Book Review: The Cinema at Starlight Creek by Alli Sinclair

The Cinema at Starlight Creek…

About the Book:

A heart-stirring novel of loss, love and new hope set against the glamorous backdrop of 1950s Hollywood and a small Australian country town.

How far would you go to follow your dream?

Queensland, 1994: When location manager Claire Montgomery arrives in rural Queensland to work on a TV mini-series, she’s captivated by the beauty of Starlight Creek and the surrounding sugarcane fields. Working in a male-dominated industry is challenging, but Claire has never let that stop her pursuing her dreams-until now. She must gain permission to film at Australia’s most historically significant art deco cinema, located at Starlight Creek. But there is trouble ahead. The community is fractured and the cinema’s reclusive owner, Hattie Fitzpatrick, and her enigmatic great nephew, Luke Jackson, stand in her way, putting Claire’s career-launching project-and her heart-at risk.

Hollywood, 1950: Lena Lee has struggled to find the break that will catapult her into a star with influence. She longs for roles about strong, independent women but with Hollywood engulfed in politics and a censorship battle, Lena’s timing is wrong. Forced to keep her love affair with actor Reeves Garrity a secret, Lena puts her career on the line to fight for equality for women in an industry ruled by men. Her generous and caring nature steers her onto a treacherous path, leaving Lena questioning what she is willing to endure to get what she desires.

Can two women-decades apart-uncover lies and secrets to live the life they’ve dared to dream?

My Thoughts:

I have adored each of Alli Sinclair’s novels to date and her latest, The Cinema at Starlight Creek, is no exception. I think I read this at the right time too as I had just come away from quite a heavy read in a genre that I don’t normally dabble with, so it was nice to be able to relax with something easy. Now, I want to point out though, that by easy, I don’t at all mean light and fluffy. What I mean is that this was easy to get lost in and it wasn’t hard work to read: the writing was so eloquent, the story so absorbing, and the characters were realistically crafted. In short, this is a superb read, and with its themes of inequality and discrimination, it’s also ideal as a book club pick.

There is a strong parallel between the two women at the helm of this story, Lena and Claire, which becomes apparent early on, strengthening as the story progresses. I enjoyed this mirroring of experiences, with the author demonstrating within her two eras – 40 years apart – that some things are slow to change, so slow, that change is at times not even apparent. The main issue Alli tackles in The Cinema at Starlight Creek is that of inequality and discrimination within the film and television industry. There are some powerful examples woven into both narratives, and I will admit that many caught me by surprise – and I don’t mean that in a good way. The double standards, the games of sabotage, the blatant discrimination towards women: lower wages, lower conditions, yet higher expectations when it came to body size and shape, modesty and chaste behaviour. In Claire’s circumstances, she had to fend off on the job hostility and bullying from a man who was disgruntled at her getting the position she was in over him. I liked how the author gave Claire and Lena different career paths but within the same industry, effectively demonstrating the widespread nature of these issues.

‘She stared at the food and shake in front of her. When was the last time she had eaten something she wanted? Something that wasn’t water-based, like celery or carrots? Lena picked up a fry and used it to push the others around the plate. Just being near the fries made her skin feel like it was coated in grease. But they smelled so good. Lena quickly shoved the fry in her mouth, closed her eyes and chewed slowly, allowing the salty goodness to dance across her tastebuds. Never in her life had a fry tasted so delicious. Opening her eyes, she stared at her plate, the willpower she’d been cultivating since working with Lawrence falling by the wayside. In her head she could hear Lawrence chastising her about the potential size of her derriere if she ate such food. And he’d be telling her this while stuffing his face with a burger. Her gaze rested on the milkshake and an image of Yvonne struggling to get the zipper done up on Lena’s latest gown crowded in on her.’

