I Read Lucy Parker’s BATTLE ROYAL

I have, of late, like Hamlet, lost all my mirth and romance seems stale and, dare I say it, puerile. I read one of my favourite contemporary romance authors, Lucy Parker, to get my romance-mojo back, her latest and first in a new series, Battle Royal. While there were aspects I loved, and it sustained my interest throughout, by the end, I was left with “meh, it was all right.” I loved the baking-rivals-turned-lovers, Dominic De Vere and Sylvie Fairchild, and it satisfied my great love for the The Great British Bake-Off, but it was 100 pages too long and unravelled in a disappointing way.

Dominic and Sylvie are delicious; they’re reading confections, and their rivalry, a delight. He was the stern judge on Operation Cake to her sparkles-and-icing-sugar excess: one exploding unicorn-cake later and she is booted on her bootie. Years later, now a successful baker, her shop faces his and the rivalry is renewed when they’re both up for making the royal wedding cake: may the best baker win! Like a cake that shows rising promise, the first half of Battle Royal was marvellous: witty, funny, endearing, with two protagonists who can quip, tease, and banter with the best of them … then, it fizzled and deflated like a failed soufflé.

Dominic is austere, classical, Apollonian perfection to Sylvie’s riotous, the-more-spun-sugar-the-better, Dionysian excess. Dominic is cool-one-brow-cocked to Sylvie’s wide grin. It’s so easy to see they belong together and so much fun to look forward to how they’ll be the last to know it. Parker does a marvellous thing with Dominic: she plays one of her best hands when she recreates her signature sympathetic poor little rich boy (like my heart’s fave, Richard Troy of Act Like It, rival only to The Austen Playbook as my favourite Parker). Dominic wasn’t loved or cuddled as a child and now he has trouble feeling, expressing tenderness, or being held. Sadly, Dominic, whom I LOVED, went from cool detachment to tenderness-oozing snuggle-bear without rhyme or reason. If he’s cool and detached because of childhood trauma, a writer needs to show how he emerges from that to the light of love and especially attachment. I love a cold-fish-hero who is transformed by love, but I do need a little development to show me how he gets there. Like most romance-readers I can’t stand insta-lust, but insta-glom is an under-rated and under-reported romance sin.

Sylvie and Dom are so great, I can forgive and still sigh with reading pleasure, but Parker “added” two secondary romances to Sylvie and Dom’s: a tragic one set in the past and the bespoke-cake princess’s with her commoner groom-to-be. The tragic love affair (of the princess’s uncle, RIP, and his commoner lover, Jessica, let’s call them the anti-Wallis-Edward-VIII) was sentimental, melodramatic drivel. Then, a romantic suspense plot surrounded the princess and her fiancé that grated on my nerves when its solution, ONCE AGAIN, resorted to a character suffering from a mental illness who behaves in a violent manner. Argh: why this short-cut to plot, Ms Parker? My impression is Parker only had one terrific romance to tell, Dom and Sylvie’s, the length of a category, but contracts will be contracts and demand their page count. Tacked on characters and plot meanders: it creaked along and I could feel every single one of Parker’s contrivances. Except for her sequel-bait, dammit: Dom’s sister’s romance is next. Petunia De Vere was sheer delight: chutzpah, vulnerability, and an ethos of “where angels fear to tread”. She’s irresistible and even though I wish Parker had stuck with her Carina production, I’ll follow her to this Avon-flattening-out of her originality if only to get the occasional glimpse of it. Petunia shows promise; don’t ruin it, Avon. (Also, I really really hate the cartoon cover.)  

39 thoughts on “I Read Lucy Parker’s BATTLE ROYAL

    1. If she publishes it as she did with the previous ones! Let’s hope so. I think Carina did her better than Avon … the flattening-out of what makes her so great, the movement towards Sonali-Dev-inspired WF. I don’t like it! Harrumph. I’ll have to resort to rereads and OOP Regency titles for my romance reading, the way things are going. #curmudgeon

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  1. It was a fun read but had me going right back to a re-read of Pretty Face, which is my favorite. This first book didn’t get me so invested in her new world that I’m dying to read the next. And I HATE cartoon covers. Since I read digitally, it’s not a deal breaker, but I’m probably missing some good books because of this new trend.

