REVIEW: Pretty Face by Lucy Parker
Dear Lucy Parker,
I have a confession to make. Although I own Act Like It in both ebook and audiobook formats, I haven’t yet read/listened to it. I have your other book too – Artistic License written under the name Elle Pierson (I haven’t read that either – this is basically the story of my giant TBR of Doom). But trusted friends have told me I need to read both books like, yesterday so when I saw Pretty Face was available for review I snapped it up. Now I am, of course, kicking myself about those two unread books because oh lordy, I loved Pretty Face hard.
You hooked me from the first line (I don’t count the excerpt from the “article” from fictional gossip rag London Celebrity which precedes it). I mean, it is one of the most awesome first lines I’ve read in ages.
It was the last straw when she seduced the vicar.
Lily Lamprey is an an actress on a soap opera-esque show called Knightsbridge. She plays Gloria, a flapper girl who jumps from bed to bed (and baptismal font as it happens) and doesn’t worry too much about pesky things like wedding rings or clerical collars. I imagined it, at least from a looks/costuming perspective, as a kind of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (but without the murder-solving). Perhaps The Bold and the Beautiful set in the 1920s may be a better comparison though. Lily has been playing Gloria for four long years and it has not done her dreams for a stage career any favours. When her godfather who is backing a West End show, presses for Lily to get an audition, she has her chance at serious theatre. But she doesn’t think it’s likely she will make it past the first five minutes in front of legendary ice-cold director, Luc Savage.
The humour of the book is apparent from the opening line and it continues all the way through. It wasn’t just Lily and Luc delivering the zingers either. Among others, Amelia, the casting director, made me chuckle as well.
“It wouldn’t be as financially catastrophic as a bad opening run.” He slid behind the wheel. “And it’s a bluff. Even Warner isn’t so thick that he’d jeopardise his investment over what I assume is an elderly infatuation. Or is she a blood relative?”
“Luc Savage, die-hard romantic.” Grudgingly, Amelia admitted, “He’s her godfather. Lily Lamprey’s mother is Vanessa Cray, the Irish singer. You know—schmaltzy, jazz stuff. Not really my thing. Warner was allegedly one of her boyfriends back in the day, a revelation that forced me to imagine him in a sexual context. My brain attempted to self-destruct and I had to Google pictures of kittens to recover.”
Luc has recently split with his long-time girlfriend Margo. They’d been together eight years but it is quite apparent that their relationship was a kind of friends with benefits – it was convenient and they genuinely care about each other, but each puts their careers above the relationship and it fizzled and died from lack of care. Margo has recently eloped with an Italian opera singer and is deliriously happy. The gossip rags, such as the London Celebrity, are speculating that there was cheating (there wasn’t) and/or that Luc was such a monster, poor Margo had a lucky escape (he’s not a monster).
Luc is, however, extremely direct. Once he actually watches the full audition reel Amelia presses upon him, he can see possibilities for Lily. But her voice is not great for theatre. It doesn’t have the strength to carry to the back of the theatre or to make it through six or more performances a week. And she sounds a bit like Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President”. He will have to arrange some serious voice coaching if he’s to polish this diamond in the rough in time for opening night.
“You’re babying your voice. Literally,” he said drily. “Helium Barbie has to go.”
A long time ago, Lily had owned a Ken Doll. She’d once discovered that putting her thumbs on his neck and applying the exact right amount of pressure beneath his plastic ears caused his head to pop off. It probably wouldn’t work with Savage.
Lily is beautiful and it doesn’t take long for rumours to abound about just how she gets the job (spoiler alert – she gets the role). Lily herself is the product of an affair between her mother, a famous Jazz singer and Jack Lamprey, a wealthy club owner who also happened to be extremely married. There is a lot of speculation along the lines of “like mother, like daughter”.
As Jack stayed married to his wife and his wife, Lady Charlotte, prefers not to interact with Lily at all, Lily had a sporadic relationship with her dad. He loves her but they don’t have anything approaching a normal family life. Lily’s mother is also one her puts her career first and as a result, Lily often had to fend for herself, at least emotionally.
The stakes are high in terms of the conflict of Pretty Face. Apart from that when Luc and Lily first meet they do not get along, she knows there will be significant fallout if the obvious chemistry they share is acted upon. She is already being ground by the rumour mill; if those rumours have the appearance of truth (such as by Luc and Lily having a public fling) any credibility she has in the stage world will be shot to pieces. Also, Luc is in his early 40s and Lily is 26 so Luc going after a young actress gives him the appearance of being a dirty old man and her being a gold digger only out to further her career. Plus, to add some icing on the uncomfortable cake, Lily’s dad was once friends with Luc’s dad – until Jack hit on Luc’s mother (and she turned him down flat). After that, Luc’s dad cut ties with Jack and they haven’t spoken since. So there’s a lot keeping the protagonists apart.
Except that they are overwhelmingly drawn to one another and in true romance novel style, what they feel for each other is bigger and more potent than anything they have ever felt before.
Luc needs to make up some ground at the start though; “Helium Barbie” wasn’t the only insult he paid her. He does however, know how to apologise and I was prepared to forgive him.
“I wholeheartedly apologise for being a prejudiced, sexist dick.”
I liked the snap and sizzle of the banter between Luc and Lily and I liked that they were very much consummate professionals when it came to the play. Luc comes to love Lily but he is his brutally frank self when it comes to directing her performance.
“You already know how good you’re going to have to be.” He didn’t soften the warning. “A lot of critics will be taking their seats on opening night salivating at the prospect of seeing a car crash firsthand.”
It was amazing, really, that people didn’t hire him out for motivational speaking.
Once their affair goes public (as, of course, was inevitable), Lily has to fend off the press and her work colleagues who give her the side-eye and prove to everyone that she has the acting chops to deserve her role. Major family upheavals threaten everything however and bring even closer to the surface Lily’s vulnerabilities when it comes to trusting being loved by the people in her life.
While there is sex in the book, it is not particularly explicit. The intimate scenes show the connection between Lily and Luc but they are more… impressionistic than descriptive. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. I guess it does feel a little unusual in a contemporary romance because the genre tends to be heading more towards the very explicit (also not a complaint actually) and your style stands out because it swims against the tide a little. For me, love scenes are about showing the intimacy and connection between the lovers and yours definitely deliver – along with the various other ways you demonstrate it in the book.
I thought Pretty Face ran out of steam a tiny bit towards the very end. Perhaps that is my own impatience talking however.
It’s been difficult for me to sink into a book lately. I’m finding that snappy dialogue and/or a fast-moving plot are more likely to draw me in but even then, my reading since November has been a little hit or miss. Pretty Face hooked me from the start and did not let go. It was a pleasure to wallow in the pages and it was exactly the escape from the real world I needed. Grade: A-
(Also, I definitely need to read your other two books, stat.)