Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: December 15, 2015

In this new novel from the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life, two women working in Hollywood during its Golden Age discover the joy and heartbreak of true friendship. Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind ends up in Christine McAllister's vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie… Los Angeles, 1938. Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey's zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood's glitterati enthrall Violet… until each woman's deepest desires collide. What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

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I was really excited when I landed a copy of Susan Meissner’s Stars Over Sunset Boulevard. I love old Hollywood and Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite films. The jacket description piqued my interest and I was absolutely giddy over the subject matter. 

Unfortunately for me, this is one of those scenarios in which reality failed to meet expectation. I's hoped Stars Over Sunset Boulevard would bridge the gap between A Touch of Stardust and The Woman in the Movie Star Dress, but the novel did neither. I might have fared better if I'd been able to relate to the character, but I unsuccessful there too. 

While the novel takes place during the filming of Gone With the Wind, Stars Over Sunset Boulevard is primarily about two women. It is a chronicle of the friendship they share, the decisions they make, the lies they tell, and repercussions their actions reap over the natural course of time. There are some fun anecdotes about the famous film, but Meissner’s work is more Women’s Fiction than Hollywood Historical. I’ve nothing against that, but the historic subject matter is what drew me to this title and I was disappointed that it played second fiddle to the personal drama of her leads. 

I also had great difficulty with Meissner’s writing style, format and structure. The narrative features a variety of locations and I felt the transitions between them awkward. I had similar feelings about the timeline and felt the narrative distinctly one-sided. The modern elements lacked intrigue and would have been content without the experiences of the younger generation.

A Touch of Stardust had many flaws, but at the end of the day I think Alcott’s interpretation of the filming of Gone With the Wind stronger than Meissner’s. Asthana’s storyline is modern, but his use of iconic clothing in The Woman in the Movie Star Dress is decidedly more creative than Meissner's effort in Stars Over Sunset Boulevard. The latter title definitely had moments and I found it entertaining enough to finish, but I think it pales in comparison to novels with similar subject matter and would have difficulty recommending as more than a beach read. 

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Violet looked up at her friend. Sometimes, as at that moment, Violet could see Audrey in her mind’s eye, sitting on the little cement bench at the studio commissary the first day she met her and the two of them were both young and full of dreams. They’d both managed to seize what they had so desperately wanted. And yet here they were, all these many years later, and it seemed as if what she had so determinedly clutched to her chest was struggling to free itself from her grasp. 
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