Desert Isle Keeper
The Austen Playbook
The Austen Playbook, the fourth in Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series, is one of the most eagerly anticipated new releases of 2019 – and I’m here to tell you your patience will most definitely be rewarded when it comes out. It’s got all Ms. Parker’s trademarks; the two principals are wonderfully appealing, the secondary cast is well-drawn, the dialogue is snappy – and most importantly, it’s got the depth, emotional resonance and soul-deep connection between the leads she’s so good at creating (and which I felt was missing in the previous book).
Frederica – Freddy – Carlton is the youngest member of an acting dynasty whose members have been treading the boards in the West End for the last four hundred years. She’s been acting since she was a child, and although she made her name performing in a string of popular comedies and musicals, she’s now turned her hand to more serious pieces at the urging of her manager – who also happens to be her father Rupert, whose acting career came to an end following an accident years earlier. But Freddy’s heart isn’t really in the meaty, dramatic roles she’s being urged to undertake. Her real love is for lighter theatre – musicals, rom-coms, physical comedy – and she knows that’s where her real talent lies, in performing pieces that leave the audiences feeling better at the end of the evening than they did at the beginning. Yet although she recognises that Rupert is living vicariously through her, she can’t bring herself to disappoint him by refusing to go along with his plans for her. He’s pushing her to audition for the leading role in The Velvet Room, the masterpiece that catapulted her grandmother Henrietta into the history books as both actress and playwright – and in Freddy’s opinion, another piece of weepy philosophical introspection that just isn’t her cup of tea.
The fact that Freddy isn’t suited to the heavier roles hasn’t escaped the extremely perceptive – and extremely annoying – theatre critic, James Ford-Griffin, Grumpiest TV presenter in the UK. And the witty wanker behind the scathing theatre reviews in the Westminster Post. She’s having a drink with friends after a rather disastrous performance when she overhears him talking to someone in the next booth in the pub, uncomfortably aware that his cutting remarks are right on the nose:
“For some reason, she’s pursuing a determined line in high-brow dramas, when she’d clearly rather be stamping about in puddles in Singin’ in the Rain.”
It’s completely unnerving that this man, whom she doesn’t know, has seen through her façade, and more unnerving still is the way her stomach suddenly feels like it’s full of butterflies when she ends up standing next to him at the bar. Sure, he’s good-looking, but sadly, behind those compelling dark eyes, that platinum blond hair and majestic nose lurks a frosty demeanour and all the personality of an iceberg.
Griff has spent pretty much his entire adult life trying to rein in his spendthrift parents while they indulge their flights of fancy with no thought to their responsibilities. The family home at Highbrook in Surrey is heavily mortgaged, and Griff is desperately trying to find ways to pay off the pile of debt as well as to make the estate viable for at least the next few years. He is currently seeking financing for a film about the life of Henrietta Carlton, who wrote The Velvet Room at Highbrook while in the throes of a passionate affair with his grandfather, but that’s not progressing well at the moment thanks to Rupert Carlton’s interference. Griff’s younger brother, Charlie – who Griff sees as not much more responsible than their parents – has come up with a scheme which might make them some money in the short-term; they’ll rent out the Henry Theatre (built in the grounds by Sir George Ford as a gift for Henrietta) to the company producing The Austen Playbook, a live TV event based on an extremely popular game featuring characters from Jane Austen’s novels. Griff isn’t best pleased at the idea, but at least the TV company will pay for the necessary renovations to the theatre and the income will give him a bit of breathing space while he continues to seek funding for the film.
With Freddy cast as Lydia Bennett, she and Griff are thrown into each other’s orbit once again, and the spark of attraction that had leapt between them that night months ago in the pub flares to life again. Their romance develops quickly – something they both acknowledge – but the author does such a great job of creating a genuinely strong emotional connection between them and showing the ways in which they come to understand each other, that I never felt as though things were moving too fast. They’re well-rounded, complex characters who are like chalk and cheese in many ways; Freddy is generally outgoing, vibrant and chatty where Griff is more reticent and serious, but when it comes to the really important things between them, they’re very much on the same wavelength. I loved Freddy’s open-heartedness and was impressed by the way she’s so positive about falling for Griff:
“If I end up getting hurt, I would still never regret falling for him. I’m not going to hold back on investing in him just because there are no guarantees in life.”
