack of it. As for cons, I wished there had been a bit more about Cath’s background and why she was so independent. It was touched on briefly, but I think having that fleshed out more would’ve made that portion of her personality – and how it came in conflict with Paul – clearer.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this book and I will definitely be picking up the next in the series!