– by Lee Winter
Yes. I devoured Lee Winter‘s latest novel, “Breaking Character,” as soon as I got me hands on it. Now, usually, I’m not a big fan of celebrity romances although I’d read a few, solely because of who wrote them. What made Winter’s celebrity romance story different (after reading the blurb), for me, manifested in four-folds, all being me favourite tropes in romance. First of all, it involved an ice queen. Yes, I’m a big sucker for ice queens and I’m not gonna apologise for it, so there! As readers of Winter’s books are aware, Winter’s the Queen of Ice Queens. Her personification of her ice queen characters have been nothing less than sublime. So, I just knew that this latest ice queen character whom Lee created would be divinely different than any other ones (be it hers or others’), and another one to steal me heart (which she did from the get-go!). Anyway, back to “Breaking Character“‘s resident ice queen, Elizabeth, she’s also British. Let’s see, a British ice queen named Elizabeth…. Hmm… Hey, “Queen Elizabeth,” anyone? Intriguing. Another interesting factor was that both protagonists, Elizabeth and Summer, were celebrity actors and co-stars, where one of them was the other’s object of hero worship and desire!
Then, there was the age-gap between them which intrigued me to no end! So, another PLUS in the celebrity romance sub-genre for me! And as if that wasn’t enough, at one point of the plot, it had an unusual fake relationship moment thrown into the mix, too! Fancy that! And the icing on the cake (for me)? It was a definitive slow-burn romance! YES! Ohhh….that always gives me the tingles because when it’s written with authenticity, I can’t get enough of it which makes me yearn for more as I devour every word until THE moment…which make me cherish the romance and its characters even more deeply. In this story, from the moment Elizabeth and Summer first laid eyes on each other on-screen (the most hilariously described SNAFU scenario I ever read yet because I could actually visualise it!), instantaneous spark flared between them, like an electrical charge, oozing chemistry so undeniable it sizzled. The slow simmering, bubbling, burning romance literally twisted me heart as I longed and yearned for that tipping point to come! I never scrolled the pages fast enough! I wanted to know! I wanted MORE! Utterly intoxicating was this exquisitely paced slow-burn romance!
Elizabeth and Summer’s love story was not love at first sight. It was more of a hero-worship complicated by unrequited love. This is where Winter structured the romance angle a little differently than say, a standard unrequited love story between two people. Rather than focusing solely on Elizabeth and Summer’s development, there was Elizabeth’s complex relationship with her long-time mentor, Grace, which incidentally seeped into Summer’s journey, too. A triangular correlation, so to speak, but utterly captivating, refreshing to discover about human behaviours, the blurred lines of attraction, adoration, loyalty, love and desire. Speaking of ice queens, Grace was sub-zero freeze! She was the epitome of a stone-cold bitch, a ghastly force to be reckoned with. Cruella De Vil personified. Oh yeh! And Winter’s portrayal of Grace will knock your socks off! I had a physical reaction toward her (the “I just wanna wallop her!” kind, mind!), the way she was behaving, slithering her way into people’s lives to get what she wanted (you can just imagine in the cutthroat world of showbiz where egos, fame and vanity reside, how some would do anything to have them). In fact, Winter wrote it so realistically that I truly believed that Grace was this real-life great veteran actor with a shitty personality! I mean, we’ve all heard about actors like her, haven’t we? Anyway, this book is truly a celebrity (showbiz) romance, thoroughly researched to give the reader a realistic sense and feel of what goes on behind the scenes.
Sidenote: I was utterly delighted to discover that Winter delved into the behind-the-scenes (BTS) goings-on in the making of a TV show and film! I must admit, I’ve always been fascinated with that part of showbiz when the cameras are off – human interaction, politics, mask-off personas, interdepartmental gossip. Winter clearly did her research extensively with bountiful insights and nuances of how people interacted once the cameras were off – cast and crew alike.
Furthermore, Winter, as always, injects current events into her stories, present one included. This time they were showbiz-related, obviously – the dead gay trope, sapphic shipping, queer-baiting, all those PR/marketing ploys on social media. We’ve all seen them, haven’t we? Needless to say, they were perfectly portrayed and depicted around Elizabeth and Summer’s story, resonating realism on all fronts that I had to remind meself I was reading a fictional story about two fictional actors, not real-world celebrity gossip and showbiz news we see online and off about real-life actors! Yup, you’ll know what I mean when you pick up this book and read it. Needless to say, “Breaking Character” is now the best and me favourite celebrity romance I’ve ever read, yet!
The stunning parallels between Elizabeth and Summer’s states of mind…you simply must read their complex experiences in order to grasp the monumental effect as their paradigms shifted. The transformative journey was grounded in harsh reality. Haven’t read anything like this – this type of romance where love was not just slowly built but had to be realised first, by one party who was a little slow on the uptake (!), developed within a period of time, slowly feeding it, fanning it, sowing the seeds of attraction with decreasing resistance, encouraging more openness and courage to confront fear before finally reaping the fully developed love.