Another element to this story that I found interesting was the impact working in the film and television industry had upon a woman’s personal life. For Lena, it was as far reaching as having her relationship status dictated to her. For Claire, it was the burden of succeeding, putting all else aside to chase the next job, to be as ‘free’ to move about as a man. These women both struggled to be taken seriously, their roles important, yet deemed secondary and always at risk of being taken away from them – minor misdemeanours regarded in the same vein as serious ones. The scrutiny must have been exhausting to the point of debilitating.

‘I seriously don’t think us being a “couple” off-screen gets more people interested in us or our movies.’
‘My teenage nieces would say otherwise.’
‘How can all this be healthy, though? Men—and women— can be very successful without being tied to someone else.’
Pierre let out a loud laugh and doubled over, clutching his side. ‘Oh, Lena. You do amuse me.’
Tension gripped her shoulders and raced up her neck. ‘I am not here to amuse. I am voicing my concern that a woman is not considered successful in this industry unless she is attached to a man off-screen. Why are women seen as a threat just because they don’t have a husband? Or, worse, people think there’s something wrong with them, so no one will marry them?’
Pierre snort-laughed then stopped. ‘You’re serious? Happy married couples on-screen, happy married couples off-screen, this is how they want it. Good little Americans living the dream. You don’t want to be responsible for tearing the very fabric of our society, do you?’

Old world movie glamour was captured to perfection within this story and I felt as though I was transported while reading it. Likewise, the vivid descriptions of the Starlight Cinema itself were evocative of days gone by, the beauty of it apparent in the way Alli brought it to life for her readers. She has such a skill when it comes to breathing life into her stories, sprinkling a special kind of magic throughout that speaks to me of a great passion for her subject, no matter what she writes about. She’s firmly on my ‘read everything this author ever writes’ list. The Cinema at Starlight Creek is highly recommended reading and I can assure you that the story itself is every bit as beautiful and atmospheric as the cover that adorns it.

‘You remind me so much of me when I was younger.’ Hattie’s smile was slow and warm. ‘You’re strong, independent, and want to change the world. I did— for a time. And I suspect you will as well— with longer-lasting effects, I hope.’


Thanks is extended to HarperCollins Publishers Australia for providing me with a copy of The Cinema at Starlight Creek for review.

About the Author:

Alli Sinclair, an adventurer at heart, has won multiple awards for her writing. She is Australian and has lived in Argentina, Peru and Canada, and has climbed some of the world’s highest mountains, worked as a tour guide in South and Central America and has travelled the globe. She enjoys immersing herself in exotic destinations, cultures and languages but Australia has always been close to Alli’s heart. Alli hosts retreats for writers and presents writing workshops around Australia, as well as working in film on international projects. She’s a volunteer role model with Books in Homes and is an ambassador for the Fiji Book Drive. Alli’s books explore history, culture, love and grief, and relationships between family, friends and lovers. She captures the romance and thrill of discovering old and new worlds, and loves taking readers on a journey of discovery.
Alli’s website is:

The Cinema at Starlight Creek
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Released on 20th May 2019

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Cinema at Starlight Creek by Alli Sinclair

    • I deliberately left reference to that out of my review but yes, absolutely, and I was thinking about that while reading. It’s done very well here, hard to say what I mean exactly, but in a sensible way, without seeming as though she was jumping on a bandwagon. Hopefully you know what I mean. Novels that can be attached to movements can sometimes be flimsy, but I feel this one holds its own. If there was no #MeToo, this novel would still stand tall.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks Lisa and Theresa! Funnily enough, I wrote this book before the #metoo movement came about so I suspect there must have been something in the air I picked up on. That’s really interesting what you said, Lisa, about #metoo possibly being a catalyst for lots of books like this. It will be interesting to see what transpires.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you everyone and thank you so much for such a gorgeous review, Theresa! It’s interesting with Lisa’s comment about the #metoo movement because funnily enough, I had written the book before it happened. I suspect I may have picked up on something in the air. It will be interesting to see if the #metoo does start a stream of books with similar themes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: #BookBingo – Round 20 | Theresa Smith Writes

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