Title ~ Broken Records (Spotlight Series: Book One)
Author ~ Lilah Suzanne
Publisher ~ Interlude Press
Published ~ 17th December 2015
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
“Top Pick! … This excellent take on the celebrity-and-normal-person romance moves at a fast clip while satisfying at every turn.” — RT Book Reviews Magazine
Los Angeles-based stylist Nico Takahashi loves his job—or at least, he used to. Feeling fed up and exhausted from the cutthroat, gossip-fueled business of Hollywood, Nico daydreams about packing it all in and leaving for good. So when Grady Dawson—sexy country music star and rumored playboy—asks Nico to style him, Nico is reluctant. But after styling a career-changing photo shoot, Nico follows Grady to Nashville where he finds it increasingly difficult to resist Grady’s charms. Can Nico make his peace with show business and all its trappings, or will Grady’s public persona get in their way of their private attraction to each other?
Anyone who reads my reviews know that I have a soft spot for musicians, composers, dancers, even sports stars. There’s something both fascinating and reassuring about famous, talented, and successful people fighting to overcome the same obstacles the rest of us face. And when the characters are openly gay, middle finger prominently raised to the forces who would keep them down because of whom they love – well that’s the trifecta, isn’t it?
But “Broken Records” is something a bit different. In this unusual, fun, and often surprising novel, the author, Lilah Suzanne, throws the rulebook out. For example, one of our two heroes, Nico, defies all stereotypes. He’ a handsome young man of Asian descent, but stands six-feet tall, and doesn’t speak a world of Japanese, Chinese or Korean (he’s a third generation American). He’s a fashion stylist for the rich and famous, dresses and makes up women, selects their underwear, shoes and accessories, yet he’s not particularly effeminate. Nor does he come off as football player. He’s not afraid of working in a “girlie” profession. It’s one that he’s very good at, very proud of, and doesn’t give much of a damn about what others may think. He’s making a mark in Tinsel Town and is the stylist-to-go-to for some of the top up-and-coming stars.
He spends most of his days buried in high-fashion magazines, browsing retro clothing shops, begging designers to supply his clients with their latest and greatest. His most daunting challenges come in the evening, which he often spends ensconced in a chauffeured limo or any of a series of ladies’ rest rooms, doing spur-of-the-moment repairs, fixing wardrobe malfunctions and taping errant breasts back into a dress, always in the background, where he wants so be. “Broken Records” opens with Nico wrestling with a voluptuous former child star in the back of a limo, rushing to tape her into a dress whose seams couldn’t hold her. She finally steps out into the admiring crowd and Nico heads back to his house, alone. As Ms. Suzanne describes this successful, but lonely young man, she writes:
“He may feel as if he was repeatedly run over by a luxury super-stretch Hummer limousine, but his look says: Nico Takahashi, calm, collected and put-together stylist to the stars. For now that will have to be enough.”
The other hero is the hot and immensely talented new star of Country-Western music, a gorgeous young man rising up the music charts, making a big splash on the radio, the Internet and in the concert halls. Nico’s first introduction to the sexy man is the cover of the national magazine his business partner, Gwen, drops on his desk:
“Grady Dawson: Country Music’s Sexy Bad Boy Strips Down and Opens Up. The words appear just to the left of a photo of what Nico has to admit is a very attractive man: a naked, save for a strategically placed acoustic guitar, very attractive man.”
Nico doesn’t do all that well with plaid shirts, mother-of-pearl buttons, cowboy boots and Stetsons. But, though neither of the partners is in any way star-struck (after all, they work with top stars every day), Gwen has a terrible crush on Grady Dawson – which is quite a surprise because her Lesbian partner might be really ticked off if she knew.
A few hours later, in deference to Gwen, Nico stands face-to-face with the breathtakingly beautiful man. He’s pretty blasé about his potential new client. He usually sees clients as a challenge, a canvas more than a real person. Aside from that, he has no particular stake in Grady Dawson. That is, until he catches the man’s eye. His chest clenches, he can’t catch his breath, and his heart starts beating a mile-a-minute. It’s not just that Grady is beautiful, though he is. What the photos in the magazines failed to capture was the honesty, humor, humility and inner-beauty that shines like lasers from his eyes. Nico is already a bit besotted.
