The Austen Playbook

Lucy Parker
The Austen Playbook
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Carina Press
Release Date
April 2019
Book 4 of London Celebrities
Chick-lit, Contemporary Romance

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.

Book Review by Pip (reviewer)
Apr 10, 2019   [ OFFICIAL REVIEW ]
120 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes I pity Jane Austen and sometimes I think she's got it all…a few hundred years too late. Think of the number of works of hers that so many have twisted, manipulated, adapted, lovingly massaged and downright massacred through the years and the poor gal should be turning in her grave, or exulting in her posthumous fame.

With a title like THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK, you suspect you know what you're in for.

Rife with Austen, classic-lit and pop-culture references (not to have Austen meta would have been a sin), I was tickled from the start with the parallel of Darcy's dissing of Elizabeth as belly-gutting arts critic James Ford-Griffin unknowingly cut Freddy Carlton open in a noisy pub with his analysis of her acting--but that's barely a hint of where the story will lead.

But the love-hate, actor-critic relationship gets a revamp when they are unwittingly reunited on Griff's estate along with bitchy reality-tv-series-type drama, a rather mad discovery big-time plagiarism (the sins of the fathers) and unexpected lust/lust coming into play.

Lucy Parker's writing is undoubtedly unique: assured, wry, quirky and with banter that is lofty, sneaky and full of high-brow snark. But admittedly sometimes hard to get through when all you want is straightforward talk minus the distracting character movements, turnarounds and exaggerated descriptions. For this reason, Griff and Freddy, like all of Ms. Parker's characters, are eloquent, always know what to say and sometimes say the unexpected.

I loved the starting quarter, but my attention dipped when talk went deep into secondary characters, the protagonists' relatives (don't get me started on the convoluted history) then perked again Ms. Parker introduces the attraction between Griff and Freddy with hallowed tenderness.

There were some surprises by the end of it--veering sometimes into the unbelievable--but it was all fodder for entertainment, more so because Ms. Parker has made this book about acting, writing and celebrity gossip after all. Ultimately, there were parts of the story I liked and some not too much, but if you're in because you like a particular writing style like Ms. Parker's, then THE AUSTEN PLAYBOOK should do it for you.
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BOOK INTERVIEW on April 2020
Enjoy this excerpt!

The sun was rising higher in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful day. The birdsong of the skylarks in the trees came from so many directions that it seemed to hang suspended in the air, like a lace of interwoven melody. It was difficult to maintain a bad mood in that setting.

Difficult, but he managed.

Aided when he turned the corner by the oldest tree on the property, an enormous, towering oak that his mother had, long ago, told him contained dozens of tiny rooms inhabited by gnomes and fairies. He'd heard her out, then offered a few short, pertinent facts on the concept of a tree trunk. Charlie had been born shortly afterwards, and she'd found a more receptive audience for her flights of imagination.

Over a quarter of a century later, the majestic old tree seemed to have picked up its first fairy, but there was nothing ethereal about her. More like a force of nature. She was sitting against the monstrous base of the tree, wearing a rainbow-striped T-shirt and incredibly short shorts, with that explosion of disorderly hair a tangle against the bark. She appeared to be trying to fix a broken lace in her left trainer.

"Oh." Freddy looked up at him through the frenetic dark mop and shoved a handful of curls out of her face. "Good morning."

"Good morning." He took in the shoe problem, knelt at her side, and reached into his pocket.

"Dear me," she said with suspicious blandness. "It's not a Mr. Collins situation, is it? I really prefer to have my breakfast before I receive unsolicited proposals."

He found one of the cable ties he'd been using to fix the broken wiring in the library this morning, inserted it through the top loops of her trainer and fastened it tightly, then glanced upwards. Her face was very close to his, and he looked straight into her sparkling eyes. There were faint dark smudges under them, but she exuded a warmth that he almost felt as a physical sensation, as if, without touching him, she was heating his own skin. That attitude of suppressed laughter was one he'd often found grating on stage, but out here in the sunshine, he felt that same sudden and strong tug of attraction he'd experienced in the library yesterday. It was like trying to bury something in the sand, only to have the wind persistently blow it back into his line of sight.

And he was still down on one knee, like he was serenading her in a fucking comic opera.

"I only propose to women I barely know on Saturdays."

"Funnily enough," she said, "I'm starting to feel like I've known you for ages. Power of the written word, I suppose. All these years of reviews, it's a bit like having a one-sided correspondence with a really crabby, judgmental pen pal."

Sticking with the theme of a one-sided conversation, he didn't bother to respond to that. He stood, and after a hesitation, reached down a hand. She took it and he pulled her firmly to her feet, then tried to let go of her.

For a person with small fingers, she had a grip like a barracuda's teeth. Freddy turned his reluctant hand over and frowned down at his knuckles. "What have you done to yourself?"

Scraped off about seven layers of skin, thanks to the endless cast of this travelling circus.

"A chance encounter with Elizabeth Bennet and a pair of pliers in the library."

"Sounds like Act Two of the play. Murder most foul under the card catalogue." Freddy was rubbing the sides of his fingers with the tips of hers. Her thoughtful face suggested she had no idea she was doing it. He looked down at where their skin touched. "You don't mean Maya Dutta went for you with a blunt instrument? She's much too nice."

"It wasn't blunt." He gestured with his scraped-up, imprisoned hand, and she released it quickly, with a murmured apology. "Apparently she lost her way trying to find the kitchen before dawn, and slammed the library door into my chair while I was cutting a wire."

"Well, I hope you didn't grump at her. She's a very sensitive person." From distracted smartarse to coolly threatening Mother Hen in one second flat. He hadn't given her enough credit in those reviews for her chameleon-like abilities.

"With no sense of direction."

"You're a little too fond of that expression. I believe you applied it to me, as well." Freddy nodded at his hand. "Did you put antiseptic on it? The pliers could have been rusty. And you should keep it covered."

"If you drop the Florence Nightingale act, I won't make any further comments about the roles you choose."

"You won't be able to if you succumb to sepsis." Freddy jogged a few steps, testing the makeshift fix on her shoe, then smiled at him. "Thanks. You're my white knight today. I do love when the day throws up an unexpected surprise before I've even had my toast."

They'd travelled at least a hundred metres before he fully realised that he'd ended up on a joint run with her.

"God, I hate running," she said as they turned at the far-most field and headed back towards the house.

"Why do it then?" He swiped the back of his arm across his forehead. "You don't seem the type to bother with anything you don't enjoy."

Freddy cut him a glance. "Other than in my career choices, you mean?" Her breaths were coming fast and broken. "It's quick, cheap exercise, and I have to maintain a base level of fitness for the job. If it eventually gives me a bubble butt, bonus."
He managed to keep his eyes on the road ahead. Focusing on the rhythm of his own breath. Steady in, deep out.

"I tried tennis for a while, but my aim was awful. Balls flying everywhere. Besides, it was right after the director at the Southeastern Playhouse told me I wasn't thin enough to make it to the top tier, and my flatmate thought I was trying to lose weight to pacify him, so I had to stop the lessons on principle."

Griff looked at her sharply. "Who was that? Tom Michaelis? I hope you told him where to go."

"I finished out my contract like the professional I am and haven't signed one with him since." Freddy plaited her insane hair without slowing her pace. "It's all part and parcel of the industry. You don't get the perks without the bullshit."

"It's a fucking joke."

"If I decide to take one idiot's opinion to heart, I'm in the wrong business entirely."

"Was that a dig at Michaelis or at me?"

"It does work on multiple levels, doesn't it?"

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October 19, 2021 09:05 PM ( EST )