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    1. I hate them so. I think they’re a symptom of increasing infantilism on the part of romance readers. Or may I’m an old nasty crone, but I don’t find it cute or appealing at all. It’s up there with the clinch cover for hated covers.

      I would like to read Petunia’s story, but I’ll look forward to Charlie way more than the next one in this series.

      I ADORE Pretty Face, but then I’ve loved all of those, except for Making Up.

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      1. I’m usually okay with them — and they’re a gift in many ways for authors of color — but I thought this one very drab, and it doesn’t do justice to the characters.

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        1. Are they, a gift for authors of colour? Why?

          I hate the clinch covers, as unrealistic as the cartoon covers. But I’m a cover-curmudgeon. It’s rare that I heartily approve of any. I prefer non-human covers, especially landscapes and still lifes. But I’m sure they don’t sell romance, rom-com, and sometimes, they smack way too much of WF. *shudders*

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          1. Here’s an article that goes into it a bit: https://lovelyaudiobooks.info/illustrated-romance-novel-covers/

            And while I was googling, found this interesting one about why the covers are bad for romance: https://www.whoamancepodcast.com/all-blog-posts/2020/5/11/6-reasons-cartoon-covers-are-bad-for-romance

            I was bit by this recently. Saw a book that looked YA-ish, but the blurb sounded adult, so I decided to read it. It was YA. Seriously, who can tell anymore?

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            1. You can’t tell, except by being finty-eyed suspicious of all cartoon covers, which doesn’t do the genre any favours. OTOH, with a pub like Avon, I don’t think I’m who they were thinking of attracting to Parker’s latest.

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    2. P. S. I don’t think you’re missing a thing. I think cartoon covers are a “trend” where romance is going the way of WF. Where o where is Sarah Morgan? Lost forever to the world of WF.

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  2. I agree about the way the side plots gummed up the works. I was basically enjoying the main characters and their arcs, though I was pretty dubious about the weird witchy bakery aspect. I recently read another ‘royal’ romance, Emma Chase’s Royally Screwed, which turned out also to involve baking (though not so centrally) and actually I enjoyed it a lot more, despite the click bait title and cheesy cover.

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    1. Yes, the mains were great, very likeable, and well-rounded, I thought, until Dominic turned to teddy-bear mode. And then Sylvie’s turnaround as the “closed-off” one, not terribly convincing considering how she spent most of the narrative emoting. But, as I said in my post, I’m forgiving b/c I really liked them. Also, Petunia was great, as was the homicidal cat, Humphrey. That’s where Parker shone through; the rest was her new publisher sticking her in a mold. Sad.

      I’m not a fan of the royal romance (raging anti-monarchist here) and this was another puerile aspect to Parker’s almost-romance. I mean they weren’t the English royals and yet, it was set in England. So, it made one of Parker’s strength, her London settings, London and not-London.

      I’m reading Bliss Bennet’s new romance, out tomorrow, and it’s terrific so far. I’m going to enjoy lauding it if it sustains this level of goodness.

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      1. Oh, excellent point! The alternate royals bothered me at the time, but I didn’t make that connection.

        Talking about good books we’re reading, I am just loving _Seven Days in June_. Writing so sharp you barely notice it cutting you.

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  3. I enjoyed “Act Like It”, she’s a very good writer, but enemies/rivals to lovers is just not a favorite trope. And that seems to be all she does from what I gather? Also, I know this is heresy, but I don’t like the Great British Bake-Off. I turned it off after 15 minutes of one episode. I love to bake, and I watch cooking shows, but I prefer the ones that have real food that people eat. I could watch Jacques Pepin’s Facebook videos all day.

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    1. It’s true, that is her favourite romance ethos. She likes to tell the P&P narrative over and over again. It either works, or it doesn’t. It’s unfortunate b/c she really is a good writer. But Avon didn’t do her any favours with this one.

      I actually don’t watch GBBO anymore, not since Mary Berry left. I can’t stand the new additions. They’re annoying. I do like to watch all the PBS cooking shows, though.

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  4. So I’ll die on the hill that A LOT of contemporary romance would be very good if authors and publishers would just embrace category length LOL. Padding – be it cutesy small town shenanigans, uninspired secondary romances or, worse yet, uninspired love scenes that scream I’M HERE BECAUSE THE AUTHOR HAS TO MAKE WORD COUNT! Yeah, I pretty much loathe it all. We can be cranky old cranks together.