Initially, the impression of Elizabeth’s character was reminiscent of Winter’s “The Brutal Truth” (me favourite DWP-inspired story yet!) but then she quickly came into her own. Elizabeth was not Elena. Not by a long shot. You’ll see when you read it. Especially if you’ve read “The Brutal Truth“. Yes, whilst Elizabeth, like Elena, was aloof, distant, seemingly cold, misunderstood but she was also painfully introverted and thrived on her conditioned emotional blockage. Elizabeth’s ice queen persona was not as prickly, sharp-tongued and caustic as Elena’s. In fact, there was a breath of softness about her when she was being an ice queen, exuding a touch of innocence where feelings and emotions were concerned, making her character oh-so refreshing and devilishly irresistible!
Summer, on the other hand, was the polar opposite of Elizabeth’s quiet, introverted, shy persona. She was open, passionate and a risk-taker. Summer wore her feelings and emotions on her sleeve. She was literally an open book, which was one of the alluring qualities (imo!) that drew Elizabeth to her, which puzzled her to no end because on one hand, Summer’s carefree, openly expressive, happy, positive nature frightened her terribly, yet it was the fear of it that called to her like a moth to a flame, however much she tried to resist. That emotional and physical pull that Summer had on Elizabeth was expressed so vividly in words that managed to project Elizabeth’s achingly desperate feelings onto the reader as that pull only got stronger and more undeniable the longer they spent time with each other or just being in the same space, breathing the same air. This longing feel….Winter nailed it so effectively with her way of expressing Elizabeth’s innermost emotions in words that invoked yearning.
Elizabeth was essentially the antithesis of Summer. The yin and yang personas, which are always so bloody alluring, innit? Opposites attract, and all that, eh? And Winter deftly crafted their dichotomy so seductively it was insatiable, intoxicating, utterly addictive to read! I couldn’t wait to uncover just how Summer’s irresistible allure would inevitably strip Elizabeth of her ever-protective masks she had always worn all her life! Elizabeth, in some sense, reminded me of Natalya in Winter’s masterpiece, “Requiem for Immortals,” because whilst both Elizabeth and Natalya, were experienced, age-wise, that attribute unfortunately didn’t transfer into the growth and maturity of their emotional state of mind. In fact, they exuded pure innocence when it came to recognising certain feelings and emotions pertaining to love, attraction, desire, which further confounded them when confronted, obviously, which, imo, made their characters ever-so enthralling to uncover and dissect! That’s why I absolutely loved Elizabeth especially when she was trying hard to reconcile her true emotions as she felt her protective walls tumbling down, so helpless, so innocent that you just wanna give her a big hug and tell her she’d be okay if she’d just take that step toward letting go! Utterly adorable, she was!
One of the most memorable moment was Winter’s deliciously wicked way of injecting a bit of a “fake relationship” trope onto our unsuspecting leading ladies! Yup. It was a doozy because I’ve read many fake relationships but this one truly took the biscuit (in the creative department!) because not only did this ingenious idea create an atmosphere of awkwardness between the two, it also allowed Winter to play around with this uneasy struggle between Elizabeth’s desperation and Summer’s inability to walk away from her own heart (Elizabeth), which created another layer of tension in their increasingly complex relationship! I can’t possibly elaborate more about this unexpected twist because you have to read it to experience what both of these women’s reactions were when this “bomb” dropped on them!
Needless to say, it made for some gloriously funny, facetiously hilarious moments, not to mention, pure discomfort and awkward tension that these poor souls were feeling, especially Elizabeth because of her aloof, clueless self, this adorable child-like innocence about her that simply melted the heart, in contrast with Summer’s total candour! When it came to confronting one’s own feelings and emotions, Summer was the more astute one, obviously. And it made for some laughs during their interaction, what with Elizabeth always having this “what the fuck have I got myself into?!” expression eternally plastered on her face whenever Summer was around her! And with this “fakery” attempt solely for Elizabeth’s benefit (yup, for what Elizabeth believed to be her career-changing film role), how they actually managed to do it, not for the lack of trying, with the involvement of some of the most interesting secondary characters ever created in a story (at least for me!), was a hilarious feat, to say the least! You MUST read it – I’m fairly sure you’ve never read anything like this before when it comes to the “fake” trope involving celebrity actors, directors, publicists, managers, make-up artists, cast members, family and friends, alike!
