Lucy Parker’s début novel, Act Like It was – it seems – an instant hit, one of those books you suddenly see all over your Goodreads feed because all your friends are reading it. I’m confidently predicting the same for her follow up, Pretty Face, because it’s every bit as vibrant, funny, sexy and poignant as the first book – quite possibly even more so, on all counts. I finished the last page with a smile on my face and feeling uplifted - and wondering if I had the time to go back and read it all over again, which doesn’t happen very often, I can tell you.
Like its predecessor, Pretty Face is set amid the chaotic world of London’s West End, shedding light on all the behind the scenes activity that has to happen in order to mount a theatre production, and taking a good look at the impact of celebrity culture and media intrusion on the lives of those who work in that particular field.
Luc Savage is an extremely successful and respected director. He has the reputation of being something of a martinet – a stickler for discipline and professionalism and a hard task master, although not unfair or mean. The theatre is in his blood; his father is an actor, his mother an opera singer and over the past few years he has invested heavily – both in terms of money and time and effort – in renovating the Queen Anne Theatre, which has been owned and run by his family for generations, but which fell into disrepair some twenty-five years earlier. It’s a massive task for him both professionally and personally, but it’s nearing fruition and he has chosen to open with a production of 1553 a play by a multi-award winning young playwright and in which the three principal characters are Queen Mary I, Elizabeth Tudor and Lady Jane Grey. Having had to recast the role of Mary due to the fact that his long-time girlfriend, actress Margot Roy, recently left him to get married to an Italian opera singer, Luc now faces the prospect of having to re-cast Elizabeth, too, because the actress originally chosen has broken her leg. One of the young actresses on the list of potential replacements is Lily Lamprey, twenty-six, blonde, beautiful and the star of the hit historical drama-cum-soap opera, Knightsbridge, in which she plays the part of Gloria, a scheming man-stealer that viewers love to hate.
Luc knows that casting a popular TV star could be good publicity and increase ticket sales, but no way is he interested in bringing on board some Marilyn Monroe look-alike with a porn-star voice who probably needs direction to tie her own shoes. But his casting director – whom he trusts – thinks Lily has potential and eventually Luc is persuaded to give her an audition. And when he does, he’s surprised to discover that Lily definitely does have a certain something –
Under the soap-opera shit, an actor
- even though her voice is going to need work.
Lily landed the gig on Knightsbridge when she was fresh out of drama school, and now wishes she hadn’t been so quick to sign up for four years and wants to move on to something else. Her public persona has very much been shaped by the character she plays, and she is frequently depicted as being a blonde bimbo who will shag anything in trousers. It’s unkind and it’s upsetting, and she tries to ignore it – but there’s no doubt that it’s an image that’s going to be hard to shake, and has almost certainly counted against her when looking for other work. So to audition for Luc Savage is an amazing opportunity to change direction and make her name for something other than getting her kit off on a regular basis.
When Luc and Lily meet, their first impressions of each other are not good. Yet there’s something about Lily that slowly disarms Luc and before long he’s well and truly smitten; and when Lily starts to get to know the funny, charming man behind the persona, she is equally so. But with almost their every move under the microscope of the gossip columns – especially London Celebrity, whose editor has a grudge against Luc – there is no possibility of there being anything more between them than a working relationship. It’s a business in which image sticks and first impressions count, and Lily can’t afford to acquire a reputation for getting jobs via the casting couch – not like her mother, a well-known torch-singer who has never made a secret of using any means necessary in order to advance her career.
To say I loved this book is an understatement – I adored it. The romance is beautifully written and developed and the chemistry between Luc and Lily is explosive – their first kiss is one of the sexiest, most romantic I think I’ve ever read, and Ms. Parker has upped the heat level a little compared with Act Like It, writing a couple of sex scenes which are imbued with a gorgeous, tender sensuality that sends shivers up and down the spine.
One of the biggest draws, though, is the dialogue, which zings and sparkles with humour and wit in a way that left me slack-jawed with admiration – after I’d finished laughing, that is. Honestly, if I’d highlighted every brilliant one-liner, my Kindle copy would have one or more notes on almost every page; I’ve rarely read a book where the humour is so unforced and consistently funny, and that’s not easy to do. I also can’t deny that the book’s overall ‘Britishness’ made a really refreshing change. I read many, many books set in 19th Century England, and not infrequently find myself complaining about the number of words and expressions used that are not naturally English (i.e, Ye Olde Americanisms). But here, Ms. Parker - a New Zealander – is absolutely spot-on with British idioms and speech patterns and it’s both noticeable and noticeably different.
Luc and Lily are an extremely likeable pair who strike sparks off each other from the get go and are clearly perfect for each other. They click on every level, and I really loved the way in which their growing feelings for each other just … creep up on them. There’s no lightning strike or knocking sideways in the best dramatic tradition – it’s just a moment of gentle recognition:
And her pathetic, perverse, masochistic little heart went oh – it’s you.
Lily is beautiful and talented, but she has trust issues relating to the fact that she is the result of an affair between her career-minded mother and a married man, neither of whom have ever had a great deal of time for her. And everything she knows about Luc tells her he’s a workaholic who never prioritises his personal life, so she is just waiting for him to put work first and her second, even though it’s clear to the reader from his every word and action regarding her that he’s head-over-heels and in it for the long haul.
As for Luc, well he’s my first book-boyfriend of 2017. I mean, honestly, this?
Luc Savage looked like Gregory Peck, circa some dapper time between Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird. There was more bulk in the shoulders, silver in the hair and darkness in the soul; otherwise the resemblance was uncanny.
But beneath the good looks is a genuine, caring man; a perfect mix of warm, funny, and irresistibly attractive, he’s a tough, determined professional but also someone who will move mountains for those he cares about.
Pretty Face is a terrific read and one I’m recommending wholeheartedly. Along with the funny, the romantic and the sexy, the author also makes some great points about sexism and celebrity culture, and writes moments of true poignancy that will have you reaching for the Kleenex. Act Like It put Lucy Parker on my auto-read list; Pretty Face has put her damn near the top of it, and I’m eager for more.
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