Narrated by Morag Sims
Pretty Face, the follow-up novel to Lucy Parker’s successful and hugely entertaining Act Like It, is a funny, sexy Rom-Com set amid the hustle and bustle of London’s Theatreland that clearly proves that Ms. Parker is no one-hit-wonder. This book is every bit as charmingly well-written as its predecessor, just as full of zinging one-liners, and equally possessed of an attractive and engaging central couple and small, but well-drawn supporting cast. And in the midst of all the humour and delicious sexual tension are moments of true poignancy, too, moments that show the author is as gifted at creating three-dimensional characters with flaws and insecurities and shedding subtle insight onto their emotional lives as she is at writing wonderfully witty banter.
Actress Lily Lamprey was lucky enough to land a job on the popular costume-drama-cum-soap-opera, Knightsbridge, when she was fresh out of drama school, but four years later she is looking to move on and shed the image of man-eating vamp she’s acquired as a result of the part she plays on the show. She knows it has prevented her from getting other roles, but is determined to break out and show that she is capable of more than getting her kit off week after week on TV. And now she has the chance to do just that, as she’s been called to audition for Luc Savage, one of the most widely respected directors in the West End. Savage has a reputation for being cold and dictatorial, but there’s no denying his shows are incredibly successful and that working for him could really kick-start her career… even though Lily doesn’t think she’s got a snowball’s chance in hell of landing the part.
The theatre is in Luc Savage’s blood. His father was an actor, his mother is an opera singer, and Luc has spent the past few years restoring the Queen Anne Theatre, a venue owned by his family for generations which fell into despair over half a century ago. It’s a huge personal and financial risk, but the project is nearing completion, and Luc has opted to open with a production of 1553, a new play by an award winning young playwright. The play features three strong roles for women, as the female protagonists are Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth Tudor, and Luc has already had to contend with the fact that his choice for Mary – his long-term girlfriend, Margot Roy – recently ran off to marry an Italian opera singer and is thus not available. Now he’s faced with the prospect of having to recast the role of Elizabeth, as the original choice has just had an accident and broken her leg. His casting director pushes him to watch Lily’s showreel – which he does very reluctantly, believing the last thing he, or the production, needs is a blonde bimbo with a porn-star voice who probably needs direction to tie her own shoelaces. But when he does watch it, he’s amazed to discover that Lily really does have that certain something and that there is a real actress beneath the soap-opera bullshit.
Needless to say, Luc and Lily’s first meeting is not exactly a comfortable one, but Luc immediately realises there’s a lot more to Lily than meets the eye. He appreciates her toughness, her quick wit and willingness to go toe-to-toe with him, and offers her the part with the proviso that she must undergo a rigorous regime of vocal training with a specialist coach in order to improve both her stamina and the quality of her voice for the stage.
And Lily is surprised to discover that Luc isn’t an ice-bound martinet at all. He’s tough and driven, yes, but he’s also kind, funny, charming, ridiculously gorgeous and dangerous to her peace of mind.
This is a romance, so there’s no question where things are going to go, but it’s a wonderful and beautifully romantic journey that sees both Luc and Lily having to question some of the things they thought they knew about themselves and make some major readjustment to those perceptions and their behaviour. Both of them are delightful, relatable characters, and the conflicts at the heart of the book – the age difference (he’s forty-something, she’s twenty-six) and the fact that he’s her boss – feel very realistic. Being in the public eye means that their every move is scrutinised by the gossip rags, and with both of them carrying around various items of emotional baggage as the result of past failures and present insecurities, they know that a relationship is going to be difficult – but the pull of attraction between them is impossible to resist and they go for it anyway.
The romance is beautifully written and developed and the chemistry between Luc and Lily is explosive. The love scenes – which are a little more steamy than in Act Like It – are sensual, romantic and perfectly in character as Luc and Lily continue to snark at each other in bed as well as out of it. And when the crunch comes, Ms. Parker has developed her characters and their relationship so very well, that Lily’s confusion is understandable and her heartache palpable.
Narrator Morag Sims (who I’ve listened to once or twice before) does a very good job overall, although there are some aspects of her performance that didn’t quite work for me. Her voice is pleasant and youthful, and she interprets the author’s description of Lily’s vocal shortcomings well, placing her tone higher in the vocal register than her own natural pitch, but not so high as to sound annoying or silly. The secondary female characters are well done, too – Trix, Lily’s bubbly room-mate is a lot of fun, and Ms. Sims successfully employs a variety of tone and accents to portray the other women in the cast, most notably Lily’s Irish mother and Luc’s French one. But while she does a fairly good job of making Luc sound suitably masculine and sexy, she’s less successful with the other male characters. Lily’s father, for instance, sounds more like a little old lady than an elderly gentleman, and many of the other male characters, while they are effectively differentiated because they sound different from one another, need a name or other indicator for the listener to be able determine their gender. It’s not a major problem really, as these are secondary characters and some only appear briefly, but it’s noticeable enough that I felt it necessary to mention it.
I also had a minor issue with the pacing. It doesn’t happen frequently, but in some places, Ms. Sims speaks a bit too quickly and almost trips over her words. On the whole, though, her vocal acting is very good, and she does a great job in the moments of deeper emotion, especially towards the end of the book. She captures the humour well most of the time although there were a few places I felt she hadn’t quite ‘got it’ and could have played it up a little more.
Pretty Face is funny, romantic and sexy and has already earned a place on my “Best of 2017” list. The audio is a lot of fun to listen to, and I’m giving it a strong recommendation, even though my personal preference is for the print version. That’s no reflection on Morag Sims, as is shown by my narration grade, but sometimes, there are books that you end up loving so much that you just want to hug them to your chest and savour the words for yourself, without anyone else coming between you; and for me, this is one of those books.
Book Content: A-
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in (but at the very tame end)
Violence Rating: None
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Harlequin Audio
Pretty Face was provided to AudioGals by Harlequin Audio for a review.