I read this book in one sitting. I was just so in the mood for a good romance novel, one that hit on the expected tropes but didn’t fall into the expected mistakes books in this genre often do. Clichéd experiences abound here, but the characters are round and fully realized, and their interactions feel real. It’s like the best of both worlds. Your id gets its pleasure quota filled, while your rational mind gets characters who act like adults and actually communicate with one another.
Pretty Face follows Luc Savage, a theater director in London’s West End who has spent the last several years getting his family’s theater, The Queen Anne, back up and running. The first play to premiere at the renovated theater will be 1553, covering the events of that year from the future Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary (Bloody Mary), and Lady Jane Grey’s (the nine-day queen) perspectives*. But his ex of eight years, Margo, has recently eloped with an Italian tenor and refused the part of Mary to go on an extended honeymoon, and his QEI has fallen and broken both of her ankles, necessitating not one but two recastings in a short period of time. The part of Mary is taken by an unpleasant diva of an actress, but he’s having trouble with Elizabeth. The backers are pushing hard for TV ingénue Lily Lamprey, who is famous for playing a character who will bed anyone, and has the voice of a Marilyn Monroe sexpot. Savage dismisses her as empty-headed and talentless.
But Lily is neither. She is smart and fierce and, yes, green, but there is potential inside of her, which his casting director forces him to see. After a strange audition, where it becomes apparent that the two of them have crazy chemistry (even if that chemistry mostly takes the form of annoyance at the moment), Lily is hired.
The rest of the book navigates their deepening relationship, and does a really great job of interiorizing both of them, even as you see what draws them together. So many romance novels don’t do the work of imagining two personalities who would actually be attracted to one another, instead of just smashing two hot people together. Both characters also have arcs that don’t feel forced.
*Can I just tell you how super weird the world is sometimes? Because I’ve been listening to My Lady Jane for the last week, which is an alternate history/fantasy retelling of that same story. I had never before in my life encountered the story anywhere else (and had to do some research before picking up MLJ so I wouldn’t feel like a dum-dum). And here I am reading two books in a row that feature it prominently.
This is the second book in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series. I read her first book Act Like It last year, and I enjoyed it, but my one complaint was that it wasn’t long enough. Its short length didn’t allow time for the story to breathe and develop in the way I wanted, so I was left slightly unsatisfied, despite liking the writing and the story and the characters. But here, Pretty Face is almost a hundred pages longer, and unsurprisingly, it felt more complete to me than her first book. Nothing felt rushed, and things weren’t dwelled on too long.
I don’t normally read contemporary romance, but I am I here for any more books Lucy Parker wants to write, especially if they keep getting better.