    (Also, did you deactivate your Twitter account? No judgements – just curious because I went looking for you and couldn’t find you….)

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    1. Exactly!!! Nothing says it better than Wendy!

      Yes, I did. I wanted to stop my mindless scrolling as a coping mechanism for work overload. I gained a bit of reading time and I’m still on GR and the blog. I’ve stopped accepting ARCs and am looking forward to getting back to the TBR Challenge!!

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      1. Good for you! I’ve limited my Twitter time considerably but I still tend to spend too much time on my phone and not reading. My mindless activity post-work is games. I spend too much time playing games on my phone and not reading. Sigh.

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        1. Honestly, it’s really hard and I still crave the mindless scrolling outlet. But I’ve taken up all manner of cooking and baking to help me focus. Anything but a screen is my motto! Mainly b/c while I never “stopped” reading, I was having trouble sustaining reading for longer than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. When I used to read for “hours”.

          That being said, the pressures of work and family and general angst brought on by the news and the earth hurtling towards incineration, well, doing whatever gives you a break is just fine.

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            1. No, it’s exhaustion. I remember finishing grad school and having the same experience. You’ll come back to reading, even take joy in it again, but it does take time, like food, to relearn the ability to let your mind/taste/inclination take you where it lists. I think the hardest thing is getting out of the how-can-I-use-this? groove. I took it lightly, but it’s taken me years. Twitter doesn’t help b/c there are always Twitterscenti who are ready to tell you what’s great to read and what is “bad” for you.

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            2. OMG – Miss Bates is right. It’s exhaustion. I just a total light bulb moment. When I was in college I did not read for pleasure. Even in the summer months because I was often carrying 1-2 summer classes. Then add work on top of that. My way to unwind my brain was soap operas. I kept up with 4 daytime dramas, watched old Dallas reruns, and Melrose Place was appointment TV. I shudder to think what I would have been like if social media existed – probably catatonic!

              Once I finished school and got a full-time job, I gave up my soap habit and went back to reading. First to mystery/suspense (the gene of my youth) and then I discovered romance. All this to say that we’ll likely all get back to enjoying reading – it just may take some time and arrive in other forms/genres….

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            3. I watched a LOT of soaps when I was in university and then the soul-destroying experience of grad school. I kind of love them. I grew up on Another World, which is not for the likes of you young ones.

              Having a job and giving up on the whole snooty “I have a career” thing also helps you to put boundaries around your time and then, the “long-form” reading is a thing of joy. I like writing too and that too suffered from an excess of social media.

              But I admire you guys: you navigate Twitter well. I can’t be on it and not spend an hour at least per day of mindless scrolling. I do miss the rom convos though. I agree with Willa: let’s try to blog and comment more.

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            4. I agree with you both. It is definitely exhaustion. As an undergrad, I was obsessed with Days of Our Lives and Mills & Boon romance to get me through. This time around it was mostly social media that energised me (until it didn’t so I am now mostly not there or just lurking). However, this exhaustion has lasted way too long. Since March! Though I had a minor head injury to recover from (!!!!) and then a three month lockdown. I only just started being able to focus on reading a full journal article this month. Next step – novels…hopefully!

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            5. No I haven’t. I just added it to my TBR. Thank you! I’m currently reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird – it’s a mix of memoir and writing craft and is so lovely that I am flying through it.

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      1. For romance, it is the best length, which gives the bestest romance. But, alas, category romances ain’t what they used to be, or at least the ones coming from the traditional category pubs. We may even stretch it to the old Signet Regency trads, that was a good length for them too. Witness Balogh, great trads, flawed lengthy ones.

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        1. No they are not what they used to be. They have had their heyday however I am of the firm opinion that they will become great again. Perhaps not through the same publishers (sob) but I certainly believe that there is a demand for shorter, tighter fiction.

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  5. I generally find that when I cut back on my social media, my ability to concentrate on books much improves, and I’ve heard this from others as well, so I suspect exhaustion is indeed the culprit. As well as the “reading for utility” mindset.

    I miss you both though. 😦 We must all try to blog more often, I guess.

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