CBR10 is my seventh year participating in Cannonball Read, and in that time I feel comfortable saying that I’ve made a space for myself as a reviewer of romance books. I review all the romance I read because I believe firmly that everyone should read what they want, read what they like, and have someone pointing the way for them. We have our lead dogs of this pack (#BlameMalin) and we have the “hobbyists” (me). One of the greatest gifts of Cannonball Read is finding new authors whom you love, and whose work you find consistently enjoyable. For me those are absolutely Rainbow Rowell, Courtney Milan, and Lucy Parker (which doesn’t even begin to cover the backlog of other authors that have been sent my way – my love for all things Tessa Dare only grows).
It is hard to believe that it was only two years ago that Lucy Parker blasted onto the Cannonball scene in 2016 with Act Like It which was universally well received and then followed up the next year with Pretty Face which secured that this was not an anomaly, Lucy Parker can write. Having avoided the sophomore slump, I was still worried – could she maintain the high quality contemporary romances set in London’s theatre scene to complete the trilogy? Mostly yes is the good news here.
Making Up is two parts second chance romance and one part enemies to lovers. As in her previous books Lucy Parker handles the circumstance with a deft touch, tweaking the tropes to suit a relatable and believable history (even if it’s a bit of a retcon from what we saw in Pretty Face). Our main couple of Trix and Leo is adults and are (blessedly) capable of having adult conversations of substance with one another even in the early part of the book where they are still in the enemies phase. Parker wisely sets Trix and Leo’s Great Misunderstanding with their teenaged selves, a decade in their past, where it feels appropriate. The pair overcomes the misunderstanding between them fairly early in the novel which leads to a lot of funky baseline, but also a good deal of time for the characters to unpack the actual emotional baggage still on the table. Trix is still dealing with the fallout from her emotionally abusive ex, and is experiencing anxiety attacks about everything, but especially a new, intense relationship. While Trix is the main thrust, Leo is also dealing with putting his relationship with his sister back on an even footing and repairing his professional standing, which is how he ends up working on Trix’s show in the first place.
Parker uses her setting, the West End theatre scene, to provide her the backdrop for her romances – theatre is geared up to offer drama in many forms. One of the best features of each of her books so far is the banter between the leads; Parker’s distinct skill in this arena seems to be that she knows the line for each character that cannot be crossed for the relationship she is portraying but also for her reader’s compassion for those characters. Parker is shedding light on various aspects of her characters, which layers our understanding of them, as well as the character’s understandings of each other. Making Up has all of Parker’s trademark wit, plus empathy and incisiveness, so it automatically has a lot going for it.
Thematically Parker is working in the arena of abusive relationships. Trix is healing from an emotionally abusive relationship tht stripped her down and made her less sure of herself and less likely to pursue her dreams. The other component of the theme resides in the B plot with Leo’s sister who is a complete Pain in the Ass, to the point that I hope not to see her again in future Parker novels. It would be easy to say the book would be better without her, because the drama she brings isn’t necessary. That would be wrong. Cat is another facet of Parker’s theme, that people can fuck up, be damaged by their relationships and their choices, not be healed, and still be worthy of love and happiness.
Once more for the people in the back: even with mistakes, even after we survive abuse, even while we struggle with our mental illnesses, or our terrible choices we are worthy and deserving of happiness, but it may not come easily and that is okay. That is what Parker is working with in this novel. She doesn’t always completely hit the nail on the head, and this book isn’t as spectacularly excellent as its predecessors, but it is quietly very, very good.