– because it’s such a contrast to so many characters in romances who insist on holding back or walling off their emotions because they fear being hurt.
Griff is a swoonworthy hero who turns out to be perfect boyfriend material without being given a complete personality transplant. He’s a truly decent guy who’s big enough to own it when he screws up, and while his observations may often be critical, they’re also often true – even Freddy has to admit to herself that some of his criticisms have actually been helpful. Freddy learns to see through to the real Griff, not an iceberg at all, but a man who cares deeply about doing the best for those he loves, and she comes to appreciate his good qualities as she comes to understand him better. I especially enjoyed the support they offer each other at difficult moments; that’s not to say everything is plain sailing for them, but there’s no Big Mis because these two talk to each other.
There’s an intriguing plot line running alongside the romance, which is going to test Freddy and Griff’s loyalty to their families and each other when, during the course of some background research for the film, Freddy makes a surprising and potentially damaging discovery which could destroy reputations and careers. It really held my interest and is fully integral to the story rather than being something just tacked on to provide some conflict in the romance.
The familial relationships – Freddy and her TV presenter sister, Griff and his charming and more laid-back brother – are wonderfully realised, and as in all the London Celebrities books, there’s a fabulously drawn secondary cast, consisting mostly of a disparate group of actors (including the viperous Sadie Frost, whom we’ve met in previous books) who, just as in real life, get along and hate each other’s guts to varying degrees. Tempers fray and egos clash as the performance gets nearer, and we’re also treated to what I suspect is the set up for the next book, as we watch Freddy’s sister and her biggest rival (who happens to be Griff’s best mate) rip each other to shreds with verbal barbs and looks that could kill at ten paces.
Funny, sexy, warm and smart, The Austen Playbook is a thoroughly entertaining read that kept me glued from first page to last, and I’m confidently predicting its appearance on my Best Books of 2019 list. It’s just that good.
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|Review Date:||April 17, 2019|
|Book Type:||Contemporary Romance|
|Review Tags:||film/tv making | London Celebrities series | theater|
Aaand I’m back… I wanted to add a couple of other things that bugged me about this book (even though, as I said, the romance proper was decent).
1. I was taken out of the story for a moment when 23-year-old Freddie tells Griff that she can’t have “penetrative” sex that night because she’s mid-cycle, and her pelvic muscles are always tight then, so it’s painful to have sex.
I think I may have said out loud “What the actual f***?”
I mean, we know Freddie has casual sex, but there’s zero indication (or did I just miss it?) that she’s had a long-term relationship where an issue like this might have become noticeable. Don’t you have to be kind of monitoring your cycles and having regular ongoing sex to make the whole connection between mid-cycle sex and pain? Or do most young (early 20s) women these days just know about stuff like this, even if they’re only having casual sex here and there?
2. The author also takes a moment out during a H/h sex scene to comment that Freddie’s nipples are not that sensitive, so having them sucked is not really that exciting, but still she does enjoy watching Griff suck them (or something like that). What??
I was trying to think of another love scene I might have read where we are told the heroine does not like something the hero is doing (outside of intercourse itself, to be clear, since that can be problematic depending on the story).
For example, did I ever read “The hero sucked each of her fingers slowly, but her hands were not really all that sensitive, so it wasn’t a particularly erotic experience. But she enjoyed watching him anyway”? Or maybe “He was giving her oral sex, and while she never really found that particularly stimulating, she enjoyed watching him do it”.?
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but when you’re a newly minted couple (in a relationship not even months old), why do I have to know early on that this or that thing is not really your cup of tea?
Both of the above-mentioned instances did *not* add a dimension of “realism” to the sex for me, which may be what the author was hoping for. Rather, they both felt gratuitous and actually took away from my enjoyment of the couple’s physical relationship. YMMV
I noted that moment (the thing about the pelvic muscles), but just thought “ah” and moved on. It’s not something I’ve ever experienced, but I just presumed it must be a “thing” for some women. I was probably a bit more drawn in by the story that you were – and I’m more likely to give stuff like this a pass if the rest of the story is captivating me.
Thanks for your comments though – I’m always interested to read others’ takes on the books I review!
