Pretty Face

“As he marched her to the second level, he heard muttering behind him. She really was going to have to work on her vocal range. If she wanted to make an impact when she called someone a “bossy prat,” she needed to project.”

“I’m not bossy.”
He actually sounded like he believed that.
“Okay, Captain Von Trapp. Keep telling yourself that.”
She’d broken the stern director facade again. He was grinning.”

I was a little disappointed in this one, but only because my expectations were so high. It is generally accounted to be her best book, and I just loved the other three in The London Celebrities series. The setting of London’s West end Theatre scene was just as glamorous and the witty quite sophisticated banter didn’t falter either. It is one of the main appeals of a Lucy Parker novel. I love the way her amusing use of pop culture includes references from Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars characters to even Harper Lee’s controversial Go Set a Watchman. It lends authenticity and immediacy to conversations and inner thoughts. Plus it’s very funny.

Sadly, the romance, maybe because it was so similar to the others, did not engage me as much. Luc Savage (that name!) hires Lily Lamprey (that name!) as one of the actors in his latest production, 1553, about Princess Elizabeth, Princess Mary, and Lady Jane Grey. It is to open his own historic theatre which he is also renovating. He has to be talked into even looking at Lily’s audition tape for the role of Elizabeth I because although very high-profile as the sexy bombshell in a very popular prime-time soap opera, she has no experience in the theatre, and has a very soft breathy voice like Marilyn Monroe. Not exactly Virgin Queen material. However, he needs the publicity her casting will bring, and gives her the part when he finally sees her surprising acting talent. Also, he quickly learns she is not the empty-headed floozy she looks like and plays so well on TV. Lucy Parker does opposites attract romance very very well. In my experience, her heroines are usually sweet girl-next-door types and her heroes are powerful and cantankerous. In addition to the unlikely romance between the protagonists set to the drama of putting on the play that will open Luc’s new theatre, we have some side stories. Lily has to come to terms with problematic parents which have saddled her with abandonment issues. As a TV actress with a weak voice, she is under a lot of pressure to defeat expectations and prove herself to the company and the public. To complicate matters we have a prominent tabloid with a personal vendetta against Luc and by association, Lily. Towards the end, there are two crises that rear up. One cements their relationship and then the other (temporarily of course) tears them apart.

My problem with the romance was with the hero. He got on my bad side right away with his prejudging of Lily who is lovable from the get-go. It was not only sexist, snooty, and stupid but considering we are told that he returned to the London *Thee-uh-Tuh* only after selling out in order to direct Hollywood blockbusters, it was exceedingly hypocritical. Also, he was just so “above it all.” I mean, he could barely bring himself to pull a cracker at Christmas dinner with his nice family! And then he removes himself from the room when they start their traditional game of charades. Come on now. He has a lot in common with her heroes in other books, In fact, they, as well as her heroines, are almost interchangeable. Almost. But the others are made more palatable by some vulnerabilities and more of a sense of humor.

So whether it was the hero or I was just tired of the nice girl having to bring to heel a mean boy in an uneven power dynamic, this one was just a shade below the others in the series for me. It was still very good.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

July 22, 2022

Act Like It (London Celebrities, #1)

By Lucy Parker

I sunk into this book like a favorite easy chair after a hard day’s work. I don’t know what it is about this series by Lucy Parker. It’s light and funny but in a natural authentic way. The writing is sparkly and clever. And although the setting (the West End theatre scene in London) is glamorous, Lucy makes the reader feel part of it all. Romance is job #1 but everything else: the setting, the writing, the characters, and the journey are so exceptional, nothing else is needed. If you need a break from darkness, tension, family drama, shocking secrets, and angsty love, Lucy Parker is your girl.

Lainie is a likable, nice, and funny woman from a large happy family. Richard Troy is “an intolerable prick” who had a troubled childhood. Not that that’s any excuse for his behavior. Richard is angling for the presidency of the conservative and influential RSPA, but his only press is bad press due to his rude behavior, terrible temper, and lack of tact. In order to soften his sharp edges and create some good buzz for a change, it is arranged for Richard and Lainie, who is popular, wholesome, and scandal-free to fake a relationship while castmates in a play. Because anyone Lainie likes can’t be all bad, can he?

“Do you really think you’re the political type?” [Lainie] ventured, trying to think of a way to put it tactfully.
“Meaning?” the inquiry was frosty.
Screw it. “Meaning you have the diplomatic abilities of a tea bag, and a tendency to go off like a rocket at the slightest provocation.”
“I’m aware I’ll have to work on controlling my temper,” he said even more stiffly.…“I wouldn’t have to lose my temper if people weren’t such morons.”
“I would suggest going with a different quote when you open your campaign speech.”

Together, they navigate a pesky jerk of an ex-boyfriend, red carpets, morning show appearances, and an important dinner with the board of the RSPA which features Richard rescuing Lainie from the clutches of a horny vice-president. Meanwhile, Richard is victimized by village fetes including leaking babies, blue-ribbon pigs, and giant gourds, a 5-k race for charity, and Lainie’s large protective brothers and their unruly children. The inevitable opposites attract thing happens, and the fake relationship turns into the real thing.

