Powerful, historically based novel of survival, beliefs, adaptation and resistance.

The Wives of Billie's Mountain

An elderly woman reflects on her early years living as a Mormon on the run in author Simmons’ absorbing debut novel, based on a true story.

In 1898 Utah, 10-year-old Mary Higginsen, her nearly blind mother, and her brothers and sisters are taken by their father to Billie’s Mountain to live in a cave to avoid his arrest for polygamy. Mary and her relatives are a second family; Father has another wife to whom he is legally wed. After helping them to settle in, Father returns to town to his first family, leaving elder son Zebedee in charge. Believing the separation from Father to be temporary, the children work nearly constantly, cooking, washing and planting, although their efforts are sometimes for naught. Earnest Zebedee remains thankful for small mercies, but recalcitrant Mary has doubts: “If this was God’s idea of a blessing, it certainly was a sorry one.” In winter, supplies run dangerously low. As weeks pass without Father, Mary is increasingly angered by her family’s blind trust and their predisposition to suffer while Father’s other family presumably lives in comfort. Facing frostbite and starvation, they are rescued by a neighbor, Brother Bigler. He, too, practices plural marriage and is drawn to Mary, who resists his advances. She realizes the significance of polygamy (multiple wives ensure progeny), but Mary has no wish to be submissive or to marry. Although initially a survival tale, recalling some of the sacrifices in Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It (2008), the novel skillfully addresses the claustrophobic, cultlike burden of belief and how a willful individual like Mary could be coerced to comply. Through no fault of their own, the Higginsens are treated like “beggar children” by one of Brother Bigler’s wives, who will later risk her own status in an act of kindness to Mary. Perhaps Brother’s wives aren’t as happy as they claim. Sensing the incongruity, resourceful Mary both adapts and rebels. In a genre saturated with faux apocalyptic tales of teens in peril, here’s an emotionally wrenching narrative out of U.S. history.

Powerful, historically based novel of survival, beliefs, adaptation and resistance.

Pub Date: April 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615998572

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Helper Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2014

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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