Posts Tagged A Touch of Stardust

STEELE PICKS: BEST FICTION of 2015

To provide a bit of background, I read 150 books in 2015. I wrote 52 reviews for 2015 releases on this site. I gave very few books 5/5*. I am currently reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara so since I started it in 2015, I reserve the right to include it in my best of 2015 list.

Here are my picks for best fiction:

Outline by Rachel Cusk [Farrar, Straus and Giroux]
–gorgeous writing. purchase at Amazon: Outline: A Novel

outline

Where Women are Kings by Christie Watson [Other Press]
–from my review: Simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Stunning. Entwines race, foster families, adoption, mental illness and cultural differences with exquisite descriptions and phrasing. purchase at Amazon: Where Women Are Kings

where women are kings

The Green Road by Anne Enright [W. W. Norton & Company]
–from my review: A perfect novel with imperfect characters that spans decades and continents. purchase at Amazon: The Green Road: A Novel

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The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro [Algonquin]
–from my review: When you think every WWII story has been told, an original narrative comes along and you realize there’s a plethora of war stories remaining to be explored and shared. Abstract expressionist art, French refugees and the WPA collide in this riveting historical fiction novel that focuses on the sudden disappearance of young Jewish-American artist Alizée Benoit. purchase at Amazon: The Muralist: A Novel

muralist

Katherine Carlyle by Rupert Thomson [Other Press]
–from my review: Rather haunting and definitely unusual. It’s tough to describe except to say it’s part mystery and part personal exploration. A strange story –in a good way– with gorgeous writing and an intriguing story-line. purchase at Amazon: Katherine Carlyle

katherine carlyle

The Last September by Nina de Gramont [Algonquin]
–from my review: excellent characters and a dazzling story-line involving mental illness, family, infidelity, relationships, love and murder. purchase at Amazon: The Last September

last september

Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht [Harper Perennial]
–engrossing, beautiful and creative novel about a group of 30-somethings finding their place in the world. purchase at Amazon: Migratory Animals: A Novel (P.S.)

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Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman [Scribner]
–from my review: Brilliant concept and exquisitely written. This short story collection focuses on intriguing, bold and remarkable women from history. It’s edgy historical fiction. These women lived life as they chose to live it which likely made them misfits and outliers during their lifetimes. purchase at Amazon: Almost Famous Women: Stories by Mayhew Bergman, Megan (2015) Hardcover

almost famous women

The Travels of Daniel Ascher by Déborah Lévy-Bertherat [Other Press]
from my review: Touching, creative, lovely novel. It tells the story of a child of the Holocaust in a unique manner. purchase at Amazon: The Travels of Daniel Ascher

ascher

Music for Wartime: stories by Rebecca Makkai [Viking]
–from my review: an exceptional, stunning and creative short-story collection. purchase at Amazon: Music for Wartime: Stories

music for wartime

The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North [Blue Rider Press]
–from my review: a fascinating novel about creativity, artists, fitting in and being satisfied with success, fame and how we perceive ourselves and how we want others to understand us. Sophie Stark, who changed her name to suit her persona, is a renowned and elusive filmmaker. She makes enigmatic and often strikingly sad, honest films that strip bare the characters and dig into their psyches. purchase at Amazon: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

life and death of sophie stark

Aquarium by David Vann [Atlantic Monthly Press]
–from my review: This is Vann’s first novel centered on a female protagonist. Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives in Seattle with her dockworker single mother. Older now, Caitlin looks back on this time with the wisdom one gains through age and experience. There’s a lighter tone than previous works until events draw to a boiling point for Caitlin and her mother. Every day after school Caitlin visits the aquarium to study the fish while waiting for her mom to finish work and retrieve her. She finds the various fish and sea life fascinating and allows herself contemplation and solitude. purchase at Amazon: Aquarium