Nico agrees to style him for a photo shoot in L.A., grabs the bull by the horns (so to speak) and transforms Grady into his truth, in exquisitely tailored designer suits, his curls trimmed by Nico, personally. When he first met him, Nico thought Grady was as beautiful as a model. Now that his truth is beaming out of every shot, he’s even more attractive, showing the world his dreams, desires, heart and depth.
Uh oh, Nico’s in love. Grady asks him to come to Nashville to style him for the Country Music Awards. Nico can’t even conceive of being out of L.A., where he’s made his mark. But he’s intrigued enough with Grady, and the possibilities, to give it a go.
And that’s when the obstacles start to rear their ugly heads. Defying all gay romance conventions, the author refuses to indulge in the standard meme of “music star getting outed”. In “Broken Records”, sexual orientation is a non-issue. Both men are out and proud. Grady is bisexual and publicly escorts both men and women to public events, which gives him a hell of a reputation as a playboy, but doesn’t seem to have harmed his career one bit. That’s probably wishful thinking on Lilah Suzanne’s part, but I’m more than willing to go with that. If it’s not possible now, it will be in a day or two. In recent years, several well-known Country singers have come out, publicly. So her premise, if not exact, isn’t very far off.
The big challenge is privacy. Any star in the public eye has to sacrifice his or her privacy in return for the riches, fame and power that come with success. Grady gets that, and after every show, he meets outside the venue with his fans. He hugs them, whispers a kind word and encourages them to go home with a selfie of him embracing them. He knows it’s the fans who give him the freedom to write, perform and market the music that drives his soul, and he never forgets it.
Nico, on the other hand, recoils in terror whenever fans or members of the press descend upon Grady. They’re like vultures, pecking away at his body and soul. He knows that none of that is real, neither the affection nor the assault, but still, it tears him apart. Worse, is the round-the-clock attention. When he’s with Grady, there is no background he can blend into. Because of his proximity, the world seems to feel entitled to Nico’s most private thoughts and dreams, constantly questioning his place and motives. According to the tabloids and fan sites, one day he’s about to marry Grady, the next he’s a god-digging “nobody”.
He can’t deal with it. He’s constantly ready to flee. He can’t conceive of any way that the two men, who are now deeply in love, can be together. And he has no right to deprive a world that adores, even worships Grady, of his presence and his music, just to escape his fear of exposure and exploitation. He has no right to even ask.
The author’s task is to find a way for it to work between the two desperate men. Fortunately, Ms. Suzanne writes their struggles with patience, insight and affection. She beautifully evokes the depth of the love they share. She never tells the story. She lets it unfold. She rarely describes what the men are feeling; she shows it in their actions, their speech and their internal dialogues. These men wrestle with major issues in some very smart and perceptive ways, ruminating on fame, fortune and success, while dreaming of what their lives might be, can be, if only they can find their centers and a path to each other they both can live with.
These are beautiful men in an engaging and superbly-written book. “Broken Records” wrestles with unique and surprising themes, with great depth, and a passion that moves the reader’s heart and soul. This is a book about people, not events. It’s not about plots, but about feelings, authentic feelings that both touch us and inform us.
I congratulate Lilah Suzanne for doing such a masterful job writing a fun, literate, and surprisingly powerful book - especially one in a genre that too often gets lost in surfaces. She’s woven a unique tapestry of humor, soul-searching, glamor, thoughtfulness, tenderness and love that I will not soon forget.
And yes, there is one great gay romance convention that she does honor: she finds a way for her heroes to share their love, overcome the odds and thrive together.
Don’t miss this unique, moving, and very special book.
Meet Lilah Suzanne
Lilah Suzanne has been writing actively since the sixth grade, when a literary magazine published her essay about an uncle who lost his life to AIDS. A freelance writer, she has also authored a children’s book and has a devoted following in the fan fiction community.