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Hudson Lake cover
Hudson Lake
Latham Loop cover
Latham Loop
Slapstick cover

HUDSON LAKE is a blend of fact and fiction set during the summer of 1926 in the New Carlisle, Indiana resort town where the Jean Goldkette Orchestra was the house band for the season.

The Blue Lantern Inn was leased by jazz orchestra leader Jean Goldkette in May 1926 as a showcase for his most talented musicians, including Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Doc Ryker and Pee Wee Russell. The Lantern drew visitors from throughout the region, especially on weekends when crowds from Chicago came up on the South Shore interurban line to hear the band.

HUDSON LAKE looks at how Bix Beiderbecke, cornetist with the band, influenced the lives of several characters whose paths cross his over the course of the summer, and speculates on how he reached a turning point in his own life and career.”


For a day spent tucked in the shade of an oak tree at a small, quiet lakeside beach, I recommend Hudson Lake by LaGrange, Illinois, writer Laura Mazzuca Toops (Twilight Times Books, 2007). It’s a good fit, because the action takes place at a resort on the shores of Hudson Lake in Indiana. It’s set during the height of Prohibition, when folks would take the South Shore from Chicago to New Carlisle just to dance at the Blue Lantern dance hall and imbibe in a little—or a lot of—illegal hooch. The wild, jazzy music was provided by the Jean Goldkette jazz band with Bix Beiderbecke and Pee Wee Russell. The hooch was courtesy of local entrepreneurs.

Toops creates a real sense of place and time with her luscious portrayal of the hope-filled lazy days of early summer. A season when everyone, especially IU coed Harriet Braun (summer help at the Hudson Lake Resort), eagerly anticipates the warmth of the sun on a winter-weary body, and when the promise of summer love is as powerful and heady as the scent of lilies of the valley. Harriet is a pre-med student who’s spending her first summer away from her conservative family and boyfriend in Indianapolis. Hudson Lake is her first glimpse of a world where girlish virtue is only prized as a trophy, a notch on some stud’s belt. Against a backdrop of hot music (you can almost hear it), there’s first love with a “dangerous man,” loose women, and conflict between Al Capone’s henchmen, the KKK and local bootleggers.

 – Donna M. Chavez
Shore Magazine Beach Reads
Sunday, June 17, 2007

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Rating 4/5
“At the height of prohibition the Hudson Lake Resort in New Carlisle, Indiana was a happening place, especially because the Jean Goldkette jazz band had been booked for the summer. Over the course of the gig thousands would board the South Shore train from Chicago to dance to this exciting new music. After all, Goldkette had brought some of the era’s best talent with him. Names like Pee Wee Russell and Bix Beiderbecke that would become the gold standard in American music history. By day the band slept (well, mostly) in cottages at the resort. By night they stirred up a thunderstorm of hot jazz, rattling the walls of the resort’s Blue Lantern dance hall. Then, from closing time til dawn, they drank bootleg hooch, smoked pot and schmoozed pretty girls. In particular, the sweet, if naive, Indiana University coed, Harriet Braun, and the world-weary woman-of-easy-virtue, Joy, both fell for the troubled, haunting young Beiderbecke. For Harriet he represented danger. For Joy, Bix’s appeal was in his no-questions-asked attitude. Everyone acted like they were inventing the 20th Century. As summer droned on, life at Hudson Lake became complicated by feuds between Al Capone’s henchmen, eager to take over bootleg operations and the local branch of the Ku Klux Klan. Ultimately reality seeped through the thin veneer of loud music, good times and illegal booze. For La Grange resident and COD fiction writing instructor Toops, her debut novel is a humdinger.”

 – Donna Chavez
The Naperville Glancer

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Toops has an obvious affection for her subject, which is hard to resist, and a deep knowledge of the time period. She skillfully brings the 1920s to life with the right historical touches without overburdening the reader with too many extraneous facts. That’s a difficult balancing act for many historical fiction writers, but Toops pulls it off. Hudson Lake is a fun, sexy Jazz Age story about a summer that changes the lives of everyone at Hudson Lake, and it just might be a great book to help keep you warm on these increasingly chilly days.
 – Alice Maggio
The Gapers Block Book Club

