Starling by Racheline Maltese and Erin McRae
Series: Love in Los Angeles #1
Publisher: Torquere Press
Be careful what you wish for...
When J. Alex Cook, a production assistant on The Fourth Estate (one of network TV’s hottest shows), is accidentally catapulted to stardom, he finds himself struggling to navigate both fame and a relationship with Paul, one of Fourth’s key writers. Despite their incendiary chemistry, Alex’s inexperience and the baggage they’re both carrying quickly lead to an ugly break-up.
Because the stars aren't benign.
Reeling from their broken hearts, Alex has an affair and Paul has an ill-advised reunion with an old flame. Meanwhile, the meddling of their colleagues, friends -- and even the paparazzi! -- quickly make Alex and Paul’s real life romance troubles the soap opera of the television season.
But while the entertainment value may be high, no one knows better than Alex and Paul that there are no guarantees when it comes to love in Los Angeles.
The story is written in the present tense, which (along with the multiple POVs) I found distracting in the beginning. In their blog tour for the book, Maltese and McRae revealed that they used it for a reason; scripts are written that way, and they wanted to amplify the Hollywood setting and feel of the story. Admittedly, after a while I couldn't imagine the story told in the past tense, though it still felt awkward at times. The style does give you a feeling for the hectic day-to-day feeling of life on the set of a nighttime soap. On the other hand, for me it tended to tamp down the emotional factor of the romance. Alex is a very mercurial young guy who, confused by the sudden changes that stardom has induced in his life, tends toward rash and reactionary decisions about love. Paul, meanwhile, has had much more emotional baggage to deal with, and his guarded reactions can make him hard to decipher. Maltese and McRae's use of the present tense is great for immediacy, but there's so much emphasis on the play-by-play of life on and off the set that it feels almost journalistic at times, with a journalist's emotional distance. There are some heartrending situations in the past and present of the story, but some (such as an implied suicide attempt in Paul's youth) are merely touched on. Likewise, Alex and Paul's biggest confrontation happens so suddenly that I spent most of the second half of the book wondering if I missed something. Alex's inconsistent decision-making is understandable coming from a confused young guy who is suddenly famous, but some of it doesn't ring true in the context of the story. (Alex spends most of the first half worried that bloggers and paparazzi will see him with Paul, so he seems too carefree in the second half of the book to be credible.)
There are quite a few characters in the mix, many of whom have been involved with each other on and off the set. (I don't want to spoil too much by revealing more.) One purely platonic presence is Alex's housemate Gemma, who manages to be a sympathetic and interesting presence in spite of having a fairly thankless role in this installment of the story. (If I never see another scene in an m/m book where the straight best girlfriend watches TV with her pal on another dateless night while jealously asking him nosy questions about his sex life, I'll be happy.) On the blog tour, the authors have implied that she'll have her own success and happiness in the end, and I would like to see that.
In spite of my issues, I did find STARLING entertaining. The authors do give you a feel for the behind-the-scenes of a series, and I was thrilled to see as much attention given to the staff writers' room as to the soundstage. DOVES, the forthcoming second installment, will apparently pick up the action a year and a half later, and I'll be fascinated to see how that time has affected the characters and their relationship.