Also inevitable is the break-up before the (inevitable) happy ending. I really liked Lucy Parker’s fresh approach to the big crisis. Lainie forthrightly admits her mistake and apologizes while explaining how it happened. When Richard (being the temperamental diva he is) does not choose to forgive her, instead of getting all depressed and taking to her bed with a carton of ice cream (as any self-respecting romantic heroine would do), she rolls her sleeves up and goes on a mission to get him back.

The woman she was now knew what she wanted-and she intended to have him. She would pit her personality against his any day. But he had a right to be seriously pissed. And she knew him. Even on his best day Richard couldn’t be described as charitably forgiving. He wasn’t going to make it easy for her.

He actually turns out to be no match for Lainie or his own tender if reluctant feelings for her. But fair warning: Blood and a Hospital are involved before we get to the happily ever after. And we know it is “ever after” because the happy couple makes appearances in at least 3 more of the series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

June 1, 2022

Headliners

(London Celebrities #5)

by Lucy Parker

“Sabrina considered herself a morning person. However, she also considered that mornings began at 10: 00 a.m. When she hobbled into the WMUL studio at 5:00a.m…she immediately put her arm across her bleary eyes. Oh, Jesus. She’d forgotten how the breakfast set was dressed. Bright, Chirpy shades of neon buttercup everywhere. It was like someone had exploded the yellow Teletubby, and the contrast between the walls inside and the pitch-black sky outside was physically painful. Maybe the withered ratings couldn’t entirely be blamed on a succession of unpopular presenters. Viewers were probably trying to preserve their corneas.”

Lucy Parker writes a fun book. Even the book I thought was “just OK” was fun. The first book I read (The Austen Playbook) was delightful and the precursor to this one. Headliners is somewhere in the middle of the two. In The Austen Playbook, we meet its heroine’s sister, Sabrina, an ambitious, tempestuous, no-nonsense TV broadcaster, who has an on-again, off-again relationship with an egotistical actor who is cheating on her. She also has an intense rivalry with a fellow broadcaster, Nick Davenport, who, at the end of the former book, exposed her father’s perfidious involvement in a plagiarism scandal involving his Grandmother, an illustrious actor and playwright. The hit to her famous family’s reputation has unfairly stalled Sabrina’s career. At the beginning of Headliners, Nick has disastrously insulted the head of the network publicly and his once soaring career trajectory has plummeted. The two sworn enemies are forced to work together to rescue a struggling morning show. If the ratings are not way up by Christmas Eve, both of their careers are toast.

So the stage is well and truly set for an enemies to lovers romance, which seems to be a specialty of Ms. Parker. While the two start off by circling each other like boxers in a ring, they are forced to team up to solve the (not very mysterious) mystery of who is trying to sabotage their show and why. A computer Chucky-like doll goes haywire and attacks Sabrina’s chest live on air (hilarious), Ingredients are substituted in a cooking segment and renowned Chef Marco is infuriated when the live sampling results in his signature dish being spit out in disgust. (also very funny). Meanwhile, the two are inching their way to mutual respect, physical attraction, friendship, and true love; and the pranks on set go from inconvenient mischievousness to physical harm.

As in her other two books, I liked the maturity of the romance. There was no constant drooling and panting ad-nauseum over Nick’s physical attributes and their effect on our heroine’s libido. The sex was certainly more spicy than average when they finally go all-in on their relationship, but there was nothing adolescent about it. The two communicate with each other and they trust each other. There is no stupid “big misunderstanding” that temporarily drives them apart. The plot doesn’t need that silliness to maintain interest. Instead, we have sophisticated amusing banter and witty observations. One of my favorite bits was the weatherman who can only converse in weather-related terms “He left under quite a cloud…My mind is getting a bit foggy these days…such a lovely sunny smile…His tic is contagious and the puns start to pile up…”Yes, she’s on cloud nine with the new show-Blimey.” “ It’s funny stuff.

We also have the wicked witch of a villain of the previous book getting her so satisfactory comeuppance, the reappearances of the lovable Freddy, Sabrina’s sister and her formidable husband, her difficult father, Nick’s unusual family and their story, and a few more little side trips. Ms. Parker makes an effort to give all of her many characters detailed character traits or backstories which make them come to life in especially amusing, endearing, or nasty ways. Nick’s ex-wife and good friend describing his date for the evening as “Whispering Willow…a walking ASMR video” drolly pegs both Tia, his ex-wife, and his date.

For me though, the main appeal of this and the other books I have read so far by this author is the immersion in the glittering lives of the privileged and famous of London and environs. It is a whole other world and is very entertaining. It did bog down in the middle for some reason (too many side trips?) and it took me forever to finish it. Not sure it was really the book’s fault but for that reason, it is 4 stars for me, not 5.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

March 18, 2022

Battle Royal

(Palace Insiders #1)

by Lucy Parker

Sylvie had seen dozens of his own, incredibly expensive cakes in his London bakery. His preferred color palette covered a diverse range from white to ivory. Sometimes he really pushed the boat out and ventured into the realms of cream. Once at a black-tie event, she’d spotted a De Vere cake on the banquet table that actually had gold accents, and assumed he was either extremely unwell or suffering an early-onset midlife crisis….He went in for elegant minimalism. She rarely saw an object that couldn’t be improved with sequins.

A strong ending can make up for a lot. I had just finished my first book by this author on audio, and I was thinking that I would probably enjoy her next novel more if I legit read it instead of listening to it. I was a little disappointed. I liked the plot and the subplots and the characters. Her dialogue was again sharp and witty. Unfortunately, it turned in to be a bit of a slog through the middle. It wasn’t the surfeit of plots. There was a lot going on, sure, but I like that in a light romance. In addition to the main courtship between the two opposites attract bakers, there was the competition on the baking show they were judging, the relationship between the princess and her unusual fiancé for whom our leads are designing their wedding cakes, the fraught relationship between the hero and his little sister who has just re-entered his life, the tragic love story of the princess’s beloved late uncle whom she wants to be honored in the design of their cake, the quest to duplicate the taste of the groom’s favorite drink from a rival café. There’s also a mystery to solve, a stalker to deal with, and some cloak and dagger shenanigans into the mix. And also a beloved friend who is secretly dealing with unrequited love.

So that was all OK. What held me back and slowed me down was Lucy Parker’s writing style. Which I guess was disguised by the audio narration? Her sentences are sometimes convoluted, incomplete, or incoherent. I ran into a lot of non-sequiturs and tense problems. I had to constantly re-read for understanding. Here are some examples of what I’m talking about:

Sylvie seriously hoped that Abbey Hall could provide a metaphorical key, turn an elusive shade into a personality and a soul with hopes and dreams and loves.

I mean why not just say “she hoped that Abbey Hall could provide the key to turning an elusive shade into…”

“Does it make you uncomfortable when I . . .” Seemed to be increasingly drawn to reach out to him—and with nothing casual about it. Why not add a question mark and subject to make it two full sentences?

or


Because Sylvie’s brain was frequently a complete twat, what popped into her head then was a limerick she’d heard at her local pub. It involved both Rosie’s grandfather and the Archbishop of Canterbury’s penis, and might as well be subtitled “How to Hand Dominic This Entire Contract in One Smutty Poem.” In lieu of that option, she went with Thought B. “Our initial meeting was understandably kept well under wraps. And very separate.” She emphasized the last word.

Huh?

That he’d let people who’d long since lost his respect, let alone any chance at love, leave even the smallest scar. And that he couldn’t deny it had chipped something away from even the most casual of his other relationships. That voice when he was with her? Not gone. But so quiet right now as to be almost negligible.

I don’t mind quirky, but she sometimes seems to be trying too hard. Reading the book often felt like I was driving down a peaceful country road, but just kept having to go over speedbumps and avoid potholes. But I still kept driving! I didn’t turn off the road. I just had to stop at a rest area or two before I continued. I still like her, I mostly enjoy her plots, characters, and the romance. I am looking forward to more books in the two series by her I have started.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

November 3, 2021 (My birthday!)

The Austen Playbook

(London Celebrities #4)

By Lucy Parker

Set in the glittering world of London’s West End theatre and a country estate, this is a sparkly, light, and frothy romance between a scary theatre critic and one of his frequent targets, an actress who comes from a long line of theatrical leading lights. Freddy Carlton, our bubbly light-hearted heroine is torn between wanting to please her illustrious father, who wants her to be a “serious” actress like her grandmother, and her own love of musical romantic comedies, the genre in which she shines.

When she accepts a role in a new interactive live TV production called The Austen Playbook behind her father’s back, it throws her together with her nemesis, James Ford-Griffin, because it is to be filmed at a private theatre on his family’s estate. Not only has he been very rude when reviewing her serious dramatic performances but their grandparents had an affair that did not end well and the two families have been enemies since.

Taking an equal stage with the satisfying “opposites attract” romance, are numerous other plots, seamlessly woven together. We have family drama and reconciliation, imminent financial disaster, a plagiarism scandal that threatens to bring down a family and their legacy, professional rivalries, and many more!

This book was just delightful. The romance was solid and well-paced, the dialogue sparkling and witty, and the plotting intriguing and intelligent. The theatre-world setting seemed authentic. There was a lot going on, but each character and story were given their due with plenty of suspense, mystery, and tension as well as romance. Lucy Parker is definitely on my radar. This is my first book by her, and I am quite excited.

I listened to this on audio, read at breakneck speed by Billie Fulford-Brown. Take a tip from me and turn the speed down to 90% so you can keep up.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

October 24, 2021