Painted Faces

Painted Faces - L.H. Cosway 4.5 stars.

Had to knock back a 1/2 a star for the slight cheese in the last couple pages of the book. However, this book rocked and I totally wasn't expecting it. I mean at all. I got the recommendation from reading Maryse's Book Blog. The review over there said that despite it being a romance between a guy who performs as a drag queen and a straight woman that it was a great love story. Boy was she right! I went in thinking that there was no way there was going to be hook with a male lead that likes to dress up a woman. How was I going to identify with that? I'm not really sure how to explain what Cosway is able to do with Nicholas, or how she makes him a deep character who is sexy, real, AND feminine but still hot, in a way that in doesn't take away from his masculinity, but she does it. Don't take my word for it though, go and read the book. Seriously Nicholas is a smoking hero.

Our narrator, Freda is pretty funny and also very authentic. She doesn't go the way of many funny narrators -- she's not too hard and callous, nor too insecure. She sort of reminds me of Bridget Jones in a way, though perhaps a bit more secure with herself and with a bigger mouth. She's a little more curvy than she would like to be which is a nice change from a lot of books I've been reading lately. She enjoys eating. She's a professional baker. She knows who she is and she's able to stand on her own two feet. She has friends and a life in Dublin that she likes. The strength of her character helps bring a realness and depth to her relationship with Nicholas that makes it feel like a authentic relationship.

Nicholas is a bit of player. He's new to town and moves in next door to Fred. He's got some dark issues to contend with, but the way that we learn about them doesn't feel like info dumping. Those issues are at the crux of the conflict of the book and play out slowly over time. He's sweet and playful with Freda but he's also got this confident alter ego as a drag queen. It's one of the more interesting dynamics in a male lead in a romance that I've read about in recent years.

Fred doesn't want to get her heart broken and so she shies away from the physical aspect of a relationship that Nick is pushing. They become good friends. Fred accepts Nick for who he is. Here's another thing I liked about the book: Fred accepts Nick for his little eccentricities, but Nick is well established in this life, he has friends and he's comfortable with it himself. It would have been easy for the author to write him as needing a woman to help him find himself and come to terms with this side of himself, but that's not what we get. What we get is better. Writing him as confident with this "feminine" part of his personality makes Nick that much more believable and also more desirable to both Fred and to the reader. Who knew writing a hero in romance who wants to go shopping with his girl could be so sexy?

It's a slow build with their relationship-- there's lots of time for the tension to build. I could imagine their relationship playing out in real time. There was nothing hurried about it. There were several moments when I thought to myself-- Fred's a stronger woman that me, I totally would have given in to him by now-- but Fred's patience and resolve are her strength and ultimately lead to the HEA for these two.

I rarely give out 5 stars to romances because though I often enjoy them, the stories don't usually stick with me. I read them and then a day or two later, I forget the story completely. Either the characters have good chemistry and the story is just so, so, or the story is pretty good but I don't really feel a deep connection with the characters. I only give 5 stars to books that I know will stick in my head a while. I like to be able to pull up my 5 star book characters in my mind and have a chat with them, like they are close friends. That's what I felt like with Nicholas and Freda. Cosway wrote them well enough so that I'll remember them now that the story is finished and I'm happy that they got their happy ending.