Book review: ‘Between You and Me’ by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

“She’s so lucky, she’s a star. But she cries, cries, cries in her lonely heart, thinking . . . if there’s nothing missing in my life, then why do these tears come at night?” (“Lucky,” Britney Spears)

Loosely based on the private life of Britney Spears, anyone interested in the star’s rise to fame and eventual implosion will find parallels between the one-time media darling and the fictional Kelsey Wade in Between You and Me — but authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (of Nanny Diaries fame) have crafted a dramatic, ripped-from-the-headlines novel all their own.

Before the relationship between their families soured, cousins Logan and Kelsey Wade were inseparable. Growing up in Oklahoma, the pair imagined of life beyond the scope of their small town and close-minded families . . . and unlike Logan, a struggling 20-something, Kelsey has actually achieved her dream. Escaping for Hollywood’s bright lights, Kelsey earns a part on a musical TV show and goes on to become an international pop star.

Now 24, Kelsey is a household name — while Logan is slaving away at a meaningless job in New York City. When an unexpected call reunites the pair after years apart, Logan is torn between wanting to restart a friendship with her famous cousin and keeping her guard up. An opportunity to become a part of the Kelsey Wade Cash Machine means Logan is quickly folded into the trainwreck of Kelsey’s private life, though, and she’s in too deep before she can dream of getting out. And suddenly it’s apparent that America’s sweetheart doesn’t lead such a darling life . . .

Look — um, between you and me? I know a great deal about Britney Spears. Before I became the wizened 26-year-old before you, I was a frequenter of gossip sites and lover of tabloids. My sister is a lifelong Britney fan, sticking on her side despite the head shavings and psych evaluations and custody battles. We even saw her in concert years back.

So reading Between You and Me, it wasn’t hard to spot the Britney/Kelsey similarities:

• Overbearing, obsessive parents using their daughter as a paycheck? Check.
• Beloved superstar who is somehow devoid of any real love in her own life? Check.
• Relationship with a former flame (read: Justin Timberlake) that ends in scandal? Check.

And so on. But here’s the thing: though the novel often reads like an imagined Britney tell-all might, Kelsey is a character all her own. It’s impossible not to sympathize as the weight of her fame grows suffocating. Though millions claim to “love” her, she feels loved and valued by no one — which is a complaint celebrities often voice. We might roll our eyes and scoff, “Yeah, well, go dry your tears with your stacks of money.” But as the old saying goes, money can’t buy happiness . . . and after reading this book, it’s hard to look at the “charmed lives” of stars in the same way.

While Kelsey is an overgrown child kept in perpetual adolescence by the money-makers marketing her virginal image and “purity,” Logan has been hardened by life’s challenges. Not accepting Logan’s “sinful” lifestyle, her parents have voiced their displeasure over Logan’s reunion with Kelsey — and she’s forced to press on without their approval as she ventures on the road with her famous cousin. Being privy to the mercurial moods of Kelsey’s father, Logan’s recovering alcoholic uncle, provides a new perspective on the feud that eventually separated their families. It’s easy to see why Logan is torn between wanting to be there for Kelsey but needing her parents’ acceptance. I found that part of the plot very well-drawn.

As Kelsey meets and marries a struggling singer subjected to intense media scrutiny, the pace really picks up. One of the saddest scenes involves Aaron trying to run a simple errand when he is surrounded by swarms of fans. When he’s rescued, he seems so bewildered and scared. Like he had no idea what he signed up for — and maybe he didn’t. And Kelsey can’t help him, can’t reach him. It’s already too late.

By the time all that goes down, I was very invested in Kelsey and her future. It’s obvious how vulnerable and broken she is. Having to sneak out of your own house — the one you bought and paid for — so your parents don’t know you’re up past your “bed time”? It’s one step above imprisonment. She was a caged animal, that’s for sure, and it was easy to see she was close to snapping. Logan saw it . . . but the Wades could not.

