April 12, 2022
by Sarah Bird
St. Martin's Press
Historical Fiction
Hardcover, 432 pages
"Bird is a master at crafting narrative voices."
- Booklist
A novel about one woman—and a nation—struggling to be reborn from the ashes of the Great Depression.

July 3, 1932. Shivering and in shock, Evie Grace Devlin watches the Starlite Palace burn into the sea and wonders how she became a person who would cause a man to kill himself. She’d come to Galveston to escape a dark past in vaudeville and become a good person, a nurse. When that dream is cruelly thwarted, Evie is swept into the alien world of dance marathons. All that she has been denied—a family, a purpose, even love—waits for her there in the place she dreads most: the spotlight.

Last Dance on the Starlight Pier brings to life the enthralling worlds of both dance marathons and the family-run empire of vice that was Galveston in the Thirties. Unforgettable characters tell a story that is still deeply resonant today as America learns what Evie learns: that there truly isn’t anything this country can’t do when we do it together. That indomitable spirit powers a story that is a testament to the resilience that allows us to not only survive the hardest of times, but to find joy, friends, and even family, in them.
Dear Reader,

Like my suggested recipe for Baked Alaska, Last Dance on the Starlight Pier was inspired by my mother. A fabulous storyteller, she used to keep her six children entertained with stories from her childhood on a struggling farm. Her tale of a dance marathon at the Grange Hall during the Great Depression particularly enthralled me. The account of how she and her neighbors came together to stage a joyous community event and have a bit of fun during hard times symbolized for me the resilience of the American spirit.

I suspected there was an untold story there and, boy, was I ever right! I hope you enjoy discovering this enthralling, nearly-forgotten piece of history as well as the darkly glamorous world that was Galveston, Texas in the 1930s and meeting the heroine based on my fun-loving, intrepid mother, as much as I enjoyed creating all three.

Book Club Menu and Recipe
I can’t stand novels where the characters never eat! Think of how much we learn about new acquaintances from what and how they eat. For example, does she pick at a salad or wolf down meatball sandwiches? Why would an author deny us that insight? Given that Last Dance on the Starlight Pier is set during the Great Depression, food takes on an even greater significance. In the opening chapter, hunger drives my protagonist, Evie Grace, to make the decisions she does. 

While Evie Grace and most of the country struggled to get enough to eat—standing in bread lines and inventing recipes like Mock Apple Pie that substituted Ritz crackers for more expensive fruit—she also experienced another world that remained untouched by hard times. This was the darkly glamorous world of the Galveston crime family that was so successful it kept the Texas Island immune from both Prohibition and the Depression. 

In this world, swanky cocktails like the French 75 were popular drinks to accompany equally swanky appetizers like oysters and cucumber sandwiches. But the pièce de resistance—the ultimate in luxury dining —was Baked Alaska. I have a deep sentimental attachment to this dessert. Invented in 1867 at Delmonico’s in honor of the Alaska Purchase, it enjoyed a resurgence in 1959 when Alaska was granted statehood. That is when my mother made it for her awe-struck family. She covered the magnificent concoction of ice cream and pound cake with decadent mounds of meringue toasted to a golden brown. But the most spectacular part was that she had embedded clean eggshells in the meringue, filled them with warm brandy, and, in the darkened dining room, lit the brandy on fire, the blue flames dancing across the white peaks of meringue. It made such an impression that I decided to bake one into my novel and present it to Evie Grace at her moment of triumph.

It was a wonderful surprise when I discovered that Baked Alaska, renamed Baked Texas, was the signature dish at the poshest of all Galveston’s clubs, the Hollywood Dinner Club where the novel’s grand finale is set. The club was a well-known hot spot for fine dining, world-class entertainment, gambling, and bootleg liquor. If you want to really wow your book club, a Baked Alaska would be hard to top. It certainly beats Mock Apple Pie! Enjoy this easy version of the recipe.

-Sarah Bird
*Cucumber Sandwiches
*French 75 Cocktails
*Baked Alaska

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