Review: Behind the Scenes – Karelia Stetz-Waters
by Karelia Stetz-Waters
Publication Date: January 31, 2023
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Fans of Abby Jimenez and Meryl Wilsner will fall in love with this hilarious and refreshingly authentic novel about second chances, pugs, and finding the perfect muse . . .
Business consultant Rose Josten might not have officially reached “pug lady” middle age, but she’s already got the pugs—along with their little Gucci coats and trash-lovin’ appetites. Still, life is good, with her work, her sisters, and a secret hobby creating incredibly tactile (if surprisingly sexy) mindfulness videos. So why does it feel like it’s not quite enough? Which is exactly when former filmmaker Ash Stewart enters camera left, and Rose’s world suddenly goes full technicolor . . .
Ash never looks at anyone. Not since her ex ripped her heart from her chest in Spielberg-esque style, crushing Ash’s reputation, dreams, and directorial career in one brutal blow. But Rose is altogether different. She’s curvy, beautiful, and just so damn put together. And her business expertise might be Ash’s best bet for getting her last film—and her last chance—financed. Now if they can just keep their attraction under wraps, Ash’s lost dream could finally come true. But are they creating movie magic . . . or setting the stage for disaster?
Rose has taken care of her sisters ever since their parents died. She’s almost made it to partner at the business firm, so what does it matter if her sister thinks she’s going to die alone and be eaten by her pugs? Her life is perfectly fine. If Rose is on the cusp of having everything in life, Ash is at the completely opposite point. Once an up-and-coming director, now owner of a company that shoots ads, she has one last chance to get back into film. An eccentric investor has expressed interest in Ash’s latest script. The problem? She only has a month to put together a pitch deck and while Ash may be an inspired director, she’s terrible at the business side. A chance meeting and a wacky plea for intervention from one of Ash’s coworkers leads to the two meeting and Rose volunteering to help with Ash’s pitch. Working together leads to friendship and then to hints of a romantic relationship, but what would happen if each woman was forced to chose between her career or her chance at a romantic relationship?
Rose and Ash are opposites in a lot of ways. Rose is very business-minded, focused on spreadsheets and revenue and numbers, while Ash excels at the creative parts and, well, fails at the business bit. I thought they clicked very well from their first meeting, but there’s quite a bit of a slow burn before the romance kicks in. It makes sense, as they’re both in their late 30s/early 40s, and have enough past relationship baggage to be somewhat cautious. They’re also both very kind and considerate people, even if Ash seems determined to tank their relationship before it even starts.
Both women are dealing with some serious trauma. For Rose, the most obvious is that she’s developed an intense fear of flying. But it also means that when she thinks of her parents, all she thinks of is the way they died, not any of the happy memories they had before the accident. For Ash, her trauma was an accident that she herself was involved in, leading to serious injuries that left scars physically and mentally. One of those invisible ones was sexual dysfunction, something that she’s vaguely ashamed of despite knowing that it’s not her fault. Her prolonged convalescence – as well as some baggage from her ex – have also made Ash wary of being a burden on others, so she overcompensates and tries to do everything herself instead. It was frustrating, though understandable, to have both of them tiptoeing around a relationship while trying to keep their traumas secret.
I’m probably in the minority, but I’m always interested in bits about the main characters’ career. Part of it’s a competency porn thing and part of it is that I think that in so many cases it’s a shorthand way for the author to reveal a lot about a character. So I liked the behind the scenes glimpses of Ash filming or editing her movie and I liked Rose’s hilarious Cauliflower Baron stories.
But in terms of careers a character is passionate about, there’s a very interesting subplot about ASMR. Since Ash’s accident, the only thing that helps her relax is watching an ASMR artist known only as Cherry Covered Apron whose videos involving produce (like slowly washing chard) are relaxing and sometimes titillating. And for Rose – well, Rose is Cherry Covered Apron. Making the videos uses a creative part of herself that she gave up in favor of a business degree. It’s relaxing for her, so it doesn’t matter if no one else ever watches them. It also means Rose has some audio engineer experience, which leads to a particularly sweet and funny scene where she helps Ash with the sound on part of her movie.
While there were some parts of the book I very much enjoyed – like the ASMR subplot – others fell a bit flat. We’re told that Rose has been taking care of her sisters for nearly twenty years but we never really see that on the page. Sure, we’re told about many of the times in the past where that’s happened, and maybe the point is supposed to be that they’re capable of taking care of themselves now. But it was weird to have that be such a big reason behind Rose’s character without any specific instances in the storyline. I also didn’t like how easily Rose overcame her fear of flying; that all she needed was true love or to want it enough or whatever. And there wasn’t nearly enough of the pugs! They were adorable and provided a lot of much needed levity, especially when they were described as insatiable garbage disposals.
Overall, I’d give this 3.5 stars. I loved that it featured an almost middle-aged couple and really enjoyed parts of the plot, but there were some issues with the characterization that stopped me from giving it a full four stars. I would definitely read another book from this author, though!
Content notes: View Spoiler »death of parents in a plane crash (before book starts), grief, PTSD, fear of flying, injury in a car accident (before book starts, but relived on page), gaslighting, toxic relationship (before book starts), shame around sexual dysfunction, reference to drug use « Hide Spoiler