Headliners (London Celebrities #5) by Lucy Parker

This title may be purchased from Amazon

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Rating: A

In Headliners, the fifth book in her London Celebrity series, author Lucy Parker shifts her focus from London’s Theatreland to the world of television, to bring readers a wonderfully sharp, funny, sexy and grown-up romance between a pair of rival TV presenters who profess to hate each other’s guts, but who, of course, doth protest too much.

[Unlike the other books in this series, Headliners isn’t really a standalone and readers would benefit from reading The Austen Playbook first, as part of this story deals with the fallout of events which took place in that book. ]

The sparks flew fast and explosive between current affairs presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport when we met them in The Austen Playbook. The pair have been trading barbs on screen for years, the jabs and jibes at each other made on their respective shows starting off relatively light-hearted and encouraged by their production teams as a way of generating publicity.  As time has passed, those jabs and jibes have become sharper, and what had begun as contemptuous amusement has soured into actual antipathy.  But things reached an all-time low after (at the end of the previous book) Nick broke the story of a decades-old Carlton family secret in the most damaging way possible, and even though the story and ensuing scandal had absolutely nothing to do with Sabrina, her popularity has taken a dive and her career is hanging in the balance.

So her gleeful reaction to the news of a massive faux-pas by Nick is hardly surprising.  He’s been caught on video bad-mouthing the CEO of the network, who – naturally – is pissed as hell.  Nick is promptly removed from the nightly show he’s hosted for the past four years, The Davenport Report, and he and Sabrina – whose contract is up for renewal  – are given Hobson’s Choice; they’re out unless they agree to team up throughout December to present the network’s flagging breakfast show, Wake Me Up London.  They have until Christmas Eve to improve the show’s embarrassingly shit ratings  – and if they deliver (without actually killing each other in the process), then their immediate boss will agree to discuss the renewal of their contracts.

Of course, neither Nick nor Sabrina is thrilled with this idea, and not just because of their mutual dislike.  The early-morning show is a bit of a joke, not at all the sort of serious-minded, current affairs material they’re used to dealing with.  But both of them have worked incredibly hard and made a lot of personal sacrifices to get where they are in an exceptionally cut-throat business, and neither of them is willing to throw that away.  They agree to the deal.

 

Thus, the scene is set for a sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant but always entertaining romance between two characters with scorching chemistry who simply light up the pages.  Lucy Parker captures the frenetic behind the scenes energy of live television just as well as she depicted the backstage shenanigans of the theatre scene, and the scenarios she dreams up for the breakfast show – from blind biscuit decorating, to interviewing the creator of that year’s must-have (really bizarre) toy, to a Christmas-themed whodunit aboard the Murder Train – are all ridiculously plausible and entertaining as we watch Nick and Sabrina realising that the morning gig is not as easy to pull off as they’d thought. I liked the way they come to admit to themselves – and then to each other – that they were wrong in their assumptions about it. There’s also an intriguing sub-plot in which it becomes apparent that someone is trying to sabotage the show, and while this remains firmly in the background for most of the time, it’s another of the things which serves to bring Nick and Sabrina together, as they agree to work together to try to find out who it is.

Nick and Sabrina are multi-faceted, complex characters who feel like real people, and their romance is really well done, the move from animosity to partnership to love evolving naturally and organically. Ambitious and career-minded, they’re alike in many ways, and have a – grudging – respect for each other on a professional level, but when forced to work together, they also have to face up to the fact that there’s something else going on that they’ve been supressing for quite some time.  Nick actually realises he’s in love fairly early on, and is completely honest with himself about it (which I loved), and although Sabrina takes a bit longer to connect the dots, once they’re together, they’re together; there’s no dithering or second-guessing, and the way they support each other through some difficult times is just lovely to see.  One of the things I so love about Lucy Parker’s romances is that her protagonists behave like mature adults; they communicate well and are honest with themselves – and each other.  Things could have veered into Big Mis territory a couple of times, but instead, Nick and Sabrina confront the problems head on, talk about them and resolve them together, showing clearly that trust and respect are the strongest of all foundations for love.