If I had one gripe with Between You and Me, it’s that I never really got to know Logan better. As the story’s narrator, I wanted to see more of where she was coming from — but she was so emotionally dependent on Kelsey and their shared history that it got frustrating. Since the cousins were once inseparable, I understood how the loss of her best friend would throw Logan — and how much it might hurt to see someone you were once close to rise so high while you’re left floundering. But I never got to really know Logan; everything we learn about her is reflected through Kelsey’s prism.

Fans of contemporary, fast-paced fiction and those interested in the rise (and eventual fall) of stars within the celebrity culture will find a quick, often sad read in Between You and Me. Though I’d hoped for a more uplifting ending, I found the story believable and heart-wrenching. And I won’t look at celebrities the same way again.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1439188181 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘Seeing Stars’ by Diane Hammond

Many people come to Hollywood seeking fame and wealth — and it’s not too different for mother-daughter team Ruth and Bethany Rabinowitz. Leaving their comfortable lives in Seattle behind — along with Bethany’s sensible dentist father, who waits for their return — the women move to Los Angeles and immediately begin the scary, demanding process of making 13-year-old Bethany a star.

To even have the possibility of making it in Tinseltown, we learn, every wannabe celebrity must enlist the services of a talented team — and that means hooking up with Mimi Roberts, a cutthroat talent manager who “makes pronouncements” to all of her clients: “Don’t mumble. Own the room. Never be late for an audition.” With Mimi on their side and a tidy new name plastered over her own, Bethany Rabinowitz becomes Bethany Ann Roosevelt and starts to act her little heart out.

As more and more auditions line up, some more disappointing than those before, the Rabinowitzes must weigh the cost of their dreams against the pain, sweat and tears needed to keep moving forward — maybe before it becomes too late to turn back.

More than anything, Diane Hammond’s Seeing Stars seems to be a cautionary tale for aspiring Hollywood types — and in that vein, it functions very well as a work of contemporary fiction. With plenty of nods to certain Disney stars and topical references to films like “High School Musical,” which seems to be the dream gig of every working teen in L.A., Hammond’s book draws the reader into a sordid, often sad world of backstage lots, incredibly long hours, droll parents and sacrifice rarely displayed to those of us who simply enjoy the end results: glamorous movies and well-packaged TV shows.

Though Bethany and Ruth are the “stars” of the book, plenty of peripheral characters fill in the landscape — most notably Allison Addison, a spoiled but talented teen who lives full-time with Mimi Roberts, the girls’ manager, and is one of the kids collectively known as “the Orphans.” Dumped by their parents and from all reaches of the U.S., the Orphans board with Mimi while she sends them out on countless auditions and passes them off to unsuspecting stage mothers like Ruth. It’s impossible not to feel for these kids, shuttled around in an endless waiting game and lacking any real parental guidance, but it was really frustrating, too.

In fact, frustrating is the way I would describe much of the book — and not because the writing wasn’t solid. It definitely was. Hammond does a great job of introducing us to a very motley crew of folks who don’t seem to have much in common other than their shared dreams of success, and sometimes that’s enough to bind them . . . but sometimes it’s not. And watching everyone desperately chasing something that often seems so elusive actually made my stomach hurt. I wondered, too, about everyone’s motivations — especially Ruth’s. Why put themselves through this? Who were they benefiting and who were they hurting? Can the kids even get a decent education while working like this? And since many of these motivations seemed anything but altruistic, that bothered me, too.

Readers interested in the fame game will find plenty of “behind the scenes” information in Hammond’s novel, dropping us everywhere from auditions to sets to popular Hollywood landscapes — and everywhere in between. The jargon was flying from the get-go and, as someone interested in the movie biz, I found it pretty interesting. Seeing Stars also examines close family relationships and motherhood, too, and has some poignant scenes, though the sheer length of the novel dragged it down for me. Pick it up if you’re interested in the making (and breaking?) of a star, but skip it if character-driven drama isn’t for you.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061863157 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

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Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours