Friday, May 30, 2014

Guest Book Review: Star Attraction

By Jacqueline Friedland

We’ve all had our fantasies about meeting a Hollywood heartthrob. Whether it’s Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher or George Clooney, the question we all have is the same: What would it take for him, this Hollywood uber-star, to notice me? Would I be able to show him in the span of a single conversation how wonderfully substantial and unique I am? Would he see past my not-quite-supermodel looks into my totally fascinating soul? And then we wonder, what would happen if that heartthrob actually did take a shine to us? Would we be able to hack it out there in Hollywood, the land of the aesthetically perfect and the home of the morally depraved? Is it even possible to have a real relationship in a place like that, or are we just getting ourselves all hot and bothered over nothing?

These are the questions Vanessa Stubbs explores in her debut novel, Star Attraction. The book opens by introducing us to Madison Edwards, the stressed out, over-worked, under-appreciated Australian journalist, who prides herself on the “seriousness” of her journalism. Sadly, Madison’s news pieces seem to keep moving further away from the front of the paper as her editors make room for celebrity gossip and other trash that Madison simply feels is not news. Making matters worse is Madison’s most recent assignment, an interview with America’s biggest movie star during his visit to Australia. Madison flat-out refuses to waste her time in such a way…until she realizes that her job at the paper is on the line.

Cut to Jamie Hall, sizzling hot movie megastar who hops from lavish party to more lavish party with beautiful girls dripping off his elbows. If only he had more arms, there’d be more hotties hanging off them. But here’s the big reveal: Jamie’s a substantial guy who can’t stand the life he is living. He enjoys being an actor, but he deplores the way people are always using him. So when Madison Edwards shows up and starts asking all the hard questions, questions that other kiss-ass journalists would generally avoid, he basically hates her guts. It obviously comes as a big surprise to both of them then when a chance meeting a few days later leads to an impromptu courtship. Unfortunately, a movie star who’s seeking sincerity should know better than to trust a journalist. Or should he?

As Stubbs details the challenges that Madison and Jamie face, she also shows the ugly side of fame. She focuses on the loneliness Jamie feels when he’s locked away in penthouse hotel rooms, prevented from leaving by his fear of getting mobbed. In the few years that he’s been famous, even his relationship with his parents has started to get a bit weird. Just like with Jamie, Stubbs also uses Madison to provide an exposé of newspaper journalism, portraying the favoritism that generates lead articles and the frustration that committed journalists suffer in trying to focus on anything other than the bottom line.

Interestingly, although this book is about the love affair between Madison and Jamie, some of the best parts of the story have absolutely nothing to do with their relationship. For example, Madison has a very complicated relationship with her parents and sister. She also has two special girlfriends who are so dynamic that they nearly jump off the page. In many ways, the book is a commentary on the life of working women, on single women, on girlfriends. Similarly, the way Stubbs handles Jamie’s estrangement from his childhood friend Si is rife with emotional intrigue and heart-tugging moments.

It’s lucky that these other aspects of the story are so engrossing, as Jamie and Madison actually spend very little of the novel in scene together. The interactions they do have, however, are memorable enough to make me forgive Stubbs for not providing more of them. Stubbs herself is an Australian journalist with experience interviewing famous stars, which leads one to think that the details of crazy celebrity-ness she provides aren’t actually so far-fetched or crazy after all. The book is a bit of a case study on the lives of celebrities and the people who surround them. Yes, there are many elements of the plot that play out in predictable ways, but Stubbs’ writing is sufficiently engaging that it’s enough to watch how she gets these particular characters to where you will already know they are going. Star Attraction is a current and thought-provoking romance that is sure to entertain.

Thanks to Penguin Australia for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Jacqueline Berkell Friedland is currently an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, where she is studying fiction. She if a former attorney and law school professor. When she is not writing, Jacqueline can be found plowing through novels or chasing after her four young children.

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