As always, the writing is top notch, the dialogue sparkles with wit and humour, the pop culture references are spot on and most of all, I love knowing that I can pick up a Lucy Parker book and feel instantly as though I’m in a place I recognise.  It’s an idealised version of the London I know and love perhaps, but it’s completely recognisable and the author captures the British idiom incredibly well.  I enjoyed catching up with other characters from the series – Richard and Lainey, Lily, Freddie and Griff (and Charlie – I hope he’s going to get his own book soon) – and I did adore watching the awful Sadie Frost get a well-deserved comeuppance!  In fact, I have only one quibble with the story.  It’s hard to say much without spoilers, but I did find it just a little bit difficult to believe that someone like Nick, with a background in hard-hitting investigative journalism, would make the transition to an essentially fluffy ‘lifestyle’ show so easily.  (It would be like Jeremy Paxman presenting The One Show. Just  – nope.) That said, the author does make it work, and once we know the backstory of his difficult relationship with a demanding father, it’s perhaps easier to understand.  Like Nick, Sabrina has a difficult relationship with her father, feeling he’s dismissed her because of her career choices (among other things), so both characters have to confront those relationships in order to reach some important realisations and decisions about themselves and who they want to be.

If you’ve enjoyed the other books in the London Celebrities series, you won’t be surprised when I say that Headliners delivered everything I wanted and expected.  It’s warm, funny and gorgeously romantic, the characters are rounded and engaging, the writing is terrific and everything about it works on every level.  It’s the sort of book that wraps you up in a big cuddle and leaves you smiling.

My 2019 in Books & Audio

Before I started writing this post, I took a look at the one I wrote for 2018 – My 2018 in Books & Audio – to see what I had to say about the books I read and listened to and about the things I was hoping for from 2019.  Sadly, my biggest wish – for more winners in historical romance – not only didn’t come true, but didn’t come true in spectactular fashion; I read and listened to considerably fewer historical romances in 2019 (around 60) and of those, only 15 garnered a B+ (4.5 stars) or higher (actually, that was 11 historical romances plus 4 historical mysteries), and only two made the Best of 2019 list I wrote for All About Romance.  Looking at the upcoming release lists for 2020, I can’t see that situation improving; very few of the book blurbs for upcoming HR make me want to read them.

So… what did I read and listen to instead?  My Goodreads stats show that I read and listened to 299 books and audiobooks in 2019, (that figure includes maybe a dozen or so audio re-listens), which is over 40 books more than my total for last year.

Of that total, 66 were 5 star reads/listens, 184 were 4 star reads/listens – by far the biggest category – 35 were 3 star reads/listens, and there were 9 2 stars, 1 1 star and 1 unrated DNF.

Of the 66 highest graded, around a dozen were actual A grades; I award an A- 4.5 stars but bump the star rating up to five.  (And in the case of audiobooks, sometimes a B grade story will get bumped up because of A grade narration). The 4 star ratings cover books/audios I’ve given B-, B or B+ grades, which is quite a large spectrum as it ranges from those books which are given qualified recommendations (B- is 3.5 rounded up to 4 stars) to those which are almost-but-not-quite DIKs (Desert Isle Keepers), the 4.5 stars (B+) I don’t round up.  I had around the same number of 3, 2 and 1 star ratings as last year, which is at least consistent!

The books that made my Best of 2019 list at AAR are these:

(although I cheated a bit and actually included the whole Not Dead Yet and Borealis Investivations series!)

You can read about them in more detail at All About Romance.

