We have ellepkay to thank for bringing Act Like It to our attention at the beginning of the new year. I am somewhere near the seventh (maybe more?) person to review this one, and we’re all pretty universally in love with this debut author’s contemporary work. Nailing good contemporary romance is not easy. There are so many ways for it all to go wrong, to feel unnatural, or cliché, or any number of other possible problems.
What I find myself most struck with (because trying to write a fresh review with so many others rolling around is tough I’m going to structure this review like a conversation with the earlier reviews, just go with me here) is Parker’s authorial voice, and her ability to use tropes to her advantage. As I mentioned over on emmalita’s review, I really like Parker’s tone. Her authorial voice is open and friendly, which is surprisingly not something all authors of any genre manage to achieve or even, I worry, understand most stories benefit from.
As part of Parker’s authorial voice, I agree wholeheartedly with alwaysanswerb’s opinion that Parker nails the balance in writing dialogue that demonstrated the characters’ intelligence while also remaining casual. Lainie and Richard (and to a lesser degree everyone they interact with) speak the way you expect them to if you ran into them on the street. They are obviously intelligent and worldly (Richard more so), but they aren’t beating each other, or us, over the head with it. These are also characters that Parker is comfortable making real through their interests (Doctor Who!) and regular need of caffeination.
As to the tropes, Parker is giving us a modern take on the “marriage of convenience”. Following a breakup with her onstage boyfriend, rising star and current darling of London’s West End, Elaine “Lainie” Graham has pretty much sworn off men for now. So, she is less than enthused when the theatre management and publicists call her into a meeting with her other cast mate, Richard Troy, and announce the plan for these two to have a fake relationship in order to give Richard a serious image makeover. You see, after a few too many negative stories, Richard’s publicity team and the theatre’s manager feel that the audiences and media might look more kindly upon him if they believed he was in love with Lainie. Lainie reluctantly agrees as added publicity will only help her career (she hopes), but mostly because she’s strong armed the management into making a very generous donation to her favorite charity. With this basic set up Parker gave herself the underlying structure to have these two characters interact authentically, which is only for the good.
The other trope that Parker is working with is the relatively recently renamed Alphahole trope. Ilona Andrews just released a great article on the subject which I suggest you read posthaste if you haven’t yet (h/t Malin), but let’s look at how Richard is nearly the epitome of the Alphahole:
- Richard is independently wealthy and became an actor mainly to piss off his father. Any personal motivations that are almost entirely to piss someone else off? Alphahole territory.
- There is no denying his great talent, by anyone, throughout the book. They all sing his praises, and the one time Lainie gives him a bad time about a bad performance, she’s really digging into what happened because a poor performance (while still award nominated) is so out of character for him that it must be addressed. There’s the alpha portion taken care of.
- He’s also condescending, superior snob. (see also: Asshole.)
- He has a well-publicized temper and while many of the stories in the press have been exaggerated, he’s really not a very pleasant man. Lainie comments on it, and while he warms up to her, she (and we) are very aware of his prickly personality.
As Mrs. Julien notes there are many ways to “reform an asshat, but a partner who gives as good as he/she gets is the most fun”. Yes, and Lainie is just the right character to give as good as she gets. I will admit I didn’t necessarily see coming in the first fifth of the book. This dynamic reminds me of the scene in the latest Downton Abbey* when Mrs. Hughes tells Mr. Carson that it makes all the difference that he is her curmudgeon. This is the dynamic that builds between Lainie and Richard. Richard becomes Lainie’s asshat. (*We have already established I watch Downton.)
Detractions? There are a few. I agree with Scootsa1000 about Will (the jerk who broke up with Lainie at the beginning of the book). Yes, Richard needed an adversary (I suppose, wasn’t his personality enough of a foil?), but Will was just too dogged in his pursuit of someone he basically threw away mere weeks before for me to feel comfortable buying into his character motivation, beyond dick. Also, and this is super nitpicky, the stakes get SUPER high right near the end, and they probably didn’t need to in both ways they do. Also, each chapter begins with a celebrity news agency tweet which will likely become dated soon. But I don’t really care, you should read this book if you are in the mood for this kind of fluff.