The Giver of Stars

Alice marries a rich, attractive American to escape the tedium of her life. But when she arrives in small town Baileyville, Kentucky, she soon comes to realise she’s exchanged one prison for another. Her husband, Bennett, shows no interest in her, romantically or otherwise and they soon begin to lead separate lives. Desperate for independence and a sense of purpose in life, Alice joins the horseback librarians. These women ride out to remote homesteads delivering books to those families who are isolated, in both senses of the word. But this is 1937 and women were expected to be homemakers. Her father-in-law, the domineering mine owner is especially over-bearing towards Alice. His behaviour – unchallenged by her husband – eventually becomes intolerable and results in Alice taking up residence with feisty head librarian, Margery O’ Hare. When Margery is accused of foul play, it’s the women against the town as they fight to clear Margery’s name and make a stand for the sisterhood.
Horseback librarian – my dream job! I generally like Moyes (especially loved The Horse Dancer and One Plus One) and since I’m a horse-riding book-lover I really thought I’d find much to enjoy about this novel. Sadly, this wasn’t a dream read. All the fabulous ingredients were there but I didn’t feel the author made quite enough of them and so as a result it’s not developed enough in any one direction, as if the surface had been skimmed off a complex range of topics. Basically, it’s a light romance with a vaguely historical background – and its a sweet, predictable, cheesy romance at that – disappointing when the scope promised so much more. The standout character for me was Margery (and her wonderfully stoic mule) because her story seemed so much stronger and more interesting than Alice’s story and at least she did develop, unlike the rest of the cast. The numerous secondary characters came across as shades of grey, or shrouded in cliche. For example there’s no explanation or backstory as to why Bennett was such a coward, why he was so cold and sexually repressed, and his character more or less faded to black. For those who enjoy one, there’s a wildly happy ending for all the good guys: love, marriage, babies. I thought this took the shine off the main theme, as if the sisterhood meant nothing in the end. Loved the concept and some of the scenes, I just didn’t love the book.

Where the Crawdads Sing

A gentle coming-of-age story and a murder-mystery, set along the coastal region of North Carolina – a vast area of marsh teeming with insects and birdlife. The youngest child of an abusive marriage, Kya finds herself abandoned in the family home, a place which amounts to nothing much more than a primitive shack in the marshlands. She spends her time studying and documenting the wildlife, finding great solace in her environment. Her survival depends on collecting oysters and catching and smoking fish to sell to the local village store, in return for boat fuel and other supplies. She soon meets Tate, and they form a teenage kinship. Although he teaches her to read and their relationship looks set to blossom, Tate moves away to further his education, but breaks his promise to return. Chase, the handsome sporting hero about town wastes no time in pursuing the now mature, beautiful, and elusive Marsh Girl. Kya eventually falls for his superficial charms, until the day Chase reveals his true character and she’s forced to retaliate. Meanwhile, Tate has sourced a publisher interested in Kya’s detailed documentation of the flora and fauna of the marsh. While she’s on a very rare trip out of town meeting her publisher, Chase is discovered dead and the town points its many fingers at the secretive, semi-feral Marsh Girl.

The first half of the book, describing Kya’s early years alone, I found a little tedious and repetitive: I’m not sure I completely swallow the fact that a girl at the tender age of seven finds the wherewithal to live quite as independently as Kya did, and that no one in the town sought to discover the truth about her living conditions and the absence of her family. And the dynamics of the murder reveal and the denouement, didn’t quite work for me. The strength of this novel lies in the lyrical narrative, which is rich in ecology, analogies, and the details of swamp life, all of which are expressed with a deft hand. It’s a unique setting, and the author uses clever comparisons of animal behaviours to add depth of character and explain motivation. I did enjoy the book, I just didn’t love it.

The Catcher in the Rye

52566051._SX318_SY475_Narrated in first person, this short novel is an intense snapshot into the thoughts of sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield as he goes underground in New York on a discovery of self. Traumatised by two events in his short life, Caulfield is heading for a breakdown. He isn’t convinced that preparing himself for the adult world is something to aspire to and feels the education system is predisposed to those intent on commercial success and crowd-pleasing popularity. He’s aimless, drifting, forgetting to eat, unable to connect to anything or anyone other than his young sister; almost to the point where I wondered if he was mildly autistic. Fun and imaginative one moment, depressed and despairing the next.
Caulfield seeks truth, beauty, and reality but sees only the false and the phoney, the critics, the bullies. What he really wants to do is save the innocent from falling, and from the horrible truth of growing up in an ugly world.
I found this novella completely absorbing.

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Taking Flight

5174I5+x6gLA privileged, snarky teenage boy hooks up with an elderly man in the throes of Alzheimer’s. Jeremy is railing against his self-absorbed parents and goes AWOL at the airport, and Harry is simply hankering after a last taste of freedom. Down to a moment of fate they find themselves on the road together, bird-spotting. Before too long, they are both missed…
Harry’s wife is fighting her step-son in order to find Harry safe and sound and prevent Oliver from finding any more excuses to put his father in a dementia home. And once Jeremy’s parent’s realise they’ve been ‘had,’ they begin a hopeless, scatter-brained mission to track down their son.
There’s a slightly farcical element to this tale in that some of the plotting felt a little contrived here and there. And I admit to some gnashing of the teeth as to the selfish character motivation from Jeremy’s dysfunctional parents. Some of it felt a little far-fetched. And yet… these people exist. And these characters and their lifestyle choices make for a good contrast in highlighting the tenderness of the developing relationship between Jeremy and Harry, and underpinned Jeremy’s refusal to toe the line and behave as he did. The earthiness of some of the other cast members such as Grace, and Abbey, added colour, realism, and depth. At no time did this novel lapse into cheesiness or become sentimental. It’s a touching, humorous, insightful, and original story, and I enjoyed the road trip. Don’t be put off by the bland cover.

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