- File Size: 2254 KB
- Print Length: 399 pages
- Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books (October 8, 2019)
- Publication Date: October 8, 2019
- Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07NKP3JL4
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #151 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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“A captivating tale of love, friendship, and self-actualization.”
“The Giver of Stars is a richly rewarding exploration of the depths of friendship, good men willing to stand up to bad and adult love. Moyes celebrates the power of reading in a terrific book that only reinforces that message.”
“Though she made her mark writing contemporary romance, Moyes proves just as adept at historical fiction. . . The Giver of Stars is a celebration of love, but also of reading, of knowledge, of female friendship, of the beauty of our most rural corners and our enduring American grit: the kind of true grit that can be found in the hills of Kentucky and on the pages of this inspiring book.”
—The Washington Post
“Moyes paints an engrossing picture of life in rural America, and it's easy to root for the enterprising librarians.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Bestselling author Jojo Moyes has a unique way of using her prose to make her readers feel great emotions – love, passion, sadness, and grief – and her latest novel The Giver of Stars– does not disappoint in that respect.”
“Moyes stays true to her narrative and takes full advantage of the sense of place she gained from repeated trips to the area . . . riveting. A stirring novel sure to please Moyes’ many fans.”
—Minnesota Star Tribune
“An epic journey of friendship, danger, and literacy. . . an ideal read.”
“With characters so real they feel like dear friends and a compelling storyline, this is a beautiful, special novel. I loved it and didn’t want it to end!”
—Liane Moriarty, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Big Little Lies
“[A] dramatic, sweeping story. . . As well as creating wonderful strong characters, Jojo Moyes has an incredible eye for historical detail — I really felt as though I was riding over those Kentucky mountains with those women."
—Sophie Kinsella for Bustle
“Timeless, Jojo Moyes' greatest work yet, and one of the most exquisitely-written—and absolutely compulsory—novels about women ever told.”
—Lisa Taddeo, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Three Women
“Epic in scope and fiercely feminist. . . an unforgettable story.”
“Compelling. . . It’s an epic feminist adventure that candidly paints a community’s soul-searching with great humor, heartache, honesty, and love.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“Inspired by the history of the actual Pack Horse Librarians, Moyes depicts the courage and resourcefulness of these women in loving detail. The Giver of Stars is a tribute not just to the brave women who brought the light of knowledge in dark times, but also to the rejuvenating bond of women’s friendship.”
—The Associated Press
“Moyes brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. . . the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. . . A love letter to the power of books and friendship.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“[A] homage to the power of reading and the strength of community. . . A must-read for women's fiction.”
“An adventure story grounded in female competence and mutual support, and an obvious affection for the popular literature of the early 20th century, give this Depression-era novel plenty of appeal. . . There’s plenty of drama, but the reader’s lasting impression is one of love.”
“Rich in history, with well-developed characters and a strong sense of place, this book will fit well in any library’s fiction collection. For fans of Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants or Catherine Marshall’s Christy.”
—Library Journal (starred)
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Readers take note: This is what happens in the publishing industry when a famous author gets wind of a totally unique story from an emerging author and changes just enough to put it out under their name. Then the publicity engine starts working and the author who spent years of research developing the story gets pushed aside for the big name with star power and a big promotion budget. JojJo, you could AT LEAST have changed the names of the characters! Lazy!
But GIVER OF STARS was hard to get through for several reasons. The main character and co-heroine comes from a cozy but rigid and oppressive home in England, meets a young American, marries him and lands in a small town in 1937 Kentucky. Her husband's family owns the biggest coal mine around. But her husband and his widowed father are just as oppressive and cold as the home she left. She becomes a book woman and mixes with other women riding out to deliver library books to poor people in the mountains. So far so good. But then some problems creep in.
Right off the bat in the first sentence of the first chapter, JJM puts eucalyptus trees in Kentucky, where they have never and never will grow. One hard frost kills them. Other flaws abound. Most of the time most of the locals speak in proper English, often in nice little speeches and in a far more organized manner than folks did there and then. Some British English creeps into the locals' word choices. The novel's ending turns on chest bruising still evident on a clothed body found four months after death out in the wilderness--not possible in that wet weather or terrain. The body leads to a murder charge against one of the book women and a trial. The trial proceedings feel thin and artificial.