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In the summer of 1926, the Jean Goldkette jazz band, led by sax player Frankie Trumbauer and featuring 23-year-old cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, landed a season-long gig at the Blue Lantern dance hall on Hudson Lake in rural Indiana. The culture clash that resulted between the gin-swilling band members and the stuffy townspeople, fueled by Indiana Klansmen on one hand and Chicago gangsters on the other, is the subject of Toops’ evocative jazz-age novel. At the center of the tale is the mercurial Beiderbecke, whose star shone brightly but briefly in the jazz world. Like Frederick Turner in his fictional ode to Bix, 1929 (2003), Toops portrays the troubled yet brilliant horn player as torn between his devotion to music and his guilt over disappointing his straitlaced parents. Added to the mix here is a fictional romance between Bix and a college student. The romantic element drifts too close to melodrama, but Topps’ ability to capture the intoxicating mix of energy and danger that defined the early days of jazz makes the novel required reading for anyone caught up in the enduring Bix legend.
 –  Bill Ott

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It’s the 1920’s in Indiana, during the throes of Prohibition. Jazz music is king, and “the notes oozed from the bell of a horn, viscous and golden as honey.” Hudson Lake has its own little resort, a short distance from Chicago. Most of the time, it’s a quiet, country-style place. On summer weekends, however, soul-stirring music pumps through a world filled with secrets, bootlegged liquor, the KKK, and the long arm of the mobster, Al Capone.

Joy is desperate to immerse herself in pleasure. It’s her only chance to run from her past. Harriet Braun, the college girl doing summer work, eyes the scene with an analytical eye. Yet somehow, both are enthralled by a Bix Beiderbecke, a horn-man whose musical genius is sabotaged by his drunken despair. Fighting their own demons, the trio swirls together and apart. Each seems bent on self-destruction while yearning for salvation.

Ms. Toops’ descriptive writing is both mystical and compelling. A quote from her book sums up its own style: “ . . . a frantic narrative that ratcheted on like a stripped-down jalopy.” Time and again, I was swept away by her rhythmic prose. I found myself murmuring phrases to myself, each phrase capturing a mood perfectly.

Hudson Lake is excellent writing. The characters are fascinating, and well drawn. However, the story can wear on the spirit, as it is one of almost unrelieved melancholy. Every moment of sweetness has its bitterness; every moment of pleasure has a sense of doom attached. I read this book in short spurts, interspersed by other tales–– but I always returned to Hudson Lake. Ms. Toops has a profound gift for winding an atmosphere in, around, and through every moment of her book.

 – Reviewed by Jeanette Cottrell
for eBook Reviews Weekly.

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With her third novel, Toops fully steeps readers in the frenetic, heady atmosphere of the Prohibition-era jazz experience. During the long, hot summer of 1926, Harriet Braun, an aspiring medical student on break from Indiana University, takes a job at a hotel adjacent to the Blue Lantern dance hall on Hudson Lake in rural New Carlisle, Indiana. The Jean Goldkette band headlines at this resort some seventy miles east of Chicago, and its cornet player, 23-year-old Bix Beiderbecke, frequently steals the show. The lives of Harriet and Bix intertwine with numerous other well-developed characters, nearly all of whom are masking personal pain. Things heat up further when Chicago mobsters and local Klan adherents enter the picture; a poignant romantic subplot turns things up a notch as well.

Although the pacing’s swift from the get-go, giving the novel a dazzling, almost kaleidoscopic feel, the numerous plot threads don’t fully coalesce until about halfway through. But even though the story gives little indication where it’s going early on, it’s impossible not to enjoy the ride. The enigmatic Beiderbecke, haunted by incidents from his past yet driven by his passion for music, is a brilliantly developed and compelling personality. The novel’s prose, peppered throughout with period slang and moonshine-laced attitude, conveys the historical period remarkably well. Highly recommended for those interested taking in a step back in time to the tumultuous and fascinating 1920s.
 – Sarah Johnson

Historical Novels Review Online

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It’s the summer of 1926 and Indiana University coed Harriet Braun has a summer job at a Hudson Lake, Indiana resort that’s adjacent to the Blue Lantern dance hall where Bix Beiderbecke and his jazz band are booked for the whole season. Harriet and Bix fall in love, the local KKK confronts Al Capone’s Chicago mob and bootleg hootch flows like water.

Rating: 4.5 = This book is either very clever, highly creative or brings new information to the table. I’m recommending it to my friends.
 – Donna

Monday Night Book Club

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. . . “Hudson Lake,” describes a time of gangsters, the “Klan,” local corrupt officials, and young and restless people looking for a wild night out on the town. They came to Hudson Lake to party and hear good jazz. Chicago crowds, via the South Shore Railroad descended on the Blue Lantern, despite the objections of the local “rubes” that disapproved of their behavior but liked their money. Toops’ also points out that while mob influences might have been bad for the area, local boot legging flourished under the guise of most authorities.

