Miss Bates isn’t keen on films, or novels set in the early 1960s. She doesn’t like the bouffant dos, or sprawling skirts. For some – ahem, white males – Americans, however, it was an exciting, vibrant time and remains an unexplored setting for romance. It’s fitting that Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s collaboration, Star Dust (first in the “Fly Me To the Moon” series) is set during America’s “space race” with the Soviet Union. Uncharted territory then, and uncharted setting in romance. Barry and Turner’s Texas-set romance features Lieutenant Commander Christoper “Kit” Campbell, a blond, blue-eyed giant of an astronaut and Anne-Marie Smith, a diminutive divorcée and mother of two adorable children. They meet as bickering neighbours when Anne-Marie, Lisa, and Freddie move next door to Kit. Anne-Marie and Kit become friends over back-porch star-gazing, add benefits to friendship, fall in love, and achieve an HEA.
For Kit, falling in love with Anne-Marie means questioning his heretofore bachelor life. He falls hard and first. (Miss Bates loves the trope where the hero is a goner for the heroine way before she for him.) Kit’s achieved fame and fortune. (Anne-Marie immediately recognizes her handsome neighbour as the astronaut featured on the cover of Life!) Getting to know Anne-Marie, her children, Lisa and Freddie, eating dinner with them, playing with the kids and his dog (the exuberant, adorable Bucky), showing Anne-Marie the stars, and making love with Anne-Marie serve to make Kit lonelier when he’s not with them. On the other hand, after the divorce, Anne-Marie is emotionally and commitment skittish. At a time when divorce was the aberration rather than norm, Anne-Marie didn’t put up and shut up with Doug’s, her ex-husband’s, cheating ways … though many advised her to. Now, she’s happy to take Kit as lover and friend, but marriage? She’s not sure.
Star Dust is about two awfully nice people who wonder whether their feelings are lasting and genuine, or mere attraction and lust. Other than Kit’s up-till-now, free-and-easy bachelorhood and Anne-Marie’s heart-protective reluctance to get into a serious relationship, there’s not much keeping them apart. Star Dust‘s charm lies in its lovely writing and likable protagonists. The children are well-behaved and bright without being wooden. The dog is absolutely adorable, full of mischief, awkward paws, and affection. Barry and Turner obviously love this historical period and describe it dotingly, but still occasionally poke a little gentle fun at it. Kit drives a massive Thunderbird, Anne-Marie smokes, and the food, whose descriptions Miss Bates loved, is laden with meat, potatoes, and fat. The Soviets are the devil incarnate and Kit’s patriotism rings as much naïve as true.
Miss Bates is doubtful of co-written work; she tends to believe that a singular sensibility, expressing a vision produces the best work. Barry and Turner proved her wrong. Star Dust shows two writers in aesthetic syn. Star Dust‘s greatest strength lies in the writing. The novel’s first half is stronger than the second because of the thrust and parry of Kit and Anne-Marie’s banter. But even stronger passages are those where Kit and Anne-Marie open up to each other. Miss Bates especially liked this sample where Anne-Marie’s assumptions about Kit are shaken:
” … I suppose everything you want falls right in your lap. You being a celebrated hero and all.”
“That’s right.” The bitterness of those words twisted his tongue. “Everything I want just falls into place. I only have to snap my fingers” – she flinched at the sound – “and a genie appears to grant my every wish. All through school, officer training, a damn war, everything just fell into place.”
Silence spread between them. “Sorry,” he said after some moments. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
“I shouldn’t have assumed that your life was perfect.” There was clear respect in her voice now, which was a step in the right, albeit chaste, direction.
“It isn’t perfect at all.”
“I know you can’t talk about specifics, but can you talk about any of it?”
He pondered that. An aviator wasn’t meant to every admit that anything might be wrong, like he might have doubts or fears. You got in that plane, did your duty, and always counted yourself lucky to do so. You were part of an elite brotherhood. No one ever dared complain about that.
As Anne-Marie and Kit shed their assumptions about each other – that Kit is a spoiled playboy astronaut, that Anne-Marie is a stiff, suspicious, judgemental stick-in-the-mud – animosity eases. They like each other. Kit likes Anne-Marie’s kids; they love him. Anne-Marie and Kit get along in bed and out, enjoy doing things together. And therein lies a loosening to the narrative tension that makes it pleasant and fun to read, but didn’t hold Miss Bates in thrall. Moreover, Kit says and does something at the end that, in Miss Bates’ opinion, required major groveling. But Anne-Marie is too pragmatic and understanding to belabour the point.
Star Dust is fun and touching. It’s an amuse-bouche of a romance, akin to a 1960s cocktail canapé. The second in the series, featuring Parsons, Kit’s scowling, temperamental space mission engineer, looks quite promising. With Miss Austen, Miss Bates says Turner and Barry’s Star Dust is evidence of “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma. Star Dust is available in ebook and paper at your preferred vendors. It was released on Oct. 14th, 2015. Miss Bates is grateful to the authors for a courtesy copy.