In addition to the specific elements seemingly copied from Richardson's BOOK WOMAN and addressed by others, JJM's story arc follows that of the main character in the earlier novel: young woman in a bad marriage finds a way out by becoming a mule-riding traveling librarian. Along the way, she finds the love of her life. JJM could have been more original here too.
The other romance elements--and there are several more, with both good and bad outcomes--are the core of the story. But they are smothered by the borrowed topic and other flaws. This whole novel might have worked in a location more "at home" to Moyes and without her admitted rushing to get this out soon after Richardson's treatment of identical subjects.
Jojo Moyes was a name familiar to me (from bestseller lists, movie adaptations, bookshops…) but she was one of the authors I knew by name but hadn’t yet read. When I saw this book on offer at NetGalley and read the description and the fact that it was based on a real historical scheme, the 1930s Horseback Librarians of Kentucky, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to familiarise myself with her writing. As a book lover, I am always fond of stories about books and libraries, and the historical angle was a bonus for me. The Horseback Librarians of Kentucky was one of the projects set up by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a New Deal Agency established as an attempt to provide work for victims of the Great Depression. In this case, women who could ride (horses, mules…) set up the equivalent of a mobile library, and offered books and reading materials to their neighbours, reaching even those who lived deep in the mountains, too far and too busy to regularly visit the town. In an area as beautiful as it was poor (and it seems it still remains fairly poor and under resourced), the levels of literacy were minimal, and the librarians went beyond the simple delivering of books, becoming a lifeline to many of the families they regularly visited. Although I had read about the WPA and some of their projects, I wasn’t familiar with this one, and it does make for a fascinating setting to the story.
Moyes usually writes contemporary fiction (with more than a touch of romance), so this novel breaks new ground. As I haven’t read any of her previous novels, I cannot make comparisons, but I had a great time reading this novel, which combines an easy and fluid writing style (with some wonderful descriptions of the Kentucky mountains), strong and compelling characters, especially the librarians, with a plot full of adventures, sad and joyful events, romance, and even a possible murder. This is a tale of sisterhood, of women fighting against all odds (society’s prejudices, difficult conditions, nature, illness, domestic violence, evil…), of the power of books, and of a time and a place that are far from us and yet familiar (unfortunately, some things haven’t changed that much).
What did I like, in particular? Many things. I am not an expert on Kentucky or on the historical period, so you must take this with a pinch of salt, but I loved the atmosphere and the period feel. I enjoyed the description of the feelings of the women as they rode their routes, particularly because by telling the story from the point of view of two of the women, Margery, who’s lived there all her life, and Alice, just arrived from England and totally unfamiliar with the area and the lifestyle, we get the familiarity and the newness, and learn that the heartfelt experience goes beyond being comfortable and at home. The mountains have an effect on these women, and at a point when Alice’s life is collapsing around her, give her the strength to go on. Both, the beauty of untamed nature and the comfort of literature, help give meaning to the lives of the protagonists and those who come in contact with them. Of course, not everybody appreciates those, and, in fact, the true villains of the story are people (mostly men, but not only, and I’m not going to reveal the plot in detail) who don’t care for literature and don’t respect nature. (There is an environmental aspect to the story as well, the coalmining industry caring little for the workers or the land if it got in the way of the profit margin).
I also fell for the characters. Margery is magnetic from the beginning: a woman whose father was violent, an abuser and an alcoholic, with a reputation that has tainted her as well; she is determined to live life her own way, help others, and not let anybody tell her what to do (and that includes the man she loves, who is rather nice). Although the novel is written in the third person, we see many of the events from her point of view, and although she is a woman who guards her emotions tightly and does not scare easy, she is put to the test, suffers a great deal, and she softens a bit and becomes more willing to give up some of her independence in exchange for a life richer in relationships and connections by the end of the story. Alice, on the other hand, starts as a naïve newcomer, with little common sense, that makes rushed decisions and believes in fairy tales. She thinks Bennett, her husband, is the charming prince who’s come to rescue her from an uncaring family, but she soon discovers she has changed a prison for another. Her transformation is, in some ways, the complete opposite to that of Margery. She becomes more independent, learns to care less about appearances and opinions, and discovers what is truly important for her.