I had a list of “also rans” that I would have included had I had more space:

Charlie Adhara’s Thrown to the Wolves was – I believe – originally to have been the final book in her Big Bad Wolf series, but she’s since announced there will be a fourth (yay!).  In TttW, we finally get some backstory for the enigmatic werewolf Park when he takes Cooper home to meet the family, together with a clever mystery, complicated family dynamics and a well-deserved HEA that’s perfectly in character. Cordelia Kingsbridge’s A Chip and a Chair was one of my most anticipated books of the year and didn’t disappoint, bringing the rollercoaster ride that was the Seven of Spades series to a rolliking, satisfying close.  KJ Charles’ Gilded Cage was (I think?) her first m/f romance; a sequel to Any Old Diamonds, it features tough-as-nails lady detective Susan Lazarus and the other half of the Lilywhite Boys in an intriguing murder mystery with a superbly written and swoon-worthy second chance romance.  Sally Malcolm’s Twice Shy is a lovely feel-good romance between a young man struggling to bring up two young children left to his care following the deaths of his sister and brother-in-law, and a school teacher still dealing with the fallout of a failed marriage and career.  The romance is warm and tender and funny and simply thrumming with sexual tension and chemistry and is guaranteed to warm the heart and produce happy sighs.

Historical Romance made another really poor showing in 2019; of the authors I’ve previously counted on to deliver really good stories full of interesting and appealing characters, only a few actually managed to do it.  KJ Charles and Mia Vincy made my Best of 2019 list, but Lara Temple (The Rake’s Enticing Proposal), Virginia Heath (The Determined Lord Hadleigh), Janice Preston (Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir) and Marguerite Kaye (The Inconvenient Elmswood Marriage) all put out excellent books this year, and I enjoyed Evie Dunmore’s début, Bringing Down the Duke and am keen to read whatever she comes up with next.  I still haven’t got around to reading Julie Anne Long’s Angel in a Devil’s Arms, which has appeared on quite a few Best of lists, so I hope I’ll enjoy it when I get around to it!

I also enjoyed a few historical mysteries; Sherry Thomas (The Art of Theft), Andrea Penrose (Murder at Kensington Palace) and Anna Lee Huber (Penny for Your Secrets) released new instalments in their current series and Cat Sebastian (Hither, Page) began a new one set in an English village post WW2 that combined a cozy mystery with a simply lovely romance.

Audio

I did a very quick count the other day, and think that, for the first year ever, I actually listened to more books than I read (by a very small margin).  I counted around 150 audiobooks (and probably missed a few re-listens because I often forget to mark those at Goodreads) which is half my total of 299 reads/listens. And according to the spreadsheet I maintain of books and audios I’ve picked up for review, I had an equal number of books and audiobooks to review in 2019. I have definitely struggled, at times, to find books I want to review and have filled the gap with audiobooks.  So many are released each month, and I especially love it when backlist titles are made available for authors whose work I enjoy but stand no chance of actually getting to in print!

I chose the following as my Top Five audiobooks of the year at AudioGals:

I also cheated here by including the whole Not Dead Yet series! – which is actually the only title (titles) written in 2019; all the other books were written before last year, but didn’t come out in audio until 2019.  But that’s par for the course with audio; not all of them are released simultaneously with the print/digital versions.  The “also rans” for my audio Best of 2019 list were:

All boast top-notch performances and got at least an A- for narration, and the stories got at least a B+ each; and quite honestly, I could have substituted any of them for the list I actually posted at AudioGals; my favourites tend to change depending on how I feel from one day to the next!  Had I listened to Lily Morton’s Deal Maker before I complied my list, that would certainly have made the cut, too!

So that was 2019.  What am I hoping for in 2020?  I’d like historical romance to get back on track, but I don’t see that happening in a big way and expect to be reading even more selectively in the genre than I’ve done this year.  I’m hoping for more from Mia Vincy and will be checking out more from Evie Dunmore.  Right now, most of the good HR is coming from Harlequin Historical authors, so I’ll definitely be reading more from them. In contemporaries, I’m looking forward to two new series from Annabeth Albert (Hotshots and True Colors) as well as to catching up with her Perfect Harmony series in audio, and to making my way through Lily Morton’s backlist – I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the audio of Risk Taker (with Joel Leslie at the helm) and hope she’s planning more audio releases in 2020.  I’ll be snapping up the finale of L.J Hayward’s Death and the Devil series as soon as it comes out, nabbing more Victor Bayne (and Gomez Pugh!) in the next book(s) in Jordan Castillo Price’s PsyCop series, and inhaling more Hazard and Somerset from Gregory Ashe. KJ Charles promises some 1920s pulp mysteries, there’s another book to come in Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series, so I’m looking pretty nicely set for the first part of 2020 in terms of reading and listening!

