Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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 almost immediately.
Nicholas is darkly handsome, funny and magnetic but also a bit freakish. Still, when she’s around him, Freda feels like her gray, dowdy existence is being plunged into a rainbow of colours. 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 in one of new Dublin clubs.
She is gob-smacked and entirely intrigued to see him take to the stage and sing 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.
Once upon a time (last year precisely) I read the review of Painted Faces on Heidenkind/Tasha’s blog and I thought that it was most probably not my piece of (cup)cake. However, after reading Still Nature with Strings I decided to change my mind and you know what? Not only the book proved to be completely readable but also somehow I liked this one more. No, it wasn’t perfect but, overall, it was acceptable.
Firstly the premise – a romance between a drag queen who is also a guy as straight as an arrow (for a reason explained later in the novel) and a plus-size girl (UK 14 size actually so in my very humble opinion just a bit plump, not solidly overweight) who earns her living by baking cupcakes (among other things) was appealing enough to make me take this book and start reading almost in spite of myself.
Then it was obvious from the very beginning that Nicolas/Vivica Blue, the said drag queen, although very handsome, even beautiful, and talented came with heavy baggage and Freda had her own demons to fight. I like flawed characters well enough to cheer such an assumption with all my heart. Another advantage: their relationship had a rather slow start and developed at steady pace despite Nicolas’s a bit crude attempts to get into Freda’s pants rather sooner than later. Fortunately it was all explained and psychologically justified, making Nicolas’s behaviour if not tolerable then at least understandable . After all it is proven that victims of abuse tend to be abusive in turn.
So what didn’t work?
I don’t always like first person present tense narration and here it also bothered me from time to time.
Let me also remark that in terms of plot, there isn’t much going on here – it just happens to be a book about two people who fall in love and have to accept each other’s faults and limitations . I’m cool with that but it is nothing noticeably dissimilar to the other romances I’ve read so far and we were promised originality, right?
The conflicts between Freda and Nicolas sometimes sounded too artificial and I admit I am never comfortable when I read about anyone watching their love interest while they are sleeping (*cough* Twilight *cough*). Especially in the first part of the book Nick’s courting behaviour bothered me a lot. I respected him for cutting straight to the chase and inviting Freda to bang him about half a day after they meet, but when she turns him down he continues to flirt heavily with her, both verbally and physically – to the extent of randomly grabbing her nipple on one occasion. I found it arrogant and plainly rude. I also didn’t like the fact that Nick had to turn into such a big, fat ass***e near the ending – I could understand his lack of self-confidence but still any panic attack isn’t enough to justify his obnoxious treatment of a woman who was supposed to be the love of his life.
Apart from that I wish his character was given more psychological depth; it seemed to me the author stopped half-way as if afraid that her book might be actually too serious and/or depressing. It’s actually a pity because it would work even better for me if I were allowed a few more glimpses into Nicolas’s past and into his head, preferably including one of his ‘down-and-out’ periods – then, in my humble opinion, his different quirks would come across as far more piercing and cogent.
A romance book with very original characters, music and cupcakes in the background but with a very predictable storyline. If psychological nuances aren’t your hobby horse and you like romance you should try it.