A witty and meticulously researched treat for devotees of old Hollywood.

THE LIMITS OF LIMELIGHT

An Oklahoma teenager arrives in Hollywood and enters a glamorous world thanks to her famous cousin in this historical novel set in the 1930s and based on a true story.

Helen Nichols is a pretty, intelligent high school student in Oklahoma. Her early life is marked by tragedy. At 10 months old, Helen and her mother and sister, Jean, are injured in a gas explosion that kills her father. Helen is also run over by a truck as a child. The Nichols sisters and their cousin Ginger Rogers live with their grandparents while Helen’s mother and Aunt Lela establish themselves in careers and remarry. Lela, the first female Marine sergeant, has written and produced military training films but devotes her energy to promoting the career of her only child, Ginger. In her early 20s, Ginger is a rising star, navigating the studio contract system with the help of her indefatigable “momager.” Lela and Ginger are convinced that Helen has the looks to land an RKO contract. With a new name, Phyllis Fraser, and financial support from her aunt and cousin, she moves to Hollywood. Although she lacks Ginger’s exceptional talent, Phyllis is offered a bit part and enjoys limited success in various films. Living with Ginger and Lela, Phyllis meets notable neighbors, including Harpo Marx and Clara Bow. When Phyllis and her relatives attend a play starring newcomer Humphrey Bogart, Lela comments: “Terrible name. He should change it.” There are many intriguing historical facts in Porter’s well-researched book. Author Ayn Rand was a wardrobe assistant for many mediocre films. When Ginger Rogers read that Adele Astaire was moving to Ireland and leaving her brother without his dance partner, she cried: “What on earth will Fred do without her?” The entertaining novel details a succession of trysts and marriages among the young actresses. Ultimately disheartened, Phyllis decides to devote herself to writing, which brings her to New York and into the orbit of New Yorker editor Harold Ross and his close friend Random House editor Bennett Cerf. She soon marries Cerf, who is twice her age. More compelling than the litany of stars, wannabes, and their mostly forgettable films is the section devoted to Phyllis’ life in New York, her work on Madison Avenue, and her unusual “hot desk” arrangement there with Ted Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.

A witty and meticulously researched treat for devotees of old Hollywood.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9907420-1-2

Page Count: 391

Publisher: Gallica Press

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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