I’ll (hopefully) be back again this time next year to tell you now it all panned out!

The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4) by Lucy Parker

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

Rating: A

The Austen Playbook, the fourth in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, is one of the most eagerly anticipated new releases of 2019 – and I’m here to tell you your patience will most definitely be rewarded when it comes out.  It’s got all Ms. Parker’s trademarks; the two principals are wonderfully appealing, the secondary cast is well-drawn, the dialogue is snappy – and most importantly, it’s got the depth, emotional resonance and soul-deep connection between the leads she’s so good at creating (and which I felt was missing in the previous book).

Frederica – Freddy – Carlton is the youngest member of an acting dynasty whose members have been treading the boards in the West End for the last four hundred years.  She’s been acting since she was a child, and although she made her name performing in a string of popular comedies and musicals, she’s now turned her hand to more serious pieces at the urging of her manager – who also happens to be her father Rupert, whose acting career came to an end following an accident years earlier.  But Freddy’s heart isn’t really in the meaty, dramatic roles she’s being urged to undertake. Her real love is for lighter theatre – musicals, rom-coms, physical comedy – and she knows that’s where her real talent lies, in performing pieces that leave the audiences feeling better at the end of the evening than they did at the beginning.  Yet although she recognises that Rupert is living vicariously through her, she can’t bring herself to disappoint him by refusing to go along with his plans for her. He’s pushing her to audition for the leading role in The Velvet Room, the masterpiece that catapulted her grandmother Henrietta into the history books as both actress and playwright – and in Freddy’s opinion, another piece of weepy philosophical introspection that just isn’t her cup of tea.

The fact that Freddy isn’t suited to the heavier roles hasn’t escaped the extremely perceptive – and extremely annoying – theatre critic, James Ford-Griffin, Grumpiest TV presenter in the UK. And the witty wanker behind the scathing theatre reviews in the Westminster Post.  She’s having a drink with friends after a rather disastrous performance when she overhears him talking to someone in the next booth in the pub, uncomfortably aware that his cutting remarks are right on the nose:

“For some reason, she’s pursuing a determined line in high-brow dramas, when she’d clearly rather be stamping about in puddles in Singin’ in the Rain.”

It’s completely unnerving that this man, whom she doesn’t know, has seen through her façade, and more unnerving still is the way her stomach suddenly feels like it’s full of butterflies when she ends up standing next to him at the bar.  Sure, he’s good-looking, but sadly, behind those compelling dark eyes, that platinum blond hair and majestic nose lurks a frosty demeanour and all the personality of an iceberg.

Griff has spent pretty much his entire adult life trying to rein in his spendthrift parents while they indulge their flights of fancy with no thought to their responsibilities.  The family home at Highbrook in Surrey is heavily mortgaged, and Griff is desperately trying to find ways to pay off the pile of debt as well as to make the estate viable for at least the next few years. He is currently seeking financing for a film about the life of Henrietta Carlton, who wrote The Velvet Room at Highbrook while in the throes of a passionate affair with his grandfather, but that’s not progressing well at the moment thanks to Rupert Carlton’s interference.  Griff’s younger brother, Charlie – who Griff sees as not much more responsible than their parents – has come up with a scheme which might make them some money in the short-term; they’ll rent out the Henry Theatre (built in the grounds by Sir George Ford as a gift for Henrietta) to the company producing The Austen Playbook, a live TV event based on an extremely popular game featuring characters from Jane Austen’s novels.  Griff isn’t best pleased at the idea, but at least the TV company will pay for the necessary renovations to the theatre and the income will give him a bit of breathing space while he continues to seek funding for the film.

With Freddy cast as Lydia Bennett, she and Griff are thrown into each other’s orbit once again, and the spark of attraction that had leapt between them that night months ago in the pub flares to life again.  Their romance develops quickly – something they both acknowledge – but the author does such a great job of creating a genuinely strong emotional connection between them and showing the ways in which they come to understand each other, that I never felt as though things were moving too fast.  They’re well-rounded, complex characters who are like chalk and cheese in many ways; Freddy is generally outgoing, vibrant and chatty where Griff is more reticent and serious, but when it comes to the really important things between them, they’re very much on the same wavelength.  I loved Freddy’s open-heartedness and was impressed by the way she’s so positive about falling for Griff:

“If I end up getting hurt, I would still never regret falling for him. I’m not going to hold back on  investing  in him just because there are no guarantees in life.”

– because it’s such a contrast to so many characters in romances who insist on holding back or walling off their emotions because they fear being hurt.

Griff is a swoonworthy hero who turns out to be perfect boyfriend material without being given a complete personality transplant. He’s a truly decent guy who’s big enough to own it when he screws up, and while his observations may often be critical, they’re also often true – even Freddy has to admit to herself that some of his criticisms have actually been helpful.   Freddy learns to see through to the real Griff, not an iceberg at all, but a man who cares deeply about doing the best for those he loves, and she comes to appreciate his good qualities as she comes to understand him better.   I especially enjoyed the support they offer each other at difficult moments; that’s not to say everything is plain sailing for them, but there’s no Big Mis because these two talk to each other.

There’s an intriguing plotline running alongside the romance, which is going to test Freddy and Griff’s loyalty to their families and each other when, during the course of some background research for the film, Freddy makes a surprising and potentially damaging discovery which could destroy reputations and careers.  It really held my interest and is fully integral to the story rather than being something just tacked on to provide some conflict in the romance.

The familial relationships – Freddy and her TV presenter sister, Griff and his charming and more laid-back brother – are wonderfully realised, and as in all the London Celebrities books, there’s a fabulously drawn secondary cast, consisting mostly of a disparate group of actors (including the viperous Sadie Frost, whom we’ve met in previous books) who, just as in real life, get along and hate each other’s guts to varying degrees.  Tempers fray and egos clash as the performance gets nearer, and we’re also treated to what I suspect is the set up for the next book, as we watch Freddy’s sister and her biggest rival (who happens to be Griff’s best mate) rip each other to shreds with verbal barbs and looks that could kill at ten paces.

Funny, sexy, warm and smart, The Austen Playbook is a thoroughly entertaining read that kept me glued from first page to last, and I’m confidently predicting its appearance on my Best Books of 2019 list.  It’s just that good.

Making Up (London Celebrities #3) by Lucy Parker

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved…difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is…different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London—and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

Rating: B+

Lucy Parker is pretty much the only author of contemporary romance whose books are a must-read for me, and I suspect that there are many, many readers out there in Romancelandia who, like me, have been eagerly awaiting Making Up, the third book in her London Celebritiesseries.  Set in the world of London’s West End, the stories take place amid the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd, the backstage backstabbing, the gossip, rivalry and intense camaraderie of theatre companies mounting high-status, high profile productions.  Ms. Parker completely nails the London setting and the sheer amount of graft from all involved required to mount a commercially successful West End production; her characters work hard, play hard and show readers that not all is glitz and glamour behind the footlights.

So… what you want to know is – was Making Up worth waiting for?   Absolutely.  Is it as good as Act Like It and Pretty Face?  Weeeeeell…  not quite.  Don’t get me wrong – it has all the ingredients that made the other books in this series such great reads.  The two principals are appealing, the dialogue sparkles, the banter zings back and forth and the romance is well-done… but it lacks the emotional depth of its predecessor which, for my money, is the strongest of the series.

Towards the end of that book, Trix Lane, best friend of the heroine, Lily, was just emerging from an emotionally abusive relationship with a guy who had gradually been separating her from her friends, belittling her profession and eroding her self-esteem.  Fortunately, Trix managed to extricate herself before things got worse, but it’s left some big emotional scars and serious dents in her self-confidence.