. . . Author Toops quickly establishes the main characters in the life of Bix Beiderbecke, including the two women who loved him, his colorful band members and the importance of the music that brought them all together to this tiny enclave of entertainment in Northern Indiana in 1926. Some might be disillusioned by the amount of sex and drinking described in the book that went on then, but this apparently was characteristic of many early performers who were destroyed by the vices that cut short their careers. The long list includes the likes of be bop sax man Charlie Parker who succumbed at age 33.

. . . Unlike many works, “Hudson Lake,” summarizes and brings to a conclusion what happened to its characters including the sad epilogue of one of music’s great performers. The book is a good read and promises a probable account of the times and tunes of this early jazz era.
 –  Reviewed by John Russell Ghrist,
the host of Midwest Ballroom, a Saturday radio program heard on WDCB 90.9 FM and worldwide on the Internet at from 5-7 pm.

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Latham Loop


“The birth of Hollywood in the 1910s comes vividly to life in this outstanding novel about a star of slapstick comedy. The author skillfully interweaves diverse characters in an intricate narrative that includes overtones from such real incidents as the William Desmond Taylor and Roscoe Arbuckle cases.”

-  William M. Drew, film historian, author,
Speaking of Silents: First Ladies of the Screen

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“...A flavorful fictional novel of Hollywood, covering the years 1913 to 1920. Loop tells the story of a silent screen comedian, not unlike Harold Lloyd, named Harold Gilbert who rises from vaudeville to become a leading star in the movies. Frankly, when I first got this I was not interested in reading about a fictional movie star and his so-called struggles in Hollywood. Well, first impressions aside, I gave it a chance—and I was thoroughly hooked. What I liked especially was Ms. Toops’ ability to juggle several unrelated subplots with varying characters effortlessly, then slowly, but deftly, weave them together. All her characters, not just Gilbert, are fleshed out perfectly, each distinctive in his own way. Gilbert is a very likable personality and his comedy routines, which I wrongly dreaded as probably being unfunny, are handled charmingly by the author...  Laura Mazzuca Toops is quite a fine writer. Her narrative...  is clean, crisp, direct and very involving. I warn you, however, that if you buy the new The Latham Loop, and I urge that you do pronto, especially if you’re a silent movie fan, you can’t help but get Slapstick. It’s essential. The author’s knowledge of early film serves her and the book well, incorporating real movie experiences into her saga; her characters are real and sympathetic (except Max Randolph, but he’s divertingly despicable). I can’t wait for the last in this series (which would be the middle story between these two volumes). Maybe then the author will take pity and reveal the whereabouts of Baby Becky. She’d better.”

—Laura Wagner, Classic Images Magazine

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The Latham Loop recreates the exciting era of early Hollywood with its lively and engaging cast of characters. Toops’ novel is right on the money, complete with comedy, tragedy and behind-the-scenes scandals.”

–  Arnie Bernstein, author, Hollywood on Lake Michigan: 100 Years of Chicago and the Movies

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“Author Laura Toops takes readers on an unforgettable journey to the not-so distant past to the birth of Hollywood and moving pictures. Companies rise and fall, stars are born and forgotten, and readers are inexplicably drawn to the main characters. Harold is a unique hero, sometimes unsure of himself and nervous, but he’s also loyal, true, determined and ready to take a chance. The way Ms. Toops captures real-life personalities takes The Latham Loop beyond the realm of fiction. These characters are not perfect or nor do they contain only minor character flaws; they’re real. Harold has moments that shock and surprise the readers. I didn’t mention the secondary characters in the review, as I was more drawn to Harold. Yet even they have their own uniqueness, and I look forward to seeing them in next books. As this is part of a series, all the loose ends weren’t tied up as well as I like, but it does raise all sorts of questions as to what will happen next. I’m looking forward to the release of Slapstick, Book II of The Harold Gilbert Trilogy."

—Sharyn McGinty, In The Library Reviews

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“... An excellent, engaging story of life in a rapidly changing world—the early 1900s....  This book was one of those that keeps you up at night finishing it! I couldn’t put it down. The touches of history—from the descriptions of old movie cameras to the old boardwalks—were wonderful, and added a depth to the world not found in all historical fiction. Hal and Max, and their struggles to find themselves, touched my heart, and made me very anxious to see how it would all turn out. This is the first of a trilogy, and I can’t wait to read more about Hal, and see what other novels this author brings to life. I highly recommend The Latham Loop—it’s excellent!

—Kara Wolf

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“... A story that takes the reader behind the scenes of the Golden Era of Hollywood, written so that the reader begins to understand how tough it really was back then. The author has certainly done her research, and aptly takes the reader back to the early days of Los Angeles and filmmaking. Historical research gives the reader a very real feel of the lifestyle and glitz of that era, and how it was truly much harder to make a living at the time that is perhaps portrayed these days. This novel will take the reader on a journey into the past, and into a setting a time frame that is not too common in novels these days. Very well done, this reader recommends The Latham Loop for the reader who is looking for something a little different.”

