I love Lucy Parker, it’s as simple as that. I love the kind of book she writes; I love the world she has built in this series and the characters she chooses to populate it with. I’m rating this one five stars, as I did with its immediate predecessor The Austen Playbook mostly because of how it made me feel while I was reading it. That isn’t to say that Parker isn’t using her craft well – she absolutely is – but that craft sunk deep inside me and made me feel this story and recognize these characters, all while giving that little bit of wish fulfillment that romance novels give us and never once does Parker look down on her audience or write down to them. She is writing up.
Parker’s authorial voice is open and friendly, my fondness for the way she builds her world is grounded in its crispness. The plot and setting are laid out in the quick, quiet, strokes of a deft hand. Her word choice and well-chosen details build out the world and its people so that you know what you are reading and where they are, without being bogged down. Which is all for the best in Headliners because Parker set herself an enormous hill to climb for this book’s pairing of Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport at the end of The Austen Playbook.
For years, Sabrina and Nick have been rival TV presenters trading barbs on their respective shows. Things escalate however after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain. With both their reputations on the rocks (hers for the fallout of her father’s dishonesty and grandmother’s artistic theft, his for how h broke the story and getting caught on tape railing against his studio head) Sabrina and Nick have one chance to save their careers – resurrect the network’s morning show. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline just weeks away to increase viewership, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed. As small mishaps on set start adding up, Sabrina and Nick work together to hunt down the saboteur. All the while their antagonistic relationship starts to change and 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.
Parker plays with the tropes here, but not as aggressively as in other works. She’s tweaking the hate to love trope to suit a relatable and believable history – two people pitted against each other are going to have a naturally cantankerous relationship and Nick did break the trust of many, many people. But, Parker as her characters name all the issues, and then face them. It isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and it isn’t universal, but healing and the resolution of issues is part and parcel of the love story.
What I’ve noticed along the way is that Parker picks deliberately at different cultural commentary arenas with her books. Perhaps the clearest example is in Making Up where so much of the story focused on the arena of abusive relationships and the slow and sometimes incomplete nature of healing. This one doesn’t hold back either, in this case Parker is unpacking distant fathers. I feel like a lot of the media I’m consuming lately outside of books is rife with bad male authority figures (Star Wars, a Lost rewatch…) but the way Parker framed Sabrina and Nick’s relationships with their respective fathers stood out to me and hopefully stood out to other readers who might need the nudge to know that just because its your parent doesn’t make them universally and unreservedly right – particularly if they don’t put in the work to know you.
Parker is also taking on the “no holds barred” professional mindset that sees people trample one another on the way to the top. The series big bad (if it has one) is taken down in epic fashion as her own hubris finally gets the best of her. It, and checking in with characters from Act Like It and Pretty Face were the icing on this already delightful cake. I’m already missing these characters and I finished the book an hour ago. If you’ve made it this far in my review and aren’t reading these books – do it. They are worthy contemporary romances for anyone’s reading diet.