Review: The Austen Playbook – Lucy Parker
by Lucy Parker
Series: London Celebrities #4
Also in this series: Making Up
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: April 22, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.
*if those people were being nice
Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.
She can’t take her eyes off him.
Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.
Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.
As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.
Look, this book has a house party with a family secrets mystery and a romance between a Slytherin and a Hufflepuff. That should be enough to tell you if you’re interested, but if you want an actual review, well… This is the fourth in the London Celebrities series, but I think would work well as a standalone.
“It was a truth universally acknowledged that an actor in a rut must be in want of a spot of murder, mayhem, and true love.”
Freddy doesn’t deny that her acting career has ridden on the coattails of her grandmother, hailed as Britain’s greatest playwright. With a revival of her most famous play in the works, everyone, including Freddy’s agent father, expects her to land the leading role… except Freddy. Torn by her decision, she accepts an offer for an… interesting… TV production. Picture this: a bunch of actors and actresses are stuck together in a crumbling English mansion to film a live TV production. It’s based on a choose-your-own-adventure game that features all of Austen’s characters mashed together, which means that they’ll have to memorize large chunks of script that may never be used, depending on how the audience votes. Plus, it just so happens that the estate is the familial home of a certain grumpy art critic…
“Do your thoughts always bounce around your brain like a pinball game?”
“I think of it more like ten-pin bowling. Pick up an idea, chuck it at the rest, and hope for the best.”
While the initial meeting between the romantic leads is usually called a “meet-cute”, in this case it was, as a friend termed it, a “meet-disaster.” After a disastrous performance of, quite frankly, an awful play, Freddy overhears Griff talking about it at a local bar, and his criticism of her – that she’d rather be splashing around in puddles in Singin’ in the Rain than vamping through a depressing “adult” play, strikes close to home. It’s delightfully reminiscent of my favorite Austen, Pride & Prejudice, though the end result is different. While P&P rides the enemies-to-lovers train, Freddy instead shakes off the criticism, going so far as to tweak his nose metaphorically with some of it. Freddy is such a positive and joyful person that she can’t be angry at Griff – she’s more thrown off by how insightful his criticism was – and instead Griff ends up completely flummoxed by her. I have a definite thing for grumpy heroes, and Griff ticks all those boxes. He can’t quite believe that Freddy is interested in him, and more than once thinks she’d be better suited for his flighty brother. He also mentally compares her to an annoying head cold, which had me absolutely dying.
“It’s so weird. I wouldn’t have picked it in a million years. She’s such a sunny wee rocket, and you’re such a bad-tempered bastard most of the time. I’d have thought you’d want to strangle her.”
He did. He also wanted his hands sliding along her skin, and her irrepressible smile against his cheek, and her insane hair on his pillow.”
Besides the romance, there’s a pretty fun family-secrets-mystery that Freddy and Griff dig into. It, naturally, leads to revelations about their own families. Freddy’s father who seems deadset on vicariously experiencing his theater dreams through her (and who she can’t say no to), and her sister, who keeps getting involved with a philandering actor. Griff, for his part, is trying to save his family estate, convinced that his flighty brother and head-in-the-clouds parents are acting against their best interests. So, in essences, Freddy needs to seize more control of her life – needs everyone to stop treating her like a child – while Griff needs to shed some of his control freak ways. The secondary characters are also amazing, and we get to see some familiar faces from earlier books in the series.
“Sorry to interrupt,” Charlie said, a note of amusement creeping in. “I thought you’d be buried in work, not snogging the houseguests.”
“Things often take surprising turns.” Freddy smiled at him. “I love life.”
What makes reading this book (and her others) a complete joy is that Ms. Parker is incredibly witty. You can’t go more than two paragraphs without finding a fascinating turn of phrase or a humorous aside. There’s plenty of emotional depth, though, and the characters, even the secondary ones, are more than just cardboard cutouts. It’s been fun watching some of the background characters get more page time, and I finished the book with a good idea who the next couple is – and also desperately wanting that book now! While I’ve enjoyed this series immensely, I have to say that this book has definitely become my favorite!
Overall, this is ridiculously fun, witty romp, and I highly recommend it!