—Theresa Norman, Denise's Pieces Book Reviews

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“... A realistic story about the California Film Industry in the early 1900s. It’s a story of dreams-dreams that Max and Harold share, but for different reasons. Ms. Toops has definitely done her research, and tells the story very graphically with realistic descriptions of the era. She also does a great job of making you feel and see what the characters are about...  The story is enjoyable and historically credible. As I’ve said before, a review is just one person’s opinion, and if you enjoy historicals set in this era, I urge you to read The Latham Loop and draw your own conclusion.”

—Brett Scott, The Romance Studio

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      Harold Gilbert started out as a small-town kid on the vaudeville trouping circuit, and ended up as the world's most popular film comedian. He's got a million-dollar career, his own studio, an estate called Avalon, a cherry-red Bugatti sportscar, a beautiful wife and two children. But in 1927 Hollywood, nothing is quite what it seems . . .   including Harold and everything that seems perfect in his life.

      His wife Ella, formerly his leading lady in his early comedies, is steeped in alcoholism and growing mental illness. His children are strangers to him. His pretty young costar, Lila Lenore, wants more than a working relationship with him. Producer Max Randolph, Harold's former boss and friend from his two-reeler days, seems to have it in for him, although Harold can't figure out why. And a girl from Harold's past, who died under mysterious circumstances keeps coming back to him in dreams that seem to be both a rebuke and a warning. The only way he can keep the demons at bay is by transforming his fears into laughter on film.

      Harold's world is about to turn upside-down. Waiting in the wings are talking pictures - a crude, unperfected medium that Harold refuses to acknowledge. But before long, talkies begin to eclipse the silents - and Harold finds himself enmeshed in a struggle for survival in a suddenly alien world. Slapstick digs beneath the sunny optimism of the movies' Golden Age to examine how myths are made, both on and offscreen. It's a story of both the shipwrecked and the survivors of the film world's first big shakeup, and how they cope with one of man's most primal needs - the drive to create.


       “Slapstick is a vivid and touching portrait of Hollywood and its denizens in a bygone age, and it is one of the few Hollywood novels I've read that really captures the spirit of the many movie pioneers I came to know.”
-  Robert S. Birchard,  author,
King Cowboy -Tom Mix and the Movies

       Internationally known film historian and author Anthony Slide praises Slapstick for its “honesty and realism-the fall from grace, popularity and wealth of Harold Gilbert makes entertaining reading.”
-  Anthony Slide, Classic Images

      “Toops takes compelling characters and puts them in vivid, memorable settings to create a story that's hard to put down and impossible to forget.”
- Independent Publisher

4 stars
       “This story is beautifully written with artistry that transforms reading into an almost tactile experience.”
- Simply Ebooks, 4 Stars

5 stars
       “Slapstick is a magnificent story. Truly a work of art and a must read!”
Simegen Reviews, 5 Stars

“Well-penned and entertaining. . .  a rare treat for film buffs. . .  hard to put down and even harder to forget.”—BookPage

“Captures the dizzing energy of the Golden Age of motion pictures…the carefully laid details sparkle, giving the novel depth and authenticity.”—Midwest Book Review

5 stars
       “I highly recommend Slapstick to anyone who enjoys getting into the thick of things and doesn't mind shedding a few tears at the end.”
Sharpwriter, 5 Stars

       “Toops spins an intricate web of doubt and passion where nothing and no one is what or whom they seem. . .  Both solidly researched and well written, it transcended cliché and made even the minor characters multi-faceted people for whom I had grown to care...Highly recommended for silent film era buffs and those in the mood for the color and naughty glamour of Roaring Twenties Hollywood. Great read!”
- Gracie McKeever, The Pen is Mightier . . .

4 and 1/2 stars
4.5 of 5

      “Don't let the title fool you. Although there are a few chuckles here and there, this is not a comedy by any stretch of the imagination. Though a work of fiction, I could well-believe Ms. Toops might have written this from the personal diaries of real people from that era. From the first page to the last, her characters were alive and breathing, and real. My hats off to you, Ms Toops. You drew me in completely. And my apologies for taking so long - I read it twice.”
- Sharon Jennings,
Word Museum

“Laura Mazzuca Toops is quite a fine writer. Her narrative is clean, crisp, direct and very involving…if you're a silent movie fan, you can't help but get Slapstick.”
—Laura Wagner, Classic Images

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