Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Touch of Stardust ~ Kate Alcott (arc) review [@doubledaypub]

A Touch of Stardust
February 17, 2015
304 pages
add to Goodreads/buy from TBD/or Amazon

From The New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker, comes a blockbuster novel that takes you behind-the-scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind, while turning the spotlight on the passionate romance between its dashing leading man, Clark Gable, and the blithe, free-spirited actress, Carole Lombard.

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana for Hollywood, she never imagines she'll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie's provincial Midwestern hometown. Although the young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, the only job Julie's able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick —who is busy burning through directors, writers and money as he begins filming Gone with the Wind.

Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world ofGone with the Wind come to life. Julie's access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable—who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler.

Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio as Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blonde employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole's mouth, and--as their friendship grows - soon finds she doesn't want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie's model for breaking free of the past.

In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and off screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny fa├žade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance career aspirations and her own budding romance with outsized personalities and the overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight.

A Touch of Stardust is a novel I was really looking forward to. Kate Alcott's The Dressmaker (my review) was a great read and I loved the mix of a historic setting (The Titanic), real people, and fictional characters. I was excited to see how she used those same elements in a new story, this time revolving around the making of Gone with the Wind.

While I haven't actually ever read Margaret Mitchell's novel and have sen the movie but never loved it, I enjoy the time period and some Old Hollywood tales. In A Touch of Stardust Alcott takes things that can be interesting enough on their own: the Gone with the Wind movie, Hollywood just before World War II, a young woman trying to make a life for herself - quite different from the one her parents expected and brings them together for a tale that's pretty magical.

Aspiring screenwriter Julie Crawford has left Fort Wayne, Indiana and her expected marriage behind and is now in Hollywood. A chance encounter on the set of the new film Gone with the Wind alters the course of her life.

While Julie finds a romance she never expected, she also finds working for Carole Lombard and more a part of the filming of the epic movie and interacting more with its cast and crew than she expected.

Julie is a fun character to experience the story with. She doesn't quite fit the mold, she's left her parents and the security of her hometown and boyfriend behind for the unexpected of Los Angeles. She's going to be a screenwriter - or so she hopes. I like that we're given her character to identify with as all of the craziness, the excess, even the cynicism surrounding the other characters and the filming transpires.

Even though Julie is the more relateable character, Carole Lombard is definitely my favorite of the novel. Before A Touch of Stardust I would have recognized her name, but not known anything about her. Now, I love her. She's a great balance to Julie's character (or, I suppose, Julie's a great balance to her as one's real and the other created). Everything from her language, to her strength and refusal to conform to her love for Gable make her a fantastic character (and most of that seems to be true to who she was). She has an unforgettable personality.

Those who like Gone with the Wind, the novel or the film, will likely love the little bits about the the script issues, the struggle to translate book to screen; the problems that cast had and the bits about different, specific scenes.

The characters all come across as so alive and so real, though, that you don't need to be a fan of Gone with the Wind to be a fan of them and of A Touch of Stardust. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard's romance, Julie's transition to life in Hollywood, her relationship, the friendship between Carole and Julie, the demands of producer Selznick, and even the racial issues surrounding the movie -from filming through release - all combine for a fantastic story.

There were a lot of things I hadn't realized about filming movies, in general, at that time and countless things I didn't know about the making of Gone with the Wind or about its cast. Even as we love the characters and it feels about them, the author does a superb job also including the racial tensions and issues that were present, what was happening with Nazi Germany and around Europe and the trouble women faced doing something other than getting married and having children.

You needn't already be a fan of Gone with the Wind, Old Hollywood, or Carole Lombard to read A Touch of Stardust, but it's likely you will be after.

thank you to the publisher for my advance copy to review

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