Monday, February 3, 2020

The Giver of Stars - JoJo Moyes

Summary: Set in Depression-era America, a breathtaking story of five extraordinary women and their remarkable journey through the mountains of Kentucky and beyond, from the author of Me Before You

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice's greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who's never asked a man's permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them--and to the men they love--becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

A Reese's Book Club Pick

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic--a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.
  (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review: I have to admit that I’m biased when I am reviewing this book because these women embody the kind of woman that I hope that I am. Also, I would like to think that had I lived back then, I would have done something like be a packhorse librarian. Being a Reading For Sanity reviewer is cool and I like to think that sometimes we bring you readers some joy and light (or at least new book ideas), but actually riding across the untamed wilderness on a horse to bring a book to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one? Come on! That is basically my dream job! I was a pretty serious horsewoman growing up, doing lots of shows and riding clubs and such, and I would like to think that me and my trusty steed, Olly, would have done this and had a grand old time together.

One of my favorite things about this book is that it is based on actual historical events. I have read about packhorse librarians before, but I feel like this book brought them to life in a rich and unique way. There was lots to love about this book. First off, the female characters were awesome. They were all dealing with their own issues, and I felt that they were rich enough that they each have had a book written about each of them too. This always makes me a little sad while reading a book, because I want to know more about the characters, but it’s obviously a good sign because I read enough about them to want to know more and felt like there was more to know. The women came from very different walks of life, which made for an interesting and enriching interaction between them. Again, I wouldn’t mind a prequel that discussed the back-story of each of these women, even though quite a bit was given in Giver of Stars.

I like a historical fiction book that is able to transport me to a different time and place. If I’m reading historical fiction, I want to really understand it. I want to be able to feel like I’m there, understand what it’s like to live there, and see the sights and sounds and smells of yesteryear. I know what my life is like now, and sometimes I like to be jolted out of my cushy reality into another time and place. I feel like by doing this I am able to expand my horizons and understanding of people in the past and people around me even today. A good historical fiction book can help you to see that not everyone is like you, and their reality may not be your reality. I feel like this book did a decent job of this, especially with the aspects of the weather and how cold or hot it would have been while delivering library books. The atmosphere was there; I think it could have been a little richer and more of a plot point, but I think that is up for debate because I really enjoyed the book as it was.

One thing that I didn’t love was how one of the main characters faced a particularly daunting and unsurprising situation for her. I won’t go into details here because I feel like it would really spoil the book, but I would have hoped she would have reacted differently than she did. I realize that I don’t know this person deeply or intimately and so therefore I can’t really judge, but I’d like to think that of all the things I had seen before, she would have reacted differently than she did. I’ll leave it at that, and when you read it, I think you’ll know what situation I’m talking about and you can see if you agree.

If you’re into historical fiction, especially historical fiction with female protagonists, I strongly recommend this book. The story is interesting and varied with lots of nuances and tricky situations. There are good characters (both male and female, good and evil) and I feel like Moyes did a good job of creating a realistic-feeling atmosphere out of a really interesting historical time.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

For the sensitive reader: This book had some language and sex, but nothing above the norm for the genre.

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