At the beginning of Making Up, the lead aerial performer in Festival of Masks – an odd mix of carnival, rock concert and dark fairy tale with a bit of smut thrown in for good measure –  is hospitalised after an accident on-stage.  A combination of circumstances conspires to catapult Trix into the limelight to take over the role at the next performance and for the foreseeable future.  But Trix – who would in the past have jumped at the chance to get out there and show what she’s made of – is terrified.  It doesn’t help that the stage manager is a prick who never has a kind word or word of praise for anyone, but Trix knows the problem goes deeper than that.  She is fully aware that this newly found lack of assurance is a hangover from her relationship with Dan St. James; somehow his backhanded compliments and subtle and not-so-subtle digs and jibes insidiously wormed their way into her psyche and they’re hard to shake off.

Leo Magasiva has known Trix on and off for years, ever since they were at school.  They had been good friends once, but a nasty, unguarded comment from Leo, followed by Trix’s departure for a posh boarding-school put paid to their friendship, and they’ve been at daggers drawn ever since.  Somehow, though, they have never been able to completely avoid each other, running into one another at various events and gatherings over the years, and taking advantage of the opportunity to indulge in a game of verbal one-upmanship.

A talented and widely respected make-up artist, Leo’s career has taken a nose-dive courtesy of an actor who failed to disclose his skin allergies.  Which is how come Leo is prepared to take a short-term gig in the West End; he can lie low for a bit and also get ready for a major make-up and special effects competition being held in London which he’s hoping might open doors for him in the movie industry.

As soon as Trix and Leo set eyes on each other, old wounds are reopened and old hurts resurrected.  Leo isn’t thrilled about working in close proximity with Trix, and she’s openly hostile to him while she’s friendly with her cast-mates, and one guy in particular.  Leo immediately labels her as a fake and a flirt, although it’s very clear that his antagonism is rooted in jealousy and something else that relates to their past.  Fortunately, however, the author doesn’t string out the issues that lie between them for too long and the misunderstandings that led to the end of their youthful friendship are cleared up well before the half-way point.  The sexual tension that has been simmering between them since their first scene (and for the past decade!) finally boils over, but it’s clear that keeping things casual is going to be difficult for both of them and Trix, especially, is terrified.  Insecurites continue to plague her about her professional ability, and the thought of trusting a man again, no matter that she knows Leo is nothing like her ex… it’s all too much and she’s finding it hard to cope.

Fortunately for Trix, Leo is an amazing guy.  He’s generous of spirit, insightful and incredibly supportive, knowing when to push and when to hold back, watching out for Trix even as he’s worrying over his younger sister who, for most of the book is a total  bitch and is clearly unhappy about something but won’t open up to him.   He refuses to allow Trix to lose sight of who she really is – “You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met” – or to give up on herself or on them.

There are many things to enjoy about the story, not least of which is the fact that Leo and Trix come across as adults who have real conversations dealing with complex issues and emotions.  Their banter is witty and perceptive; Ms. Parker has a way of using verbal sparring between characters to illuminate their weaknesses as well as their strengths and while the level of snark varies from the gentle to the punishing, it’s never downright nasty.  The secondary characters are well-drawn and the backstage camaraderie is the perfect mixture of heartfelt and cynical; Trix and Leo are talented people, both ambitious, dedicated to – and supportive of – their careers, and the overlying message of the book is one we can all identify with, the need to find happiness where we may, amid “life in all its occasional shittiness.”

While Making Up doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the previous books in the London Celebritiesseries, it’s nonetheless an extremely entertaining and enjoyable novel and one I’m more than happy to recommend.  Funny, sexy, poignant, warm, intelligent – and I haven’t even mentioned the cute baby hedgehog yet – it’s the perfect summer read.

The Best of 2017 – My Favourite Books of Last Year.

It’s something of a tradition to put together a “favourite books of the year” list around Christmas and New Year – I’m a little late with mine this year, but here’s the Best of 2017 list I put together for All About Romance.  Did any of them make your Best Books of 2017 list?