Oh, just you wait until you read the scene where they had to turn on their “fake” roles at the director’s home! Winter sneakily sprang some surprises in there which I totally enjoyed. It was one of the most delightfully amusing and at times laugh-out-loud scenes I’d ever read which I won’t be forgetting any time soon! Specifically, 2 uniquely original hilarity: One, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” OMG. That’s all I’m gonna say! And two, allergies. Just those two ingeniously crafted convos alone (one of them snowballed into even more ridiculous scenarios whilst the other had one of our protags hyperventilate from sheer panic and nervousness!), make this book a must-read! Yup, it was utterly memorable, to say the least! GENIUS, Winter! (I’m chuckling as I’m typing this because that scene…!) Bloody well done!
And oh, let’s not forget the “twist” at the end when the secret of how this whole hullaballoo came about was finally revealed! Two words: Mischief. Managed.
There’s one “little” quality I haven’t mentioned about Summer’s character which made her even MORE adorable and lovable than she already was: Summer was an unreservedly clumsy person. Hilarity followed whenever that part of her personality came out, invoking not just physical but verbal comedy, too! And Elizabeth’s reaction to Summer’s “unfortunate” trait? Priceless!
I liked that Winter used the indie film “8 Little Pieces” (that was the cause for Elizabeth and Summer’s “fakery” attempt!) as a window to Elizabeth discovering just how symbolic and metaphorical it was to her own private thoughts and innermost psyche which she had locked away from her consciousness all her life, as she slowly discovered and found herself – mind, body and soul – through her relationship with Summer and Grace, on and off the screen.
I utterly appreciated the fact that Winter spent time and effort in crafting the inclusion of all the filmmaking process, along with the utterly fascinating BTS happenings, from acting prep, make-up/costume to rehearsals and cast interaction before film finally rolled, which added another dimensional layer to Elizabeth and Summer’s character development and growth as both tried to manoeuvre their on- and off-screen relationships, especially when their sexuality was supposed to be under wraps. Speaking of which, Winter brilliantly depicted the struggles of showbiz actors who were gay and had to hide their sexuality, usually at the behest of their publicists or managers for fear of career-ending consequences, with so much realism, it was as if I was reading real-life closeted actors’ lives laid out in written detail! Clearly, Winter’s research findings bore fruit in every possible way because I was consumed by all the pandemonium of maintaining the actors’ public “celebrity” personas, in this case, Elizabeth and Summer’s, all the wheeling and dealings between the actors, their reps and the studio execs, directors, writers, producers, alike, not to mention, having to juggle their real lives, away from the limelight, when they could remove their public masks and be themselves again with their families and friends. It was as if I was a fly on the wall observing everything that was unfolding in and around Elizabeth and Summer’s lives!
Aaand… Winter also didn’t miss the opportunity to depict the proven fact about co-stars falling in love with each other on- and off-screen… à la Elizabeth and Summer! And I can’t stress enough just how meticulous Winter was in her depiction of this utterly brilliant showbiz celebrity romance, exploring the celluloid closet through Elizabeth and Summer’s journey that you simply MUST read to explore. Every nook and cranny, every sordid detail about life in showbiz, on and off-camera, was brought to life by Winter’s superb storytelling in words and expressions that truly resonated.
“Breaking Character,” imho, is Winter’s most personal writing, yet. Consciously introspective with a deep sense of self-reflective contemplation. The way she delved into every emotional, mental and physical layer of the protagonists’ characters, particularly Elizabeth’s, was described at a level so authentic that Elizabeth’s journey reverberated soundly, laying bare the mind and the soul as she finally found herself and the one thing she was missing in her previously well-constructed life – true love. I’d refer to Elizabeth’s deeply personal voyage of self-discovery as “The Deconstruction of Elizabeth Thornton,” really, because Winter literally dissected and broke apart every facet of her character, tearing off each mask at a time, to reveal the absolute truth that lied beneath her otherwise safely-masked facade.
I utterly loved how Winter captured the body language, emotional struggles, dilemma and nuances that seeped through the cracks in Elizabeth’s wall of denial, fear, rejection, obliviousness vs. Summer’s wall of self-preservation, defence, unrequited love throughout their journey. Winter’s authentic portrayal of Elizabeth’s eye-opening self-discovery that finally allowed her to break character (therein lies the reason for the book title!), let go of all her masks, and start facing her feelings and emotions freely, were nothing short of emotionally rewarding, soul-affecting and deeply heartrending. Simply put, “Breaking Character” was compellingly resonating, with superb writing and memorable storytelling. Sublime.
A resoundingly enthusiastic MUST-READ! Once again, Winter’s latest work has made me list of favourite lesfic romances! Surprise, sur-bloody-prise, eh? Hands down me favourite celebrity romance story yet! Definitely reread material for me! Elizabeth is another one of me favourite characters now, like Elena and Natalya! Bloody well done, Ms. Winter! Thank you for creating such memorable and compelling characters that I will always cherish!
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