I’ve been a bit remiss with my book reviews of late – but not, thank goodness, my reading (I have devoured so many books – fiction and non-fiction – they are my solace, joy and inspiration). Nevertheless, reviewing has taken a back seat as the last two months have seen me immersed in my own writing (a novel due for release in 2021) and editing my next novel, The Darkest Shore (which I will blog about soon) and which is being released March 1st 2020 in Aus/NZ. As a consequence, I have a number of simply wonderful books I’ve been bursting to review, but have had to wait until I’ve had a bit of breathing space – oh, and my computer. You see, on top of everything else, my computer decided to go ballistic. It had a bit of help though. I decided I was going to store my documents on iCloud. Actually, I was persuaded by my husband who said I should have backup beyond a time machine (apologies to Dr Who) just in case someone breaks into my house and steals my computer. Fair enough, I thought, and bought iClould space and voila! My files not only disappeared, but those remaining became scattered into different hundreds of folders etc. A “geek” (his name for himself) called James was my saviour and, after saying he’s never seen anything like it, spent five days trying to rebuild my computer back to the way it was. Turns out, iCloud has eaten some of my files and we don’t think I’ll ever get them back :(. Overall, I have what I need, so I am trying to think positively and tell myself I Marie Kondoed my computer… let go of what didn’t spark joy. Problem is, I don’t yet really know what I have “let go” of and dread finding out lest it doesn’t spark joy so much as rage or despair… Anyhow, onto more interesting things… like books.
I honestly, I have been so spoiled with my reading of late, there are just so many fantastical books out there, I wasn’t sure where to start until I remembered The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes. It was recommended to me by my beloved reading buddy and while I was enchanted with the title, little did I know I would swiftly fall under the spell of the story as well.
Set during the Depression in the US and based on a true story, this about a group of disparate women living in the mountains of Kentucky who, for various reasons, decide to create a mobile “horseback” library in the small town of Bailyville.
The story opens by introducing the reader to the recently wed, British immigrant, Alice Wright. Wed to the handsome and very desirable and wealthy, Bennett Van Cleeve, Alice believes she is escaping the prison of her home in England and embarking on a grand adventure with the man of her dreams. Sadly, the reality is far from what she hoped and soon she finds herself in the company of other women who, for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds, are also searching for something and someone beyond what their lives have offered. There’s sassy and independent Margery, shy young Izzy, the widow, Kathleen and Sophia, an educated black woman tasked with caring for her crippled brother who, due to prejudice, decides to only work in the library in the evenings, becoming, effectively, the library’s administrator and bringing order to potential chaos.
Known as the WPA packhorse librarians, of course, there are objections among certain townsfolk, not only about women mounting horses daily to take books, magazines and comics out to those who either live remotely or are unable to come to the library, but also about the fact they’re peddling stories. Stories are powerful, unpredictable and potentially dangerous. As the books and magazines and the tales contained within start to not only unite the readers, but also teach them about life beyond their mountains and about possibilities, the township begins to stir. In this sense, the book is about the way in which stories can literally transform lives – and not just those of the packhorse librarians – and for the better.
Brave, bold and kind, the librarians endure personal hardship and professional criticism, but it’s their work and their love of it that binds them together. The lives of the locals are also brought into stark relief; their poverty, their struggles, but also their joy in the tales the women bring them and how they come to slowly regard themselves and each other in a different light. But not everyone can tolerate what the packhorse librarians are doing, the way it’s empowering certain people and, before too long, there are moves afoot to prevent the women not only delivering their tales, but the changes they stimulate. But when tragedy strikes, no-one could have foreseen the lengths those opposed to the library and the independent women at its heart were prepared to go…
Beautifully written, this tale is stirring, heart-felt and inspiring. It reminds you of the power of good stories, the importance of friendship and above all, how decent people united in a great cause can bring about justice and positive change. Messages we all need to remember; lessons we need to heed. A wonderful read.