Hello and welcome to Rainbow Trends, a column dedicated to the hottest tropes and trends in LGBTQ+ books! Each month, I focus on a specific trend or trope and recommend the top three to four books I’ve loved that fit it. There are never big spoilers, only a whole lot of excited book talk, some new-to-you reads, and loads of HEAs.
This month, let’s talk…entertaining the reader both off and on the page!
Whether it’s actresses or musicians, dancers or acrobats, comedians, magicians, singers or even buskers, performers of any kind have an indefinable something that makes them unerringly fascinating both on and off the stage. Or for readers, on and off the page! Their personalities are usually larger than life and they possess skills honed and perfected over years in order to keep an audience entertained. They are engaging and charming, attractive and aware of their bodies in a way that only those who use them to entertain can be. They also possess a je ne sais quoi that can light up a room and are able to ensnare spectators through just their presence and talent.
Likewise, stories about entertainers promise a world of possibility where virtually anything can – and usually does – happen. Where the characters are captivating and the relationships they form are explosive and full of heady emotion. With that in mind, today I want to chat about some of the very best love stories that feature entertainers of all types. From movie stars to composers, b-list celebrities to piano prodigies, acrobats to musical theater performers to authors turned directors, these stories celebrate the ways that people express themselves on stage and the honest, sometimes sexy, and always loving relationships they form through those experiences.
How to Be a Movie Star by TJ Klune
What it’s about: Josiah Erickson wants to be a movie star. The problem with that is so does half of Los Angeles. But he’s on his way, what with memorable roles as a TV show background cadaver and a guy in a commercial for herpes medication. All he needs is his big break. And that break may come in the form of a novelist who goes by the enigmatic name of Q-Bert.
Q-Bert, who is ready to make his directorial debut in a film Josy would be perfect for. Q-Bert, who Josy may or may not have a friend-crush on, and potentially something more. Being demisexual can be confusing.
From the City of Angels to the small mountain town of Abby, Oregon, Josy will give his all to make sure his dreams come true—even the ones he never thought possible.
Why you should read it: Sunny and open, Josy is one of the most happy go lucky and utterly charming characters you’ll ever meet. He’s a dedicated friend, motivated actor, and an optimist through and through. He doesn’t let bad auditions, awkward first encounters, or even his family’s negativity about his chosen career path squash his spirit. Watching him come into his own as both an actor and a love interest is a true delight. TJ Klune is truly a master at crafting nuanced characters and found families, letting them experience relationships and personal connections on a multitude of levels. Josy is one of his best main characters to date and the tender, awkward love he finds with an erotic novelist turned director is so very real and meaningful with the added benefit of being hilarious to boot.
And Playing the Role of Herself by K.E. Lane
What it’s about: Actress Caidence Harris is living her dreams after landing a leading role among the star-studded, veteran cast of 9th Precinct, a hot new police drama shot on location in glitzy LA. Her sometimes-costar Robyn Ward is magnetic, glamorous, and devastatingly beautiful, the quintessential A-List celebrity on the fast-track to super-stardom. When the two meet on the set of 9th Precinct, Caid is instantly infatuated but settles for friendship, positive that Robyn is both unavailable and uninterested. Soon Caid sees that all is not as it appears, but can she take a chance and risk her heart when the outcome is so uncertain?
Why you should read it: And Playing the Role of Herself is a wild ride chock full of humor and action of will-they, won’t-they proportions. You will absolutely love the delicious tension that runs throughout this book as the two leads slowly come to realize what they want from one another. Caidence is a TV actress who has only recently realized she’s attracted to women; Robyn is a fellow actress who occasionally appears on Caid’s show and is seemingly straight with an actor boyfriend. As their scenes on screen heat up and tensions reach a boiling point, Caid must learn to admit that what she wants from Robyn is far from platonic while Robyn must admit in turn that there’s more to this chemistry than what appears on the small screen.
Verismo by EM Lindsey
What it’s about: Two men, shaped by the demons of their past, find their lives inexplicably intertwined.
Nicolas Michaud, the prodigy composer and pianist, grew up apart from the world. Consumed by his desire to find the perfect musician for his Magnum Opus, he rejects human relationships, and it turns him cold.
Until, he meets Cedric Blum, a young chemical engineering student with a secret talent for music like Nicolas has never seen. But Cedric has his own past to overcome. With the help of an old friend and new relationships, the pair begin their journey toward love, life, and their personal Magnum Opus.
Why you should read it: Beautifully written and so heartbreakingly real, Verismo follows two men as they grow and mature, honing their musical talents separately until fate brings them together. Nicolas is a virtuoso who has never met his equal on the piano yet needs someone he can trust to play his life’s work to perfection alongside him; Cedric is mostly self-taught with an erratic history on the keys and a lot of personal grief that allows little time for training. Their first meeting is explosive and their initial interactions painfully uncomfortable. But as the two learn from each other and slowly come to understand what the piano means for each of them, their relationship slides into an uncharted territory that neither asked for or wanted. This is a lovely book that gives readers hope for a future when none was there to begin with.