I had to make some really tough choices – here are some of the books that also deserved a place on the list, but which I just couldn’t fit in!

Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2) by Lucy Parker (audiobook) – Narrated by Morag Sims

This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

The play’s the fling.

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie – and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance – if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad tempered, and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity, and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career; it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

Rating: Narration – B+; Content – A-

Pretty Face, the follow-up novel to Lucy Parker’s successful and hugely entertaining Act Like It, is a funny, sexy Rom-Com set amid the hustle and bustle of London’s Theatreland that clearly proves that Ms. Parker is no one-hit-wonder. This book is every bit as charmingly well-written as its predecessor, just as full of zinging one-liners, and equally possessed of an attractive and engaging central couple and small, but well-drawn supporting cast. And in the midst of all the humour and delicious sexual tension are moments of true poignancy, too, moments that show the author is as gifted at creating three-dimensional characters with flaws and insecurities and shedding subtle insight onto their emotional lives as she is at writing wonderfully witty banter.

Actress Lily Lamprey was lucky enough to land a job on the popular costume-drama-cum-soap-opera, Knightsbridge, when she was fresh out of drama school, but four years later she is looking to move on and shed the image of man-eating vamp she’s acquired as a result of the part she plays on the show. She knows it has prevented her from getting other roles, but is determined to break out and show that she is capable of more than getting her kit off week after week on TV. And now she has the chance to do just that, as she’s been called to audition for Luc Savage, one of the most widely respected directors in the West End. Savage has a reputation for being cold and dictatorial, but there’s no denying his shows are incredibly successful and that working for him could really kick-start her career… even though Lily doesn’t think she’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of landing the part.

You can read the rest of this review at AudioGals.

Pretty Face (London Celebrities #2) by Lucy Parker

pretty-face

This title may be purchased from Amazon

The play’s the fling

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance — if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

Rating: A

Lucy Parker’s début novel, Act Like It was – it seems – an instant hit, one of those books you suddenly see all over your Goodreads feed because all your friends are reading it. I’m confidently predicting the same for her follow up, Pretty Face, because it’s every bit as vibrant, funny, sexy and poignant as the first book – quite possibly even more so, on all counts. I finished the last page with a smile on my face and feeling uplifted – and wondering if I had the time to go back and read it all over again, which doesn’t happen very often, I can tell you.

Like its predecessor, Pretty Face is set amid the chaotic world of London’s West End, shedding light on all the behind the scenes activity that has to happen in order to mount a theatre production, and taking a good look at the impact of celebrity culture and media intrusion on the lives of those who work in that particular field.

Luc Savage is an extremely successful and respected director. He has the reputation of being something of a martinet – a stickler for discipline and professionalism and a hard task master, although not unfair or mean. The theatre is in his blood; his father is an actor, his mother an opera singer and over the past few years he has invested heavily – both in terms of money and time and effort – in renovating the Queen Anne Theatre, which has been owned and run by his family for generations, but which fell into disrepair some twenty-five years earlier. It’s a massive task for him both professionally and personally, but it’s nearing fruition and he has chosen to open with a production of 1553 a play by a multi-award winning young playwright and in which the three principal characters are Queen Mary I, Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey. Having had to recast the role of Mary due to the fact that his long-time girlfriend, actress Margot Roy, recently left him to get married to an Italian opera singer, Luc now faces the prospect of having to re-cast Elizabeth, too, because the actress originally chosen has broken her leg. One of the young actresses on the list of potential replacements is Lily Lamprey, twenty-six, blonde, beautiful and the star of the hit historical drama-cum-soap opera, Knightsbridge, in which she plays the part of Gloria, a scheming man-stealer that viewers love to hate.

Luc knows that casting a popular TV star could be good publicity and increase ticket sales, but no way is he interested in bringing on board some Marilyn Monroe look-alike with a porn-star voice who probably needs direction to tie her own shoes. But his casting director – whom he trusts – thinks Lily has potential and eventually Luc is persuaded to give her an audition. And when he does, he’s surprised to discover that Lily definitely does have a certain something –

Under the soap-opera shit, an actor

– even though her voice is going to need work.