In a way, the librarians provide a catalogue of different models of womanhood and also of diversity (we have a woman who lives alone with her male relatives, smokes, drinks and is outspoken; a young girl with a limp due to polio who lives under the shadow of her mother; an African American woman who gave up on her dreams to look after her brother, and who is the only trained librarian; and a widow from the mountains, saved by the power of books and by her relationship with other women), and although there are male characters —both, enablers, like Fred and Sven, and out and out enemies— these are not as well defined or important to the story (well, they set things in motion, but they are not at the heart of the story). I was quite curious about Bennett, Alice’s husband, whom I found a bit of a puzzle (he does not understand his wife, for sure, but he is not intentionally bad, and I was never sure he really knew himself), and would have liked to know more about the women whose points of view we were not privy to, but I enjoyed getting to know them all and sharing in their adventures. (Oh, and I loved the ending, that offers interesting glimpses into some of the characters we don’t hear so much about).
And yes, adventures there are aplenty. I’ve seen this book described as an epic, and it is not a bad word. There are floods, a murder trial, stories of corruption and shady business deals, bigotry and scandal, a couple of books that play important parts (a little blue book, and, one of my favourite reads as a young girl, Little Women, and its role made me smile), recipes, libraries, births, deaths, confrontations, violence (not extreme), and romance (no erotica or explicit sex scenes). This being a very conservative (and in some ways isolated society), the examples of what was considered acceptable male and female behaviour might seem old-fashioned even for the time, but, as the #MeToo movement has reminded us, some things are slow to change.
Was there anything I didn’t like? Well, no, but people need to be aware that this is a light read, a melodrama, and although it provides an inspirational tale of sisterhood, it does not offer an in-depth analysis of the ills of the society at the time. The villains, are presented as bad individuals, pure evil, and we learn nothing about them other than they are bad. Although many other important topics are hinted at and appear in the background, this is the story of this particular individuals, and not a full depiction of the historical period, but it is a great yarn and very enjoyable.
The author provides information on her note to the reader about the historical background and how she became interested in the story, and I’ve read some reviews highlighting the existence of other books on the topic, that I wouldn’t mind reading either. For me, this book brings to light an interesting episode of American history and of women’s history, creating a fascinating narrative that illustrates the lives of women in the Kentucky Mountains in the 1930s, with characters that I got to care for, suffer and rejoice with. Yes, I did shed the odd tear. And I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys historical fiction, women’s fiction, and to Moyes’s fans. This might be a departure from her usual writing, but, at least for me, it’s a welcome one.
Top international reviews
The book explores a host of subjects; (love and finding your "tribe" through genuine friendship.
It also highlights how reading affects people in a positive way: giving hope, comfort and the power to make informed decisions) it was a privilege to read.
- my full review is on goodreads
There is more depth to the story and to the characters -especially the women. I found the location and the historical authenticity of the background fascinating and the quotations at the beginning of the chapters interesting and relevent. (Not something that I find always adds to the flow of a book !)
Very sorry to finish it.
The story was based around a group of women who delivered library books to remote dwellings in the Kentucky mountains in the 1930s.
The stand out 'character' for me was the setting. It was wonderfully depicted and I could honestly envisage the impassable mountains the women had to navigate on their mission to bring the spoken word to those who may have not otherwise been given the chance. It was honestly believable that Alice preferred her life riding around these inhospitable mountains to being married, comfortable but bored out of her skull.
Not quite five stars - I thought it was a shame how every character's ending was wrapped up in a bow - leaving nothing for a sequel. It would make a good TV series.
As a booklover and library cardholder - the story and characters really pulled me on board right from the start. I couldn't put the book down as I was enjoying it so much. I had initially thought as it was based on the historical reference of the first mobile libraries in America, it was going to be a little dry... but I was wrong - it was historically interesting and absorbing.
In this book, I feel we see the true writing style of Jojo Moyes.
The pace is just right, the characters develope naturally and you feel like you're becoming friends with them, relationships feel real and unforced, the setting - oh my, the setting! Such a beautifully described and used place.
There was plenty of intrigue but things were answered in good time, not overly laboured like some desperately trying to keep you interested.
This book was everything I was looking for. I loved it and the characters will stay with me for a long time; you just know when they will, don't you?
I just could not get into it, I gave up less than a third of the way through. It felt like a chore to read.