More successful as history than fiction, which should intrigue readers with an interest in Oregon’s past.

GRIST

A STORY OF LIFE IN OREGON COUNTRY,1835-1854

Inspired by real-life pioneers, Marlen’s (Inside the Hatboxes, 2008, etc.) historical novel offers an unflinching look at life on the Oregon frontier.

Disgraced alcoholic physician William Bailey arrives in Oregon Country in 1835 hoping that life on the wild edge of North America might tame his demons. He quickly builds a life for himself among the Native Americans and French fur trappers along the banks of the Willamette River. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Margaret Jewett Bailey struggles to reconcile her Methodist faith with her fiery passions. Her restlessness inspires her to “sacrifice every earthly object” and become a missionary. Against her family’s objections, she makes the arduous journey to Oregon. There, she falls in love with William, and these two troubled, difficult people struggle to make a life together in a harsh, unforgiving environment. Marlen’s story is inspired by historical events: William was an early political leader in Oregon; Margaret wrote a thinly veiled autobiography, the first novel published in the region. Research is extensive (photographs and copies of Margaret’s letters accompany the text), and Marlen carefully marries historical truths with the fictional embellishments. Yet attempts to accurately depict the past occasionally veer toward the didactic, as when, on their wedding day, Bailey pauses to define an unfamiliar local term for Margaret: “Do you know about [a capote]?...It’s a coat made from a wool blanket. All the French Canadian trappers use them; they’re usually made from a Hudson’s Bay Company point blankets.” Extensive back story in the first half causes the book to drag: Margaret and William don’t meet until the book’s midpoint, and their courtship is brief and hurried. Their married life gets more attention, and this is no sugarcoated view of frontier romance. William’s Jekyll-and-Hyde personality—kind and thoughtful when sober, cruel and violent when drunk—dooms the relationship. After years of abuse, Margaret files for divorce, a bold move that mirrors her earlier efforts to escape her controlling father. She may be headstrong and selfish, but her fiery independence serves her well in an environment where the old rules don’t survive.

More successful as history than fiction, which should intrigue readers with an interest in Oregon’s past.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0977975280

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Sunbird Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 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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