Desert Isle Keeper
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.