Same for me as far as not getting picky about details if the book is really working for me. We’re halfway through 2019 and so far, this one is still my favorite book of the year. I also would add that I don’t generally grade books on sex scenes, but this book has some very sexy moments.
I just read a different book where the heroine comments that her breasts aren’t that sensitive but the hero could play with them if it gave him pleasure. It’s Teach Me by Olivia Dade.
With the most belated reply to a comment ever, lol, but because this review appeared on my Twitter feed today as a throwback rec, and for anyone else who might be here more recently, I’m just going to say, without getting too TMI, that yes, painful sex due to pelvic muscle issues is very much a problem for some women. If you do experience it, it’s also very common for it to be significantly worse at certain times in your cycle. It tends to cause pain outside of intercourse as well—you know when your pelvic muscles are too tight, just as you know that about any other muscles—and in my experience, it also makes it more painful to use toys etc, so it’s certainly very believable to me that a woman who experiences pelvic issues and has casual sex and/or self-pleasure would know there are times of the month when she wouldn’t enjoy penetration. For me, that *does* add a realistic note that I don’t see much in romance and appreciate. But I do appreciate more real notes in sex scenes in general; for me, I’m not reading romance the way I might erotica, I want sex scenes that actually fill out the characters and relationships, make them unique to the couple, and with imperfect moments I can relate to.
It’s great that you found the review and came back! As I said, I didn’t find the reference at all intrusive or odd, or feel that it took me out of the story. It’s not something I’ve experienced, but we’re all different – and I, too, appreciate realistic sex scenes that illuminate things about the individuals, the couple and their relationship.
Likewise! :0) I appreciate the fantasy, everything’s-fab sex scenes too, lol, don’t get me wrong, and totally get it if people just prefer they’re all like that, especially if reading for escapism, but like everything in life, sometimes sex is silly and messy and awkward and funny, and I love it when books mix up the love scenes, it usually reveals a lot about the characters, too. I really hope it didn’t come across a snarky response at all to the OP’s comment, it really wasn’t meant to be, just felt compelled to rep for all my fellow sufferers of pelvic pain, lol; it’s not a club I recommend joining, but I know there are quite a few of us out there. Great review, by the way.
Just finished this today. Solid “B” for me. Enjoyed the romance well enough. Did not like the obvious plot devices (or maybe just the over-use of obvious plot devices) used in the last couple of chapters to drive the story to the author’s desired conclusion.
In addition, the ending included a few too many “kumbaya” moments/dialogue among the family members for my taste.
Finally, I have a bit of a problem telling Parker’s characters apart. It’s been a while since I read Parker’s previous stories, but I had a very deja vu feeling about these characters’ voices, certainly Freddy’s. Hey, just my opinion–YMMV.
Of course, I’ll be right there to read her next book when it comes out. :-)
This book was huge disappointment and I could not disagree with you more about the plot and secondary characters (excluding the most adorable Charlie). Freddy and Griff are wonderful lovers and their relationship was very grown up and romantic, but the plot stunk. OMG why oh why did she write a character like Sophie Foster, it was an embarrassment to the rest of the book. And though the Austen game was a good idea it wasn’t well executed, where was Jane and Bingley? I think Parker is setting up for a romance between Nick and Sabrina because there was no resolve in this book with what happened with the big “betrayal/disclosure”. Nobody got their comeuppance!!
IMO Freddy and Griff deserved better.
Sadie. At least I could get the name correctly when criticizing!
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the cameo from a previous Parker book, and I loved the set-up for future books. I liked the whole idea of The Austen Playbook. It’s always difficult in the post-reading orgasm phase, but I think this might be my favorite so far, though I did love Act Like It.
I’ve been waiting sooo long for this. Thank you for the review!
I read an arc of this book a couple of months ago and completely agree with this review! I adored Griff but I loved Freddy nearly as much. I’m not sure if it replaces Pretty Face for my very favorite Lucy Parker book, but it’s close. It is already my favorite book of 2019.
Parker does it again! Looks delightful.
Just ordered it! Agreed with you that I did not care for the previous book but her first two were excellent. Thank you.
Oh, I hope you enjoy it!
I’ve been SO excited for this and I’m THRILLED that it’s as good or better than the others. Thanks for the great review.
It’s definitely better than Making Up – it’s probably my second favourite of the series so far, after Pretty Face.