An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles
What it’s about: On the trail of an aristocrat’s secret son, enquiry agent Mark Braglewicz finds his quarry in a music hall, performing as a trapeze artist with his twin sister. Graceful, beautiful, elusive, and strong, Pen Starling is like nobody Mark’s ever met—and everything he’s ever wanted. But the long-haired acrobat has an earldom and a fortune to claim.
Pen doesn’t want to live as any sort of man, least of all a nobleman. The thought of being wealthy, titled, and always in the public eye is horrifying. He likes his life now—his days on the trapeze, his nights with Mark. And he won’t be pushed into taking a title that would destroy his soul.
But there’s a killer stalking London’s foggy streets, and more lives than just Pen’s are at risk. Mark decides he must force the reluctant heir from music hall to manor house, to save Pen’s neck. Betrayed by the one man he thought he could trust, Pen never wants to see his lover again. But when the killer comes after him, Pen must find a way to forgive—or he might not live long enough for Mark to make amends.
Why you should read it: This is the third book in KJ Charles’ terrific historical Romantic Suspense series, Sins of the Cities, and the one novel that ties up the threads of the two prior books. So if you haven’t read those (An Unseen Attraction and An Unnatural Vice), I highly suggest starting the series at the beginning if only to understand the overarching murder-mystery thread. This particular novel focuses on the culmination of that murder-mystery as well as the relationship between a one-armed private detective named Mark and a genderqueer heir to an earldom named Pen. As the story begins, Mark is on the hunt to locate a missing heir and when he finally finds him, Pen is performing as a trapeze artist in a nightclub and most unwilling to go back to the life of luxury he once led. Their romance and resulting relationship develops organically as the book progresses. With a killer on the loose, Pen and Mark must use everything at their disposal to throw him off while also trying to maintain their relationship. KJ Charles uses her ample skill as an author to craft a realistic world full of mystery and intrigue peopled with fully fleshed out secondary characters and a sizzling attraction and romance between two people so very much in need of love. This three book series is a knockout.
Departure from the Script by Jae
What it’s about: Aspiring actress Amanda Clark and photographer Michelle Osinski are two women burned by love and not looking to test the fire again. And even if they were, it certainly wouldn’t be with each other.
Amanda has never been attracted to a butch woman before, and Michelle personifies the term butch. Having just landed a role on a hot new TV show, she’s determined to focus on her career and doesn’t need any complications in her life.
After a turbulent breakup with her starlet ex, Michelle swore she would never get involved with an actress again. Another high-maintenance woman is the last thing she wants, and her first encounter with Amanda certainly makes her appear the type.
But after a date that is not a date and some meddling from Amanda’s grandmother, they both begin to wonder if it’s not time for a departure from their usual dating scripts.
Why you should read it: With Departure from the Script, best-selling author Jae kickstarts an entire series featuring actresses and various Hollywood types (photographers, stunt women, and publicists). Jump into the series at any point but my recommendation is to start with number one which features an aspiring actress and a photographer who never thought they could find one another attractive in any way. As time goes on however, they discover that the reality of what they want is far different from what they thought and an unlikely romance blossoms…with the very real possibility of leading to something lasting and permanent. Jae is a phenomenal author who crafts strong female leads and gives them the opportunities to discover who they are as characters and who they want to be as partners. I highly recommend this entire series and its glimpse into the lives of several different Silver Screen entertainers.
Waiting in the Wings by Melissa Brayden
What it’s about: If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.
Jenna McGovern has spent her whole life training for the stage. She’s taken dance classes, voice lessons, and even earned her performance degree from one of the most prestigious musical theater programs in the nation. At graduation, she’s stunned when a chance audition lands her a prime supporting role in the hottest Broadway touring production in the country. In more exciting news, Jenna discovers acclaimed television star Adrienne Kenyon is headlining the production.
Jenna settles easily in to life on tour and has a promising career laid out in front of her, if only she plays her cards right. She’s waited for this opportunity her entire life and will let nothing stand in her way. The one thing she didn’t prepare for, however, was Adrienne. Her new costar is talented, beautiful, generous, and the utmost professional. As the two women grow closer onstage and off, they must learn how to fit each other into a demanding lifestyle full of unexpected twists and difficult decisions. But is Jenna ready to sacrifice what she’s worked so hard for in exchange for a shot at something much deeper?
Why you should read it: Second chance at love never looked as good as in this debut from Melissa Brayden. Classically trained Jenna has focused on becoming a musical theater star all of her life and when she finally gets her shot, she’s thrilled to be sharing the stage with the well-known actress, Adrienne Kenyon. What starts as a working relationship delves into something more incendiary until both Jenna and Adrienne think this might be for real. But a misunderstanding throws that out the window and the two women don’t meet again for four years. Through tight paced action and some superb world-building Melissa Brayden is able to give these two characters an opportunity at the HEA they missed so long ago…only question is: will they take it?