Elinor Zimmerman reviews Set the Stage by Karis Walsh

When I picked up this book, I wasn’t sure if a romance set in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival would really be my thing because I’m not a theater person. But Walsh’s vivid descriptions of Ashland, Oregon, of the festival, and of her lead’s clashing career paths were so charming that I was transported. If you want a nice little romance to escape into, this might be the novel for you.

Emilie is an actor with more than a few career regrets who sees her season with the festival as a chance to finally get back on track professionally. She suffers from stage fright and once abandoned her theater dreams and initial acclaim for her work in order to follow her girlfriend, a fellow actor, on tour. She’s determined not to let anything stand in the way of her ambition again.

Arden is a lifelong Ashland resident, daughter of an actor and a director who left her to be raised by her grandparents while they pursued theater careers all over the world. She works in the local park, just like her late grandfather did. She dates actress who come for the festival and regularly gets her heart broken in the process.

Arden and Emilie are drawn to each other from the moment they meet in the park but agree that they should just be friends. Emilie doesn’t want a distraction and Arden doesn’t need another relationship with an expiration date. Over many months of rehearsals and performances, the two grow closer and closer, cheering each other on in their careers even as those ambitions threaten their bond.

The romance in this burns slow but I appreciated that. A lot of the focus is on their connection as dear friends, Emilie’s struggles to perform when her confidence is low, and Arden reconsidering the life she planned for herself and what her professional aims actually are. It’s engaging and fun.

The only thing I didn’t really like was Emilie’s roommate, a graduate student in psychology, who wants to use Emilie for her studies. While I’d buy an undergrad new to the field blurring personal and professional boundaries, by grad school a psych student should know better than to pressure a new roommate into quasi-therapy sessions for her research. Maybe this sort of thing would happen but it sounded unethical. It also seemed to be a way to reveal some of Emilie’s backstory and have her come to realizations. Luckily this roommate basically disappears from the book once she’s served that purpose.

Overall, it’s a fun romance. It made me want to go this festival, which I’d never had any interest in before. Set the Stage is worth a read for fans of romance or theater.

Elinor Zimmerman is the author of Certain Requirements, which will be released by Bold Strokes Books in Spring 2018 and is a contributor to the anthology Unspeakably Erotic, edited by D.L. King, and out now. Her website is ElinorZimmerman.com

Audrey reviews Adieu, Warm Sunshine by C.E. Case

adieu warm sunshine

Sunny’s a spy who works undercover as a cop. It’s complicated. Pamela’s a dancer on Broadway. She’s not the star, and despite having a certain something, she’ll never be the biggest draw, because she can’t sing. But she’s arresting. Sunny can’t say why she shows up behind a theater on Broadway after a (lousy) show that night, but she leaves with Pamela in her car.

Instead of a one-night stand, Pamela and Sunny find they want more, that being together is both exhilarating and a balm to the soul. But they have secrets. Pamela doesn’t understand the implications of her secrets, and that spells trouble. Sunny knows the ramifications of her own shadowy past and shady present. These don’t make for a bright future, interpersonally, despite having a supportive work partner, Vash. But the thought surfaces, for both women, briefly–maybe this could work?

Then Pamela disappears. Sunny must use all her skills and all her connections, legitimate and under-the-radar, to find her lover. In the process, Sunny and Vash stumble onto a tangled conspiracy that could spell doom for Sunny and Pamela both.

The plot is fairly straightforward, though the mechanics of the organizations are a bit nebulous. It would be a good deal of fun to read a book just on Sunny’s training. But Adieu, Warm Sunshine is an entertaining read. It’s a little choppy and starts some threads that get dropped, narratively, although they’re tied up later. Writer design choices that don’t work as well as they could. But overall it’s a fun read. Case’s metier is in her sex scenes, where she exhibits a flair for choosing just the right detail to characterize the budding relationship between her protagonists. She works well on a smaller stage here. Though the overall plot can be explained in a linear paragraph, the book’s most successful parts are the interactions between Sunny and Vash, Sunny and Pamela, and Pamela and her roommate.