Lucy Parker consistently delivers a story with humor, poignant moments, and a realistic look behind the curtain or camera as the case may be. The characters are well rounded with as many flaws as strengths. This book builds on the previous in the series (The Austen Playbook), but it most definitely is not a rehash. Rather it jumps forward and shows what Sabrina and Nick’s professional rivalry turned hatred has developed into since the summer.
For those into holiday romance, this story is firmly embedded in the countdown to Christmas with a glimpse at both sides of that picture from charity events to the unattainable, but must have, toys. We also get to reconnect with favorite characters from the previous book and meet new ones equally complex.
After what happened in The Austen Playbook, Sabrina’s dislike of her competition for the prestigious evening news program has developed into pure hatred. He single-handedly exposed her family’s dirty laundry, which led to implications she and her sister knew about, and supported, their father’s actions. Nick, on the other hand, is uncomfortable in her presence because she breaks through his safe distance all too easily.
Imagine their delight to learn their careers now depend on working together in a sink-or-swim revival of a floundering morning show. After being at the height of the television reporting triangle, they’re now responsible for what they both consider fluff pieces. If that isn’t enough, they’re threatened with being replaced by someone completely unsuited to the task as if he could do better.
This is only the starting point. They have room to grow both professionally and personally.
The rivalry is well-seeded even if you haven’t read the previous title (though I’d recommend it and have). The dialogue is sharp and witty throughout, full of shades of meaning and character whether between the two leads or with others. I had several points where I laughed out loud, startled by a perfect reaction or line.
Three different plot lines wrap around each other. The first two, what drives their ambitions and the relationship developing from hate and lust into a love deep enough to terrify both of them at first, are strong and powerful. Parental influences, good and bad, made for some of the better poignant moments whether dealing with the loss of a parent even years later or getting advice they don’t want to hear.
The third, a mystery plot line, didn’t work as well for me, and perhaps this explains it being solved before the climax. I figured out who was causing trouble on the set at the first (and possibly only) hint in the early third of the book. But that’s not the biggest issue. Sabrina and Nick being the only ones on the set to connect a complete change of character to deliberate undermining didn’t make sense to me. Sure, there was a little bad luck and a chef who didn’t check his ingredients personally, but the director wouldn’t have let it go so long without investigating why her set was a comedy of errors.
However, the mystery is the only weak part. The way the filming of the morning show comes to life with both physical and spoken humor is wonderful. The depth of characterization makes even secondary characters feel real, and with the leads, Sabrina’s blinders when someone harms her family, even when that someone is her father, trip her up more than once. It’s her one trigger where she doesn’t stop to get the full story. When she has glimpses of the missing information, it’s powerful.
Nick, on the other hand, is mostly closed off when in a professional context. The personal glimpses of him with any member of his larger family are lovely. We are shown what kind of person he is when he talks about his grandparents, and when he interacts with his niece and mother. It’s even evident on stage when they interview a support dog trainer and Nick gets down on the floor to play with the puppies.
I have many more notes of things I wanted to mention, some avoided for spoiler reasons, but this review is long enough. There are open door relationship scenes, awkward catches by paparazzi, and a lovely exploration of what it means to be family in good times and bad. Between tender, sad, and humorous moments, the story is nicely balanced. Besides, one of the supporting characters is a dog.
P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley.