It is 1962 and Anne-Marie is starting fresh in a new town. After leaving her husband, a serial philander, Anne-Marie left Dallas for an astronaut-mad Houston suburb to be closer to her parents. All she wants to do is prove to everyone that she is not going to fail, that she and the kids are going to be just fine on their own. Having handsome astronaut next-door is a distraction and complication.
Christopher "Kit" Campbell, knows all about the weight of people's scrutiny and expectations. His face is on the cover of every magazine along with his fellow Perseid crew members. Fame is the price he pays for a chance to see the stars. While he doesn't mind how easily women fall at his feet, the hero-worshiping kids really stress him out . Even though he knows he shouldn't he can't help but keep making passes at Anne-Marie, whose freckles remind him of the constellations he wants to explore.
Anne-Marie takes an instant dislike of Kit, and his playboy charms, while Kit is immediately attracted to her in part because she rather glare at him than seduce him. Intimate and smoky late night conversations in the backyard, and matchmaking astronaut's wives breakdown Anne-Marie's reserve. However Anne-Marie is not willing to risk dating an astronaut, and exposing herself and the children to another round of public heart-break when he moves on. A secret affair seems safe enough but nothing about it turns out to be safe at all.
I really loved Kit and Anne-Marie, and how they try to negotiate their relationship, and then fail to stick to their boundaries and limits, stepping up and stepping in for each other against their better judgement.
The heart of this book however was in the female friendships. As a divorcee Anne-Marie is on precarious social ground. Married and single women alike regard her with suspicion & men proposition her or pity her. Anne-Marie is guarded and stand-offish out of self-protection but Margie Dunsford the lead astronaut's wife, completely steam-rolls right over her. Margie is a commanding figure, and she manages everyone in the neighborhood. After endless failed attempts at setting up Kit, she doesn't miss Kit's interest in Anne-Marie and does all she can to encourage the match. Anne-Marie cooperates to avoid turning Margie into an enemy. She is surprised however how quickly they invite her to their boozy "bridge" parties, where the astronaut's wives share frustrations and information. Keeping her secrets, while making connections and accepting advice is a challenge for Anne-Marie and a lot of fun to read. I loved reading about Margie and I had to email Emma Barry about her as soon as I finished reading. I can't wait to read more about these ladies.
Barry and Turner did a great job at capturing the uneasy feel of the era, the feeling of transition away from the 50's values's at the start of the Space Age. The Cold War is in full swing, the world still seems full of possibilities but nothing is actually as shiny and perfect as everyone wants to pretend it is. I loved the uneasy relationship the astronauts have with fame, and the uncomfortable intersection of ambition, patriotism and celebrity in which they have to stand.
I enjoyed Star Dust a great deal, and I hope we get a lot more stories from Barry and Turner. Their heroes and heroines are smart, conflicted and anything but ordinary.
Disclosure: I am friends with Emma Barry. We've never met in off-line but I've gotten to know her pretty well through twitter and email. I am big fan of her work. I received a copy of Star Dust from Emma. Emma recommended Genevieve's Las Morenas series, which I have enjoyed reading and reviewing.
Star Dust is available for Pre-order and will be released Oct. 14, 2015