Lily landed the gig on Knightsbridge when she was fresh out of drama school, and now wishes she hadn’t been so quick to sign up for four years and wants to move on to something else.  Her public persona has very much been shaped by the character she plays, and she is frequently depicted as being a blonde bimbo who will shag anything in trousers.  It’s unkind and it’s upsetting, and she tries to ignore it – but there’s no doubt that it’s an image that’s going to be hard to shake, and has almost certainly counted against her when looking for other work.  So to audition for Luc Savage is an amazing opportunity to change direction and make her name for something other than getting her kit off on a regular basis.

When Luc and Lily meet, their first impressions of each other are not good.  Yet there’s something about Lily that slowly disarms Luc and before long he’s well and truly smitten; and when Lily starts to get to know the funny, charming man behind the persona, she is equally so. But with almost their every move under the microscope of the gossip columns – especially London Celebrity, whose editor has a grudge against Luc – there is no possibility of there being anything more between them than a working relationship.  It’s a business in which image sticks and first impressions count, and Lily can’t afford to acquire a reputation for getting jobs via the casting couch – not like her mother, a well-known torch-singer who has never made a secret of using any means necessary in order to advance her career.

To say I loved this book is an understatement – I adored it.  The romance is beautifully written and developed and the chemistry between Luc and Lily is explosive – their first kiss is one of the sexiest, most romantic I think I’ve ever read, and Ms. Parker has upped the heat level a little compared with Act Like It, writing a couple of sex scenes which are imbued with a gorgeous, tender sensuality that sends shivers up and down the spine.

One of the biggest draws, though, is the dialogue, which zings and sparkles with humour and wit in a way that left me slack-jawed with admiration – after I’d finished laughing, that is.  Honestly, if I’d highlighted every brilliant one-liner, my Kindle copy would have one or more notes on almost every page; I’ve rarely read a book where the humour is so unforced and consistently funny, and that’s not easy to do.  I also can’t deny that the book’s overall ‘Britishness’ made a really refreshing change.  I read many, many books set in 19th Century England, and not infrequently find myself complaining about the number of words and expressions used that are not naturally English (i.e, Ye Olde Americanisms).  But here, Ms. Parker – a New Zealander – is absolutely spot-on with British idioms and speech patterns and it’s both noticeable and noticeably different.

Luc and Lily are an extremely likeable pair who strike sparks off each other from the get go and are clearly perfect for each other.  They click on every level, and I really loved the way in which their growing feelings for each other just … creep up on them. There’s no lightning strike or knocking sideways in the best dramatic tradition – it’s just a moment of gentle recognition:

And her pathetic, perverse, masochistic little heart went oh – it’s you.

Lily is beautiful and talented, but she has trust issues relating to the fact that she is the result of an affair between her career-minded mother and a married man, neither of whom have ever had a great deal of time for her.  And everything she knows about Luc tells her he’s a workaholic who never prioritises his personal life, so she is just waiting for him to put work first and her second, even though it’s clear to the reader from his every word and action regarding her that he’s head-over-heels and in it for the long haul.

As for Luc, well he’s my first book-boyfriend of 2017.  I mean, honestly, this?

Luc Savage looked like Gregory Peck, circa some dapper time between Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird.  There was more bulk in the shoulders, silver in the hair and darkness in the soul; otherwise the resemblance was uncanny.

*swoon*.

But beneath the good looks is a genuine, caring man; a perfect mix of warm, funny, and irresistibly attractive, he’s a tough, determined professional but also someone who will move mountains for those he cares about.

Pretty Face is a terrific read and one I’m recommending wholeheartedly. Along with the funny, the romantic and the sexy, the author also makes some great points about sexism and celebrity culture, and writes moments of true poignancy that will have you reaching for the Kleenex.  Act Like It put Lucy Parker on my auto-read list;  Pretty Face has put her damn near the top of it, and I’m eager for more.