Recently I was asked the question who is your go-to author? Whose books I'd read regardless of the subject and would know, without doubt, they were going to be completely satisfying. Well, my choice is Jojo Moyes - she gets it right EVERY SINGLE TIME. This woman is a genius and I adore her work. So I was doubly thrilled to find her newest book coming out soon (from my go-to publisher, to boot) and delighted to be able to read it before it's even released. It didn't disappoint in any way whatsoever.
Jojo Moyes writing is the epitome of top quality women's fiction and like her previous novels which have included the highly acclaimed Me Before You, The Giver of Stars cast me under its spell as soon as I turned the first page. It ticks ALL my boxes. In this historical setting, I discovered some wonderful characters to keep in my heart forever and some loathsome ones which infuriated me.
From the stifled mundane existence of middle England between the 2 World Wars, still a very misogynistic society, emerges our protagonist Alice, stifled and oppressed by her domineering parents and longing for a way to escape her humdrum life.
Her opportunity arrives in the form of handsome, clean-cut, all American boy Bennett Van Cleve, who, after a whirlwind courtship, proposes and she willingly follows her new husband to the other side of the world. Harbouring hopes and dreams of the Glossy New York Society gleaned from the movies, her hopes of dinner parties, cocktails and society are soon shattered by the reality of her new life. In rural Kentucky where many men are bullies and most women, downtrodden doormats, Alice has swapped a domineering and uncaring mother for a life in the household of an aggressive and bullying father in law and her dream husband turns out to be a fastidious wimp!
Alice already feels she is a constant disappointment, not just to her family back home in the UK but her new husband seems to rapidly grow disillusioned with his new wife and with no woman to ask about the more intimate side of her relationship, has no idea what is wrong and takes the blame and sense of failure firmly on her own shoulders.
Life in rural Kentucky where she now lives in stifled luxury as the daughter in law of the local mine owner proves as boring as the life she struggled so hard to leave. But when opportunity of a job which involves working with her beloved books, she seizes the opportunity to join a small team of mobile librarians in a new enterprise the mounted library service taking books to remote and outlying regions where families live in abject poverty, often in isolated shacks, where hunting and brewing moonshine is their only income. Regarded with suspicion and scorn by some clients as frequently as joy and delight by others they help to spread learning and literacy by supplying much more than mere books, they bring contact to the isolated and friendship to the lonely.
As the library service grows and Alice’s contribution to it begins to make her re-evaluate her own worth, make friends and build her own confidence, her marriage still founders. Her fellow workers are a great bunch, especially Marjory, a briskly spoken, gun-toting equestrian, from a renowned rough family, bordering on criminality whose name taints her own respectability.
It is heart-warming and lovely, a stunning story, perfect for any book lover (and which reader wouldn’t be?) filled with wonderful characters, diverse women and a few totally vile men. Based on a true story, focussing on friendship, loyalty, and reminding me as a woman how far we have come in so relatively few years, from days when women really were second class citizens with few if any rights.
From the pen of this author flows a tender and genuine story of hope and redemption and the power of books. A little bird tells me it may soon be a movie – I will be at the head of that queue too!