While the retelling of the Stevensons' lives is rather pedestrian, Robert Louis Stevenson comes through as utterly...

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UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY

Horan (Loving Frank, 2007) offers another fictionalized romantic biography, this time of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny.

In 1875, 35-year-old Fanny Osbourne arrives in Europe with her three children—16-year-old Belle, 7-year-old Sammy and 3-year-old Hervey—ostensibly to study art but really to escape Sam, her perpetually unfaithful husband. After Hervey dies of tuberculosis in Paris, grieving Fanny decamps to a rural inn, where she encounters "Louis." He has been hiking the countryside alone, despite fragile health, to celebrate earning a law degree to please his father, although he plans never to practice law. For Louis, 10 years Fanny’s junior, it is love at first sight. Initially, she resists—he is too boisterous and sickly—but she is eventually won over, as every reader will be, by his love of life and pure spirit as well as his genius. They live happily more or less together in Paris until Sam arrives from California and begs Fanny to reconcile. For the sake of her kids, Fanny returns to the U.S., but soon, Sam begins philandering again. Meanwhile, Louis has taken his famous donkey ride in the Cévennes, then heads to California to win Fanny back, arriving at her doorstep deathly ill from his arduous journey. Sam agrees to a divorce, and the lovers marry in 1880; Fanny is 40, Louis 29. While Louis’ parents accept her as family, his literary friends, with the exception of the stalwart Henry James, consider her an American rube and are increasingly jealous of Louis’ success. The Stevensons begin a life of travel: Scotland, Switzerland, France, Bournemouth, Colorado, the South Seas. Frequently bedridden, Louis is always writing, and this novel shows the germinating seeds of his classic works. 

While the retelling of the Stevensons' lives is rather pedestrian, Robert Louis Stevenson comes through as utterly irresistible.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-345-51653-4

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2013

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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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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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