It wouldn’t be the theater without a few theatrics…
Becoming a famous playwright is all Winnie ever dreamed about. For now, though, she'll have to settle for assisting the celebrated, sharp-witted feminist playwright Juliette Brassard. When an experimental theater company in London, England, decides to stage Juliette's most renowned play, The Lights of Trafalgar, Winnie and Juliette pack their bags and hop across the pond.
But the trip goes sideways faster than you can say "tea and crumpets." Juliette stubbornly butts heads with the play's director and Winnie is left stage-managing their relationship. Meanwhile, Winnie's own work seems to have stalled, and though Juliette keeps promising to read it, she always has some vague reason why she can't. Then, Juliette's nephew, Liam, enters stage left. He's handsome, he's smart, he is devastatingly British…and his family ties to Juliette pose a serious problem, forcing Winnie to keep their burgeoning relationship on the down-low. What could go wrong?
Balancing a production seemingly headed for disaster, a secret romance and the sweetest, most rambunctious rescue dog, will Winnie save the play, make her own dreams come true and find love along the way—or will the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune get the best of her?
***This review contains spoilers ***
I wanted to love this book. It appeals to my interest in England and my enjoyment of theater, and it has a dog. In the end, I came away with mixed feelings. There were many things I liked about this story but some that just seriously didn’t work for me.
On the plus side, Winnie is hard-working, loyal, and affectionate. Her insecurity about the play she’s trying to write is explained well, making it believable and sympathetic. Liam is a nice guy who has had a rough time lately despite business success. He’s at loose ends personally but for understandable reasons.
Juliette generally comes across well despite being a bit self-centered, and Roshni, her other assistant, is a lively, warm, loyal and encouraging friend to Winnie. In fact, I would say she’s Winnie’s closest friend based the way the two interact. That was one of my problems with the ending.
The other supporting characters, the play’s director, her partner, and the cast have minor roles, but the director really shines. She’s professional, talented, and not intimidated by Juliette’s fame. She’s also helpful to Winnie in a way Juliette hasn’t been.
Winnie’s first date with Liam is a lovely tour of London with beautifully written banter and more earnest conversation.
On the downside, the story starts slowly. There’s more than I needed about Juliette’s career and Winnie’s stalled efforts as a playwright in the first two chapters. To me, the story really begins in London. The action picks up once the characters arrive there.
Juliette gives her assistants the occasional great perk, such as tickets to a sold-out show, but doesn’t take much interest in them personally. She promises to help Winnie with her play but never follows through. That’s not bad in itself, especially since she’s not the heroine, but it’s part of my problem with the ending.
Juliette more or less orders Winnie to go out blind dates via an app so Juliette can get stories that might break her out of whatever is stalling her playwriting efforts. Winnie agrees to go, although reluctantly. At one of these dates, Liam appears at the café that’s the designated meeting place. When he finds out about the planned meeting, he sticks around and crashes it. Or he would’ve if Winnie hadn’t agreed to see him later.
The banter between Winnie and Liam is generally great, but every once in a while, Winnie says something harsh that throws him off his stride. Yet this doesn’t lead her to moderate her approach. At one point, he drops by the flat where Winnie is working with Juliette, and Winnie thinks of him as a gigolo. This was not depicted as humorous and threw me off. He isn’t dating anyone else, she isn’t paying him to date her, and I saw no reason for applying that label to this nice guy.
A neighbor offers to watch the stray dog Winnie rescued. Since Juliette knows his family, Winnie agrees. He seems like a nice guy until he mentions his fluffy pajamas and his bedroom slippers to her during their first conversation. Then she takes an interest in the slippers, tries them on and even borrows them. From this guy she just met. For me, this crosses a line on both their parts, and I found it off-putting.
Juliette and her sister are estranged. When her sister, Isabelle, drops by in hopes of seeing Juliette, who isn’t home, she and Winnie talk some about the sisters’ shared history. At one point, Isabelle mentions her husband, and Winnie asks her whether Juliette liked him. That also crosses a line for me. If Winnie wants to know how Juliette once felt about her brother-in-law, she should ask Juliette.
Winnie’s intrusive behavior grows worse. She learns Juliette had a serious relationship when she lived in England years before. When she and Juliette discuss it, Juliette seems to have nostalgic feelings about it. So Winnie decides to track down Juliette’s former love and lies to Liam to get him to help her. She then asks the man questions about his history with Juliette.
Undercurrents between Winnie and Juliette erupt eventually, severing their relationship. Winnie goes on to success as a playwright, and Liam sets up a meeting between the two. Winnie and Juliette talk through their differences. Several years later, they’re on a more equal footing. All that is well done—until the moment Winnie says Juliette was her dearest friend. This didn’t work for me because Juliette hadn’t behaved like a good friend and had done some manipulative and underhanded things.
No hint of their being good friends appears in the early part of the book, though a good relationship implicitly happens between the epilogs. If anyone in the book is Winnie’s closest friend, it’s her fellow assistant, Roshni. They support, encourage, and trust each other throughout. They keep each other’s secrets while Winnie is keeping secrets from Juliette.
The romantic ending is handled beautifully and is satisfying. The conflict between Winnie and Juliette, for the reasons noted above, is not.
Near the end of the book, there is a lovely scene between Winnie and her stepmother, but it didn’t seem necessary to the overall story. While the book contains some references to Winnie liking her stepmother but regretting that they aren’t close, this isn’t a major element of the plot.
Overall, there is much to like about these characters and the story. The relationship between Winnie and Liam develops nicely despite the occasional stumble. I had some serious issues, though, with the bits I didn’t feel worked well. Despite that, I do recommend the book, especially for Anglophiles and theater fans.