aquarium

Tightrope by Simon Mawer [Other Press]
-Feminist character Marian Sutro returns from WWII determined to find her place. from my review: Mawer writes exquisitely and Tightrope draws you in to Marian’s life, the consequences of her actions during WWII and how she copes in the present. On the cover, Marian looks like she’s in a Tamara de Lempicka painting. She’d be an ideal subject for the bold artist. Mawer includes cold war fears, atomic bombs, a gay scientist (Marian’s brother) as well as Marian’s love affair with a Russian Jew. purchase at Amazon: Tightrope

tightrope

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott [Doubleday]
–from my review: Kate Alcott writes spectacularly strong feminist female characters in historical fiction. Women who want to have careers and love. Women who juggle and manage both. Or learn from their decisions. They’re smart protagonists and Alcott has quickly become a must-read favorite author for me. She intermingles her fictional characters in real-life historical settings and it works. purchase at Amazon: A Touch of Stardust: A Novel

touch of stardust

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book review: A Touch of Stardust

touch of stardust

A Touch of Stardust By Kate Alcott.
Doubleday|February 2015.|296 pages|$25.00|ISBN: 978-0-385-53904-3

Rating: *****/5*

Kate Alcott writes spectacularly strong feminist female characters in historical fiction. Women who want to have careers and love. Women who juggle and manage both. Or learn from their decisions. They’re smart protagonists and Alcott has quickly become a must-read favorite author for me. She intermingles her fictional characters in real-life historical settings and it works.

Last year Alcott’s The Daring Ladies of Lowell – a superb story about the Lowell mill girls based on actual events–made my 12 Best Fiction Books of 2014 list. A Touch of Stardust finds Midwesterner Julie Crawford on the set of Gone with the Wind. It’s 1938 and the young woman dreams of being a screenwriter like Frances Marion who wrote scripts for the legendary Mary Pickwick. Crawford works in the publicity office of producer David O. Selznick like her rooming house mate Rose, who dreams of being an actress like many young women who venture to Los Angeles.

This is the perfect historical fiction novel to dip into before the Academy Awards. It’s an ideal way to spend a winter weekend day. Hollywood. Old glamour. Vintage dreams. The era when stars and screenwriters contracted with specific studios. Alcott writes about the filming of Gone with the Wind and its many difficulties as well as the romance between leading man Clark Gable [Rhett Butler] and free-spirited Carole Lombard, known for her slapstick comedies. At the beginning it’s scandalous because Gable’s still married and Lombard doesn’t keep the relationship a secret. She’s bold and delightful. You’ll want to read much more about this short-lived romance and marriage. Meticulously researched, Alcott includes wonderful details about the Gone with the Wind set and filming as well as the relationship between Lombard and Gable

Alcott describes the film set: “Each morning, she pulled herself from bed and joined the cleaning ladies and plumbers and other sleepy travelers on the 5:00 a.m. bus to get to the studio early. That way, she could step onto the back lot alone and be in the old South and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. In front of Tara, the trees that had been fashioned over telephone poles looked real, and if she hadn’t known the dogwood blossoms were made of white paper, the illusion would have been complete.”

Plucky, determined Julie Crawford bumps into Lombard on set and the Smith College graduate impresses Lombard who asks her to work as her personal assistant. Crawford soon becomes part of Lombard and Gable’s rather glamorous lifestyle. Through a few introductions, she works her way to screenwriting. Lombard becomes a dear friend, confidant, older sister and advisor. By year’s end she’s rewriting scripts and quite content in her new profession and new city. In the meantime she becomes involved with an older associate producer, Andy Weinstein. They start slow but soon fall for each other. Complications arise due to the age difference, his being Jewish and their varied careers. As WWII intensifies Weinstein, who has family in Germany and France, feels compelled to enlist in the American Red Cross. Until then he’s working diligently on Gone with the Wind and supports his new girlfriend’s screenwriting endeavors.

Kate Alcott’s father-in-law Herman Mankiewicz won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay with Orson Welles for Citizen Kane. He also wrote Cleopatra and All About Eve. This is one area in which she has some insider insight. And it’s fantastic.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.

purchase at Amazon: A Touch of Stardust: A Novel

Gone with the Wind

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