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Fictional Hollywood: From Regard to Reckoning

Jamie Canaves

Contributing Editor

Jamie Canavés is the Tailored Book Recommendations coordinator and Unusual Suspects mystery newsletter writer–in case you’re wondering what you do with a Liberal Arts degree. She’s never met a beach she didn’t like, always says yes to dessert, loves ‘80s nostalgia, all forms of entertainment, and can hold a conversation using only gifs. You can definitely talk books with her on Litsy and Goodreads. Depending on social media’s stability maybe also Twitter and Bluesky.

I coincidentally read three books back to back that had a focus on Hollywood in some form, but they were so wildly distinct from each other that it left me thinking about how differently Hollywood is portrayed in fiction. Certainly playing the game of asking 10 random people the first word that pops in their mind when they hear “Hollywood” would get a slew of different — some bizarre — answers. Some people are nostalgic for a Hollywood of years past. Others will automatically launch into a streamers vs. theaters business issues. Many people will talk about their favorite film ever made or their favorite actor. And then there’s the many ways Hollywood fails: like its obsession with hiring non-Latine actors to play Latine roles, Blackface, colorism — and #MeToo. There’s the glitz and glam and the behind the scenes dangerous behavior to keep up the facade. Casting age gap. Scandals.

It’s a candy store of choices for writers based on how many years Hollywood has existed, how many jobs there are in Hollywood, and how many things you can explore — from the business side to in front of the camera. I went across genres, from romance to fantasy; different jobs in the industry, from director to set designer; and different tones, from love letter to the grit behind the glamour.

A graphic of the cover of Reel by Kennedy Ryan

Reel (Hollywood Renaissance #1) by Kennedy Ryan

This is a romance that alternates POVs between the romantic leads: Neevah Saint and Canon Holt. Neevah is an actress with chronic illness waiting for her big break. Canon is a director who hires her as the lead in his Harlem Renaissance biopic film. The film is a dream for both of them, but an IRL romance with his lead actress complicates Canon’s life and the stress of filming triggers Neevah’s illness. But in Hollywood, the show must go on, and in romance novels, the love must too! Not only do readers get taken off set for the romance, but they get taken into the making of the film, and even get the fictional biography of a jazz singer.

Bonus: Eboni Flowers, Jakobi Diem, Nicole Small do a fantastic job narrating the audiobook.

cover image for Complicit

Complicit by Winnie M Li

This takes a deep dive into how films get made from start to finish while shining a light on rape culture (keeping the majority of things off page) in the industry and how we’re intentionally taught to not notice the red flags around us. Sarah Lai was once an up-and-coming film producer who is now teaching film at a small college when a journalist reaches out: he wants to know about a particular film producer regarding allegations of sexual assault. While Lai doesn’t want to sit with the journalist, she ends up telling him her story, starting with being an assistant in a film production company.

The audiobook is narrated by Katie Leung, which sucked me into Lai’s story of her time in film production.

cover of Never Been Kissed by Timothy Janovsky

Never Been Kissed (Boy Meets Boy #1) by Timothy Janovsky

Here’s a romance between two young men, trying to figure out their own lives and selves, that also looks at how Hollywood treats women in the side plot. Wren Roland has a film degree, works at a drive-in, and after a drunk night and lifetime of no first kiss sends out some awkward emails. Derick Haverford is one of those email recipients and to Wren’s horror has now been hired at the drive-in. Whoopsie. But Wren has more important things to freak out about: like accidentally promising to get a long ago canned film and the creator to screen the film at the drive-in. It helps that Derick is willing to go along with Wren to the once famous woman’s home to try and convince her to show her film.

For audiobook listeners, I really enjoyed Mark Sanderlin’s narration.

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo cover

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

Here we have a look at the Golden Age of Hollywood with magic to show the dark side of the people in the industry. Would you give up 20 years of your life if it meant fame? Luli Wei is willing to sacrifice a lot for what she wants as a very eager young actress. But in a world of dark magic, when does the “at all costs” mentality turn you into a monster also…

cover image for Everything Leads To You

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

This is a book for Hollywood lovers and lovers of love. You get a film legend’s mysterious letter. The lead is a Hollywood set designer, a movie lover, and a romantic. After a legendary actor passes, Emi and her friend Charlotte set out to find a possible daughter of the legendary actor. They end up finding Ava, kicking off a love story between her and Emi as they work together on a film…

cover image of Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu

This is one of those books that doesn’t easily sit inside a genre category but works very well for fans of satire, pop culture references, meta, and tongue-in-cheek humor. Willis Wu is a typecast actor: currently the “Generic Asian Man.” But he wants to be like his father “Kung Fu Guy,” believing that to be the highest that Chinese Americans can aspire for. And while his brother has become a lawyer, he is working in a Chinese restaurant below his apartment where a procedural show films and he dreams of his big break… This is a clever novel that will make you feel many emotions as it uses Hollywood tropes to explore big topics like Chinese immigration and assimilation in the U.S.

A Killing in Costumes book cover

A Killing in Costumes (A Hollywood Treasures Mystery #1) by Zac Bissonnette

Movie memorabilia + old Hollywood + murder! Decades ago, Jay Allan and Cindy Cooper were famous married TV stars. Then they came out, got divorced, and the public turned on them. Now they own a Hollywood memorabilia business which Cindy knows is about to go under but hasn’t figured out how to tell Jay. Then they get a possible big break: a 90-year-old famous film star wants to sell off her entire collection. But she’s interviewing who to sell to, and when Cindy and Jay’s competition is murdered, they are the likely suspects!

cover of The View Was Exhausting

The View Was Exhausting by Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta

For fans of fake dating and angst we have a love story between playboy Leo Milanowski and famous actress Win Tagore. There on-again-off-again love affair keeps them in the headlines and fans eat up all the drama, but it’s all fake. Both Win and Leo use this relationship anytime they need to draw attention away from something real in their private lives. It’s smart PR. But will they give it a real shot?

funny you should ask by elissa sussman cover

Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman

Imagine being asked to write a profile for your favorite actor who has just been tapped as the new Bond. There would be a lot of excited screaming! This is real life for Chani Horowitz, who thinks this piece can finally launch her career while Gabe Parker’s skyrockets. And then we cut to 10 years later when Chani is asked to profile Gabe again, now in different places, and maybe there’s a chance for that long ago spark to ignite again…

Something to Talk About Book Cover

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

This is slooow burn romance. Here we go into the world of a private actress/screenwriter and her assistant, which doesn’t look away from power dynamics in the industry. Jo Jones may be famous, but she’s incredibly private. So when rumors begin about a secret affair between her and her assistant, after a red carpet photo, she releases her usual “no comment.” Which of course never stops rumors, leading these two women to start questioning the rumors themselves…

cover image for Mercury Pictures Presents

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra

WWII historical fiction meets 1940s Hollywood in a novel that pings readers back and forth between Italy and the U.S. After her father is arrested in Itay, Maria Lagana and her mother immigrate to L.A. when she’s a child. As an adult she works at Mercury Pictures as an associate producer. While her personal life is a mess it seems the studio, about to go bankrupt, is too. But is Hollywood fiction really an escape from real life?

Looking for even more escape into Hollywood books? Check out All that Glitters: Books About Fame, Stardom, and Hollywood.