Book review and extract: Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner by Helen Cox

13 Jul

Join me today as I stop off at the Starlight Diner in New York as part of Helen Cox’s blog tour for her debut novel, Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner. Read on for my review and a little taste of the book!

milkshakes and heartbreaksEsther Knight is sharp, sarcastic – and hiding something. She waitresses at The Starlight Diner: a retroeatery where Fifties tunes stream out of the jukebox long into the night, and the tastiest milkshakes in New York are served.

Nobody at the diner knows why Esther left London for America – or why she repeatedly resists the charms of their newest regular, actor Jack Faber.

Esther is desperate to start a new life in the land of the free, but despite the warm welcome from the close-knit diner crowd, something from her past is holding her back. Can she ever learn to love and live again?

As soon as I saw the cover for this book, I knew I needed to read it. I love retro diners and New York so Helen Cox hit upon a pretty much irresistible combination for me! Helen and HarperCollins also put together a brilliant pre-launch campaign for this book with three free short stories, a spotify playlist that I’ve had on repeat and a whole host of extras over on Helen’s website:

The novel has many of the aspects that I’d expected when I chose it to read; there’s delicious sounding food, quirky regulars, wise New York waitresses, a fabulous 50s retro diner and even a retro hop! But the story also has a side that I didn’t expect and set against the brightness of the Starlight Diner, Esther’s history and the secret that she’s hiding are a stark and shocking contrast.

This is a novel of light and dark and I thought it had a brilliant and hopeful message for it’s readers. As Esther meets actor Jack, the possibility of romance and a new start really begin to open up for her but she has to come to terms with her past before she can move on. Secrets are a key theme of the book and Esther isn’t the only one with a past that they’d like to forget about. As the story developed I was reading as fast as I could to find out what had happened to Esther and Jack and how they would both move on.

The diner itself is a brilliant character in the book and I loved the cast of characters that Helen brought together there. My personal favourites were Mona and her husband Alan. Mona is a proper New York waitress as I imagine them to be; full of gossip, quick to laugh and even quicker to know what’s going on but full of wise advice too – in my head she looks like the waitress that advises Frenchy in the Grease movie! Alan, Mona’s husband is a New York cop with a heart of gold and I loved the scenes set at their apartment which has a wonderful sense of family.

Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner is just the first in a series of books based around the diner. Secrets and Fries at the Starlight Diner will be released in December and this book has an epilogue that leads into the next story and has me nicely intrigued!


Milkshakes and Heartbreaks at the Starlight Diner is out now in ebook formats.

I’d like to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.



Next time you’re in New York, take a turn off Broadway onto East Houston. Walk on past 2nd Avenue subway station. Past Russ & Daughters fish shop and Katz’s Delicatessen. Beyond these local landmarks of the East Village, just a skip from where East Houston meets Clinton Street, you’ll see it: The Starlight Diner. A fifties throwback joint serving burgers and breakfast foods long into the night.

There’s no missing the blare of its blue neon sign. Even from a block away, you can hear the songs of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and, house favourites, Marvin and the Starlighters spewing out of the jukebox. Step closer, and you’ll note the modest claim inscribed just above its glass frontage: Best Diner In Town.

Press your hands against the window. Peer in at the long procession of red leather booths, at the aging signs, hanging all around, for vintage sodas, malts and ice-cream floats. There’s a refrigerator stacked with vanilla cheesecake and blueberry pie, and the waitresses wear candy pink uniforms with black kitten heels.

Bernie Castillo was just twenty-two when he opened The Starlight Diner. A business decision he made about a week after John Kennedy was shot. Like many others he knew, he wanted nothing more than to return to a time before anyone understood what it meant to see a president gunned down. To a time in which rock ’n’ roll reigned supreme and gas-guzzling Cadillacs clogged up the highways. A time when America ‘stood at the summit of the world’. So, the 1950s is still in full swing at The Starlight Diner, and they serve the tastiest milkshakes in the five boroughs.

If there’s one thing Bernie’s learned in his time managing a diner, it’s that you never can tell just who’s going to walk through the doorway. But no matter who they are, no matter where they come from – whether they’re a tourist with a tripod or a local who’s ordered the same breakfast there for twenty years – they’ve all got one thing in common.

All of them, every last one, has a story to tell.

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