I discovered Lucy Parker’s romance novels through Cannonball reviews. They have all been set in the West End theater district in London. I loved the relationships, the stories, and the inside look at the actors’ work and lives, so Parker has become a must-read for me. I was pretty slow in realizing that Parker had a new book, The Austen Playbook (2019). It was published way back in April, which is why it took me until December to read it. Unfortunately, I think these last two books by Parker have been a little disappointing. I’ve had such high expectations from her earlier novels. However, I’m very much looking forward to Parker’s next book, which comes out in less than a month!
Freddy is a famous theater actress who comes from a famous family. Her grandmother was not only a renowned actress, but she also wrote The Velvet Room, a classic play that is read by students everywhere. She is under pressure from her manager father to continue her career trajectory towards serious accolades and live up to the family name. Unfortunately for Freddy, she’d rather perform in fun musicals, but she feels compelled to please her father.
Griff is a sharp-tongued theater critic with some other gigs on the side. He is perceptive and honest, but he can also be pretty heartless and mean. He once called Freddy “dull as safety scissors” in a review. Griff is under a lot of pressure as the only practical one in his family. With parents and a brother that don’t want to face reality, the pressure is on Griff to try to save the old family estate.
Freddy and Griff come together for an extended period of time when Freddy bravely defies her father (when he is out of the country in America) and signs on for a new project. It is a play based on a game, called The Austen Playbook. A mix of Austen characters become part of a murder/mystery. To make it more interesting, it will be broadcast live to a television audience, and the audience can vote to decide the direction of the play. The cast will have to memorize and rehearse a number of different directions the play can take. The play will be set at an old theater at Griff’s family’s estate. The theater was built many years before by Griff’s grandfather for Freddy’s grandmother when they were involved in a torrid affair.
Freddy and Griff start out on unfriendly terms, but they are good for each other. Griff easily sees what kinds of projects Freddy really wants to do, and Freddy encourages Griff to let his brother in instead of dismissing him as useless. The two are also attracted to each other, which certainly pushes things along.
Freddy is trying to learn her lines and avoid Sadie Foster, the meanest woman in theater. Griff is trying to get a movie idea about Freddy’s grandmother greenlit and keep the estate afloat. The two of them start doing some digging about Freddy’s grandmother and the circumstances surrounding the affair and the writing of The Velvet Room.
There were a lot of things I liked about this book, but it did not quite live up to my expectations. First, there were a fair number of typos, which are always distracting. I also wasn’t too caught up in the romance between Freddy and Griff until the end. I didn’t quite understand why they liked each other so much. I think Griff might have been something of a Darcy character, who is haughty and unapproachable in the beginning, and changes with the influence of love, but it made the story harder for me to get into.
The story, as a whole, did not feel grounded to me. I’m sure if I had initially been more into the couple, I might not have noticed as much. Sadie Foster felt especially one-dimensional. I get a little tired of characters who are cartoonishly evil. I also wanted to know more about the Austen play. It seemed crazy to me that the audience would choose the murderer, and I wanted to know how it would actually work. If Parker could have not used Austen or figured out some clever details for the play, I might have liked it more.
However, I did like Freddy’s sister, Sabrina, and I thought it was a good set up for what will be Parker’s next book. I will not wait so long to read Headliners.
You can find all of my reviews on my blog.